Posts Tagged ‘gay rights’

Two Boys, One Cup

Monday, December 13th, 2010

vanityfair-soccer

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that gay football fans attending the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 “should refrain from any sexual activities” in the country, because same-sex sexual activity in Qatar is punishable by up to five years in prison. Judging by the reports on Sky News, Blatter found this very amusing.

It’s disappointing that the World Cup should go to a country where gay sex is still illegal, but international sporting events have been to much dirtier places than Qatar - most famously the Olympics in Berlin 1936. The idealist in me says that these plum events should be withheld from countries that refuse to meet basic standards in respect to civil rights, but sports have never been quite that sporting.

I assumed that this wasn’t the first time gay sex has been illegal in a host country, given that the tournament is eighty years old, so I cross-referenced two Wikipedia lists to see when this happened before - LGBT rights by country and FIFA World Cup hosts.

The next two hosts, Brazil and Russia, are in the clear. The same goes for the last several hosts, South Africa, Germany, South Korea, Japan and France. The last host country where gay sex was illegal was actually the United States of America in 1994. Sodomy was still illegal in fully half the 50 states in 1994; four of the tournament’s nine stadia were in states where gay sex was illegal. Why should FIFA take a moral position on this now, when the leader of the free world only deigned to join the 20th century in the 21st century?

Going back beyond 1994, we find that Colombia and West Germany both legalised gay sex five years before they hosted the World Cup, and Spain did so three years before it hosted. The last country to fail this test was… England, in 1966. England and Wales legalised sodomy in 1967. (Scotland and Northern Ireland followed in 1981 and 1982.) And with that realisation,  any moral superiority I might have felt over the Yanks is diminished.

Chile failed the test in 1962, and didn’t legalise gay sex until 1999. The first host, Uruguay, failed in 1930, but legalised gay sex in 1934. So Qatar joins an ignominious list with four others; Uruguay, Chile, England and the USA. Qatar still has twelve years to get off this list, but I’m not optimistic. Qatar is one of about eighty countries that still has laws against gay sex, and it’s a Muslim country, so within its region it’s still well in the majority. It was one of the first Arab countries to give women the vote, and it only did that in 1999.

I won’t pretend that the legality of gay sex was ever a consideration in giving the World Cup to Qatar. I only wish that it had been. I suppose I can take some solace that a journalist asked the question at all. That’s a sign of how things have changed since Uruguay in 1930. Maybe one day gay rights will be the sort of issue that determines a country’s right to sit at the big boy table. It will help a great deal when countries like the US and the UK can boast that they offer full equality.

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.

The Maine Issue

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

I’m told that Maine has a reputation for proud independence. They don’t let outsiders tell them how to think or what to do.

Obviously that reputation is now in tatters, and the proudly independent people of Maine stand exposed as the biggest bitches in the US. In a rare turnabout, the legislature must now be ashamed of their electorate. In April and May of this year, the Maine House and Senate showed their grit and independence when they made Maine the first state in the US to introduce gay marriage through legislative process.

This week, the electorate voted to undo that laudable work, because they were bullied into it by two well-known political pressure groups from outside the state - one in Utah, the other in Rome. Interesting fact: the Mormons and the Catholics still enjoy historic tax exemptions from back when they used to be religious organisations.

The Mormons make their donations through a shell organisation, the National Organisation for Marriage, which, in direct contravention of the law, likes to hide its lists of donors, but we all know it’s those Latter Day shits. The Catholic Church is a hate group that doesn’t care who knows it; they made their $550,000 donation in their own name.

The pro-equality side ran ad campaigns showing how real Maine families would be affected by this law. They presented the people of Maine with stories from their own neighbours, families and friends. The anti-equality side took the same lying, fear-mongering ads from their Prop 8 campaign, and scratched out the word ‘California’ and wrote in ‘Maine’. And the people of Maine fell for it like the easily punked dumb hicks they are.

I know we’re supposed to note that almost 50% of people in Maine voted to preserve equal marriage rights in the state, and we shouldn’t be angry at the whole state, but I’m sick of hearing that. Marriage equality failed, which means the whole state failed. If you live in Maine and you support marriage equality, you did not do enough. That’s a fact. The same goes for California. The same goes for the other 29 states that have voted on and voted down marriage equality.

The point that always needs to be repeated regarding Maine and California is this: the majority voted to strip the rights of a minority. That’s the sort of evil that only the truly sanctimonious could ever get behind. The law ought to protect minorities from such outrageous bullying - and that’s a fact that other minorities might do well to remember, including the Mormons and the Catholics. The biggest threat to their reigious freedom is not gay marriage; it’s the precedent set by overturning it.

A couple of other notes on Maine:

First of all; in the same election that stripped gay people of their marriage rights in the state, a measure was passed that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine. That’s a progressive cause if ever there was one. Why weren’t Maine’s progressives standing behind gay marriage in the same numbers? Where were you when we needed you, dope heads?

Second; the gay rights movement needs leadership. Groups like HRC and GLAAD enjoy their White House dinner invites too much to push for an aggressive agenda. They spectacularly failed to get President Obama to weigh on on Maine. Under their watch, Obama has proven to be anything but the fierce advocate he promised he would be for gay rights. Under their watch, it looks like marriage equality won’t even be put back on the California ballot in 2010, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will get pushed back into Obama’s second term, should he ever get one.

Stronger voices come from bloggers like Pam Spaulding and David Mixner. This week, while arguing for civil disobedience and a closed chequebook for any politican who does not support full equality, Mixner referred to the disparity in rights for gay Americans as “gay apartheid”.

The word ‘apartheid’ entered into the political lexicon because of the policy of racial segregation in South Africa during the second half of the 20th century. Since then it has been used to refer to numerous other incidences of political segregation, including the treatment of Algerians in France, the treatment of the poor in Brazil, and the treatment of Palestinians in Israel. It’s a good term. It’s powerful. It’s the sort of language we need to be using to make our case with rhetorical force.

And as soon as Mixner used it, people started arguing that ‘apartheid’ as a term should be held in reserve, in the same way that we protect the term ‘Holocaust’. (The gays did have a holocaust, of course; we call it ‘the Holocaust’.)

I’ve never heard anyone suggest that we firewall the term ‘apartheid’ before. Even Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town, drew parallel between homophobia and South Africa’s Apartheid in an article five years ago. As far as I’m concerned,’apartheid’ is established political shorthand for any system of political segregation. But now the gays have used it - in a way that casts the USA in a very poor light that it well deserves - and suddenly it’s off limits.

Now it seems we need to calibrate the depth of gay suffering against black suffering in South Africa from 1948-1994, and if the social and economic disparity of marriage inequality laws in America are not found to be up to snuff (and they won’t be) gays can’t use the term. And this is a view being expressed by progressives! Maybe they’re the same ones who cherish medical marijuana but don’t give two toots about marriage rights?

Incidentally, do you know what happened if you were gay in South Africa during the Apartheid era? Homosexuality was illegal, so you went to prison. More gruesome than that; in a country where every white male over 16 was forced into military service, they didn’t have Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; they subjected suspected homosexuals to electric shock therapy, chemical castration and forced sexual reassignment surgery. As far as I can find, there has never been a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for this. And do you know what name we all used to describe that system of political oppression?

Oh, you big silly. Why would we have a name for something no-one ever talks about? We didn’t boycott or sanction South Africa because of their treatment of homosexuals! Mistreating homosexuals was normal.

And in the US, it still is - whereas South Africa passed same-sex marriage laws back in 2006.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Give: If you are a supporter of America’s Democratic party, please consider supporting this callto suspend all donations to the DNC until they enact the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.

A President, Like Any Other

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Barack Obama has never impressed on the subject of gay rights. He made a few encouraging promises, and it was refreshing to hear him mention gays and lesbians in his speeches, but despite claiming that he is a “fierce advocate” for gay rights, he has no record of substance, and on the campaign trail he made it clear that he supported civil unions rather than same-sex marriage - a separate-but-equal position that was shared by the opposition ticket. I think the widely held hope was that this was just politics; Obama was being cautious on the campaign trail, but he would show more social liberalism in office.

Then came the inauguration, and Obamas’ choice of Reverend Rick Warren - who had then only recently compared homosexuality to incest and bestiality - to lead the inaugural prayer. For many of us that choice rang alarm bells - how could the hope-and-change candidate be so tone deaf as to choose a bigot to represent him as the nation’s pastor? - but it was Obama’s first day on the job, and to ring that alarm bell too loudly was to be off-message. The gays would not be allowed to ruin this historic moment for everyone else.

The alarm bell should have sounded louder.

In January, press secretary Robert Gibbs gave a one-word answer to the question of whether Obama would repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT); “Yes”. A couple of months later that seemed to become ‘maybe’ when the language on the White House website went from ‘repeal’ to ‘change’. In fact, Obama could have issued an executive order suspending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as soon as he entered office, putting all investigations on hold until the law could be repealed. He did not do so, even at a time when polls show two-thirds of conservatives, and a majority of churchgoers, now support gays serving in the military. That was the second alarm bell.

Here’s the third. On Friday, the US Department of Justice filed a brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in response to a case challenging the act’s constitutionality. DOMA states that, “No state … needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state”, and, “The federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states”.

There is some debate about whether or not the Department of Justice was obliged to defend DOMA at all, let alone insist that it was constitutional. Certainly, the last four presidents have all filed briefs in opposition to existing laws, in line with their policy platforms. Perhaps Obama doesn’t want to govern that way, and is determined to uphold existing laws until they can be overturned through the proper channels. Certainly that’s his official position on why he hasn’t ended DADT. In contrast to his predecessor, he’s apparently working to limit the executive power of the president.

But even if Obama felt that the DoJ had to defend DOMA, the language of the brief is erroneous, disingenuous, and gratuitously offensive. It echoes Michael Steele’s disgraceful notion that withholding rights is good because it saves the government money, even though gay Americans pay the same taxes as everyone else. It implies that limiting marriage rights to heterosexual couples is necessary to protect ‘traditional’ marriage.

It dredges up the old bigot’s saw that says gays already have the same rights as everyone else - to marry someone of the opposite sex. It argues that homosexuals should not be deemed a minority class deserving of special protection from the courts. It goes so far as to undermine the arguments that helped end restrictions on interracial marriage. Perhaps most damaging of all, it enshrines the view that same-sex marriage cannot be considered a fundamental right. Then, for good measure, it equates same-sex marriage to incest and statutory rape.

This is the Obama position. This is the position of the ‘change’ administration. These are all familiar arguments that we expect to hear from bigots opposed to gay equality, but coming from Barack Obama, this is devastating.

As with DADT, Obama initially pledged that he would repeal DOMA, which he called “abhorrent”, but as with DADT, that pledge disappeared from his website in May. With this brief, Obama has now made the legal landscape of the United States more hostile to gay rights. He is working backwards. Far from being a fierce advocate, Obama now appears to be a threat to gay rights.

There is still time for this to change. There is still time for Obama to keep all of his promises to the gay community. What there is not, any longer, is hope that he will. Now the presumption for anyone who supports gay equality is that Obama is the opposition, and he will have to be fought against rather than worked with. Obama has no empathy for gay rights. It turns out that what he said on the campaign trail was just politics, but he wasn’t hiding his social liberalism; he was masking his social conservatism. On the civil rights issue of our age, Barack Obama is our villain.

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.

44

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Selected thoughts on the inauguration of President Barack Obama:

Aretha still has a beautiful tone to her voice, but that was a shaky rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’. Barack Obama is the son of a British citizen and therefore America’s first British president (apart from all those Founding Fathers, who were basically British as well), so it’s apt that he had God Save the Queen at his inauguration, though I think Aretha messed up just about all of the lyrics.

Dick Cheney was wearing an exquisite Zac Posen wheelchair. The official story is that he strained himself while moving the coffin filled with the earth of his homeland, but I think that’s a cover. Now he’s no longer veep, he’s been unplugged from the giant black battery of boiling baby blood that pumps yellow bile through his canker heart. I’m told the Bidens intend to use that room as a parlour.

barry-and-rick

Pastor Rick Warren’s prayer was an extraordinary piece of hypocritical garbage marring an otherwise wonderful event. It was rather bare-faced of the fat ginger God-weasel to choose the fulfilment of the promise of the struggle for civil rights as his theme. “When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us”, he said. You have to repent your sins before seeking forgiveness, Pastor Rick. Revered Joseph Lowery’s benediction showed Warren how these things should be done.

(Oh, if you’re wondering how Obama intends to make up for the dreadful error in judgement that was Rick Warren, Towleroad reports that the White House website posted a series of pledges to the LGBT community today, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, support for hate crime legislation, and opposition to a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Well, that’s a start, Mr President.)

Joseph Robinette Biden? Really?

I was a little worried that the John Williams quartet was going to sound like Williams’ usual shallow metronomic movie bombast - he is truly the Michael Bay of composers - but thankfully it was an arrangement of Simple Gifts, an apt and elegant Shaker melody better known in some quarters as Lord of the Dance. If Williams had ruined that, he’d have been thrown out of the secretive Composers’ Circle.

Barack Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts both fluffed their lines at the inauguration proper, so I suspect Obama still isn’t actually president. In fact, when we look back over the tape in slow motion, I think we’ll discover that Aretha Franklin is the 44th president of the United States.

aretha

As for the big speech; is, “These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics” the new, “Ask not what your country can do for you…”? Is Barack Obama the first president to include qualifying footnotes in his inaugural address? I’m surprised he didn’t end on the bibliography.

Not quite the great speech I was hoping for, but he found his rhythm at the halfway mark, and  I did like his preliminary sketch for the Obama Doctrine; “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”. Does this mean the end of the terrorist fist jab?

Finally, Elizabeth Alexander read from her LiveJournal entry for the day. “Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes, or not, … Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair. Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum…”. I’m told she also writes poetry. I’d love to hear some of that.