Thursday, June 30, 2011

Special Rights

A protest sign that has been making the rounds…

A while back I wrote about Henry and Josh. Henry is not an American citizen and deportation proceedings had begun. Obama's refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court (though he will still enforce it) put a wrinkle in Henry's case and others like it. It was getting down to the wire when Henry's hearing was postponed. The latest news is that deportation proceedings have been dropped entirely.

The Rhode Island legislature has passed a civil unions bill and sent it on to governor Lincoln Chaffee. All of the gay organizations are urging him not to sign it. The problem is exemptions for religious organizations. New York (just last week!) affirmed that a religious institution did not have to take part in a gay wedding or reception. Rhode Island took one more step. It is one thing for a church to say they won't officiate at a civil union ceremony. It is quite another for them to have the right to refuse to acknowledge the civil union. For example, a religious hospital can deny partner visitation. That has left gay groups wondering why do religious groups get special rights? And to think Fundies still accuse us of wanting special rights when we want government recognition of our relationships. Besides, the states around RI have full marriage equality and RI will recognize those marriages. Why not home grown equality?

Even with that disappointment in RI, we have made a lot of gains in just the last six months -- full marriage equality in New York and civil unions in Hawaii, Delaware, and Rhode Island. We now have six states, plus DC, with full gay marriage, five states with equivalent civil unions, another four with equivalent domestic partnerships, and another four with limited relationships. See the map here. It might look squished if your browser isn't at full screen.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Motor mouth

Lots of commentary and a behind-the-scenes story about the gay marriage win in New York

Frank Bruni, gay op-ed columnist for the New York Times, comments that one reason why we won in New York is because so many gay people have stepped out of the closet. "Over the last quarter-century the love that dared not speak its name turned into a veritable motor mouth..."

Michael Barbaro wrote a lengthy article for the New York Times about how the gay marriage vote in New York came to pass. The path had several milestones:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, working through aides, asked several wealthy GOP donors if they would support gay marriage. In particular, their involvement would give GOP senators a bit of cover to support the bill. The donors, including one with a gay son, agreed to the tune of a million dollars for the lobbying campaign.

Cuomo invited gay rights organizations to a meeting. He told them one problem with the vote two years ago was the infighting and badly coordinated efforts between the various groups. Solution: unite and get yourselves competent consultants. They did. But Cuomo was rather late to endorsing gay marriage (only in 2006) so had some convincing of his own to do. He campaigned on this issue yet many gays weren't sure he would stick to his word.

The first job was to convince the few Democrats who voted no last time around. Senator Kruger was prompted to switch by the woman he was living with (no comment) who has a gay nephew.

Senator Addabbo wanted to do what his constituents told him to do. At first gay activists didn't want to annoy him by inundating him. Then he reported that his tally of constituents leaned towards voting no. Cuomo told activists and he was soon flooded with postcards urging a yes vote. Final tally was 80% yes.

Though the GOP controlled the senate, barely, and most GOP senators didn't want to face the issue (not enough support in rural districts), the caucus was not united. Cuomo set about peeling off a few votes. The first was James Alesi, who seemed embarrassed about his no vote two years ago. He was the first target of the wealthy donors and the first to announce a yes vote.

Gay advocates were surprised that the head of the Catholic Church in New York, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, was rather meek in taking up the battle. It appears Cuomo worked behind the scenes to tell church leaders to pull in their claws.

For several days just before the vote the GOP senate caucus debated whether to allow the vote. Many brought up the claim that being gay was a choice. Again, Cuomo intervened and invited the whole caucus to the Governor's Mansion and told them "Their love is worth the same as your love." He got enough votes.

Thank you, Governor!

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin contrasts two senators who changed their vote after the 2009 defeat. Carl Kruger, Democrat, tried to say that he had always been a friend to gays. Keep talking. In contrast, Mark Grisanti gave a stirring speech on the research and discussions he worked through over the last six months that prompted him to become wiser and vote yes in spite of his Catholic upbringing. Kruger did political posturing. Grisanti proved to be a statesman.

Burroway summarizes several historic firsts with this victory.

* A Republican led chamber passed a marriage equality law.

* Cuomo was a governor who championed the bill, being heavily involved the whole way.

* A large number of businessmen and labor leaders urged its passage.

* Numerous New York pro athletes spoke out for the bill, beginning to break down the image of sports as a bastion of homophobia.

James Peron, writing in the Huffington Post, recalls George Wallace and blatant racism. He says history (and descendants) will not look kindly on the last homophobe standing.

Keith Olbermann, in his reincarnated Countdown program, had a few things to say about homophobic churches. This was broadcast before the vote was taken and the video is just under 4 minutes. We'll soon have gay marriage (and gay rights) across the country because the arguments against it don't matter to the younger generations. Want to categorize people? Do it according to honesty, sincerity, and generosity.

If we are to protect children from things their parents might do, the list is nightmarishly long. Being gay around kids won't rank very high. Churches, says Olbermann, oppose gay marriage because that represents diversity. That means peaceful interactions between different groups and religions. And that means fears and prejudices are diminished. Too many churches are in business because they can keep their members fearful.

The issue isn't about orthodoxy, but love. Gay people want as much chance to love as straights enjoy. And straight acceptance of gay love is another expression of love towards fellow humans.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Marriage is so gay

I've heard the phrase, "That's so gay." from youth and only once from a student (it wasn't meant to be nice). But it was great to see the phrase "Marriage is so gay" on a t-shirt in a New York crowd. Here's a wrap up of news reports, including a photo of a rainbow Empire State Building. There are also three videos of the festivities, each about 2 minutes. Don't bother with the middle one.

A correction to what I wrote earlier. There were four GOP senators who voted for same-sex marriage. And, significantly, the bill was passed in a GOP controlled chamber. The GOP could have easily put a halt to the whole thing by simply refusing to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The vote happened. A GOP controlled chamber approved gay marriage. And that by itself is a potent symbol and a big reason to celebrate.

New York!

Yay! New York Senate approved same-sex marriage last night. The story has been on NPR and likely other news sources, so I hope you've heard about it by now. The final vote was 33-29, meaning 2 GOP senators voted for it.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it as promptly as was physically possible. Same-sex marriages may begin in 30 days. An advantage of going to NY for a gay wedding is that the state does not have a residency requirement.

There was a lot of wrangling from the GOP senators to get extra religious exemptions. That charge was led by and undecided Senator Bell. However, once the amendments were approved he still voted against the whole package, claiming there weren't enough religious protections.

Ari Ezra Waldman explains the two religious exemption clauses. The first says that any religious institution that objects to the "solemnization or celebration" of a marriage can't be forced to take part. If the Knights of Columbus refuse to let you rent their hall for the reception you can't sue them. Fine.

The second is a bit more rambling and seems to suggest that if a hospital takes in a gay accident victim they don't have to let the same-sex spouse sit by the bedside. There are other possible situations where a religious organization might refuse a gay couple (adoption? reproductive services?). This is more troubling. Did we have to give up some rights to gain marriage? Some respondents say that Obama's recent memo about hospital visitation rules may prevent the first scenario.

Even so, this is a great day! In another posting (written 10 days ago, yes the NY senate has been delaying this vote for that long) Waldman says same-sex marriage in that state is a tipping point for gay rights across the country. He also cites such things as Obama's refusal to defend DOMA, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (though not quite gone), and the flurry of sports figures who have come out as gay or as gay allies.

With a tipping point comes such things as courts (especially the Supremes) becoming more willing to rule in our favor because they aren't forcing an unwanted ruling onto a resistant populace. The GOP is finding gays and gay marriage doesn't work so well as a wedge issue and are less likely to use it (could someone tell that to the current passel of GOP prez. contenders?). And another group of importance (the NY legislature) is telling gays, especially gay youth, that you matter, you aren't second class citizens, you are a part of the community of New Yorkers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Blowing kisses can help

Gay dads Mark Bromley and David Salie are raising Tallulah, who is now a year old. They share the top 10 things they've learned over the last year. Thanks to CBS who aired this story for Father's Day.

Only the government has the resources

I had a lovely dinner this evening with my friend and debate partner. His birthday is the day after mine so this was our time to celebrate. We've been friends for at least 15 years, though less than 20. We, of course, talk of many things and over the last year he has been a great help because he used to be (30 years ago) a college professor with sage advice for me new to teaching.

In our long rambling discussion he said he distrusts the idea that charities can meet the needs of 7 billion people. Yes, charities do great work (I support several and volunteer at a couple more, as does he), but those with money are too stingy with it to meet the great needs out there. Only governments have the capability and resources to meet those needs (alas, when the rich will allow themselves be taxed).

Maryam Al-Zoubi, writing for Campaign for America's Future, reports on a panel session put on by the Center for American Progress Action Fund that featured Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland that expands on my friend's idea. Yes, Cardin is Democrat -- you had to ask?

Cardin captured it all with this, “The federal government is the only entity to fight poverty in America. We need to do it because we can do it and we’re the only ones who can do it effectively."

Some of the ideas Cardin and others express:

Why fight poverty? Because (according to a Georgetown study) it costs the USA a half-trillion dollars a year.

Who is to blame for poverty -- the poor families themselves or the lack of progressive integrated programs? Al-Zoubi had heard (as have I) that poor people are poor because of their own fault and the government should stop bailing them out. They should work harder with the help the government already gives them.

Lisa Jacobs of Legal Momentum refutes that idea, the "combined income from all the poverty support programs is not enough to uplift the families out of poverty." A complete solution to poverty according to Raquel Russell must "look at transportation, childcare, family formation, job opportunities, job training, education, and nutrition for starters." The federal gov't should take back state programs because, Jacobs says, so many of them are "so regressive that they keep putting up obstacles to prevent people from even coming in through the door."

I'll echo what my friend said. The federal government doesn't spend enough to alleviate poverty. How can we expect charities to do so? That's especially true when considering that the feds don't have the money because the rich don't want their money to help the poor. These same rich people are not going to donate enough money to charity to make a difference.

Honorary Second Class Citizenship

Writer and artist Charles Alexander writes the Parting Glances column for Between the Lines. He is old enough (75?) that he can provide some historical perspective to our cause, though he is just as likely to offer his take on a recent situation. Most of his columns are quite humorous, as is the most recent.

Alexander found a petition at Motor City Pride and shares it with us. Since the source is uncredited it is possible that Alexander created it himself -- it reads like something he would write. The whole thing is a riff on the feeling of many gays that we're being treated like second class citizens. It is time to reverse the situation. I'll share the first paragraph with you and let you read the rest for yourself.

We, the undersigned, do hereby petition the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate to confer Honorary Second Class Citizenship on [insert name], who tirelessly works to deny civil rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered persons, regardless of LGBT nationality, race, age, education, Bridge, golf, block club, softball, or bowling league affiliation.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Signs of eventual total takeover

Through gerrymandering (as my other post today shows) the GOP can maintain an edge in Congress and state legislatures. I saw a couple things over the last week that point to what the GOP wants to do to the country.

I went to my local library last week (interlibrary loan is great!) and was asked for my driver's license. I didn't have it with me because I came by bicycle. They wanted it because a couple nearby suburbs voted to shut down their libraries (lack of money) and residents from those cities lost reciprocal privileges at my local library. The librarian wanted to verify I did indeed live where I said I did. It also turns out my card expires every 3 years, in case I move out of the area. I agree local city budgets are under a lot of strain. I don't know the party affiliation of the politicians involved (most city elections around here are "non-partisan"). But killing the library?

Since the 1970s and quite a bit in the last couple years has been the repeated story that college isn't worth the time and money. That has resonated a lot lately because of the high cost of a diploma and the high unemployment rate. But a story on All Things Considered on NPR yesterday says it simply isn't true (and never has been). Even with the economy in the dumps and a lot of fifty-somethings downsized from high-paying jobs, those with college degrees are still doing better than those without.

I'm sure there are other education related things (like the reduction in Pell Grants) that I don't have details on at the moment.

I look at these things and think of the GOP wanting to take over government. Closing libraries and convincing the general population that college isn't worth it are both ways to keep the lower classes too stupid to understand how damaging total GOP control would be.

Can you say Gerrymander?

The GOP proposed congressional district maps and state legislative maps for Michigan have now been officially released. The GOP controlled state House and Senate have said they plan to get the maps approved by July 1st, ready for the GOP governor to sign. The Dems are crying foul, saying the congressional map (at least) is unsupportable and that the whole process is moving too fast, not allowing for public feedback. Dems will contest it. And the first stop is the GOP controlled Supremes. The GOP map drawers say that because of state and federal laws it, by golly, just has to be drawn this way.

Here's a link to the congressional map. I can't say much about the way the state as a whole was carved up. However, the Detroit Metro map on page 3 shows the gerrymandering. Michigan must have two districts where the minority black population is a majority in those districts. So, of course, Detroit is split in two, districts 13 and 14. But what a split! District 14 is the southern edge of Detroit, the rich Grosse Pointes, the northern edge of Detroit, then a spiral through Southfield (also high percentage of blacks), Farmington Hills (but not Farmington), parts of West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, and Pontiac (also high percentage of blacks). I say spiral because District 11, which includes Livonia and Farmington, wraps around District 14 to include Auburn Hills, a bit of Rochester Hills, Troy, Birmingham, and Bloomfield Hills. But that's not all. District 9 includes Bloomfield Township, which is between Bloomfield Hills and Pontiac. The whole thing creates a triple spiral. I'll let you look at the map.

One reason for doing that is to make sure Sander Levin (District 9, Royal Oak) is pitted against fellow Dem Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township. Since Michigan lost a district two incumbents will have to face off. The Detroit Free Press notes that Peters would only have to move a mile to switch districts -- where he could take on GOP Thaddeus McCotter, who is currently my Representative (though he is doing a thorough job of not representing me). The Freep thinks Peters might even beat McCotter even though the district is designed to be GOP majority. This link contains links to state legislature maps.

I would be shifted to District 13, which includes the middle of Detroit and wraps around Dearborn. I'm sure this would be a solidly Dem district (and black majority) which is fine with me. I'm tired of being represented by a GOP bigot.

Wikipedia has an excellent article on the term gerrymander. Under the heading Effects of Gerrymandering there is an example that shows three different ways a state could be cut into districts. One way closely matches party affiliation state-wide, the other two favor one party or the other. Another section discusses packing -- putting as much of one party affiliation into one district as possible so that other districts go to the other party -- and cracking -- spreading one party affiliation out in several districts where it has a majority in none.

There is also a discussion of the effects of redistricting, including:

* Districts become less competitive because each seat is "safe", leading to voter apathy.

* Incumbents have increased advantage (which is pretty high already).

* Gerrymandering maximizes "wasted" votes. No matter how many times I voted against McCotter over the last decade he still won and still didn't represent me. With so many wasted votes the representatives no longer reflect the desires of the general population.

Some countries and even some American states have done away with gerrymandering. However, for most of the country one party or the other doesn't want to give up the political gains gerrymandering offers and would block any effort at reform.

Friday, June 17, 2011

No dancing in Times Square just yet

Gay marriage in New York? The state Assembly has passed a marriage equality bill by a large margin. But they've done that before. The count in the state Senate shows 31 yes votes out of 32 needed. Several of those are GOP senators and that last vote must come from the GOP side. Rumors are there are several more undeclared senators who will vote yes.

So why aren't we dancing in Times Square? Because the Majority Leader, GOP Dean Skelos, has the power to decide whether or not to hold the vote at all. And the session ends next week. Here is a look at the political calculation Skelos is working through. It boils down to which option would improve the odds of the GOP maintaining control of the Senate. And Skelos keeping his job. It could go either way.

False choice

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin starts with a story. The father tells his son, "Instead of getting you a new bike, let's go to Disneyland!" The son thinks this is a fine tradeoff. But just before the trip the father announces, "We're not going. I bought new golf clubs instead."

Kincaid says this is the false choice marriage protection advocates are pushing on us. Their ads feature a smiling family of mother, father, and two kids. This is yours only if you reject gay marriage. If that were truly the choice even gay people would support it. Prevent the downfall of Western Civilization? I'll vote for that.

The Pew Research Center has released new stats about the state of the family. By 2010 the percent of kids living apart from their father had risen to 27%. And 27% of dads whose kids live elsewhere haven't seen them in the last year. 46%, nearly half, of all fathers report at least one child born out of wedlock.

Marriage is not being protected.

To contradict the anti-gay crowd even more, gays are stepping in to repair some of the damage by adopting kids (as I reported before). I wrote elsewhere that marriage is doing better in states that have approved gay marriage -- if gays want it that badly perhaps there is something important in that old institution.

People are starting to notice that they've been sold a false choice. That means they will trust their church leaders and politicians less.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rounding out the series

I wrote last week about the case of Kirk Murphy and the destructive therapy he got as a young boy to make him less feminine. There is a fourth video of the series now. Anderson Cooper interviewed Jim Burroway, the researcher who uncovered Kirk's story and documented how destructive it was. The video is 4 1/2 minutes.

The ideal or nothing

A New York Times article says that in spite of gays not being able to marry gay couples continue to adopt kids and are doing it in greater numbers.

Carlos Maza of Equality Matters says that gives the lie to the Fundie claim that we must stop gay marriage to protect the children. Denying marriage doesn't stop adoption. And many adoption agencies want gays to provide families because there are so many kids that need a home. What the Fundies are saying (and they seem to be shifting focus to adoption laws) is that male-female parents are so important that if a kid can't get that he should get no parents at all.

Better to be an equal citizen in a free nation

I've written before about a challenge to the big gay marriage ruling in Calif. The ruling is the one that says the state's ban against gay marriage in its constitution violates the national constitution. That ruling is still at the 9th Circuit Court. This particular challenge says because the judge, Judge Walker, was gay and in a 10 year relationship he might have benefited from making gay marriage and was thus biased. The ruling should be vacated (legal speak for "thrown out").

Judge Ware -- the successor of the original, who retired -- heard the case this week and took only a day to issue a ruling. The ruling was based on these arguments.

Did Judge Walker make any financial gain from the case? No.

Would a reasonable person, knowing all facts, think the judge might be impartial? This got touchy. Ware is a black man married to a white woman. He has conducted same-sex weddings. But might Walker benefited from being allowed to marry?

Ware said even reasonable people have biases. But reasonable people tend to outgrow them. The plaintiff, Charles Cooper, claimed Walker's relationship disqualified him because he might want to get married. Ware responded that's not a fact and is not evidence. Cooper tried to say Walker should have disclosed his relationship. Ware said that a judge is assumed to be able to rule without bias -- that's his training after all -- and he shouldn't have to lay his personal history before the court in case something might be important. In the end it came down to the claim that gays can't be impartial.

Yes, a day later Ware issued his ruling. He denied the claim, which confirms Walker acted appropriately and the ruling stands. Ware said even if Walker did want to marry he is no different from anyone else and that is not grounds for recusing himself from the case.

Ware went on: In discrimination cases a member of a minority does not reap greater benefit from the removal of that discrimination than the society as a whole.

In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right. … To the extent that a law is adjudged violative, enjoining enforcement of that law is a public good that benefits all in our society equally.

Blogger Rob Tisinai paraphrases it this way (emphasis in the original):

Ware is voicing what made America so exceptional, so American, in the modern world: The belief that it’s better to be a equal citizen in a free nation than a king in a tyrannical land.

And yet, the GOP with corporate backers believe they are supposed to be the kings around here.

There was a second part of the hearing. Walker had shown videos of the trial. Cooper wanted all video copies collected up and destroyed (to hide evidence his side didn't have a case and looked rather stupid, even though the trial transcript is public record). That didn't get far. Ware responded by saying he personally gave the tapes to Walker during the ceremony when Walker passed the gavel to him. Cooper wisely shut up.

Law blogger Ari Ezra Waldman noted that Cooper has vowed to repeal Ware's decision. Walker thinks as a legal strategy that is pretty dumb. The 9th Circuit knew Walker and has already invested its own time in the case. Cooper won't get far there. In addition the Supremes rarely bother with such cases.

But Waldman thinks there is another strategy going on. Cooper's repeal will, of course, delay gay marriage in Calif. some more. Perhaps long enough that gay rights organizations will put the issue on the ballot again. Cooper thinks that his side won the ballot before, they can do it again. And judges, especially the Supremes, will be less likely to overturn a ruling confirmed by the voters twice.

While Waldman seems to endorse that scenario, lots of responders are sure enough has happened since last time that we won't lose the second vote.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Move along, you don't need to know

The Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration along with the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative held a contest. With the help of the Public Mapping Project and Dr. Michael McDonald, who wrote the software, they held a Michigan Citizens' Redistricting Competition. Participants created redistricting maps which were then evaluated according to the criteria set up in state and federal law -- balanced population size, continuity, compactness, required districts where minorities could elect one of their own, etc. Best maps have already been selected and they will be given to the state legislature.

Alas, both chambers in Michigan, plus the Governor, plus a majority of the state Supremes are GOP. Yesterday, the Free Press reported the redistricting process is underway behind closed doors. Heaven forbid we should be allowed to take interest. It will likely create 9 GOP and 5 Dem safe seats in the House, and will so narrowly meet the criteria for compactness that it can squeak by any federal challenge.

I tried this software. It can be a real timewaster. I found it to be quite slow and I could make it hang up rather easily. At least I could log out and back in again and would only lose the last attempted change. I'm sure whatever the GOP is using is a lot faster and gives all necessary statistics (rather than a few) in real time. I'm sure their version also highlights the homes of the current incumbents to know whose districts to combine (we lose a seat) and whose to protect.

In the process I realized one problem facing mapmakers. As the software indicates, Michigan is entitled to two Black majority districts. Each district has about 705K people. Detroit has now shrunk to 714K. One district could cover most of the city, but Detroit needs to be split in two with districts extending into suburbs. Which means one district could cover Highland Park, western Detroit, Dearborn, Redford, Inkster, and the eastern edge of Livonia. I haven't checked what the race ratio of such a district would be. That leads me to a personal question. Would I rather be in a district that includes half of Detroit and would reliably vote Democratic, or be part of one that stretches to the western half of Oakland County and would be reliably Republican? I think I'd go with Detroit.

Front and center

I didn't post yesterday evening because I watched the Tony Awards. Neil Patrick Harris, who is gay, had a rousing opening number "Broadway isn't just for gays anymore." His proof is that the top show (the one that eventually received nine Tony's) is The Book of Mormon and another one in contention was Sister Act about nuns. Harris and his song put gays front and center, not one of those "open secrets."

If you are perhaps interested, this link has several videos, the opening song, Daniel Radcliff (you don't know who he is?) leading the cast of How to Succeed in Business, the big song from The Book of Mormon, and a dueling host song between Hugh Jackman (who hosted the Tony's several times) and Harris. Plus, there is a list of all the winners (if you care).

Abstaining from drink and relationships

While down at Motor City Pride last week I stopped at the table of a Presbyterian Church (don't remember which one) promoting its friendliness to gays. I saw a video, Through My Eyes (not the one by Tim Tebow) that was from the point of view of those excluded from the church and how that made them feel. Alas, it wasn't for sale. Those at the table wanted to book places to show the video. At the moment my church would ignore such an event. However, I do want to see it and told them when they do have a showing to let me know. Then again, I can get it online.

Also at the table were a couple essays by people who now accept gays in the church. I took copies of both and have now read one of them. This essay is "And grace will lead me home" by Mark Achtemeier. It was written for the denomination's 2009 Covenant Network Gathering. I'm pleased the printed version also contains a web address so you can read it yourself.

It has been at least 20 years since I first heard homosexuality compared to alcoholism. A person may not choose to be an alcoholic, but one can improve his/her life by abstaining from alcohol. The Fundies claim the same is true for a gay person.

Following that comparison a bit further meant that calls for equal rights make no sense. Who would allow an addict more access to alcohol? Who would let a gay person to pursue self-destructive behaviors, a harmful compulsion?

Then Achtmeier had a chance to talk (as in deep conversations over a period of time) with some gay people and learned why the comparison to alcohol doesn’t work.

He found gays were not hedonists, doing their most to undermine the teachings of God. Instead he encountered devoted Christian believers.

In contrast to what Achtmeier had been taught, these gay people talked about relationships that brought out their best, that stretched their ability to love and required sacrifice. Which sounded just like his own marriage. In addition, when gay people followed the advice he used to give out to be celebate they found life to be morally and spiritually crippling. They did not flourish the same way an alcoholic did when finally free from the drink, but quite the opposite.

That prompted Achtmeier to look again at the balance between experience and scripture. This is something that John Wesley talked about in the Methodist Quadrilateral, but I don't think it is part of the Presbyterian tradition. If our experience is counter to what the Bible says there are three possibilities.

The first is that we say experience trumps scripture. But too many times that is a way to do whatever we want and not what God says is best for us. The second is to always follow the scripture even though its rules and prohibitions may spiritually cripple us.

The third is to compare the two and to see if the current way of looking at scripture is actually correct. For example, we are told to do what Jesus did. Jesus walked on water. It is obvious we can't do that. Perhaps we need to look at that story differently.

In the same way we look at the church teachings of celibacy, in particular gay celibacy. Celibacy is held up as an ideal by St. Paul. But some (most) people don't have a calling to be celibate. And for that St. Paul has a remedy -- marriage. Trying to be celibate when one is not called to be leads to spiritual problems.

If homosexuality does not correspond to alcoholism, what is it? Achtmeier says it is simply a natural variation of humanity that wasn't understood at the time the Bible was written.

As expected, the responses to this posting online fall into two groups. One group thanks Achtmeier for words of grace so desperately needed. The other says he has sullied the Christian message so deeply he has condemned himself to hell.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Who gets to decide what behavior needs to be fixed?

The Kirk Murphy story that I wrote about a couple days ago also appeared on CNN as part of the Anderson Cooper 360 program. I had to wait until all three parts were posted online.

Part 1 is the story from the family's point of view. 9 minutes. A note -- at one point we are shown someone in a frilly pink dress. From the narration it is very easy to assume that was Kirk. It is actually his sister.

Part 2 includes an interview with George Rekers, who says the expected -- It's not my fault. The video is 8 minutes, but much of the 1st 3 minutes is a recap of part 1.

Rekers says his research was independently verified. Box Turtle Bulletin says those who concurred weren't independent. There is more here about the state of research in the early 1970s.

Part 3 is built around an interview with Ryan Kendall, who went through therapy as a teenager to make him straight. He was forced into it by his parents and his only way out was to get a legal separation from his family. A decade later he is finally able to resume life. Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH treated Ryan, so was also interviewed. Naturally, he doesn't remember Ryan and claims his treatments couldn't possibly be that harmful. The video is 9 minutes.

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin has added a couple more essays to his research.

In 1986, Dr. Robert Stoller, founder of the Gender Identity Clinic at UCLA, wrote an article challenging psychoanalysts on the way they write case reports. The same criticism could also be leveled against behavioral therapists. Too much of what a doctor wrote could be rooted in the doctor's own biases rather than in reality. The way around that, wrote Stoller, was to show the case description to the patient and see of the patient agreed.

Stoller founded the GIC in 1963, so he was in charge when George Rekers was there treating Kirk Murphy in 1970. Granted, Stoller may not have realized his challenge was necessary at the time. But this was one case where that challenge was most appropriate.

During Kirk's treatment his mother fumed that the doctors told her nothing. The case description contained three parts -- this is what we observed in Kirk before treatment started, this is what we did for treatment, this is what we observed after treatment. Obviously, Rekers wasn't going to verify the case with Kirk's mother, so Jim Burroway did. She declared Rekers' before treatment observation of Kirk to be a lie. Rekers then built a career on that lie. Kirk's case even began appearing in textbooks and was the classic case for other researchers to cite.

Another important aspect of Behavioral Therapy is the follow-up evaluation. All evaluations of Kirk through age 15 are by Rekers or by people who had reasons to protect Rekers. All of the reporting is done by Rekers (and not always in peer-reviewed journals) and the details of the evaluation are not documented. Trust me, he's fine.

In addition, when Kirk was 15 his family was falling apart, he was the "man of the house," and, because he didn't want to repeat the trauma of his earlier treatment, had every reason to tell any researcher exactly what they wanted to hear.

Psychologists can be divided into groups, such as psychoanalyst, cognitive therapist, social psychologist, and behavior therapist. Most work from the inner workings of the mind outward to changing behavior. The exception is behavior therapist who works only with outward behavior and doesn't worry about the mind. This includes Rekers.

One tool of a behavior therapist is aversion therapy, used in such things as smoking cessation and eating disorders. However, it was also liberally applied to homosexuality starting at a time when being gay was considered an illness that needed curing. One treatment was to apply painful electric shocks whenever a gay man was aroused by pornography. However, gays did not become straight. They became messed up gays.

A big question in the behavior therapy world is does a particular behavior need to be changed? In Kirk's case does his "feminine" behavior need to be fixed? Related to that is the question who gets to decide? The patient -- one who doesn't want to be gay because he has been told so many times it is a sin? The parent -- convinced their child will go to hell otherwise? The therapist -- one who thinks swishy behavior must be eliminated at all costs? Perhaps a consensus -- attempts to cure gays has shown to both be ineffective and harmful.

Kathleen Gilbert, writing for the anti-gay blog LifeSite, has reinterpreted Burroway's research and the testimony of Kirk's family to fit their standard scenario. She wrote that Kirk needed therapy because his father was cold to him. Yup, blame the parents for insufficient or improper love.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

But it is just a little pill!

Jim Edwards, writing for BNET, lists 10 ways that Big Pharma rakes in the bucks. Some are legal, none are moral. He also suggests reforms for each one of them, but I know how likely (given where campaign donations go) these reforms would be enacted. I'll let you read the whole list and just mention a few.

* Your drug prices going up? That's usually because the drug company is searching for the price at which insurance companies begin to balk at paying for the drug. For a drug that first went on the market at $10 a dose (and thus less than that to make) may find insurance companies don't give notice until the price is up around $1500 a dose (and I'm not missing a decimal point). No insurance? Oh well.

* Drug companies pay off the makers of the generic versions of their drugs to hold off the introduction of the generic.

But we need lots of money to test drugs! they say. But much of that money goes for dividends, not research.

Let's bust some stereotypes

Jacques Snyman, from South Africa, is a big beefy rugby player. He is also gay, having been a finalist in Mr. Gay South Africa in 2009. And he sings opera arias -- as a countertenor. That high, angelic voice and that beefy chest (in part of the video he sings with his shirt off) has lots of gays swooning. He will soon be touring across America on behalf of the It Gets Better project. The news video is under 3 minutes. The performance videos (under Up Next) are about 2.

Declaring affirmation is just the start

There is an open and affirming (gay friendly) church in Flint, Mich. (near where my parents live). Those that know Flint might find that surprising. Alas, it isn't United Methodist (there are several gay friendly UM churches in the state). It is Woodside Church and is associated with both the liberal United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches USA.

Baptist? Yeah. First, we're starting with the moderate branch of the denomination, not the Southern Baptist Convention. Second, The other ABC churches in the region kicked Woodside out. Now they're officially part of the Chicago region.

This post is mostly the story of Rev. Deborah Kohler who served Woodside from 1997 to 2010. They voted to be gay affirming in 2001 after studying the issue for a while. But that was only the start. It took more time to figure out that gay people really do want to be treated the same as straight people. Another issue was that outsiders kept referring to them as the "gay church" and that rubbed people the wrong way. Alas, there is always lingering internalized homophobia and heterosexism.

A few days ago I wrote about 40 United Methodist pastors in Minnesota saying they would perform same-sex marriages. That number has now passed 70. There are 365 UM churches in the state. That gives a hint at the percentage who agree with us but it doesn't directly translate to 365 pastors.

Smart youth v. uptight adults

There's a new Gay-Straight Alliance at the St. Joseph Catholic Secondary School in Missisauga, Ontario. But they can't proclaim that title, because GSAs "lead to activism" (of course they do!). They have to be a generic anti-bullying group. The kids are planning to march in Toronto Pride Parade, which the administration says is fine as long at they don’t proclaim the name of their school.

The kids hosted an anti-homophobia event last week. The administration carefully scrutinized the pamphlets the kids got from Queer Ontario and rejected most of them (no talk of safe sex permitted). Then the admin said no rainbow flags and similar stuff permitted because rainbows are a symbol of Pride (well, yes, but a rainbow is also featured in the Genesis story of Noah).

The kids added a bake sale to their event, selling cupcakes with various colors of frosting. And isn't this amazing -- when lined up on the table the cupcakes formed a rainbow. Smart kids. The link has a photo of their table. They wanted to give the bake sale proceeds to go to the LGBT Youth Line. They got another no. They sent their $200 to a Catholic homeless shelter instead.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The tragic results of bad science

I've been following the blog Box Turtle Bulletin for a few years now. I appreciate the thoroughness they use to debunk the bad science meant to keep gays in the closet. Jim Burroway, lead author on BTB, has just completed a doozy. About six months ago a woman commented about how her brother had been treated for excessive femininity and that she was devastated he committed suicide over 30 years later. She -- and Jim Burroway -- are sure the two are related.

Back in 1970 homosexuality was still considered a mental illness -- it wouldn't be officially declared otherwise until 3 years later. So it was within the mainstream thought that if it was possible to keep a boy from becoming gay a good mother would do what it took. Kirk liked to play with girl toys, so before the age of five he was taken for treatment. Many months later he was proclaimed "cured" but the treatment left big psychological scars. Kirk tried to commit suicide at age 17 and, amazingly, in a follow-up session that little tidbit was of no interest to the researchers.

The lead researcher was George Rekers who would use the results of this research to bolster his credentials as an ex-gay therapist and launch himself as a lead expert for anti-gay causes. Rekers was discredited a year ago when he was caught returning from a ten day vacation in the company of a rentboy.

Burroway found bad science every step of the way in Kirk's case. He also well documents (through Kirk's mother, brother, and sister) the harm that bad science had on Kirk and the family as a whole. At this point it is better to let Burroway tell the story. The whole thing is a long and interesting read. After all that Kirk was still gay.

Some of Rekers' colleagues realized their original assumptions were bad and distanced themselves from the claim that gays could be cured. But Rekers had a personal agenda that got in the way of his science.

Once the story broke interest in it became so high it crashed the BTB server.

Because my friend and debate partner asked, here is a link to how the Box Turtle Bulletin got its name.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pastors on our side

There will be a marriage protection amendment on the ballot in Minnesota in 2012. At the Minnesota Annual Conference (statewide meeting) of the United Methodist Church they are getting ready -- and in a way that is so good to hear. Forty active pastors signed a statement saying they would marry same-sex couples. The presiding bishop reminded them the denomination rules forbid pastors from officiating in gay weddings, but agrees there is no harm in signing the statement.

Not ready for the future

Sharon Begley, writing in Newsweek, says the huge number and deadly force of tornadoes this spring is just a warm-up for what is to come. Because of Big Oil and Big Coal, their hold over the government, and their insistence the politicians in their pocket deny global warming we as a nation have yet to hold the big discussion on how to prepare for climate change. We haven't made the changes to stop global warming so we need to handle more extreme weather and higher sea levels. And we aren't prepared to handle that either.

A safe space for the misfits

Yeah, it has been more than a week. Part of why I didn't write is because there wasn't anything to write about -- why waste my time on yet another vile thing the Fundies, the anti-gay crowd, or the GOP has been doing. Especially since the latest isn't all that different from what they did last week or yesterday.

And when I did have something to write about other things crowded my schedule. One of those things yesterday was Motor City Pride. Since I've been going to this event (which hasn't been all that long or all that frequently) this is the first time it has been held at Hart Plaza, on the riverfront in Detroit. There was a lot more space compared to the previous venue of 9 Mile Rd. in Ferndale, but no shops to duck into. There were lots of booths of various kinds -- gay clubs, gay service providers (including Ruth Ellis Center), gay businesses, gay friendly churches, supposedly gay friendly political organizations (including an Obama Campaign booth), and those companies that don't want to miss a chance to sell to anyone (gay home insulation?). There were also a couple performance stages. While I was there the main one held a mass commitment ceremony, then a drag queen program. I stayed only 90 minutes.

I'm very aware a big reason for Pride is to provide a safe space for the misfits to be who they are. And there were a lot of people in unusual clothing. At that Pride succeeded. No pictures -- I left my camera at home. I wore a polo shirt and felt overdressed.

Perhaps a week ago my dad asked me about PFLAG, the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. So while at Pride I stopped by their booth. They give great hugs. The Detroit chapter meets in Troy, which is about an hour drive from my place, so I've never attended. There is also a chapter in Ann Arbor, which would be closer. I also checked about a chapter that meets near where my dad lives. Yes one exists.

In the issue just before Pride, the gay newspaper Between the Lines had a series of articles on gay leaders. One of them was on PFLAG. Another was a fine article on the director of Ruth Ellis Center. In the picture with this article just over our director's left shoulder you can the pass-through into the kitchen where I spend most Wednesday evenings. Sorry, the picture was taken at a time when the center was closed -- no glimpse of me.