Tuesday Tidbits

Whoops! Turns out Proposition 8 is going to be in effect for a little while longer. For more information, go to the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog. For more thoughts on the prospects for Proposition 8, or its ban, go here.

  • Teen sex doesn’t mean bad grades, says new study. Not all teens are just “hooking up.” Some are in committed relationships and that makes all the difference.
  • Open letter from a mama grizzly to Sarah Palin. Palin’s use of the term “mama grizzly” is like her use of the word “feminist.” She appropriates both as if all mamas and fems think like her. Not!
  • On August 2nd, HBO Documentaries aired a new film about abortion called 12th and Delaware. (See trailer here.)  So far no word on when it will be shown again, but I advise you to watch out for it. It sounds fascinating.

[The] documentary seeks to offer “a fly-on-the-wall view of the ideological trench warfare” that happen on the intersection of Delaware Avenue and 12th Street, Fort Pierce, Florida, where Woman’s World Health Clinic, a privately owned abortion clinic, and an anti-abortion Pregnancy Care Center are situated across the road from each other.

Thursday Thoughts: “Outing” Gays

Apparently the blog world is all a-flutter with speculations about whether the Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is gay. Besides the fact that there are more substantive issues to be discussing about Kagan, I find the idea to be extremely sexist. She wears pants, has short hair, is unmarried and childless, has never been associated with a man, refuses to discuss her private life and supports the end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” therefore she couldn’t possibly be a normal woman. Never mind that she has had a demanding career (a situation that has prevented many women—and men—from devoting themselves to a spouse and children), she still should have the outer accouterments of accepted womanhood.

And of course, the speculation is homophobic as well. Kagan is not the first person in the public eye who has been suspected of being gay, nor will she be the last. Even dead people are not beyond suspicion (Eleanor Roosevelt being one example). You can be a wife-beater, a philanderer, a deadbeat dad, a sexual harasser (funny how these are all usually associated with male behavior) and nary a word will be spoken against you. But being gay—OMG!—elicits much the same response as being a Muslim (read: terrorist) does.

Of course there are people who are saying that it doesn’t matter to them whether or not Kagan’s gay; what they’re concerned about is how it would affect her rulings on LGBT issues. Then there are those who are supposedly more liberal about gays, but who are not comfortable with a person coming “out” as a gay. Both types are uncomfortable with a gay being ensconced on the U.S. Supreme Court. They prefer all gays, not just those in the military, to operate under a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. We won’t ask you if you’re gay—after all, we’re too politically correct for that—and you won’t tell us if you are.

Except that’s not what really happens. We have a voracious appetite for “outing” gays. And we don’t just do it with public figures; we do it with people we know as well. “He/she must be gay,” we whisper. And we obsess about it. We gossip about the person, maybe even come right out and rag them about it. It’s a relentless witch hunt that has driven many people to suicide.* Even just being suspected can lead to a suicide attempt, especially among teens.

When are we going to get it through our thick skulls that who people choose for sexual partners has nothing to do with anything else they do with their lives? Most of us keep our sexual lives private (thank God!) for a reason: sex itself is an intensely private affair. Who among us wants the details of our own sex lives to be common knowledge?

I can’t imagine how it feels to have people accuse you of being gay, whether or not you actually are. Because that’s just it; they’re accusing you. As if you’re guilty of something.

There’s one more thing that’s insulting about “outing” gays. It usually has more to do with an obsession with sex than with wanting to know who a person loves. As if one is impossible without the other. Or as if gay relationships are about sex only, not about love, devotion, friendship and day-to-day normal interactions.  Sex may only be a small part of what a couple feels for each other. In fact, sex is often an outgrowth of a loving relationship, not its sole reason for being.

[Yes, there is such a thing as gay encounters that are for sex only, but that’s also true for heterosexuals. The assumption is that heterosexuals are  not promiscuous and homosexuals are. We should all know better than that. Straights can be promiscuous and gays can be monogamous.]

What we are really doing when we “out” gays is making value judgments. We’re saying that there’s something newsworthy about being gay, because, after all, we all know that being gay is something bad. (And let’s face it, news is based on what is “bad” or “wrong.”) As long as its considered a topic of interest, one’s sexual orientation will always be subject to extreme scrutiny (especially if we fit the gay profile). I look forward to the day when people don’t even care whether a person is straight or gay.

I wonder whether I’ll live to see it.

*See “Suicide Attempts Among Gay and Bisexual Men: Lifetime Prevalence and Antecedents” for some interesting statistics.

Also read Jezebel’s article “Elena Kagan: The Sexual Politics of a Private Life.”

Death Penalty For Gays?

Black Gay MovementA Huffington Post article on December 8, 2009 reported that legislation has been proposed in Uganda that would impose the death penalty for some gay Ugandans and put their family and friends in jail for up to seven years if they fail to report them. Gay rights activists contend that this bill is part of a reaction to Africa’s gay community becoming more vocal.

The article explains that “the Ugandan legislation in its current form would mandate a death sentence for active homosexuals living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. ‘Serial offenders’ also could face capital punishment, but the legislation does not define the term. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act faces life imprisonment.” In addition, “anyone who ‘aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality’ faces seven years in prison if convicted. Landlords who rent rooms or homes to homosexuals also could get seven years and anyone with ‘religious, political, economic or social authority’ who fails to report anyone violating the act faces three years.”

Opponents point out that the bill signals a return to the brutal regime of Idi Amin, which would throw citizens in prison for life for merely touching another person in a gay way and put them to death if convicted of a crime called “aggravated homosexuality.”

Uganda is only one of several African nations who are criminalizing homosexuality, which they say is increasing because of “foreign influences.” High school teacher David Kisambra says that “the youths in secondary schools copy everything from the Western world and America. A good number of students have been converted into gays. We hear there are groups of people given money by some gay organizations in developed countries to recruit youth into gay activities.”

However, apparently there are also foreigners who are encouraging the Ugandan government’s homophobic reaction. According to the article,  “The measure was proposed in Uganda following a visit by leaders of U.S. conservative Christian ministries that promote therapy for gays to become heterosexual. However, at least one of those leaders has denounced the bill, as have some other conservative and liberal Christians in the United States.”

Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show, debated the point with Richard Cohen, author of Coming Out Straight. Here is a video of their exchange:

Health officials are concerned because they fear this will hinder efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. See “Stigma Driving AIDS Crisis Among African Gays.” I remember the AIDS hysteria in the U.S. in the ’80s. One of the most appalling things I heard during that time was that AIDS was God’s way of getting rid of homosexuals. The problem is, AIDS is also spread by men to women and is in fact the leading cause of death among African men and women. (The African Region has 11% of the world’s population, but an estimated 60% of people with HIV/AIDS.) Source: World Health Organization.

The only way to combat this disease is to let homosexuality out of the closet, not put it in prison.

Tuesday Tidbits

Misogyny, Up Close and Personal” by Melissa McEwan in the guardian.co.uk. How we can love men while not liking everything they do.

Marcella Chester’s blog about being a rape survivor:  “Abyss2hope.” This particular article is about the incidence of sexual abuse among boys and girls.  Also check out her website, “Date Rape is Real Rape.”

Bitch Magazine blog post by Mandy Van Deven about the classist, sexist, racist, homophobic and just plain mean blog, People of WalMart. (I could find the Facebook page for PeopleofWalmart, but not the website.)

Feminists Naomi Wolfe and Phyllis Chesler “face off over the veil” at Salon Broadsheet. This one’s especially interesting to me because like Wolfe, I defend any woman’s right to wear a headcovering, but I identify with Chesler’s views since I am also a Second-Waver. Read the article by Wolfe that started the debate:  “Behind the veil lives a thriving Muslim sexuality.”

Hate Crimes Legislation Debate

Jos, on Feministing, is against hate crimes legislation for several reasons, one being:

“Hate crimes legislation puts the power to bring and pursue such charges in the hands of a law enforcement and criminal justice system that disproportionately targets marginalized communities. As a result, hate crime charges are brought against black folks for allegedly targeting white folks and against queer folks for allegedly targeting straight folks. In fact, as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) points out in their non-endorsement of GENDA, so called anti-white hate crimes constitute the second highest amount reported by the FBI. Self defense in the face of a racist, homophobic or transphobic attack can equal a harsher sentence for the person being attacked in the first place.”

Read entire post here.

The SRLP’s statement includes their assertion that “[hate crimes legislation] encourage[s] us to lay blame and focus our vengeful hostility on one person instead of paying attention to institutional prejudice that fuels police violence, encourages bureaucratic systems to ignore trans people’s needs or actively discriminate against us, and denies our communities health care, identification, and so much more.”

The SRLP’s interpretation of the FBI statistics is misleading. Anti-white crimes may be the second most numerous type of hate crime based on race, but they still only constitute 18.3% compared to the 69.3% of the race crimes that are anti-black. Big difference. Also, the FBI statistics don’t even include a separate category for transgendered individuals.

Jos’ objection, “the fact that hate crime legislation does not have any quantifiable positive impact makes it a very poor reason to go against my larger belief about prisons” is a legitimate one. But I don’t understand a view that is willing to let hate crime perpetrators off the hook. Ideally, laws reflect the values of a society but sometimes they help to bring about change in those values. Hate crime legislation is both. There are still a lot of people in this society who think it is all right to commit crimes against persons and property base on race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/nationality and disability. They need to be shown in no uncertain terms that our society will not stand for that behavior.

Meanwhile, I agree that other means to change people’s attitudes should be employed. But that kind of change can be slow in coming. Jos’ assertion that “harsher sentencing does not decrease the amount of hate crimes being committed” may be true, but not making laws against them implies a tolerance that our society cannot afford to exhibit.

The Matthew Shepard Act that is now going through Congress is an example of the attempt to tighten hate crimes laws. It seeks to achieve three objectives:

1) Expand the law to authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Current law only includes race, color, religion or national origin.

2) Eliminate a serious limitation on federal involvment under existing law which requires that a victim of a bias-motivated crime was attacked because he/she was engaged in a specified federally-protected activity such as voting, serving on a jury or attending school.

3) Add “gender” and “gender identity” to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act*

This does not seem to be too much to ask.

*Source: Matthew Shepard Foundation

Held to the Same Standards

Martina NavratilovaReuters/Mihai Barbu

In the past week, Martina Navratilova has been sued by a former lover, Toni Layton, for millions of dollars in damages and spousal support. Navratilova’s defense hinges on whether or not she can convince the court that her and Layton’s relationship isn’t bound by the same standards as heterosexual marriage.

Layton and Navratilova were never legally married (they did “marry” in an unofficial ceremony in New Hampshire, but then moved to Florida which does not recognize same-sex unions) but they did live together for eight years and shared assets and property. If this had been a legal marriage, there is no question that Layton would be awarded some of those assets and quite possibly spousal support as well.

One reason why I think gay marriage will eventually become legal is so that gay relationships can be held to the same standards as heterosexual ones. Divorces can be as messy as lawsuits but they don’t usually involve the collection of damages.  As it stands now, both parties are vulnerable and neither is protected. As long as the law has different standards for same-sex relationships, these cases will inevitably be settled haphazardly. The legal system doesn’t take kindly to such inconsistencies.

The same sort of dynamic is present in custody suits between same-sex parents. (See my post, “[intlink id=”custody-fights-between-lesbian-partners” type=”post”]Custody Fights Between Lesbian Parents[/intlink].”) Just by being required to handle such cases, the courts are falling back on the marriage model to help them decide their outcomes. And the more often this happens the more likely it is that legal precedent will pave the way for gay marriage, if only to keep things tidy.

Louis Bayard of Salon.com writes that ” Martina Navratilova can no longer cast herself as an apostle for gay rights while using a homophobic legal code to deny her ex-partners alimony [Yes, this has happened before–see article link at top of post]. This is more than bad behavior, it is bad precedent.”  Layton herself is quoted as saying, “‘If I was a man, married or not, I’d be entitled to half of everything that she earned during those years together. But because I’m a woman, it seems, rather conveniently, she believes I’m entitled to next to nothing.”

Navratilova–and the rest of the gay community–needs to wake up: if they continue to press for equal rights (and I am totally behind their doing so) then they better prepare themselves for the equal responsibilities as well.