Friday, June 26, 2015

Equal Dignity in the Eyes of the Law

From Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion
The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.

Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

White Terrorists

There is a cynical but accurate American saying: "The Constitution guarantees freedom of the press for those who have one." While the Internet may have theoretically democratized the spread of information, a small number of media sources still have an overwhelming influence on public opinion. Those commercial media stay alive by satisfying their advertisers, who are interested in selling a product. Truth in broadcasting is one of many techniques for attracting and keeping an audience for the ads.

In that light, it is pleasing to see the New York Times Magazine's recent editorial about white terrorists.

The piece is too long to quote in its entirety, but I recommend the whole thing. The author, Brit Bennett, starts with some personal musings on the Klan, the Confederacy, and the history of white terrorism, that is, terrorism perpetrated by white people. To read the papers, you'd think this was an oxymoron, or an impossibility, white terrorism. In the news, white terrorists are "troubled," "mentally ill," "alienated," they are referred to as "gunmen" or "shooters." Because they are one of "us," we differentiate their motives, their past, their thoughts and emotions; but when terrorists are foreign or dark-skinned they are easily depicted without empathy, their motives are characterized as evil or hateful, and we are done with it. White people have freedom of the press, because they have one.

Ms. Bennett says it better than me -- I am jumping into the middle of her magnificent essay.
This is the privilege of whiteness: While a terrorist may be white, his violence is never based in his whiteness. A white terrorist has unique, complicated motives that we will never comprehend. He can be a disturbed loner or a monster. He is either mentally ill or pure evil. The white terrorist exists solely as a dyad of extremes: Either he is humanized to the point of sympathy or he is so monstrous that he almost becomes mythological. Either way, he is never indicative of anything larger about whiteness, nor is he ever a garden-variety racist. He represents nothing but himself. A white terrorist is anything that frames him as an anomaly and separates him from the long, storied history of white terrorism.

I’m always struck by this hesitance not only to name white terrorism but to name whiteness itself during acts of racial violence. In a recent New York Times article on the history of lynching, the victims are repeatedly described as black. Not once, however, are the violent actors described as they are: white. Instead, the white lynch mobs are simply described as “a group of men” or “a mob.” In an article about racial violence, this erasure of whiteness is absurd. The race of the victims is relevant, but somehow the race of the killers is incidental. If we’re willing to admit that race is a reason blacks were lynched, why are we unwilling to admit that race is a reason whites lynched them? In his remarks following the Charleston shooting, President Obama mentioned whiteness only once — in a quotation from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. intended to encourage interracial harmony. Obama vaguely acknowledged that “this is not the first time that black churches have been attacked” but declined to state who has attacked these churches. His passive language echoes this strange vagueness, a reluctance to even name white terrorism, as if black churches have been attacked by some disembodied force, not real people motivated by a racist ideology whose roots stretch past the founding of this country. White Terrorism Is as Old as America
The recent killings in South Carolina were so reprehensible that no one can ignore them. A white man murdered innocent black people while they were praying, out of hatred for their race. Yet somehow white society is blameless.

Bennett's analysis of the tacit bias in reporting of terrorist acts perpetrated by whites is articulate and she makes an excellent point. When a black or Muslim person commits an act of violence, the media report their race as an explanatory fact and the criminal's group absorbs some of the blame for his act. But when a white person does it, we focus on the race of the victims as an explanatory fact.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Baltimore the Turning Point? It Is Possible

I was as surprised as anybody to hear that Baltimore has charged all six cops with crimes in the killing of innocent young Freddie Gray, after a fast investigation. These are serious charges, and it raises the interesting possibility that our neighbor city of Baltimore will be the place where the tide starts to turn.

These are not simple issues. We are born into the evolution of a society, a history, we live it and shape it as it flows along, and it lives and shapes us. White people can say, I never owned slaves, and black people living today have never experienced slavery, but we hold attitudes that were formed under slavery, on one side or the other, and many of those attitudes have mutated nearly imperceptibly over time. We are not born to a clean slate where we simply decide how to be, we learn what our people have learned, white and black. And the end of slavery was not the end of prejudice and injustice, it was just an evolutionary increment, like when dinosaurs grew feathers, millions of years before birds could fly.

America's racial problems are not going to go away tomorrow. There is still a lot -- a lot -- of anger directed toward black people for not succeeding in a world defined by European culture. It is sometimes shocking to hear the politicians and the Fox personalities talking about black people as if they simply suffer some kind of character weakness and that's why so many of them are poor, why the schools in their neighborhoods are so bad, why the jails are full of black people. There is no acknowledgement of the advantages that are handed to white folks -- I believe that these kinds of things in our own lives are often impossible to see, like a fish that is unaware of water. These white loudmouths think black people should just change, just go ahead and change, in ways that they would never in a million years be able to do if they found themselves trapped in a similar situation. Be like me, they say, but they are just like their daddies, and their granddaddies before them.

There are many narratives telling how we got to this point, but it doesn't matter, this is not the time to unravel the story, it is time to step carefully back from the brink. The police violence is too much. It is an embarrassment to a country that calls itself "free." We are a complex society that requires some imposed order, we have laws that don't enforce themselves, police are a necessary component of a civil society. But look, you might have missed this; more than a month ago, the Baltimore Sun reported:
As state lawmakers consider several bills related to the use of force by police, the American Civil Liberties Union reported Wednesday that 109 people died after encounters with police in Maryland between 2010 and 2014.

Nearly 70 percent of those who died during the encounters were black, and more than 40 percent of the people were unarmed, the ACLU of Maryland reported. The advocacy group found that blacks, who make up less than a third of the state population, were five times more likely to die from interactions with police than whites.
That's 109 people in our little state -- the number is obviously higher now -- do you know the names of any of them? Do you remember seeing any one of them mentioned in the newspaper? Did they come through your Twitter feed, your Facebook page? No, it just happens. Mothers lose their sons and they cry and that's all, that's the end of it. Pretty soon it happens to another mother on the block and she cries, and then another. A few, then a dozen, then dozens, then hundreds of crying mothers, their pain unknown outside their own neighborhoods.

We shrug off this police violence when we hear about it, thinking it must be "necessary" somehow, but now that people have cameras on their phones and we can see for ourselves what has happened, we know that is not the case. It doesn't appear to be anything more than a ruling class keeping the poor in their place. Maybe that is a universal human theme, maybe conquerors have tormented the vanquished since the dawn of time, I don't care, I believe in an America that is evolving beyond that, where people are free. This is an old argument, it goes back to the Founding Fathers, it came to a fracture during the Civil War, it is still the faultline that separates Red and Blue America. It's not exactly race, all the time, it's "us" and "them." In all cases it is a matter of "us" being big-hearted enough to acknowledge that "they" may be different from us, but they deserve our respect as human beings. Whoever "they" are.

One of the policemen was charged with "depraved heart murder." I had never heard of that before. It is a good term. A perfect term.

The evolution of America is lurching forward in increments. Right now we are a dumb-looking feathered dinosaur without even the sense to try flapping our wings. But when Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby stood at the podium reading off the narrative and listing the charges, it felt like perhaps our next fall could land a little lighter. It is possible that Baltimore will have a fair and thorough trial of these depraved-heart policemen. It is possible that someone will finally be found guilty, and that the citizens of Baltimore who have been victimized by them all these years will regain some ownership of their community.

The mayor of Baltimore has said, "I will continue to be relentless in changing the culture of the police department." It is possible that a profound change in American culture has started, and will radiate out from the city of Baltimore.

We grew up believing "the policeman is your friend." Americans respect the police, it's in our blood. And for that reason we give them a break. If somebody gets hurt in a tussle between a good guy and a bad guy, we give the good guy the benefit of the doubt. I'm okay with that, even knowing that there have always been bad cops and there always will be. But when having a busted taillight while black becomes a capital offense, or catching a cop's eye for a second too long, no, this isn't Marshall Dillon we're talking about here, this isn't even Clint Eastwood, this is just plain old cowardice.

Baltimore could possibly be the turning point.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Win-Win Plan for Oklahoma

This is genius. I'll let Slate tell you:
When not debating whether to outlaw hoodies or protect parents’ decision to force their children into ex-gay conversion therapy, the severely conservative Oklahoma legislature has spent much of this session debating an anti-gay “religious liberty” bill. The measure would allow both private businesses and government entities to refuse service to gay people based on their religious beliefs. Although the proposed legislation is similar to the Arizona bill that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed last year, it actually goes much further, explicitly permitting anybody—from a hotel owner to a DMV employee to a social worker—to turn away gay people if their religious beliefs require it.

Now a legislator has introduced a brilliant amendment to the House version of bill, which, in taking the measure to its logical conclusion, explosively reveals the animus underlying it. The lawmaker, Democratic state Rep. Emily Virgin, fiercely opposes the “religious liberty” bill. But if it does pass, Virgin wants to ensure that gay couples know which businesses and government agencies will refuse them service so they can avoid the indignity of being turned away based on their identity. So Virgin’s amendment requires that “any person” who despises gay people too much to serve them must simply “post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites.” The amendment would promulgate the same notice requirement for businesses that refuse to service based on race or gender identity. Oklahoma Lawmaker Wants Anti-Gay Businesses to Post “No Gays Allowed” Signs. Excellent!
So under this law, if Jesus doesn't want you to serve gay people, you don't have to. And you don't have to suppress your beliefs because of political correctness. You don't serve gays, why would you want them coming into your place of business and trying to buy something, if you're not going to sell it to them? You have the unpleasant moments of interacting with Sodomites, and they are likely to get upset and have a protest anyway. Or call the press and cry that you won't bake them a cake for their so-called "wedding."

The easy solution for everyone is this: if you belong to a religion that does not let you do business with gay people, then put a sign in the window. "No Gays Allowed." They will know to stay away, and if they come in anyway then you have a good legal case, because they knew better.

Why wouldn't this work?

It would even be good for business, I bet. Somebody is walking down the street, trying not to breathe the gay air or bump elbows with gay people on the sidewalk, and they see your sign and come in for refuge, and to spend money. They might recognize that you are a good, moral person like them and come in to support you in your moral convictions by buying something.

Seventy-eight percent of Oklahomans identify themselves as Christians. So obviously, putting this sign in your window will be great for business. The nice Christian folks will go out of their way to do business with you, and those pesky gays won't be asking for stuff they aren't going to get, leaving their gay cooties on your countertops. It seems to me it is a winning proposition for everyone.


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.