Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wisdom From Jon Stewart

Yesterday Jon Stewart announced that he will be retiring soon -- it will be a different world without him behind his desk. I wanted to go back to a beautiful statement he made a few years ago, which I felt was a most eloquent and optimistic summary of the American situation.

In 2010 Stewart and Stephen Colbert had a rally that was attended by more than 200,000 people. Colbert called it the "March to Keep Fear Alive," in keeping with his role as a conservative pundit, and Stewart called it the "Rally to Restore Sanity."

Addressing the crowd, Jon Stewart pointed to a scene of the Holland Tunnel on the Jumbotron and said:
These cars—that’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car-a woman with two small kids who can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, (referring to the Jumbotron blowing in the wind) swinging, I don’t even know if you can see it—the lady’s in the NRA and she loves Oprah. There’s another car—an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.

And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30 foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by concession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go.

And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.

Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.
Sanity: live and let live.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Curriculum Changes: World Does Not End

Well, it's official. I have not been keeping up the blog. TeachTheFacts.org formed in 2004 to protect our Montgomery County school district from assault by radical conservatives, and largely that assault has been successfully repelled. For a long time there was breaking news nearly every day as a handful of extremists tried to keep any mention of sexual orientation out of the schools. The press loved them but they had zilch in terms of community support. These days we don't hear much from them. And I have not been very diligent about maintaining this blog.

The curriculum was an improvement but it was not what we wanted. For instance, teachers were not allowed to say that homosexuality is not a disease, unless a student specifically asked that question. And, very weird, teachers were not allowed to "teach," they were required to read scripts discussing sexual orientation and correct condom use. Can you imagine being a kid and trying to figure out what is going on? What happened to my teacher, she was a nice lady and now she is reading this stuff to us.

Last summer the school board proposed improvements to the curriculum -- including "descripting" -- and asked for public comment. Their official wording:
WHEREAS, On February 13, 2001, the Montgomery County Board of Education approved a curriculum policy that guides the development, implementation, and monitoring of curricula throughout the school system; and

WHEREAS, A draft curriculum framework was developed for secondary health education; and

WHEREAS, The draft curriculum framework was shared with stakeholders and additional feedback was received during a public comment period from May 13 to June 13, 2014; and

WHEREAS, Feedback and input from stakeholders and public comments have been used to develop and refine the Secondary Comprehensive Health Education Curriculum Framework; now therefore be it

Resolved, That the Montgomery County Board of Education grants final approval of the Montgomery County Public Schools Secondary Comprehensive Health Education Curriculum Framework, which combines National Health Education Standards skills and Montgomery County Public Schools content standards as the foundation for the development of the Secondary Health Education Curriculum. Board Memorandum
The school district got 61 comments, of which 15 were opposed to the changes. They are summarized in the linked memo, along with documentation of the changes. Nobody can complain that this was a "stealth maneuver" or anything, the anti-gay side heard about it -- even Family Research Council monkey-monk Peter Sprigg spewed spoke to the board. None of this made the newspapers at the time, well there is no reason why it would. Extry extry, health class changes! Read all about it!

Mostly people were supportive, even enthusiastic about the changes. It is kind of fun to read. Even the "aberrant sexual behaviors" comments are colorful and folksy, in their way.

The June 2014 memo says:
In the 2014–2015 school year, MCPS will implement the shift away from scripted lessons on sexual orientation and proper use of a condom. In the 2015–2016 school year, updated courses in Grades 6, 7, and 8 will be implemented. The implementation of the updated high school course will begin in the 2016–2017 school year. Each school will continue to provide parents with the opportunity to review the Family Life and Human Sexuality and Disease Prevention and Control curriculum and resources, and parents will be permitted to decide whether their children will participate in these units.
Sometimes it seems embarrassing when people are afraid to do what's right. When this curriculum was being developed, everyone knew what needed to be done but they were afraid of bad publicity. There might have been as many as a dozen active members in the group opposed to any mention of sexual orientation and condom use, in a county of a million residents. Still, the school district went to extreme lengths to listen to them, to humor them as they ranted about anal sex and every other thing, and in the end they weakened the curriculum to accommodate the hateful views of a radical minority. There are lots of important reasons to inform our young citizens about sexual orientation and gender identity, to teach them how to use a condom correctly, and it is important not to undermine the lessons with pedagogical techniques that imply that the subject is shameful or even controversial.

At the time, we hoped that the small victory would open the door for progress, and it did.

Monday, December 22, 2014

This Is What They Mean

It is often easy to shrug off accusations of racism, saying that a person was unaware of the effect of his behavior, or that he really doesn't have any negative feeling about some other group. You can look at the statistics and argue about whether differences are deserved or imposed. Racism is hard to define, hard to identify, easy to deny. You might think you know it when you see it, but you don't see it when it's you.

The television, radio, print, and online media are full of stories about a guy in New York who killed two cops. A black guy, that is. He was angry about recent high-profile police shootings of black men where the police were not charged with any crime. He also seems to have had mental health issues and a long criminal record. He killed himself after he shot the police.

The President has called for calm. The NYPD has snubbed the mayor for opposing police brutality. Everybody from Obama and Eric Holder and Al Sharpton on down has been blamed for the shootings. The police are complaining that it is "open season" on them. This story is on the news every minute of the day.

Before anybody accuses me of supporting this sort of thing, let me say that I am one of those who believe that acts of lethal violence by police and against police are equally wrong. I have no sympathy for a person who would kill a random human being for ideological reasons. I sympathize with the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and others, as well as the families of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. All these senseless deaths are unthinkably horrible.

Let me dial the time machine back a few months to make a comparison. Last summer there was a very similar killing. A couple killed two random policemen for political reasons. Here is the lede from the AP at the time:
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A husband and wife who went on a deadly shooting rampage in Las Vegas harbored anti-government beliefs and left a swastika and a "Don't tread on me" flag on the body of one of the two police officers they killed, authorities said Monday.

Jerad and Amanda Miller had been kicked off a Nevada ranch where anti-government protesters faced down federal agents earlier this year because they were "very radical," according to the son of rancher Cliven Bundy.

Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill said the Millers had ideology shared by "militia and white supremacists," including the belief that law enforcement was the "oppressor."
...
Pulling the mortally wounded officers from the booth, they took their guns and ammunition and put a yellow Gadsden flag featuring the phrase "Don't tread on me" and a swastika on Beck's body. The flag, with its roots in the American Revolution, is a symbol for anti-government groups. Police said they believe the swastika was intended to paint police as Nazis, not necessarily as an expression of the Millers' own white-supremacist views.

The couple also told restaurant patrons that their act was "the beginning of the revolution," the same message as a note they left at the restaurant. Police: Vegas cop killers had anti-government view
Do you even remember that incident?

The difference in reaction to these two stories is what they mean by racism.

Friday, December 12, 2014

PFOX Blows It Again


You might have heard about PFOX putting up the billboard in Richmond telling gay people they can stop being gay. Their billboard shows two faces that look the same and says "Identical twins: One gay. One not. We believe twins research studies show nobody is born gay."



We trashed their logic about the twin studies here years ago. It is not worth the trouble to go through it again. But you kind of wonder, who are those twins in the picture? (And actually, I wonder, which one is gay? Is the guy in the suit and tie supposed to look gay? Or is it the guy in the t-shirt?)

Turns out, they're not twins at all. These are two pictures of the same guy -- a gay man from South Africa.
Speaking via Skype, Kyle Roux said he was shocked his image was used. Especially since he calls himself an "out and proud" gay man.

"I was obviously quite shocked, so that why I decided to send you guys an email saying hey, I'm that guy in that billboard," Roux said.

Roux hasn't thought about that photo shoot in nearly a decade. He says the pictures used on the billboard were part of a stock photo shoot he did. Roux signed away the rights and was told the pictures would be used in commercial and corporate ads and brochures.

Thursday morning, friends, family and even Roux's trainer asked if he was featured in the ad, which claimed to show identical twins and the statement, "Nobody is born gay."

It's ironic, says Roux, given that he's not a twin and openly gay.

"It just seems like there no place in today's world for an organization that is promoting this as being some kind of deviant or distasteful lifestyle, because I've lived my life openly gay and happy for my entire life," he said. Openly-gay model in 'Nobody is born gay' billboard reacts
Here in Montgomery County we know PFOX as a sad bunch of buffoons led by a woman who cannot accept that her son is actually gay. They have sued our school district and agitated around town -- we have had their billboards, too -- and their approach is uneducated, hateful, and very, very ineffective.

How hard would it be to find a picture of two twins where one is gay and one is straight? Doesn't PFOX know that people are going to ask, who are those guys on your billboard?

So it's not a pair of twins. Strike one. It is a happy gay man, shown twice. You're out.
"The issue isn't the photo on a the billboard, but the actual science," said Chris Doyle, a licensed clinical professional counselor and former board member of PFOX.

The group says being gay isn't a genetic predisposition, but instead a choice, and anyone can choose change their lives:

"PFOX supports the rights of everyone who wants to pursue that for themselves," Doyle said.
You know what, I support those rights, too. If you're gay and you want to be straight then as far as I'm concerned you can go ahead and try. Do what you can. Maybe you will succeed where so many have failed. And to be fair, if you're straight and you want to be gay, I support your rights as well. And if you're short and you want to be tall, I support you in your efforts to try. Left-handed? I believe you have the right to try to change.

I even support the rights of PFOX to believe what they believe, in the privacy of their own homes, but eewww, why do they have to shove it down our throats all the time?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Post: Tolerance a Sign of Toxicity

Every morning I walk out to the end of the driveway and pick up the Washington Post and look it over while I have breakfast. I have read the newspaper since before the Internet, before cable TV, even in ye olde dayes when I rented a cheap place and hitchhiked everywhere and did not have television and lived on Kraft macaroni and cheese (5 for $1) I subscribed to the newspaper. But these days I can barely stand to read it.

Example. This morning's Post had a front page story that began like this:
Not long ago, pasta-maker Barilla was just one more major company that had run afoul of the gay rights movement, a distinction it earned last year when its chairman said he would never feature a same-sex couple in an ad. If gays didn’t like it, he added, they could eat something else.

But in a sign of how toxic it has become for a company to be viewed as unfriendly toward gays, Barilla has made a dramatic turnaround in the space of one year, expanding health benefits for transgender workers and their families, contributing money to gay rights causes, and featuring a lesbian couple on a promotional Web site. Human Rights Campaign says Barilla has turned around its policies on LGBT
BTW the print headline was "A recipe for recovery: Barilla makes amends to gay groups."

Now, honestly, I don't know what a "Barilla" is, and I was unaware that they were anti-gay. There are some people in the world who still cling to that but generally I am comfortable that our society has risen above the negative stereotypes and fear of LGBT people.

And of course I'm glad that a company has come around and stopped being jerks. I am pleased whenever I read these stories, people who "evolve" or states that approve marriage equality, "ex-gays" who come out and marry someone they love, but I don't really follow all the news. I check out the headlines and move on, knowing that a major public attitude has changed and the world is a better place for it. It's nice if a company becomes more accepting of something it can't change anyway.

But how in the world does The Post take this as "a sign of how toxic it has become for a company to be viewed as unfriendly toward gays"? There is nothing at all toxic about any of this. If the word needs to be used, you could say that Guido Barilla has stopped being "toxic". But I wouldn't say that, I would say he has overcome his ignorance.

Imagine The Post in 1947 saying "But in a sign of how toxic it has become for a company to be viewed as unfriendly toward Negroes, the Brooklyn Dodgers have made a dramatic turnaround, hiring a Negro to play on their team..." "But in a sign of how toxic it has become for a country to be viewed as unfriendly toward democracy, Germany has agreed to surrender ..." "But in a sign of how toxic it has become to be viewed as unfriendly toward mass murderers, some chick married Charlie Manson this week..." It is a terrible explanation for almost anything that can possibly happen.

This story was featured on Page One of the newspaper today. Thousands of people did what I did, shivered out to the street to pick up the paper, propped it up on the counter while they buttered their toast, and read about this proud Old World company caving to the toxicity of the homosexuals. Most of the readers have not been immersed in the culture wars like I have and believe that they are simply reading an objective account of something that has happened. The gays put so much pressure on this company that they buckled and now give money to gay causes, they even feature lesbians in their ads. We imagine the executives cowering in fear in the conference room, pleading with the gays not to pummel them or -- gasp! -- disparage them in public.

Apparently Barilla is an old-school Italian pasta company, and Guido Barilla said last year he would never feature a gay couple in an ad: “Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role." Okay, old-country guy, he hadn't thought this through. I totally understand that a lot has changed in the last twenty years or so and not everybody gets it the first time around.
Guido Barilla issued multiple video apologies in the wake of the scandal. Barilla Group did not make Guido Barilla available for an interview, but in a statement, he apologized again, adding: “I am proud to say that, as a result of these discussions, we have all learned a great deal about the true definition and meaning of family, and over the past year we have worked hard to reflect that throughout our organization.”
So, yes, a lot of people have gone through that.

The idea that Guido's opening up and accepting something he didn't initially understand is "toxic" is just a horrendous misinterpretation. And here's the thing -- every day there is something like that. The Post has fallen into the gutter but it's not alone, you see these things everywhere you look. Trying to correct the bias in the media would take more time than anyone has and this is just a drop in the bucket -- I bet you don't even see a letter to the editor about this one. Fair-minded people see this sort of article and roll their eyes but they've got things to do, you can't respond to every one of these stupid things. And so it goes on, day after day, people pick up the paper and read this stuff and believe that it accurately reflects what is going on in the world.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The International Conservative Opposition to Sex Education


The Washington Post has a good piece today by NYU History and Education Professor Jonathan Zimmerman that points out a big problem. The article is about sex education and the way that it has reached a certain point and faltered, but there is a much bigger story.

In 1994, 20,000 delegates from 179 countries met in Cairo to discuss how to deal with the coming world population explosion. The convention ended up endorsing sex education for girls as well as boys, and reproductive rights to contraception and information for adolescents of both sexes.

I am skipping the set-up and will jump to the meat of the story:
In most countries, children and adolescents receive a smattering of information about their reproductive organs and a set of stern warnings against putting them to use. Whereas the Cairo meeting envisioned preparing youths to be autonomous sexual beings, most contemporary sex education simply admonishes them against sex itself.

And that’s not because certain parts of the world are “conservative” or “traditional” on the topic. Instead, conservatives around the globe have united across borders to block or inhibit sex education. On issues of sex and reproduction, it’s not East vs. West anymore. It’s liberals vs. conservatives, each of which often have more in common with their ideological soulmates in other parts of the world than they do with people next door. Sex education is a global dividing line between liberals and conservatives
You hear the term "American Taliban" used to describe a certain kind of sex-loathing American religious fanatic. The label evokes an image of the turbaned, bearded man wading into a crowd with his whip to punish a woman who has carelessly let part of her face become visible. The fact is, religious conservatives in the US have more in common with fundamentalist Muslims than they do with secular Americans.
The resolution was also condemned by the Vatican, which had sent a papal envoy to Tehran earlier that year to coordinate its campaigns against the Cairo accords. The resolution caught the attention of growing Muslim immigrant communities in Europe, who joined hands with native white conservatives against sex education. On most issues, including immigration itself, these groups were at loggerheads. But on sex education, they saw eye to eye.
What a strange thing. All human beings have physical bodies and physical needs, and each of us has to learn how to manage those needs responsibly, including sex. Why would anybody oppose learning about that?
Meanwhile, a burgeoning network of international organizations bound conservatives together. Born a year after Cairo, the World Congress of Families united Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews who opposed abortion, same-sex marriage and sex education. It received a letter of praise in 2004 from President George W. Bush, who had declared that one-third of U.S. foreign assistance for HIV/AIDS prevention would be devoted to abstinence-only education.

But the global right was not simply a product of conservative U.S. support, as liberal critics too often assume. When U.S. delegates condemned a reference to “reproductive health services and education” at a U.N. special session on children in 2002, the other opponents of the language were Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Syria. On sex education, one observer wryly noted, the United States had united with the “axis of evil” that it otherwise reviled.
There is a broad syndrome that is sometimes called "rape culture" or patriarchy, that includes a wide range of beliefs and behaviors which serve to keep women in a dependent and unequal state relative to men. These beliefs have to do with decisions about reproduction, have to do with norms regarding sexual presentation and behavior ("slut-shaming" being one manifestation of it), sexual identity in general -- for instance sanctions against homosexual and transgender persons, and extending to resistance to equitable treatment of women in the workplace, including equal pay and equal consideration in hiring. The idea that men should seek consent for sex is laughed off in some circles, the idea that a woman takes birth control pills makes her a slut in some groups, some people do not think a woman is qualified to determine when she should be pregnant and when she should not.

Luckily there is an alternative way of thinking of women as human beings with the expectation of fair treatment and equal opportunities, same as men. Predicated on those assumptions, it follows that it would be best if young people -- male and female -- were educated about their bodies and how they function, so they can make responsible decisions about their own health and behavior.

You might have the feeling that the world is making progress toward freedom and equality for all. And you would be wrong.
To be sure, some Western European countries still provide sustained attention to adolescent sexuality in their schools. But they have also come under fire from growing Asian and African immigrant communities, which are repulsed by schools’ rhetoric of sexual autonomy and choice. Emphasizing “modesty and obligatory innocence,” as one Dutch observer wrote, these newcomers do not see sex outside marriage as a “choice.” It’s a sin, instead, and it’s scandalous for schools to suggest otherwise.

“How can a sexuality, reproduction and health perspective based on individual rights become a global norm?” a Swedish educator wondered in 2004, on the tenth anniversary of the Cairo conference. Ten years after that, we’re no closer to a global norm on sex education. We might even be further from it.
It is a constant battle and we must remain vigilant, or we will be dragged back into the Dark Ages. Don't think it can't happen.

Monday, August 11, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

Oof -- this is terrible. Robin Williams, what an amazing talent.

We'll keep it simple. The President's words:
Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.

Statement by the President on the Passing of Robin Williams


Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Ex-Gay Movement Is Toast

I remember, when we first waded into the sex-ed controversy years ago, being warned about the "ex-gays." They were big complainers, well organized, and were fighting against changes to the sex-ed program.

I didn't know what an "ex-gay" was and I had never heard the term. It sounds vaguely plausible on some level, people who used to be gay and changed. And actually, at this point in my understanding of the whole thing, I think that sexual identity volatility is possible, certainly there are studies showing women who go back and forth between being straight and gay, and the news is constantly featuring stories about people -- often ministers and rightwing politicians -- who go from being straight to gay at the click of a shutter. So why not change from gay to straight?

I bet it happens, bisexuals lean one way and then the other. It doesn't bother me if it does, and it doesn't bother me if it never happens. Most of us are inherently one way or the other, but I suppose there are people who are attracted sometimes to each sex, and I know there are people who do not realize how they really feel until they have lived long enough not to worry about what other people think.

So the thing about the "ex-gay" is not that somebody used to like men and now likes women. The thing is that they are jerks about it. They want happy gay people to go get therapy to "fix" themselves. They try to get gay teens to deny their true feelings and try to pretend they are straight, they even send them to special camps and schools to convert them. But listen man, somebody else's love life is none of your business, you need to work on your own stuff and leave other people alone.

When we jumped into the fray ten years ago, the "ex-gay" groups were strong. They came into our county and tried to discourage the school district from fixing the curriculum. They filed lawsuits and held rallies and got in the news a lot.

And then something obvious happened. The ranks of the "ex-ex-gays" began to grow, as gay men gave up trying to white-knuckle the religious dogma, and came back out of the closet again. Over the years the groups grew weaker and their numbers shrank to near nothing, and now there are very few people who call themselves "ex-gays" or try to promote those causes.

This week, nine former leaders of the ex-gay movement wrote a letter recommending the end to therapies that are intended to make gay people straight. The letter -- signed by Brad Allen of Exodus International; Darlene Bogle, Founder, Director, and Counselor at Paraklete Ministries; Michael Bussee, Co-founder of Exodus International; Catherine Chapman, Women’s Ministry Director of Portland Fellowship; Jeremy Marks, Exodus Europe and Founder of Courage UK; Bill Prickett, Founder and Executive Director of Coming Back; Tim Rymel, Outreach Director of Love in Action; Yvette Cantu Schneider, Executive Director of Living in Victory Ministry and Director of Women’s Ministry at Exodus International; and John J Smid, Executive Director of Love in Action and member of Exodus International's Board of Directors -- makes a clear and unwavering case for dissolving "ex-gay" programs and learning to support gay people in their lives, as they really are.

Here is an excerpt -- follow the link to read the whole thing:
At one time, we were not only deeply involved in these “ex-gay” programs, we were the founders, the leaders, and the promoters. Together we represent more than half a century of experience, so few people are more knowledgeable about the ineffectiveness and harm of conversion therapy. We know first-hand the terrible emotional and spiritual damage it can cause, especially for LGBT youth.

We once believed that there was something morally wrong and psychologically “broken” about being LGBT. We know better now. We once believed that sexual orientation or gender identity were somehow chosen or could be changed. We know better now. We once thought it was impossible to embrace our sexual orientation or sexual identity as an intrinsic, healthy part of who we are and who we were created to be. We know better now.

Looking back, we were just believing (and sometimes teaching) what we had been taught— that our identity needed mending. We grew up being told that being LGBT was disordered, sick, mentally ill, sinful, and displeasing to God. We grew up being told that loving, same-sex relationships were shallow, lust-driven, deceived, disordered, and impossible.
We grew up with the repetitive message that LGBT people were not enough — not straight enough, not Christian enough, not manly or womanly enough, not faithful enough, not praying enough. Never, ever enough. “Toxic” probably sums it up best. That message is poison to the soul. Especially a child’s soul.

It can take a lifetime to get rid of that old programming and replace it with healthy, non-toxic views of yourself. Recovery from conversion therapy is difficult at best. Some remain forever scarred, emotionally and spiritually. Conversion therapy reinforces internalized homophobia, anxiety, guilt and depression. It leads to self-loathing and emotional and psychological harm when change doesn’t happen. Regrettably, too many will choose suicide as a result of their sense of failure.

In light of this, we now stand united in our conviction that conversion therapy is not “therapy,” but is instead both ineffective and harmful. We align ourselves with every major mainstream professional medical and mental health organization in denouncing attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity. We admonish parents to love and accept your LGBT children as they are. We beseech the church to accept, embrace, and affirm LGBT persons with full equality and inclusion. Exclusive: 9 Former Ex-Gay Leaders Join Movement To Ban Gay Conversion Therapy
It seems that almost every day another state legalizes same-sex marriages, and though there are notorious holdouts here and there the prejudice against LGBT people is fading fast in our society. It is good to see, and it feels good to have been part of this particular bending of the arc.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Hobby Lobby Changes Everything

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been moving through Congress at the usual snail's pace, slowly picking up votes since the first similar bill was introduced in 1974. The Act would guarantee equal rights in employment for LGBT Americans. Well, there has been debate about the "T" part, as the Act could pass with gay and lesbian rights only, but many have been holding out for "inclusive ENDA," with protection for transgender citizens, as well.

The current bill has a religious exemption. If you are a religious organization you would still be permitted to discriminate under the law.

This has not mostly been seen as a huge thing. We can picture the little old lady in black hobbling into church, scowling at the bell-ringer in his rainbow t-shirt, who the church had to hire simply because he rang bells better than the other applicants and had more experience -- mostly people can accept that a judgmental church shouldn't be required to hire sinners. There were concerns about the religious exemption but it looked like something that might be negotiated without too much pain.

Until Hobby Lobby.

Suddenly the Supreme Court has opened the door for any corporation or company to claim it is a religious organization, and discriminate in whatever ways they say their religion dictates. And in case the world didn't get the message, the Court issued a couple of opinions after the ruling, expanding its reach.

LGBT groups have been devoting great effort, decades of effort, to getting ENDA passed. Even with the religious exemption, some guarantee of equal treatment would be much better than none at all.

Until Hobby Lobby.

Yesterday the Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Rea Carey, issued a press release:
"The morning after the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, we all woke up in a changed and intensified landscape of broad religious exemptions being used as an excuse to discriminate. We are deeply concerned that ENDA's broad exemption will be used as a similar license to discriminate across the country. We are concerned that these types of legal loopholes could negatively impact other issues affecting LGBT people and their families including marriage, access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention and access to other reproductive health services. As one of the lead advocates on this bill for 20 years, we do not take this move lightly but we do take it unequivocally - we now oppose this version of ENDA because of its too-broad religious exemption. We cannot be complicit in writing such exemptions into federal law."
During the course of the day, the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Pride at Work also withdrew their support for the bill. As of this writing, Human Rights Campaign is the only major LGBT advocacy group still supporting it.

Nobody really wanted to upset the crabby little old lady in black. Her church is the center of her life, and if she chooses to walk the straight and narrow then that's her business. But it has gone further than that now, the entire topic has changed. Now any company can be a "religious organization," even without declaring so officially (as in the Wheaton College ruling), and they can discriminate freely against anyone, justified by a preacher's word.

Friday, July 04, 2014

The Slippery Slope

I used to post several times a day on this blog. Now I'm lucky if I get to it twice a month. And it certainly doesn't matter how much is going on in the world. We just had primary elections, of course, which in our little county are it -- the GOP often does not even sign up a candidate to lose in the general election. And here in Montgomery County we had a transgender candidate oppose a gay incumbent. The rightwing noise machine went all-out for about three days and then the campaigns got down to the usual business of trying to win. The incumbent won but the contest served to demolish barriers that will never return. At the state level, we saw a lesbian candidate for governor do quite well when the votes were counted, even though the media pretended that it was a two-man race. More barriers demolished -- Dana, Heather, thank you for your tireless efforts.

The school district finally approved, for once and for all, the changes to the sex-ed curriculum that caused TeachTheFacts.org to come together in the first place, ten years ago. Yay, us! But I didn't even blog about it when they finally confirmed the policies, it was an anticlimactic administrative rubber-stamp, even though it signified the end of a big, decade-long battle. The state transgender rights bill was passed and signed and we treated it here as if we expected it. Actually, it's a big deal and a big step forward. This blog also did not become overly celebratory when same-sex marriage was approved in the state of Maryland. We kind of expect progress to keep marching forward.

The issue of global warming has divided the population into those who believe facts and logic, and those who rely on faith. The faithful support companies' right to pollute the environment as much as they want, since it doesn't have much effect beyond smelling bad and the occasional intersex fish. And in more recent news, the Supreme Court ruled that if your religion tells you that birth control is abortion your company should not have to provide it to your employees. Then they revised their statement saying if your religion opposes birth control at all you shouldn't have to provide insurance for any of it. And then they extended their ruling to make it easier for companies to claim that their religion means they should not have to do things like provide birth control.

I admit I was not cynical enough to see this one coming. The "war on women" has taken some strange turns in the past few years, and some of it just didn't make sense, but this? More than ninety-nine percent of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. This is not even controversial -- that's just about all of them. It is something women need, it is inexpensive and safe and allows women to plan their pregnancies, and why in the world would you take that away from them?

Katha Pollit, writing in The Nation, issues the statement that sums it up:
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg argues in her stirring dissent, there’s “little doubt that RFRA [ Religious Freedom Restoration Act ] claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood—combined with its other errors in construing RFRA—invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.” The reason it’s unlikely the Supreme Court would uphold a religious exemption for vaccinations or blood transfusions is not something intrinsic to those claims; it’s simply that Alito finds them weird. Birth control is banned by the Bible? Sure. Blood transfusions are banned by the Bible? Don’t be silly. For now. We have no idea, really, how far the Court might be willing to extend RFRA. Could a CEO refuse to pay childbirth costs for unmarried women? Could he pay married men more because that’s what the Lord wants? (Actually, he’s probably already doing that.) But here’s my prediction: the day a religious exemption burdens by so much as a mouse’s whisker the right of men to protect their own bodies from unwanted, well, anything, is the day the Supreme Court Five discover that religion is not so deserving of deference after all. Where Will the Slippery Slope of ‘Hobby Lobby’ End?
There are those who seem to feel it would be utopia if only we could live in a society where decisions and standards were determined by dreamlike "religious" principles, where if something scared us it would be declared evil and if we liked something it would be good -- where "we" means the demographic in power, e.g., old straight white guys. And though we tend to think of those people as nuts, they have obviously wormed their way into the very heart of our social machinery, they are sitting on the Supreme Court, they are in Congress, they are on TV.

There is no way this crazy ruling will not continue to expand. Companies have religious rights, meaning they can impose the owners' religious beliefs on their employees. Of course it will expand. And the Supreme Court is going to help them.

And the telling thing is that it will only expand in one way. Can you imagine a company telling its employees they can't use their paychecks to buy shellfish? What if there was a company that believed the quirky concept "Thou shalt not kill" and refused to pay taxes for wars? What if a company required its female employees to cover their faces in the workplace? It's not going to go that way. By "religion" they mean their kind of religion, paternalistic, repressive, Christian religion. It isn't about freedom of religion, it is about one religion dominating the social norms and standards that affect everybody.