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Usually I let the comic do the talking. Today, in the last week of LGBT Pride Month, I want to proclaim our unwavering support for the LGBT community. Everyone has the right to live, love and look the way they feel is right, without fear of retribution or judgment.
On 25 May 2014 and nearly 30 years after first appearing on the stage, Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart will be aired as a film on HBO. This project, which has evolved over the course of the last three decades, documents those first few harrowing years of the AIDS epidemic in New York City. The Normal Heart debuts at a time when much attention is being cast upon the early days of AIDS and the lives of gay men, who survived the physical and emotional onslaught of this disease in a society that often shunned us because we were gay and because we were afflicted with this disease.
Now a generation of gay men, my generation—the AIDS Generation—stands proudly as testament to our individual and collective resilience which has brought us all into middle age. Certainly there have been huge hurdles along the way—too many deaths to enumerate, the havoc that the complications of this disease wreaked on our bodies, the lack of support. Even today, darkness and disrespect lurks in every corner, and no one is immune. For some in our society, identifying what is wrong with us as gay men comes to easily. We are reminded of it daily as right wing zealots fight against marriage equality, as young boys take their lives. Despite these conditions, despite the inaction of our national and local politicians, and despite a large yet ever-shrinking segment of our society that continues to view us as weak and sick, we stand together as a testament to the fortitude of our bodies, minds, and spirits.
The theme of resistance or resilience permeates the words, the thoughts, and the actions of the protagonists in The Normal Heart and many depictions of the AIDS epidemic.
Behavioral and psychological literature has attempted to delineate sources of resilience. Dr. Gail Wagnild posits that social supports in the form of families and communities foster resilience in individuals. I also adhere to this idea. Although the sources of resilience are still debated in the literature, there is general agreement that resilience is a means of maintaining or regaining mental health in response to adversity the ability to respond to and/or cope with stressful situations such as trauma, conditions that characterize the life of the men of the AIDS Generation.
For many of the men of the AIDs Generation, grappling with their sexuality was closely tied to the development of their resilience. In other words, resilience developed in their childhoods as young men grappling with their sexuality as stated by Christopher: “I also think that wrestling with my own sexuality and trying to navigate through that in my teenage years taught me how to just ‘keep pushing’ and to do what needed to be done.” Some, including myself, found support among our families. Even if parents were loving and supportive, this did not ameliorate the burdens experienced being raised in a heteronormative and often-discriminatory world in which men were portrayed as weak, effeminate, and sickly.
As we watch The Normal Heart, we will be reminded of those dark, confusing early days of the epidemic. And while we must celebrate the resilience of a generation of gay men to fight this disease, we must also be reminded of our obligation to create a better world for a new generation of gay men, who despite our social and medical advances, need the love and support of their community of elders as the navigate the course of their lives.
Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH is Professor of Applied Psychology and Public Health (Steinhardt School), and Population Health (Langone School of Medicine), Director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior & Prevention Studies, and Associate Dean (Global Institute of Public Health) at New York University. Dr. Halkitis’ program of research examines the intersection between the HIV epidemic, drug abuse, and mental health burden in LGBT populations, and he is well known as one of the nation’s leading experts on substance use and HIV behavioral research. He is the author of The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience. Follow him on Twitter @DrPNHalkitis.
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Although there has been much progress in many European countries regarding social acceptance of LGBT individuals in recent decades, much discrimination, social injustice, and intolerance still exists with adverse consequences for both physical and mental health in these populations.
Awareness of health disparities in specific populations, in particular based on ethnical background, gender, age, socioeconomic status, geography, and disability has increased during the past decades. And lately, public health policy and research have begun to address the issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations, and many official public health agencies call for programs addressing the specific needs of LGBT individuals.
An increasing number of studies, although still limited, points to a higher prevalence of certain conditions among LGBT people that call for the attention of public health researchers and professionals. The most significant area of concern is the increased prevalence of mental health disorders. Recent studies show that LGBT youth are at greater risk for suicide attempts than non-LGBT youths and have higher prevalence of depression and anxiety diagnoses. Studies also show that transgender individuals are regularly stigmatized and discriminated against both in the health care sector and in the society as a whole.
Traditionally LGBT public health research has almost exclusively focused on sexually transmitted diseases. In particular, the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s brought visibility to the LGBT population as a group with specific health needs. However, the public health consequences of discrimination of LGBT individuals have only recently been focus of greater attention.
The level of acceptance for minority sexual orientations differs greatly between countries. In the European Social Survey 2010, a question was used to assess level of acceptance of gay men and lesbians. The proportion of respondents that agreed to a statement that ‘Gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own life as they wish’ varied greatly between countries, from around 90% in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway to about one third of the respondents in Russia and Ukraine.
These results indicate that in many countries LGBT people still live in communities where a majority of the population supports discrimination and inequality for sexual minorities. In many countries, LGBT people are also subject to legal discrimination concerning basic civil rights, e.g. regarding recognition of same-sex unions.
But are these large differences in acceptance and legal discrimination influencing the health of LGBT individuals, and what needs to be done to overcome inequality in Europe’s health based on sexual orientation and gender identities? These questions are difficult to answer in the absence of sufficient data.
In a recent commentary in the European Journal of Public Health, we argue for greater awareness of these issues, and the need for more knowledge about the public health situation of LGBT populations through improved data quality and well-designed studies. Systematic data collection regarding sexual orientation and gender identity is required to better understand factors that can help us reduce and better understand disparities, as well as increase quality of health care provision for LGBT individuals. In addition to working towards greater acceptance to end discrimination and social injustice, greater efforts from public health researchers and policy makers are needed to reduce health disparities among LGBT populations.
Richard Bränström is a health psychologist and researcher. He is currently associate professor at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, and he works with public health analyses at the Swedish National Institute of Public Health. His main research interest concern health inequalities, predictors of physical and mental health, and health related behaviors. He is the author of the commentary ‘All inclusive Public Health—what about LGBT populations?’, which is published in the European Journal of Public Health.
The European Journal of Public Health is a multidisciplinary journal in the field of public health, publishing contributions from social medicine, epidemiology, health services research, management, ethics and law, health economics, social sciences and environmental health.
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Image credit: Gay Pride. By chatursnil, via iStockphoto.
When it comes to the classic Filmation television series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, it’s not much of a stretch to find homoerotic subtext in its ham-fisted dialogue and hyper-masculine, brutish-ness. However, there are times in the sci-fi hero’s quest to fight the forces of evil with his “fabulous secret powers” that it seems to move beyond mere inadvertent sexual suggestion and right into “oh, that’s just gay” territory. Here are five of He-Man’s gayest moments.
1. “The Cosmic Comet”
In the very first episode of He-Man: MOTU, titled “The Cosmic Comet”, the evil Skeletor harnesses the power of a wandering comet that, ever since its mate was accidentally destroyed, has grown bitter and evil. Under the sorcerer’s control, the comet attempts to stop a self-deprecating old wizard called The Comet Keeper from rebuilding its destroyed lover by attacking him with genital-less, ‘roided out rock men. He-Man wrestles with the evil comet long enough for his friends to fill the new one with their love, defeating Skeletor and enabling the happy couple to once again travel the galaxy in harmony. And just when you think this storyline couldn’t be more of a head-scratcher, you discover that both of the comets are actually male.
2. “Quest for He-Man”
In the “Quest For He-Man”, our hero falls through a rainbow colored time corridor and into the environmentally devastated world of Trannis where he encounters Plundor the Spoiler. A lisping, rabbit-headed captain of industry with an unexplained penchant for polluting the seas and killing off his planet’s wildlife, Plundor is immediately enamored by the “powerful looking brute” and offers to make “great use of his muscles”. He-Man politely turns him down in a way that only he can: by straddling Plundor’s “liquid filled” rocket and riding it into the stratosphere. Literally.
3. Any appearance of Duncan, Man-at-Arms
Ok, this is example is pretty general, but we’re including the overall presence of Duncan, aka Man-At-Arms, the royal family’s master of weapons. A middle-aged man with bare midriff armor, a Seventies ‘stache and nothing better to do than go on long trips with Prince Adam and keep his secrets? The whole thing reeks of human growth hormone, a secret past and late night slap-and-tickle in the darkened corridors of Castle Grayskull.
4. “The Laughing Dragon”
In He-Man: MOTU’s sister series, She-Ra: Princess of Power, She-Ra, in an episode titled “The Laughing Dragon”, encounters a socially put upon Dragon named Sorrowful. With hopes of recruiting his help against the Horde army, the show’s token male, Bow tries to intimidate the tormented reptile into finding its courage. However, even the bullied beast can’t help but mock the archer, who has inexplicably chosen to wear a belted pink frock, with limp-wristed jabs at Bow’s masculinity. An anti-bullying episode, where even the bullied bullies someone else for being different? As you can see, Bow’s catty companion, Kowl is not impressed.
5. “Fisto’s Forest”
And lastly, I draw your attention to an episode called “Fisto’s Forest”. He-Man & Co. is called to help some forest people whose diminutive leader, the Elf Lord, has been imprisoned by a bushy bearded bully named Fisto. Fisto, whose name can’t help but bring to mind vats of aqueous cream and neoprene gloves, is killing off their crops by using his over-sized metal fist to create a blockage in the river. The whole situation is only made more vivid by Fisto’s choice to douse his opponents with a sticky white goo as a means to subdue them.
The great actor Sir Ian McKellen, who is also well-known as a gay activist, was recently quoted in the press as saying that Shakespeare himself was probably gay. Invited to comment on this, I pointed out that there was nothing new in the idea, which for a long time has been frequently expressed especially because some of his sonnets are clearly addressed to a male. Nevertheless none are explicitly homoerotic in the manner of some of his contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe, Richard Barnfield, and Michael Drayton, or for that matter of some modern poets such as W. H. Auden or Thom Gunn.
All those that are clearly addressed to or written about a young man, or “boy,” are among the first 126 to be printed in the 1609 volume. Yet Number 116, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment ….,” one of the most famous love poems in the language, is frequently read at heterosexual weddings. And other poems in the first part of the sequence – such as Number 27 – could even be love poems addressed to the poet’s wife.
Shakespeare’s most idealized sonnets fall among those that are either clearly addressed to a male, or are non-specific in their addressee. His explicitly sexual sonnets, all concerned with a woman and all among the last 26 to be printed, suggest severe psychological tension in a man who has to acknowledge his heterosexuality but who finds something distasteful about it, at least in its current manifestation. An example is Number 147, which begins:
My love is as a fever, longing still,
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
Th’uncertain sickly appetite to please.
None of the poems that celebrate love between the poet (whether we think of him simply as an identity assumed by Shakespeare for professional purposes or as Shakespeare speaking in his own person) and a “lovely boy” is explicitly sexual in the manner of the frankest of the “dark lady” sonnets. But many of these poems would have had, and continue to have, a special appeal to homoerotic readers. They have also met with castigation from homophobic readers for this very reason, as the history of their reception over the centuries makes abundantly clear. And a number of the sonnets addressed to a male are deeply passionate if idealized love poems which one can easily imagine being addressed to a young man with whom the poet was having a physical as well as a spiritual relationship. Consider for example Number 108:
What’s in the brain that ink may character
Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit?
What’s new to speak, what now to register,
That may express my love or my dear merit?
Nothing, sweet boy; but yet like prayers divine
I must each day say o’er the very same,
Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,
Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name.
So that eternal love in love’s fresh case
Weighs not the dust and injury of age,
Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place,
But makes antiquity for aye his page,
Finding the first conceit of love there bred
Where time and outward form would show
The question about the origin of gay “homosexual” has been asked and answered many times (and always correctly), so that we needn’t expect sensational discoveries in this area. The adjective gay, first attested in Middle English, is of French descent; in the fourteenth century it meant both “joyous” and “bright; showy.” The OEDgives no attestations of gay “immoral” before 1637. Yet it is not improbable that this sense is much older but that it remained part of low slang, unfamiliar to the majority of English speakers, even such as were sensitive to street usage. Dickens began writing Dombey and Son in 1846 and gave the family name Gay to Walter, the future husband of Florence, the sweet and suffering character (one can even say the protagonist) of his novel. The combination Mrs. Walter Gay (or Florence Gay) did not shock or amuse his contemporaries, though gay woman “prostitute” had already made it even into printed books (the earliest citation in the OED goes back to 1825). Gay “homosexual” dates to the 1930’s, but it could hardly have been the product of slow semantic development from “depraved” and “perverse.” While “unnatural attraction,” to use the euphemism of the past epoch, was looked upon as a deviation and a vice, gay “male prostitute,” along with “whore,” would suggested itself to many. In the sixties of the twentieth century, homosexual men accepted gay as a neutral term, and that is the end of the story. A slight touch of novelty in my summary is that I don’t believe in “merry, joyous” acquiring negative connotations gradually and suspect that they have been present since the middle period but were suppressed or even tabooed; see also below. The sense “male prostitute,” perhaps especially with reference to a passive homosexual, may be old too. Thus, if I am right, the history of gay did not run parallel to that of faggot: in fag ~ faggot, reference to homosexuals indeed appeared only in the twentieth century.
The main mystery is the origin of the French word, the etymon of Engl. gay. The first edition of the OED offered no solution; the OED online expanded considerably the etymological part of the entry but refrained from taking sides and only listed a few proposals. This is natural: the history of gay is obscure and will, most likely, remain a matter of controversy in the future. Before I say what little I can on this subject, a short introduction is needed. It is well-known that words like warranty and guarantee, warden and guardian, William and Guillaume, among many others, are etymological doublets pairwise. The French for war is guerre, that is, the doublet of guerre serves also as its English gloss. We have here Old Germanic words with initial w-. When Central Old French borrowed them, w-, a sound alien to Romance, was replaced with gu- (first only before the vowel a); with time, w after g was lost. Later such words often migrated to English, where the spelling gu- bears witness to their stay “abroad.” But in Northern and Anglo- French, the dialects of greater importance to the history of English than the French of Paris, initial w- survived. Consequently, both warden and guardian are ultimately of Germanic origin, but guardian was taken over from Central French, whereas warden is a guest from Northern French, so that w- makes the word look as though it had never left it Germanic home.
The main old hypotheses concerning gay were based on the idea that it had come to French
Iceland’s Siguroardottir Becomes the First Openly Gay World Leader
On February 1, 2009, Johanna Siguroardottir made double history: she became the first woman to serve as Iceland’s prime minister and she became the first openly gay person to become leader of any nation.
Siguroardottir’s rise to the premiership resulted from several factors. She had a long career in politics and was the longest-serving member of the Iceland’s parliament, the Althing, having first been elected in 1978. She also had experience in government positions, serving four times as Minister of Social Affairs, overseeing Iceland’s social welfare programs. Siguroardottir was a member of Iceland’s middle class, working as both a flight attendant and an office worker before entering politics. Her understanding of the basic concerns of ordinary people appealed to many Icelanders.
The other factor contributing to her achievement was Iceland’s economic mess. The island nation’s banking industry collapsed in 2008 and 2009. That crisis brought down the conservative government of Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde and caused Icelanders to favor the leftist views of the socialist Siguroardottir.
Two years after taking office, her government seems to have stabilized Iceland’s economy. Inflation had been surging above 18 percent a year at the end of 2008, just before she took office. By 2011, it had fallen under 4 percent. The growth rate of the nation’s gross domestic product, which had been negative in 2009 and 2010, in the wake of the economic collapse, was expected to reach 2.5 percent in 2011. The banking sector has been overhauled.
Success was not complete, however. Icelandic voters rejected a government-backed plan to reimburse British and Dutch depositors in Icelandic banks for lost deposits. Voters also seem not to favor Siguroardottir’s desire to enter the European Union.
Siguroardottir did enjoy a great personal moment from her premiership. When Iceland’s new law that allowed gay marriage took effect in June 2010, she married her longtime partner Jonina Leosdottir, a writer.
Publisher’s description: Ever since he rescued her from Certain Death, Rose Brier has had a crush on Ben Denniston, otherwise known as Fish. But Fish, struggling with problems of his own, thinks that Rose should go looking elsewhere for a knight in shining armor. Trying to forget him, Rose goes to college, takes up with a sword-wielding band of brothers, and starts an investigation into her family’s past that proves increasingly mysterious. Then a tragic accident occurs, and Fish, assisted by Rose’s new friends, finds himself drawn into a search through a tangle of revenge and corruption that might be threatening Rose’s very life. The climax is a crucible of fear, fight, and fire that Fish must pass through to reach Rose and conquer his dragons.
It is difficult to capture the essence of this story coherently because it touches upon so many aspects of life. There is the mystery, of course, and continuing depth of family loyalty amongst the Briers. The craziness of those first years experienced when young adults leave their nest and venture into the outer world of college life, whether as newbie freshmen or advanced graduate students. Unlikely friendships as the strong nurture the weak with Kateri mentoring Donna in her mental illness, and Rose guiding Fish through abuse recovery. Fish’s loyalty to Rose, taken to the extreme, becomes unforgiving. But then self-denigration turns into enlightenment and hope.
And after all of that is said, we are left with the relationship of Fish and Rose finally reaching a neat and tidy conclusion :>)
The girls have progressed in the series to young adults. Blanche just married Bear and Rose is off to college. Fish continues in his college program too. Doman shows us the challenges young adults face when they first enter the world on their own, particularly in making friends and exploring crushes. We can imagine ourselves engaged in the chit chat and horseplay typical in budding relationships. Important also is the picture implanted in our mind of courtship.
Throughout the story, we can see the existence of three pillars: faith, family and friends. Whenever one of these pillars is weakened, internal conflict and unsafe situations arise. Maintaining the balance, we see Rose’s keen ability for discernment that has been honed as a result of consistency in faith life, family home “culture, and choice of friends. Her discernment is key to good decisions, keeping safe, etc.
Going beyond stereotypes, the dialogue paints a clear picture of the perceptions held by non-Christians against Christians, countered with a realistic portrayal of the passionate young Christian student. Previous books portrayed ac
Sexuality in art is a very personal thing, expressed and interpreted in many different ways. What does sexuality in art mean to you?
That depends on what you mean by “personal.” It’s true, of course, we all experience our own erotic and aesthetic emotions personally, but they are experienced in relation to other people or things. And the categories of “Sexuality” and “art” are social and collective. Different cultures create and develop them in different ways. The book is about hose patterns.
One of the primary ways our culture has defined art and sexuality is as expressions of individualism — that is as “personal.” Our culture puts huge — probably historically unprecedented — value on the idea of individualism. Because we have made art and sexuality primary markers of individualism, they are enormously important to our culture. Just look at the expenditures of time and money we devote to them — and at the intense pleasures and frustrations they bring us.
But if we look at how tastes change — takes in sex and in art — we see that they do so across cultures. It’s paradoxical but true: our sense of what individualism is is shared and collective.
What this book does is trace the way modern culture conjoined the kinds of individualism represented by the “artist” and the “homosexual” so that these were seen as closely interrelated types: outsiders, sensitive to aesthetics, who gravitated to cities and shocked conventional sensibilities by acting on their unconventional impulses.
As you say in the book, “it is one thing to sell copies of a book with a lesbian plot that can be secreted in personal libraries, and quite another to market an expensive painting that marks the buyer’s rooms for any visitor to see.” (pg. 76) Could you further discuss the differences and similarities between the acceptance of paintings, prints, and sculptures versus other forms of art (including literature and film)?
One of the great modern myths is that the art-world “avant-garde” is a realm of radical, free-wheeling, anything goes experimentation. The persistence of this myth is evidenced of its importance to our culture’s ideas about individualism, because if you think about it rationally for two seconds, the myth simply can’t be true.
Historically the “avant-garde” was created by the upper-middle classes, who paid for it by subsidizing its institutions, buying its products, entertaining its members. Clearly, the “avant-garde” produced something that the wealthy classes wanted. That something was exemplary individualism, but it had to be a kind of individualism that did not fundamentally threaten established values. This is the fundamental dilemm
New York has just become the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage, together with Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa, and the District of Columbia. New Jersey, Maryland, and Rhode Island have not legalized same-sex marriage, but they do recognize those performed in other states. State by state, the dominoes against same-sex marriage are falling away as surely as reason must conquer unreason. President Barack Obama has been accused of allowing a state governor, Mario Cuomo, to be the leader on this issue. But on this issue, Obama’s hesitation and characteristic equivocation might turn out to be strategically, if unintentionally, wise, because civil rights issues are most effectively advanced by state legislatures, not national institutions.
Consider the bittersweet record of the Civil Rights movement. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the lesser known Loving v. Virginia (1967) (which legalized inter-racial marriage) were landmark Supreme Court decisions. But they created decades of backlash, most easily exemplified by the busing controversy as well as the “special rights” retort — the argument that a too-ready conferral of alleged rights to identity groups creates an atomistic society and a government with more obligations than it can or ought to fulfill — the lead argument against affirmative action policies today. In 1967, the year inter-racial marriage was made legal by “judicial activism,” 72 percent of Americans were opposed to inter-racial marriage. It was not until 1991, 35 years later, that these Americans became a minority. Brown and Loving gave us the right decisions, but not necessary with the smartest strategy.
The history of the same-sex marriage movement in the mid-2000s exhibited the same one step forward, two step backwards tendency when it tried to follow in the strategic footsteps of the Civil Rights movement, by way of Courts. In 2004, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts declared, in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, that it’s inconsistent with the State’s constitution to limit marriage only to opposite-sex couples. Massachusetts became the first US state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; a triumphant first hurrah, but ultimately a harbinger of backlash, including a national movement to amend the US constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and the passage of amendments in 11 state constitutions to the same on election day. 2004 would be remembered as the of anti-same-sex-marriage backlash, not the year when the movement for marriage equality started.
But something remarkable happened in the last few years, when the movement decided that the “special rights” retort was too powerful to overcome. The movement suspended its alliance with the Courts, and turned, as presidential candidates must, to a state-by-state strategy. In doing this, the movement drove a knife into the the heart of the anti-same-sex-marriage argument. The argument against “activist judges” — a procedural argument that disguises the moral disgust — cannot stand when state legislatures comprised of elected officials redefine the meaning of marriage. Just seven years after a national hysteria against “judicial activism,” conservative groups are now left with one of two choices: either come out (no pun intended) and articulate the real moral or religious reasons why they are against same-se
“Growth of Overt homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern”
-New York Times (headline in 1963)
The world recoiled when the gay community started receiving credit for its influence in fashion and culture, but at least, according to Christopher Reed, they were being acknowledged. In his new book Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas, Reed argues that for some time the professional art world plain ignored the gay presence.
We had the chance to speak with Reed recently at his Williams Club talk, where he laid out the tumultuous relationship between art and activism. Below we present a few of the controversial things we learned.
1.) Art that didn’t get a chance…
During the most formative years of the gay rights movement in the 70s and on through the late 80s, arts publications and professionals, and even museums like the Museum of Modern Art, ignored imagery associated with gay and lesbian identity. Imagery like the graffiti pictured below which emerged in urban areas during the 70s:
Grafitti on “The Rocks,” Lincoln Park, Chicago, mid-1990s.
According to Reed, “These sites of visual history were destroyed with no organized documentation when rising property values prompted local governments to reclaim these areas.”
Is right for people to ban art today? Even if it’s in the imaginary town of Pawnee, Indiana? Reed surprised us with his answer, making us consider that there’s actually a worse kind of censorship. Listen below to hear what he said.
Censorship is an interesting question because there are overt examples of censorship like what just happened with the Hide/Seek show and the David Wojnarowicz piece, where particular politicians make a statement to their constituency by removing something that’s on exhibition. And then the kind of thing that you’re talking about where institutions simply don’t show things or don’t buy things – in the case of libraries – or don’t do things or don’t let particular people in, which often doesn’t read as censorship because people never realize what they could be seeing or could be reading, or could be going on, because the institution has already created a kind of logic in which that kind of thing doesn’t exist.
And so in a lot of ways I actually think that’s the most dangerous kind of censorship because people aren’t aware of it and they can’t make a
It is noteworthy when eight ideologically diverse justices of the U.S. Supreme Court all decide a First Amendment case the same way. Thus, Snyder v. Phelps is a noteworthy decision. The Westboro Baptist Church is well-known for its demonstrations at military funerals. Indeed, the Westboro Church, led by (and, some say, principally consisting of) the Phelps family, has the rare distinction of having been denounced by both Jon Stewart and Mike Huckabee.
Members of the Westboro Church demonstrated near the Maryland funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, killed in action in Iraq. Mr. Albert Snyder, the corporal’s father, sued the Westboro Church and its members for various torts including intentional infliction of emotional distress. Mr. Snyder prevailed in a jury trial. In invalidating the jury’s verdict, the U.S. Supreme Court, except for Justice Alito, said that the Church and its members were exercising their free speech rights in a constitutionally-protected fashion.
As the Court described the facts of the case, it is hard to disagree with this conclusion. According to those facts, the Westboro Church and its members told the local authorities of their intention to demonstrate at the time of the Snyder funeral and “complied with police instructions in staging their demonstration.” The Westboro demonstrators stayed “behind a temporary fence…approximately 1,000 feet from the church where the funeral was held.” The demonstrators went neither to the church where the funeral was held nor to the cemetery, and were nonviolent throughout their demonstration.
The problem is: Those were not all the facts of the case. Only Justice Alito confronted this reality. After the funeral, a member of the Westboro Church posted on the Church’s website a hate-filled message aimed specifically at the Snyder family. Among its other assertions, this website message accused Mr. and Mrs. Snyder of having “raised [Matthew] for the devil.” The Snyders, the web message continued, “taught Matthew to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery.” Then the Snyders sent their son “to fight for the United States of Sodom, a filthy country that is in lock step with his evil, wicked, and sinful manner of life.”
Media accounts of the Court’s decision have largely ignored this web-based attack on the Snyders. Media accounts have also largely ignored the eight Justices’ acknowledgment that, if this web-based attack is considered, Westboro and its members may indeed have stepped over the line, forfeiting First Amendment protection by this vicious internet attack on the Snyder family. As Chief Justice Roberts put it in a footnote to his majority opinion, this “Internet posting may raise distinct issues in this context,” issues which the Court declined to consider because of the failure of the Snyders to press this point in their petition to the high court.
Justice Alito disagreed with his colleagues in his willingness to confront the facts of the case as they were presented to the jury: Westboro and
Someone, after watching my It Gets Better video, asked me if it was okay to use the word queer. I appreciated the question. I know it’s not always easy to know what is “right” or politically okay–AND it also varies from person to person, depending, of course, on their experiences, their backgrounds, their ways of thinking.
I self-identify as a lesbian woman, as queer, as a dyke. I’ve preferred “lesbian” for a lot of years. I am lesbian. I don’t identify as “gay” because to me that means a gay man–and I feel like, as so often happens in our society, women are left out of the picture. It took me many years, but I finally reclaimed the word “dyke”, and, years after that, “queer.” I think of it as reclaiming–loving and embracing words that other people have used to hurt me (and others). Knowing that if, to me, they simply mean I’m a woman who loves women (or one woman) then it doesn’t have the same power to hurt me, and can be healing. They feel like positive words to me now–and I’m glad of that.
That’s my personal take on it. It will vary among others.
What’s your take on it?
P.S. Thank you so much everyone who’s been sharing my It Gets Better video! It’s very important to me, and I really appreciate your helping to spread the word!
Can you believe the word “bromance” has now made it into the accepted lexicon through its addition to the New Oxford American Dictionary? I, for one, could not be more tickled. Imagine: men now have their own word that captures our platonic affection for each other. Will “manfriend” be far behind?
To what can we credit this? Men have always had guy friends but, until fairly recently, showing affection physically and verbally toward that guy might brand you as gay. Many years ago – think back to the 19th century and earlier – it was okay for men to share their affection for each other. Sociologist Peter Nardi notes that men would express love to each other in their letters. Abraham Lincoln, before he became president, shared his bed with his good friend, Joshua Speed. These non-sexual relationships, born in Lincoln’s case out of financial necessity and physical warmth on cold Springfield nights, became frowned upon by the late 19th century. With changing women’s roles and with blacks entering the workforce, white men were threatened. They adopted a hyper-sexualized sense of masculinity, according to sociologist Michael Kimmel, which came to exclude the physical and emotional expression of positive feelings towards another man. Freudian psychology further concretized beliefs about “normal” development which did include homosexuality. All of this fit well within the American culture’s sense of “rugged individualism” that obtains to some extent today. Many heterosexual men would not feel comfortable today sharing a bed with another man or going to an intimate French restaurant and opening a bottle of Pinot Noir. Relocate to the sports bar instead. There, men can carry out their shoulder-to-shoulder friendships as they get together with friends to “do something.” Contrast that with women’s face-to-face friendships where they feel more comfortable talking to each other without the distractions of sports.
Given this, it is interesting that the culture has grown within the last few years to allow men the freedom again of expressing their affection for each other. Movies like, “I Love You, Man” starring Paul Rudd have helped. Commercials that joke about men being close with each other also help. To my thinking, anything that allows men (and women) to express themselves more openly is a good thing. If giving a term to close male friendships is what it takes, I am for it because people with friends live longer, healthier lives.
3 gay teens committed suicide in the past year at the same school–Anoka-Hennepin School District–because of homophobic bullying and harassment. I can’t believe teachers!–and students–think that’s okay.
Please, sign the petition to ask for change and a safe school atmosphere for all students.
The New York Times magazine ran an interesting article recently about kids coming out in middle school — in Oklahoma.
Lots of great quotes from the kids, but my favorite was this one:
Alison turned to me and recalled a recent “lesbian moment” of hers. “I totally had the hots for this girl in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ ” she said with a giggle. “I was, like, ‘Whoa, I’m really attracted to you right now!’ ”
The New York Times ran a story the other day about a recent addition to the family of the authors of And Tango Makes Three. Last February Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell became the proud parents of a daughter named Gemma, born to a surrogate mother. “We tried to incubate a rock and that didn’t work,” said Justin. You think they would have learned.
Tango has been back in the news this fall during Banned Books Week, as it topped ALA’s list of Most Challenged Books for the second year in a row.
Rocco Staino reports in the Oct 21 edition of “Extra Helping” from School Library Journal that author Lauren Myracle has refused to bow to pressure from Scholastic to remove lesbian moms from her new middle-grade series, Luv Ya Bunches. The series is being published by Amulet and has been selected for the Scholastic Book Club, but in order to have the book featured in the Scholastic Book Fairs, Myracle was asked to clean up some of the language (”geez,” “crap,” etc — to which I say “Geez!” and “Crap!”) and to change one of the character’s lesbian moms into a mom and a dad.
She was willing to change the language but refused to budge on the lesbian moms, saying: “A child having same-sex parents is not offensive, in my mind, and shouldn’t be ‘cleaned up.’”
The book will still be included in the Scholastic Book Club catalog. Kids just won’t find it at any of their book fairs.
Hooray for Lauren Myracle for taking a stand on the issue, and for including the lesbian moms in the first place.
A joyous look at a family with two mothers and children of all different colors, this book is filled with laughter and love. Children who live in all sorts of families will find themselves at home here as we learn about favorite sun-filled rooms, the surprise of puppies, building a treehouse, and a colorful blockparty. The book basks in normalcy, family and everyday moments that mean so much to children. There is a moment when a neighbor expresses her fear about their lifestyle, but that incident too is handled with a gentleness and grace that marks this entire picture book. As the children grow into adulthood, we get to see the wonderful job of parenting come to fruition. Most picture books would not need this button at the end, but in this case, it was important to underline this.
Polacco has created a complete vision of a family here. Readers get to see them be together for important events and everyday moments. Her writing invites us into their lives, demonstrates their love for each other and their children, and leaves us hoping that we as parents can do this well. Children of gay and lesbian parents will find this book a wonderful mirror of their lives, celebrating what two parents of any sex can create in a family. Polacco’s art enhances the story, underlining the warmth and love that is inherent in the book.
An important book to have in public libraries, this is a real celebration of families and the many forms they come in. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, and is appointed in the Law School, Philosophy Department, and Divinity School. She is the founder and coordinator of the Center for Comparative Constitutionalism. Her book, From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation & Constitutional Law argues that disgust has been among the fundamental motivations of those who are fighting for a variety of legal restrictions affecting lesbian and gay citizens. In the excerpt below Nussbaum uses religious history as a metaphor to inspire us to treat all citizens as equals regardless of sexual orientation.
Many of the first American colonists came to the New World in search of religious freedom. Dissenters of many types from the Anglican orthodoxy of Britain…they sought both the freedom to express their beliefs without penalty and the freedom to practice their chosen forms of worship. Often, they failed to connect their search to politics of respect and toleration inclusive of those who disagreed with them…
Gradually, however, the very experience of living – often in taxing physical conditions – with people whose religious convictions differed from their own led many colonists to the realization that a good common life, and perhaps survival itself, required protecting religious liberty for all, and doing so with an even hand. Such policies had practical sources: people needed one another’s help if they were going to flourish in the new land…They began to notice that it was possible to live together on the basis of a moral consensus about values such as fairness, honesty, and impartiality, without necessarily agreeing on theological principles…
The trend in favor of religious liberty emerged, then, from the very experience of living together. It also had a theoretical foundation, in the idea of conscience that many if not most of the new settlers brought with them…According to this view, all human beings have a capacity for searching for life’s ultimate significance and moral basis – for the meaning of life, we might say. This capacity is a key part of what constitutes our dignity as human beings. Conscience is present in all human beings, regardless of their beliefs, and it is present equally…
The early settlers were very far from having a view that many if not most Americans now have – namely, that many, or even all, religions are legitimate paths to salvation. Virtually none of the early colonists accepted such a view. They all though that many of their fellow citizens were damned…We should not delude ourselves into thinking, then, that the policies of religious respect and fairness that gradually came to dominate in the colonies, shaping our Constitution, were inspired by respect for differing religious beliefs and practices. Rather, they were inspired by a more basic underlying idea of respect for persons, for our fellow citizens as bearers of human dignity and conscience…Because human beings are of equal worth, conscience is deserving of equal respect.
…The American tradition…argues that respecting conscience involves granting ample liberty to each person to pursue his or her own way in matters of conscience. Roger Williams used two illuminating metaphors. Conscience, he said, must not be imprisoned – meaning that people must be given plenty of space to practice their religions, including acts of worship that
School Library Journal has the story that the 2010 Lammy Award Finalists have been announced. The Lambda Literary Award is given to books that show excellence in the field of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender literature. The nominees for children’s and teen literature are:
I often lecture on the topic of sexual orientation. When I do, I sometimes mention research on finger lengths: according to several studies, the index fingers of lesbians are slightly shorter than those of straight women, when measured with respect to the other fingers. As I describe this research, I invariably see audience members examining their own fingers, as if doing so might reveal something unexpected about their sexuality. I hasten to make clear that the findings on finger lengths are based on statistical analysis of data from hundreds or thousands of subjects—they can’t be used to assess the sexual orientation of any particular individual.
Yet I myself use the “me test” as a gut reaction to any reported findings in the field. Not to figure out whether I’m really gay—I’ve been confident on that score since puberty—but as a quick, involuntary assessment of whether I believe that particular finding or not. As a teenager, for example, I read Freud’s theory of how close-binding mothers and distant or hostile fathers drive their sons toward homosexuality. This seemed to correspond to my own childhood experience: I was my mother’s favorite son, whereas I got on badly with my father. So I thought Freud must have been right. Now I believe that the direction of causation is the reverse of what Freud imagined: “pre-gay” boys tend to elicit adoration or protectiveness from their mothers, but rejection from their fathers.
Recent research has focused on gender-related traits in gay people. There have been over ninety such findings in the last couple of decades, covering personality, cognitive traits, behavior, anatomy (including the finger-length studies), physiology, and brain organization. Most have reported that gay men are shifted in the feminine direction in some traits, whereas lesbians and bisexual women are shifted in the masculine direction. As each study appears, I can’t help asking: is it true for me? Gay men (like straight women) have higher verbal fluency than straight men—check! Gay men have lower visuospatial abilities that straight men—check! Gay men have slightly shorter arms—check! I seem to be a pretty stereotypical gay man in many of these traits. Most researchers interpret these findings in terms of a biological predisposition to become gay or straight—a predisposition that results from an interaction between sex hormones and the developing brain and body. I certainly buy into that.