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71 posts categorized "Culture"

December 15, 2011

Divorce and CP dissolutions increase in Britain with rockier economy

A total of 42,778 same-sex couples in England have entered civil partnerships; only 1,007 of those have sought dissolutions. Of late, however, there has been an upward trend for termination of both same-sex and different-sex couple relationships. From SoSoGay:

A new report released by the [British] Office of National Statistics this week has shown that divorce figures in 2010 have risen. It is thought that the current economic climate is putting financial pressure on couples, leading to breakdowns in relationships and a rising number of couples getting divorced. The divorce statistics for married couples have been reflected in those of same sex Civil Partnerships; there has also been a rise in the number of dissolutions... 

[Civil partnerships became available for same-sex couples in late 2005.] [F]emale partnerships [are] more likely to end than male ones despite the fact that up until 2010, more men formed civil partnerships than women. Thomas Duggins is Solicitor in the family team at Charles Russell LLP. ‘Up to the end of 2010, 62% of dissolutions have been to female couples, despite the fact that only 44% of formations were to female couples,’ he told So So Gay. ‘The evidence suggests therefore, that female civil partners are more likely to dissolve their partnerships.’ This trend has also been seen in other countries where same sex unions are possible. 

Duggins attributes this variation to the age difference between male and female partnerships. ‘Statistically, male civil partners are on average older than females when they form a civil partnership, and this may explain the difference in dissolution rates. It could be that entering the civil partnership when older means that it is less likely to fail, because the parties have known each other for longer. Certainly, the statistics show that the mean age at dissolution is similar or lower than the mean age at formation, which suggests that younger couples are more likely than older couples to dissolve their partnerships.’ Which may indeed mean that age is a more important factor than gender, in the stability of civil partnerships.

November 29, 2011

Canadian law against polygamy upheld, but with no application to relationships outside of marriage

The British Columbia Supreme Court has ruled that the Canadian anti-polygamy law is constitutional, on the ground that its violation of religious freedom is justified by the need to prevent harm "to women, to children, to society and to the institution of monogamous marriage." In Reference re Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada, the court excluded minors in polygamous marriages from prosecution and also ruled that there had to be an official marriage into which multiple partners were introduced in order for a prosecution to go forward.  The case was brought by the British Columbia prosecutor after a failed effort to prosecute members of a Mormom sect.

From CBC

[Chief Justice Robert] Bauman spent several months hearing testimony and legal arguments about whether the 121-year-old ban on multiple marriages is constitutional. The landmark hearings, which wrapped up in April, focused on the polygamous community of Bountiful, but the ruling is expected to have implications for polygamists in the Muslim community.

The constitutional test case was prompted by the failed prosecution of two men from Bountiful who were charged in 2009 with practising polygamy....

The court heard evidence that teenage girls in Bountiful were taken across the Canada-U.S. border to be married, prompting RCMP in January to announce a renewed criminal investigation into the community of about 1,000 people in southeastern B.C.

Anti-immigrant attitudes fueled the decision as well:

The statistical evidence shows that as levels of polygamy increase in a society, there is a corresponding decrease in political and civil liberties. It is reasonable to assume that the decriminalization of polygamy would make Canada an attractive destination for polygamists from other countries, and there is no evidence that Canada would be immune from the impacts of such an influx.

There has been no decision on whether there will be an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.


November 01, 2011

Cameron's threat backfires

The statement by British PM David Cameron that Commonwealth nations could see their foreign aid from the UK cut if anti-gay laws remain on the books has turned into a mess for utterly predictable reasons.  It has played right into the hands of those who condemn support for sexual minorities as a western disease driven by western propaganda, a line ironically fueled by U.S. evangelists. So, here's the response to Cameron from Uganda, reported by the BBC:

...Ugandan presidential adviser John Nagenda told the BBC Ugandans were "tired of these lectures" ..."Uganda is, if you remember, a sovereign state...," he told the BBC's Newshour programme. "If they must take their money, so be it."...

Mr Nagenda said he doubted that the Ugandan parliament would ever approve a bill which proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts."I believe it will die a natural death. But this kind of ex-colonial mentality of saying: 'You do this or I withdraw my aid' will definitely make people extremely uncomfortable with being treated like children," Mr Nagenda said.

And a smart critique from the Institute on Development Studies in the UK:

For activists and advocates of sexual rights, the very recognition of sexuality as a valid aspect of ‘development’ or of rights itself, has been a slow and thankless battle. As such, yesterday’s statement by David Cameron confirming that the British government will withhold aid from countries with homophobic policies might ostensibly be seen as a ‘victory’ of sorts. And yet there is something more fundamental at stake here – the idea of ‘sexuality’ as political object and the perpetration of a racialised discourse of difference that highlights the colonial continuities in ‘Development’.

Cameron’s statement suggests that a progressive politics of sexuality can only be imagined in the form that it has taken in Europe and North America... 

In India, for instance, the Queer movement, which has succeeded in overturning a colonial anti-sodomy law, has been critical of an ‘LGBT politics’. This has been a movement that recognises the politics of sexuality as affecting everyone – not just those who fall into the politically constructed category of LGBT – and being central to the politics of caste, class, race, religious fundamentalism, nationalism and economic development...

In this context, activists and policy makers in Europe and North America would do well to inculcate humility in light of these limitations and open the doors for more creative, radical and brave strategies in the politics of sexuality, especially those arising from the Global South, from such places as India and Brazil...

The UK government’s expression of support for rights of homosexuals in the global south, without reference to local struggles for rights, in such a context feeds into this impulse and enables exactly such an argument. At one level it places the concern for sexuality rights outside the given country, and at another, it disavows the significance and strategies of local activists and movements that are engaged in the project of actualising citizenship.

While the rise of sexuality on the development and rights agenda, is a welcome development, to be truly progressive western forces might do better by supporting Queer movements in the global south, learning from them, and recognising the specificities of Queer struggles.

October 11, 2011

Conference of Catholic Bishops launches new organization to fight equality, preserve special treatment for religious entities

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has created a new DC-based lobbying group to fight what it calls an "unprecedented assault" on the right "to proclaim the truth of religious freedom." Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, announced the new campaign in a letter identifying the perceived threats to religious liberty that justified "a new moment in the history of our Conference."

Most of the declared threats were policies dealing with either lgbt rights or access to abortion and contraception. In addition to the new New York marriage equality law, the letter cites the Justice Department's decision to stop defending the constitutionality of DoMA. Even worse, the letter says,

the Department started filing briefs actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality, claiming that supporters of the law could only have been motivated by bias and prejudice.  If the label of "bigot" sticks to us—especially in court—because of our teaching on marriage, we’ll have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result.

The Dolan letter also criticizes the HHS announcement that health insurance policies offered through new health reform systems would be required to cover birth control, federal rules that could require a Catholic charitable organization to provide abortion and contraception services to trafficking victims and condom distribution in HIV-prevention programs abroad, as well as the Justice Department argument in EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor that churches should be required to follow anti-discrimination in employment laws.

"We're not hiring your K Street lobbyists," Archbishop Dolan told Roll Call. "We'll hire a constitutional lawyer who can really look carefully at these issues, and hire a policy advocacy person who can advocate the church's position."  

The lgbt blogosphere is full of news about right-wing religious nuts, some of them currently seeking the Republican nomination for President, spouting various now out-of-touch slogans about gay people being sick or evil.  It's easy to laugh and dismiss them. The USCCB's action, however, should not be dismissed or ridiculed. These people may be wrong, but - especially in Congress - they are credible, widely respected, and powerful. Not to mention financially capable of mounting a more sophisticated effort than the Family Research Councils of the world can dream of.

This creation of a permanent satellite advocacy organization, a commitment that marks another more reactionary step by the USCCB, an organization that has led advocacy efforts for poor people even as it has fought against reproductive rights for women and equality for lgbt people. Until last year, for example, the Conference was neutral on ENDA. It is now officially in opposition, and terminated its membership in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights over these issues.

With public opinion running in the opposite direction on their doctrines related to sexuality, religious conservatives are seeking to reframe the debate about lgbt equality - whether in the workplace or in marriage - in less invidious, more intellectually respectable terms. They want the public to see these disputes as being about lofty concepts of religious freedom rather than about using the power of the state to enforce their claims of moral superiority.  If only.

[Correction: This new entity is not the first permanent satellite advocacy group created by the USCCB; the Committee for a Human Life Amendment was created earlier.]

September 24, 2011

National Single and Unmarried Americans Week ends

Gay marriage is having the effect of spotlighting single - and it seems from this article, implicitly straight - people in this NY Times article:

About 100 million Americans, nearly half of all adults, are unmarried, according to the Census Bureau — yet they tend to be overlooked by policies that favor married couples, from family-leave laws to lower insurance rates.

That national bias is one reason gay people fight for the right to marry, but now some researchers are concerned that the marriage equality movement is leaving single people behind.

“There is this push for marriage in the straight community and in the gay community, essentially assuming that if you don’t get married there is something wrong with you,” says Naomi Gerstel, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst who has published a number of papers comparing the married and unmarried.

“But a huge proportion of the population is unmarried, and the single population is only going to grow. At the same time, all the movement nationally is to offer benefits to those who are married, and that leaves single people dry.”

Yet as she and other experts note, single people often contribute more to the community — because once people marry, they tend to put their energy and focus into their partners and their own families at the expense of friendships, community ties and extended families.

In a report released this week by the Council on Contemporary Families, Dr. Gerstel notes that while 68 percent of married women offer practical or routine help to their parents, 84 percent of the never-married do. Just 38 percent of married men help their parents, compared with 67 percent of never-married men. Even singles who have children are more likely than married people to contribute outside their immediate family.

“It’s the unmarried, with or without kids, who are more likely to take care of other people,” Dr. Gerstel said. “It’s not having children that isolates people. It’s marriage.”

The unmarried also tend to be more connected with siblings, nieces and nephews. And while married people have high rates of volunteerism when it comes to taking part in their children’s activities, unmarried people often are more connected to the community as a whole. About 1 in 5 unmarried people take part in volunteer work like teaching, coaching other people’s children, raising money for charities and distributing or serving food.

Unmarried people are more likely to visit with neighbors. And never-married women are more likely than married women to sign petitions and go to political gatherings, according to Dr. Gerstel.

The demographics of unmarried people are constantly changing, and more Americans are spending a greater percentage of their lives unmarried than married. While some people never marry, other adults now counted as single are simply delaying marriage longer than people of their parents’ generation did. And many people are single because of divorce or the death of a spouse. About one-sixth of all unmarried adults are 65 and older; nearly one-eighth of unmarried people are parents...

Bella DePaulo, a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has a term for discrimination against single people, which she calls one of the last accepted prejudices. It is the title of her new book, “Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters and How to Stop It.”

As an example, Dr. DePaulo cites the Family and Medical Leave Act. Because she is single and has no children, nobody in her life can take time off under the law to care for her if she becomes ill. Nor does it require that she be given time off to care for a sibling, nephew or close friend.

Stephanie Coontz, director of research for the Council on Contemporary Families, says policy makers often neglect the needs of single people because their view is outdated — based on the way they themselves grew up. In researching her latest book, “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique in American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s,” Coontz found that in the past single people were often called “deviant,” “neurotic” and “selfish.”

“We do have the tendency to think that there is something special about married people, and that they are the ones who keep community and family going,” she said. “I thought it was important to point out that single people keep our community going, too.”

July 24, 2011

Religious marriage, post-gay

Years of debates within the lgbt community over prioritizing access to marriage as a movement goal have stretched into decades, and I long ago gave up on hearing any new arguments on any side. Perhaps the only principle held universally in this intra-community disputation is that religious and civil marriage should be understood as separate and limited to their respective zones. As social acceptance of same-sex marriage increases, the number of faith groups performing them will probably increase -- or not, but that's up to each religion. Access to civil marriage should be determined by application of secular principles such as equality, not based on majoritarian religious belief. And that's pretty much it for overlap.

Then I came across an essay in the Boston Review by gay writer Jason Anthony, who does have something original to say. So - even though it isn't my argument - in honor of the big day in New York, here are excerpts:

...I question whether embracing marriage is the spiritually and morally right thing for gays to do. I have intermittently made my living writing about religion and therefore witnessed a great deal of religious activity. In churches, synagogues, and mosques, something fundamentally restorative happens—mostly, I think, because the communities that meet there are so like queer families. Congregants make a simple commitment to be there for one another. By this act, if nothing else, they offer absolution for the many failings of the individual. Perhaps this is why the religious, according to research reported by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell in American Grace (2010), test as happier and more involved and invested citizens. Religion has gotten a bad rap for being exclusionary, but some of us still celebrate it as an unmatched social tonic.

That said, gay marriage may cause the greatest quake in the history of Judeo-Christian religion since the Protestant Reformation. A straightforward reading of Leviticus and Romans shows that a government siding with same-sex partnerships is a gauntlet thrown down to the Judeo-Christian tradition. A line in the sand has been crossed.

To be fair, society crosses these lines often. Women have spoken in church, despite Paul’s strictures. Slavery eventually passed away, though slaves in the New Testament are advised to be obedient. But the homosexuality debate is, to my mind, of an entirely different degree. On other social issues of our day, early Christians were a liberal vanguard. They promoted the radical message that, in spiritual life, “there is neither . . . slave nor free, male nor female.” Not so with homosexuality. Same-sex carnality falls unequivocally afoul of early Christian morality, just as it does with that of nearly every venerated holy text worldwide.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James points out that, time and again, societies take drastic steps when the will of the people conflicts with religious values. Deities get discarded when they fall out of step with popular morality.

"So soon as [the fruits of the deity] conflicted with indispensible human ideals, or thwarted too extensively other values; so soon as they appeared childish, contemptible, or immoral when reflected on, the deity grew discredited, and was erelong neglected and forgotten."

From the decadence and blood sacrifice of the pagan god-emperors that inspired the founding of Christianity to the excesses of the sixteenth-century church that led to the Reformation, new morals mean trouble for the spiritual status quo.

Fine, for those who can do without faith. But others, like myself, who value our shared architectures of morality and meaning may wonder what lies ahead. Will the LGBT world assimilate with our marriages and our normalized families to the Christian moral tradition—or might we represent some kind of Jamesian next chapter?

Our acceptance, let’s remember, was contingent on society deciding that consenting adults may choose their own kind of love. Is this the nature of the gift that we are meant to bring the future? If so, is fighting for marriage, and only marriage, in some sense a moral failure? What about the many other blessed varieties of human love to which, during our forty years in the wilderness, we gays and lesbians gave birth?...

January 19, 2011

The other gay life: raising children in the South

From today's NY Times, excerpted:

Being gay in [Jacksonville, FL] was once a lonely existence. Most people kept their sexuality to themselves, and they were reminded of the dangers of being openly gay when a gay church was bombed in the 1980s. These days, there are eight churches that openly welcome gay worshipers. One even caters to couples with children.

The changes may seem surprising for a city where churches that have long condemned homosexuality remain a powerful force. But as demographers sift through recent data releases from the Census Bureau, they have found that Jacksonville is home to one of the biggest populations of gay parents in the country.

In addition, the data show, child rearing among same-sex couples is more common in the South than in any other region of the country, according to Gary Gates, a demographer at the [Williams Institute]. Gay couples in Southern states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.

The pattern, identified by Mr. Gates, is also notable because the families in this region defy the stereotype of a mainstream gay America that is white, affluent, urban and living in the Northeast or on the West Coast. “We’re starting to see that the gay community is very diverse,” said Bob Witeck, chief executive of Witeck-Combs Communications, which helped market the census to gay people. “We’re not all rich white guys.”

Black or Latino gay couples are twice as likely as whites to be raising children, according to Mr. Gates, who used data from a Census Bureau sampling known as the American Community Survey. They are also more likely than their white counterparts to be struggling economically.

Experts offer theories for the pattern. A large number of gay couples, possibly a majority, entered into their current relationship after first having children with partners in heterosexual relationships, Mr. Gates said. That seemed to be the case for many blacks and Latinos in Jacksonville, for whom church disapproval weighed heavily.

“People grew up in church, so a lot of us lived in shame,” said Darlene Maffett, 43, a Jacksonville resident, who had two children in eight years of marriage before coming out in 2002. “What did we do? We wandered around lost. We married men, and then couldn’t understand why every night we had a headache.”

Moreover, gay men who have children do so an average of three years earlier than heterosexual men, census data shows, Mr. Gates said. At the same time, there are fewer white women of childbearing age nationally, according to demographers, while the number of minority women of childbearing age is expanding...

[L]ast summer, [Valerie] Williams became pastor of St. Luke’s Community Church, one of the oldest gay-friendly churches in the city, and immediately set up a youth program. Attendance by the mixed-race congregation swelled to more than 90 from 25 in just a few months. “All of a sudden you started seeing all of these women coming out,” Ms. Mafett said. “All of them had children.”

In 2009, the Census Bureau estimated that there were 581,000 same-sex couples in the United States, Mr. Gates said; the bureau does not count gay singles.

About a third of lesbians are parents, and a fifth of gay men are. Advocacy groups argue that their children are some of society’s most vulnerable, with fewer legal protections and less health insurance than children of heterosexual parents.

Even so, their ranks have been mostly left out of national policy debates, because the Census Bureau did not conduct its first preliminary count of same-sex couples until 1990. This year, the bureau will count married same-sex partners for the first time. “We don’t know a lot about this group,” Mr. Gates said. “Their story has not been told.”

About 32 percent of gay couples in Jacksonville are raising children, Mr. Gates said, citing the 2009 Census data, second only to San Antonio, where the rate is about 34 percent...

January 07, 2011

DADT repeal process marches on

According to Defense Secretary Gates, training troops for the end of DADT and its related policies will begin "in a very few weeks." Gates told a press conference yesterday that he had a three-step plan to implement DADT repeal: 

  1. Finalize changes in related regulations and policies, and get clearer definitions on benefits;
  2. Prepare training materials for chaplains, lawyers, commanders and troops; and 
  3. Conduct the training of servicemembers worldwide.

 From Stars and Stripes:

“We’re trying to get the first two phases of that process done as quickly as possible,” Gates said, adding he has instructed Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley to accelerate his efforts. “My hope is that it can be done within a matter of a very few weeks so that we can then move on to what is the real challenge, which is providing training to 2.2 million people. And we will do that as expeditiously as we can.”

Many people may imagine that this training will consist of snarling drill sergeants attempting to conduct sensitivity sessions. I predict lots of jokes on late night TV as this goes forward. For me, thinking about which policies will change and how is far more interesting.

It's difficult for us civilians to wrap our minds around the kind of hyper-intrusive technicalities that comprise military regulations affecting service members' lives. Consider the following news report from Afghanistan, also in Stars and Stripes. It will be fascinating to watch how practices like this no-sex order will be affected when the institution has to admit - in a way that it never has, despite the bogus "don't ask" part of DADT under which silent gay service was supposedly ok - that gay people are in the military.

A new order signed by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101, has lifted a ban on sexual relations between unmarried men and women in the combat zone.

General Order No. 1 outlines a number of prohibited activities and standards of conduct for U.S. troops and civilians working for the military in Afghanistan. Previously, under the regulation, sexual relations and "intimate behavior" between men and women not married to each other were a strict no-no. The regulation also barred members of the opposite sex from going into each other’s living quarters unless they were married to each other.

The new regulation warns that sex in a combat zone "can have an adverse impact on unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline." But sexual relations and physical intimacy between men and women not married to each other are no longer banned outright. They’re only "highly discouraged," and that’s as long as they’re "not otherwise prohibited" by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to the new order.

Single men and women can now also visit each other’s living quarters, as long as everyone else who lives there agrees, and as long as visitors of the opposite sex remain in the open "and not behind closed doors, partitions or other isolated or segregated areas," according to the new regulation. Unmarried men and women who are alone together in living quarters must leave the door open, according to the new policy.

Men and women "will not cohabit with, reside or sleep with members of the opposite gender in living spaces of any kind," unless they are married or if it’s necessary for military reasons, the new policy states.

A cursory reading of the order would seem to suggest that unmarried men and women could have sex in their living quarters, as long as all other persons who live there agree, or if they left the door open, if they were otherwise alone. But that’s not the case, said Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for Regional Command East and Combined Joint Task Force-101.

"Sex in both scenarios … would be a chargeable offense under the UCMJ," Nielson-Green said, referring to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

[Story continues after the jump -->]

Continue reading "DADT repeal process marches on" »

December 31, 2010

2010: From trans liberation (?) to geezers on the left and into 2011...

As a way to close out 2010, here's the official pronouncement from the NY Times that this was a technicolor transversal year:

It's certainly a statement on our times that, in the same month, James Franco graces the covers of GQ and Candy. In GQ, he appears in a moody head shot. In Candy, a style magazine dedicated to what it calls the “transversal” — that is, transsexuality, transvestism, cross-dressing, androgyny and any combination thereof — Mr. Franco, shot by Terry Richardson, vamps in trowel-applied makeup, heavy jewelry and a woman’s dominatrix-style power suit.

Candy, it turns out, is but one of the more visible bits of evidence that 2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual. Yes, Mr. Franco is just dressing up and doesn’t feel he was born the wrong sex. But it is a grand gesture of solidarity with gender nonconformists and certainly hasn’t affected attendance at “127 Hours.”

Other celebrities have flirted with “the other side,” cross-dressing for fashion publications. On the cover of the current Industrie, Marc Jacobs is decked out in one of his signature women’s designs (albeit with a beard). Japanese Vogue Hommes revealed its new male model, Jo Calderone, who was, in actuality, Lady Gaga.

Not since the glam era of the 1970s has gender-bending so saturated the news media. ...The only thing that would have raised more awareness of trans people would have been a link with the president — even better, a link that rhymed. That’s when the “tranny nanny,” Barack Obama’s transvestite nanny from his boyhood in Jakarta, Indonesia, was discovered and made headlines...

[The third photo is of model Lea T, in feathers, who told the Times,] “I hope we have a big revolution, and people change their minds about us — that it is just the beginning.” 

If only.

And then there's this photo of a group that looks (especially by comparison to the first photo) like the new leadership team for Geezers Anonymous, or maybe for a group representing everyone ever voted off the island.

From left: Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Pete Stark, Henry Waxman, Charles Rangel and John Dingell are pictured
Not so funny, though, when you consider that no political entity in the country produced more significant legal change this year (or this decade) than the House of Representatives 2010, which led every successful progressive initiative - from health reform to new regulation of the financial markets to literally hundreds of bills that were blocked in the Senate to, at the end, kickstarting the final push to repeal DADT. No, none of those is perfect, but compared to anything we've seen come out of either chamber of Congress in 30 years, it's a pretty darn impressive list of accomplishments.

So, unlikely as hell, this crew really can claim to be fierce advocates. Yes, Virginia, liberals can be fierce. Too bad they're about to return to the political equivalent of the North Pole.

December 17, 2010

Suppression of queer speech: The more things change...

Twenty years ago, my friend and colleague David Cole and I represented the NEA 4, gay and feminist artists who were awarded grants through the peer review process at the National Endowment for the Arts, only to lose them when the NEA Director caved in to pressure by rightwingers who attacked their art as obscene and blasphemous. Sound familiar?

Following is an essay by David in the NY Review of Books commenting on how arts censorship ca. 1990 looks from the vantage point of 2010:

On November 29, a conservative website posted an 11-second clip of ants crawling over a crucifix from a 4-minute video made by David Wojnarowicz, an artist who died of AIDS in 1992. The video, Fire in My Belly, was part of a show at the National Portrait Gallery called “Hide/Seek,” said to be the country’s first national exhibition devoted to gay and lesbian themes. Wojnarowicz made the video in 1986 and 1987, as his lover Peter Hujar was dying of AIDS, and as David himself learned that he was HIV-positive; it is an eerie meditation on life, death, violence, and nature, featuring imagery from the Day of the Dead. David later explained that he saw Jesus as a symbol of someone who willingly took on the suffering of the world. A self-appointed conservative guardian of public morality, William Donohue of the Catholic League, saw it differently, and attacked the video clip as blasphemous and demanded that the piece be taken down. The Smithsonian—which runs the National Portrait Gallery and which is funded by the US Government—promptly removed the video from the exhibition, effectively granting Donohue a “heckler’s veto.”

About twenty years ago, a gaunt, respectful, but angry David Wojnarowicz [photo left by Peter Hujar] walked into 04-Hujar_DavidWojnarowicz_jpg_240x699_q85 my office at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York to ask what could be done about a flier that Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association had just sent out to every member of Congress, all major newspapers and TV networks, and thousands of religious ministers throughout the country. The flier featured images of gay male pornography, and claimed that they were David Wojnarowicz’s art, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The claim was blatantly false. David had incorporated small “found” images from gay male pornography in a series of life-sized collages devoted to the challenges of living as a gay man in the 1980s, in a community ravaged by AIDS and beset by condemnation, prejudice, and hatred. But Wildmon had reproduced only the pornographic images, stripping them from their context in the collages, and blatantly twisting the facts to further his homophobic propaganda.

We sued Wildmon, and in 1990, a federal district court ruled that he had violated David’s rights under the New York Artists Authorship Rights Act, which forbids the misrepresentation of an artist’s work. The court ordered Wildmon to cease sending out any further fliers, and to deliver a correction to everyone who received the original flier. Because David’s work had independently obtained wide recognition and was increasing in value—art critic Dan Cameron has called him “one of the most potent voices of his generation”—we were unable to demonstrate that the controversy had caused him financial damages. As a result, the court ordered Wildmon to pay David one dollar in nominal damages. David promptly incorporated the dollar in an artwork inspired by the controversy. Two years later, David died.

Around the same time, the Corcoran closed a show of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs because of pressure from social conservatives, and the NEA revoked funding to four performance artists—Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes, and Tim Miller—after conservative columnist Robert Novak blasted the endowment for using public money to fund gay and sexually-explicit artwork. We sued the NEA over its denial of funding, and after a court rejected its motion to dismiss the case, the NEA agreed to pay the artists the amount of their grants.

In one sense, David Wojnarowicz and the NEA Four won. The fact that the National Portrait Gallery has now dedicated a major exhibition focused on sexual difference and marginalization in American portraiture is also surely a victory. We live in more tolerant times...

But the battle is far from over...And from the standpoint of publicly funded art, the censors have won. Congress’s response to the “culture wars” was to require the NEA to “take into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public” in making arts funding decisions. The Supreme Court upheld that requirement. Public arts institutions learned that political controversy could jeopardize their financial support, and publicly funded arts have never been the same. When the National Portrait Gallery put on “Hide/Seek,” it made sure to finance it only with private donations, undoubtedly recognizing that it might stir protest. The show’s private funding was insufficient, however, to steel the Smithsonian when it faced criticism. (And now one of the largest private funders, the Andy Warhol Foundation, has threatened to cut off its financial support because the museum caved to pressure).

But while the recent censorship of Wojnarowicz’s work recalls what happened in the early 1990s, the differences are also instructive. When the Corcoran closed the Mapplethorpe show and the NEA revoked Karen Finley’s funding, widespread public outcry followed. The Smithsonian’s decision to remove Wojnarowicz’s video, by contrast, has attracted comparatively little attention. We have come to expect timidity in public arts institutions. In some sense, the surprise is not that the Smithsonian removed the video, but that it put on “Hide/Seek” in the first place.

The muted public response to the current controversy points in two different directions. On the one hand, homosexual self-expression is substantially more accepted today than it was twenty years ago. David would, I think, be surprised and gratified by the changes wrought in American culture... On the other hand, the fundamentalist censorial strain remains a profound force in American society, reflected today in the populist and often intolerant undertones of the religious right and the Tea Party. And one thing has remained a disappointing constant—public institutions’ willingness to cave on issues of public controversy. Like so many other wars, the culture wars of the 1980s have left their traces on America’s character. 

November 19, 2010

VERY British, VERY white men discuss "an unfortunate and tragic quirk"

Sure, you've heard of Sir John Wolfenden and his 12001_wolfenden_on famous report, the one that changed the game for all us sodomites, but have you ever heard Wolfenden himself?  Watch this amazing video blast from the past, as Wolfenden defends his 1957 report in response to questions from a panel of British journalists, brought to you from the BBC archives.

November 17, 2010

Sexual behavior and risk among adolescents in lesbian mom families

A new study based on a unique longitudinal study of lesbian mothers compares the 17-year-old children of lesbian parents to a national sample of adolescents as to sexual orientation, sexual behavior and risk of abuse. The study found a complete absence of sexual or other physical abuse. The authors also found a mixture of similarities and differences in sexual behaviors and self-identified orientation:

  • The teens in the study were significantly older than the national sample at the time of first heterosexual activity;
  • The daughters in the study were significantly more likely to have had same-sex activity than the national sample of girls; and
  • There was no difference between the boys in the two groups with regard to having engaged in same-sex behavior.

As to self-identification (for which there were no comparable data), 20% of the girls and 2.7% of the boys identified as predominantly to exclusively bisexual; none of the girls and 5.4% of the boys identified as predominantly to exclusively homosexual.

The results come from an a computer survey of 78 teenagers (39 girls and 39 boys) in lesbian families who have been part of Dr. Nanette Gartrell's National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study since birth. The online nature of the questionnaire allowed them to answer outside the presence of their parents. The families are not representative by SES level, race or geography, but the NLLFS is by far the longest continuing study of the same cohort of gay families. 

The study is published online in Archives of Sexual Behavior, a peer-reviewed academic journal.

November 16, 2010

Should American women go Dutch?

A fascinating report by Jessica Olien for Slate, but to me it seems silly to imagine that one could transplant one aspect of progressive culture, in a way that would benefit women, without the rest of the welfare state that everyone in the Netherlands enjoys.  Decide for yourself:

I've been in the Netherlands for nearly three months now, and I've come to one overwhelming conclusion: Dutch women are not like me. I worry about my career incessantly. I take daily stock of its trajectory and make vicious mental critiques of my endeavors. And I know—based on weekly phone conversations with friends in the United States—that my masochistic drive for success is widely shared among my female friends. Meanwhile, the Dutch women around me take a lackadaisical approach to their careers. They work half days, meet their friends for coffee at 2 p.m., and pity their male colleagues who are stuck in the office all day.

Though the Netherlands is consistently ranked in the top five countries for women, less than 10 percent of women here are employed full-time. And they like it this way. Incentives to nudge women into full-time work have consistently failed. Less than 4 percent of women wish they had more working hours or increased responsibility in the workplace, and most refuse extended hours even when the opportunity for advancement arises. Some women cite the high cost of child care as a major factor in their shorter hours, but 62 percent of women working part time in the Netherlands don't have young children in the house, and mothers rarely increase their working hours even when their children leave home.

It's hard not to wonder: Have we gotten it all wrong? In the United States, the race for equality has gone mostly in one direction. Women want to shatter the glass ceiling, reach the top spots in the hierarchy, and earn the same respect and salaries as men do. But perhaps this situation is setting us up for a world in which none of us is having any fun. After all, studies of female happiness in the U.S. find that even as our options have increased and we have become financially more independent than in any previous time in our history, American women as a whole are not getting any happier. If anything, the studies show that we are emotionally less well-off than we were before. Wasn't the whole point of the fight for equality in the workplace to improve our wellbeing?

Dutch women could be considered extremely progressive when compared with most other women in the world—they have enviable reproductive rights and rates of political participation. But they are often responsible for only a small portion of the family income—25 percent of Dutch women do not even make enough money to be considered financially independent. The gap in pay between genders is among the highest in Europe, but because women are working only part time, this is not fodder for gender wars. Instead, women are more concerned with protecting their right to part-time work. In 2000, a law was passed mandating that women have the right to cut back hours at their jobs without repercussions from employers.

"We look at the world of management—and it is a man's world—and we think, oh I could do that if I wanted," says Maaike van Lunberg, an editor at De Stentor newspaper. "But I'd rather enjoy my life." Jacob Vossestein's book Dealing With the Dutch echoes that sentiment. He argues that people in the Netherlands view the hierarchical work environment with skepticism and do not generally envy those who climb its ranks.

Dutch women's refusal to seek longer hours has long bewildered economists. In the spring, the United Nations, suspicious that there was something keeping women from full-time jobs, launched an inquiry to see whether the Netherlands was in compliance with the women's rights treaty. A comprehensive 2009 study by Alison L. Booth & Jan C. Van Ours looked at the amount of time women in the Netherlands spend at work compared with women in other European countries. The authors assumed that part-time work was less desirable but ultimately confirmed that Dutch women don't want to spend more time at work. The NIS News Bulletin interpreted the results of the study as: "Attempts to get more women working full-time are doomed to failure because nobody has a desire for this. Both the women themselves and their partners and employers are satisfied with the Dutch part-time culture for women."

Continue reading "Should American women go Dutch?" »

November 04, 2010

Tweeting your abortion

From Salon:

Women are taking to Twitter with a blunt statement of fact: "I had an abortion." In fact, so many are tweeting about their experience that the hashtag "#ihadanabortion" began trending on the site yesterday. It all started with a tweet from @IAmDrTiller: "Time for us to come out. Who's had an abortion? Show antis we're not intimidated by scare tactics. Use: #ihadanabortion." The responses came streaming in:

I've had an abortion. It was not an easy decision, but it was the best one for me. #ihadanabortion

Almost half my life ago, #ihadanabortion. I'm not sorry. I've never been sorry. I will never be sorry. Just very, very grateful.

1992, 1998. #ihadanabortion

Yep, #IHADANABORTION.. more than one, now that I am ready I am now 7 months pregnant w/ my 2nd body, my decision!

Those who are ANTI-choice shd B glad #ihadanabortion. I went on to finish college, support myself, marry ... have 2 honor students. Nice, huh?

#IHadAnAbortion @ 17 ... no one helped much; every1 tried to protect the dude's reputation. Yuk. Grateful I had the option. I vote #prochoice.

Others tweeted their support or said things along the lines of "I haven't had an abortion, but I would if I got pregnant." There are surprisingly few anti-choice tweets and, for the most part, the thread feels like a small, intimate conversation -- so much so that I feel trepidation writing about it. That's the whole point, though -- to take this private conversation public, to scrub the "a-word" of stigma and shame. This is part of a long tradition of feminist consciousness-raising, it's just that the medium has changed.

In the documentary "I Had an Abortion," third-wave feminist Jennifer Baumgardner interviewed 20 women, including Gloria Steinem, about their decision to terminate their pregnancies. She also made t-shirts bearing the film's title and, as I wrote about with mixed feelings a few years back, she later started selling "I was raped" tees. Just as always, not all feminists or pro-choicers agree with the concept. "Not sure what the #ihadanabortion hashtag is meant to accomplish," one woman tweeted. "Pro-choice is one thing but this just seems needlessly provocative." In response, someone wrote: "Why is saying #ihadanabortion 'provocative?' I had my wisdom teeth out. Is that needlessly provocative? Or 'i had a baby at 15?'No?"

It seems silly to argue over whether tweeting about your abortion is provocative; of course it is, and the point is to make it less so. The real question is whether or not the #ihadanabortion thread is an effective step in that direction. There is part of me that bristles at the idea of abortion or rape being reduced to an edgy t-shirt slogan or a trending Twitter hashtag -- because the complexity of women's varying experiences is lost. But, you know what? Political slogans are not about nuance.

October 31, 2010

The impact of sexuality on American religion

From a review in The American Prospect of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell:

...The book's story is one of a religious earthquake and two aftershocks. The earthquake was the disaffection from religion occurring in "the long Sixties." Church attendance plummeted. So did the percentage of Americans saying that religion was "very important" in their life. At every stage of their life, boomers would always lag behind their parents by 25 percent to 30 percent in regular churchgoing. The authors know well that these were the years of the civil-rights, anti-war, and women's liberation movements, of pot, acid, the pill, Roe v. Wade, and Watergate. But with a refreshing directness and only a bit of embarrassment, they emphasize sex. Between 1969 and 1973, the fraction of Americans stating that premarital sex was "only sometimes wrong" or "not wrong at all" doubled, from 24 percent to 47 percent, a startling change in four years -- and then drifted up, never to decline. Attitudes toward premarital sex turn out to be one of the strongest predictors of a host of other political and religious changes, including that of the first great aftershock, the evangelical upsurge of the 1970s and 1980s.

That reaction to "the long Sixties" has been extensively analyzed. Less so the second great aftershock, the rise of the "nones" after 1990 when young people, in particular, began rejecting identification with any religion, though not necessarily with a variety of religious beliefs and practices. More and more young Americans, according to polls, came to view religion as "judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too political," overly focused on rules rather than spirituality. "The Richter rating of this second aftershock is greater than that of the first aftershock and rivals that of the powerful original quake of the Sixties," Putnam and Campbell write.

The second aftershock, however, only exacerbated the so-called God gap. The slightly shrinking evangelical camp became all the more identified with Republican conservatism. The new nones, mostly of a liberal stamp to begin with, increased the identification of Democrats with secularism.

Not that the identification of religious groups with one party or another was new in American history. A century ago a Methodist (outside the South), whether churchgoing or not, was more than likely a Republican; a Catholic, whether churchgoing or not, was more than likely a Democrat. What is new is the identification of religiosity itself, regardless of faith, with political partisanship. Today a churchgoer, whether Methodist or Catholic, is more likely to be a Republican while their indifferent or lapsed counterparts are more likely to be Democrats.

What changed? Issues of family and personal, especially sexual, morality that were always religiously salient became politically salient, that is, posed sharp choices between the parties. This was particularly the case with abortion and same-sex marriage. Would recent history be different if the conflicts over abortion and same-sex relationships had been fought out as much within the parties as between them, as has often been the case with free trade, military spending, Middle East policy, aid to education, and a number of other issues? "When abortion was emerging as a major issue during the 1970s," Putnam and Campbell note, "Democrats were somewhat more likely to oppose abortion than Republicans because, in that period, Catholics were overwhelmingly Democratic and pro-life. It was not until the Democratic and Republican parties took distinctive stands on abortion in the 1980s that the issue became a predictor of party sympathies."...