Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Perkins Proves Their Point

The Family Research Council was added to the Southern Poverty Law Center's hate-group list, along with a few other anti-gay groups. It's about time.

Not surprisingly, people at those organizations complained. They are used to getting a mainstream media soapbox, and they have tried to present the idea that it is preposterous to call them hate groups when all they want is to promote good Christian family values.

The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins went on Hardball last night to complain to the American viewing audience about being branded as a hate group.

The video is HERE -- you gotta see this. I'll let Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin describe what happens and what it represents:
The Family “Research” Council’s Tony Perkins appeared on Chris Matthew’s Hardball on MSNBC today to demonstrate his outrage over the Southern Poverty Law Center’s adding his organization to their very small list of anti-gay hate groups.

SPLC’s Mark Potok explained that the FRC earned its Hate Group designation due to the FRC’s persistent acts in demonizing LGBT Americans with false research and statistics. Perkins then set out to defend his group by demonizing LGBT Americans with false research in statistics:
"If you go back to the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a peer-reviewed reviewed journal, that stated that in self-identified… 86% of men, homosexual men, or who engage… or men who engage in molestation of children, 86% of them identified as homosexual or bisexual. That study has not been refuted."

The study was not “refuted,” in Perkins’ terminology, simply because the finding was not considered to be significant, not even by its authors. The study, “Behavior patterns of child molesters” by W.D. Erickson, N.H. Walbek, and R.K. Seely which appeared more than twenty years ago (1988, to be exact), didn’t set out to determine the sexual orientation of child molesters. The study, of 229 convicted child molesters in Minnesota, (which, by the way, was never intended to be nationally representative in any way) was focused on the types of sexual contact the men engaged in with their victims — vaginal or anal penetration, oral contact, and so forth. In this particular sample, 63 victims were male, and 166 victims were female. The “finding” that Perkins and company found so exciting is encapsulated in just one sentence: “Eighty-six percent of offenders against males described themselves as homosexual or bisexual.”

That’s right, one lone sentence out of a ten page document, buried deeply within the text. In other words, the authors themselves didn’t see it as a significant finding. And it may be because the authors didn’t delve into the adult relationship makeup of these offenders, or what criteria the offenders used in their self-labeling. Nor did they attempt to investigate whether there was any validity to their self-labeling.

And this is key, because child sexual abuse experts understand that abusers often have little to no sexual attraction to other adults of any gender, which means that in clinical terms they are actually pedophiles rather than homosexual or bisexual. And while many pedophiles will identify themselves using the language of heterosexual/homosexual/bisexual, their crimes are no more relevant to LGBT equality than the prevalence of heterosexuals among rapists are relevant to straight people.

This study did not investigate sexual orientation. It did set out to answer the questions that the investigators sought to answer, which was what kind of sexual contact did offenders initiate with their victims? FRC, however, took a single sentence from a study that did not try to investigate the sexual orientation of offenders, and amplified a throw-away line as though it were the entire study’s reason for being. And because it didn’t investigate sexual orientation, it’s illegitimate to to amplify one lone throw-away sentence into “overwhelming scientific evidence” — those are Tony Perkin’s words — that gays are a threat to children.

The reason the FRC is legitimately a part of the SPLC’s list of hate groups is their penchant for taking one line from a study out of context, and present that single sentence as being somehow more significant than the tons of studies that experts in the field of child sexual abuse have conducted through the ages. We have summarized many of those findings in our report, Testing the Premise: Are Gays a Threat To Our Children? Interestingly, that report was prompted, in part, by a specious tract put out by the FRC a few years earlier. That specific tract has been withdrawn, but not because they woke up and realized their so-called “research” was bogus. They still hold to their false linkages between homosexuality and child sexual abuse here and, more significantly, here (PDF: 312KB/22 pages).

“86 Percent” of Tony Perkins’s Statistics Are Rubbish

Thanks to BTB for doing the dirty work of analyzing obscure information consistently and well for a long time.

If you watched the video, you heard Perkins refer to warnings by the American College of Pediatricians. We have talked about them quite a bit on this blog. BTB has a nice way of describing them.
Oh, and nice touch there, when Tony Perkins adds, “If you look at the American College of Pediatricians, they say the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a risk to children.”

The American College of Pediatricians is a rump political group formed in 2002 in response to the much, much larger American Academy of Pediatrics’ statement in support for LGBT parental rights. The AAP is made up of some 60,000 members who know more than just about anyone what’s best for children. The American College of Pediatricians, on the other hand, is made up of a couple hundred dissenters who, by judging from their web site, are mainly concerned with homosexuality more than the plethora of childhood health issues that your average pediatrician is much more likely to care about.

When the SPLC announced that they were adding the FRC to their small list of anti-gay hate groups, they cited the FRC’s “propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling.” Tony Perkins responded by providing convincing proof of the SPLC’s allegations. And he did it with the slightest hint of embarrassment.

"A rump political group," I love the sound of that.

Yes, today I am simply copying and pasting from Box Turtle Bulletin, because they have done a great job of presenting and dissecting Tony Perkins' words on Hardball. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been keeping track of hate groups for a long time, they are not capricious about assigning the label. It's bound to be harder for mainstream media to propagate the messages of bigots now without saying that the group is a known hate group.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Post Gives Voice to Anti-Gay Bigots

The Washington Post has been painted into a corner by the Southern Poverty Law Center's recent designation of the Family Research Council and other anti-gay organizations as hate groups. The Post and similar mainstream media outlets have developed a philosophy of journalism that assumes the two sides of any debate are equivalent, concluding that unbiased reporting is reporting that covers them both equally. A statement is just a statement, it is not the responsibility of the media to determine if it is a lie, or even to report that it is a lie when it clearly is, the statement is simply written down and submitted to the gullible public as if two rational people were discussing a topic.

The Family Research Council has provided reams of copy to The Post over the years. They see a conspiracy by gays and lesbians behind everything, they imagine that schools and television and the Internet serve mainly to recruit young people into the "gay lifestyle," and they are unembarrassed to commandeer a microphone in a public place to talk about it. As is their policy, The Post writes down the quotes and reports these assertions as "controversy," as if a significant proportion of the population feels the same way. In fact, it would never even occur to the great proportion of people to theorize that gays and lesbians, of all people, were any kind of significant force in the world at all, beyond wanting to be respected as ordinary citizens. It is only because media organizations like The Post continuously pound the anti-gay drum that anyone marches to it at all.

So now the Southern Poverty Law Center, which very carefully weighs these things, has added some anti-gay organizations such as the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage, and the American Family Association to its list of hate groups. They are lumped in with the Ku Klux Klan and that God Hates Fags Baptist church in Kansas. This has the potential of making it much more difficult for the Washington Post to continue quoting them as authorities.

Not a problem. The Post, which did not mention it when the SPLC issued their report, asks the Family Research Council how they feel about it.
The Southern Poverty Law Center this week labeled as "hate groups" several political and religious organizations that campaign against same-sex marriage and, the center says, engage in "repeated, groundless name-calling" against gays and lesbians.

Included on the list released by the civil rights organization is the Family Research Council, a prominent and politically influential group of social conservatives. The report by the law center, which has spent four decades tracking extremist groups and hate speech, accuses the council and a dozen other groups of putting out "demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals and other sexual minorities."

The report, which has sparked debate across the Internet, taps into the continuing potency of social issues, such as same-sex marriage, in American politics. Several of the groups described in the report supported a successful effort to oust state Supreme Court judges in Iowa because of a unanimous ruling last year that legalized same-sex unions.

The Family Research Council has been at the forefront of political activism against same-sex marriage. In explaining the decision to put the council on its hate-groups list, the law center highlighted comments by Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the council, who told MSNBC host Chris Matthews this year that he thinks "homosexual behavior" should be outlawed. 'Hate group' designation angers same-sex marriage opponents

Imagine it is 1960, and The Post has a headline: 'Hate group' designation angers mixed-race marriage opponents. Hopefully in a few years the intent behind this headline, and this article, will be obvious to any reader, as racist remarks from a generation ago are obvious to us today.

The former newspaper gave the top guy at the Family Research Council a chance to explain how he feels about it.
Council President Tony Perkins, who was also named in the report, called the hate-group designation a political attack by a "liberal organization."

"The left's smear campaign of conservatives is . . . being driven by the clear evidence that the American public is losing patience with their radical policy agenda as seen in the recent election and in the fact that every state . . . that has had the opportunity to defend the natural definition of marriage has done so," Perkins said in a statement.

"Earlier this month, voters in Iowa sent a powerful message when they removed three Supreme Court justices who imposed same-sex marriage on the state. Would the SPLC also smear the good people of Iowa?"

Iowans showed themselves susceptible to a well-financed media campaign and showed themselves not to have a good grasp on the concept of checks and balances. And let us not forget, the number of people who agree with a statement is no measure at all of its truthfulness. People can be wrong, even a majority of people.

It does not appear that the Washington Post actually spoke to anyone at the Southern Poverty Law Center, but simply read the report online.
The law center said it chose to highlight the groups on the list "based on their propagation of known falsehoods" and "repeated, groundless name-calling."

"Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups," the report said.

The debate over the list has focused on whether the law center is right to equate anti-gay views with racism.

The question is whether constant propagandizing against a group of people who have done nothing to harm you, because they are different from you, is "hate." The hoped-for result of the constant propagandizing is discrimination and prejudice, the inevitable result is shame and suicide in the population that is targeted by the propaganda.

There is no positive side to it, no benefit expected or hoped for. Gay people aren't going to stop being gay, I don't think even the Family Research Council believes they can or will. They aren't going to go away, they aren't going back into the closet. Gay and lesbian people are what they are, they are contributing members of society, and that's simple reality. Family Research Council leaders like Peter Sprigg and Tony Perkins might feel uncomfortable around LGBT people for their own reasons, I don't claim to have any insight into why they feel the way they do, but there is no point to the stream of hateful filth they produce except to maintain prejudice and discrimination against a group of people.
Dan Savage, a gay rights advocate and columnist, said in an interview on CNN that "we need a cultural reckoning around gay and lesbian issues. There was once two sides to the race debate. There was once a side, you could go on television and argue for segregation, you could argue against interracial marriage, against the Civil Rights Act, against extending voting rights to African Americans, and that used to be treated as one side . . . of a pressing national debate, and it isn't anymore. And we really need to reach that point with gay and lesbian issues. There are no 'two sides' to the issues about gay and lesbian rights."

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, objected to his organization's inclusion in the center's report and said the notion that groups opposed to same-sex marriage are equivalent to racists is wrong.

"This is about protecting marriage. This isn't about being anti-anyone," Brown said. "The whole idea that somehow those folks who stand up for traditional marriage, like the Family Research Council, are hateful is wrong. [The law center is] trying to marginalize and intimidate folks for standing up for marriage and also trying to equate them somehow to the KKK."

The can try to re-frame it however they want, it is what it is. The National Organization for Marriage had a bus tour of the US this summer where they went from city to city spreading their message of hatred against gay people. In some cities crowds numbered in the double digits, generally fewer than thirty people showed up for each event, in cities of millions. These groups don't need to be "marginalized," they are marginal already. While many straight people might be uncomfortable with the image of two men kissing, and might find it difficult to understand why anybody would be that way, most people realize that somebody else's sexual orientation is none of our business. Groups like the Family Research Council and the Washington Post can focus on the discomfort and try to legitimize it, but ordinary people left to think the issue through come to the reasonable conclusion.

The Post includes Dan Savage's quote because certain readers will see it as saying that gay people are afraid to allow debate on the subject. But the fact is, the debate itself is what the debate is about. A small group of nuts will insist that "homosexuals are trying to recruit our youth and undermine the institution of marriage" or whatever, and the question is whether the press should publicize those paranoid statements. The Washington Post has obviously decided to buy into it, this article attempts to trivialize the SPLC's decision and put a sympathetic face on the poor bigots at the Family Research Council. The Post has taken sides in the debate: they have decided to treat it as a debate.

Monday, November 22, 2010

MCPS Advisor Makes Hate-Group List

Thanks to Truth Wins Out for this one.
The Southern Poverty Law Center today updated its list of designated hate groups, and this year is significant in that some of the larger anti-gay outfits have made the cut. After a litany of ever more extreme statements from people such as Peter Sprigg and Tony Perkins of the FRC, Bryan Fischer of the AFA and Laurie Higgins of the IFI, the SPLC has determined, correctly in our view, that these groups all deserve to be designated as having gone beyond mere advocacy, and into full-blown hatred against the LGBT community. Especially after the recent spate of gay teen suicides elicited no remorse from any of these institutions, they have indeed earned their place in the halls of hate. SPLC Designates American Family Association, Family Research Council, Illinois Family Institute As Hate Groups

Those of us who live in Montgomery County, Maryland, wonder why the spokesman for a major hate group, Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, is advising the public school district on the development of its sex education curriculum. Sprigg has been an appointed member of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Health and Human Development since December, 2005. (In the interest of disclosure, I served on that committee for four years.)

The SPLC report focuses on MCPS advisor Sprigg:
Both [FRC senior research fellow Tim] Dailey and Sprigg have pushed false accusations linking gay men to pedophilia (see related story, p. 31): Sprigg has written that most men who engage in same-sex child molestation “identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual,” and Dailey and Sprigg devoted an entire chapter of their 2004 book Getting It Straight to similar material. The men claimed that “homosexuals are overrepresented in child sex offenses” and similarly asserted that “homosexuals are attracted in inordinate numbers to boys.”

More recently, in March 2008, Sprigg, responding to a question about uniting gay partners during the immigration process, said: “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them.” He later apologized, but then went on, last February, to tell MSNBC host Chris Matthews, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.” “So we should outlaw gay behavior?” Matthews asked. “Yes,” Sprigg replied. At around the same time, Sprigg claimed that allowing gay people to serve openly in the military would lead to an increase in gay-on-straight sexual assaults. 18 Anti-Gay Groups and Their Propaganda

It is not obvious why a progressive county like ours would select such a person to influence the development of a health curriculum that will impact all our children.

Teabaggers See Thanksgiving as Socialism

There's a lot to not like about our American holiday of Thanksgiving. It can easily be seen as a celebration of a milestone of European colonialism, when settlers from the other side of the wide ocean took advantage of the generosity of the tribes who lived on the American continent, preparatory to wiping them out. But as the tides of history flow, as migrations result in wars and decimation of cultures, the legendary first Thanksgiving dinner was at least a moment when the colonists stopped and gave thanks to their God for the beautiful land they had come to inhabit. They did not imagine the bloodshed and misery that would be swept into footnotes of the history books as white Europeans invaded and occupied without respect or recompense for the vanquished inhabitants of the continent. The image of Thanksgiving is one of the American Indian and the white European dining together, giving thanks, in a new land that promised to offer cooperation and prosperity for the two societies.

Lots of people object to celebration of Thanksgiving Day, just as some object to Columbus Day, and there are plenty of good reasons for it. But this? From the New York Times:
Forget what you learned about the first Thanksgiving being a celebration of a bountiful harvest, or an expression of gratitude to the Indians who helped the Pilgrims through those harsh first months in an unfamiliar land. In the Tea Party view of the holiday, the first settlers were actually early socialists. They realized the error of their collectivist ways and embraced capitalism, producing a bumper year, upon which they decided that it was only right to celebrate the glory of the free market and private property.

Historians quibble with this interpretation. But the story, related by libertarians and conservatives for years, has taken on new life over the last year among Tea Party audiences, who revere early American history, and hunger for any argument against what they believe is the big-government takeover of the United States. The Pilgrims Were ... Socialists?

Skipping down, we get to the part that the teabaggers don't like.
In one common telling, the pilgrims who came to Plymouth established a communal system, where all had to pool whatever they hunted or grew on their lands. Because they could not reap the fruits of their labors, no one had any incentive to work, and the system failed — confusion, thievery and famine ensued.

Finally, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, abolished this system and gave each household a parcel of land. With private property to call their own, the Pilgrims were suddenly very industrious and found themselves with more corn than they knew what to do with. So they invited the Indians over to celebrate. (In some other versions, the first Thanksgiving is not a feast but a brief respite from famine. But the moral is always the same: socialism doesn’t work.) The same commune-to-capitalism, famine-to-feast story is told of Jamestown, the first English settlement, in 1607. Dick Armey, the former House majority leader and Texas congressman who has become a Tea Party promoter, related it as a cautionary tale in a speech to the National Press Club earlier this year.

Uh, let me get this -- the government gave people land, and then they were industrious? How does that fit into the Tea Party narrative?

Here's the actual story:
Historians say that the settlers in Plymouth, and their supporters in England, did indeed agree to hold their property in common — William Bradford, the governor, referred to it in his writings as the “common course.” But the plan was in the interest of realizing a profit sooner, and was only intended for the short term; historians say the Pilgrims were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.

“It was directed ultimately to private profit,” said Richard Pickering, a historian of early America and the deputy director of Plimoth Plantation, a museum devoted to keeping the Pilgrims’ story alive.

The arrangement did not produce famine. If it had, Bradford would not have declared the three days of sport and feasting in 1621 that became known as the first Thanksgiving. “The celebration would never have happened if the harvest was going to be less than enough to get them by,” Mr. Pickering said. “They would have saved it and rationed it to get by.”

Like, yeah, there's not enough food, let's have a big feast. No, the historians are saying that the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of their success as a community.
Bradford did get rid of the common course — but it was in 1623, after the first Thanksgiving, and not because the system wasn’t working. The Pilgrims just didn’t like it. In the accounts of colonists, Mr. Pickering said, “there was griping and groaning.”

“Bachelors didn’t want to feed the wives of married men, and women don’t want to do the laundry of the bachelors,” he said.

The real reason agriculture became more profitable over the years, Mr. Pickering said, is that the Pilgrims were getting better at farming crops like corn that had been unknown to them in England.

As for Jamestown, there was famine. But historians dispute the characterization of the colony as a collectivist society. “To call it socialism is wildly inaccurate,” said Karen Ordahl Kupperman, a historian at New York University and the author of “The Jamestown Project.” “It was a contracted company, and everybody worked for the company. I mean, is Halliburton a socialist scheme?”

It had never occurred to me to complain about Thanksgiving being a way of promoting socialism. But then, I do not suffer from the delusion that every individual is a self-contained autonomous entity, uniquely responsible for himself or herself and unconcerned with the outcomes of his or her peers. It seems obvious to me that people strike a balance between autonomy and interdependence, and it is naive to deny that we need one another in order to survive, we need one another in order to function as human beings.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It doesn't matter to me who you thank, but it is not a bad thing to take one day out of the year to realize what an amazing experiment in self-governance the USA has been, what a great piece of real estate we are camped on, what good people we are surrounded by. We are lucky to live where we do, in these times, and our prayers of thanks should include a promise to make it even better.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Threat to Americans: Gay TSA Agents

I've been keeping an eye on the latest wave of resistance to the Transportation Security Administration's newest airport "security" techniques. Not everybody's happy about it. Seems these days they give you a choice, at least at some airports. One, you can go through a full-body scanner that not only reveals your nude body to TSA personnel and contractors who might save the image if they choose to, and which by the way bombards your body with an amount of radiation that may prove harmful to frequent fliers. Or two, you can have your body patted down by staff who will make sure you don't have anything hidden up under your scrotum, if you're a man, or between your labia, if you're a woman -- this is said to be a very intimate experience. Oh, and if you get to the gate and decide you don't want to submit to either of these ignominies, but just want to go back home, they can fine you ten eleven thousand dollars for leaving the secure area.

Americans enjoy living in fear. I don't understand it, I'm not going to change it, but that's the way it is.

A recent CBS News poll found that more than eighty percent of Americans are in favor of these security tactics, they think that the elimination of privacy and human dignity is a small price to pay for the increase in safety these procedures ensure. Results did not vary much among Republican, Democratic, and Independent respondents.

Here's my opinion: I'm against it. People are giving up their privacy as if it didn't matter, and I'm against it. I like my privacy and I wish other people cared about theirs, too, I wish they wouldn't trade away their last shred of dignity hoping to not-really-prevent the near-zero-probability event of a terrorist sneaking a bomb onto the airplane they are planning to board.

You, reader, are probably one of that eighty-plus percent, that's okay, I am comfortable being outvoted. You don't have to consider my opinion, but you should very seriously consider this warning about the real danger of the new TSA procedures from the Americans for Truth About Homosexuality's Peter "Porno Pete" LaBarbera:
CHICAGO – Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) today questioned the propriety of “same-gender” TSA (Transportation Security Administration) “pat-downs” – if the TSA agents doing the “patting down” are homosexual, lesbian or bisexual.

Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano went out of her way yesterday to stress that the TSA pat-downs are “same-gender” – mostly to reassure women that men will not be groping them at airports in the name of safety.

“But what about homosexual TSA agents?” AFTAH President Peter LaBarbera responded. “Isn’t it just as inappropriate for a ‘gay’ male TSA agent to pat down male travelers as it is for a normal, heterosexual male TSA agent to pat down female travelers?

“The reality is, most traveling men would not want Barney Frank to pat them down at the airport security checkpoint,” LaBarbera said. “Neither would it be fair to assign Ellen DeGeneres to pat down female travelers. (In the same vein, the Army should no more force normal male soldiers to shower and bunk with homosexual male soldiers than it would force females soldiers to bunk and shower with their male counterparts.)” Should Gay TSA Agents Be Barred from Giving ‘Same-gender Pat-downs’?

It is going to be really embarrassing when somebody gets a photograph of one of these Americans for Blah Blah guys immediately following their same-sex patdown, if you know what I mean. It is important to them to prevent this.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Preacher Comes Out in the Pulpit

It doesn't make any sense to me that people calling themselves Christians would focus so much energy on one dimension of human behavior: sexual orientation. There are real crimes out there, murders, rapes, robberies, kidnappings, there are greedy people whose selfishness brings suffering to others, there are liars and cheaters and falsifiers and deceivers -- I mean, really, there is some seriously bad stuff in the world for good people to oppose.

And then you have two people who love each other, but they're not the right two people, and all of a sudden that is the worst problem in the world, that's what the preachers spend their time preaching about. I'm not a dumb person, honest, but I cannot understand why anyone would think that homosexuality is a problem at all, never mind why it is the most important problem in America today. And even though the whole supposition is bizarre, that homosexuality is a threat to anything at all, the derivation of that supposition from the scriptural teachings of Jesus is even more bizarre. How you can take a message of love and forgiveness, tolerance of our neighbors' offenses against us, and twist it into judgment against the kind of love that some people feel?

Those who are trapped in the darkness of the church have it bad, those gay, lesbian, and transgender members of the church whose innate nature makes them the targets of the hatred of the church authorities.

One such person, trapped in a leadership position in such a church, cleared his conscience and hopefully brought a lesson in love to his congregation:
(Nov. 15) -- Despite feeling called by God to spread the gospel, he lived a lie for decades, fearing that the truth would not set him free, as John the Apostle promised, but ruin his life and his devotion to preaching.

Bishop Jim Swilley founded a Greater Atlanta house of worship in 1985 that has grown into a mega-church. He married twice and fathered four children. He traveled the country giving sermons about Christ and Christian love, but kept secret his own feelings on human desires.

But on a recent Wednesday night, he stepped out of the closet while sitting in the pulpit of his 1,200-member, nondenominational Evangelical church and announced he was gay -- something he said he neither chose nor spoke about for most of his 52 years. Some walked out. Many others stayed. Torn by Bullying Suicides, Pastor Says He's Gay

Their preacher tells him he's gay, and a bunch of them walk out. I have always thought people have some kind of internal consistency check, they monitor that their beliefs and feelings and actions are consistent with one another. So you go into church every Sunday and pray for the strength to forgive others, and then your own minister tells you his deepest, most personal secret, he asks for your understanding and love, and you stand up and insult him by walking out.
Swilley said he wanted to change hateful bullying and intolerance of homosexuals. He wanted people to know that, at least for him, it was not a choice or a calling.

"There are two things in my life that are an absolute," he told his flock. "I did not ask for either one of them; both of them were imposed upon me, I had no control over either of them. One was the call of God on my life ... and the other thing ... was my sexual orientation."

It was the recent series of suicides by gay teens that pushed him to stop living a lie, Swilley told NPR. He was especially compelled by the story of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and a friend allegedly live-streamed video of a sexual encounter between a man and Clementi.

"I would hear people nearly imply that he deserved it -- you know, people would say he shouldn't have been in an act of perversion," Swilley told the public radio network. "And when I started hearing that, especially from people who professed to be Christ-like, I don't know. Something changed."

In the videotaped address to his followers, Swilley said he had recently told his parents and his children, and they stood behind him. He said his wife of 21 years, Debye, had known before they were married, but loved him anyway. The couple separated more than a year ago, but she remains an associate pastor at their cathedral in Conyers, Church in the Now, about 25 miles east of Atlanta.

And it was Debye who told him he should come clean and follow the church's motto of "real people experiencing a real God in the real world," Swilley told WSBTV in Atlanta.

His wife knew he was gay before she married him. It would be interesting to hear her story, it sounds like they stayed together nearly twenty years.
He said he's received some sharply negative reactions. "I know all the hateful stuff that's being written about me online, whatever," he said. "To think about saving a teenager, yeah, I'll risk my reputation for that.

"As a father," Swilley said through tears, "thinking about your 16-, 17-year-old killing themselves, I thought somebody needed to say something."

The pastor also said he wanted to clear up some rumors. He had not left his wife for another man, he told his congregation, which included a smiling and applauding Debye. His situation was not similar to Eddie Long, another mega-church pastor in Atlanta.

Long, an anti-gay preacher, has been sued by four young men who claim he coerced them into sex with lavish trips, gifts and jobs. Long denies the accusations.

"My position is not about gaying up the church," Swilley told CNN. "It's about people being who they are."

We have seen anti-gay gay preachers and politicians fall out of the closet, something happens and their lovers identify them publicly, or an undercover cop busts them, a reporter follows up on a hunch, those people are simply hypocrites, their lives are a cliche. They always either deny the reality of their sexual orientation or, like Ted Haggard, they claim to "struggle" with it until they pronounce themselves "cured," or somehow identify themselves as realigned with the forces of traditional repressive religion.

This is an entirely different story. This man, out of compassion for those young people who have given up their lives as a result of the harshness of social pressure on them, has risked everything to try to make things right. It will take a lot more than this, but you can be sure a lot of people down there in Georgia went home and talked about this and questioned whether some assumptions they made were unkind, harmful, incorrect.

[ Update: good interview with the minister and his wife HERE ]

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Inspirational Testimony

This kid is fourteen. A teacher in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had been suspended for an exchange he had in the classroom with two students regarding gay rights. This kid, Graeme Taylor, addresses the school board to stand up for the teacher. Did I mention that he's fourteen? He is not reading from notes, he's looking the school board in the eye. This is a powerful presentation.

(Unfortunately you have to watch a Chevy ad before you get to the good part.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Tolerance ... Agenda -- What?

The New York Times this weekend:
HELENA, Mont. — Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their antiharassment rules with early lessons in tolerance, explaining that some children have “two moms” or will grow up to love members of the same sex.

But such efforts to teach acceptance of homosexuality, which have gained urgency after several well-publicized suicides by gay teenagers, are provoking new culture wars in some communities.

Many educators and rights advocates say that official prohibitions of slurs and taunts are most effective when combined with frank discussions, from kindergarten on, about diverse families and sexuality.

Angry parents and religious critics, while agreeing that schoolyard harassment should be stopped, charge that liberals and gay rights groups are using the antibullying banner to pursue a hidden “homosexual agenda,” implicitly endorsing, for example, same-sex marriage. In Efforts to End Bullying, Some See Agenda

Q: who is hiding the homosexual agenda? Whoever is behind it, they are very good at making their insidious agenda look exactly like decency and common sense.

Sexual orientation is the least important and least interesting thing in the world. Exception: if you are dating someone, you will eventually want to know if that person finds you attractive in a romantic or sexual way. Otherwise, what? I simply cannot understand why some people have decided that this one dimension of human personality shall be the feature that distinguishes good people from evil. But in fact we have people right here in our little suburban county who spend their days thinking up bad things to say about gay people, and writing articles about how bad gay people are, going on TV to complain about them. I don't mean for a hobby, either, our county's school district actually has a guy advising them on issues in the development of the health curriculum who makes his living saying and writing negative things about gay people. He thinks gay people should be put in jail. He thinks SpongeBob SquarePants went too far when he encouraged viewers to be tolerant of others.

And I have another question: why is "two moms" in quotes in this NYT article?

It is strange in a tiring, sad way to see how the Times pits "educators and rights advocates" against "angry parents and religious critics." What about the great majority of parents who are not angry, who welcome a more thorough, objective, and fair education for their children? What about the many religious leaders who are not critics but promote a spiritual lesson of love and acceptance?
Last month, the federal Department of Education told schools they were obligated, under civil rights laws, to try to prevent harassment, including that based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But the agency did not address the controversy over more explicit classroom materials in grade schools.

Some districts, especially in larger cities, have adopted tolerance lessons with minimal dissent. But in suburban districts in California, Illinois and Minnesota, as well as here in Helena, the programs have unleashed fierce opposition.

“Of course we’re all against bullying,” Mr. DeMato, one of numerous pastors who opposed the plan, said in an interview. “But the Bible says very clearly that homosexuality is wrong, and Christians don’t want the schools to teach subjects that are repulsive to their values.”

There is a big distinction which these people try to fudge over with careful wordplay. If you are a Christian and you interpret the Bible in a particular way (and it does not "say very clearly that homosexuality is wrong"), and you find that your sexual orientation is toward members of your own sex, you may choose, out of deference to your religious authority, to suppress your natural inclinations and pretend you are heterosexual. It sounds to me like a recipe for disaster, but as an individual you certainly have the right to make that choice, to deny yourself real love so that you can keep the prohibitions of your religion.

But religious people must understand that not everyone believes as they do. The appreciation of differences is a fundamental requirement for a democratic civil society, if there is to be decency and peace in the community. The Christian who believes that homosexuality is sinful has every right to deny and distort his or her own emotions out of a sense of duty, but they have no right to judge a person who decides differently for themselves. This observation should be especially true for Christians -- Jesus himself taught to "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

Friday, November 05, 2010

Stereotypes Take a Beating

There is a dating web site called OK Cupid, with 3.2 million users and a research group that watches trends in the data. So, for instance, they looked at the question of whether gay and lesbian people want to "convert" or "recruit" straight people into their nefarious lifestyle. You have heard anecdotes, but really, if one gay guy flirts with one straight guy one time, and the straight guy tells all his friends for the rest of his life (I actually know somebody who still tells a story like this from the early seventies), and they will tell their friends that they "know somebody" that this happened to, after enough repeating that one incident seems like a common phenomenon.

But it's easy for the researchers at OK Cupid to query their database and ask the simple question, how often do gay people search for straight dating partners?

The answer:
Match Search Returns
  • only 0.6% of gay men have ever searched for straight matches.
  • only 0.1% of lesbians have ever searched for straight matches.
  • only 0.13% of straight people's profile visitors are gay.

Gay Sex vs. Straight Sex

And note, this is the percentage who ever have conducted that type of search. Somebody may have been online for months and finally one night said, well, this isn't working, I wonder if there're any straight guys out there who would be interested. Way less than one percent of gay people have ever done that, even once.

So much for recruiting straight people.

But gay people are so, y'know, promiscuous, aren't they?

OK Cupid collects histories of their users. Here is a summary of median lifetime partners:
Median Reported Sex Partners
  • straight men: 6
  • gay men: 6
  • straight women: 6
  • gay women: 6

There is not a whole lotta variance there. Pretty much looks like about half the people have had six or fewer partners in their lives, whether they are male or female, straight or gay.

Here are the distributions for gay and straight OK Cupid customers.

An interesting comment from the analysts:
It turns out that a tiny fraction of gays have ... created the public image of gay sexual recklessness—in fact we found that just 2% of gay people have had 23% of the total reported gay sex, which is pretty crazy.

They don't give the corresponding number for straight people.
Another inquiry that had unexpected results: we asked 252,900 straight people have you ever had a sexual encounter with someone of the same sex?

Almost a quarter answered 'yes'.
straight women's same-sex desires:
  • 1 in 3 straight women has hooked up with another woman.
  • and of those who haven't, over 1 in 4 would like to.

As for straight men, a surprisingly high 13% have had a same-sex experience, and another 5% haven't yet but would like to.

All of this is pretty damaging to some kinds of common stereotypes about sexual orientation. If you take the one-third of women who have had a lesbian experience and add the one-quarter who would like to, you have very nearly half (49.95 percent) of women willing to have sex with another woman. Guys, not so much, but nearly one man in five is agreeable to having sex with another man.

These numbers are surprising if you subscribe to the stereotypes. It turns out gay people are no more promiscuous than straight people, as measured in this sample, and more straight people would consider an encounter with someone of their own sex than you might think.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

MoCo: A Blue Island of Sanity in a World Gone Mad

Election results are in, and our little suburban county has clung to reason once again -- and not by a small margin. All the news about how "discouraged" Democrats were supposed to be seems not to have reached the outposts of Rockville and Silver Spring, Bethesda and Potomac, Damascus, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Darnestown, Olney, or any of the other far-flung villages of Montgomery County, Maryland. Voters here cheerfully picked reasonable candidates who will do a good job.

O'Malley beat Ehrlich for governor in our county by margin greater than two to one -- O'Malley got 67.78 percent of the county's vote to Ehrlich's 30.84. Statewide the percentages were closer to 55% for O'Malley and 43% for Ehrlich..

The County Council races offered little in the way of surprises. Marc Elrich has been very popular and came out on top of the at-large race. Nancy Floreen did better than some expected, coming in second, with George Leventhal and Hans Reimer following. The baseline for races between Democrats and Republicans was typically 70% to 30%, so an interesting race is one that deviates from that. For example, perennial candidate Robin Ficker lost to Craig Rice in County Council District 2 with 40.64% of the vote -- is that name recognition after years of seeing him running for office, or do people support his policies? Going the other way, Valerie Ervin beat Joseph Russek by a 81.28 to 18.55 percent margin, which is a whoopin' by any account. As usual, all the county's legislative races were won by Democrats.

Board of Eduction positions are nonpartisan, and we were watching one of those in particular. In candidate forums and interviews, it was clear that all the incumbents were better qualified, more sophisticated, better informed than any of the challengers. Challenger Karen Smith was the exception there, the lone competent challenger, but she was up against the very popular Pat O'Neill, who won with a 67.42% to 32.22% edge. It should be noted that the Parents Coalition hates Pat O'Neill since she referred to them at a board meeting as "pains in the ass," and the anti-LGBT Citizens for Responsible Government also campaigned against her, and against the other incumbents. The CRG was the group behind the "Rotten Apple Ballot" campaign whose signs you saw illegally placed all over the county. Apparently those groups are not so powerful when it comes to influencing voter choices.

By the way, even though the CRG really tried to get people to reject the MCEA's Apple Ballot, my eyeballing the lists seems to show that every Apple Ballot-endorsed candidate won. I think the best thing that can happen to a candidate in our county is to have the Citizens for Responsible Whatever come out against them.

Speaking of anti-LGBT groups, anti-gay activist Martha Schaerr did not do so well in the contest for District 5 school board, even against an opponent who seemed not to do any campaigning at all. I don't think I ever saw a Mike Durso sign, though Ms. Schaerr's were placed illegally in medians and easements across the county and in the lawns of people who did not support her and did not wish to promote her campaign. She also had a well-organized team of volunteers haunting the polling-places. Where I voted, the only person out front was a Schaerr volunteer -- the Democratic Party table had some flyers with a rock to hold them down in the wind. At another site, the volunteer was a student who said she was getting community service hours for her work and fell asleep with a sign in her hands.

Schaerr is an official with the Republican Party but that does not show on the ballot for school board. Therefore it is interesting to see that only 41.49 percent of county voters put the X next to her name, compared to 58.12% for the incumbent Durso. Stealth candidate Schaerr campaigned as a nice mom who wants to empower people, though both the Gazette and The Post published articles about her anti-gay efforts. Looks like people were paying attention this time.

County Question A, the one about ambulance fees, lost with 46.17% of the vote. That one surprised me. I figured people would support the firefighters, but I think that word "fees" makes people jumpy.

Nationally, Republicans took the majority in the House of Representatives -- hoo boy, imagine Speaker John Boehner! -- but not the Senate. Tea Party-backed Republicans Rand Paul in Kentucky (sorry, but for some reason I always picture Ru Paul when I hear that name) and Marco Rubio in Florida won their Senate races, though it looks like Harry Reid has beaten teabagger Sharron Angle in Nevada and Democrat Chris Coons was the projected winner over Republican nutcase Christine O'Donnell in Delaware.

CNN projects that ten governorships will shift from Democratic to Republican when all the votes are counted. Looks like Cuomo beat Paladino for governor of New York. Jerry Brown won as governor of California, but the marijuana initiative lost by a pretty big margin.

Montgomery County is a good place to live. We have all kinds of people here and we accept our diversity in the very best way. This is not a place where the haters will get a toe-hold, people here will debate the issues and in the end we will cast our votes in an orderly and reasonable way. Yesterday's election was a great example of that.