Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Ex-Gay Movement Is Toast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Hobby Lobby Changes Everything

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

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

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

Until Hobby Lobby.

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

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

Until Hobby Lobby.

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

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

Friday, July 04, 2014

The Slippery Slope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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