Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Common Is This, Really?

When the Penn State child-molesting story broke, I wondered how widespread that sort of thing is. Coaches have kind of unique access to boys. There is often justification for physical contact, there are showers after practice, after a game. I had never thought about it, but it is a kind of perfect situation for a pedophile. Now we have a parallel situation uncovered in Syracuse.

The men who end up being coaches in college and professional sports are often charismatic public figures, exemplars of good behavior and a positive attitude. It is hard to imagine them having crude desires and impulses they cannot control but we have seen two examples of perverted pillars of society in recent weeks. I missed it last year, but at least 36 US swimming coaches have been kicked out of the sport for molesting swimmers.

So the question is, is this just part of youth sports? How common is it for coaches to molest children who are participating on their teams?
Two former Syracuse ball boys were the first to accuse [Syracuse basketball assistant coach Bernie] Fine, who has called the allegations "patently false." And a third man came forward last week, accusing Fine of molesting him nine years ago.

Bobby Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis told ESPN that the abuse occurred at Fine's home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four. His stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine began molesting him while he was in fifth or sixth grade. Syracuse coach Boeheim silent day after Fine fired

In both of these current cases, other coaching staff and authorities have covered up the molestation or defended the perpetrator. It is impossible to tell how widespread this sort of thing is.

Sadly, it is The Onion that has the most straightforward message about this:
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA—In the wake of the sex abuse scandal that rocked Penn State earlier this month, a coalition of 10-year-old boys from across the nation held a press conference Saturday outside Beaver Stadium, home of college football's Nittany Lions, to remind Americans that if they see someone raping a prepubescent boy, they should contact the police immediately.

"Considering that the monstrous acts perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky went unreported for years, even after a fellow coach saw him raping a 10-year-old boy inside the facility behind me, we feel perhaps not everyone is totally clear on what to do if one witnesses such a thing," said spokesperson Joshua Pearson, who was flanked by several of his fifth-grade colleagues. "Many of you will no doubt be relieved to know the proper course of action is really quite simple: Just contact the police. Call 911, go to your local precinct, stop an officer on the street—the bottom line is, if you see one of us getting raped, notify the police, and do so as quickly as possible."

"It doesn't matter who the boy being raped is, and it doesn't matter who is doing the raping, just please, please alert law enforcement," Pearson added as the 10-year-old boys surrounding him nodded soberly. "And by the way, under no circumstances is it ever okay for an adult to rape a 10-year-old boy, so you really can't go wrong by calling the police when something like that happens." Nation's 10-Year-Old Boys: 'If You See Someone Raping Us, Please Call The Police'

This is humor. It is "funny" because it is so obvious, yet we read in the news about child abuse going on for years with no one reporting it. Can you imagine walking into the shower and seeing a man anally raping a ten-year-old kid, and just walking out again? It seems that Bernie Fine's wife knew what was going on, it seems impossible that the rest of the coaching staff didn't hear about this over the years, and yet nobody said anything. The cover-ups in these two cases were extensive and highly credible, and you have to wonder how many more situations like this exist out there.

Good Ad

This next year Maryland will almost certainly see the introduction of legislative bills to end discrimination based on gender identity and to allow Marylanders to marry the person they love regardless of whether they are the same or opposite sexes. The governor has stated that he will support both changes, it is now up to the state legislature to figure out a way to pass the bills.

This ad for marriage equality was produced in Australia. That's why the steering wheel is on the wrong side. It's a good one, check it out.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Woman Pepper-Sprays Wal-Mart Shoppers

The LA Times is saying that a woman pepper-sprayed about twenty shoppers at Wal-Mart yesterday so she could get to the sale-priced items.
Authorities are searching for a woman accused of pepper-spraying other shoppers Thursday night at the Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch so that she could grab more discounted merchandise.
Twenty customers, including children, were hurt in the 10:10 p.m. incident, officials said.

Shoppers complained of minor skin and eye irritation and sore throats.

"This was customer-versus-customer 'shopping rage,'" said Los Angeles Police Lt. Abel Parga.

The woman used the spray in more than one area of the Wal-Mart "to gain preferred access to a variety of locations in the store," said Los Angeles Fire Capt. James Carson.

"She was competitive shopping," he said.

Black Friday's sales began at the Wal-Mart at 10 p.m. and featured door-buster sales on toys, including $5 Bratz dolls, $10 Wii video games and $29 tricycles. Woman pepper-sprayed adults, kids at Wal-Mart sale, police say
The police have said the lady could be charged with felony battery, which raises the interesting question of charges against the UC Davis cop who committed the same offense against a bunch of students.

(PS Blogger has changed their editor in incomprehensible and nonsensical ways. You will notice double-spacing and strangeness in recent posts, it is forced by the new changes.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011


One constant feature of Thanksgiving is the news story or TV show telling us that the first Thanksgiving wasn't the way we think it was. Pilgrim customs are debunked, American Indian tribal customs are discussed, the timeline is proven to be impossible, the weather was wrong, the food is wrong. But it doesn't matter. Every year we put on a feast on this Thursday, we sit down with family and friends and the gratitude for nature's beauty, bounty, and love we feel is real.

The Thanksgiving story may have no historical accuracy at all but the legend persists because it is good and powerful. On a mythical day at the beginning of our nation, European and Indian sat down together to share the nutritious wealth of the land. The turkey ran wild, squash was cultivated, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, the earth was ripe with the fall harvest, and in our idealistic imagination at least people of all types sat down together to enjoy the abundance of nature in peace.

We won't intellectualize it or politicize it, our houses will smell richly of good food and resonate with chatter and laughter, the clatter of pans, by evening we will be leaning back, overstuffed and satisfied. And that's the way it should be. It is a perfect American day, Thanksgiving. Enjoy your day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why I Love the Internet

Mitt Romney has a campaign ad out that shows video of President Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."

Okay, it's always good to catch the other guy saying something that can make him look bad. But in this case, it was Obama campaigning in 2008, and the real statement is, "Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.'"

Obama didn't say it, he was saying his opponent said it.

Now, first, there's this. CNN's headline for this story is Democrats say new Romney ad distorts Obama's words.

"Democrats say?" By what standard does the ad not distort Obama's words? What would happen if a mainstream media organization said, straight out, "New Romney ad distorts Obama's words"? It's factual reporting, not biased if they also point out chicanery by the other party.

So ThinkProgress did the obvious thing, they pasted together pieces of Romney's speeches in exactly the same way.

Let's see if CNN mentions this: "Republicans say new ThinkProgress ad distorts Romney's words."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Police Response to Occupy Wall Street

Hopefully you have been paying attention to the response that the Occupation movement has been receiving. Whether you agree with their positions or their tactics, you have to admit that the Constitution guarantees certain rights of citizens to speak and to assemble. But in city after city, authorities have been tearing down protesters' tents, destroying their possessions, police have been attacking them, jailing them, beating people.

Many writers began to wonder why it appeared that the police response was orchestrated across cities, until Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! landed an interview with Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization of big-city police chiefs which set up conference calls with mayors and police chiefs about how to handle the Occupy protesters. PERF has tentacles in the Department of Homeland Security and the nationwide ability to choreograph police strategies across departments.

It makes sense for police departments to talk to each other when there is a crime wave of some sort that is coordinated across jurisdictions, you can't blame them for sharing ideas and coming up with a plan. But this is not a crime wave, it is people peacefully assembling and expressing their thoughts. The police response is typically preemptive and violent, people are shot with rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters, they are gassed and beaten with billy-clubs for assembling and speaking out, they are arrested and then, typically, they are not convicted of anything.

This week the focus has been on the pepper-spraying at UC Davis, where students were sitting on the ground with their arms linked and police in riot gear doused them with pepper spray like they were spraying bugs.

I am not going to quote at length but recommend you read the matched book-end columns of Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan. Lightbulbs are going off as people watch these videos, it is apparent that the US has become a police state where free speech is punished harshly and assembly is simply forbidden.

(While you're at it, you might find this document interesting: Proposal: Occupy Wall Street Response worked out for the American Bankers Association, a nearly-million-dollar plan for undermining the Occupy movement.)

The incident at UC Davis may not have been the worst, but there is something about the video that horrifies in a unique way. This cop has no empathy for the people he is torturing, and yes pepper spray is torture, he impassively sprays the stuff into their faces while they writhe in agony, and they hold their position, sitting on the campus, arms linked.

The university claimed that the police were surrounded and fearing for their lives, but you can see the office step right over the seated students, they were able to leave if they wanted to. Here's the video:

A UC Davis English professor wrote a scathing public letter to the Chancellor, Linda Katehi, calling for her to resign. She was the one who made the decision to call in the police, and even after the pepper-spraying she continued the line about the police being in danger, about the protesters including people who were not students, about the university (irony alert) being concerned about the students' safety as they slept out in the cold. She went on CNN and basically recited her lines, really you ought to watch that video. She is more concerned about the students protesting than the police attack on them.

The Occupy movement has made its point. If the police are there to "protect and serve," this movement has made it clear exactly who they are protecting and serving. They are certainly not serving American citizens who exercise their rights to speak freely and to peaceably assemble. The implications of these repeated, violent, and widespread police attacks on innocent civilians are far-reaching and very serious, and the #OWS movement is opening a lot of people's eyes to the insidious sabotage of liberty that has taken place throughout our historical era.

The day after the UC Davis police attack, Chancellor Katehi gave a press conference on campus. Students massed outside the building and the Chancellor was afraid to leave. The students and sympathizers sat on the ground and linked arms as Katehi left the building. This is incredible video:

Silence is powerful. This peaceful response to violence is something nobody who was present will ever forget.

I have no idea where this is going. No political party is going to be able to assimilate the Occupy movement, both sides are equally invested in the model of economic inequality that puts the greatest amount of wealth in the hands of the fewest people, who then gain control over elected officials and consequently over government. The problem is that democracy has been dissolved. I can't tell you what the solution to the problem is, powerful people with united, paramilitarized police forces serving them are not going to give up their advantage willfully. Elected officials are not going to pass legislation that offends their keepers. Do the American people have the guts to stand up for freedom? I think we will know soon.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm Not a Doctor But I Play One

See what you think about this situation. A six year old boy is charged with sexual assault after playing doctor with a five-year-old girl.
MADISON, Wis., Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The parents of a 6-year-old boy accused of sexual assault are suing Grant County, Wis., officials, contending they violated their son's civil rights.

The first-degree sexual assault charges against the boy came after a 5-year-old girl's mother suspected a game of playing doctor between the two kids had gone too far last fall, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday.

The parents' lawsuit, filed in federal court in Madison, seeks damages and an injunction against Grant County District Attorney Lisa Riniker. The suit also names a sheriff's deputy and a social worker as defendants.

The lawsuit states the boy, identified as D in the suit, the girl and the girl's 5-year-old brother were playing doctor when the girl's mother walked in. The girl's mother told investigators she suspected D had put his finger in the girl's anus.

D's parents, identified in the suit as Jennifer and Kurt D., said D had a medical condition prior to the play date that required rectal exams. Boy, 6, accused of sexual assault

Do we live in a bizarre world, or what?

Because these are kids their identities are protected, but I would love to hear the so-called grown-ups explain this.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported in the spring that a judge rule against dismissing a juvenile court petition for protective services filed by Riniker last November. The report stated the girl said D only touched the outside of her buttocks.

Karen and Kurt D's lawsuit contends the whole investigation was biased because the girl's father is a "well-know political figure in Grant County," and that former Grant County Sheriff's Sgt. James Kop "waged a relentless campaign to discredit and embarrass and humiliate 6-year-old D."

The suit also claims Riniker tried to coerce D's parents into signing a consent decree by insinuating she would have the boy removed from their custody.

I have my own opinions about this but am curious to know how readers think this sort of thing should be handled.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Child Abuse

The Nutty Ones don't quite know what to do about the Penn State scandal. They would love to use it against gay people, but Jerry Sandusky is about as straight as you get, a macho, married football coach.

Here's one approach to it, a recent blog post by the Eagle Forum's Roger Schlafly -- the guy who started Conservapedia. He thinks it's terrible to require people to report crimes against children when they witness them, says it goes against our values: "We are not a nation of snitches."
The mandatory reporting law is a direct attack on the autonomy of the American family. Many parents have practices that provoke the disapproval of others. All it takes is one anonymous call to CPS, and a govt social worker will knock on the door and threaten to put the kids in foster care. There is no due process. The upshot is that know-nothing social workers are redefining how American children are to be reared, and this is a change for the worse.

And it is only going to get worse, as the Democrats want to expand the mandatory reporting. Mandated reporting of suspicion

This will get fascinating. You know what he's talking about, don't you? "Spare the rod, spoil the child" is not, you know, politically correct these days, what with the liberals and all acting like there's something wrong with beating your own kid.

Here's what he's talking about. This is a video of Aransas County, Texas, family law Judge William Adams beating his daughter with a belt. Click "Play" only if you have a strong stomach, it is graphic and heartbreaking.

Some of us see the behavior in this video as abuse, and some don't. Some people think this is a normal way to raise a child, beating some sense into them now and then. Personally, I cannot watch it.

When we talk about "child abuse" we usually mean one of two things, in fact it is kind of interesting that we don't strongly differentiate between them. We might mean sexual abuse, which includes any kind of sexual interaction with a child at all, and we might mean violence. And by violence I mean to include confinement and severe restrictions and other harsh forms of punishment.

Sexual abuse has a very narrow gray area. A child might sit on your lap innocently, and in some other instance alarms should sound. I hate it that the world has gotten to the point where you can't give a kid a hug, but there are times when you just can't. In general, there are forms of affectionate behavior that are reseved for adults, children do not understand them, engaging in sexual behavior with a child is never acceptable. The gray area is very small, and I think almost everyone agrees on where the boundaries lie.

Violence against children is actually more controversial. I hope that everyone who watches that video agrees that the father is out of line. This is not child-rearing, it is assault and battery against a helpless victim. But I doubt we would find much agreement about a parent who occasionally throws a kid over their knee and pops them one on the butt. I don't know the percentages, but I think most parents have done that, at least once. I'm not taking a position on it, I'm just saying that a lot of people find a dispassionate and rare spanking acceptable and not abusive.

Raising your voice to a child can be abusive, yelling at them, telling them they're no good or ugly, stupid. This is a kind of violence that you hate to see but there is no law against it.

At some point parents have to be granted the right to make decisions about how to raise their children. You and I don't have to agree with it, you see people all the time saying things to their kids that you would not say, you see parents on the Metro for instance, smacking their kids around and yelling at them, and it is something you have to tolerate up to a point.

And that point falls in a big gray area. I personally think it is outrageous to hit a child in the face, but I see it all the time. There may be no bruises, no broken bones, it does not qualify legally as assault and there is nothing you can do about it, parents have the right. I call it abuse, you might not, the law supports the parent's right to make the judgment.

The Eagle Forum is defending the right of parents to assault their children without interference. They believe that mandatory reporting of child abuse is an attack on "the autonomy of the family."

The logic here is fascinating, it is incredible to see Schlafly actually arguing in support of Jerry Sandusky:
Penn State officials have been charged with a crime for not reporting a similar allegation against Sandusky in 2002. The entire case hinges on the memory and credibility of McQueary, but now he has changed his story and says that he reported it to the police. There is no physical or other hard evidence of abuse. According to Sandusky, the child involved will testify that McQueary is lying about what he claimed to have seen.

Meanwhile, the legal, financial, spiritual, and emotional toll of false accusations is enormous.

It seems that in defending a parent's right to assault their child violently, the Nutty Ones are backed into a corner where they have to defend child molesters from charges of sexual assault, as well. I don't know how many of them really want to go there, but the Eagle Forum has never had trouble finding followers -- leaders of the Citizens for Responsible Whatever, here in Montgomery County, Maryland, have met with the group.

There will be laws against assault and laws against sexual abuse, and those laws should protect the weak from exploitation and mistreatment. The idea that Mike McQueary should have kept his mouth shut when he walked in on an adult raping a child in the shower is absurd. McQueary had the responsibility to stop the abuse and to call in the law to ensure that it didn't happen again.

It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out, how they will manage to defend one form of abuse and not another.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sandusky's World

The Penn State scandal is unbelievable. It is a multidimensional nexus that highlights the worst of our society and some of the hardest things about being human.

At the core of it is one hardcore pedophile, Jerry Sandusky. He likes to molest prepubescent boys. He doesn't just like to molest boys, he is obsessed with it. He has arranged his entire life so that he is around young boys in situations that justify physical contact and nudity. He didn't only arrange his life, he arranged the entire society of the Penn State community and beyond to bring boys to him and to cover up for him. He set himself up as a hero, surrounded himself with heroic figures in the community, they made his excuses and kept the cops off his tail while the people of the university and the state -- students, faculty and staff, alumni, fans -- considered him a symbol of everything that is good.

One thing that blows you away with the Jerry Sandusky story is the extent to which he arranged to create a world around himself that aggrandized him while providing him access to victims. He established an organization for disadvantaged children and often took boys that he met through the organization to sporting events with him, set up a special bedroom for them in his home. He adopted six children. He lived next door to an elementary school and surrounded himself with children. As a Penn State coach he was venerated in the community; it seems crazy that there would be student riots protesting the arrest of a long-term child molester and the firing of the group of men who protected him, but the way Sandusky lived out his dark fantasy brought him widespread respect and admiration, people loved him and his ring of co-conspirators.

This blog formed in response to attacks on our suburban county's new sex ed curriculum seven years ago. In particular there were radical elements who wanted to exclude factual information about sexual orientation, and so we have a history here of reporting on and discussing LGBT issues. I am a straight blogger and do not pretend to speak for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people. Our interest is in finding a way that we can all live happily together, accepting and even appreciating the differences between us.

That being said, I want to make a point very clear here. Jerry Sandusky is not gay. He is a straight man who has a sexual obsession with young boys. Gay people do not do what he did, he did not do what he did because he is secretly gay. He has sexual desires that are not all right to act on, and he acts on those desires in nonconsensual ways that are not all right. If a gay person molests a child they are prosecuted when they are caught, just like anybody, and that happens sometimes but it is not very common. This isn't about sexual orientation, it is about raping children.

If the focal story is about Jerry Sandusky the person and the creative ways he found to satisfy his bizarre cravings, the next-larger circle of the story has to do with the way the athletic department and university community allowed this to happen. At least two different adults walked in on Sandusky having sex with children and told their supervisors but did not call the police. One was a janitor, new to the job, he was freaked out after he saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a child -- he told his boss, who thought he was in danger of having a heart attack -- but he was afraid of losing his job if he involved the police. The other witness was a graduate assistant, now a coach, who walked into the shower room and saw Sandusky anally raping a child of approximately ten years of age, and left. Called his father. He later told his superiors on the coaching staff what he'd seen and there were meetings with the university president and others, they are trying to fudge the story but it doesn't matter, even if you thought a coach was "fondling" a kid that age you would report it to the police and get rid of him. Instead they circled the wagons and protected this monster.

The larger story has to do with the manipulation of public opinion.

Go to the Second Mile Foundation web site. This is the organization founded by Jerry Sandusky, they help children and when Sandusky saw one he liked he helped himself. The site opens with a Flash graphic that displays these words on the screen, one after the other:
  • Ongoing commitment
  • Responsibility
  • Volunteer driven
  • Opportunity
  • Character
  • Potential
  • Positive
  • Positive self-image
  • Positive contact
  • Positive interaction
  • The Second Mile; providing children with help and hope

This is the organization that Jerry Sandusky created to recruit children for sex.

There is an issue here, having to do with the appearance of morality. All the things in that list are good things. Children need opportunities, they need to develop a positive self-image. You cannot be against anything on that list. Help and hope are good, all these things are good.

It is like the liar who says "I am telling the truth." Truth-tellers also say "I am telling the truth," and because you don't know which kind of person you are dealing with, the statement is meaningless. The sentence "I am telling the truth" has no meaning, because a liar will say it as readily as someone who is truthful and there is no way to tell one from the other. You could take the statement at face value, you could say it means that the person speaking is telling the truth but you would be a fool.

In the same way, to say you are in favor of responsibility and positive interaction and giving children help and hope is meaningless. Everybody is in favor of giving children help and hope, attributing those motives to yourself does not mean you are more fervent about it than other people. In reality the best way to show you favor giving children help and hope is to actually give them help and hope. Do something for them, set an example, pave the way for a child with potential, be nice to a kid, there are lots of ways to help children. Sandusky set up an organization that advertised good motives, and sadly the people who actually work for the Second Mile Foundation seem to be good-hearted people who are trying to help children. But for Sandusky it was a front, a cover, a way for him to recruit boys for his own perverse use.

Of course it is not so simple, it doesn't make sense to automatically challenge people who say good things. It is necessary for people to articulate good principles. We need to remember sometimes, consciously, that it is important to help those who are disadvantaged, that we need to forgive those who have offended us, we need to say out loud that people who are different from us are people, too, just like us, and deserve our respect. There is really nothing wrong with saying good things. But it is not enough, and sadly it is possible to say good things and behave badly. And here's a hard concept: it is possible for good people to do bad things. Those who enabled Sandusky's immorality behaved badly, even though they were successful and even virtuous in other things. And sometimes there are bad people: Sandusky. Where do you draw the line and judge people rather than their actions? You can't punish an action, you punish the person, there is no way to distinguish a person from their behavior. Every judgment of a behavior is a judgment of the person who chose that behavior.

One last thing -- the Second Mile is a big organization and I am heartsick for those people who signed up and really did good things and have seen their good intentions misappropriated. The organization has a statement on their web site, by the way, explaining that they have not let Sandusky near the children since 2008. Jerry Sandusky's legacy will leave a bitter taste for many years to come.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Wild and Wacky Times We Live In

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Repost: Time for MCPS to Take Responsibility

[ Note: I don't usually repost old blogs, but this morning I looked at our log and found literally hundreds of hits to THIS post from February, 2010, mostly coming from MCPS computers all over the county. Montgomery County Schools are sending out flyers again (dates posted HERE), and it appears that school staff are concerned.

A few weeks ago, MCPS Superintendent Josh Starr emailed me and said, regarding a letter sent to PFOX citizens advisory committee representative Peter Sprigg, "In no way shape or form do I condone how it's being used, nor do I agree with his stance or that of his group. In fact, I am on the opposite side of the spectrum." Blogged HERE.

Below is the entire post from February 14, 2010. ]

Time for MCPS to Take Responsibility

PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays) is an organization that sues people to protect the rights of those chimerical people who have decided not to be gay any more -- "ex-gays." The organization consists basically of Regina Griggs, who has a gay son and who wishes with all her heart that people could just change their sexual orientation. There is a board of directors, which includes our county's Peter Sprigg, who believes that homosexual behavior should be against the law, and PFOX has some friends, including a few in our county.

A few years ago, PFOX began exploiting a legal loophole which enabled them to get Montgomery County Public Schools to distribute their anti-gay literature to students. An evangelical organization had sued the school district because they wouldn't pass out the group's flyers. The school district thought it would be be a violation of the Constitution's Establishment clause, forbidding government promotion of religion, and the group said refusing was a violation of the Free Speech section, and the group won in court. Suddenly a school's decision about whether to distribute someone's flyers became a legal issue, and the district came up with a policy that said that they would distribute any flyer that met certain criteria. Besides school announcements, the PTA, and on-campus clubs, the schools would distribute flyers put out by nonprofit organizations if the flyer had a disclaimer on it and was not hate literature. PFOX is a nonprofit, and they saw the opportunity to recruit gay teenagers through the schools.

At first everybody just shrugged and said, well, they have the right to express themselves, this is fair, etcetera. Some schools set up special trash cans on PFOX flyer days, which coincided with report cards, so students could throw their anti-gay materials out immediately. All the same, school staff spent time handling the flyers, classroom time was taken to hand them out. The information on the flyers was in direct contradiction to the health curriculum, it was in direct contradiction to the schools' antidiscrimination policies, but taxpayer-paid staff spent work time, and students spent time that could have been used for learning, on the flyers.

A couple of weeks ago the flyers went out again, and now people in the county are getting fed up with it. Hateful groups like PFOX exist, we know that, the question is why are the schools giving our county's kids their literature?

This week PFOX stepped up its counteroffense. World Net Daily gives PFOX's side of it:
A campaign has been launched in Montgomery County, Md., to classify the speech of advocates for people who choose to leave the homosexual lifestyle as "hate speech," which then could be banned under a new law signed last year by President Obama.

"Hate speech is unwelcome in Montgomery County Public Schools," said an e-mail to the offices of Regina Griggs, national director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, known as PFOX. "I would like to ask that you immediately cease distribution of your flyers at our public schools.

"We intend to pursue every method possible to protest your actions if you choose to continue," the message warned. Christian speech targeted as 'hate': 'Gays' pledge to 'pursue every method' of protesting school flyers

This is great. If this had been a real newspaper, the story would have started with "Somebody sent PFOX an email message ..." World Net Daily, though, presents it as if a communique from the Gay People's Party had been released. They never do tell you who the email was from, it could have been anybody. One email equals "a campaign."

This article describes PFOX as "advocates for people who choose to leave the homosexual lifestyle." First of all, can you tell me what a "lifestyle" is? Can you tell me why "gay" is put in quotes? Have you ever heard of a person who chose to "leave the homosexual lifestyle" and did it? Is there some reason that someone like that needs an advocate -- they're straight now, what's the big deal? The ex-gay frame is a cruel hoax to make you think that gay people have chosen their sexual orientation and can choose to change it, with the subtle message between the lines that they should change their sexual orientation. Really, if change is possible, doesn't that mean that straight people can become gay, too? PFOX only advocates change in one direction. The important truth is that some people naturally have feelings for members of their own sex, nobody knows why really, it's just a statistical fact that some proportion of the population will feel that way. If there are "ex-gays," none of them apparently live in the Washington DC area.

PFOX is gearing up for the inevitable. There is pressure to have them classified as a hate group, officially. And while they have the Constitutional freedom to say what they do, if it is classified as hate speech the school district has a reason to refuse to distribute their materials. (And by the way, regardless of what WND says, the nation's new hate crime law has nothing to do with it, that will only apply when violence has been done.)

PFOX is walking a fine line here, their hateful message is disguised in a clever way, they say they are parents and friends of gay people right in their name, for crying out loud! They just want to help unhappy people stop doing unhealthy things, don't ya know? And all those thousands of people who have "left the homosexual lifestyle," who will speak for them? This is fine-tuned passive aggression, they can say that all they want to do is help quote-gay-unquote people but they are no gay person's friend. The ordinary citizen walking around doesn't understand how any of this works, it sounds plausible, what with AIDS and all, that somebody would want to stop being gay. But there is no question about it, PFOX's message is intended to undermine the rights of LGBT people, to turn the love they feel for their partners into a dirty thing, a feeling you wouldn't want to have. For straight people, an important component of the message is that gay people have chosen to be that way.

The school district might be backed into a legal corner, and they might not. If the flyers can be classified as hate speech then the schools don't have to hand them out -- but who does the classifying? Ah, the answer there is easier than you'd think -- some responsible person classifies it. Maybe the school district's legal department issues a decision, maybe the Superintendent looks at the flyers and says it is hate speech, maybe the school board discusses it and classifies the literature as hateful. A responsible person, that's what we're looking for.

The problem is not that PFOX is saying these things, there have always been people saying these things. The problem is that our taxpayer-supported public schools are delivering this message to our county's children. We entrust the lives and minds of our kids to the school from the moment they get on the bus until the moment they get off it again, and we expect them to be safe from physical and psychological danger, we trust the schools to enlighten their minds through education. And the school district is giving them intellectual poison.

I know what the solution is here, but I don't expect anybody in the school system to go for it. At the bottom of every flyer is a disclaimer like this:
(These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or this school.)

I say, take the disclaimer off. The school should only distribute information that it endorses. Let them be responsible for their actions.

Let the school principal, the Board of Education, the Superintendent of Schools, and home-room teachers be responsible for what they give the children. Consider the quotes from principals who have said things like "If I had my druthers, [the flier] would not have gone out." Why is the principal not held responsible for the literature his school is giving to the students entrusted to him? Give the guy his druthers! Take the disclaimer off all the flyers, and let the school district take responsibility for the information it is giving to our students.

Ah, you say, they're afraid of lawsuits. Yes, there is an inevitable lawsuit if they refuse to distribute the PFOX hate literature. The schools have a little problem with bullying, I wonder where the kids picked that up? Okay, PFOX is going to sue, the school district will have to fight back. If there is a legitimate reason that the school district should have to give anti-gay materials to schoolchildren then PFOX will win and the case will only be wasted money. Is it really possible that distributing hateful literature is a legitimate function of a public school? Okay, back if down a step or two, is it really possible that distributing every group's opinion is a legitimate function of a public school? Of course not, the school is there for education, it is patently absurd for them to be giving children a message that is the direct opposite of what they are taught in class.

This is a moment when we need leaders. Somebody at the top needs to identify this as something indecent and wrong and put a stop to it. The school district is hiding behind a legal opinion instead of acting like grown-ups and confronting the issue.

It may motivate MCPS to know that a lot of parents and citizens are really getting upset by this. We hear from them, we see their listserv discussions, people are not happy. It may motivate MCPS to know that this is getting attention at the national level as well, LGBT advocacy groups are paying attention and discussing what actions they should take. We used to have an elite school district, one that was admired around the country, now people are looking at us like we were some backwoods podunk place that wants to make sure gay and lesbian people know they are not welcome.

It is time for somebody at MCPS to take responsibility for these flyers and put a stop to them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Michigan Bill Will Protect Religious Bullies

These are some strong words from a Time blogger.

The Michigan state Senate has just passed a bill called “Matt’s Safe School Law,” named after a student who committed suicide after being bullied. The bill will now be sent to the House. So far, so good, the state is going to tighten down on a serious problem.

But get this:
On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled state senate passed an anti-bullying bill that manages to protect school bullies instead of those they victimize. It accomplishes this impressive feat by allowing students, teachers, and other school employees to claim that “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” justifies their harassment. Why Does Michigan’s Anti-Bullying Bill Protect Religious Tormenters?

These guys are amazing.

The author, Amy Sullivan, is a Michigan resident. She writes a weekly column in Time, "Articles of Faith," about the intersection of religion and politics.
Michigan is already one of only three states in the country that have not enacted any form of anti-bullying legislation. For more than a decade, Democrats in the state legislature have fought their Republican colleagues and social conservatives such as Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, who referred to anti-bullying measures as “a Trojan horse for the homosexual agenda.” In that time, at least ten Michigan students who were victims of bullying have killed themselves.

This year, Republicans only agreed to consider an anti-bullying measure that did not require school districts to report bullying incidents, did not include any provisions for enforcement or teacher training, and did not hold administrators accountable if they fail to act. And they fought back Democratic attempts to enumerate particular types of students who are prone to being bullied, such as religious and racial minorities, and gay students. But it was the addition of special protections for religiously-motivated bullying that led all 11 Democratic senators to vote against the legislation they had long championed.

This is not about expressing your beliefs, it's not about having an opinion that homosexuality is wrong -- it's about bullying. In Michigan, bullies who do not belong to hateful churches can be punished, if this bill passes.
In an emotional speech on the Senate floor, Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer accused her colleagues of creating a blueprint for consequence-free bullying. “As passed today,” said Whitmer, “bullying kids is okay if a student, parent, teacher or school employee can come up with a moral or religious reason for doing it.”

The bill is called “Matt’s Safe School Law,” after Matt Epling, a Michigan student who committed suicide in 2002 after enduring prolonged bullying. Matt’s father, Kevin Epling, expressed his dismay in a Facebook post after the state senate vote on Wednesday. “I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying,” wrote Epling. “For years the line [from Republicans] has been ‘no protected classes,’ and the first thing they throw in…was a very protected class, and limited them from repercussions of their own actions.”

To understand what happened in Michigan, it’s important to know that social conservatives consider themselves the real victims. At the federal level, they unsuccessfully fought for the inclusion of a provision protecting religious freedom when Congress expanded the definition of a hate crime to include crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation. They also strongly oppose legislation that would prevent discrimination against gay individuals in the workplace, charging that such a law would endanger religious freedom. A report on the Christian Broadcasting Network outlined one such concern: “The special protections for gay and transgendered teachers will make it extremely difficult for [public school] districts that might want to remove them from the classroom.”

In other words, social conservatives believe that efforts to protect gays from assault, discrimination or bullying impinge on their religious freedom to express and act on their belief that homosexuality is an abomination. That’s stating it harshly, but it is the underlying belief.

This belief, however, relies on a warped understanding of religious liberty. Freedom of religious expression doesn’t give someone the right to kick the crap out of a gay kid or to verbally torment her. It doesn’t give someone the right to fire a gay employee instead of dealing with the potential discomfort of working with him.

It’s also a highly selective conception of religious liberty. The same religious conservatives who applaud the religious exemption in Michigan’s anti-bullying bill would be appalled if it protected a Muslim student in Dearborn who defended bullying a Christian classmate by saying he considered her an infidel.

Worst of all, such abuses of the concept of religious liberty undermine efforts to focus attention on serious threats to religious freedom. A Christian pastor in Iran currently faces execution because he will not convert back to Islam. China openly represses religious minorities like Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims. Christians in Syria and Egypt continue to be targets of violence, and Muslims in Europe face civil penalties for wearing religious garb in public. Next to these realities, it takes a serious persecution complex to get worked up about defending the right of a Michigan high school student to target a gay classmate for ridicule.

And that's what we're up against. It is a total inversion of morality, where those who appoint themselves morally superior believe they are justified in doing bad things.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Survey Finds Transgender Support and Understanding

A survey that came out this week proved me wrong. I had thought that most of the public was essentially unaware of transgender people, of who they are and what kinds of obstacles they have to deal with. But a survey of Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute found that:
Overwhelming majorities of Americans, across the political and religious spectrum, believe that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as other people, a new survey finds.

The August and September Religion and Politics Tracking Surveys were conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and released amid the increased attention towards transgender issues following Chaz Bono’s appearance on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. The combined surveys constitute one of the first independent studies of attitudes on transgender issues and Americans’ knowledge of transgender identity.

“Three out of four Americans say Congress should pass employment nondiscrimination laws that protect transgender people,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “This strong support is also broad, persisting across party lines and the religious spectrum.” Strong Majorities Favor Rights & Legal Protections for Transgender People

This is great news. The proportion of transgender people in the population is unknown but one tenth of one percent is a frequently given number, about one in a thousand. I had assumed that most people did not have a clear picture of the concept, and that the public was generally not sympathetic, but this survey finds otherwise.
Approximately three-quarters (74%) of Americans also favor Congress’ recent expansion of hate crimes legislation to protect transgender people. Additionally, the survey found that roughly two-thirds of Americans both report being well informed about transgender people and issues, and generally understand what the term “transgender” means, the new survey finds.

“To explore whether Americans know what the term ‘transgender’ means, we allowed them to define ‘transgender’ in their own words,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “More than two-thirds of Americans were able to give an essentially accurate definition of the term ‘transgender’ without any assistance.”

Cool idea. I'm glad they asked that question that way.

Here is their summary of findings from the survey:
Overwhelming majorities of Americans agree that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as others.
  • Approximately 9-in-10 (89%) Americans—including strong majorities of all religious and partisan groups—agree that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections as other Americans.

Approximately three-quarters of Americans both say Congress should pass employment nondiscrimination laws to protect transgender people, and favor Congress’s recent expansion of hate crimes legislation to protect transgender people.
  • Three-quarters (75%) of Americans agree that Congress should pass laws to protect transgender people from job discrimination. This support persists across the political and religious spectrum.
  • Approximately three-quarters (74%) of Americans also favor Congress’ recent expansion of federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, compared to only 22% who oppose.

Approximately two-thirds of Americans both report being well informed about transgender people and issues, and generally understand what the term “transgender” means.
  • Two-thirds of Americans agree that they feel well informed about transgender persons and issues, while 3-in-10 disagree.
  • In order to determine whether Americans understood the term “transgender,” PRRI conducted a follow-up survey in September 2011 that asked respondents to report what the term “transgender” meant to them in their own words. Among the 91% of Americans who report that they have heard of the term transgender, 76% give an essentially accurate definition. Thus, overall, more than two-thirds (69%) of Americans are able to identify what the term “transgender” means without any assistance.

Of course, saying you are well-informed isn't the same as being well-informed, but we'll go ahead and give people credit for having given the subject a thought.

Our state, Maryland, will likely follow up on last year's momentum to pass a statewide gender identity nondiscrimination bill. It will go much more smoothly if people understand the issues. In Montgomery County and other places, the Nutty Ones have pretended it has something to do with men going into the ladies room. If people are informed about the issues though, as this survey suggests, that approach won't have any effect.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Throckmorton Attacked by Porno Pete

You might remember Warren Throckmorton. He is a Psychology professor at a small Christian college in Pennsylvania who wrote a report that was critical of the original 2004 MCPS sex-ed curriculum revisions. Most importantly, he and his co-author David Blakeslee criticized the curriculum's "essentialist" position on sexual orientation. That position holds that a person's sexual orientation is a fixed feature of their personality, it is essential to who they are. Throckmorton and Blakeslee argued that sexual orientation can be fluid, that it might be socially constructed, and that "change is possible but not accepted by essentialists."

Over the years Throckmorton's position has shifted, and today he seems to have come around to the essentialist view. Where he used to hold that sexual orientation can change, he now advocates what he calls "congruency," where a person who finds his or her sexual orientation in conflict with their other beliefs -- that is, if their religion forbids it -- should adapt their behavior to fit their beliefs. Personally I think this position, that gay people who subscribe to a homophobic religious group should pretend to be straight, is slightly less cruel than giving gay people false hope that they can become heterosexual. Throckmorton believes that it may be possible for sexual orientation to change for a very small proportion of people, but in general the chances are so slim that a different approach should be advocated.

In the post previous to this one I talked about "Porno Pete" Peter LaBarbera, who gets his nickname from his habit of attending and photographing the most outrageous people at gay leather events. He leads a hate group and has been fighting homosexuality for many years. And now he has decided that Warren Throckmorton is not a real Christian, since he doesn't believe that change is possible for most people.
"But in the last few years, he's basically become a pro-gay advocate who discredits the idea of change for most homosexuals," LaBarbera explains. "He grants the idea that they can change, but he says change is very rare.

"So effectively, Warren Throckmorton has become a very useful advocate for the homosexual side because he can claim to be an evangelical and yet he's undermining scriptural truth."

LaBarbera goes on to say that the professor of psychology is associated with a respected Christian school that advertises itself as "authentically Christian."

"We're asking [him] to either apologize for his pro-homosexual advocacy, or to basically admit that he doesn't belong at a college which calls itself a biblically Christian college," states the pro-family leader, concluding that one cannot have it both ways.

According to LaBarbara, Christians know people can leave the lifestyle, and that through Christ, many thousands have. So he says Throckmorton's message -- that change is near impossible -- is contrary to Christian thinking. Educator's pro-'gay' advocacy challenged

I love it when they fight among themselves, don't you?

The comments there are good, btw, LaBarbera joins in.

Throckmorton responded on his blog.
Here we have a test of orthodoxy – something that must be believed in order to be considered a Christian. In my tradition, faith in the redeeming mission of Christ is the test of faith. However, in the new orthodoxy of some in the Christian right, one must believe certain things about gays in order to be consider a Christian.

On the points raised by the ONN article, I observe that LaBarbera conflates behavior and inclination. He says I don’t think people can “leave the lifestyle” because I think categorical change of sexual attractions is rare and complex. While his description of behavior change is crude and stereotypical, I disagree with his assessment of me. I do believe that people change their behavior. They do so for a variety of reasons but in the context of this controversy, some do in order to seek conformity to their religious beliefs. That this happens is not in doubt by any researcher, pro-gay or not, that I know. The APA in their 2009 Task Force report acknowledged this and even noted that finding congruence can lead to certain positive outcomes.

However, gay and bisexual people who change their behavior infrequently lose their same-sex attractions, no matter how earnestly they pray. In my work as well as other studies, heterosexually married gay and lesbian people do not demonstrate change in attractions on average, even as they demonstrate devotion to their marriages. My critics can keep on criticizing but they have not been able to address the evidence which does not cut in their favor. A new test of orthodoxy

Throckmorton produced a movie about "ex-gays" in 2004, called "I Do Exist." The movie is no longer on the market, he says, "because I have changed my views significantly since it was made." The movie featured people telling the camera that they had stopped being gay, the phrase "I Do Exist" is a common one among proselytizers and means that "ex-gays" exist. It was a bold statement in 2004 and Throckmorton now retracts it.

He continues.
If I need to apologize for something, it is that I misled evangelicals for several years on the matter of sexual orientation. I did not intend to do so. When I made the documentary I Do Exist, I really believed the stories told. I know the people making the video did as well. I believed my clients; I believed people who told me they changed completely. In hindsight, I acknowledge that my work was complicated by the culture war. I now think the culture war is a significant stumbling block for the church.

From that time, there are a handful of people who continue to say they have changed in a comprehensive way. Many however, have acknowledged that their attractions have shifted within a range but have not really changed from one category to another. My view is that these stories are all interesting and that I desire to take people where they are and just work out a way that helps them live with integrity.

Who knows, maybe I will shift my views in different ways in the future. However, I hope it will be in response to evidence, not in order to fit into a man made definition of orthodoxy. In the mean time, I invite critics to simply deal with the evidence.

Sexual orientation is a subtle trait and its development is not well understood. Groups like PFOX like to say that "there is no gay gene," as if that meant you can change your sexual orientation, but anyone who looks at the evidence will see that is not the case. You don't become gay by being "recruited into the lifestyle," and you don't stop being gay by praying it away. It is an innate, persistent characteristic of the person.

Throckmorton's belief that gay people should just "not act gay" is too liberal for the hard-core haters like LaBarbera. But many devout Christians have thought about the matter and realized that a loving God has created a diversity of people, not so they can be judged but so they can be loved.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Over-the-Top Haters on the Radio

RightWing Watch has a fascinatingly weird segment of a radio show conversation between two anti-gay leaders. Scott Lively is the president of Abiding Truth Ministries, a conservative Christian organization located in Temecula, California, which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is best known as co-author of the book The Pink Swastika, which states that "homosexuals [are] the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities." He was also instrumental in campaigning in Uganda for the "kill the gays bill," though he says he does not actually believe people should be executed for their sexual orientation.

Peter ("Porno Pete") LaBarbera is the president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, which is also classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The exchange took place on LaBarbera's radio show, the Americans for Truth Radio Hour.

Listen to this. Here is why we call them The Nutty Ones. It is hard to fathom the depth of delusion required just to keep a straight face while you are accusing your gay and lesbian neighbors of being part of what must be the most extensive and secretive conspiracy to take over the world -- evah!!!

RWR has a transcription, so I'll just copy and paste their text with only a few changes…
LaBarbera: Scott, are you saying that homosexual activists are actually trying to corrupt the minds of young people?

Lively: It can’t be, no, how can anyone say such a thing?

LaBarbera: It’s the only issue of which there is no influence at all from the older to the younger, right Scott?

Lively: The things that they scream about the loudest are the things that are the most true and the most damaging to them. The connection between homosexuality and AIDS, the connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, the recruitment of children, not just children but everyone they can get their hands on into the homosexual lifestyle, and the desire of the movement to achieve power.

LaBarbera: They are all about demonizing Christians like us, especially Christians, there’s always a special hatred for the Christians, and so like you said Scott, ‘anything it takes,’ it’s a utilitarian movement.

Lively: And the question is, why? Why do they do this? Because we stand in the way of their pursuit of the complete control of society. This isn’t about tolerance, it’s not acceptance, it isn’t even about accepting all things gay; this is about absolute control. And every place that they got it, and they do have it in some places, they use it, and they punish anyone who disagrees with them and then they begin controlling every person within their grip.

All this sounds really scary, doesn't it? Corrupting our youth, special hatred for Christians, the complete control of society …

This is a comic-book perspective where the world is a battleground between superheroes representing good and evil, and has nothing to do with the reality that some people simply, by their nature, find members of their own sex more attractive than those of the opposite sex. People who feel that way have become fed up with being misunderstood and have fought a good campaign for respect. They are not the Planet Destroyers From the Galaxy X-10, they are just people like everybody else. Nutty guys like Porno Pete and Mister Lively only deserve to be mocked.