Howl of the KweerWolf

My Photo
Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

'Good riddance to bad pseudo-scientific psychiatry'

Pardon the paraphrasing of the Bette Davis line (from the 1934 film version of W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" ... just to establish my Bette-Davis-quoting queer gene), but Bette's "good riddance to bad rubbish" line seems like an appropriate send-off for one of the LGBT community's worst enemies.

Psychiatrist Charles W. Socarides, one of the founders of the "reparative therapy" movement that claimed psychotherapy could turn a sick homosexual into a functioning heterosexual member of society, died on Christmas Day in a New York hospital. Socarides helped found the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization dedicated to the premise that homosexuality can - and should! - be cured through therapy.

Ironically, I stumbled across one of Socarides' books back while I was beginning to come to term with being gay in the '70s. I found a paperback edition of The Overt Homosexual on the paperback rack at Kline's Drug Store back in my hometown. That drugstore - one of two along the four-block business section of Main Street that ran from the lumber yard on one end to the funeral home on the far end - had a certain reputation among my peers. The other drug store, by the way, was as clean and brightly lighted as Kline's was dark and dingy. I can't imagine a more suitable place for an adolescent boy to begin to explore that secret dirty adult world of S-E-X. If "Old Man Kline" was running the counter, there were never any questions asked if one of my classmates purchased a coveted copy of some of the spicier men's magazines of the times like Playboy, Oui, or Penthouse. Even the paperback rack could be spicy, too, with titles you wouldn't find (or would be too embarassed to ask for) at the public library.

Socarides' book was way too scandalous for me to even consider buying. So I stood there at the paperback rack off to the side of the front door and thumbed through the book. "Homosexual" was a recent addition to my vocabulary. Before I stumbled across it, I didn't have any word to describe the way in which I understood on a very basic level that I was different from the other boys I knew from school. I was just beginning to test this new word to see if it fit me.

What I found in Socarides' book didn't sound like me. The book told me about men in San Francisco who wore dresses and makeup and got kicked out of fancy department stores for using the women's restrooms. It told me about men who lived their lives around cruising for sex in public restrooms and in parks. It told me how many of them met tragic ends, though it was pointed out that their ends were their own doings ... an early sort of "blame the victim" argument. It told me these men were sick.

Suddenly, I begin to wonder if the word "homosexual" really did apply to me since I had never done any of those things.

I think Socarides' book was the beginning of my lifelong queasiness with the word "homosexual." Some in the LGBT community reject the word as being too clinical and a hold-over from the days when homosexuality was a sickness to be treated and not a description of people who were attracted to their own gender. I could (and still can) deal with being called a queer or a fag much better than being called a "homo." And I believe it all traces back to that afternoon at the paperback rack at Kline's Drug Store and Socarides' book.

"Socarides outlived his time," anthropologist Gilbert Herdt said in a New York Times article on Socarides' death. Even during his life he was out of step with much of the rest of the medical and scientific community. In 1972 when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from it's list of illnesses, Socarides protested the move and claimed the change was masterminded by "a small band of very bright men and women, most of them gays and lesbians" as part of a deliberate strategy. (Apparently, this was before the phrase "the homosexual agenda" had been coined.) "He became a kind of anachronism, and a tragic one in the sense that he continued to inflict suffering on the lives of some gay and lesbian individuals, and the LGBT community in general," Herdt told the Times.

Among those that suffered was his own son, Richard, a gay rights activist who served as President Clinton's liaison to the LGBT community from 1995 to 1999. Richard is quoted in the Times as calling his relationship with his father "complex" and said they remained on speaking terms only when they both avoided the subject of homosexuality.

The unfortunate thing about Socarides is that he leaves behind him a legacy of prejudice wrapped in pseudo-science that continues to fuel the tiny but vocal reparative therapy movement. This, in turn, has given rise to the religion-based "conversion therapy" used by "ex-gay" groups who literally try to "pray away the gay."

But despite it all, I won't condemn Charles Socarides. Instead I'll again turn to the Gospel of Bette Davis in "Of Human Bondage" to offer Socarides a parting thought:

"You cad!, you dirty swine! I never cared for you not once! I was always makin' a fool of ya! Ya bored me stiff, I hated ya! It made me SICK when I had to let ya kiss me. I only did it because ya begged me, ya hounded me and drove me crazy! And after ya kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth! WIPE MY MOUTH!"

Nuff said, indeed!


Monday, December 26, 2005

The blogs you really should be reading

Tuesday I re-enter the work force. After nearly six months of the frustrating, endless rounds of job hunting, sending out resumes, collecting "your skills don't meet our current needs" letters, and sitting around the mailbox on Wednesday afternoons waiting for my unemployment check, I'll once again be setting at a desk where I'm not surrounded by sleeping dogs nor distracted by Osama bin Kitty climbing my leg or doing the feline version of the happy dance across my keyboard.

As happy as I am about once again being a productive member of society, there will be things that get moved to the back burner while I'm putting in my 40 hours a week. One of those things, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for those that read this and think What a monumental waste of band width!) will be my blog. I won't be giving it up entirely, but between holding down a fulltime job, serving as vice president of communications for my LGBT Democratic club, and doing daily updates on my club's news and opinion link pages (How's that for a shameless plug?) finding the time to keep my blog updated on a regular basis will be problematic at best.

So, if I'm not going to be blogging as much as I'd like - and you know I just love to express my opinions! - the least I can do is offer those who stumble across my blog the option of finding other blogs that get "The KweerWolf Seal of Approval." These are, in my opinion, some of the best blogs on LGBT issues that the Internet (or "Internets," as our bumbling president calls them) has to offer. They are the kind of blogs I'd like to hope this blog could evolve into one day.

So, without further pontificating, here's my list of the best LGBT blogs on the Web:

Pam's House Blend - Yeah, I know we gay men are supposed to get all goofy and nervous around lesbians, but Pam Spaulding has become my favorite blogger. She's got a unique way of covering the news that combines humor with just enough "this pisses me off!" in-your-face outrage to make a really potent ... ummmm ... house blend. She was also recently voted the best LGBT blog, narrowly beating out a gay male blogger whom I'm sure got votes strictly on the basis of the provocative poses he struck in some of his blog photos. Pam's victory reassured me that occasionally substance wins over twinkish style.

BlogACTIVE - I don't know where Mike Rogers get his energy to maintain his blog and keeps his news site, PageOneQ, going, but I'm glad he does. People have really been taking notice of Mike's blog. He's a worthy successor to the blogger/activist mantle of John Aravosis of AMERICAblog fame.

AMERICAblog - Speaking of John Aravosis, no body does it better. John has long been popular, but when his blog "outed" fake White House "journalist" Jeff Gannon as a former $200-a-hour prostitute who went by the nickname "Bulldog," his blog's popularity entered the stratosphere.

DIRELAND - Blogger Doug Ireland is a free lance journalist. If you haven't heard his name, chances are you've read at least some of his stories such as the coverage of Iran's executions of gay men and his coverage of news from the nation's capital.

Good As You - OK, enough heavy topics. For a lighter look at LGBT news, check out this blog. Not only is it a great source for news, but it's "lighten-up" approach may actually enduce some chuckles.

The Republic of T. - Looking for a really different perspective? Then check out this blog written by a blogger who describes himself as "a left-leaning, thirty-something, black gay man, a father, a partner, a vegetarian, and buddist, living and working in the metro-D.C. area."

The Petrelis Files - Jumping to the other side of the country, Michael Petrelis is a veteran gay, AIDS and human rights advocate who made appearance on NPR, ABC, CNN and even "The O'Reilly Factor" on Faux ... oops! I mean FOX News.

Wayne Besen - A little bit of history. Remember the story of John Paulk, the former-drag-queen-and-druggie-turned-"ex-gay"-leader who was featured on the cover of Time magazine a few years back and was then discovered trying to pick up men in a crowded Washington, D.C., gay bar? Wayne Besen was the one who "outed" the definitely not-out Paulk, who subsequently lost his job with James Dobson's homophobic Focus on the Family. Wayne later wrote a book on the incident (and the entire sham "ex-gay" movement) called Anything But Straight. Wayne covers all sorts of LGBT news ... but it's a particular delight when he goes after the "ex-gay" crowd.

Ex-Gay Watch - Speaking of "ex-gays," don't let the name of this blog fool you. They cover a wide range of LGBT news.

ByCDOldenburg - C.D. Oldenburg describes himself as a free lance journalist "with way too much time on his hands." Personally, I'm glad he has all that free time. His blog is a joy to read. Now if he'd just update it more often. (Are you listening, CD?)

Mike Tidmus blog - Here's another blogger I love to read ... and would love to read even more of if he'd just update his damned blog! Oh well, even his old stuff is great (and usually quite funny, too).

QUEERTY - Gotta love the irreverance that comes naturally to these bloggers! They describe their blog as "a healthy mix of style and fashion, entertainment and celebrity, news and politics and, yes, relationships and sex." I couldn't agree more!

Queer Day Magazine - Lively news blog with plenty of brief news items (for those of us with short attention spans). Kudos to Philo Hagan for a well-done blog site!

Michaelangelo Signorille - blog and news site from the famous author and activist who started the trend of "ouoting" closeted 'mos back in the days of the defunct Outweek magazine. He can still come up with a great story, but frankly - at least in my opinion - he can be just a bit full of himself these days.

And there you have them. Kweerwolf's Top 10 LGBT blogs (Give or take four). Enjoy!


A voice crying in the wilderness of AIDS research

I love a good conspiracy theory. Automobile manufacturers and oil companies secretly bought up a patent that would allow cars to get 300 miles per gallon of gas. The government is covering up the crash landing of a flying saucer in Roswell, N.M., from back in the 1940s. The Vatican is hiding the fact that Jesus was married to Mary Magdeline and they had a child whose bloodline survives to today. The Jews were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks and all the Jewish workers in the World Trade Cetner called in sick that day. The Church of Scientology keeps the lid on the sexual orientation of certain major movie star (*cough* John Travolta and Tom Cruise *cough*) so they will entice new recruits into the cult through their frequent appearances on "Entertainment Tonight." Pope Benedict XVI, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Pat Robertson and several other religious leaders are against same-sex marriage because they know their boyfriends would push them toward the altar if gay marriage was ever legalized.

OK ... so I made up that last one. But it's really no more outlandish than any of the others listed (or a whole bunch more that could be listed).

Most conspiracy theories have their basis in two very basic human needs: the need to understand something and the need to justify our deeply held feelings that people in authority simply can't be trusted.

Since it was first uncovered in 1981, AIDS has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories. A bad batch of Swine Flu vaccine was claimed to be the origin of the AIDS pandemic. Another theory claimed that researchers were working on an "ethnovirus" designed to wipe out a specific ethnic group - in this case blacks - but the virus got out of control and entered the rest of the world's population. Some gays claimed that the government conspired to stall progress on an AIDS cure until a big chunk of the gay popluation had been wiped out.

Now comes the latest crackpot AIDS conspiracy theory. According to a recent Associated Press article, the federal chief of AIDS research says he believes drug companies don't have an incentive to create a vaccine for the HIV and are likely to wait to profit from it after the government develops one.

Or is it a crackpot conspiracy theory?

The speculation that the pharmaceutical industry was likely to sit back and wait for government-funded research to come up with a vaccine comes from recently released testimony from Dr. Edmund Tramont, head of the AIDS research division of the National Institutes of Health, who testified in a deposition in the whistleblower case of Dr. Jonathan Fishbein.

"If we look at the vaccine, HIV vaccine, we're going to have an HIV vaccine. It's not going to be made by a company," Tramont said. "They're dropping out like flies because there's no real incentive for them to do it. We have to do it."

"They will eventually -- if it works, they won't have to make that big investment. And they can make it and sell it and make a profit," he said.

So Dr. Tramont is suggesting that the giant drug companies are waiting until some scientist working under a poorly funded government grant at some university of research institute makes a breakthrough? And that once a breakthrough is made, the drug companies will swoop down like vultures on a corpse and maximize their profits by taking advantage of the research? And that the lives of the millions of people around the world infected by HIV are simply numbers to be factored in when figuring profits' bottom line?

The idea has all the earmarks of a grand conspiracy theory. Unfortunately, in this case, the conspiracy theory is very likely true.

Despite all the press releases they send out and warm and fuzzy TV commercials they make talking about how much they care about finding a cure for AIDS (or cancer or diabetes or any other as yes uncureable disease) drug companies are not altruistic entities. They exist to make a profit. No, strike that. They exist to make the most profit possible. If, by chance, they benefit someone along with way, that's just icing on the cake and a chance to trumpet about what paragons of virtue they are.

For pharmaceutical companies the bottom line is this: You can make more money by treating a disease than curing it.

If you cure a disease, you get paid once. If you treat a disease, you get paid every time a patient goes to the drug store to get a prescription refilled. Take diabetes, for example. Rates of diabetes have been steadily increasing over the past few decades. That's certainly an incentive for drug companies to come up a cure. Oh sure, there are frequent "We're getting close to a cure" statements, but those a tiny, incremental steps that in the meantime will mean patients will keep pumping money into the system for drugs, monitoring supplies and the like. A "cure" would mean that money would suddenly dry up.

Ten years ago medical science developed the expensive "AIDS cocktail" approach to treating AIDS. Since then they have raked in profits from keeping AIDS patients coming back again and again for more drugs that won't cure them, but may prolong their lives.

So, no, there is no incentive for drug companies to spend money looking for a cure for a disease when they can make even more money from treating again and again and again.

And, far from being another crackpot conspiracy theorist wildly shouting his ideas to anyone who will listen, Dr. Tramont comes a lot closer to being a modern-day version of an Old Testament prophet with "a voice crying in the wilderness."


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Families by birth and by choice

I was going to avoid the whole subject of Christmas with the exception of taking an occasional swipe at Faux News' ludicrous segments about "the war on Christmas." It's been years since Christmas held any real significance for me other than spending money on relatives I don't particularly care for the other 364 days out of the year to exchange during a family get-together that seems to always have an underlying current of tension.

But last night while browsing through postings on an LGBT discussion board I came across a message from someone feeling real distress about the pending holiday. Christmas, he said, with its emphasis on "family," made it worse for him because long-held feelings bubbled to the surface. My initial response was to roll my eyes and think Oh, Mary! Get over yourself! It's an exceedingly rare homo who doesn't hurt. That's my cynical side ... the side I tend to show an often hostile world to let it know it can't hurt me.

I kept watching the thread as it grew. More LGBT folks offered their sympathy and shared the own stories of scars inflicted - consciously and unconsciously - by the families who are supposed to be where we can find acceptance and unconditional love ... at least in a Norman Rockwell, Hallmark cards sort of world.

All of us who grow up in the dominant heterosexual culture carry scars. Sometimes the worst of those scars are inflicted by the families. Unlike racial or ethnic minorities, we are the only minority to be born "into the enemy camp," so to speak. In many ways being LGBT is like being born black in a white family ... only no one realizes that you are black and keeps making racist remarks or telling bigoted jokes or tossing around the word "nigger" without noticing that we wince or shudder or shut down a little bit more with every remark. Some families are more accepting than others, but hardly anyone who is LGBT grows up without some sort of scar, even scars inflicted unintentionally, by his or her family.

I have no doubt that my father loves me. But that doesn't mean I've forgotten hearing him refer to someone who was a few years older than me as a "damned queer" when he came out in college. I knew my mother loved me. But I still remember her saying she didn't want to know if I was gay after finding a couple of gay-themed books in my room ... and the subsequent pain of never being able to share that part of me with her before her death.

Unfortunately, the holiday season with its emphasis on "family" can be an emotional mine field for so many LGBT folks.

Between scars from our own family and the problems of being "different" in society, we face issues that most straight family members can never see nor understand. It's little wonder that there is a higher rate of depression in our community. Nor is it any wonder why so many of us try to self-medicate away the pain with alcohol or drugs or sexual compulsion or some other type of self-destructive behavior.

Sometimes I wonder if the scars ever truly heal. I know they ease after a bit and, in my own case, I believe I have forgiven my family for past issues. But forgiving isn't forgetting and it doesn't take much to bring old memories and emotions flooding back.

If there is one "treatment" for our wounds, it's this: most LGBT folks have two "families" - one is the one that we get be accident of birth and the other is the family of friends we surround ourselves with who can provide the love and acceptance our birth families didn't. While the old scars my never heal, we have our second families we can count on to be the most effective "treatment" for those old wounds.

Unlike the families on Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers or those depicted on schmaltzy Christmas cards, our families of choice come in many forms. Sometimes they are the friends we surround themselves with. Sometimes, as in the case of the person who posted on the message board last night, they are people we may never meet, but who can still reach out and touch us with support via a computer.

Our families of choice don't require blood ties to become a part of our lives and our support systems. They are there because they care and they can understand and relate to the joys and pains that we feel.

I don't know if a Christmas wish from someone who doesn't put much stock in Christmas carries much weight. But if it did, my Christmas wish for all of us would be this:

Be gentle with one another, for we are all family.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Digging up gay history

Once upon a time 4,300 years ago in ancient Egypt lived two men, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, who served in the honored position as chief manicurists to the king. We know this because archeologists uncovered the tomb of the two men 41 years ago not far from Cairo. There were no mummies in the tomb, but what archeologists discovered was even more enigmatic: stylized paintings on the wall depicting Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep in a close embrace. Just what that embrace represented has been the subject of heated speculation ever since. Were Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep lovers? Were they brothers, or perhaps even twins? Were they "just good friends?"

Now, according to a recent article in The New York Times, a researcher has offered yet another explanation for the arm-in-arm pair of Egyptian men. David O'Connor, a professor of ancient Egyptian art at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts, pooh-poohs the idea that the pair were gay and has opted for an even more implausible explanation: the men were not only twins, but conjoined, or Siamese, twins.

O'Connor reasons that ancient Egyptian nobility had a fascination with physical disabilities. Dwarves, he notes, held an exalted role in the palaces of kings. Far from being seen as "freaks," persons with abnormalities were viewed as proof that the gods could form any sort of body. The fact that a body might be drastically different from the norm was considered a mark of special favor from the gods.

Meanwhile, others find fault with O'Connor's conjoined twins interpretation.

Opposition to his proposal promises to be spirited. Most Egyptologists accept the normal-twins interpretation advanced most prominently by John Baines, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford in England.

"It's a very persuasive case Baines makes," Dr. O'Connor acknowledged.

And he noted that the gay-couple hypothesis had become the popular idea in the last decade. A leading proponent is Greg Reeder, an independent scholar in San Francisco and a contributing editor of KMT, a magazine of Egyptian art and history. The most Google references to the tomb, archaeologists say, concern the homosexual idea.

The gay argument leans on the analogy with depictions of married heterosexual couples in Egyptian art, which was first suggested by Nadine Cherpion, a French archaeologist.

Because the embraces of heterosexual couples in the tomb art convey an implicit erotic and sexual relationship, and perhaps the belief of its continuation in the afterlife, Mr. Reeder and his allies contend that similar scenes involving the two men have the same significance, that they presumably are gay partners.

Calling attention to the most intimate scene of the two embracing men, Mr. Reeder said: "They are so close together here that not only are they face to face and nose to nose, but so close that the knots on their belts are touching, linking their lower torsos. If this scene were composed of a male-female couple instead of the same-sex couple we have here, there would be little question concerning what it is we are seeing."

As happens so many times with historical artifacts that might carry a same-sex connotation, many researchers tend to ignore them at best or sweep them under the carpet at worst. Many prestigious museums have objects depicting what could clearly be considered same-sex representations in their collections, but either keep them locked away from public view or concoct innocuous interpretations of them so as not to shock the sensibilities of museum visitors.

What's particularly telling is the statement about a "gay" interpreation of the Egyptian tomb painting being somehow putting a 21st century spin on ancient cultures. Apparently homosexuals didn't exist in history, they seem to say, so why would this painting depict two gay men?

I guess it never occurs to researchers that refusing to consider that the men depicted may be involved in a romantic relationship puts a layer of 21st century homophobia over their interpretations. Likewise, it apparently doesn't occur to researchers that homosexuals, who differ from the norm, might also be considered as oddities and worthy of veneration (just as they were among some Native American tribes).

Granted, not much is known about homosexuality in ancient Egypt, but a lack of evidence uncovered thus far does not necessarily mean it wasn't recognized. Too many researchers who refuse to accept a same-sex relationship explanation for Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are simply trying to avoid having to rethink accepted ideas of Egyptian culture that date back to the 19th century - a time when homosexuality was neither discussed nor accepted.

Part of the problem is that, before the term "homosexual" was first coined by a German researcher in 1869, there was no terminology to describe same-sex love. Even the general, all-purpose word "sodomite" was imprecise and could include everything from bestiality to having sex with one's wife in a position not given official church sanction to homosexuality.

Thanks to ground-breaking research by people such as the late John Boswell who wrote Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, historian Martin Duberman, Jonathan Ned Katz, author of Gay American History, Bryn Fone, author of Homophobia, and others, there is now evidence out there that homosexuals have existed throughout history and their acceptance or rejection has swung back and forth at different times in different cultures.

Still, traditional research is slow to embrace the upstart field of gay studies. Look at the uproar that accompanied the publication of the late C.A. Tripp's The Intimate Life of Abraham Lincoln that dared to suggest the beloved president might have enjoyed romps with men while Mary Todd Lincoln was out of the White House and that he carried on a four-year relationship with shopkeeper Joshua Speed. There were parts of Tripp's book that I felt reached a bit too hard to make his case, but the reaction by traditional Lincoln scholars to the book often said more about their own views of homosexuality than their opinions of Tripp's research and hypotheses.

History, it is said, is written by the victors. In the case of the history of same-sex love, it seems that history, when it's written at all, is written by the homophobes, consciously or unconciously.

While right-wing politicians and pundits argue that academia skews far to the left, that's not the case when it comes to researching "gay history." A few progressive universities offer courses in gay history, but they are the exception. As a result, depictions in words or painting or other relics that might re-write history books or at least force some reexamination of long-held ideas, end up getting buried or denied. And the rightful place of LGBT persons throughout history is the worse for such denial.


Friday, December 23, 2005

When the dim begin to see the light

Back in 2003 Judge Roy Moore was removed as Alabama's Chief Justice after the state's nine-member Court of Judicial Inquiry found he had violated judicial ethical standards for defiance of a federal judge's order to move a Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the rotunda of the state courthouse.

At the time, Moore was the fun-D'uh-Mentalists' outrage du jour as they picketed outside the courthouse, wept, prayed and bemoaned how godless secular humanists were pickin' on them 'cause they were decent, God-fearin' Christian folks who only wanted to live by the Bible ... and make sure everyone else did, too.

Moore parlayed his 15 minutes of fame into the speaking circuit, making the rounds of various right-wing religious groups and has now announced he intends to run for governor of Alabama. In an e-mail sent out by his wife soliciting donations for Moore's campaign, there's no hesitation to invoke that boogie-man of the religious reich - homo-seck-shuls! - to raise money. Apparently all the good Christian folks in Alabama fear nothing so much as the specter of homos and perverts running roughshod over the country and introducing grade school courses on the joys of sodomy.

Well, not quite all the good folks of Alabama. Seems one of Moore's former supporters has come out against his candidacy.

Christian talk show host Kelly McGinley, the woman who filed suit to have Moore reinstated to the bench, has done an about-face and is warning her listeners about the threat posed by Moore.

An editorial in The Decatur (Ala.) Daily carries some interesting observations by McGinley:

From Mobile, Ms. McGinley said Mr. Moore and his followers want to establish a theocracy, or a government by a person or persons who claims to rule with divine authority.

She said they “wish to bring a government based on Old Testament law, which would administer the death penalty for offenses ranging from homosexuality to talking back to your parents.”

She says his election could trigger a major showdown between state and federal governments that could lead to violence.

She links the Republican Party, the Council for National Policy, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Masons in a web of conspiracy to impose Biblical law.

“It is too extreme for the likes of me,” she said.

Hmmmm ... that's a pretty strong condemnation coming fro someone who ostensibly shares Moore's religion.

It's also something that reasonable people - those who aren't mainlining Jesus until the are hooked on hate - have been saying all along.

The religious reich are hellbent (pardon the pun) on replacing the Constituion with "Biblical law." Their warped world view has too long been tolerated and explained away as simply a group of people trying to hold on to their beliefs in a rapidly changing secular world.

It's good to see that people within the social conservative movement are finally waking up to reality and understanding that when folks like Moore talk about "culture war," their emphasis is clearly on the second word.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Unemployment: The good, the bad and the very ugly

Those who have followed this blog over the past few months may have noticed the occasional references I've made to being unemployed - a situation that sucks at any age, but is an exceptional pain in the ass if you're over 40 and competing against obnoxiously perky recent college graduates who will cheerfully work for peanuts and have no notion of the meaning of the word "mortgage."

Now I can report that just two weeks short of the last of six-month's worth of unemployment checks, I have managed to secure employment. The interval between the end of my last job (in which my entire department was cut in what's euphemistically called a "strategic restructuring") and the 11th hour reprieve from destitution by the arrival of today's job offer is a period I've come to refer to as "God's little reminder to simply your life and learn the meaning of 'frugality'."

Knowing that, despite the rosy picture painted by King George the Lesser, the economy sucks shit through a straw, I thought I'd pass along my thoughts on the upside and downside of unemployment for those who are in similar situations. (And believe me, with another three years of Captain Pretzel in charge of the ship of state, that could be a substantial number of us!)

Upside: Learning that, in a pinch, peanut butter can be substituted for margarine when making one of those cheap boxes of macaroni and cheese.

Downside: Eating macaroni and cheese made with peanut butter.

Upside: Having time to help friends with their projects.

Downside: Having friends who know you have free time and taking full advantage of it.

Upside: Sleeping in on a weekday.

Downside: Being jarred out of bed by Mr. Psycho Roommate screaming at Sammy (a.k.a. Osama bin Kitty) for shredding a roll of paper towels all over the kitchen.

Upside: Having time for a social life.

Downside: Trying to come up with creative ways of telling perspective dates that you'd rather go to a movie on a Wednesday night because that's the day the unemployment check arrives.

Upside: Sending out 67 resumes and only getting three interviews helps build character in the face of adversity.

Downside: Sending out 67 resumes and only getting three interviews is depressing as hell.

Upside: Now I have time to work on all those projects I've been putting off.

Downside: Between trying to find enough jobs to apply for to keep the vaguely humanoid automatons at the unemployment office off my back and then sitting around and moping because of the umpteenth "thanks, but no thanks" letter, who gives a rats ass whether the trim around the house gets painted or not.

Upside: I get to spend quality time with my four-legged kids, Sheldon the collie/samoyed mix, and Gypsy, the white German shepard.

Downside: I now have more opportunities to clean up the mess when Gypsy, who's an octogenarian in dog years, can't quite make it to the kitchen door.

Upside: I can do my shopping during the day when most people are at work and the lines at the checkout stands are shorter.

Downside: Old people shop during the day and any time savings is quickly gobbled up by a member of the blue-hair brigade ahead of me who insists that the clerk cheated her by overcharging for that can of pork and beans or failed to rung up the double coupons.

Upside: Having an 11-second commute between my easy chair and my computer.

Downside: Knowing that regardless of how much I fix up my computer and desk to resemble an office I'm still at home, as evidenced by the incessant sound of Mr. Psycho Roommate's television tuned to back-to-back episodes of Judge Judy, The People's Court, Judge Alex and Divorce Court in the background.

Upside: Having time to spend with my parents.

Downside: Answering some variation of "How's the job hunt going?" at least 50 times from my father (who watches FOX News constantly and thus is certain the economy is in great shape ... so what's the problem with you?)

Upside: Being able to determine for oneself if store brands really are as good as name brands.

Downside: Making a trip to the drug store for a quick remedy when that cheap brand of fabric softener results in a rash.

Upside: Dressing for comfort ... usually in a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt.

Downside: It took me 17 minutes to remember how to tie a necktie while getting ready for the job interview today.

Upside: I can spend all afternoon at the library browsing for books I can check out for free.

Downside: Being cruised at a library by a homeless person in sweat pants and a t-shirt more ragged than mine.

Upside: Learning to be frugal by shopping in thrift stores.

Downside: Never quite getting over the fear that someone may have actually died in the pair of used jeans I'm trying on.

Upside: Gaining a new understanding of what it means to be poor in America.

Downside: Never being able to pass one of those food pantry donation barrels without feeling guilty if I don't drop a least a can of corn in the barrel. (But come to think of it, that's a good thing, too.)


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Saving my outrage for the truly outrageous

One of the first things to greet me when I turned on my computer this morning was an e-mail from an acquaintance emblazoned with the all-caps subject line: TAKE ACTION ON THIS!!!!!!!!

Oh Lord! I thought. What's happened now? E-mails urging me to take action in all uppercase letters and followed by multiple exclamation points are usually reserved for announcing the latest outrage. The "outrage" in this case was not over some homophobic statement by the religious reich or some anti-gay political move by the BushCo administration. It was over CBS's late-night talkshow host David Letterman's "Top 10" list last night ... a "Top 10" list that, according to the e-mail's author, was "homophobic," "contained gay stereotypes," and was a general put-down of the new film "Brokeback Mountain." The e-mail went on to list links to contact CBS and the Letterman Show to express our outrage.

What the e-mail didn't have were any examples of the homophobia and stereotypes. So I did a quick search and found a web site devoted to Letterman's Top 10 lists. Here, in its entirety, is what Letterman said:

Top Ten Signs You're A Gay Cowboy
10. "Your saddle is Versace"
9. "Instead of 'Home On The Range', you sing 'It's Raining Men'"
8. "You enjoy ridin', ropin', and redecoratin'"
7. "Sold your livestock to buy tickets to 'Mamma Mia'"
6. "After watching reruns of 'Gunsmoke', you have to take a cold shower"
5. "Native Americans refer to you as 'Dances With Men'"
4. "You've been lassoed more times than most steers"
3. "You're wearing chaps, yet your 'ranch' is in Chelsea"
2. "Instead of a saloon you prefer a salon"
1. "You love riding, but you don't have a horse"

Ummmm ... okay ... I'm waiting for the outrage to hit. And waiting ... Still waiting.

Actually, while I'm waiting I'm having a hard time keeping from chuckling. If the worst stereotype Letterman can come up with is that, as gay cowboys, we'd want saddles from Versace, that's pretty tame. (And, I might add, sometimes devastatingly accurate considering how many "brand whores" there are out there sporting names like Tommy Hilfiger or Abercrombie and Fitch across their sculpted pecs.) So I strongly doubt that I'll be joining to angry chorus hurling invectives at Letterman.

Humor inhabits a curious gray area when it comes to determining whether the listener is offended or amused. The same joke can either be funny or offensive ... depending on who tells it. A lot of it is whether the person telling the joke is part of the group about which the joke is told. It's like the "insider/outside" type of language. Among LGBTs, some of us use the word "queer" as an inclusive term for the entire community. Granted, there are some in the community who don't care for the word, but in general it's accepted. But, to hear the same word come out of a straight person's mouth can raise our hackles. It's much the same thing as the use of "the N-word." Young urban blacks can use the term to refer to each other, but it's not acceptable to be uttered by a white person.

The "insider/outside" thing isn't as simple as it may appear on the surface. For the most part we can laugh about a group of gay men camping it up and calling each other "fag," but the same word spoken by Fred Phelps or waved around on his infamous "God Hates Fags" signs tends to become fighting words. In between these two extremes is where humor fits. Here it becomes less clear cut and more "in the eye of the beholder."

Remember the comedy series "In Living Color"? The series, produced by Keenen Ivory Wayans on Fox from 1990 to 1994, was a break-out hit that not only introduced American to urban humor, but launched the careers of folks like Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey. It featured a periodic segment called "Men on Film" in which two stereotypically gay men review films. Any film starring a woman would likely get a "Hated it!" review chanted in unison by Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier, while movies starring hot guys would get "Two snaps up!" There was a lot of disagreement in the LGBT community whether the skits were offensive or not. Personally, I never found the "Men on Films" skits to be particularly offensive - especially considering that the characters seemed pretty mild when compared to the rest of the show. And, believe me, the humor on "In Living Color" spared no group.

Humor is a subjective thing. So often whether a joke is funny or offensive depends on more than just the words. Humor depends on the context of the joke and the past history of the speaker. For example, we tend to be much more lenient about Robin Williams doing a stereotypical imitation of a gay man because we know he has been supportive of the LGBT community in the past and his humor comes across as a lot more gentle than some of the comedians who lack Williams' "street cred" among the LGBT community. Compared to comedians like Sam Kinison who ranted about "some faggot in Africa fucked a monkey and now we have to wear rubbers" or Eddie Murphy who made a joke out of women who liked to hang out with gay guys and then "be kissin' on them and bringin' home nasty diseases," Williams' humor is benign and lacks the vicious edge of other comedians.

I don't doubt that my acquaintance really was offended by Letterman's Top 10 list last night. He's certainly welcome to send an angry letter to CBS. But considering how many things going on in the world that I find worthy of outrage, I think I'll pass on this crusade and save my outrage for other issues.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Intriguing new wrinkle in the Ford story: Is Ford sucking up to conservatives for a bail-out?

By now you've probably heard the story ... Ford Motor Company, after being a progressive corporation that offers protections for its LGBT employees and has supported a number of LGBT events and organizations, does an about-face at the threat of a boycott by the notoriously homophobic American Family Association. The AFA crows about its "victory" in getting Ford to pull advertising from gay publications and reportedly drop funding for LGBT causes. Then a group of LGBT organizations demand a meeting with Ford and the automaker holds a meeting with representatives from the groups on Monday.

As a result of that meeting, Ford issues the following statement, as reported in a Washington Blade article:

"We value all people regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and cultural or physical differences," Bill Ford, chair and CEO of Ford, said in the statement. "This is a historical commitment of the Ford Motor Company that I intend to carry forward." ...

The Ford statement did not mention the advertising decisions or its support for gay organizations and events, but also did not back off from its previous public commitments to pull back on both.

"The automotive industry is a highly competitive business," the Ford statement said. "During these budget-tightening times, our brands must make tough choices where to advertise and how to spend limited sponsorship dollars." ...

The Ford statement also did not specifically mention meeting with the AFA or distance the company from the AFA's subsequent claims that the automaker had bowed to pressure from the anti-gay group. But the statement did include a general denial that its decisions were influenced by anything other than economics

"Ford Motor Company is always willing to engage in constructive conversation with those interested in our policies, even with those who don't always agree with them," the statement said. "But only Ford Motor Company speaks for Ford Motor Company. Any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect."

It goes without saying that the representatives from the LGBT organizations were left scratching their heads over Ford's non-statement statement. Reports to come out of the meeting claim Ford representatives gave verbal agreements to each of the requests presented by the group, but that the "official" statement made no comment about the requests ... or even mentioned the fact that the meeting occurred.

So if you're keeping score, here's where things stand now:

Ford acknowledged that it is cutting back on its advertising in LGBT publications and calls it a "business decision." Meanwhile, the company refuses to correct AFA's claim that it was pressure from the far right-wing organization that prompted the decision. While it will continue to advertise Volvo in gay publications, Ford will no longer use gay-specific images in those ads. And the whole issue of the company's support for LGBT causes is left rather vague.

It's hard to understand how a company that was an industry leader in supporting not only it's LGBT employees, but the LGBT community and causes, could suddenly take an 180-degree turn and reverse its policies.

That is, it's hard to understand unless you consider the rumor that floating around concerning Ford.

According to the rumor, Ford is backing away from its gay-friendly policies as a way of convincing Washington to bail the company out of its financial woes. Those woes run deeper than most people outside the industry realize and are a real threat to the automaker (not to mention the country's economy). Hoping to curry favor with the Bushinistas, Ford is sucking up to the social conservatives by moving its corporate values to the right. Such a move would be looked upon favorably by the Bush administration which would have to approve a massive federal bail-out for the ailing automotive giant.

Adding to the suspicion surrounding Ford is the fact that two of the companies top executives are former members of the Bush administration. Far from leaving their government jobs behind, these executives are reportedly using their position to lobby for the appointment of conservative judges.

Who knows what's really going on behind the closed doors of Ford Motor Company's executive offices? From all appearances it seems as though Ford's decision to back away from gay issues is but the first card dealt in a corporate version of Texas hold 'em in which one of the nation's biggest companies is willing to gamble it's formerly gay-friendly image against the chance for a bail-out from a gay-baiting, right-wing administration.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Playing gay ... not that there's anything wrong with that

Once upon a time, a much-anticipated gay-themed movie openned. It was hailed as a film that would be ground-breaking and an honest look at people who were ... you know ... that way. Other critics saw in the film a sure sign that the world was going to hell in a handbasket and warned that the movie was not one "decent folks" should see.

And, no, that film wasn't called "Brokeback Mountain."

"The Boys in the Band," based on Mart Crowley's off-Broadway stage hit, openned in 1970. Though the film came out (so to speak) in the year following the Stonewall riots that sparked the modern gay rights movement, its sensibility is definitely set in the pre-Stonewall era. The film follows the events of a single evening when a group of gay men (and one supposedly straight man) meet to celebrate the birthday of one of the group, Harold. The original ads for the film featured a photo of Leonard Frey as Harold on one side under the heading "Today is Harold's birthday." On the other side was a photo of Robert La Tourneaux playing a hustler in a cowboy hat. The caption with it read: "This is Harold's present." The ad (in which both men were fully clothed) was considered so shocking that the venerable New York Times refused to run it.

For those who haven't seen it (and let's face it ... a 35-year-old movie about bitchy gay men battling each other and their own self-loathing is not generally on anyone's top-10 list) the film can be viewed as a look at gay men in the days when "gay" meant "glum" or a camp classic with devastatingly funny lines that can be recited with the same bitchy glee that a previous generation of gay men used to recite lines from George Cukor's "The Women." Gay men, at least those of us of a certain age, still use lines like "Oh Mary! It takes a fairy to make something beautiful" or "You're lips are turning blue. You look like you've been rimming a snowman" or the ever-popular "Who do you have to fuck to get a drink around here?" and even Harold's dark warning to the party's host, "You're a sad and pathetic man. You're a homosexual and you don't want to be, but there's nothing you can do to change it. Not all the prayers to your God, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you've go left to live. You may one day be able to know a heterosexual life if you want it desperately enough. If you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate. But you'll always be homosexual as well. Always Michael. Always. Until the day you die."

As dated and politically incorrect as "The Boys in the Band" seems today, it still represents a breathrough for gay subjects on film. It marked the first time an American film tried to capture "the homosexual experience." It's not that movies didn't occasionally toss in a gay character, but before "The Boys in the Band," such characters were limited to campy asexual "pansies" played for laughs, pathetic victims, or darkly sinister outsiders like Peter Lorre's character in "The Maltese Falcon" who existed mainly to provide a contrast to Humphrey Bogart's he-man detective.

Despite whatever shortcomings we perceive in "The Boys in the Band" from a perspective of three-and-a-half decades later, it still stands up as a breakthough. That's a special status it will likely share with "Brokeback Mountain."

There's also something else both movies share: a tinge of homophobia when it comes to marketing the films to a mass audience.

Back in 1970 the real break-out star of "Boys in the Band" was Cliff Gorman who played Emory, the gayest of the gay who's character is described as "a butterfly in heat." Emory is the type of character to fit most snugly into the stereotype of the time. He lisps. He sashays across a room. At times other actors seem genuinely at risk of being inadvertently smacked by his flailing hands and wrists. Behold, the fairy!

While Emory was the character, the actor who portrayed him was certifiably straight. One interview with Gorman made his heterosexual credentials abundantly clear not only by mentioning his wife in several places, but mentioning his taste in beer (not like those wine spritzers and "fruity" drinks his character might order) and talking about his interest in sports (yep, 100-percent he-man!).

Gorman was safe to market to America because he made it clear that he was only playing a part. He reminded straight American that it's only a movie.

Meanwhile, the spotlight of publicity didn't shine on other characters with larger roles in the film. Maybe that's because they didn't share Gorman's taste for beer or sports. Or women. Frey and La Tourneaux both died of AIDS several years ago. Though nothing was said in the mainstream media about their sexual orientation (or that of some of the other cast members), you can still almost hear the creaking and clanking of the Hollywood marketing machine working overtime behind the scenes. Let's not focus on the other actors, it seemed to say. Some reporter might ask them a ... ummm ... delicate question. The public won't stand for a homosexual actor playing a homosexual character. It wouldn't be make-believe anymore!

Jump forward 35 years and its apparent how far we've come in depicting LGBT lives on film. Gay characters now can do more than engage in catty bitch-fights on screen. Now they can fall in love and (gasp!) have sex! But someone hasn't gotten the memo that actors have to establish their heterosexual credentials in order to play a gay part.

Case in point: Try to find an article or interview about "Brokeback Mountain" that doesn't point out that Australian-born heartthrob Heath Ledger didn't fall in love with Michelle Williams (the actress who plays his wife in the film) while shooting the movie. In its cover story on "Brokeback," Entertainment Weekly, a queer-friendly magazine that should know better, managed to work not only Ledger's romance with Williams, but the fact that she recently gave birth to their child into the very first paragraph.

How's that for establishing straight credibility?

Yep, no homos here. Just us straight guys playing queer. We are definitely ACTING.

I'm happy for Heath and his (as Entertainly Weekly terms her) "soul mate." What I'm not happy with is the need of Hollywood to assure audiences that an actor isn't gay just because he plays gay roles. There's more than a hint of homophobia in that. And it shows how far we really haven't come that far since "The Boys in the Band."

What's still debatable is where that attitude comes from. Is it the actors anxious to reassure their straight fans? Their agents, worried about the career implacations of their clients playing gay? The Hollywood publicity machine that embraces "break-through films," but gets squeamish about marketing them without reminding the straight men who get dragged to the local multiplex by wives or girlfriends that the man-on-man action depicted on screen is one more Hollywood special effect?

I'd hope the movie-going public (the heterosexual part of it, anyway) is adult enough by this time to recognize that a movie is just a movie. I don't recall Anthony Hopkins being asked if he had ever really murdered anyone while promoting "Silence of the Lambs." No one asked Glenn Close if she had ever stalked someone and boiled a bunny while she was making the rounds to promote "Fatal Attraction."

No doubt a sizeable percentage of straight people view being gay as more horrendous than stalking an ex-lover and threatening his family or serving a census taker's liver with fava beans and a nice chianti. For those movie-goers, the distance from "The Boys in the Band" and "Brokeback Mountain" isn't that far at all.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Finding the line between bias and mental illness

Few things would give me greater pleasure then seeing Fred Phelps and his clan of followers placed into straightjackets and loaded onto a bus to transport them to the nearest psychiatric facility. Or the thought of Jerry Falwell twitching and jerking while undergoing electro-convulsive therapy. Or maybe Pat Robertson channeling his inner Blanche DuBois from the final scene of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and whimpering how he's "always depended on the kindness of strangers" as men in white coats lead him out of his television studio.

Maybe someday we'll be treated to just such scenes if the field of psychiatry decides to include extreme bias in its listing of psychiatric diagnoses.

According to a Washington Post article, a California psychiatrist named Edward Dunbar has proposed writing new guidelines for the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the hefty book that defines a variety of mental disorders. Dunbar's guidelines, which haven't officially been submitted to the APA yet, describe people whose daily functioning is paralyzed by persistent fears and worries about other groups.

The article cites a number of examples: a waiter who lost numerous jobs because he refused to provide service to black customers; a Viet Nam veteran who feared going anywhere Asians might be; a woman in Los Angeles so convinced that Jews carried diseases that she went through elaborate cleansing rituals. And then there's this one:

The 48-year-old man turned down a job because he feared that a co-worker would be gay. He was upset that gay culture was becoming mainstream and blamed most of his personal, professional and emotional problems on the gay and lesbian movement.

These fixations preoccupied him every day. Articles in magazines about gays made him agitated. He confessed that his fears had left him socially isolated and unemployed for years: A recovering alcoholic, the man even avoided 12-step meetings out of fear he might encounter a gay person.

"He had a fixed delusion about the world," said Sondra E. Solomon, a psychologist at the University of Vermont who treated the man for two years. "He felt under attack, he felt threatened."

Wow! If that kind of behavior was suddenly considered a mental illness, the ranks of fun-D'uh-Mentalist churches and right-wing politicians would shrink drastically.

My first impulse was to cheer the APA for considering making extreme bias a new form of pathology. That's because I saw how easily we could use it as a tool to silence the opposition. As much as I'd like to see folks like Phelps and Falwell and Robertson (and a list of several hundred more that I could name off the top of my head) silenced, such a tool could easily become a two-edged sword.

It's only been a little over three decades ago that simply being gay was considered a "mental illness." We were victims of a patholgy at best and crazed, deviant monsters at worst, in the eyes of the field of psychiatry. We were treated with hormones. We were strapped to chairs with electrodes attached to our genitals to provide a shock if we started to become aroused when shown photos of naked men. We were injected with serums made from goat glands. We were lobotomized. We were castrated. All because we were "sick" according to a definition in a manual.

As tempting as it is to wish to avenge those dark years by painting our opponents with the same "mentally ill" brush that was once used on us, there are compelling reasons why we shouldn't.

First, creating a new category of mental illness to describe extreme bigotry would risk setting free those who commit hate crimes. Imagine if such a category of mental illness had been available when the two cretins who murdered Matthew Shepard were on trial. Would they still have been convicted and given life in prison? Or would the diagnosis of extreme bias have provided them with an instant insanity defense?

Second, when a person's prejudices become so severe they create problems with his or her job and social life, there are existing diagnoses that can provide the same treatment without creating a whole new type of mental illness. The article notes that anti-psychotic drugs have been used to successfully treat prison inmates who exhibited high levels of prejudice toward other groups. These same drugs treatments might be useful in dealing with persons who exhibit the delusional belief that a particular group is taking over or out to get him. Why create a whole new category to describe something that already exists like paranoid delusions?

Finally, there's just something a little creepy about using psychiatry to enforce social norms. Some might envision a brave new world free from prejudice, but I shudder at the idea it's not too many steps from copying the Joseph Stalin's style of silencing dissident voices. Stalin claimed the state existed to "protect the people." Therefore, if a person sopke out against the Soviet Union, they were acting against their own best interest and could rightly be judged "insane" and sent for "rehabilitation" to some Siberian gulag.

That's were the two-edged sword comes in. The progress we have made toward LGBT rights is tenuous at best, especially under the current political climate. What gains we have made can be lost and we can once again be judged to be on the wrong side of mental health.

It's important for all of us to talk about racism and sexism and homophobia and all sorts of prejudices. It's also important for groups like the APA to examine what effect biases have on society. There may well turn out to be a good reason to list extreme bias as a mental disorder ... but to set forth a new definition before we've studied the issue in depth could turn out to be a very dangerous proposition.


Friday, December 09, 2005

The only thing worse than disagreeing with someone ...

"We, we, gotta stop these queers, Ron. There's no question in everybody's mind that this can not go through. Uh, we, we - this is gettin' ridiculous. We gotta, we gotta stop this. There's no such thing as, as queer marriages. We gotta stop it. In fact, you know, I think we should have an amendment - uh - put on the ballot, a referendum. Maybe we should have an open season on those people and just let 'em know how we really think. Okay? Bye."

That the verbatim transcript of a voice mail message left for Democratic Wisconsin State Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay as the Wisconsin legislature was taking up the issue of a ban on same-sex marriages in the state.

Hanson, a moderate Democrat, has gone on record as supporting "traditional marriages." In fact, he voted for a similar measure when it was brought before the legislature last year. But after receiving the voice mail (not to mention hearing from constituents who voice similar opinion in slightly less violent terms) he proposed an amendment to the proposed legislation to eliminate the second sentence of the amendment that would invalidate any "legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals." In other words, his amendment would still ban same-sex marriage, but it wouldn't take the additional step of possibly putting benefits afforded same-sex or unmarried opposite sex partners in jeopardy.

Wisconsin's Quest News Update reports:

"In fact, I received a voice mail from a constituent who believes the next amendment we should pass is one that creates an 'open season' on 'those people' so we can show them what we really think about them," Hansen said, after pointing out that "it has become increasingly clear that this Act is not about celebrating marriage as we know it."

In offering his amendment Hansen had made it clear he supported a traditional definition of marriage. "A year ago I cast my vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act as an extension of my firm belief that traditional marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman," Hansen said. "In these turbulent times of moral uncertainty, we need to affirm our commitment to the fundamental family values that made our nation and our state strong."

Hansen then charged the bill's supporters with political demagoguery. "It has become increasingly clear that this Act is not about celebrating marriage as we know it," Hansen said. "Instead, it has been usurped by those who would use it instead for political gain in the upcoming elections and to spread fear and foment hate. It is the crassest of political strategies. And attempting to turn our Constitution into a campaign document is a dangerous tactic."

Hanson's amendment lost on a vote, but he voted against the ban - a switch in his position from last year.

There are three lessons LGBTs and their supporters can glean from Hanson's switch:

1. Hanson was comfortable switch his vote because he had promised to reflect the will of the voters in his district and in the final days of the push for the measure, callers opposed to the amendment outnumbered those supporting it ... so we need to keep pressure on our elected officials.

2. According to the Senator's staff members, the harm to same-sex and other unmarried couples provided by amendment opponents in the year since the first vote swayed Hansen on the issue ... so never give up trying to educate lawmakers in clear, honest and straight forward information about the effects anti-gay legislation has on his or her constituents.

3. And finally, it was the hatred of gays and lesbians expressed by a significant number of amendment supporters - particularly the "open season" call - that finally changed the senator's vote ... so never let your lawmakers see who the true "extremists" are.

There's an old Zen saying: "When you can hold the central ground, your opponent is pushed to the edge. At that point the battle is won."

That might not be the case with every lawmaker. Some are already on the side of the religious zealots. Others fear voting against the sort of "mob mentality" that the religious reich and their minions represent. But sometimes you find a truly thoughtful politician who approaches an issue with an open mind. Such a politician is willing to listen and when he or she does, it's far easier to sway them with appeals to logic and compassion while the opposition assails them with hatred and bigotry.

I'm reminded of the local effort to get the city to pass a domestic partner ordinance and registry last year. As expected, the measure stirred up the bigots in the religious right who paraded before the city council citing their usual litanies of hatred.

At the beginning of the process, some of the city council members were on the fence about the issue. Hoping to capitalize on their uncertainty, the religious right started showing up at council members offices. So strident were they that one council member ended up having her constituents removed after hearing yet again how she would "burn in hell" if the measure passed.

By the time the smoke cleared, the measure passed 12-0. (One council member who was still on the fence managed to be absent that day to avoid voting on the issue.)

As in the case with Wisconsin Sen. Hanson, the fundies may have declared "open season," but ended up shooting themselves in the foot with their bigotry and hatred. Meanwhile, the LGBTs who worked so hard for passage of the ordinance ended up looking like the much more reasonable alternative.

While there are lessons to be learned by LGBT activists in all this, there's also a lesson for the fundies (though I doubt seriously if they will be acting on it any time soon): Sometimes the only thing worse than disagreeing with someone is agreeing with them stupidly.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Small minds in the smallest state

Right-wing parents attempting to control what their children (and other parents' children) do or see or read or even think in public schools are nothing new. But sometimes the wingnuts are so outrageously over the top that I can't just let their rantings pass without comment.

Case in point: In Glocester, Rhode Island, a group of parents are wailing and gnashing their teeth over a field trip to see a movie. An optional field trip ... one which requires a permission trip from parents to attend.

And what, pray tell, is this licentious, lewd, socially unacceptable film so likely to warp the fragile sensibilities of the Ponaganset High School ninth graders? None other than Rent, the PG-13-rated film version of the long running Pulitzer and Tony-winning drama.

According to

"The lifestyles depicted in this movie are not the majority, not the lifestyles of 99.9 percent of the kids that live in these two towns," School Committee cochair Donna Mansolillo told a meeting of the committee this week.

Mansolillo then handed out a review of the film by the conservative group Focus on the Family that calls the movie "an in-your-face glorification of homosexuality and lesbianism."

Well, first off, Mrs. Mansolillo, if your little section of Rhode Island is 99.9 percent heterosexual, you're seriously short of homosexuals. Estimates of the gay population in the U.S. run anywhere from a conservative 15 million up to 30 million. Between 3 and 7 percent of the population is gay. So estimating 99.9 percent of your high school is straight means that Glocester is statistcally freakish.

Of course it's more logical to assume that with folks like Mrs. Mansolillo running around spouting off about "promoting homosexuality," all those under-counted gays and lesbians aren't as like to come out ... at least not around Mrs. M.

But, you know, Mansolillo and James Dobson's infamous hate group, Focus on the Family, might have a point about Rent glorifying homosexuality. Some little ninth grader could see the movie and think, "Gee, I want to be gay and live in poverty in New York. I want to get AIDS so I can be skinny and all my friends will care about me. And when I die from AIDS I want all my friends to get together and sing about me and dance. Yeah, that's for me!"

Is that what scares you about glorifying AIDS and promoting that big, mean old homosexual agenda, Mrs. M?

It's pretty scary stuff for kids to know that there are all sorts of people in the world besides the Taliborn-agains that seem to infest Glocester like a plague of locusts. There are people in the world that are different colors. There are people in the world who live in fancy houses as well as those who inhabit abandoned buildings. There are people in the world who love all different types and genders of people. And there are people in the world who die from all sorts of causes.

Fortunately, at least for those of us who value being able to think for ourselves and encouraging others to do likewise, the attempts by the wingnuts to force cancelation of the field trip failed. As another parent (one who apparently exercises that dangerous trait of thinking for herself) pointed out: "I don't see what the problem is. If you don't want your kid to go, don't sign the permission slip."

Ah, such straightforward logic! No doubt it's lost on Mrs. M and her ilk who refuse to rest as long as any kid in Glocester remains at risk of thinking or forming opinions for him or herself.

As "Seasons of Love," one of Rent's big show-stopping tunes puts it, there are "Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes that make up a year". But even one of those precious minutes spent listening to the likes of Mrs. Mansolillo is too much.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Merry Rama-Hana-Kwanz-Sol-Mas, Mr. President!

As one of those dreaded "lib'rul seck-u-lar humanists" the fundies are accusing of "declaring war on Christmas," it warms my heart this holiday season to watch as assorted right-wing whackjobs roast each others' chestnuts on an open fire.

And, like finding an extra gift under the Christmas tree (or "holiday tree," if you prefer), we are treated to the holiday bonus of watching our born-again president step in a pile of Christmas ca-ca because he's apparently among those evil-doers intent on "taking Christ out of Christmas."

George and Laura, the current residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., have incurred the wrath of that portion of their constitutents most likely to drag their knuckles when walking by sending out White House Christmas cards without any mention of Christmas. To add insult to injury, the artwork on the card fails to include Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, angels, shepards or the three wisemen (though, to be fair, finding wisemen in Washington, D.C., would prove to be nearly impossible). Instead the Bushes opted for sending out a holiday card depicting the White House pets - two dogs and a cat.

Now, in response, the fundies are reacting like Bush called a press conference to announce he and Laura regularly drink the blood of Christian babies they have sacrified to the glory of Satan.

From an article in today's Washington Post:

"This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Bush "claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn't act like one," said Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site "I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it." ...

"It bothers me that the White House card leaves off any reference to Jesus, while we've got Ramadan celebrations in the White House," (president of the American Family Association Tim) Wildmon said. "What's going on there?"

Ouch! Sounds like BushCo's base is unhappy. At this rate he and Laura might expect to find themselves on the warm end of an auto-de-fe before his term is out.

Rising to the defense of the beleagured (and apparently demon-possessed president, according to some), is Laura's press secretary, Susan Whitson: "Certainly President and Mrs. Bush, because of their faith, celebrate Christmas. Their cards in recent years have included best wishes for a holiday season, rather than Christmas wishes, because they are sent to people of all faiths."

Odd, but that's the same rationale that many retailers use to justify wishing shoppers "happy holidays" when they enter stores.

Those are the same retailers who Faux News commentator Bill O'Reilly claims have declared "war on Christmas."

Christmas and the baby Jesus must really be in trouble if they are depending on O'Reilly to ride to their rescue. It was just over a year ago that O'Reilly was fending off accusations of sexually harassing a female producer who claimed he subjected her to repeated instances of sexual harassment and spoke often, and explicitly, to her about phone sex, vibrators, threesomes, masturbation, the loss of his virginity, and sexual fantasies. But I suppose if grown-up Jesus can forgive a woman accused of adultry, then Baby Jesus can find it in his heart to forgive O'Reilly some "dirty talk."

On his Nov. 18 edition of "The O'Reilly Factor" (along with Faux newsperson John Gibson), O'Reilly made some startling claims:

O'REILLY: See, I think it's all part of the secular progressive agenda --

GIBSON: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: -- to get Christianity and spirituality and Judaism out of the public square. Because if you look at what happened in Western Europe and Canada, if you can get religion out, then you can pass secular progressive programs like legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage, because the objection to those things is religious-based, usually.

So is bully boy Bill saying that Bush is pushing a secular agenda? I sure don't see George out drumming up support for gay marriage. He's come out against abortion, too ... though I'd be curious to see how strong his disapproval of abortion would be if either of his wild twins, Barb and Jenna, showed up at Christmas dinner and announced a pregnancy. There's no way he'd support euthanasia ... at least unless he thought he could get away with smothering Big Mama Barbara in her sleep the next time one of her ill-thought-out comments embarasses him. And the whole narcotics thing? Well, he claims to have given all that up years ago.

So yet again the fundies and right-wingers are caught up in their own inconsistencies. They want to boycott retailers like Target for wishing shoppers "happy holidays," but they are stuck supporting a president who does the same thing.

But no one ever accused the right wing of being consistent. Or even particularly intelligent.

So despite not having received a Christmas ... oops! I mean "holiday" card from the White House, I'd still like to wish George and Laura an all-inclusive happy Rama-Hana-Kwanz-Sol-Mas season and welcome them to the scary world of political correctness.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

BUSTED! Anti-gay AFA sells 'ex-gay' snakeoil

Suppose for a moment that an author famous for his books on raising children got caught up in a child abuse scandal. After years of advising parents how to raise their children, he gets caught doing something awful to his own kids like scalding their hands for misbehavior or beating them to the point of requiring medical attention.

News like that would undoubtedly cause sales of the author's books to plummet and stores selling his books would likely pull them off the shelves quietly. And rightly so. No one wants to take advise from someone who so clearly doesn't follow his own advice.

Now suppose a prominent "ex-gay" who touts a video claiming he was cured of him "homo-seck-shul afflicition" by his faith in Jesus is discovered not only to have continued to cruise for men on line, engaged in unsafe sex with multiple partners, and failed to mention the fact that he was HIV-positive.

That doesn't exactly speak highly for his "I was saved from buggery by Jesus" video. In fact, you'd figure any business carrying the video would pull it off the shelves faster than the religious reich could shout "Abomination!"

But if you thought that, you'd be wrong - at least in the case of the rabidly anti-gay American Family Association, a group led by the religiously insane Donald Wildmon.

Author and activist Wayne Besen sent out a press release today that busted AFA for continuing to promote and sell "ex-gay" spokes-homo's Michael Johnston's video "It's Not Gay" on its web site.

According to the copy accompanying the listing:

It's Not Gay presents a story that few have heard, allowing former homosexuals the opportunity to tell their own story in their own words.

Along with medical and mental health experts, these individuals express a clear warning that the sanitized version of homosexuality being presented to students is not the whole truth.

Uncompromising, yet compassionate, It’s Not Gay is a fair and balanced approach to this challenging subject.

Caught selling an "ex-gay" video made by a notorius ex-"ex-gay" is bad enough, but AFA continued to push this video even now ... two years after Johnston resigned in the wake of the disclosure about his secret life.

Says Besen in his press release:

After the incident, AFA spokesman Buddy Smith called Johnston's failure a "moral fall." With the AFA publicly acknowledging that they were aware of Johnston's failure as an ex-gay and his unsafe behavior, it is shocking that they would continue to promote "It's Not Gay" on their website.

"The American Family Association is blatantly committing fraud by suggesting that Johnston is heterosexual and they are promoting the spread of HIV by continuing to use him as a spokesperson," said Wayne Besen, author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth. "This episode suggests a stunning lack of integrity on the part of the American Family Association and utter contempt for the truth. If they have a shred of decency and morality, they will immediately stop selling the tape and apologize for their disgraceful behavior."

Yep ... nothings says "gays can change" better than a guy who cruises the internet for men and then doesn't bother to tell him his HIV status. That says a lot about Johnston's real "moral fall."

It also says a lot about AFA's moral bankruptcy that they would continue to promote Johnston's video while knowing his "ex-gay" pose was just a facade.

That's the trouble with the whole "ex-gay" movement. It's become big business for the religious reich and as long as they can continue making money off of it, they won't let the little matter of it's totally fraudulent premise stand in the way.

Meanwhile, AFA continues to sell "ex-gay" snakeoil at $15 a pop.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Finding truth on 'Brokeback Mountain'

I read. A lot. While the sterotypical gay man's nightstand might feature a candy dish of condoms, lube, a candle or two to set the mood, and maybe a few other items, depending on the owner's particular fetish, mine is piled high with books.

Because I'm such a voracious reader, it caught me by surprise a year or so ago when I begin hearing about a "gay cowboy movie" being filmed based on a short story by Annie Proulx. Unless you've been living in a cave for the past couple of months, you know by now that the movie is "Brokeback Mountain." It opens in limited release later this month and in wider release (which means it will finally come to Kansas City) in January.

The movie, directed by Ang Lee who's made films as diverse as "The Ice Storm," "Sense and Sensibility," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the gay-themed "The Wedding Banquet," and the regrettable "The Hulk," stars a couple of up-and-coming young actors, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, as a couple of cowboys who meet and fall in love while herding sheep in 1960's Wyoming.

But enough about the movie. I'll wait and judge that once I've seen it. What perplexed me is how I missed the story when it was first published. I've long been an admirer of Proulx's work - especially her book "The Shipping News," which was turned into a considerably dumbed-down film saved only by the casting of Dame Judi Dench playing Kevin Spacey's downtrodden character's aunt and the beautiful cinematography of the Newfoundland coast. I love Proulx's respect for the characters she creates and how she allows them to speak more through what they don't say than through their actual dialogue. Her minimalist approach ends up painting a more vivid portrait of her characters than reams of exposition.

So I went in search of this "lost" gay story, wanting to find it before I saw the movie version. "Brokeback Mountain" first appeared in The New Yorker in 1997. It was later published in a book of Proulx's short stories called "Close Range" (and has now been released as just the story with a tie-in to the film).

I wasn't sure what to expect when I first opened the story. I'm not a big fan of the Western genre, but was willing to give it a shot.

Fifty-three pages later, when I closed the book after a single setting with tears still in my eyes, I was stunned. Here is a story about two men in love that never uses the word "gay." In fact, in only one place in the book is the word "queer" used ... and that's put into the mouth of one of the characters to clarify what he is not.

But yet I've seldom read such a book that so clearly addresses what it means to be gay in a straight world. Proulx gets it exactly right! So powerful is the story that even looking through shots from the film on its web site, the film's iconic image - two shirts, one tucked inside the other and hanging on a single hanger beneath a postcard of the mountain of the title - brought tears to my eyes.

Beginning with a paperback copy of Gorden Merrick's The Lord Won't Mind snuck home when I was in high school, I've read lots and lots of gay stories and novels. Merrick's novel (and its sequels) were the first in which I encountered gay characters. The East coast, prep-school backgrounds of the characters was as foreign to my and my experiences as reading about the ancient samurai culture. In college I discovered John Rechy's novels of hustlers and drag queens such as City of Night and Numbers. Interesting, but the dark netherworld of prostitution was beyond my experiences. And then there were books like Andrew Holleran's Dancer from the Dance where the characters seemed shallow and vain and, while perhaps a true examination of gay life at a particular time and place, did little to relate to me. Likewise with Larry Kramer's Faggots, an over-the-top look at New York's gay life in the '70s that was nothing like I'd ever seen or experienced.

No doubt each of those books contained their own truth; but those truths weren't the truths of living outside the gay Meccas. All too often in "gay lit," locations outside of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Key West exist only as places to be running from.

"Brokeback Mountain" is one of those rare stories that addresses what life is like for those of us in the "flyover" portion of the country. The only other book I've read that comes close to telling the stories of "the rest of us" is Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin (which was released as an equally powerful film by Greg Araki eariler this year).

I have known men like the characters of Ennis and Jack in "Brokeback Mountain" - men who may not be able to put a name to what they feel, but their emotions are equally valid rather they take the time to name them or not. They don't have to work out their issues under the pulsing strobe lights of gay discos where there is a constant percussive beat of dance music. They don't have to go through the almost mandatory "coming out" scene, except within themselves.

Perhaps this is what Proulx was trying to do in writing "Brokeback Mountain." She was stripping all that is "gay" from a story about two men finding love in each other's arms. She took the story down to its very basic, most elemental level - the overwhelming need to love and be loved.

In telling a story vitually devoid of all the trappings that people associate with the word "gay," Proulx has taken a story of two people and reduced it to the point where its themes are universal. Far from being a "gay cowboy story," it becomes a story about how lonely life can be when we can't be true to our own natures.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ford caves in to fundie "crash test dummies"

Like a cheap subcompact in one of those front-end crash tests, Ford Motor Company has caved in to the radical religious reich.

According to an article on

The antigay American Family Association claimed a cultural victory on Thursday and called off its threatened boycott of Ford Motor Co. On Friday, Ford spokesman Mike Moran confirmed to that the company will stop advertising its Jaguar and Land Rover brands in gay publications but insisted it was strictly a business decision.

The Dearborn, Mich., automaker came under fire from the AFA in May for its longtime efforts to increase LGBT workplace diversity and support gay rights causes. Ford has long been a regular advertiser within gay media, including The Advocate, and has donated significant sums to LGBT causes and nonprofit groups such as the Human Rights Campaign.

Threatened with a boycott by the Mississippi-based AFA, Ford and some of its dealers agreed to negotiate, and the AFA announced in June that it would hold off on its planned action. On Thursday, AFA announced the boycott would be canceled altogether.

"They've heard our concerns; they are acting on our concerns. We are pleased with where we are," said Donald Wildmon, AFA’s chairman, in a statement. "Obviously there are still some small matters of difference, as people will always have, but generally speaking, we are pleased with the results—and therefore the boycott that had been suspended [is] now officially ended."

While the boycott by the inbred idiots of AFA may be officially ended, Ford needs to hear that a new boycott by LGBT consumers is just beginning.

In the past Ford has been supportive of LGBT issues and has helped to fund some LGBT programs across the country. But by caving in to the ravings of the fanatical Donald Wildmon and his followers who have made a name for themselves threatening boycotts of businesses they deem to "friendly" to that big bugaboo "the homo-seck-shul agenda," Ford risks making a whole new set of enemies.

Ford needs to hear from us and know that we will take all that supposed "disposable income" we have and shop elsewhere the next time we thinking about a new car.

Ford also needs to know that in siding with AFA, they are jumping in bed with a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center (which tracks such groups as the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations) listed as a hate group in it's spring 2005 magazine, Intelligence Report.

Here's what SPLC had to say about Wildmon and AFA:

Best known for leading boycotts of advertisers who support "indecency" in the mass media (including the supposedly cocaine-snorting Mighty Mouse), the Rev. Donald Wildmon, a former Methodist minister, has led a series of religious-right groups since 1976. ...

In one October 2004 article, the AFA Journal suggests that gay influences are leading to a "grotesque culture" that will include "quick encounters in the middle school boys' restroom." In its 1994 booklet Homosexuality in America, the AFA claims "[p]rominent homosexual leaders and publications have voiced support for pedophilia, incest, sadomasochism, and even bestiality."

AFA's direct-mail appeals are particularly shrill. "For the sake of our children and society, we must OPPOSE the spread of homosexual activity! Just as we must oppose murder, stealing, and adultery!" says one such recent fundraising letter. "Since homosexuals cannot reproduce, the only way for them to 'breed' is to RECRUIT! And who are their targets for recruitment? Children!"

AFA has 21 state directors, including California's Scott Lively, co-author of The Pink Swastika, a book that claims "homosexuals are the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities" (see also Making Myths).

In late 2004, the AFA called for a boycott of Proctor & Gamble, calling it "one of the largest promoters of the homosexual agenda," partly because it advertises on TV shows "Will and Grace" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." By late January 2005, AFA claimed more than 380,000 people had signed its boycott petition.

If Ford is willing to jump into bed with these bigoted knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, then it doesn't have much respect for the LGBT community.

For anyone interested in letting Ford know how you feel, the company's phone number, address and e-mail is listed on its web site.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Mixing the message in a Cuisinart

Some people send out mixed messages. You know the type ... "I love you, but I just can't be with you" or "I like what you're wearing, but let me pick out someone different for you" or my personal favorite "I'm so happy to be around you, but I need my space."

Then there's a whole different group of people that fold, spindle and mutilate the message, then put it through a Cuisinart set on puree before sending it out.

In that latter category is the Arlington, Va., Assembly of God Church which began running television advertisements aimed "to extend a welcome to people who might have felt demonized by Christianity," according to an article in The Washington Blade.

According to the church's pastor, Lynn Carter:

"This is a new ad that we're doing just to let folks know that we love 'em and that we care about them," Carter said. "We have various commercials that are on. Some deal with gay issues, some do not."

The commercials spotlight at least two "ex-gays." One commercial features a man, the other features a woman, and each says they were sexually abused as a child and later lived a "gay lifestyle." Both commercials end with the person claiming they are now heterosexual and Christian.

Carter said Arlington Assembly of God was not trying to suggest sexual abuse causes homosexuality.

Ummmm .. OK. So if the ads are not trying to suggest that homo-seck-shuls are created and set on their "lifestyle choice" by being abused, why feature two such pathetic creatures in the ad?

According to Carter, she's heard from some gays who were offended by the ads and some who were touched by them. "We want to convey a message of acceptance or love." The commercials were intended to counteract anti-gay messages from churches, Carter claimed in the article. "I think many gays and lesbians feel that they weren't accepted," Carter said. "God hates liars, too, but God lets liars come to church. If someone's looking for an out [from homosexuality] that's fine, and if they're not that's fine, we just want to let them know that we care."

I'm fine with a message of inclusion and I certainly wish more churches would be inclusive toward gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons. But far from being an inclusive, welcoming message, there's an undercurrent that all that love supposed presented in the commercials is kind of ... well, "conditional."

By featuring a couple of "ex-gays" in their ads, here's the real message the church is sending out: "God loves everyone ... but he really, really likes it if you are straight. Or at least not living that sinful homo-seck-shul lifestyle."

That's supposed to make us feel welcome?

If churches want to talk about abuse and groups that have been "demonized" by the church, they need to talk more than a millenia of Christianity's spiritual abuse toward a whole lot of different groups, all of whom have been demonized at one time or another by those who claimed to speak for God.

Gays? "Abominations worthy of death! Remember the story of Sodom (but the Genesis version, not the one in Ezekial and other books that claim it was pride, inhospitality to strangers and failing to care for the poor). We all know you horny homos wanted to hump those angels who visited Lot."

Kids? "Spare the rod and spoil the child. Beat that kid 'cause the Bible gives us carte blanche. Doesn't it say you should stone a disobedient child? Then anything short of killing the little brat is almost ... well, 'liberal!'"

Women? "Hey, it's all your fault, ladies! If you hadn't have picked that damned apple and offered it to Adam, we'd still be running around naked in Eden. You women are a necessary evil, so shut up and keep your heads covered in church. And don't ever think you could actually be in the clergy!"

Blacks? "You people are descended from Noah's son, Ham ... the one who got cursed to live in servitude. So, see, slavery really was OK. And remember that the Bible tells slaves to obey their masters, so quit being so 'uppity.'"

Jews? "It's bad enough you didn't recognize the saviour when he showed up, but then you went and killed him!"

I've actually heard all these arguments made at some point in my life. And I have yet to hear the churches apologize for them. Oh sure, they sweep them under the carpet ... but to apologize for this kind of spiritual abuse? Never.

Until churches can honestly confront their own histories and prejudices, allegedly "welcoming" messages like the ones from the Arlington Assembly of God will ring hollow.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Remembering on World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. Around the world, it's a day marked by ceremonies of remembrance for those who have died and speeches pledging to forge ahead toward finding new treatments and - eventually - a cure for AIDS.

Mostly, for me at least, World AIDS Day is marked by numbers and statistics.

Since its arrival was first noted in 1981, AIDS has claimed 25 million lives.

An estimated 40 million people worldwide now have HIV/AIDS.

Last year the U.N. estimates 3.1 million people died from AIDS and another 4.9 million became infected.

In America, the number of AIDS cases among men who have sex with men is on the rise again, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control.

Despite drops in infection rates among African Americans over the past several years, blacks remains eight times as likely to be diagnosed with AIDS.

Those are the kinds of numbers that get tossed around in World AIDS Day speeches. The news media dutifully reports the numbers. But tomorrow the news will be covering other stories about war or famine or poverty and there will be new numbers and statistics and body counts to report.

We've become immune to statistics. We are bombarded with numbers on a daily basis and there ability to move us for more than a moment has been dampened. The words of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin have never rang truer: "One man's death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic."

That's why I don't go out of my way to mark World AIDS Day anymore. The focus on the numbers remove the human face from HIV/AIDS. My own personal "AIDS Day" is tucked away inside a drawer. It's tied not to a calendar, but to my own need to remember.

Fifteen years or so ago my lover at the time and I lived in an all-gay apartment building managed by a gay couple who lived a floor above us. With six apartments in the building, there were always comings and goings and parties and "drama." The parties I remember most are the birthday parties thrown for Floyd, the apartment manager, whose birthday fell on the Fourth of July. We'd celebrate with cookouts and music and, after the sun went down, we'd move the party to the flat roof of the building for a glimpse of fireworks displays.

My gift for Floyd during the three years we lived there was to photograph the festivities and present him with copies of the photos. I'd have an extra copy of the photos made for me. Those photos, along with vacation photos that chronicled my trips, ended up in my nightstand drawer.

A decade ago I ran across those photos looking for something else. I sat on the edge of the bed and thumbed through them, remembering the parties and the people. There was Floyd being presented with outrageous birthday gifts. There was his lover, Steven, and their dog, a huge St. Bernard named, appropriately, Bernard. There was Jeff, dressed as a cheerleader in red, white and blue drag and his lover, Will. There was Tim, my lover's best friend. There was Tony, whom I have to admit I had a secret crush on. There was Tracy who planned on sex reassignment surgery one day and many others.

Then it hit me that many of these people were no longer around. I should have known that since I had sat through their memorial services. But those became times of numbness after a while ... services that melted one into another. Yet in the photos here they were again, smiling back at the camera very much alive at that moment.

Floyd's funeral was the first. I remember his sparsely attend memorial service where we all held hands and comforted Steven.

When Steven died his memorial service was held in his hometown. Few of us had the chance to attend, but I think that's the way his conservative family preferred it.

Tracy died in Florida, still waiting for his sex change operation.

I heard about Tony's death several months after it happened.

Jeff went home to his family in Colorado to die, but a local memorial service was held and I recall thinking how, with his usual drag queen bluntness, he had comforted me and then told me to "move on" after the break-up with my ex.

His lover, Will, moved away and we didn't learn about his death until much later.

Tim died, too. We always assumed he contracted HIV from the priest he dated for a while, (though the priest tried to keep his vocation a secret from us). Tim told us how the priest took him on a vacation to Denver and spent the entire time in a bathhouse there.

And there were others from those photos lost to the ravages of AIDS.

The last time I looked through the photos I realized that (apart from a few people I've lost track of over the years) my ex and I are the only ones I know of still alive.

I've lost friends before and after those pictures were taken, but for me the photos have become my own personal litany of the dead. I pull them out when I need to remember and grieve and to remind myself of the promise that Jeff extracted from me shortly before he went home to die: "Live like you're living for me."

For me World AIDS Day is not observed on December 1st. I keep my own personal World AIDS Day in a drawer by my bedside and I can observe it whenever I need to remember and grieve and keep a promise made years ago.