Ignorance as a tool for persuasion

Now that the Equal Rights Amendment is back in the news, I’ve read two long articles from conservatives decrying how terrible it is. Neither article provided the amendment’s actual text, which is only THREE SENTENCES LONG! Take a clue, folks: If ignorance is your best tool for persuasion, you’re simply admitting you’re wrong.

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Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism

What should we call perpetrators of hate crimes? “Hate criminals” hasn’t caught on. “Perpetrator of a hate crimes” is a mouthful. So what’s an alternative?

I vote for “terrorist.” Or, if you prefer, “domestic terrorist.” It’s blunt. And it has  legal justification.

I’ve spent too much time on message boards correcting our opponents’ understanding of hate crime legislation and explaining that bias crimes don’t just affect the immediate victim, but intimidate victimize an entire class of people. I’ve had the best luck with anti-gay conservatives by laying out a scenario where someone is targeting elderly women on their way home from church. A pattern like that, or even a single attack backed up with some graffiti, could intimidate a whole community of elderly women from attending services. That expanded group of victims is why hate crime legislation — which doesn’t actually make anything illegal — is justified in giving heavier penalties to traditional crimes when they’re committed out of bias.

That’s where domestic terrorism comes in. It has a legal definition in the US:

(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

(A) applies. (C) applies. And (B)(i) is exactly what we’ve been talking about. (The “or” at the end of (ii) indicates that any of those subbullets are sufficient.)

This works for the man who tried to burn down a bar full of gay patrons — even if, mind-bogglingly, he’s been charged with neither a hate crime or terrorism. And it works for those vandalize homes with graffiti saying, “You are not welcome here,” and “We cannot coexist with Third World scum.”

“Terrorist” (or, as W would say, “trrrrrist”) is a word conservatives love. But just as they’ve co-opted much of our language, I feel comfortable doing the same to them. Every time one of our opponents makes a mocking comment about hate crimes, I’ll have no trouble doubling down and calling these “perpetrators” exactly the name they deserve. Terrorists they are, and terrorists they should be called.

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Please, please, PLEASE -- be my straight best friend!

The Public Discourse is a publication of the Witherspoon Institute (which financed Regnerus) and it has an odd pattern of inviting gay authors to talk about how much it sucks to be gay. These articles are accidentally revealing — I mean, brutal self-portraits if you read between the lines.

For instance, Doug Mainwaring is a gay dad who makes it clear he shouldn’t be a dad at all. Robert Oscar Lopez is an opponent of same-sex parenting who reveals he doesn’t understand same-sex parenting. And now Richard G. Evans is a celibate gay Catholic who inadvertently tells us how awful that celibate life is.

His article explains that he desperately needs Godly straight folk to befriend him.

I returned to the Church after thirty-five years away and was finally confirmed at age fifty. That night, I suppose I expected to be walking on both air and water. Stepping inside my empty apartment and realizing that I could either order take-out or not eat at all was too much for me. I felt forsaken by God, family, and friends, even though I knew that no one intentionally abandoned me. Especially not God! Still, the pain was there and acutely real.

Those who are blessed enough to be married and have families of their own can sometimes forget that those of us called to be celibate and permanently single still have a great need to connect with “family,” particularly on holidays and holy days. This applies to single people from many backgrounds: the widowed, priests, and, of course, those with SSA [same-sex attraction].

In other words, I deliberately cut myself off from intimacy and chose a community that says I’m afflicted with a tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil. So obviously I’ll need to explain that I might get lonely. I need you to help me battle that, and believe it or not, it might even benefit you!

Although there are many exceptions, men from SSA backgrounds are probably less likely to have ever changed the oil in a car or excelled at traditionally masculine sports such as football. They may prefer to listen to classical music or jazz rather than rock or rap and enjoy a nice glass of wine rather than a bottle of beer. It’s not unlikely that we clean our homes better than you do, and we might even be gourmet cooks…

No offense intended, but some of you could actually learn a few things from us in these areas!

I may indeed be able to show you better ways of organizing tchotchkes and slicing fresh mango. But beware! An openly gay man might also teach you the benefits of nonconformity, independent thinking, and being true to yourself, so be ready to change the subject if that comes up.

Meanwhile, you have something to offer me!

But we can also learn from you. For example, I was pathetic at pretty much all sports as a child. I do not mean this as an indictment of him, but if my father had ever pulled me into the backyard to throw a baseball with me, or if he had ever taken me fishing, I would have been so thrilled that I probably would have announced it in “show and tell.” I also might have learned enough grace and skill to avoid being made the brunt of many cruel “sissy” jokes and being continually picked last on every team.

Yes, if I can pull myself away from the gym and you can get your ass off the couch, you can teach me to throw a ball. And if the author’s right, after I convince you to hang out with gay men, you can teach me how to deal with guys who have to be convinced to hang out with gay men. Win-win!

I could learn other things from you, as well. Like how it feels to have a loving, committed relationship with another human being. Because my religion made me give that up. But, hey, a baseball lesson would be nice, too.

If you want to be my friend, though, I’ll need some things from you.

First, let us be emotional and share our thoughts and feelings with you. No, I do not need to pour my heart out constantly—but I sometimes do. You, I hope, have a wife with whom you can do so. I do not. I am your perpetually single next-door neighbor—the one who is not ever going to be otherwise.

See, we’re not so different. You have someone who wants to hear your thoughts and feelings, and I can have somebody to plead with (that’s you!) to listen to mine, as long as I don’t do it too much. You don’t even actually have to listen. All I ask is that you grunt every so often as you change your oil while drinking a beer and playing the rap music.

Now of course I’ll fall in love with you, but it’s no biggie.

What would you do if a woman seemed to expect more from you than you could give her? You would, I hope, be very gentle with her, state your position, and be clear that you do not reject her as a person even though you reject her advances.

I would contend that, with another male who is committed to chastity, it is even easier, not harder, to deal with such a situation. First of all, we already know that the “crush” is a transient thing and cannot go anywhere. We are acutely aware of this, trust me.

See, a woman might stalk you, but I’m too pathetic and hopeless for that. I mean, if I weren’t aware I’m such a loser, it might be a problem. But I’m acutely aware of this, trust me. And I’ll be ever, ever, ever so grateful that you put up with me even though I’m, well, me.

So like us—love us—and do not ignore us even if you have had to give us the painful truth that we need to ease off a little. But remain available. It will mean the world to us if you do.

Now, as for next steps…

So how do you begin? Start by knocking off the “gay” or “faggot” jokes. Most of them are not funny anyway, and you may be telling them in front of someone who has a secret you never dreamed of and hurting that person immensely. You may be even preventing that person from ever telling you about his or her struggles.

Sure, some of those “gay” or “faggot” jokes are hilarious, but most of them are not. So please stop. Because there’s nothing a celibate gay wants more than a straight man who’s just sworn off fag jokes. And I bet there’s nothing a straight man who’s just sworn off fag jokes wants more than a celibate gay telling him about his struggles.

One last bit of cautionary advice:

We do not need you to “fix” us. We are working on that already, or we should be. But you are, by virtue of your manhood, part of the solution.

Indeed — your manhood truly is the solution to my celibacy. And really, that’s all I want.

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Marriage Equality, Bigotry...and Don Sterling

A great deal of opposition to marriage equality is based on anti-gay bigotry. I’ve read it, experienced it, documented it and called it out, again and again and again. Homophobia, like racism, anti-Semitism, and a host of other toxic bigotries, is a derangement, a flaw of judgment and character, quite enough to make us question a person’s ability (and suitability) to lead.

That’s never been in doubt for me. What I have doubted, though, is whether opposition to same-sex marriage always and automatically marks one as an anti-gay bigot. Some have argued, forcefully, that it does. As one commenter wrote:

Opposition to marriage equality doesn’t exist in a person for no reason. You can’t get to “I oppose equality” if you don’t first see gays as bad or inferior. They may not all hate us, but they most certainly all think they’re superior to us or that we’re bad in some way.

If my CEO thought gays to be bad or inferior, I’d want him removed, and I could make a strong case to a Board of Directors that he should be removed. But I don’t see the connection the commenter made. Many people don’t ever get to “I oppose equality.” Our opponents struggle to make sure they don’t think of it in those terms, shifting instead to, “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” It’s not a question of whether gays are good or bad. It’s a question of what their religion tells them about marriage.

In 2012, Gallup reported that 47% of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage gave the Bible or religion as their main reason (while only 12% of people with “no religious identity” opposed marriage equality). Barack Obama used this justification for a while. In The Audacity of Hope, he attributes his opposition to his religious beliefs and then weasels around to describe how bad he feels about it when talking to a lesbian, never bothering to explain why his religious beliefs should be enforced on everyone by rule of law.    Read more…

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Yep, I Signed It

As you may know, I signed the controversial petition, Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both. This has caused an uproar over at Box Turtle Bulletin, where I also blog. If you’re interested in this topic, I suggest you read the post where it was announced before continuing below.    Read more…

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The Self-Defeating Folly of Robert Oscar Lopez

Robert Oscar Lopez is a maybe-bisexual man raised by two lesbians (well, sort of: one full-time mom and one part-time). He spouts such vicious garbage that he’s finding it hard to find places in America that welcome him to speak. Or, as he put it recently, “one of the reasons that I was so available to help European allies was practical: blacklisted and driven out of the public square by a cadre of unhinged homosexual fascists.”

I always wonder what his colleagues think of this, the ones we do see on Fox and other conservative outlets. Lopez is basically implying they weren’t effective enough to be hounded out of the country. He hints at the real reason for his exile, though. In that same article he writes:

[M]any conservatives, even the ones fighting gay marriage, have viewed me as a liability and cooperated with the blackout.  Other right-wing journals wouldn’t publish me.  For a year and a half I got many queries from college students interested in having me speak, but conservatives sponsoring them deemed me too controversial.

Well, which is it? Who’s to blame for silencing him? A cadre of unhinged homosexual fascists, or many conservatives, or a conspiracy between the two (another possibility, that “many conservatives” fighting gay marriage are in fact closeted “unhinged homosexual fascists,” is provocative, but probably not what he intended). It’s funny that he can’t see his own contradiction, which might be a good signal that he was indeed stifled from within his own movement. In fact, his penchant for contradiction, paranoia, and baffling illogic makes a damn good case for his allies to shut him up.

Lopez’s only real value to their movement lies in the fierce way he denounces his upbringing, but his irrationality infects even that. Here’s how he describes it:

Between 1973 and 1990, when my beloved mother passed away, she and her female romantic partner raised me. They had separate houses but spent nearly all their weekends together, with me, in a trailer tucked discreetly in an RV park 50 minutes away from the town where we lived. As the youngest of my mother’s biological children, I was the only child who experienced childhood without my father being around.

After my mother’s partner’s children had left for college, she moved into our house in town. I lived with both of them for the brief time before my mother died at the age of 53. I was 19.

What an awful childhood. The secrecy, the isolation, the self-shunning. The fear, the constant separation from one’s friends, the inevitable sense imposed on a child that his life is somehow wrong. It’s enough to give you sympathy for this poor — oh, wait, I left off a sentence from that last paragraph.

In other words, I was the only child who experienced life under “gay parenting” as that term is understood today.

Really? This awful closeted existence is what we have in mind when we fight for marriage equality? Again: really?

And this is where we see just how damaged Robert Oscar Lopez really is: He can’t recognize basic facts of reality, and he certainly can’t reason. We see this in nearly everything he writes. For example, from his bizarre amicus brief to Virginia’s Bostic case:

In a case where one member of the same-sex couple is the child’s biological parent and the couple wants to “jointly” adopt the child, the adoption is a form of coercion. Now the child, in addition to having permanently lost the link to a biological parent of the opposite sex, must submit to the authority and control of a new parent who may or may not dispense of such power with generosity.

Somehow Lopez misses the fact that this “coercion” doesn’t just apply to same-sex adoption, but to  adoption in general (and frankly, to parenting in general, adoptive or not). And he compounds his mistake:

I have heard the scenario raised in an Irish debate – “what if a same -sex couple is raising a child but only one is the legal parent, and the other one needs to pick the child up from school?” This is typical of the scenarios flagged in same-sex parenting debates. In truth in most schools in the United States a parent can leave a note explaining that someone else is going to pick the child up from school. A legal joint adoption, however, would give the non-biological parent the right to come to school without prior notice and demand that the child leave with him, whether or not the child wants to. Far from offering “legal protection” to the child, this opens the door to child abduction and custody battles that can escalate and inflict terrible stress on the child. There is no reason to change adoption and marriage laws in order to accommodate a small number of easily avoidable instances, which we probably do not want to encourage anyway.

Again, this is not unique to same-sex adoption, but is inherent to adoption per se. Yet Lopez only wants to condemn same sex parents with it. (NOM, and Jennifer Roback Morse in particular, suffer from a variation on this blindness.)

The gobsmacking continues. He recently wrote:

All during 2012 and 2013, there were signs that the gay movement – never to be conflated with gay people themselves – had become an engine of world-historical evil.

On a related, world-historical  note:

Homosexuals were deemed an oppressed people despite the flimsiest of historical grievances (even the legendary gay Holocaust involved no more than 15,000 victims, out of the twelve million people placed in Nazi concentration camps).

15,000 victims? How flimsy!

He’s well-known for comparing surrogacy to slavery, and believes he has special insight here because of “the fact that my great-great-grandmother was a Puerto Rican slave raped by a white man.” And it just goes on and on.

Lopez says in his amicus brief, “My personal life story is not the main source for my position before the Court,” but we can dismiss that because in its next section he devotes 6 pages to detailing that history — which is no surprise, since it’s the main only reason he gets invited to anti-gay venues. In any case, he’s utterly disqualified himself as a reliable analyst because in a single sentence – In other words, I was the only child who experienced life under “gay parenting” as that term is understood today – he demonstrates his complete break from reality when it comes to this issue.

Sadly, Lopez can’t recognize this even when it’s pointed out to him. Complaining about researchers he don’t consider his case representative, he tell us:

In my case, when I debated same-sex parenting, people have repeatedly suggested that my case is not applicable in any general sense, due to the fact that my mother and her partner chose to live in separate houses despite co-parenting me, and the fact that my mother died when I was still a teenager.

Actually, no. This is Regnerus all over again: Lopez is the product of a broken heterosexual home (which we know can be damaging) and promptly moved into a family structure that no one but Lopez would describe as “‘gay parenting’ as that term is understood today.” His very inability to see this is evidence enough of his analytical incompetence.  Enough, perhaps, but he still offers more.

As a spokesman, Lopez can’t even rise to the level of anonymous commenters on anti-gay websites. Recently I encountered this bit of nonsense from one such commenter, who told me:

You are contending that the lessons of compassion, nurturing, and caring can be just as fully conveyed to children by men as by women. A woman isn’t needed to explain to her teen son what things appeal to teen girls and what teen girls think like.

Similarly you are contending that fathers don’t matter. The job of teaching courage and risk-taking can be conveyed to boys equally well by women as by men. Bravery in the face of adversity; meeting challenges head on are items that can be conveyed to children just as well by women as by men.

Of course, you don’t even need to step out of traditional gender roles to see how deluded this is. I’d love to see the reaction when this claptrap about courage, risk-taking, bravery, and challenges is offered to a new mom leaving the delivery room, or to a widowed single mother. But as bad as this is, Lopez’s version is even worse:

Even if my peers’ parents were divorced, and many of them were, they still grew up seeing male and female social models. They learned, typically, how to be bold and unflinching from male figures and how to write thank-you cards and be sensitive from female figures.

Yes, thank-you cards: the core of your mother’s value as a woman.

The quote at the top of this piece and the one I just offered both come from a Lopez article at The Public Discourse, a Witherspoon Institute publication, Witherspoon being the group that financed Regernus. I can understand Lopez might post such nonsense on a personal blog, but this actually got past an editor who apparently didn’t read the anti-Lopez memo. And that’s terrific! It shows how incompetent how our opponents tend to be, no matter how well-funded or “respectable.” Recently Lopez and Bryan Fischer were discussing “why the gay agenda has been able to make the strides it has made,” and Lopez complained it’s because the anti-gay side has stifled its more radical voices (!). In reality, though, stifling these radical voice is one of our opponents’ best strategies. The irony for Lopez is that his side is losing not because his voice has been silenced, but because reasonable people have heard it too much, and it’s alienated them.

I’d like to point out one last irony. Lopez shares his childhood as a way to argue against marriage equality, but the facts of that history — the lesbian who denies her sexuality and marries the “right” gender, the collapse of that relationship, the broken home that never heals, the secrecy of her new relationship, the clandestine upbringing — these details are all hallmarks of a closeted era. It’s the future Lopez wants us to go back to. It’s the past we’re working so hard to transcend. Every aspect that Lopez reveals of his tragic upbringing, every detail, is really just another compelling argument for social and legal equality.

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A Reader Participation Request

Blogging’s been stressful lately, and I’m afraid it drove me back into self-destructive behavior, indulging an addiction that’s nothing more than a cheap thrill, a dopamine high, an escape satisfying in the moment but ultimately dangerous to my mental and emotional health.

I went commenting on conservative web sites.

At least it was the National Review, a mainstream conservative mouthpiece, instead of the fringe-dwelling, unintentionally hilarious sites like the one by Matt “Barb Wire” Barber. And as happens a lot these days, I found someone using the Brenden Eich controversy to compare gay people to Nazis. This is the new big meme on their side. They even have their pet word, “homofascist,” that they love throwing around so much.

No matter what you think of Eich’s resignation, people who invoke Nazism are appalling. They trivialize Nazi persecution.They mock the cry of “Never again!” by blurring the memory what happened. They are shallow opportunists, commandeering the great crime of the 20th century to score cheap and dishonest political points. I growled, then, when I saw this comment about an anti-gay darling, Dr. Ben Carson, in a Brendan Eich article:

Very good example. They would tear down a talented man who saved so many lives because of his political and religious beliefs.

But it’s beyond shame now. It’s getting down right 1930s Germany scary.

I did a moment’s research and pulled together a quick response:

Really?

Have you been excluded from federal employment (as Jews were, and as gays were until just a few decades ago)? Has the government imposed limits on how many of “your kind” can attend universities (the way Jews were, and the way gays were once kicked out of Harvard?)

Does the government prevent your lawyers prevented from working on legal matters? Has your citizenship been revoked, your right to vote been denied, and your right to serve in public office been outlawed?

Are you no longer admitted to government-funded hospitals? Have your names been stricken from war memorials?

Has the government barred you from cinemas and sports facilities? Have special identifying marks been added to your passports?

That describes “1930s Germany scary.” Some of those measures were in place against gay people in this country until recently. Until you can say “yes” to those questions, stop hijacking the real persecution that Nazis inflicted on the Jews just so you can feed your victim fantasy.

This isn’t going to convince anyone who’s really committed to that position. The danger of these Nazi comparisons isn’t that most people will believe them, though. Most people, it seems, view the truth as whatever sits midway between two opposing extremes. That’s the real harm of these gay Nazi comments: they push that midpoint in the wrong direction. When this comparison is made, we need to come back fast with fact-driven, emotionally-resonant replies. We need to generate a backlash against those ridiculous charges, one that draws the middle closer to us.

That’s where the reader-participation aspect comes into play. Let’s create a roster of crimes that will make it obvious how reprehensible these comparisons are. Let’s build a resource for debunking the myth. Add your suggestions in the comment section. Write whatever you think is true, but I have a few suggestions for maximum impact.

  • Make sure it’s something the Nazis actually did.
  • It will have more impact if gays were persecuted by the measure you cite.
  • It will have even greater impact if it was done to gays recently.
  • Avoid things that our opponents could turn around and claim are happening to them today. For instance, I almost included the confiscation of Jewish businesses, but I knew people would reply that Christian bakers, florists, and other business owners are being persecuted right now. Rather than having the impact diluted by arguing over that, I stuck to things that provided a clear and undeniable smackdown.

For example, a good one would have been the involuntary lobotomies performed on gay people in the US during my own lifetime, linking it to medical experiments performed by the Third Reich.

And look what I just did: I called that “a good one.” And not just for effect; it’s the phrase that leapt into my mind. It’s easy to get swept up in the gusto of exposing our opponents, but let’s not get into a mentality of Look at this great atrocity I found! We’re better than our opponents. Let’s always bring ourselves back to the moral enormity of what we’re dealing with, the enormity that make their comparisons so vile.We can do put this list together while keeping a profound respect for the real victims of Nazi persecution — in fact, we can do it as an expression of that respect.

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When the Arguments of the Best and the Brightest are Mediocre and Dim

Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation is one of the most active, best funded, and intellectually respectable opponents of marriage equality.

Of course, that’s a very low bar. To see just how poor his arguments are, look at the reasoning from this anti-gay wunderkind, as he tries to show why opposition to same-sex marriage is nothing like opposition to interracial marriage:

Bans on interracial marriage and Jim Crow laws, by contrast, were aspects of a much larger insidious movement that denied the fundamental equality and dignity of all human beings and forcibly segregated citizens. When these interracial marriage bans first arose in the American colonies, they were inconsistent not only with the common law inherited from England, but also with the customs of prior world history, which had not banned interracial marriage. These bans were based not on reason, but on prejudiced ideas about race that emerged in the modern period and that refused to regard all human beings as equal. This led to revisionist, unreasonable conclusions about marriage policy. Thinking that marriage has anything at all to do with race is unreasonable, and as a historical matter, few great thinkers ever suggested that it did. 

Well, thanks, Ryan, because except for that historical bit (and maybe not even that), you’ve managed to demonstrate that these bans are exactly parallel. You’ve made it so easy to adapt your statement to this:

Bans on same-sex marriage are aspects of a much larger insidious movement that denied the fundamental equality and dignity of all human beings and forcibly segregated citizens into two groups: those who can marry their committed life-long partners and those who cannot.  These bans are based not on reason, but on prejudiced ideas about gays and lesbians that refuse to regard all human beings as equal. This has led to unreasonable conclusions about marriage policy. Thinking that marriage must be segregated by gender is unreasonable.

Now, Ryan may object that his reasons for opposing same-sex marriage aren’t dehumanizing. After all, he might say, I co-wrote a whole book against same-sex marriage without ever calling gays icky. Mmmm…perhaps. But that book is based on a view of sexuality and morality that does thoroughly dehumanize gay people and our relationships, and is in fact so convoluted that its proponents have literally had to address the question of — and I’m not making this up! — whether it’s immoral to chew sugarless gum (the answer is maybepage 317).

But all that’s irrelevant, because no bans came about because of voters’ nuanced understanding of the convoluted intricacies of Catholic natural law theory. No, these bans happened because voters were told that gays are selfish, defective, immoral dangers to children whose lives are built around lust, never love. That’s why the bans exist, and that, Ryan, is why your reasoning leads to the opposite of your conclusion.

This might not daunt Ryan, though, because he would spy the last sentence in my adaptation (“Thinking that marriage must be segregated by gender is unreasonable”), leap on it with a victorious cry, and proclaim:

In the name of equality, same-sex marriage seeks to codify gender discrimination!

Yes, he really believes that supporters of marriage equality are the segregationists.

Those aren’t his words up there in bold, but they are (verbatim) a position he has quoted and promoted. By this reasoning, laws allowing you to marry a spouse of the same race seek to codify racial discrimination. And laws that allow you to marry a spouse of the same religion? They codify religious discrimination. In reality, of course, it ought to be clear that laws allowing the government to dictate the gender of your spouse are the laws that codify gender discrimination.

I doubt Ryan will ever see that, though, and homophobia is the reason why. I don’t think homophobia requires frothing expressions of hatred. Mere disapproval is enough as long as that sentiment robs you of the ability to think rationally about homosexuality. We call it a phobia because it’s a psychological problem. We call it a psychological problem because it’s hard to understand why otherwise intelligent people make such ludicrous errors of logic. Such as…well, such as not recognizing your arguments achieve the opposite of what you intend, or that allowing people to choose the gender of their spouse is the same as legally-mandated gender discrimination.

Actually, it’s not quite right to say Ryan is irrational because he’s homophobic. That’s tautological, like a doctor saying you’ve got a rash because you have dermatitis. Frankly, I don’t know why Ryan is homophobic, why his ability to reason disappears when he thinks about homosexuality. I just know that it does. If the leadership of our opposition is passing from a rabid Brian Brown of NOM to a gentle and reasonable Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, and if this is an example of a reasonable Ryan Anderson, then I think we have little to fear.

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What infuriates us the most about our friends is often the flip side of what makes us admire them.

[I contribute to Box Turtle Bulletin, which has recently seen huge and occasionally ugly arguments in the comments sections about the appropriate response to anti-gay speech, especially after the blog's founder expressed concern over the resignation of Mozilla chairman Brendan Eich. I'm posting this response both here and over at BTB.]

I love Box Turtle Bulletin. I owe Box Turtle Bulletin.

Long before I was a contributor here, I had (and still have) my own personal blog. My work there prompted a “Christian” blogger called Heteroseparatist to write a post tying homosexuality and pedophilia, calling it The Tisinai Formula. The rarity of my last name made this seem all the more despicable, more personal than if my surname were Williams or Smith.

I used the sordid happening as a chance to make a video, one that debunked the alleged connection in as much depth as I could manage in a youtube timeframe. It’s not my most-viewed video, but it’s the one I’m proudest of. People wrote to say they’d made their parents watch it, that it had calmed their parents’ fears and made it easier to have frank conversations with them. Of all the things I may have accomplished a blogger, that has to be the best, and if I sound a bit prideful about it, that’s why.

Two things made that video possible.

  1. Heteroseparatist had laid out his case in detail.
  2. Jim Burroway, the founder of Box Turtle Bulletin, had already written a long, footnoted (!) post debunking the supposed gay/pedophile correlation.

Both of those elements had to be in place for me to make the video. No, it’s not good that so many people believe these slanderous claims, but since they do believe them, it’s very good when they’re stated publicly and clearly, so that people like Jim Burroway can demolish them piece by piece. This is all in accord with Jim’s stated mission for the blog, which is to engage our opponents’ arguments and provide reasoned responses supported by evidence.

That’s not universally valued. When the Regnerus study came out, for instance, I did my best to expose its flaws, an effort that another blog dismissed as “blah-blah-blah,” and as having fallen into the “trap” of discussing the details of what the study actually says. That stunned me. I respect the work done at that blog, but it wouldn’t be a good home for me. That’s why I’ve been so happy to have Jim welcome me here.

I really do believe it’s a very good thing when our opponents make their position clear, and that’s occasionally gotten me into trouble. I baffled (infuriated?) some readers not long ago when I chastised Stanford for defunding an event featuring anti-gay speakers, one of whom was cited in a Supreme Court Windsor dissent. In particular I mocked a student, Brianne Huntsman, for saying the event should be cancelled to keep the university a “safe space” for gay and lesbian students (more on that mockery a bit further down).

Since then, another school has issued a statement that’s quite relevant and that I wish I had written:

To target funding for a particular program because it doesn’t align with certain beliefs and judging it in terms of specific content instead of the discussions the content promotes is perhaps a bit shortsighted. Indeed, controversial issues are essential in creating levels of discussion and student engagement that cannot be generated otherwise. We see such engagement as essential to the educational process.

That wasn’t in response to anti-gay speakers, though. That was the University of South Carolina reacting to State Representative Garry Smith (R), who wanted to withhold $17,142 in university funding because the school had assigned first-year students an LGBT-friendly book without balancing it with — I don’t know — an LGBT-unfriendly book.

One key difference between the Stanford and USC cases is that Stanford didn’t involve a First Amendment violation. That only occurs when the government takes action, which is precisely the situation with USC. It’s all the more striking, then, that USC didn’t invoke the First Amendment in its defense. It appealed to more demanding standards: academic freedom and the mission of the university.

Yes, I called those more demanding standards. I revere the First Amendment, but we should never forget: The First Amendment is a minimum requirement.

People sometimes defend the private stifling of speech by pointing out that no First Amendment rights were violated, and while they’re correct, that doesn’t mean all is well. USC reminds us that other standards exist, standards that go beyond what the government can do, standards that guide our own non-government actions. Academic freedom is one is one such standard, but there are others.

This means we can have a huge debate — among people who are otherwise allies — about the appropriate response to legal speech that we find offensive or appalling. This happened over my Stanford post and again the other day, when Jim expressed misgivings over the resignation of Brendan Eich. As everyone here knows, these debates can be heated, even rancorous.  I hate that, because though I may go trolling on anti-gay sites, I have a childish hope (need?) that everything I write here be received with great joy and admiration. Now that ain’t gonna happen, and that’s a whole growth opportunity for me. But when the criticism comes down like a hammer, that same need eventually forces me to take it seriously, even if I don’t end up changing my mind. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the debates over Duck Dynasty and Stanford and Brendan Eich — actually not so much about those cases per se, but about the issues underlying them.

Here is what I’d like critics of Jim and Timothy and me to keep in mind — and just as importantly, what we need to keep in mind in return:

Quite often, the most infuriating aspects of another person are simply the flip side of the things you most admire.

In recent days, we’ve seen two admirable sets of values collide. First,

A free and open society works best when all positions are argued clearly and explicitly, along with their rebuttals. This climate of open debate, whatever its bumps and pitfalls, is the best way to try and secure a culture free of ignorance and superstition. It’s important to do as little as possible to discourage such debate because when an orthodoxy is imposed through legal or social pressure, it opens the door to tyranny and corrodes the human spirit.

But also,

A free and open society can only work when it recognizes the humanity, the dignity, and the equality of all its citizens. Movements that stigmatize entire swaths of the population, that declare them to be inferior, that try to rob them of their rights, have no place in such a society. They open the door to oppression and tyranny, and corrode the human spirit.

It’s hard, for me at least, to oppose either of those positions. Gay people have suffered in the past when either one was discarded. They overlap, they reinforce each other, but they can also contradict each other. And when that happens, long-time allies flare at each other and demand to know, How can someone I’ve respected hold such a view?

For instance, some people react to Jim (or me, or Timothy) by wondering, How can you be a defender of, and an apologist for, such anti-gay bigots? But that’s not his intent at all. He’s defending a legal and cultural climate of open and unchilled dialog for everyone, even our most vitriolic opponents. And his critics here, if they’ve ever found this blog valuable, must understand that Jim’s commitment to that ideal is what made the blog possible. It inspires him to devote hour after hour to smacking down the flawed arguments and outright lies of the other side. And the most baffling aspects of what you see in him now are simply the flip side of what you admire most.

On the other hand, I can look at someone like, say, StraightGrandmother — whom I respect and admire — and wonder, How can you subvert the ideals of a free society by deliberately chilling speech? But that’s not her intent at all. She’s defending the humanity, dignity, and equality of an oppressed group of real human beings, a group that she herself doesn’t even belong to! And I have to understand that her commitment to that ideal is what I so respect and admire. It inspires her to devote hour after hour to smacking down the flawed arguments and outright lies of the other side. And the most baffling aspects of what I see in her now are simply the flip side of what I admire most.

This debate isn’t going away anytime soon. It will only intensify. But keeping these things in mind will make that debate more productive. I’m not just talking about tolerance for each other’s views, or an attitude of Can’t we all just get along? No, I’m hoping we can remember that when we hurl contempt and derision at each other in this debate, we unintentionally spatter the very things we respect about each other.

That’s a lot to ask. I know this, because I’ve failed at it.

When I consider my Stanford post, I have to say I stand by my position but I regret the way I mocked Brianne Huntsman. USC has shown there are far better ways to make the same point, and mocking her won’t persuade her or her supporters to change their minds. It can only polarize the debate further. As I read some of the comments to that piece, with their condescending psychologizing and often outright scorn, the little kid in me wondered, Why y’all got to be so mean? Then the adult in me recalled my own mockery and realized, Oh, well, yeah. I committed a major violation of the Golden Rule right there.

But that still leaves open the question of how to respond to legal, offensive speech and to political activity that we fiercely oppose.

This hit home few days ago when I expressed concern on Facebook about the Brendan Eich controversy. A friend asked me, But what would you have done differently? The short answer might be: Nothing, because it’s possible we didn’t do anything. Yes, there was a petition with 70,000+ signatures calling for his resignation, but some have convincingly argued that he had to go because many of the Mozilla’s employees weren’t willing to accept his leadership, and that makes a sound business case for his departure.

But what if this had happened at the company I work for?

I can’t argue that a person’s private beliefs are irrelevant to their work. I remember collaborating with a tenured University of Chicago professor to create an online course, and one day he confided in me that he got a pit in his stomach every time a black student walked into his clasroom because, “I know they just won’t get it.” And I thought, You have no business being a teacher.

Even so, I wouldn’t have called for Brendan Eich’s resignation, partly because I don’t think opposition to same-sex marriage (as opposed to, say, membership in the KKK) is proof positive of hatred and bigotry. I have too much direct experience to the contrary to make that assumption. Still: based on the ideals set forth above, what would I do?

I’d push to open a dialog with the CEO.

I don’t just mean an hour-long chat with a photo opp at the end. If we’re strong enough to achieve the CEO’s resignation, then we’re strong enough to win an extended, well-publicized public conversation. This would be my homosexual agenda for that dialog:

  • We’d make it clear how many of the company’s employees are LGBT.
  • We’d bring the CEO into our homes to meet our families and see how we live — see that we live.
  • With the CEO having dinner with our families, we’d detail the harm that banning same-sex marriage does to gays and lesbians, to our children, even to straight kids in opposite-sex homes as they struggle through the fears and insecurities of adolescence.
  • We’d listen to the CEO’s objections to marriage equality and address them point by point. We know we can do this.
  • We’d discover the CEO’s core values, some of which likely involve dignity and fairness, and show how marriage equality fulfills them.

In short, we’d engage the CEO through both reason and emotion, by making a logical case and by expanding the CEO’s personal experience with gays and lesbians and our families. I see two possible outcomes, and ultimately we would win no matter which prevailed.

We change the CEO’s mind. Can you imagine how powerful it would have been for Brendan Eich to announce: After meeting with Mozilla’s gay and lesbian staff and getting to know their families, I’ve come to recognize that they deserve all the rights and dignity traditionally afforded to opposite-sex couples, and I now voice my support same-sex marriage. This could happen.

We don’t change the CEO’s mind. We still win. We’re helped by any public conversation that focuses on gay people as actual human beings and undercuts the terrible stereotypes we’re subjected to. And in this scenario, the conversation would be about us and our families instead of what’s happening to Eich. There would be little question among the general public — and especially the undecided middle — about which side is the champion of freedom and dignity.

Many of you, obviously, will disagree with me. And as I said, this debate isn’t going away. But we can make much better progress if we remember that it’s not a debate between apologists of anti-gay bigotry and tyrannical haters of liberty, but between two noble, often complementary sets of values that occasionally collide.

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Too Much Safety is a Dangerous Thing

I went to grad school at Stanford and I am appalled that the university has decided to protect its students from anti-gay speech.

Is appalled the right word? “to fill or overcome with horror, consternation, or fear; dismay

Yes, that’s the word.  Apparently this happened:

Last Wednesday evening, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) denied funding for an event hosted by the Stanford Anscombe Society (SAS) following community outcry over alleged “anti-LGBT” content.

SAS’s April conference, titled “Communicating Values,” has a two-fold purpose, according to SAS president Judith Romea ’14, between educating attendees on the public policy issues surrounding marriage and family and exploring how media, entertainment and technology can be used to better facilitate the communication underlying marriage and the family.

SAS had sought $600 in honoraria funds from the GSC for conference speakers. However, members of GradQ, the queer graduate student organization, criticized the speaker list–which included Robert Lopez, Kellie Fiedorek and Ryan Anderson–as inappropriately controversial.

Okay, that’s not the appalling part. Some speakers get funded and some speakers don’t. No, the appalling part is why.    Read more…

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