Pity the Poor Oppressed Majority

How do you separate the art from the artist when the artist is such a flatulating asshole? Also: why the hypocrisy that makes me so angry might actually be a harbinger of oncoming poetic justice.

Over on The Gameological Society, there’s an interesting article by Bob Mackey, in which he talks about a recent Kickstarter campaign for a video game and ultimately, whether there’s any validity to the concept of separating an artist’s work from the actions and beliefs of the artist herself.

In this case, the artist in question is Doug TenNapel, creator of Earthworm Jim and designer of the newly Kickstarted game, which is a spiritual successor to 90s claymation adventure game The Neverhood. As promotion for the campaign built up, a writer for the GayGamer blog sent out a link to one of his own articles from 2011, pointing out some inflammatory anti-gay comments that TenNapel had made in the comments for one of his webcomics.

I was aware enough of TenNapel’s work to be able to recognize the name, and I had the vague idea that his political beliefs were diametrically opposed to mine, to say the least. I didn’t know much more, other than that a lot of people I respect were personal friends of his, and a lot of friends and co-workers were big fans. So for me, it was jarring to see my Twitter and Facebook feeds filling up with people excited about the Kickstarter and recommending that everyone back it, while on another page here was the guy comparing homosexual relationships to “letting a man take a dump in the ladies room.” I was incensed.

But in retrospect: should I have been so harsh? Those comments were from two years ago; do I want to be the person that holds every single thing a person says against him, indefinitely? I’m pretty certain I’ve never said anything as offensive as his analogy, but I have said a lot of things online in the heat of the moment; would I want to have those shoved in my face every few years? And sure, I’m reading his Tweets and every one of them is making my blood pressure go up a notch, but maybe he just gets defensive and doesn’t respond well to criticism? If he really were as loathsome as the impression I’m getting, why would so many people be giving him a pass on it? I know that before I came out, I was a pretty big homophobe, so I know from experience that attitudes can change drastically over time. How can I know whether he still holds the same views he expressed in that conversation?

A Martyr In the War for the Sanctity of Our Bathrooms

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Much like Beetlejuice, TenNapel will appear anywhere on the internet after his name is intoned enough times. And he won’t leave you wondering for too long exactly what his opinions are. And as it turns out, I’m left with the impression that I wasn’t harsh enough.

If you look through the comments thread for that Gameological post, you’ll see Mr. TenNapel leap in to attack the writer and make his case in response to the other comments. And it’s a non-stop parade of false equivalences, ignorance, bigotry, claims so false they’re nonsensical, and case after case of the tiresome, paranoid martyrdom of self-described conservatives who refuse to understand the concept of “tolerance.”

Among everything else, he says that his “take a dump in the ladies room” comment was taken out of context. If like me, you were wondering in what context it was appropriate to compare the loving relationship of two adults to taking a dump, then rest assured that TenNapel is just talking about how there are rigid exclusive sexual roles that everyone understands. He points out that he apologized for the comment in that GayGamer comment thread (and he did, more or less), and it becomes clear that he was apologizing for the “crassness” of the phrase “take a dump” itself. Actually comparing marriage to defecation is A-OK.

And not just defecation! At various points, he manages to compare homosexuality to Mormonism, Scientology, polygamy, and in a sense, Christianity. Don’t worry about the last one, in case it seems out of place; the comparison is only that they’re both belief systems that people are persecuted for. There’s really no point in treating any of it as grounds for conversation. If someone in the United States in 2013 is still unclear on the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual preference, he’s either never spoken to a gay person, or he’s been refusing to listen.

I’m more inclined to believe the latter, because throughout, he repeatedly insists that he’s the victim of character assassination from The Left. That the whole question of marriage equality (or “gay marriage,” since he’s still living in 2005 apparently) is nothing more than political theater, a culture war that secular leftists are waging on free-thinking, conservative Christians like Mr. TenNapel.

You really shouldn’t have to keep explaining this to a functional adult, but: if you get your way, my government denies me access to one of the most basic and fundamental of societal institutions. If I get my way, your life is not affected in the slightest. That’s not a political difference; that’s injustice. And what’s more, as loathsome as I find Mr. TenNapel, no matter how toxic his opinions are, or how opinions like his have made a travesty of American politics, or how much he’s corrupting my chosen religion by using it as a shield while refusing to hold to its most basic tenets of love, compassion, charity, responsibility and humility — even with all that, I’d never attempt to denigrate his marriage or deny him the ability to raise children. And that’s why I’m right, and that’s why I’m eventually going to win.

But, again. Nothing new. It’s so old, in fact, that I’ve been complaining about it for at least five years. The culture of victimization among self-proclaimed conservatives, who insist that there must be a leftist agenda setting traps for them in an attempt to control how everybody thinks. And all because they lack the most basic capacity for empathy. They insult or actively seek to harm people different from them, then cry “liberal intolerance!” and claim that they’re being repressed by people who think differently from them. All with no apparent sense of irony.

Just Business

The only reason I find it worth mentioning at all is because of the sheer weight of persecution that TenNapel has to bear, simply for being a conservative Christian who supports traditional marriage. I hope that that Kickstarter has a stretch goal of getting him a new Victim Card, because the one he has has been played so often, it’s in shreds.

In those comment threads and on his Twitter account (and presumably, elsewhere), he says repeatedly that sinister forces are smearing him and threatening his projects. (And still, somehow, they’re ultimately ineffectual because for every $1 he gets denied, someone else contributes $2 because they like to be able to think for themselves. But they’re still sinister and threatening the downfall of Christianity and ruining America). He went to the other people involved with the project and warned them that they’d get criticism from his involvement, but they stuck with him. All just because he’s brave enough to speak his mind.

And he’s not affected by any boycotts, but won’t we think of the poor homosexuals? His team is very inclusive, and it’s clear he doesn’t “hate” gay people because he works with many of them. Because, as we all know, gay people might not be good enough to get married or raise children, but at least they’re good enough to work to profit Mr. TenNapel. So when anyone boycotts the project because of TenNapel’s involvement, all they’re really doing is hurting all the innocent LGBT folks trying to make a video game.

Seeing that idea repeated over and over has finally clarified how I feel about the whole concept of “separate the art from the artist.” Since I’ve complained about this several times, as it relates to video games and comic books and chicken sandwiches, it might seem like I’d already made up my mind. But that’s not the case; I’ve tried to keep an open mind and tried to remind myself that some people just see a clearer line dividing a product from its creator.

But TenNapel’s repeated protestations make it clear that he wants nothing more than to shift all blame and culpability to other people. If you don’t back this project simply because of something he said, then you are hurting all the other people who worked on it. He warned everyone that there’d be this reaction because of other people who don’t like what he says. He’d be totally willing to remove his name from the project if it would help get it funded now that other people are raising a big stink.

Nowhere is there any sense of his responsibility. Nowhere does he make the connection “I say stupid shit about LGBT people, it ends up hurting this project that LGBT people are working on, maybe I should stop saying stupid shit.” Because that would be caving to the liberal agenda, and denying his commitment to Christianity on account of all that stuff Jesus said about marriage being all about genitalia.

Every single time something like this comes up, there are those who complain that boycotts create a chilling effect. And that’s bullshit. What they do is create a world where words and actions have consequence. Where people actually have to stop and think about how they’re affecting the other people they’re sharing the planet with. And you don’t get a pass for being a jack-ass just because you draw comics or wrote Ender’s Game or make delicious sandwiches.

(Incidentally, in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I was never interested in Earthworm Jim, and that I tried to play The Neverhood but didn’t get very far before I completely lost interest. That’s not meant to add to the dogpile, or denigrate anybody else’s enjoyment of them or excitement about the project; they’re just not my thing. I only mention it to admit that I’m not at all conflicted when I complain about this stuff. Every time I pass by a Chick-fil-a, it’s with a heavy heart, but I wouldn’t have backed this game regardless).

As far as I know, the game’s already gotten funded, several times over, in fact. I don’t have any particular interest in sabotaging it. But I do find it hypocritical to claim that it’s just business, that there’s anything mature or noble in enjoying one part of what a person puts into the world while ignoring the rest. It seems to me to say, “I’m going to remain free to say and do whatever I want, to give money to whichever cause I choose, without regard for whom it’s hurting. And you’re not only entitled but obligated to make sure that I’m not affected by my actions at all. Because to do otherwise would be petty.”

And it’s always pointed out that the people involved are wealthy or at least successful enough that they’re not impacted at all by a boycott. (But it’s still really bad that you’d suggest boycotting it, for some reason). That’s always designed to make it sound like your protest is pointless. To me, it just sounds like another way to try and denigrate the people who are protesting, to remind us that we’re powerless. My protest is a lot more valuable to me than the $10 pledge or $5 combo meal is to them. To paraphrase Mr. TenNapel: America has thousands of jerks unable to find funding for their projects every day. Take a number.

The New Closet

The real reason I’ve been thinking about this, though, is that I’m seeing a little bit of encouragement in the things that used to infuriate me. I’ve always been annoyed by comments that suggest we need to be patient before people are treated equally. That fairness takes time. I still don’t agree with that on the legal side; you shouldn’t need to wait for justice, and it’s still a travesty to put a minority’s rights up for popular vote. But on the social side, it’s heartening to see what a dramatic change has taken place just in the few years since I’ve been out.

I’ve always hated the hypocrisy of people in the majority claiming that they’re the victims. I get angry when they try to make it sound as if some cabal of Homo Leftist Atheists have constructed some Politically Correct PRISM program that monitors everything people say, just waiting for them to slip up and utter an un-approved phrase so that they can swoop in and attack. As America’s Sweetheart Ann Coulter once lamented, liberals have made it so that you can’t say the word “faggot” anymore without being sent to rehab.

And now, I keep seeing all these self-described conservatives simply overwhelmed with paranoia over Liberal Thoughtcrimes. They have to change all their terminology, so that bigotry becomes “tradition” and laws that break up families are called “family oriented.” They complain that their free-thinking ways are being oppressed by a society that hates them simply for being different. And they go absolutely ape-shit denying it whenever you call them a “bigot” even though honestly, girlfriend, please. It’s so obvious.

And it reminds me of how miserable it was to spend years watching what I said, afraid that I’d admit to liking someone it wasn’t socially acceptable for me to like, or that I’d use the pronoun it wasn’t socially acceptable for me to use. The constant everyone knows paranoia, the fear that I’d be shunned if anyone found out my terrible secret.

Except now, I can casually talk about my boyfriend, and admit to liking Russell Crowe movies for reasons other than “he seems like a pretty cool guy.” I was ashamed of something I never should’ve been ashamed of, and now the truly shameful behavior is being relegated to the closet. And I’m just petty enough to be enjoying the poetic justice of that.

Krypto-Bigotry

Belated thoughts on Truth, Justice, and putting an end to a pernicious claim about Freedom of Speech.

KryptoalexrossLast week, Chris Sprouse withdrew himself from the first issue of the upcoming series Adventures of Superman, in which he was originally going to illustrate a story written by Orson Scott Card. That decision effectively put an end to the anger and indignation a lot of comics readers (myself included) felt at seeing DC Comics put a spotlight on the work of a virulent, outspoken homophobe like Card. It started a whole new wave of indignation from people on the internet who insist they’re very invested in the First Amendment.

As for why the issue angered so many people, you’re not going to find a better summation than Glen Weldon’s essay on NPR.org:

But when we do see [Superman] for the very first time, these are the first words that appear directly below, the first epithet applied to this newly-minted creation as it was unleashed upon the world:

Champion of the Oppressed.

There it is, coded into his creative DNA from the very beginning: He fights for the little guy.

And that’s why this bugs me, and why I’m not the least bit curious about what Card’s Superman might be like.

DC Comics has handed the keys to the “Champion of the Oppressed” to a guy who has dedicated himself to oppress me, and my partner, and millions of people like us. It represents a fundamental misread of who the character is, and what he means.

(Incidentally: I think that a lot of other writers, when trying to summarize the whole story, over-sold the idea that the character of Superman has particular resonance with gay people. I don’t think he does; Weldon does a good job making it clear that Superman is everybody’s hero, and no particular group has any special or specific ownership of him. It is an interesting idea, though, that Superman is a long-lasting and purely secular symbol of goodness, truth, and justice, which could appeal to a lot of gay people who feel that religion has abandoned or betrayed them).

As for me, I’m really glad to see Card being held accountable for his statements and his actions. Even if it is just in the court of public opinion, since DC stuck with their decision to hire Card, and Sprouse distanced himself from the controversy but not Card himself. Still, blogs and comments can be enough in this case. There tends to be a kind of lazy defeatism disguised as cynicism whenever ethics meets commerce, where we hear “It’s just business!” used as an excuse for everything from giving production money & producer credit to a bigot, to publishing “speculative” fiction from a murderer.

It’s nice to see more people slowly realizing that only courts and governments are obligated to remain impartial. Commerce, on the other hand, is all about playing favorites, rewarding the people that you like and refusing to support the ones that you don’t. Anybody who tells you that’s not the case — whether it’s in regards to comics, advertising campaigns, or chicken sandwiches — has an agenda of his own.

That’s what started me down this train of thought: a few hours spent following a chain of links across the internet, the kind of thing you can really only do when you’re supposed to be busy doing something else. It started with this series of articles about comics retailers’ reactions to the Adventures of Superman controversy, then eventually made its way to comics writer & editor Mark Waid’s twitter feed and his attempts to deal with pinheads talking about the freedom of speech.

It’s not about homophobia, or misogyny, or racism: certainly not. The people eager to defend Card, or Frank Miller, or Mark Millar, are eager to explain that the big picture is about the importance of the free exchange of ideas, even if those ideas are repugnant to us. In the past, I’ve always tried to keep an open mind and accept arguments like that at face value. I still think they’re dead wrong, but I never thought they were being duplicitous. It was just a different viewpoint and different set of priorities than my own.

But last week I started following some of the commenters on those blog posts, and the people screaming at Mark Waid on Twitter. And I was genuinely surprised to find that without exception, every single one of the people insisting that it was about freedom of speech and not homophobia, could be found elsewhere on the internet arguing against marriage equality.

And you don’t even have to look that closely, and you certainly don’t have to get into creepy invasion-of-privacy territory; it’s right there in their twitter feeds or comments on other blog posts. I’d always assumed that there was a bell curve to these discussions, with the actual outright homophobes being a relative minority, but it turns out that I’d just never bothered to actually follow up on that assumption. It’s revealing to see the free speech that free speech advocates actually engage in when they think nobody’s listening.

Am I claiming that it’s impossible that people could be arguing for Card’s freedom of speech without undermining the rights and equality of gay people? I don’t ever like to say something’s “impossible” — for instance, I’m not willing to completely rule out the possibility that a man can fly. I’ve just never seen anyone do it.

I’m not claiming that everybody who waves the freedom of speech flag is a homophobe, just that a depressing majority of them are. One obvious exception would be comic book (and occasionally video game) writer Peter David. He’s an outspoken proponent of marriage equality and gay rights in general, has been since long before it was “fashionable,” and he’s been awarded for his support. (I also just found out through a web search that Mr. David recently suffered a stroke, and his website has information on how you can help him recover and help with his medical bills).

He also wrote dialogue for a video game that was based on an IP by Orson Scott Card. A few years ago, that game created a controversy similar to that around Adventures of Superman. In response, Mr. David vehemently argued against a boycott of the game, describing the “chilling effect” that can happen when an artist’s work is punished for the views of the artist himself.

It’d be idiotic to even imply that Mr. David’s argument was homophobic, but he was still dead wrong. The problem is that it’s not possible to defend Card’s rights without undermining the rights of me and other gay people.

Obviously, there’s my right to get married without some lunatic Mormon threatening to overthrow the government. Most of the media coverage around the issue of marriage equality is phrased in terms of opinion polls and the turning tide of sentiment among particular demographics and popular votes. That can make it sound like equality is a matter of opinion, like your favorite color or whether you enjoy bacon. But the fact is that there’s a blatant inequality in the US. Thinking of it as a difference of opinion is much like asking someone’s opinion whether the Earth is flat or dinosaurs coexisted with humans. The situation is unfair; the only difference of opinion is whether you believe it’s all right that it’s unfair.

On top of that is the attempt to frame it as a question of freedom of religion — President Obama and others have been extremely careful not to offend any religious groups by asserting that adults in the United States should be able to marry the people they love. The unspoken message there, of course, is that everyone else’s right to freedom of religion trumps our right to marry.

It’s the same whenever an artist’s work raises threats of a boycott: the artist’s freedom of speech is sacrosanct! What’s unspoken is that Card’s right to say that homosexuals are weak-willed and mentally ill trumps my right to say that nobody should give money to a bigoted asshole. We’re told that by trying to silence Card, we’re killing a society that thrives on the free exchange of contrary ideas.

Bullshit. In fact, the usual response to that is to point out the basics of free speech and commerce: it’s not censorship because we’re not trying to silence opposing viewpoints, we’re merely choosing not to support them. I don’t think that’s even necessary. I sure am trying to silence Card. His writing is toxic and provides absolutely no benefit to society. He deserves to be silenced. We needn’t entertain his opinions any more than we should be encouraging those who advocate teaching creationism as science, or making anti-vaccination claims that have no basis in science.

Chastising me for advocating a boycott against a homophobe is like seeing me take an antibiotic and protesting for the right to life of the bacteria. It fails for the same reason that right-wingers’ idiotic complaints of “liberal intolerance” against bigots are idiotic: because there’s no false equivalence or moral relativism involved; there’s right and wrong. The idea that any of us are obligated to support people who are in the wrong is ludicrous. And the idea that their right to spread their toxic beliefs trumps my right to call them toxic is offensive.

So the next time I read someone making a passionate statement in defense of a bigot’s right to express himself, I’m going to think about Superman. And how often he saved Lex Luthor’s life from some disaster of Luthor’s own creation, because it was the right thing to do, and that’s what Superman’s all about. And how every time, Luthor would immediately turn around and start thinking about how to destroy Superman. And how, after the first few times I saw this same cycle repeat itself, Superman started to seem like a real chump.

Logical Disasters

CNN is filled with people who don’t have enough sense to get in out of the rain during a hurricane. They’re still smarter than the yabbos paying them for advertising.

I’ve been watching CNN today for coverage of the storm, since a website can’t possibly help me understand the impact of the storm like a reporter standing in a foot of water and trying to shout over the wind can. It hasn’t taken long to be reminded why I stopped watching CNN, though: they’ll take advertising from anybody, apparently.

For starters, there’s this classic from 2010, paid for by Racist Citizens Against Accurate Information:

A mother-effing talking panda gives a pretty good overview of why the ad is stupid, and plenty of people have already complained about the ad in the two years since it was unleashed. But even if you were to ignore the fact that yes, the US still owns the bulk of its own debt, how could this scare tactic ad possibly make sense?

Let’s cut taxes to reduce the deficit, which will totally work, because of reasons. And the best way to avoid being under the grip of the evil Chinese is to reduce government spending and regulation, and instead turn essential services over to the private sector. Because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that American businesses absolutely hate dealing with China, what with their billions of potential customers in a growing economy, and their enormous work force that will tolerate worse working conditions than the US at a fraction of the cost of American employees.

There are also ads from billionaire Thomas Peterffy, which run every five minutes. (And to be fair, in front of every other YouTube video, so there’s no escaping it).

Peterffy has been pissed ever since Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was cancelled, and popular sentiment has turned away from thinking that super-rich people were totally the coolest. No, the big thing in America now is “bad-mouthing success.” He wants to dispel the notion that the rich spend their money frivolously and will stop at nothing to preserve their wealth. He wants people to understand that the rich encourage people to strive for something better, and they create jobs and opportunities for the poor.

So he spent millions of dollars to put 1-minute ads all over TV and YouTube in which he rambles about how socialism is bad. And he didn’t even hire a native English speaker to do the voice-over.

I’ve had to listen as otherwise intelligent people harangue me about the perils of socialism, as if they had any notion of what actual socialism is like. I’ve had to hear people insist that they’re socially progressive, but the economy is what’s most important, and somehow the GOP is about being fiscally conservative, even though that hasn’t been true in decades. (Assuming it ever was).

And of course, now as a huge storm is ravaging the east coast, we’re all being reminded of yet another of the 1000s of ways that the ridiculous state of the Republican platform simply makes no sense — Romney’s suggestion to privatize disaster relief, because to do otherwise would be “immoral.” And still, at least half the country is going to vote for these clowns, based either on claims that wouldn’t make sense even if they were part of a coherent plan; or even worse, based on the idea that there’s no appreciable difference between the two parties.

It’s making me wonder if maybe the storms aren’t God’s vengeance on the Gays, but God’s vengeance on people who refuse to think.

All We Are Saying Is Give Me a Sandwich

A clarification on what it means to make a statement.

FightrBST
In my rant about the inanity surrounding Chick-fil-a’s anti-gay rights stance, I didn’t make it very clear what I meant by saying “Going to Chick-fil-a isn’t making a statement.” Instead of editing that post, I’d rather take more room here to explain exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve seen a quite a few descriptions calling it “activism” when people headed to local Chick-fil-a restaurants on Huckabee’s CFA Appreciation Day. I’ve seen people calling it “making a statement.”

OldtimeyracistsI’ve seen lots of images like this one, comparing the people going to Chick-fil-a to the people who protested integration during the Civil Rights Movement, or the people trying to stop the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws to fight interracial marriages.

While perfectly well-intentioned, these images are doing a disservice to all the dumbfuck 1950s and 60s racists who turned out to protest. Because at least they were going somewhere they didn’t already want to be.

Taking a stand, fighting for what you believe in, and even making a statement requires at least a minimum of personal risk or sacrifice. You’re putting your personal safety at risk, you’re putting your money behind a cause, you’re taking the time to explain your position, or you’re putting yourself at risk of public disapproval for taking an unpopular position.

Having a delicious chicken sandwich for lunch does none of those things.

At least in the United States, we’ve almost completely lost the idea of what true activism actually is. The internet’s made it increasingly easier to “take a stand” without actually doing anything, apart from sending a link on Twitter (and now we can even just hit “Retweet”), or taking an image, writing something on it in Impact, and putting it up on Facebook. Even when people try to do a well-intentioned old-school protest like Occupy Wall Street, the message is all muddled, and it just opens itself up for mockery as much as any Love-In. Even when the cops come in with riot shields and people actually get hurt, it turns the message of income disparity into a message about the police state.

And I already said that anti-gay rights activists have grossly misrepresented themselves to the media. Instead of being ethical and accurately reporting on the situation, the media has simply transcribed their claims, dutifully used all the right-wing NewSpeak terminology like “defense of traditional marriage,” and presented it as a “controversy” or a “difference of opinion.” Whenever one of these bigots claims that his traditional values are under attack, or his religious beliefs are under attack, the media never questions it, and never points out the basic truth that they are the ones imposing their beliefs on a minority.

Once again: people fighting against marriage equality lose nothing, the minority of homosexuals lose everything.

What Huckabee has done is combine slacktivism with the already absurd oppressors-whining-that-they’re-being-oppressed hypocrisy of the fight against gay rights, into one elegantly meaningless day of eating fast food while pretending it’s some kind of statement.

It’s not even like they’re settling for Jack In The Box or anything.

So all the people interviewed at Chick-fil-a restaurants on August 1st: hope you enjoyed your lunch, you dumb fucks! Unlike that Yahoo! reporter, don’t expect me to give even the most infinitesimal shred of validity to your opinions, since you’ve done absolutely nothing to justify or defend those opinions.

(That goes almost as well for the gay couples pledging to show up at the restaurants for a “kiss-in” for anything other than a mockery of how absurd the whole thing is in the first place).

And I will say this, for all the “good for Chick-fil-a now I don’t gotta worry ’bout no fags given’ me AIDS sandwiches!!” morons, and the woman quoted as saying “We believe that scripturally, in the Bible, the Lord states that marriage is between a man and a woman. And marriage between two women together, two men together is detestable to him” in that Yahoo! article: yes, you are willfully ignorant bigots violating the very notion of religion and community, and you will know an eternity of torment as your tainted, corrupted soul will be forever barred from union with the purity of God’s light. But at least you’re taking the slightest, most inconsequential shred of a risk by saying something that’s not politically correct.

But this guy, on the other hand:

For those like John Mohler, 50, of Thornton, Colo., eating at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday was about defending free speech. Mohler said he doesn’t share Cathy’s belief–only his rights to air them.

“I’m not sure I agree with his position on gay marriage,” said Mohler, who drove to Englewood from downtown Denver on his lunch break. “But I applaud the owner for speaking his mind, and that’s why I’m here.”

Congratulations, sir! You are officially the Biggest Pussy In The United States. Not only are you “defending free speech” by going to a fast food restaurant on your lunch break, and not only are you giving money to organizations with a proven record of introducing anti-gay rights referendums in states all across the country specifically designed to limit the freedoms of strangers. You don’t even have the stones to admit that that’s what you’re doing.

If activism is so easy, then I’m going to make a statement of my own. Let’s see, I really like that Moose Tracks Ice Cream… oh, snap! Right here on the box, it says the milk comes from cows not treated with rBST! So yeah, I’m making a stand against bovine growth hormones! Take that, corporate farming fat cats! Don’t you try to suppress my freedom of speech! (Damn, how do they make these little peanut butter cups taste so good?)

As our economy falters and our long-standing industries fail; as we’re overtaken by other countries in education, public safety, quality of life, and scientific development; there is one thing that the United States of America has historically been excellent at doing, from the founding of the colonies through the turn of the 21st Century: using power and determination to actively suppress the rights of a minority.

And now you lazy fucks are even ruining that.

Critical Thinking Appreciation Day

I’d like to declare August 3rd as a day for everyone to show their support for not acting like a damn moron.

So what happened was this: Chick-fil-a COO Dan Cathy finally ended years of gossip and speculation on LGBT blogs by publicly coming out as being opposed to marriage equality. In response, arrogant, attention-whoring douchebag and amateur Fred Flintstone impersonator Mike Huckabee saw a perfect opportunity to pretend to be relevant to the GOP, and he announced a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on August 1st. It’d be the perfect opportunity for folks to visit a local restaurant and show their support for peanut oil and government imposition on the personal lives of strangers.

And then everybody else in the country responded by becoming a total idiot and missing the point entirely.

It’s bad enough that Huckabee and his pals have managed to turn up the volume on the usual background noise of dumb-assed bigotry. “Wait I thought it was okay for us to say faggot out loud again as long as we did it at the Chick-fil-a!” It’s bad enough that they’ve handed out new masks to people so they can try and disguise their bigotry as defense of free speech or religious freedom or free-market capitalism.

But stupid people are always going to be stupid. What’s the worst is seeing people who should know better taking a reasonable argument and then carrying it out to some ridiculous extreme. I keep seeing reactions from people — bloggers, Facebook commenters, stand-up routines, The Daily Show — that start out showing a real insight into what’s going on, then suddenly take a wild left turn into a boneheaded conclusion. For instance, This impassioned piece by the editor of The Advocate does a great job of explaining how it’s not just a difference of opinion and it’s not just the silly politicization of fast food. But then concludes by saying that’s why it’s okay for Rahm Emmanuel and Thomas Menino to pledge to block the opening of Chick-fil-a franchises in their cities. What?! No!

This isn’t about freedom of speech.
Most of the coverage plays Cathy’s “guilty as charged” quote and then cuts directly to people lining up in front of a restaurant. His statement isn’t the whole story, though. It’s his statement combined with documented proof that Chick-fil-a has donated millions of dollars to anti-gay rights groups, through the WinShape Foundation, its charitable arm.

I’ve never given a second thought to what the Cathy family thinks whenever I’ve eaten at one of their restaurants. And when one of them makes a statement against marriage equality, the way to handle that is to respond in kind: say he’s wrong, and if you feel like it, explain how and why he’s wrong. That’s how the freedom of speech thing works; he can say what he wants, and we can say he’s a dumb-ass.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that I’m obligated to give a guy money that he’s going to turn around and use against me. It really doesn’t get simpler than that.

This isn’t about religious intolerance.
Allegations have been leveled against Chick-fil-a for years, but I’ve held out for as long as possible, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Yeah, part of that is because I like the food. But most of it’s because I absolutely despise the kind of simple-minded guilt-by-association that was behind most of these complaints.

I’d see a liberal-baiting headline that promised they’d finally found the smoking gun proving the company was anti-gay rights. I’d dutifully follow each one, read the article, and it was always, always the same. There’d be a long preamble about how the Cathy family’s outspokenly religious, the family demands the restaurant’s closed on Sundays, and the company has a charitable division. That would be followed by tenuous links to anti-gay groups, or allegations of discrimination that were actually perfectly justifiable, above-board behavior. It was never a smoking gun; it always came across as nothing more than religious intolerance. “If they’re evangelical Christian, then of course they must be anti-gay.”

It’s lazy, bullshit thinking, and it’s ended up doing more harm than good. Now people are just shouting “religious persecution,” trying to reduce it to nothing more than liberals vs. conservatives, Christians vs. marriage equality. Ignoring the fact that plenty of Christians are gay, plenty of the supporters of marriage quality are Christian, and the people who are trying to disguise their bigotry as religious beliefs are corrupting my religion.

What Cathy’s “guilty as charged” statement did was finally make it clear exactly what their motivation was. It wasn’t some clerical oversight or a case giving to an organization without appreciating the full context of what it does. They willfully and intentionally give millions of dollars to anti-gay groups, for the purpose of campaigning against the rights of gay people.

This isn’t a silly case of politicizing a fast food chain.
Obviously, when opportunistic jack-asses like Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin come up with these stunts and tweet pictures of themselves at a Chick-fil-a, that’s exactly what it is. But real people — those of us not desperately clinging to relevance — don’t have to be making a political statement whenever we buy or don’t buy a sandwich.

Whichever Daily Show writer came up with the bit with Jessica Williams and Wyatt Cenac as a liberal and a conservative flummoxed over what products they could buy: I’m sure you were convinced that this was biting satire, but it was actually just a case of colossally missing the point.

It’s not some complex issue that requires us to research the political stance of companies, or get reports on business practices, or investigate the personal beliefs of the owners. Paul F. Tompkins did a good job of debunking that idea. Dan Cathy’s made it easy for us: now we know all where he stands, where his company’s money is going, and why it’s going there. And I wasted years of my life believing I could “fix” myself and not be gay anymore, and I don’t want anybody else to have to go through that bullshit, so I’m not giving any of my money to Exodus International. Pretty simple.

What disappoints me is that until recently, I thought this was a perfect example of how things should work. I’d thought that here was a company whose owners had views that were likely diametrically opposed to mine, but that didn’t matter when we were doing business. Peaceful coexistence. Proof of the donations plus an admission of motivation behind the donations ruined that.

Boycotting Chick-fil-a isn’t suppressing anyone’s rights.
But supporting them is, however indirectly.

A similar case came up a few years ago, when a company released a popular video game made in collaboration with virulent homophobe Orson Scott Card. And just as now, people said it was silly to protest. People like comic book author Peter David insisted that boycotting the game was creating some kind of “chilling effect” where artists would be afraid to speak their mind about their own personal beliefs for fear of its affecting their financial livelihood.

It raises a question: are we obligated to separate the products we buy from the beliefs of the people who make them? Is it appropriate for us to be boycotting a company based on the company’s mission statement?

Luckily, we don’t have to mull over that question for very long, because the answer is fucking obvious: Yes, it is appropriate. Just because we’re American doesn’t mean we’re obligated to buy everything. I’ve refused to buy stuff from a store just because I don’t like the typography on its sign. I sure as hell don’t have any problem refusing to buy stuff from a store that campaigns against my rights. I wouldn’t have any problem boycotting Card based solely on what an asshole he is; the fact that he also contributes to anti-gay rights organizations just makes it a no-brainer.

If a product is good enough, the creators will do just fine. That’s what we’re seeing with Chick-fil-a, where people tie themselves into knots trying to come up with a justification for going to the restaurant even while they claim they’re in support of marriage equality. The food is indeed really good.

Going to Chick-fil-a isn’t making a statement.
While the media insists on framing this as a “difference of opinion” or a controversial political issue, the fact is that the issue of marriage equality has always been nothing but the case of a majority suppressing the rights of a minority. We can’t agree to disagree if they walk away from the “disagreement” completely unaffected and I walk away with my state constitution modified to make me a second-class citizen.

But apparently that was still too much of an effort for dumb fucks like Huckabee. How can I campaign for the suppression of a minority and not just be completely unaffected, but actually come out ahead? I know! I can say that I’m defending traditional marriage and the freedom of speech and get some chicken nuggets out of the deal!

The people continuing to eat there are doing so because the food’s good. If you’re not bigoted against homosexuals and you still want to eat there, at least acknowledge that it’s because you like the food. Don’t say that it’s because of the good the company does, like paying for employee’s education or contributing to non-bigoted charities. Don’t say that it’s to show support for the freedom of speech. And for the love of Pete, don’t try any of that “bigotry offset” nonsense like making an equal donation to GLAAD or some other pro-LGBT group every time you buy something from CFA. You’re still funding groups that campaign against marriage equality. And in case you haven’t noticed from state after state writing anti-gay discrimination into its constitution over the past few years, they’re winning against groups like GLAAD.

(Note that that’s not the same as donating to GLAAD et al instead of going to the restaurant. That’s all good).

Elected officials vowing to block Chick-fil-a from opening in their cities is just bullshit political grandstanding.
It fails the most basic logic test: if you cheer when Rahm Emmanuel pledges to block Chick-fil-a in Chicago, or Thomas Menino vows to block it in Boston, then you’re saying you’d have no problem if Chris Christie pledged to keep JC Penney, Nabisco, Apple, or any other company that’s spoken out in support of marriage equality, out of New Jersey. Congratulations!

It also fails the pragmatic test: if you block Chick-fil-a, you would be eliminating whatever good the company does. If you wanted to actually accomplish something, you’d work to keep the directly anti-gay groups out of your city: Exodus International, Family Research Council, and so on. And then you’re back at the first problem: anybody else would be able to pledge to keep GLAAD and the like out of the city.

What they’re doing is wrong, but it’s not illegal. They don’t discriminate in employment or in service. The organizations they give money to are working within the law. It’s not the place of elected officials to be blocking companies just because they don’t like them; that’s the job of consumers.

Finally, Learn what the words “intolerance” and “bigotry” mean.
I haven’t seen anyone but idiots dragging out the “you liberals are intolerant of anyone who disagrees with you” crap, but holy shit we have got to do something to put a stop to it.

We’ve got to find whoever it was that started that whole talking point, and unleash a torrent of abuse upon his or her house for the evils they unleashed onto the world. We had as a society just gotten the people saying “you’re suppressing my freedom of speech!” under control, and we seemed to have educated most of the internet on what at least that part of the 1st Amendment actually means. Now, though, everywhere you turn there’s another ignorant blowhard trotting out the same nonsense.

Shut up shut up shut up! You don’t get to attack people and then complain that you’re being attacked! No one is required to be tolerant of intolerance; it’s not being open-minded or accepting of difference of opinion to stay neutral when one group is oppressing the rights of another. It’s wrong, and it’s ethically wrong for the media to present it as a debate with rational arguments on each side.

And homophobes are not a protected class. It’s not bigotry to tell them that their beliefs are toxic and they should shut the hell up. If someone’s making assumptions about you because you’re from the South, or you’re straight, or even if you’re Mormon or evangelical Christian; that’s prejudice. If someone’s telling you that you’re acting like a homophobe or spreading bullshit about homosexuals, and you should just shut the fuck up; that’s just common sense.

Survival of the Meekest

After Obama’s statement about same-sex marriage, I’m going back into the closet to bring out my wet blanket. You say “landmark moment in the history of gay rights,” I say “damage control.”

SpineYou could say that my reaction to Barack Obama’s interview with Robin Roberts on the topic of same-sex marriage is “evolving.”

What you have to understand is that this has been an ongoing process for me. I had been in the middle of writing a few hundred words trying to articulate my outrage over the White House’s deplorable behavior over the past few days. The Vice President of the United States had made a simple, genuine, and already sufficiently qualified statement that gay people should be able to marry the person they love. And the Obama camp went into overdrive spin control, treating that sincere statement as a gaffe. Oh, that crazy Joe, is the insultingly vapid storyline they chose to perpetuate about an accomplished senator, You never know what he’s going to say next, always going off-script with his wacky ideas about human dignity! They did everything they could to try and roll it back to the same non-position they’ve had for the past few years, all but closing their eyes tightly and wishing the question away.

It was the perfect example of how disillusioned I’ve gotten with the Obama administration and the Democratic party in general, who seem not just willing but eager to capitulate with an increasingly unhinged opposition.

None of us who voted for Obama (and plan to vote for him again, just to be clear) can claim that it’s a case of bait-and-switch. He made the idea of unity and cooperation the recurring theme of his campaign. But it’s a perfect example of something that sounds great in theory but turns out horrible in practice. It’s not rational to entertain an irrational opinion. It’s not equitable to cater to the fringe’s desire to discriminate against other people. If a man says, “I believe we should start dismantling the past 50 years of progress in women’s rights,” it’s not a good thing to respond, “Hang on everybody, calm down, let’s hear what he has to say.”

But in the middle of writing, I heard that the President had made a historic announcement. It was a landmark moment in the history of gay rights. People were saying that they were moved to tears. I read snippets before I could see the actual transcript, and saw mention of his daughters and their friends with same-sex parents. I’d expected an epiphany, an eloquent and sincere statement about the equality of all Americans.

What I saw was a lengthy reminder of how they totally just repealed of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, followed by this:

At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that– for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that– I think same-sex couples should be able to get married. Now– I have to tell you that part of my hesitation on this has also been I didn’t want to nationalize the issue. There’s a tendency when I weigh in to think suddenly it becomes political and it becomes polarized.

And what you’re seeing is, I think, states working through this issue– in fits and starts, all across the country. Different communities are arriving at different conclusions, at different times. And I think that’s a healthy process and a healthy debate. And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what’s recognized as a marriage.

Now, I’m most definitely not an expert on Constitutional Law or history, but wasn’t Loving v. Virginia, historically, a federal issue, specifically about what’s recognized as a marriage? (Almost ten years between the instigating incident and a Supreme Court decision. Is that really what Obama wants to see repeated?)

I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Robin Roberts now, for having the backbone to break with the past decade of journalistic tradition by actually challenging a statement made by her interview subject, instead of letting it stand:

ROBIN ROBERTS: Well, Mr. President, it’s– it’s not being worked out on the state level. We saw that Tuesday in North Carolina, the 30th state to announce its ban on gay marriage.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well– well– well, what I’m saying is is that different states are coming to different conclusions. But this debate is taking place– at a local level. And I think the whole country is evolving and changing. And– you know, one of the things that I’d like to see is– that a conversation continue in a respectful way.

I think it’s important to recognize that– folks– who– feel very strongly that marriage should be defined narrowly as– between a man and a woman– many of them are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective. They’re coming at it because they care about families. And– they– they have a different understanding, in terms of– you know, what the word “marriage” should mean. And I– a bunch of ’em are friends of mine– you know, pastors and– you know, people who– I deeply respect.

And as hard as I try, I absolutely cannot be convinced that a person’s basic right to equality is a topic on which reasonable people can disagree. Even people you respect can have opinions that are simply wrong.

I’ve been trying to explain the objection to calling it a “state’s rights” issue for years, but I couldn’t possibly do a better job of it than Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ did in less than five minutes:

“It’s ridiculous and offensive that we’re still having this debate.”

I’ve seen people claim that Obama’s statement is huge, no matter what the context was for his making it, because it’s the first time the active President of the United States has publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage. “Look how far we’ve come.” Well, this morning, I turned on one of the burners on my stove, and it lit. I didn’t marvel at how amazing an accomplishment it is that we’ve mastered fire. Later, I got in my car and started it up, and I wasn’t moved to tears at the wonder of the internal combustion engine. After that, I went into a store and while talking with the clerk, I mentioned having a boyfriend. And I didn’t drop to my knees and praise the heavens that nobody ejected me from the store, called me a faggot and started beating me up, or had me arrested for sodomy.

We’re human beings. We’re supposed to be advancing as a society because that’s pretty much our thing. The Stonewall riots were 43 years ago, two years before I was born. It took 21 years for the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness, and they did it 39 years ago. Harvey Milk took office 35 years ago and was assassinated 34 years ago. For more than my entire lifetime, people have been saying “this is bullshit,” and I’m not a young man. When anyone points out that this is a “process,” and uses the decades-long Civil Rights movement or the decades-long-and-still-ongoing Women’s Rights movement as examples, that’s not reassuring. It’s horrifying. It suggests that we’re incapable of learning from past experience. That we need to go through decades of violence and deliberation every time, before people will be able to differentiate right from wrong.

“Hooray! A stranger in Washington has said that after three and a half years sending gay people to fight for their country and having gay people work for him, he no longer believes that their relationships are inferior!” seems to me like a depressingly low bar to set for celebration.

I’ve seen people claim that Obama’s statement was bold and politically risky (including an implication from Obama himself). I don’t believe it was. First, because so many people already believed that he’d taken a stand in favor of gay rights from the start. As the New York Times Caucus blog was live-reporting reactions to the statement, and they quoted several respondents who were surprised that Obama speaking in favor of same-sex marriage was a new thing. I can’t figure out how to link to individual updates on that blog, but I don’t need to: I’ve been seeing it for years. For whatever reason, people have been talking up Obama as a champion of gay rights ever since he was elected.

The second reason I don’t see it as significantly risky is that the number of people who regard same-sex marriage as the defining issue of a Presidential campaign is vanishingly small. I’m as good an example of that as anyone: same-sex marriage is the only political issue I’ve written about at length. It’s an issue that could affect me directly. It’s an issue that could very well save lives, as more people realize they don’t have to commit suicide out of loneliness or because society treats them as inferior. And most significantly, it’s an issue to which there is absolutely no valid rational objection. And yet, in 2008 I voted for a candidate who explicitly said that he was against same-sex marriage.

Of course there’s no way I’d ever vote for Rick Santorum, and his ridiculously offensive statements on the topic are a big part of that. But if Mitt Romney flip-flopped (as if that were possible) and suddenly announced that he was in favor of it, there’s still no way in Hell I’d vote for him, either. And based on everything I’ve read about it, that’s pretty common: few of the people in support of it would change their vote based on that one issue, and few of the people against it were likely to vote for Obama anyway.

There’s been a good bit of comment, including from Roberts in the ABC interview, about how the black and latino population has traditionally been opposed to same-sex marriage and gay rights in general. I say as long as you’re reducing human beings to demographics, why not just come right out and say it: Obama’s no less black now than he was before he made the announcement. If the story you’re trying to tell is that Obama’s election was ensured by black and latino voters, then you’re saying that race was the most important factor for them. Not marriage equality. And if Obama really is courting pastors of predominantly black churches to influence his electorate, he’s given them ample material to frame the issue, since he’s qualified his statements over and over again, and hasn’t changed his actual practical position one bit.

Obama’s policies on gay rights have been at best an example of “Not My Problem.” Make no mistake: the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was absolutely, unquestionably a great thing. As he said in the interview, it’s unconscionable to expect men and women to sacrifice everything for their country while forcing them to hide or disguise their sexual orientation. It also has to be said, though, that it was a move that was long overdue, and that it already had the support of 70% of people in the service.

Saying that it’s not politically risky doesn’t automatically mean that it was politically advantageous. It’s damage control. It’d become necessary for the Obama campaign to claim that he’d taken a firm stand on the issue, and to claim that it was consistent with what he’d been doing throughout his administration. Otherwise, they’d lose their opportunity to take advantage of the “flip-flop” perception of Romney. (Notice that Obama does exactly that in his ABC interview).

The Obama administration has also been getting praise for the decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. The decision is, of course, a good thing. The praise isn’t. It strikes me as if I took credit for the Grand Canyon because the last time I was in Nevada, I did nothing to stop the Colorado River.

This post on the “Poliglot” blog of MetroWeekly.com says that I’m wrong, and it chastises other blogs for dismissing Obama’s statement as ineffectual. It attempts to explain that leaving the issue to the states to decide isn’t half-assed capitulation, but is actually part of a three-pronged master plan to ensure equality for everyone:

Obama’s position now is three-fold: (1) he personally supports same-sex marriage; (2) he believes as a policy matter that state, and not federal, law should define marriages, as it always has been in this country; and (3) he believes that there are federal constitutional limitations on those state decisions.

The writer fails to mention that (4) He understands that by the time any of these state decisions are challenged by a suit at the state level, appealed, raised to the federal level, appealed, stayed, and then finally advance to the position where those supposed federal constitutional limitations actually take effect, he’ll already have finished his second term, and it will no longer have to be his problem. Remember that Proposition 8 was voted into effect four years ago along with Obama, and it’s still nowhere near making it to the Supreme Court. Maybe if we wait long enough, all the gay people will just naturally die off, and it won’t be an issue anymore!

The best part of that post is the first comment (at the time I’m writing this), from a writer named Darren Hutchinson. “Anyone with a knowledge of US history, however, should know how harmful and dangerous the words ‘states’ rights’ are to civil rights.” Leaving the equality of millions of Americans to the states to decide individually is simply not a “moderate” position. It’s time we started calling it what it is: inaction.

So that’s why, when I say I’m in favor of marriage equality, I’m not going to say “I Stand With Obama.” (And I’m going to continue to be annoyed at those who do). I don’t see how anyone living in California, North Carolina, or any of the other 30 states that have redefined marriage to discriminate against homosexuals, can say that leaving the rights of a minority up to the states to decide is a strong, positive decision.

But while Obama was condescendingly scolding Biden for expressing a genuine sentiment, he made one thing absolutely clear: it’s a personal decision. He doesn’t want to see it politicized, or exploited, and he would’ve preferred to do it “without there being a lot of notice to anybody.”

Of course, his take is better than the alternative. That should go without saying. But here’s the thing: I don’t give a rat’s ass what Romney thinks. I actually care what Obama thinks. Not to decide my vote; of course I’m going to vote for Obama again, just like I did in 2008. And once again it’s not going to matter, since my state has basically already guaranteed all of its electoral votes to the Democratic candidate. My vote is almost completely symbolic, which is convenient because Obama’s campaign was almost completely symbolic. It got us excited about the idea that we’re actually living in a meritocracy — the smartest and most well-spoken candidate could rise above any trivialities like his race, or his unusual name, and become President of the United States simply on the strength of his ideas.

You could say that it’s hypocritical of me to judge Obama for taking so long to come around, when it took me at least 20 years to get comfortable with it. But the difference there is that Obama is a lot smarter than me. That’s why I voted for him. And it just seems like he should’ve known better all along.

So forgetting all the political motivation, campaign-year spin, backpedalling, exploitation, and speculation of what the practical effects will be, what did he actually say?

But– I think it’s important for me– to say to [opponents of same-sex marriage] that as much as I respect ’em, as much as I understand where they’re coming from– when I meet gay and lesbian couples, when I meet same-sex couples, and I see how caring they are, how much love they have in their hearts, how they’re taking care of their kids. When I hear from them the pain they feel that somehow they are still considered– less than full citizens when it comes to their legal rights– then for me, I think it just has tipped the scales in that direction.
[…]
They’re respectful of religious liberty, that– you know, churches and other faith institutions– are still gonna be able to make determinations about what their sacraments are– what they recognize. But from the perspective of the law and perspective of the state– I think it’s important to say that in this country we’ve always been about fairness. And treating everybody as equals. Or at least that’s been our aspiration.
[…]
It would have been hard for me, knowing– all the friends and family that are gays or lesbians, that for me to say to them, you know, “I voted to oppose you having the same kind of rights and responsibilities that I have.”

And you’d be a fool to argue with any of that.

Biden’s comments seemed genuine to me, and he actually gave credit to Will & Grace for educating Americans on what gay people are really like. I’m not aware of anyone crediting minstrel shows and Amos & Andy for sparking the Civil Rights movement; I’m guessing Biden didn’t watch enough Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to recognize that as a more accurate, positive, portrayal.

But that’s what it eventually comes down to: if I can respect Biden’s statement as genuine even knowing that something so awful helped motivate it, why shouldn’t I be able to ignore political spin and motivation and just accept Obama’s statement as a useful and valid sentiment, delivered to a huge audience, with the weight of the Presidency of the United States? A symbolic message that we’re all equal, from a presidency that derives so much of its strength from symbolism.

If it actually motivates people to evolve enough of a backbone to do something about it, all the better.

Responsibility

An open letter to Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Dianne Feinstein, supporter and co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP bill and supporters of SOPA

Here’s a copy of the messages I just left on Senators Boxer and Feinstein’s web page forms, making sure to stay under their 5000-character limit. I look forward to receiving a form letter to the effect of “We are very interested in your opinion but you see it’s like this” any day now.

In the 15 years I’ve lived in the Bay Area, I’ve had the luxury of not having to be that informed about politics. Whenever an election comes up, I don’t need to research the candidates for the Senate or House; it’s always Pelosi, Boxer, and Feinstein across the board. And whenever I’ve been urged to write my senator or congress people on a hot-topic issue, I’ve never felt the need — my senators and representatives have pretty much always reflected my interests exactly.

That came to a crashing end with the NDAA. I ignored all the entreaties to write my representatives, because I believed my senators would never support a bill with such blatantly unconstitutional provisions. After learning that both of my senators voted Yea, I realized that I was going to have to actually become a responsible citizen again.

That’s why I’m asking you, as one of your constituents, to reverse your support of PROTECT IP and SOPA. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the workings of the internet can see that it does nothing to actually protect IP, because it does nothing to stop the most egregious pirates. It is a transparent attempt by media rights holders, frustrated that they’ve failed to do anything to stop piracy, to find someone — anyone — that they can sue. It should be clear that suing a content provider for the actions of one of its users would be as ludicrous as suing a department store whenever someone shoplifts a DVD.

In an environment where all of Washington is promoting “job creation,” it’s baffling to see a bill proposed that so clearly stifles start-ups and favors profitability (through lawsuits, not sales) of major corporations. While I appreciate the opportunity to be an informed citizen once again, I’d much prefer my representatives to vote on behalf of all their constituents, not just the most wealthy ones.

Choices

Getting all worked up thinking about years wasted arguing over the wrong thing.

Today I talked to a man who just celebrated his 25th anniversary with the same guy, and it just pissed me off. Not over the anniversary, of course, but over the fact that they’re not able to get legally married in their home state, and thousands of people are just fine with that. And over the fact that he used the word “partner” when “husband” is both appropriate and more natural. (But that may have been his choice; to each his own).

It didn’t seem to get him as angry as it got me — either he’s used to it after so many years, or else he realized that a barber shop isn’t the place to get angry even if you weren’t preaching to the choir.

Still, it got me thinking a lot about that phrase: “so many years.” How much time has been wasted arguing over something that’s simply, blatantly unfair? Every time someone — with the best intentions, usually — says that change will come in time, I just think of the dozens of photos I’ve seen of 60-to-80-year old couples coming out of courthouses finally able to get married, and I think about how many years they had to wait.

There’s a post on one of the Time magazine blogs today, pointing out Rick Perry’s comments about homosexuality in a book he published in 2008:

“Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink,” he wrote. “And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.”

In “On My Honor,” Perry also punted on the exact origins of homosexuality. He wrote that he is “no expert on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate,” but that gays should simply choose abstinence. Perry’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether he maintains this view.

It got referenced on the Washington Post‘s site, again calling out Perry for his comments in that book.

Both posts fault Perry’s campaign for keeping silent on the issue, not making a more public response to his comments. I think both are missing the point almost as much as Perry is: he’s already felt the need to clarify to the Family Research Council that his anti-gay rights agenda hasn’t been stringent enough. To one audience, he tries to frame it as an issue of state’s rights; to another, he says of course same sex marriage is wrong and that’s why we need a federal constitutional amendment.

I don’t know why the bald-faced hypocrisy of gay rights opponents always surprises me. They claim it’s an issue of federalism and then propose Constitutional amendments or federal policy like the DOMA to oppose it. They complain that gay rights activists are trying to “redefine” marriage, and they respond by instituting state laws or constitutional amendments to define marriage as being for heterosexuals only. Fuckwits like Rick Santorum claim that everyone knows what marriage is, and that’s right. Everyone including millions of homosexuals, who know what marriage is, and who want to be married some day.

So calling out Perry for remarks in a three-year-old book is missing the point; you don’t have to dig that hard. Of course he’s against gay rights: he’s a GOP presidential candidate passing himself off as a populist. It’s not even Bachmann’s glassy-eyed refusal to comment on her earlier homophobic writings. Perry’s said what he thinks, and it’s a direct, almost cartoonish, regurgitation of the boilerplate Republican agenda. Hell, it’s not at all far removed from Obama’s comments on gay rights, and he’s frequently, bafflingly, praised as if he were some kind of champion of equality.

But back to the statements that Time quoted: it’s the typical nature-vs-nurture question, and I can’t help but wonder how many years have been wasted arguing over whether being gay is a “choice.” I can remember reading comments like Perry’s from at least seven years ago: “Okay, so maybe people are born gay. But even if you are, you can still choose your behavior.” You can’t help being gay, but you don’t have to act gay. You can (and should) be abstinent. Or even more helpful, you can change, and no longer “indulge” in the “gay lifestyle.”

That’s what self-described conservatives (and most organized churches, come to think of it) are calling compassion now. Even though it’s been almost forty years since the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental illness, people can keep talking about it as if they were. And getting a pass on it, because they’re being politically correct by acknowledging it may be innate.

Here’s the thing, though: “Born this way” is total, absolute bullshit. Not in the sense that it’s false, but in the sense that it’s totally, absolutely irrelevant.

The issue isn’t whether it’s changeable, but whether it’s harmful. That and equality are the only relevant questions in any discussion about gay rights. Can someone choose to be abstinent? Sure, but first you have to explain why they should. Can a gay man or woman choose to marry an opposite-sex partner and have children? Yes, but you’re going to have to explain why that’s inherently better than marrying someone they’re actually attracted to and in love with.

So often, these people have tried to claim that same-sex couples have the responsibility to prove to everyone else that their relationship is healthy. That’s just plain un-American. It’s the responsibility of the people trying to write inequality into law to prove that the relationships they’re banning are unhealthy. (And they’ve got to do it without the aid of a book that can’t be used as the basis of United States law, because not everybody in the US follows the teachings of that book).

I have to wonder if the anti-gay groups have purposefully kept the issue of a genetic basis for homosexuality in the forefront of the discussion, because it’s dominated every discussion of gay rights, for years. And it’s been an effective obfuscation and stalling tactic. Keep people talking about whether it’s genetic or not, and you can make it seem like it’s a complicated, nuanced issue with multiple sides and a lot of room for debate. You don’t have to address the question of equality, and you don’t have to reveal the truth: that you’ve got no valid, rational, non-religious-based opposition.

Maybe I’m just being cynical, and the years of argument over nature-vs-nurture hasn’t just been a total waste of time. Maybe it’s not a tragedy that couples have died while waiting for other people to decide whether they were genetically predisposed to love each other. Maybe it was worthwhile to get people used to the idea that people don’t just arbitrarily decide to go gay for a weekend ’cause it sounds like fun. Even the homophobes these days have to acknowledge that homosexuality is innate so that they can claim that they’re not homophobic; it’s finally entrenched itself in politically correct speech. Maybe the couples who are actually affected by the bigots are spending their time just being couples instead of getting themselves worked up about what anybody else thinks.

But if it takes another forty years of people being treated unfairly while bigots keep insisting they’re not bigots, that would be a tragedy.

Chicken and Waffling

On Chick-fil-A and marriage equality

holy_cow.jpgOver a year ago I wrote a post about a videogame being sold under the name of virulent homophobe Orson Scott Card, and why I thought an informal boycott of the game was justified. I thought it raised some pretty interesting questions, and a couple of interesting responses in addition to the predictable BS drive-by comments. In particular: where are the lines drawn? What constitutes making a stand, and what’s just a petty attempt to punish people for having different beliefs from you?

Lately, there’s been something of a campaign against Chick-fil-a restaurants because of the restaurant’s ties to groups that campaign against same-sex marriage. It’s been a question for years, how closely the restaurant and/or its founders are associated with the National Organization of Marriage and Focus on the Family, if they’re associated at all. Most recently, the issue was a contribution to an event by anti-gay marriage group called the Pennsylvania Family Institute, an association that Chick-fil-A finally responded to with a cover-your-ass PR video which, unfortunately, didn’t say much of anything.

But it’s always been a case of guilt by association. Providing free food for an event by this group, members of the board also being members of this other group, that sort of thing. The blog posts always start out with righteous fury, and then fizzle out once the link turns out to be tenuous at best.

Now the blog Good As You is insisting there’s a clear link between the restaurant and anti-gay rights groups, and they have an e-mail exchange that will prove all of Chick-fil-A’s apologists have been wrong! A-ha! Finally, a smoking gun! Another blog, change.org, picked up the story with the headline Yes, Chick-fil-A Says, We Explicitly Do Not Like Same-Sex Couples.

Except they don’t say that.

The actual situation is this: the restaurant chain has a charitable arm called the WinShape Foundation. One focus of WinShape is WinShape Marriage, which sponsors retreats and “adventures” for “enrichment” of relationships. The writer of the blog (presumably) sent an e-mail to WinShape asking if its programs were open to homosexual couples. The answer was that they are not, because “WinShape Retreat defines marriage from the Biblical standard as being between one man and one woman.”

Granted, “The Charitable Arm of Chick-fil-A Admits It Does Not Admit Same-Sex Couples to Its Marriage Enrichment Retreats” isn’t quite as shocking a headline as “Chick-fil-A Says We Do Not Like Same-Sex Couples,” and it’d be less likely to get people clamoring to sign up for your facebook petition. But even on the internet, don’t we have some kind of obligation to accuracy?

I have little doubt that the Cathys (the family that founded and still runs Chick-fil-A) are in opposition to same-sex marriage. They’re publicly religious, the restaurant has been closed on Sunday since its founding, and thousands of religious people in Georgia still believe that Christianity and homosexuality are incompatible. It wouldn’t even surprise me to learn that they’ve made personal donations to NOM or other anti-gay rights groups, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they voted for the same-sex marriage ban in Georgia.

But isn’t that their right? When we campaign for marriage equality, aren’t we campaigning for the right to believe things that other people may find abhorrent? Isn’t the entire campaign based on the principle that we all deserve equal freedoms as long as we don’t infringe on the rights of other people? Isn’t the promise that individuals will be free to choose for themselves what to believe, but the government can’t make such a distinction? That churches will remain free to hold ceremonies only for couples who hold their beliefs, just as they are now?

I couldn’t get married in a synagogue, because I’m not Jewish. And I couldn’t get married in most southern Baptist churches, because I’m gay. I don’t see that as grounds for activism. It doesn’t infringe on my rights until they start actively campaigning to deny me the right to marry. Being closed to me is not the same thing as being against me. And the restaurants are still not closed to me.

WinShape’s e-mail response, and their policy, may be enough grounds for some people to stage a boycott of Chick-fil-A. And that, of course, is their right. But it’s definitely not enough for me. In the case of the video game, Card didn’t just say that he doesn’t like homosexuals — he actively campaigns against gay marriage and in support of homosexual “rehabilitation.” Ties between Chick-fil-A and anti-gay rights activist groups are still a lot more tenuous.

If Good As You can present a genuine link between Chick-fil-A’s revenue and a group that campaigns against same-sex marriage, then I’ll be glad to join in a boycott. Until then, I resent their implication that anybody who’s not outraged by their accusations is being in denial, or somehow complicit with marriage bans. And I resent their continued practice of guilt-by-association, which just gives more fodder to the “slippery slope” arguments. I’m tired of people giving bigots and homophobes the opportunity to go on the defensive — to institute bans on equal rights while insisting they’re the ones whose freedom is being threatened.

No doubt I’ll be accused of making an exception just because I’m an unabashed fan of Chick-fil-A’s food, but I’ll just point out that they’re still impossible to get here in the Bay Area.

Burying the lede

The Washington Post, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the inability to catch a break even when numbers are on your side, for once.

Today in The Washington Post‘s political blog, a report on The Pentagon’s survey of military personnel on the implications of rescinding the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And the testimonials from some in the military paint a grim picture of pervasive apprehension:

Some expressed fears about contracting AIDS or getting leered at in the showers. Others worried that it would get in the way of critical bonding at barbecues and bar outings. Still others said it would be an affront to their religious beliefs and harm the military’s credibility.

Except…

Overall, the study showed that about 70 percent of active-duty and reserve forces saw little or no problem with ending the 17-year-old policy, which critics have said is discriminatory, harmful to troop readiness and at odds with the military’s emphasis on honesty. But in a 13-page section of the report, dozens of quotes reflected the attitudes of the remaining 30 percent.

(bolding mine) That’s three paragraphs in.

I’m not going to belittle the opinions or concerns of people in the service. And I definitely don’t want to suggest that 30% of any population should be ignored. That’s one of the most infuriating things about the same-sex marriage debate, where the numbers are closer, but opponents insist that a simple majority means ignoring the opinions of millions in support.

But when 70% of the respondents say they don’t see a problem, and you put the focus on catching a fatal disease or getting leered at in a shower, that’s kind of a sign of a deeper problem. Hang on, it’s not just an over-reaction. It’s a problem of who’s given a voice and how much weight is given to that voice. It reinforces the idea that a minority’s desires — and not just desires, but rights — are subject to the comfort level of everyone else.

The most ignorant opinions — and “ignorant” isn’t used here as a pejorative, but simply a lack of awareness or exposure — are given the most importance. We’ve seen it in cases of civil rights, we’ve seen it with the rise of the Tea Party and cries of socialism. The media treats the fringe as a majority, and reinforces the notion that in a democratic society, we’ve got to get the support of everyone before we can move forward. But on some issues, you’re never going to get the support of everyone. There will always be opposition, going based on ignorance, fear, or prejudice. How long do you emphasize the importance of that opposition, instead of just doing the right thing?