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Prop 8 On Trial: The Brokeback Defence

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Today was the third day of the Proposition 8 trial, which looks set to be a landmark case in US legal history. At issue is the question of whether Proposition 8, which banned marriage equality for same-sex couples in California, was constitutional.

The California constitution states, “A person may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or denied equal protection of the laws”. The plaintiffs argue that denying gays the right to marry clearly violates the equal protection doctrine. Proposition 8 was discriminatory.

I am not a lawyer, but on the face of it I’d say this seems clear cut. The right to marry one’s partner should apply equally to gays as to straights because the constitution says so. The reason there’s any controversy at all is not because the issue is unclear, but because the majority consensus has always opposed applying the constitution fairly to this traditionally maligned minority. If this were just about what’s right, what’s fair, what’s humane, this would be over already; but it’s not about any of that. It’s about protecting the conservative status quo from erosion by the civil rights movement.

Extraordinarily, the central question of the case today appeared to be, ‘are gays still discriminated against?’ The anti-gay Prop 8 lawyers want to argue that gays are no longer discriminated against, therefore gays in California were stripped of their right to marry for non-discriminatory reasons. They actually cited Brokeback Mountain and Will & Grace as evidence that everything is just A-OK for gays today. They also pointed out that gays no longer get locked up in asylums. That’s the warm embrace of social acceptance right there!

The main Prop 8 lawyer also pointed out that Barack Obama opposes gay marriage. Well, yes. Barack Obama is not our friend. We need to come to terms with the fact that anyone who supports civil unions over marriage equality is an opponent of equal rights. Those who support civil unions are part of our opposition.

My favourite exchange of the day was between the Prop 8 lawyer and Yale historian Professor George Chauncey:

Evil Lawyer: “Isn’t it true that people voted for Prop 8 based upon their sincere moral values?”
Clever Historian: “Many people opposed desegregation and interracial marriage based upon their sincere moral values.”

The strangest part of the proceedings must have been the video testimony of Hak-Shing William Tam of the Traditional Families Coalition. Tam was one of the initial proponents of Prop 8, and he notably tried to remove himself from this trial because he was concerned about the attention it would bring him. As Rachel Maddow remarked on her show earlier this week, “Where is the anti-gay pride?”

Tam distributed literature claiming that San Francisco was ruled by a secret enclave of homosexual activists who saw gay marriage as a step towards their ultimate agenda of legalised prostitution and sex with children. It is extraordinary fringe tin-hattery, and the Prop 8 lawyer ardently objected to the airing of the video because it so clearly demonstrated the irrationality of the hatred directed towards gays.

Today’s proceedings seem encouraging, but there was a heavy cloud on the day, because the US Supreme Court - where this case is surely ultimately headed - ruled 5-4 that the Prop 8 case could not be televised or shown on YouTube because the judge failed to follow the proper procedures.

The Prop 8 side knows that, the more people are exposed to their arguments, the less they will be convinced by their position, so they really didn’t want this trial on YouTube. They are cowards who know their position is absurd and irrational.

This boon of public exposure has been denied us due to a technicality, and the fact that the Supreme Court split along ideological grounds bodes ill for this case’s chances in America’s highest court. The Supreme Court are likely to be as hidebound by their prejudices as every other conservative body in America, however discriminatory those prejudices may be.

The upside, however, is that we’re certain to get some hilarious YouTube reconstructions from the court transcripts.

Gaylights 2009

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

It’s the end of the year and I haven’t done any ‘best of’ posts at all. And not because I don’t have any ‘best ofs’ to post. I’m a blogger! An erratic blogger, but a blogger none the less. Lists of stuff is what we do! If you don’t have year-end best-ofs, you’re nothing! And it’s the end of the decade as well! Surely I have some end-of-decade lists to post?

Well, maybe we’ll get to all that, and maybe we won’t, but I’d be no kind of blogger at all if I didn’t mark the end of the year with something. So, for your delectation, I present three of the highlights of the gay pop culture year, in video form.

From February of this year we have Dustin Lance Black’s Oscar acceptance speech for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ for Milk, the biography of San Francisco gay rights activist Harvey Milk. Oscar won’t allow embedding, so you’ll have to click the link to view it.

The movie itself was a terrific clarion call at a time when we really need it, but the speech was just as brilliant, and more immediate, and may have reached more people with the needed message; “to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than, by their churches or by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you”. Sean Penn’s acceptance speech was equally vital;  ”I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.”

Next up; Adam Lambert. This time last year, there was no Adam Lambert as far as the world is concerned. Some of you may wish to go back to that other time, but whatever you think of his talent, his style or his story, or of American Idol itself, the arrival on the US entertainment scene of such an unapologetically gay man who actually sells records is a breakthrough. The recent Video Music Awards ‘controversy’, in which Lambert did the sort of thing Madonna has been doing for years on TV and was swiftly dropped from a bunch of other TV appearances, shows that we really do need someone like Adam Lambert around to shake things up in this way.

With this video you can hear (but not see) his best performance from Idol, ‘Tracks of My Tears’, showcasing the range, pathos and blessed restraint that the man is capable of:

Finally, a TV clip from just yesterday, and it’s an odd one; it’s a sex scene from a daytime soap opera. You’re probably wondering why the hell I would bother you with such a thing, but this is a daytime soap scene with a difference; it’s the first love scene between two gay men on daytime.

Only as recently as last year, fans of As The World Turns actually had to lobby that soap’s network to get them to show a kiss between two men in a committed relationship. The makers of the soap featured above, One Life To Live, have been more courageous. The scene is cheesy, a little clunky, and very much what you’d expect from a love scene in a daytime soap, except that it’s a first, and it’s rewarding to see that the show’s makers have treated a gay couple exactly as they would a straight couple. (The blond, incidentally, is Scott Evans, the openly gay brother of actor Chris Evans.)

The best way to open people’s minds about sexuality is to introduce them to a gay person - a friend, or a family member, who can challenge their lazy, prejudiced views. The next best thing we can do is show them gay people in their music, their movies, their TV shows. All three of these clips are important, because they are all about bringing homosexuality out into the everyday. 2009 has been a banner year for gay visibility. My hope is that the trend continues into 2010.

SDCC09: San Diego, Why Don’t You Come To Your Senses?

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

What defines a superhero? Powers? Costumes? Code names? Those may be the elements that make a character ’super’. The ‘hero’ part comes from one place; a willingness to fight for what’s right even when it’s not convenient.

The other thing about superheroes is that they’re fictional. The people who read them, and the people who write and draw and publish them, are under no obligation to follow their principals. We normal, ordinary folk can relish these tales of brave men and women standing up against wicked deeds, but when the time comes for us to stand up for an idea, well, that’s where the line is between fiction and reality.

sdcclogo

Which brings us to San Diego Comic-Con 2009, and the Manchester Grand Hyatt. SDCC is the biggest event in the comic book year, bringing together thousands of fans in one huge sweaty hall. It’s one of the biggest conventions to hit San Diego every year, and the hotels in the area are always booked out.

One of the official hotels is the Manchester Grand Hyatt, owned by Doug Manchester. In 2008, Doug Manchester donated $125,000 to the successful effort to strip Californians of their right to same-sex marriage with Proposition 8. For the past 12 months there has been an organised boycott of Manchester’s three hotels - the Grand Hyatt and the Grand del Mar in San Diego, and the Whitetail in McCall, Idaho. The boycott does not apply to other Hyatt-operated hotels.

Labour leaders and gay rights groups have backed the boycott.

The comic industry does not.

On the one year anniversary of the boycott last week, organisers claimed they had cost the chain $7 million in business.

But not comic book business.

boycotthyattposter

Comic book publishers, writers, editors and artists are all staying at the Manchester Grand Hyatt this week. I won’t name names, because I know many people had forgotten about the boycott even though this is the second year that it has hit the Comic-Con, and the organisers of the boycott did not do a good job of getting word out to the industry. I also feel that naming names would make people defensive, and I would rather they were contrite.

The problem - and it’s an appreciable one - is that the San Diego Comic-Con is huge, and the Manchester Grand Hyatt is only two blocks from the convention centre, and it is traditionally the social and business hub of the whole event. Most of these people work on superheroes, but they are not heroes. They will not do the right thing if it’s inconvenient to their business, or worse, to their buzz.

Last year some attendees argued that the boycott would punish the wrong people - the hotel staff. That’s an odd argument. People aren’t going to sleep in the streets or drink water all weekend if they are not at the Hyatt. Some waiter somewhere will get your tip, and he won’t be less deserving than the waiter at the Hyatt. When you choose to eat in one restaurant, your heart cannot bleed for all the waiters in all the other restaurants you walked past.

apollomidnighterwedding

The other argument against a boycott is that people can spend their dollars, but mark them with a word or phrase or symbol that shows that this money comes from a queer-friendly source. Even assuming that people buying beers that they intend to expense later will be paying in cash, how will those markers ever make it to the account sheets? Even if every pro-gay person who stays or drinks at the Hyatt during this convention goes to the front desk and registers their objection to Doug Manchester’s position, will they be heard? It’s better than doing nothing, but only barely. It’s a fig-leaf for the conscience rather than a response.

The boycott is not unique to SDCC, and it has had an impact, because Doug Manchester is reeling. Two months ago, ahead of the convention season, Manchester tried to make amends - in the most wretched way possible. Having donated $125,000 to oppose gay marriage, he pledged to donate a fifth as much, just $25,000, in support of… civil unions. That’s not a reversal of his anti-gay discrimination. That’s the same position from a new direction.

Manchester also promised $100,000 in credit to local gay and lesbian groups - a bribe that gay groups have said they will reject as ‘blood money’, should it ever materialise (it hasn’t yet). All of this comes after the fact, after Proposition 8 passed in California and millions of gays and lesbians were stripped of their rights. Far too little, far too late.

Doug Manchester wants the gay dollar, but he still does not support gay equality. The boycott continues. It should continue, either until Manchester recants his position and makes a donation greater than $125,000 to a marriage equality group, or until Proposition 8 is repealed or overturned.

But the comic industry is not part of the boycott. Every dollar spent by the comic industry at the Manchester Grand Hyatt is a dollar spent in support of hate.

gayheroes

Fortunately these comic book people all work in the media, and that puts them in a great position to fight that hate. One of the easiest ways to combat prejudice is to increase the visibility of diversity. The major comics publishers have skirted by with a minimum commitment to diversity, usually doing less than the least they could do, and sometimes just edging across that line as non-committally as possible. Even smaller publishers tend to shy away from gay content, feeling that it’s a different audience and a different market, rather than part of their audience and part of their market.

It is unfortunate that money spent by that audience is being used to line the pockets of a gay rights opponent. One might charitably assume that most of the pros who make this mistake are doing so in ignorance. Hopefully they will not remain in ignorance, and having recognised their error, will be happy to redress the balance through their work. After all, as of this week they cannot claim neutrality. They can either stand by their support of Doug Manchester and Proposition 8, or they can stand against it.

Most people don’t have what it takes to be a hero, and stand up when it’s difficult to do so - not when there are beers on the table and the company is buying. But these people don’t have to be villains.

Kissing Cousins

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Spoiler warning: This post contains text and image spoilers for this week’s X-Factor #45 and this month’s Agents of Atlas #6.

Here’s a recent image from Agents of Atlas, Jeff Parker’s excellent series about a revived team of unconventional ’40s and ’50s superheroes:

namornamorita

The fella is Namor, ruler of Atlantis, and the lady is Namora. Namor and Namora. Odd coincidence, you might be thinking, but no, she’s actually named after him, because she’s his cousin. Well, they’re royalty; what are you going to do?

Namora’s sexual infatuation with her cousin goes back to the character’s early days, and Parker has wisely opted to tweak the status quo so that Namora is only Namor’s adopted cousin, so it’s not really incest. It just looks a lot like it.

I only mention all of this because the above kiss between cousins came out a couple of weeks ago, which means it beat this kiss in X-Factor #45 to the shelves:

ricstarkiss

These fellas are Shatterstar and Rictor, members of the extended X-Men family (not a real family this time, so it’s all right). Paralleling Namor and Namora, Shatterstar was long ago shown to be smitten with Rictor, but this is the first time Rictor has been shown on-panel to reciprocate his feelings. Of course, this was a cliffhanger moment, so it could all be undone next issue. Mephisto did it.

What’s extraordinary about this moment is that it appears to be the first male-male romantic kiss ever shown in a Marvel superhero comic. Marvel has had other gay couples - Wiccan and Hulkling; and versions of Northstar and Colossus; and… I think that might be it, actually - but neither of these couples ever kiss, even in situations where straight couples might (like, when one of the pair was about to die, which gay people do a lot in the Marvel Universe).

So here we are in 2009, and Marvel has finally decided that it’s all right to show one man kissing another man on the lips in a romantic context. I might be applauding the moment if it weren’t so tardy, and if it hadn’t come hot on the heels of Marvel deciding it could ashow cousins kissing each other on the lips in a romantic context. It’s not progress; it’s just giving up.

There is another notable Marvel first here; Rictor may officially be Marvel’s first male bisexual superhero - the first Marvel hero shown to have relationships with both men and women. It’s still not exactly radical, but it is a positive step.

It’s also worth mentioning that Shatterstar creator Rob Liefeld has reportedly responded to these events by saying, “I have nothing against gays, I have gay family, nuthin’ but love here. Ditto gay characters if thats’ (sic) what their true origins are. As the guy that Created, designed and wrote his first dozen appearances, Shatterstar is not gay. Sorry. Can’t wait to someday undo this.” Maybe Rob could get in touch with his gay family members and try to explain to them how upset he is that his own ‘kid’ grew up gay, and how he’d like to ‘fix’ him.

As a final note; X-Factor and Agents of Atlas are two of the best comics Marvel is publishing at the moment, and I’m a big fan of Jeff Parker’s work (and, full disclosure, I consider Jeff a friend). Parker brings an often-lacking sense of fun and scale to superhero comics, and guys like Parker, Matt Fraction and Jason Aaron stand in stark contrast to a lot of the mandated misery that bogs down the Marvel Universe. When they do something implausible, it’s fun-implausible, like a talking gorilla firing guns with its feet, not dumb-implausible, like a known psychotic killer being put in charge of a government superhero agency.

All The Pixel Ladies

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

I watched Pixar’s new movie Up at the weekend, and I think I now have a new favourite Pixar film. Previously that sought-after accolade went to The Incredibles, but Up is so wonderfully eccentric and unexpected, and so beautifully heartfelt, that it may have edged The Incredibles out. There aren’t many movies that can make audiences cry with laughter and sadness in the same 90 minutes.

It seems extroardinary that a story about an old man and some balloons should be so compelling, but this is Pixar. Though they’ve only released ten movies in fourteen years, their hit rate is astonishing. All their movies are either near-perfect (The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Toy Story 2), brilliant (Ratatouille, Wall-E, Finding Nemo), or… Cars. (Cars is terrible, but even it made money, so now they’re making another.)

Their films are so good that I hadn’t even noticed what they were missing. Women.

pixarladies

OK, Pixar movies do have some well-rounded female characters, like Toy Story 2’s Jesse, The Incredibles’ Elastigirl, or Ratatouille’s Colette. But how many Pixar movies have a female character as the principal lead?

None. Out of ten. Woody, Flik, Woody, Sully, Marlin, Mr Incredible, Lightning McQueen, Remy, Wall-E and now Carl Fredricksen; all male. That’s a poor score. Compare that to Disney, which has given us numerous female leads from Snow White to Lilo by way of Cinderella and Mulan, and it looks really bad. Admittedly Disney has had seventy years, and its perepetuation of the princess-waiting-for-a-prince ideal is not the best message to promote, but at least they’re in the game, and wouldn’t it be nice if another animator was out there putting out a different message?

pixarladies2

Even in the secondary lead roles, Pixar peforms badly. Disney gave us the likes of Perdita, Lady and Miss Bianca (all animals, but still female), while Pixar has given us Buzz, Atta, Buzz again, Mike, Dory, Elastigirl, Mater, Linguini, Eve and Russell. Most of Pixar’s females exist only to inspire the hero, with sleek, silent Eve being the best (or worst) example of this, though it’s also prominent in Up.

Dory is one of the only gender-blind roles Pixar has ever created, where the character could have been a man but happens to be a woman, and apparently that’s because the part was written for a man. Even Dreamworks, which favours ensemble casts, scores better when it comes to making its women independent actors in the story.

There are plenty of explanations one can come up with for why women are underrepresented in Pixar movies. The most obvious one is that computer animation is a boys’ club, and these guys write about what they know. As more of the boys become fathers to little girls, we may see their focus change.

disney-princesses1

Then there’s the anti-Disney thing. A big part of Pixar’s philosophy seems to be that it doesn’t want to be Disney, relying on musical versions of old fairy tales with slapstick sidekicks and hero princesses. Girl heroes are the collateral loss. (That said, Pixar is releasing a movie with a female lead in 2011, and the hero is… a princess.)

Pixar also favours buddy stories over love stories, which could equally be an anti-Disney thing or a boys’ club thing, but the end result is that most of its movies are about an all-male odd couple. None of these explanations is meant to suggest that Pixar is sexist, and I absolutely do not think they are; they’re just a bit oblivious.

Regardless of why Pixar movies are so male-dominated, there is also the question of whether it’s actually a problem. The movies are still good, right? We don’t want to ruin them with a lot of politically correct nonsense.

But why shouldn’t there be more women in these stories? Sure, the girls in the audience can identify with male characters as well - they can love racing, or monsters, or robots or, gasp, cooking - but why shouldn’t they have the chance to see more characters like themselves on screen?

Lack of representation is a problem that a lot straight white men perhaps don’t understand. If you’re one of them, trust me when I say that, if you’re forever presented with a vision of the world that does not have you in it, where you can’t see any options or get any idea of where you might fit in, it does have an impact. And maybe if you’re, say, a redheaded guy, or a nerd, or a Canadian, and one day you see a hero up on screen who shares those qualities with you, then maybe  you do understand the difference it can make, at least a little bit.

The Movement to Protect Singing

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

My friends, I would like to speak to you today about singing, and the radical threat that could destroy the divine gift of song for all of us.

I refer, of course, to homosexuals.

psgaysingers

It is time that laws were introduced to outlaw homosexuals from writing or performing songs. We must also formally enshrine the definition of song as “a lyrical and musical composition originated and performed by heterosexuals”.

The soundness of my reasoning is self-evident, but if you will indulge me, I will explain my position.

In brief, homosexual songs undermine the value and sanctity of singing. They harm our songs.

Singing is a gift given to us by God so that we can praise Him. Song is used as a means of expressing faith and worship. Any songs that deviate from this standard will inevitably sully the importance of songs as a means of expressing ourselves to God. For this reason, it is important that all songs be messages of faith, reverence, and sanctified love, either between man and God, or between a man and a woman.

pschurchchoir

Homosexual songs are by their nature heathen and spiritually bankrupt. They are often used to praise unnatural or harmful behaviour. One need only look at such songs as ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Marc Almond’s version of ‘Tainted Love’, or ‘Anything Goes’ by Cole Porter, to see the menace they represent.

It is no exaggeration to say that many people do most or all of their singing in church. If we do not take a stand against the growing storm of homosexual singing, it is certain that some day in the near future churches will no longer be free to choose songs for their congregations to sing. Uplifting hymns such as ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ will be replaced by decadent gay songs like ‘Fastlove’ and ‘Go West’. Can you imagine an evangelical assembly being forced to sing ‘Filthy/Gorgeous’ by the Scissor Sisters? It simply does not bear thinking about.

Of course, it is not just our churches that are under threat, but also our schools. Song is an important part of teaching, especially for the youngest and most impressionable children, who learn about the alphabet, mathematics, wildlife and even foreign languages through the medium of song. If we do not act now, teachers will soon be forced to teach children the lyrics to gay-themed songs such as ‘In The Navy’ and ‘Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other’. Do we really want our five-year-old sons and daughters to know that “[Candy] never lost her head even when she was giving head”? No we do not.

psmoregaysingers

Nor is this the end of it. Shops that currently make a living selling religious books and music will soon be made to sell Queen and Ani DiFranco, or else they will be forced out of business all together. Churches will be obliged to rent out their property for rock concerts by The B-52s and Judas Priest. Adoption agencies will be made to give children up for adoption to people who own music by Tracy Chapman, Rufus Wainwright or Stephen Sondheim.

Then there is the fact that gay singers and musicians are frequently intrinsically unnatural. One need only look at Boy George or KD Lang to see that the singing of ‘gay’ music has a corrupting effect on traditional gender roles. The sounds made by the likes of Antony and The Johnsons and Sigur Ros are barely songs at all.

Indeed it is surely not too extreme to suggest that the ultimate aim of those who would seek to promote homosexual songs is to do away with the concept of singing altogether. It is a stealth movement that is fundamentally opposed to our musical values. If we accept homosexual songs, what next? Will we have to define the noise a goat makes as ’singing’?

Homosexuals do not even need singing. There are already plenty of perfectly good words that describe the noises that they make, such as ’screeching’, ‘yelling’ and ‘wailing’; they will still be permitted to use those words.

psyetmoregays

Some people say that homosexual songs make people happy or joyful, or they argue that homosexuals deserve the same right to sing and compose as everyone else. It has even been argued that the sale of homosexual songs can have some economic benefit.

This very much misses the point; this is not about an individual’s happiness or rights, or even about money; this is about protecting the religious freedoms on which our society was founded. If we challenge those foundations it will be a threat to family, liberty and the right of individual expression. This has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with respect for our sacred traditions. People may say that this proposal is intolerant, but surely the true act of intolerance would be to oppose narrowly defining an activity in a way that excludes people based on their differences?

So I call upon you all now to join me in my campaign. It is time to say no to David Bowie. Say no to Dusty Springfield. Say no to Linda Perry, and Aaron Copland, and REM. This is not about hating homosexuals; this is about protecting our music. Love the singer; hate the song.

How To Apologise

Friday, May 15th, 2009

On a recent edition of his radio show, beloved dandy Jonathan Ross said , “If your son asks for a Hannah Montana MP3 player, you might want to already think about putting him down for adoption before he brings his… erm… partner home”.

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It’s just a joke. I understand that. Jonathan Ross is a funny man and a great  TV and radio host, and occasionally his humour is a little risqué. But he’s not Jim Davidson. He’s not one of these repugnant old-guard comedians who like to make jokes about ‘pakis’ and beating women. A joke suggesting that parents should put gay children up for adoption belongs firmly on that side of the line. It’s not a joke at the expense of bigotry; it’s a joke for bigots. The joke is not, ‘people say dumb things about effeminate boys’. The joke is, ‘effeminate boys are bad children’.

Ross responded to the outcry about the joke on Twitter, saying, “Am mortified to hear some people thought I was being homophobic on Radio show. Nothing could be further from truth, as I am sure most know.”

I fully accept that Jonathan Ross is not homophobic. He has demonstrated this time and again. But what he said was homophobic. It was a lazy joke leaning on old prejudices, which perpetuated a message that isolates and alienates children struggling with their sexual identity. No kid wants to be told that his parents should give him away. What Ross seems to have missed is that you can be gay friendly in spirit, and still say obscenely homophobic things.

Ross’s twittered response to complaints was the classic, “I’m sorry people were offended”, but without the “I’m sorry”. His follow-up said; “Have gay/bi family members so never been an issue. But I guess soemtimes you need to be sensitive to avoid upsetting folk.”

Some of his best relatives are gay! And he’s not just sorry you were offended; he’s sorry that you’re so easy to offend! It’s wretched, craven, snivelling stuff.  Bernard Manning could not have put it better himself. The twittered defence actually offends me more than the initial joke.

Over on EW.com, Michael Slezak has called on Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell to stop exchanging homophobic barbs on American Idol. I actually think they have muted their homophobia this season, possibly because Adam Lambert is on that stage, but their enthusiasm for catty ‘U R gay’ exchanges has been very notable in the past, and it’s disturbing for a top-rated family show to revel in perpetuating the idea that gay=bad.

Slezak mentions the recent suicide of a boy bullied at school because classmates assumed he was gay. That’s the collateral damage here. Carl Walker was eleven years old, and he took his own life because we live in a world where TV and radio hosts think it’s fine to rely on lazy gay jokes just so long as they themselves can insist that they are not homophobic. It’s fine to make gay kids hate themselves, just so long as they know a gay person!

Ross has been crucified in the tabloids for saying stupid things before, and it was tedious and it was overblown. I’m not interested in repeating that misadventure. I’d just like an apology, and I’d like him and others like him to make the effort not to do it again. I’m not saying that all gay jokes are off limits. I’m saying, don’t go telling gay kids that they are worth less because they’re gay.

Barack Obama Doesn’t Care About Gay People

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Dan Choi is one of my new favourite people. A first lieutenant and infantry platoon leader with the New York National Guard, Choi recently came out as gay on The Rachel Maddow Show. Choi is a founder and spokesman for Knights Out, an organisation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender US military academy alumni dedicated to fighting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and he knew that by coming out on TV - by ‘telling’ - he would risk getting kicked out of the military.

Last week he got the letter telling him this was exactly what was happening. By saying he was gay, he had engaged in ‘homosexual behaviour’ and would be dismissed from service. Dan Choi went back on the Maddow show to say how outraged and offended he was. But of course, he expected it. And I suspect he wanted it. I think Dan Choi is attempting a very deliberate and courageous gambit; he is making himself the public face of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell debacle.

Choi is a West Point graduate, an infantry officer, an Iraq veteran and an Arabic linguist. He is proud and keen to serve. He was already out to the men and women he served alongside, to no detriment to ‘unit cohesion’ (the bogus bogeyman that provides the sole justification for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). He’s being drummed out of the military for the weakest, silliest of reasons; because of something he said. Because of something he said about himself.

danchoi

There’s no scandal here. He did not behave in a disgraceful way. He did not do anything inappropriate or sexual while serving. Dan Choi is a dedicated serviceman. He is intelligent, eloquent and informed, and he has skills that are of tremendous value to the US military. He is being forced out of the military because he said, “I am gay”. That places the issue front and centre, with the perfect spokesman at its fore. No-one could look at a man like Dan Choi and seriously believe that the US military is better off without him than it is with him.

I hope that Dan Choi’s case will force the Obama administration to take action. It’s a shame that the Obama administration needs to be forced, but it’s increasingly evident that it does. Barack Obama is not living up to his claim that he is a “fierce advocate” for gay rights. He has done nothing about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, nothing about the Defense of Marriage Act, nothing about the Matthew Shepard act; he hasn’t made any attempt to repeal bans on gay adoption or to expand health-care benefits to same-sex couples, and he’s been conspicuously quiet on the advances in marriage equality in Iowa, Vermont and Maine. Obama’s single greatest contribution to the most pressing civil rights issue of his day has been to invite homophobic pastor Rick Warren to lead the nation in prayer at his inauguration.

Barack Obama doesn’t care about gay people. The impression that I get is that his position on gay rights is entirely political, not personal; he talks the talk to stay on-side with his core constituency, but he does not have any empathy for, or interest in, gay rights.

I don’t think he’s homophobic - not at all - but I do think that he’s ignorant, blinkered and tin-eared when it comes to this topic. I suspect that, like a lot of otherwise liberal people, he does not really grasp the extent to which gays still feel maligned and marginalised, and he does not see gay equality as belonging in the same league as racial equality or gender equality - despite that inconvenient word, ‘equality’.

It does not escape my notice that Barack Obama has had a lot on his plate during his first four months in office, and the standard defence offered of Obama’s inaction is that he has two wars and a financial crisis to deal with; gay rights are not - and should not be - a priority.

Nonsense. The Obama administration can do more than one thing at once, and civil rights ought always to be a priority. Civil rights are not something you wait to address when it’s convenient. The world does not wait, and minorities should not be asked to wait. On the contrary; at a time when people are worried about real issues, like keeping their job or keeping their house, they don’t have the luxury to indulge themselves in reactionary fights against things that have no actual bearing on their lives. We are at the flashpoint now. The time to act is now.

It would take a stroke of the pen. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can only be overturned by Congress, but the President can suspend all investigations and prosecutions by executive order while Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is reviewed, and that would effectively put an end to it. At a time of war, the president can stop the American military from haemorrhaging people like Dan Choi who want to serve, with a stroke of his pen.

Obama has not made this minimal effort. He has not found the time for it.

Before he left office, George W Bush took steps to lift the ban on people with HIV entering the United States. It was one of the only good things he ever did. In his rush to undo all of Bush’s farewell gestures, Obama undid this one as well. He kept the travel ban in place, and he did it with a stroke of his pen. He found the time for that.

When elected, Barack Obama made a pledge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Now the language from the Obama administration is about ‘changing’ Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, not repealing it. The word from his national security adviser, General James Jones, is, “I don’t know” if the administation will overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Not only is Obama doing nothing; he’s backpedalling.

Barack Obama doesn’t care about gay people.

Hopefully people like Lieutenant Dan Choi can make him care.

The Pink Side of the Force

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Homosexual! Gay! Lesbian!

“[T]hese are terms that do not exist in Star Wars”, according to Sean Dahlberg, message board moderator for the Star Wars game The Old Republic. These words were banned from the message boards, and conversations about characters’ sexuality were closed.

Cue kerfuffle.

And cue backtracking by the game’s publisher, BioWare. The closed threads have apparently been reopened and the offending words have been unbanned.

homotrooper

Now, I sort of understand where Mr Dahlberg was coming from here. Homosexuality is a modern concept. Same-sex relationships aren’t, but framing it specifically as ‘homosexuality’ is anachronistic, and after all, Star Wars did happen a very long time ago. (Or not at all, depending on your grip on reality.)

It is not unreasonable to suggest that people in the Star Wars universe had no concept of homosexuality, even though it’s been demonstrated in a couple of Star Wars licensed properties (including BioWare games) that same-sex relationships do exist in that universe. (Not in George Lucas’s own work, of course; he only has camp comedy characters.)

That said, there are other concepts that don’t exist in the Star Wars universe that seem perfectly acceptable to talk about on the same message boards. Like, for example, Star Wars. Or XBox. I suspect that, even within the game, people can probably get away with mentioning these things.

The question is, should players be able to identify themselves within the game as gay when gay people don’t exist in that setting? And the answer is; it’s a game, for God’s sake. It’s just a game. If someone wants to identify themselves as gay - or Asian, or Jewish - in a game that doesn’t recognise those concepts, it is not going to unravel the essential verité of an artificial world where people fight each other with lightsabers while communicating via keyboards and headsets.

pink-stormtrooper

One suspects that “these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars” was a bit of a figleaf explanation. Discomfort with homosexuality seems unusually prevalent in geek culture.

Back in 2006, games maker Blizzard booted a gay player group from World of Warcraft, leading to a similar outcry. They backtracked too. XBox Live recently caused problems by banning users who identified as gay, claiming that this was “sexual innuendo”. They later adjusted their position to say that they were trying to ban people who were using words like ‘gay’ perjoratively. Even that is a figleaf; a blanket ban that destroys the visibility of the group you’re claiming to protect is clearly not a sensible solution.

Sensitivity to gay issues in the gaming world may be some distance behind that of other entertainment media. In gaming, there may still be a widespread misconception of sexuality as a depravity, rather than as a valid part of a person’s identity that might form the basis of a sense of community.

Among the comments from gamers on one message board discussing the Old Republic incident were these gems:

“There will be children playing as well do you intend to flaunt your sexual preference in front of them?”

“I don’t mind the fact that someone’s gay, but whining about it every single time something doesn’t recognize gay people is just ridiculous.”

“Does homosexuality seriously have to infiltrate every facet of life until they force it in your face and make you accept it? And if you don’t really care for it, you’re called homophobic and a bigot. It’s REALLY getting annoying.”

Uh-huh. I can only imagine how annoyed you are, you poor dear.

Too Late on 8

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Does the gay rights movement in America lack leadership? Did the opponents of Proposition 8 fumble their campaign? The answer to both questions seems to be ‘yes’.  Prior to the election, then-candidate Barack Obama wrote a letter to a gay rights group stating, “I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states”.

The No on 8 campaign had this letter. They chose not to make any use of it, even as the Yes on 8 campaign claimed that Obama was on their side. The letter showed in no uncertain terms that Barack Obama was opposed to Proposition 8, amd yet nothing was done to draw attention to this. That’s mind-boggling. 

I found the story on Towleroad, but they linked back to Dan Savage, who raised an interesting point that I’ve also wondered about, though more with regard to culture than to politics. The point is this; if you’re gay and brilliant at something, why would you choose to be brilliant for a gay audience, or would you choose to be brilliant for a much bigger straight audience? 

Most brilliant people choose the latter course; to leave the ghetto and try their luck in the world. So, gay cinema is terrible because most gay directors don’t make gay films. Gay fiction is crap because gay writers want to reach a wider audience. And gay politics is leaderless because good gay political strategists avoid the niche of gay issues. No-one wants to be the gay Jesse Jackson, even if it takes a few Jesse Jacksons to get to one Barack Obama.

It’s only a theory, but I worry that there’s some truth to it.