Combating Dystopia.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Cloture: DADT, Social Conservatism and Civil Rights

Joe. My. God.: DADT Cloture Passes Senate 63-33!!!

This is pretty remarkable news, and I admit I was somewhat cynical that- given all the posturing and heel dragging of the likes of McCain and the naysay set- that the vote to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would come to pass anytime soon. I was hopeful, as institutional discrimination is a disgusting affront to what we're all supposed to hold dear as American citizens...but admittedly there seems to be the typical reaction of social conservatives to find less than clever rationalizations for maintaining a very biased status quo. Ever fueling the social closure hypothesis. I find myself wondering now, if in our recent histories, segregationists felt similarly in the face of imminent (and ethical) striking down of Jim Crow. Did the Jesse Helms shrug and retire to his library to brood? Did political lobbying groups threaten those in office that endorsed or propagated these social changes the way the Family Research Council has? Vow revenge and shake their fists in a disturbingly undignified fashion, claiming that Senators should and will be “held accountable”. I’ve never heard language from the Left that even approaches this sort of paternalistic condescension.

My question becomes, “Did segregationists vow revenge and go out of their way to punish those responsible for what they considered the ‘end of the world’?” Likely, but I haven’t pierced that proverbial veil enough to say outright. I find the language and tactics of these far right groups increasingly erratic and problematically aggressive, and their ability to project any pretense of civility towards the groups they actively seek to disenfranchise (i.e- the gay minority in this instance) rapidly evaporating. The “love the sinner, hate the sin” meme is greatly disingenuous as a lot of the rhetoric about homosexuality being a “perverse pathology that ought to be criminalized ” etc that doesn’t pass many, if any litmus tests of ethical consistency. The very reason several of these groups go from being covertly bigoted (which is still concerning, but a person’s belief system even when based on consistent falsehood and fabrication is still their own) to groups on the SPLC’s hate list is because they willfully push forward these fabrications and demonizing rhetoric as though it were true for the whole group. Evangelical Bryan Fisher seems convinced (based on flimsy logic, to put it nicely) that all gay men are pedophiles, in fact, he seems obsessed with the notion and publishes information to this effect constantly.(RightWing Watch has an amusing write up involving Fischer,here ) Anything to advance the glaring misconception that gay people, like black people, like Jews and agnostics are somehow less than and deserve nothing short of differential treatment for not adhering to the expected behavior set of the dominant group.

In the case of DADT it means that it is not only rational as far as the religious conservative is concerned, as gay men are mentally ill perverts who are likely to molest their fellows while they sleep, to hunt down otherwise functional and effective personnel for what they might do in their personal lives, rummage through their things and fire them for whom they happen to love or like, it’s a duty of any God fearing Christian to purge the sinners from their midst. This, in a time when the American military is involved in two wars and military retention is low. It reminds me of an excellent book I read about the McCarthy era called the Lavender Scare, which examined one of the most effective expulsions of gay (or perceived to be gay) employees from State and Federal employment in the nation’s capital and more importantly the socio-cultural mindsets behind them. Much of the ideology that advanced the firing of thousands of possibly gay employees exists part and parcel in DADT. A lot of this comes from the outdated concept that a.) ones sexual orientation, provided it is not heterosexual is something that should at all costs remain hidden, and therefore such an intense secret would be a “national security risk” if enemies discovered it. b.) the myth that being gay is a “lifestyle choice” that gay persons seek to spread to others. The American Psychological Association in its infancy bares some responsibility for furthering the social concept that homosexuality = mental illness, but has since been consistent in debunking this. Much like eugenics, and other pseudo-scientific attempts to justify bigotry in the early 1900s, the lion share of these ideas just do not hold up against scientific research. That said, its almost unthinkable for any fair minded American to put forth their own prejudices and expect them to dictate governmental policy (With the exception of anti-immigration law and, Islamaphobia…on second thought…I take that back.). My personal distaste for persons who wear too much perfume is a personal bias, should I win election and ban perfume in public places, it becomes institutional discrimination. We’ve established that much of the animus towards gay soldiers is based on irrational fears generated by the Cold War era and perpetuated over and over by social conservatives and those who have not given the issue any rigorous empirical consideration. No one is suggesting that one has to alter one’s belief system to serve in the military, but to suggest that one must be thrown out of service for belonging to any particular status in their private lives is the antithesis of American ideology. Fairness dictates that we do not institutionally enshrine bigotry in any form into law and it is with incredible, profound pleasure that I see our society coming to a point where this fairness is becoming more universally applicable. This is another step in the moving, noble journey towards human decency on the whole and I for one am quite pleased to be witnessing history unfold before us.

Bare in mind that the Cloture vote passing means that no more debate on the topic need be heard and that the actual vote can go forward. Our political system works in, at times, confounding ways, but the future of DADT should be decided by the end of the day. Hope springs eternal.

EDIT: As of today, the policy Dont Ask Don't Tell, which compells the military to discharge military personnel it discovers is gay is no longer the rule of law. You've just witnessed civil rights history folks. This was the doing of several brave and tireless activists and soldiers themselves (Lt. Dan Choi for example has worked fiercely and outspokenly with this end in mind and deserves credit for his determination), honorable politicians and the changing winds of American cultural reality. Its also important to note that President Obama and the political climate at present has a lot to do with this victory (as few GOP Senators voted in favor of the repeal and fewer still can discuss gay persons without the loaded rhetoric we've discussed above). This is a profound moment in which we break with antiquated notions of difference and condemnation and start acting as though egalitarian ideals actually mean more than the lipservice so often given. Its a good day for liberty.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bigots in Sheeps Clothing: the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-gay Lobbyists

Southern Poverty Law Center, Family Research Council: 'Hate group' label fits -

As an undergraduate at East Carolina University, and later as a Grad Student in their Sociology department, many times I’d find myself at Southern Poverty Law Center’s website with both a stark admiration of the quality of the research they do, and the inkling that someday, in some way, I’d love nothing more than to work with an organization with the same sort of mission statement. The SPLC does invaluable work monitoring and providing legal opposition to hate groups, and their dedication to civil rights and the civically disenfranchised in our society is beyond commendable. The difficulty with being a steadfast proponent of positive social change is that there are often social and legal constructs long set in place against such progress. Quite similarly, scripture and (false) pseudo-scientific rationalizations were concocted to justify slavery and later segregation socio-culturally, just as Jim Crow was legislated to ensure that the social order/status quo was maintained.

Sociological thought assumes no different when it comes to homophobia. Attitudes towards those that seek to enshrine persons who happen to be gay in a separate and unequal career trajectory should their cloistered lives be brought to light. (I’m looking at you Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) Or are squeamish about anti-bullying legislation if it includes any language “endorsing” homosexuality whilst being draped in the guise of religious freedoms can still in fact be hateful. Discrimination of this nature is institutional, much the way slavery became institutional and anti-miscegenation laws became institutional. When the government adopts the prejudices of the overall society and then seeks to disempower an ethnic or cultural minority group based on these assumptions (i.e- Travel Bans on HIV Positive persons) we have no place pretending that we live in a democratic, egalitarian society where the rights of all are upheld and protected.

What is entirely valid and well said about the editorial I reference above, is that Tim Rutton on December 1, 2010 evidenced all the ways individual prejudices become institutionalized discrimination. He looks at the history of the SPLC and the contrasting organization the Family Research Council and comes away with the analysis that the verdict of the SPLC here is correct entirely because of the defamation and misinformation used to pursue their goals. If the Family Research Council has valid information about why homosexuality in their religious view is a sin, fine. But to present scientifically disproven information (numerous studies bare out that a lot of the rhetoric the Christian right presents about the evils of homosexuality are miguided at best) and/or to conflate an entire group of people with pedophiles hellbent on converting one’s children and destroying the foundation of the family is nothing more than pearl clutching histrionics, not the assertions of a credible research institution.

These paragraphs are key:

Other conservative commentators also have assailed listing the council as a hate group, calling it an affront to protected speech. That is a superficially compelling argument, but it won't withstand scrutiny. It is perfectly possible for a church or an organization associated with a denomination or religious tendency — as the Family Research Council is with evangelical Protestantism — to oppose, say, marriage equality as a departure from tradition and traditional notions of civic virtue without defaming gays and lesbians as a group.

But the council goes well beyond that. Over the years, it has published statistical compendiums purporting to quantify the "evils" of homosexuality. One of its pamphlets is entitled, "Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of the Homosexual Lifestyle." At various times, its spokesmen have spuriously alleged that the gay rights movement's goal "is to go after children" and that child molestation is more likely to occur in households with gay parents. Last week, one of its senior fellows, Peter Sprigg, told reporters on a conference call concerning repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that "homosexuals in the military are three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than heterosexuals are relative to their numbers."

Such rhetoric is eerily reminiscent of that with which religiously affiliated opponents of African American equality once defended segregation. It wasn't all that long ago that some of them argued against school integration because, they alleged, black adolescents were uniquely unable to control sexual impulses and, therefore, would assault white schoolgirls. Exhortations against "race mixing" were commonplace pulpit messages short decades ago, though we now recognize them as hate speech. It's past time to do the same with rhetoric that denigrates gays and lesbians.

And this is the eerily familiar aspect of this social conservatism. Society, especially those in more socially conservative periods of humankind, has been uniformly talented at maintaining the status quo, and incredibly creative about creating ways to perpetuate social control. Politicians and now unfortunately powerful lobbyist groups like the Family Research Center are quick in these instances to deem themselves as the arbiters of social propriety and dictate others act accordingly. As Rutten implies, this oversteps the bounds of religious freedom by a great deal, and encroaches on the rights of others to make any decisions outside of those prescribed by said arbiters. If these assertions are made within the confines of a religious institution, they are to be honored and protected, if they make their way into public discourse and policy, the assumption that they’re to be protected by religious freedoms becomes flimsier and flimsier still.

If you and your preacher agree that “the gays” are all the things those scant scriptures say they are, fine. But the day you seek to disempower the rights of other law abiding citizens because of it all pretense of civility and ethicality recedes from view.