Posts Tagged ‘homophobia’

Hey, it’s Friday night, the weekend is here, and it’s time to paaaaaar-tay, if by paaaaaar-tay you mean find myself largely agreeing with a Christian voice article.

Seriously, I think their objections to the conviction of a street preacher for “delivering homophobic sermons” last year are basically spot on. And while this guy doesn’t sound like someone I’d generally find myself siding with, having the government take action to curtail your free speech in what seems like a pretty clear-cut case of unjust state censorship is the kind of thing that can quickly bring me on board as your ally.

I’m not going to join Stephen Green in praying that the judge in this case will repent and find Jesus, but I am going to keep looking out for chances to defend my principles at the expense of my personal biases. Threatening someone with jail time for speaking his mind in public should feel no less palatable just because I disagree with his message.

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– Odd how there’s always an argument from somewhere that we should be taking less money away from rich people, on the grounds that they’ll end up giving more back to us that way somehow anyway.

Pro-life love, from another angle.

– Oh look, something I can agree with Obama on. Assuming Santorum’s not just talking gibberish again.

– Burzynski still hasn’t provided any data that his treatments can actually do anything to fight cancer. But thanks to his overly trusting patients’ continued generosity, the guy’s doing alright for himself.

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Dan Savage, not for the first time, is mostly right.

His plea in this video is to those Christians who consider themselves in the liberal and tolerant subset of their religion, who keep reminding him that not all Christians are bigoted homophobes.

The problem, as he points out, is that they issue these reminders by emailing him personally, much more often than they do so by publicly denouncing other bigoted or homophobic Christians. He wants them to do more to join non-religious types in condemning the extremists, and do some good while boosting Christianity’s credibility as a source of tolerance and compassion.

And I think it is worth trying to bring some liberal Christians onto our side here, and to ally with them to some degree in combating values that we both find abhorrent.

(We’re still going to think your faith is ridiculous. Fair warning. But that doesn’t need to be constantly on the table while we’re talking about stuff like gay rights or abortion.)

The thing to remember, though, is that these abhorrent values are unequivocally Christian values. The history of Christian progressivism or fundamentalism has been a complex and bumpy one, but The Good Atheist is right to suggest that “hijacking” is an over-simplified description of what the conservative fundamentalists are up to. Their justification for bigotry comes straight from the same Bible that liberal Christians find their inspiration to be compassionate and charitable.

One thing that’s different, though, is the claim to speak for all Christians. That is something you only here from the right-wing nut side of things, and this is to the liberals’ credit. But Dan’s right to point out that, a lot of the time, the end result amounts to “silent complicity” by the latter group of the former’s prejudices.

A lot of the liberal Christian reaction is limited to emailing complaints to people like Dan Savage for their unfair characterisation of Christianity as being wholly bigoted and homophobic. But members of the bigoted and homophobic wing of the religion are out there debating with him on national TV shows, and this is the kind of thing responsible for defining the public face of Christianity. If that face is one of intolerance and hate, whose problem is that? Who should it fall to to correct the imbalance, to stand up for a compassionate, tolerant, liberal Christianity, to make sure this is a view that’s also heard and appreciated and understood?

Not mine. Not Dan Savage’s. We’re not part of that movement. We can’t be responsible for its PR.

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An almost topical video, this time. I’m unlikely to get the turn-around time from something happening in the world to a video talking about it much quicker than this anytime soon, but I hope to get some more blogging done at a more impressive pace in between YouTube links this time.

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Holly at the Pervocracy blog posted an interesting piece today, about criticising potential allies in some movement for public acceptance, and the potential risks of alienating them from your cause. I’m reproducing below a comment I left on that article.

(The article of mine that I’m referring to, if you need reminding or you missed that whole clusterfuffle, is here.)

I think I was about to say pretty much what Aaron said. It’s generally best to operate on an assumption of good faith, unless it’s later disproven.

It’s not even really about rights or movements, so much as it’s about basic courtesy in interacting with other people. Asking if somebody has some kind of fucking problem is sorta flat-out rude, and beyond what’s merited from a one-off use of one inappropriate word. Particularly if you don’t know them well and don’t know much about their genuine attitudes to things – perhaps they care a great deal about mentally disabled people, but just aren’t so attentive to it as to moderate their vocabulary in all instances.

I posted a lengthy piece on my blog a while ago, defending a journalist who’d written a newspaper article about protecting young people from homophobic discrimination. It had been widely circulated around Twitter and the blogosphere. Another blogger utterly eviscerated him, heaping personal abuse on top of numerous criticisms of what he was saying and the allegedly despicable nature of some of his attitudes.

And the infuriating thing was, she had a lot of good points. As much as protecting young people from hate should be something we can all agree on, this journalist’s piece did at times seem in danger of pathologising homosexuality, or being too quick to label kids with an unhelpfully binary gender or sexuality identity. There were many valid criticisms to be made about his piece.

But, fundamentally, he was a good-hearted guy trying passionately to help people suffering discrimination. It’s not that his errors don’t deserve to be corrected simply because he’s basically on the right side of things. But they didn’t deserve the unmitigated vitriol which this blogger continued to hurl at him.

This blogger identifies as anti-feminist, in part because of how many of her interactions with the feminist community have gone this way. And it’s frustrating, because she’d be a good ally if she didn’t tend to be so hostile that many people don’t want to be on her side.

Sorry this is so long, it’s just reminded me of something I’ve wanted to vent about for a while.

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This is one of those times where I’m siding with the anti-gay Christians.

And not even grudgingly, like when your commitment to free speech and intellectual honesty means you sort of have to accept the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket military funerals, however much it might pain you to let them to be so hateful.

This time, I don’t think I’m on the side of the gay rights campaigners at all.

Exodus International, a Christian ministry seeking to “address the issue of homosexuality” in a Jesustastic way, have released an iPhone app. It looks like it does mostly the same thing as their website, but in appy form. I don’t have a smartphone and don’t really get the apps thing, but maybe that makes sense to someone.

According to TG Daily, the app is “aimed at ‘curing’ homosexuals by telling them God disapproves”. So, they’re not exactly using ground-breaking levels of techno-wizardry to stomp out the gay.

Anyway, gay rights groups are protesting, and over 80,000 people have signed a petition to have the app removed from Apple’s online store.

And I can certainly see why people object to it. I mean, they’re a conservative Christian anti-gay organisation, and fuck that noise. But since when is banning the message from an entire format of communication a progressive and compassionate way to respond?

As Exodus International have been repeatedly pointing out themselves, the app is only available to people who voluntarily download it from the store and choose to keep it on their phone and actively use it. Nobody needs to do any of those things if they don’t like its message. (Unless that’s actually not how it works, and I don’t understand apps even more than I don’t think I do.)

Whenever something’s going on which the conservative Christians don’t like, our usual response is to just tell them to change the channel. Why would a similar point not apply here? Pat Robertson’s said some appalling things on TV, but I wouldn’t want him banned from ever expressing himself through the form of electromagnetic radiation.

And there’s been a big hoo-hah over Steve Jobs blocking porn on the iPhone in the past. I don’t know how much crossover there is between people condemning this move as dictatorial suppression of free speech, and those demanding that offensive ex-gay apps be cracked down on, but I suspect there’s at least some overlap.

Obviously there are concerns with the impact that this kind of Christian anti-gay rhetoric will have on gay people, particularly young gay people, and I don’t want them to have to put up with a constant barrage of accusations that they’re unnatural and ought to change any more than you do. But then let’s get something else for them to hear on the other side of the conversation as well. There are plenty of gay iPhone apps, and there’s nothing to stop you making your own, if you’re technically minded enough. Maybe one which just tells people they’re fabulous once in a while. Or quotes Bible passages about love and tolerance, and ties it in to sexuality.

I’m no more in favour of the underlying philosophy behind the whole “ex-gay” thing than anyone else. But I don’t think I get to choose what is and isn’t a permissible idea to express, if I’m in favour of smartphone apps being an open marketplace of ideas. I can’t have my porn and eat it too.

…Wait, maybe I can. BRB, making a cake shaped like a penis.

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This post makes several good points.

Sometimes, bad words are bad. Language can be extremely offensive. For instance, unless you’ve been paying no attention at all to the last few decades or so of Western culture, you’ll be aware that there are some things you don’t generally call black people in public.

And there are times when it’s simply a matter of basic courtesy and compassion to moderate our language in other ways, choosing phrases that avoid certain connotations with the potential to wound. Richard Littlejohn might object even to this measure of “political correctness”, but it’s often just basic human sensitivity.

But sometimes it does go too far, and language policing can intrude on and obstruct useful dialogue.

It reminds me a little of the more tiresome aspects of the Don’t Be A Dick kerfuffle still going on among the skeptical community. The people arguing for impeccable civility when interacting with outsiders can often be the ones with the most obnoxious and infuriating tone when dealing with fellow skeptics.

And, similarly, people most actively clamouring for a sensitive use of inclusive language often seem to find the most tactless and judgmental way of making their point.

If somebody has written a lengthy treatise on some topic of interest, and your first or only response to is to point out that they used a term you consider unacceptable or discriminatory, condemn them for being prejudiced or insensitive, and act as if this shuts down the rest of the discussion, then we’re going to waste a lot of time before we have a chance to actually talk about any worthwhile issues.

You can still point out the objectionable term, but don’t automatically assume that it came from a place of spite or malice, and don’t act as if it renders insignificant any points the person was trying to make.

Maybe they just don’t give transsexual issues much attention in their everyday lives and so didn’t think to include that factor specifically in their phrasing. It doesn’t make someone a terrible person for working under a passive assumption that male/female is a simple binary system, if they’re writing about something entirely unconnected to gender issues.

Maybe they haven’t heard it used as a term of abuse and harmlessly assumed that “Paki” was simply a diminutive of “Pakistani”. Most of them will be eager to amend their language if they learn that it’s widely interpreted in a hostile way. That doesn’t need to be the most important thing about the geopolitical analysis in which they inadvertently used the slur.

Maybe they get a bit lazily heteronormative from time to time. We’ve all done it. It’s worth watching out for, but it’s not the end of the world.

I suspect that most such instances where the language police are called in aren’t due to genuine racism, or sexism, or anything so actively unjust. It’s just people slipping up and getting things a bit wrong. And they deserve the benefit of the doubt more often than not.

(Hat-tip to Broadsnark, if memory serves.)

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Johann Hari wrote a piece recently for the Independent, in which he argued for the importance of a compassionate and proactive approach to addressing the problem of homophobic bullying in schools. It’s been widely lauded and quoted and recommended across the interwebs, and I lost count of how many people in my Twitter feed posted a link, urging everyone to read it.

It comes partly in response to a number of predictably unkind and insensitive articles in the Daily Mail, particularly one by Melanie Phillips which blathered about the horrors of the “Gay Agenda” making its way into school classrooms. A lot of gay young people still have it tough from religious or similarly motivated prejudice, and there’s a need for an active stand against the kind of bullying that drives some to suicide, and profoundly affects the lives of countless others.

Some people, though, think Johann Hari is a cock, and that this article is just another example of his “usual sanctimonious, victim-based, ‘gay is good’ ‘children are gay’ (except when they are catholic) emotive crap“.

Yes, I’m quoting verbatim there. The argument is fleshed out somewhat by Quiet Riot Girl at the Graunwatch blog.

The Graunwatch post raises a number of interesting and pertinent questions, which open up the discussion into a greater depth in a number of interesting ways, which I couldn’t have achieved on my own simply by reading Johann’s piece.

It also makes me flap my arms like a lunatic as I fail to articulate my frustration and resort to attempting to exorcise it physically.

There’s a few reasons for that, which I’ll get onto soon. But let’s start with the useful points in contention with Johann’s article first.

The title of QRG’s own blog post – Think of the (gay) children! – highlights a couple of such issues. Efforts to broaden tolerance and compassion for young people identifying with alternate sexualities may end up reinforcing an “us and them” categorisation, making it easier to maintain a notion of normal kids over here, gay kids over there. I don’t know how strong that danger really is, or whether it does much to offset our desire to stand up against homophobic bullying in general, but it’s worth considering.

Another potential pitfall is the idea that gay kids are the only ones who suffer serious discrimination or bullying. If anybody feels like their problems are being sidelined because they’re not one of the “gay kids”, and nobody’s ever told them that their problems matter too, that’s a serious problem we need to watch out for.

And while I don’t for a moment believe that Johann would consider the problems faced by bisexual, transgendered, or otherwise different-but-not-just-“gay” people to be trivial, the emphasis in his article is primarily on the gay/straight distinction (and mostly addresses male rather than female homosexuality at that).

It’s not completely outrageous that he’s focused on gay males as probably the most prominent demographic in question, but as QRG points out in the comments, LGBTQ is a perfectly good term which includes a number of other people who also deserve to be considered in the discussion.

There’s also the thorny issue of when a noble effort to redress injustices against a minority out-group becomes offensively patronising. I’ve touched on this before as regards feminism, and I still don’t know where the balance lies, but it’s certainly another interesting discussion to be had.

Personally, I’ve witnessed many more LGBTQ folk feeling reassured and uplifted than condescended and dismissed by Johann’s writing, and other articles of this sort. Unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence For The Meh.

So, there’s that. Some important points raised, and no doubt there are others as well which I haven’t covered here.

But I still get so wound up by the way QRG makes them.

And there’s one thing in particular that bothers me most.

It’s not the way her analysis sometimes seems to be trying really hard to find offense wherever she can (although it does). For example, she’s incensed by his characterisation of “gay children”:

Do children really identify themselves as gay? It paints a picture of a seven year old, living in a loft appartment in Manchester, sipping on a martini and checking out if he has any messages on his Gaydar.

I don’t think it does. I think it paints a picture of an adolescent, starting to develop unfamiliar sexual feelings, without any well formed sense of sexuality or sexual identity, unsure what they’re feeling or whether it’s okay to be feeling it, identifying what’s going on as same-sex attraction, but with levels of uncertainty and guilt that aren’t helped by the kind of casual and abusive epithets being tossed around in the playground and elsewhere.

Especially since, y’know, that’s exactly what Johann’s explicitly describing in the rest of the article.

To pick so dismissively on this almost entirely innocuous phrase, chosen for the sake of brevity, seems disingenuous.

Johann also references in his article the various primitive arguments against homosexuality that are still boringly popular, and points out that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon that’s never going to be successfully repressed.

In every human society that has ever existed, and ever will, some 3 to 10 percent of the population has wanted to have sex with their own gender. This is a fixed and unchangeable reality.

QRG seems to almost wilfully misunderstand his point here, attacking him as if he were claiming that the sexual identity of any “gay person” is itself “fixed and immutable”. This can’t possibly be something he thinks, and it doesn’t seem implicit in his words. The only fact that can’t be avoided is that a variety of sexual identities exist, no matter what some religious and backwardly puritanical folk would like to think can be achieved through denial.

None of this is what really gets to me, though.

I’m mostly brought down by the way she’s just being so mean.

Okay, so that sounds childish. And I’ll acknowledge that I’ve taken a very curt tone with some antagonists on this blog myself in the past, to say the least. Pointed and deliberate viciousness is not entirely anathema to me.

But, look. Johann was motivated to write his article by compassion, love, and a desire to help his fellow human beings who he perceives as suffering unfairly. He is trying hard to do good, and many people are responding with genuine outpourings of warmth and support.

I don’t have the cynicism to see ego behind his writing. Whether you want to call it mawkish or stylistically abhorrent is up to you, and I’m open to claims that his lack of nuance has meant that important factors like those listed above go ignored.

But the idea that there’s some sort of conspiracy to maintain the perception of gay people as victims is a bizarre and unkind misunderstanding, of what is at worst a misguided attempt to help. He’s making a commendable effort to do some good for the world, as best he can, the way his best judgement deems most appropriate.

And nobody about whom that can be said deserves to be called a cock and spat on.

I’m yet to see any serious disagreement with any of Johann’s main points that hasn’t simply been cruel. There are homophobic bigots of one sort or another on one side, who can reasonably be ignored – and on the other, people who ought to be with him in supporting a humanistic approach, but seem to prefer to yell at him for somehow doing tolerance “wrong”.

Which to my mind makes this some seriously ineffective outreach, if the useful and important criticism is so difficult to reach through all the sneering and venom and malice.

Well. There it is. I’ve basically written another fucking blog post about “tone”. Look what you made me do.

Edit 3/2/11: Wow, a thousand views before breakfast. That’ll move the chains.

Anyway, having been noticed by both opposing parties on Twitter, this post’s getting a bit more attention than I’m used to. The comments are getting interesting too, so be sure to keep scrolling.

Also, I should add that this was all finished rather hastily last night, and may well be lacking in much of the nuance I was attempting to support. Do call me out on anything where you think my own tone is misjudged.

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While I was offline for a month, I kept a note of any links and news stories worth commenting on. Now that I’m back, I’m aiming to post two short items a day here, about stuff that happened during my online absence, until I’ve cleared the backlog. This is one of those.

Elton John’s had a baby.

Okay, that deserves some clarification.

Elton John and his partner David Furnish have a child, born recently to a surrogate mother. Good for that kid. The couple have been going to some lengths trying to adopt for some time, so there seems little doubt that this baby will grow up being loved and well taken care of.

If they were a straight couple who’d had a child naturally, there’d be absolutely no chance of the state taking it away unless they could prove their suitability as parents.

But when the BBC reported on this moderately interesting celebrity gossip which isn’t really any of our business, they decided to balance out the heart-warming family-centric nature of this story.

Specifically, they interviewed a guy who wants all gay people to be executed.

Both sides!

You might have heard of this guy, Stephen Green. He’s the front-man for a bunch of fanatical right-wing fundamentalist zealots who speak for no-one, called Christian Voice. They’re best known for things like trying to outlaw a play which was a bit rude, supporting a proposed law in Uganda which would make homosexuality punishable by death, and living a life of humility and poverty in the way Jesus wanted his followers to do.

I made one of those up.

And it’s not the one about supporting capital punishment for all gay people. Stephen Green praised the Ugandan politician who put that bill forward as “trying to protect his nation’s children”, and expressed hope that the country would “stand by their Christian values”.

I wonder what counterpoint he might bring to this story about two men raising a child together.

The fact that Stephen Green’s a dick isn’t news, but the BBC’s decision to give him a platform in this situation is baffling. No sane reporter would turn to Fred Phelps for an alternative viewpoint when covering the funeral of a war hero. Nobody’s obliged to give a shit about Kent Hovind’s “perspective” on any new biological discovery.

You don’t need to cater to the vicious, cruel, inhumane, wrong fringe opinion, just through fear of not being sufficiently “fair”.

(h/t noodlemaz)

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I’m running out of interest in the ongoing debate in the comments here, now. It was fun for a while, but David’s showing no signs of developing interestingly. timberwraith is still doing sterling work responding to his nuttiness, though, so feel free to cheer her on if you still want to get involved.

I will make a couple of brief points though. Firstly, David doesn’t seem to know what homophobic means. He’s uncovered the Greek derivation of the latter half of the word and decided he’s got it all figured out. But nobody actually uses the word “homophobia” to refer to a phobia or fear in the same sense as, say, arachnophobia. That’s just not how anyone uses the word. The word refers to a prejudice against homosexual people, and it’s a tangential semantic argument anyway.

Also, one of the things David bleats about in a few different ways is the old “shoving it down my throat” canard. He doesn’t “go around with [his heterosexuality] on his sleeve”, like gay people do. His straightness doesn’t define him, like gay people’s sexuality does.

timberwraith takes this one down very nicely by introducing David to a little thing called heteronormativity, and the way in which heterosexuality is assumed as the default mode in many, many, many aspects of culture. If someone’s homosexuality stands out, maybe it’s less to do with how gay they are, and more to do with how overwhelmingly hetero the world around them tends to be.

And even if gay people do want to define themselves by their sexuality, and make it a primary part of their identity, what the hell business of that is anyone else’s? Maybe it’s an attempt to stop themselves feeling like an individual, isolated, lone freak, because they feel different than everyone around them acts. And because people like David are telling them that the love they want to express is wrong, and hiding it in a flimsy veil of loving the sinner but hating the sin.

Final observation: The poem that kicked all this off was about a lot of things. Proselytising. The teaching of evolution. Witchcraft. Politics. Secular responses to expressions of religious opinion. And homosexuality. But the ensuing discussion quickly became really, really gay.

Now, this may not have been entirely David’s fault. Although his was the only voice of dissent, it might be premature to lay all the blame on him for steering the conversation homo-wards.

But clearly a major button was pushed for him. And the impression I get is that, once David knows that somebody’s gay, that’s the only thing he’s really capable of seeing about them. Which says something about how much importance he places on something that he claims not to really care about.

Okay, maybe I’m not completely bored with this yet.

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