October 06, 2007

New Study on Gender Orientation and Suicidal Tendancies

From Science Daily:

The film and television series "M*A*S*H*" featured the song "Suicide is Painless," but new research refutes that idea and indicates that being victimized because of sexual orientation is a chief risk factor for suicidal behavior among gay, lesbian and bisexual college students.

The study is the first to explore the link between victimization and suicidal behavior among college students. In the course of the study, University of Washington researcher Heather Murphy also uncovered a group of students who previously had not been studied and are at increased risk for suicidal behavior. These students identified themselves as heterosexual, but also reported being attracted to people of the same sex or engaging in same-sex behavior.

This group was three times as likely as heterosexuals to have made a plan to commit suicide in the past year and six times more likely to have actually attempted suicide in the same period. Gay, lesbian and bisexual students also were at increased risk for suicidal behavior. They were twice as likely as heterosexuals to have planned and to have attempted suicide in the previous year.

There's a lot of additional detail in the Science Daily article that is worth reviewing.

October 05, 2007

A Tale of Two Theocracies

David Rhea has a column in The Advocate drawing disturbing parallels to the theocratic leader or Iran and the President George W. Bush, who evidence shows would like the same type of job description:

Very little that happens in this perplexing world truly rates as surprising anymore. Yet Monday’s remarks by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University stunned just about everyone who heard them.

According to Ahmadinejad, gay people simply do not exist in Iran. Gays are a mere “phenomenon” that occurs, he suggests, only in Western culture. It reminds me of former first mother Lillian Carter's assertion a couple of decades ago that gays also don’t exist in Georgia, which one could excuse somewhat as age and the faultless ignorance of the times and culture in which she was raised.

While Ahmadinejad may have a cultural void in common with dear Miss Lillian, he certainly cannot attribute any portion of his ignorance to the times or to age.
Perhaps the real phenomenon here is the culture that allows a man with such a clear void of either intellectual curiosity or a firm grasp of historical and scientific reality to ascend to the highest office in his country -- albeit in Iran, where that office is effectively a theocratic dictatorship.

Upon reflection, two bitter realities then hit.

First, numerous reasonable, highly respected individuals have said the very same about the heads of America’s current regime. What is our excuse?

And second, while Ahmadinejad’s assertion that there are no gays in Iran seems preposterous on the surface, his statement -- while not quite true just yet -- is increasingly becoming reality with each passing month. When a reporter informed Mr. Ahmadinejad after his remarks that she personally knew many gays in Iran, he openly asked for their addresses so that his country’s authorities could check into it.

Click here to read the entire essay.

October 04, 2007

More on Gay Life (Such As It Is) In Iran

A recent article in the New York Times delved into the question of whether or not gay people actually exist in Iran (this just in, they do).

When Reza, a 29-year-old Iranian, heard that his president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had denied in New York that homosexuals were in Iran, he was shocked but not surprised. Reza knows the truth. He is gay.

Leaning back in his black leather desk chair at home in Tehran, he said there were, in fact, plenty of gay men and women in Iran. The difference between their lives and those of gays in Europe and North America is one of recognition and legitimacy.

“You can have a secret gay life as long you don’t become an activist and start demanding rights,” he said, speaking on the condition that his family name not be used because he feared retribution.

Reza, who shaves his head and often wears an earring in his left ear, has lived in Europe extensively. Gay life in Iran, he said, “is just complicated in the same way that it is for other groups, like workers and feminists, who don’t have many rights.”

Since Mr. Ahmadinejad uttered his words at Columbia University last Monday, discussion of homosexuality has been stifled here. Sociologists and other analysts normally willing to discuss such issues on the record with a reporter suddenly were not.

But, speaking anonymously, several said that the president had clearly been caught off guard by the question because no one at an Iranian university would have dared to ask him such a thing. They also argued that it was probably better for Iranian gays that Mr. Ahmadinejad denied their existence since that made it likelier that they would be ignored and let alone.

For a country that is said to have no homosexuality, Iran goes to great lengths to ban it. Gays are punished by lashing or death if it is proved that they have had homosexual relations. Two gay teenagers were executed in 2005 in Mashad, a northeastern city.

Fear of persecution is so strong that some gay men and lesbians have sought and received asylum in Western countries.

Click here to read the entire article.

October 03, 2007

October is GLBT History Month

The Equality Forum is presenting features on leaders in and allies of the GLBT community every day in October, which is GLBT History Month. I'm a couple of days late with this, but there's still plenty of time to catch up and check out the wonderful stories. There's a lot learn here, and I'd like to thank The Equality Forum for putting it together and posting it for everyone to enjoy.

Click here to visit the GLBT History Month 2007 site.

October 02, 2007

Fully Inclusive ENDA Gets a Reprieve

From The Adovcate:

Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday saying she would postpone advancing the latest version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that includes protections for gays and lesbians but excludes transgender people. The bill was scheduled for markup in committee on Tuesday, at which point it would have been sent to the House floor for a vote.

“After discussions with congressional leaders and organizations supporting passage of ENDA, we have agreed to schedule mark-up of the bill in the Committee on Education and Labor later this month, followed by a vote in the full House,” Pelosi said in press release. “This schedule will allow proponents of the legislation to continue their discussions with Members in the interest of passing the broadest possible bill.”

The move was a nod to a critical mass of LGBT activists who came forward to adamantly oppose passing a version of ENDA that lacks transgender-inclusive language.

I appreciate the feedback I received from my recent post about the Democrats presenting a version of ENDA without gender identity protection, and let me clearly state my wish that a law that protects ALL people from discrimination in the workplace can get through Congress and force President Bush to make a decision about signing it.

I found this report on 365gay.com that details just how watered down the compromise version of ENDA is:

In addition to the missing protections for transgender people on the job, the new bill also leaves out a key element to protect any employee, including lesbians and gay men who may not conform to their employer's idea of how a man or woman should look and act.

This is a huge loophole through which employers sued for sexual orientation discrimination can claim that their conduct was actually based on gender expression, a type of discrimination that the new bill does not prohibit, said Lambda.

The new version of ENDA also states without qualification that refusal by employers to extend health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of their employees that are provided only to married couples cannot be considered sexual orientation discrimination.

This is approaching the point of "why bother" if there are too many loopholes. Let's hope GLBT advocates can successfully use this additonal time to lobby for a bill that will really make a difference.

Interview with Rev. Steve Kindle, a Straight Ally

This from Faithfully Liberal:

The Rev. Steve Kindle has a unique ministry. He is Executive Director of Clergy United for the Equality of Homosexuals , a consulting and education organization focused on the inclusion of homosexuals and transgender persons in the church. Originally ordained in the conservative Churches of Christ, in whose colleges and seminaries he received his theological education, today he has standing in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. Before founding Clergy United, he served as pastor of two “Open and Affirming” Disciples congregations, and since then has served as consultant to congregations exploring the process of becoming open and affirming to the GLBT community, and this fall he’ll be speaking to a number of Log Cabin Republican groups. Since the blogging bug has bit Steve, he has launched a new blog called Open Hearts – Affirming Pages.

Q. Since your background is fairly conservative, what was it that changed the way you looked at homosexuals?

A. I was raised in a very conservative home, both politically and religiously. My understanding of the gay community was formed by all the stereotypes that typically accompany such an upbringing: that they are in the main promiscuous, self-centered, lust filled, choose this “lifestyle,” and are not to be trusted around children. I happened to move from North Dakota to San Francisco and, in the course of getting to know the gay community, I discovered the startling reality that GLBTs are as normal as any other large segment of America. Also, working with many gay Christians challenged my view that “gay Christian” is an oxymoron. So, I began a lifelong pursuit of examining the scriptures used to support the antigay view and found the traditional interpretations wanting.

Q. To take this to another level, since you teach a seminar on the Bible and Homosexuality, what is the role of biblical interpretation in forming our views?

A. Most Christians don’t form their views, they inherit them. In the case of Fundamentalist, those who teach them seldom interpret the Bible; they are content to “let the Bible speak for itself.” So the surface reading of the scriptures is left as the final meaning rather than as the starting point for understanding. It’s as though the Bible should be read the same way we read the morning paper, without taking into consideration that some 2,000-3,000 years separate us from the original documents. If you are going to take the Bible seriously, you can’t take it literally; what it says may not be what it means in the least.

Q. Finally, Steve, is there anything we’ve not yet covered that you just have to get off your chest?

A. Yes, indeed, and thank you! Ultimately, the refusal of marriage to same-sex couples is a denial of their humanity. The first “not good” of creation was God’s discovery that “it is not good for the human to be alone.” When the church denies marriage to gay couples it is saying that you are not worthy of having your loneliness relieved in the only way it is possible. In other words, you are not worthy of being a human being. Imagine the anguish of a straight person not being able to marry, ever, unless he or she married someone of the same sex. God created us all in the image of God. Who are we to denigrate that which God has made?

I strongly agree with these points made by Rev. Kindle. It is always reassuring when I run across a straight person who shares the same calling of advocating for the GLBT community.

He tries to get people to think for themselves, not just take what they've always been taught at face value. I've said this before and it bears repeating here; education is the number one antidote to homophobia. I'm glad Rev. Kindle seems to approach his ministry with that goal.

September 30, 2007

What's Worse, ENDA without Transgender Protection, or no ENDA?

That's the question the Deomcrats in Congress believe they must answer, feeling that they will not get the pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed while it includes coverage for gender identity concerns.

Matt Foreman, the Executive Director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, wrote an essay for The Billerico Project making it clear where he stood on that issue:

Gender identity language has twice passed through the House in the hate crimes bill, and earlier this year there were similar last-minute concerns among new members. We were able to overcome them then, and should be given the chance to do so now. It is incredibly ironic that today, the same day news is breaking about the House removing gender identity protections from ENDA, the Senate just voted 60–39 to allow a voice vote on a transgender-inclusive hate crimes bill. The bill then immediately passed.

States as diverse as Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Iowa have all made discriminating against transgender people in the workplace against the law. Thirty-seven percent of Americans now live in jurisdictions that have workplace protections based on gender identity — just 14 percent fewer than the overall number (51 percent) who are protected on the basis of sexual orientation. These victories are a direct result of statewide LGBT rights organizations and state legislative leaders holding firm against last-minute concerns and not giving up at the first sign of trouble.

Congressman Barney Frank also contributed a lenghy essay to The Billerico Project explaining why he felt obtaining passage of most of the original ENDA goals was worth dropping the gender identity portions:

The real reason that people are now arguing that we should withhold any action on the antidiscrimination bill unless it includes transgender as well as sexual orientation is that they are, as they have explicitly said, opposed in principle to such a bill becoming law. That is the crux of the argument. There are people who believe – in the transgender community and elsewhere – that it would be wrong to enact a law that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation unless it fully included people who are transgender. I think this argument is deeply flawed.

First, I would note that since I first became a legislator thirty-five years ago, I have spent a lot of time and energy helping enact legislation to protect a variety of groups from discrimination. In no case has any of those bills ever covered everybody or everything. Antidiscrimination legislation is always partial. It improves coverage either to some group or some subject matter, but never achieves everything at once. And insistence on achieving everything at once would be a prescription for achieving nothing ever.

To take the position that if we are now able to enact legislation that will protect millions of Americans now and in the future from discrimination based on sexual orientation we should decline to do so because we are not able to include transgender people as well is to fly in the face of every successful strategy ever used in expanding antidiscrimination laws. Even from the standpoint of ultimately including transgender people, it makes far more sense to go forward in a partial way if that is all we can do. Part of the objection to any antidiscrimination legislation is fear of consequences, which fears are always proven to be incorrect. There is a good deal of opposition now to passing even sexual orientation legislation. Enacting legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and getting a year or two’s experience with it, will be very helpful in our ultimately adding to it protection for people who are transgender. That is, if you always insist on doing all the difficult things in one bite, you will probably never be successful. Dismantling the opposition piecemeal has always worked better.

Sadly, while I strongly agree with Mr. Foreman's principles, I also respect Rep. Frank's political savvy and yield to his arguement. I strongly agree with Rep. Frank's frustration toward people that want to withold ENDA until every portion of it could gain passage--why defer the benefits that can get pushed through immediately, holding those hostage until there is complete inclusion? That is clearly not the lesser of the evils, which is often the barometer for making political decisions.

The passage of ENDA would be a major victory for the GLBT community. Yes, I'm leaving the T in their because any movement toward full equality gets those still lacking closer to achiving it themselves.

When rights are gained by changing laws, they must happen incrementally and gradually because there will always be a strong opposition. They must also be safeguarded because laws can be changed or even completely reversed.

That's why the most effective way to change society is to change people's hearts. Establishing laws to enforce are important because they impact behavior, but they don't necessarily change attitudes. Sometimes they actually strengthen the resolve of those who opposed the change.

As members or allies of the GLBT Christian community, we have the best opportunity to effect a lasting change in society by teaching people that Jesus would not discriminate against GLBT people. He loves us all equally and wants us to treat each other in that manner. That's where we should spend our energy and resources.

Until then, part of a loaf is still better than not having any bread at all. I encourage GLBT activists and their allies to continue their support of ENDA, even a diminished version of it, while gearing up for the next steps toward equal rights and protections in the workplace for ALL people.

Elton John Pushed New British PM to Support AIDS Fund

Say what you will about Elton John (one of my favorite all-time entertainers), he has been a trooper in leading fund raising efforts to fight AIDS. He is using his platform to encourage new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make a serious financial commitment. From Pink News:

Elton John has publicly called for Prime Minister Gordon Brown's help to meet the G8's target for universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS by 2010.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, whose target was tripled at the last G8 in June, was set up in 2002 to finance operations to help combat the diseases around the world.

Speaking in his role as Chairman of the Elton John Aids Foundation, Elton explained that the fund was only half way to meeting its target and urgently needed the prime minister's assistance in leading the world by example.

"I believe Gordon Brown's leadership and vision on this issue is urgently needed, right now.

After all, he played a central role in bringing world leaders to commit to universal access, and he helped found the Global Fund, which has proven itself by saving an estimated 1.8 million lives.

If the UK were to provide £700m over three years, tripling its annual contribution by 2010, it would challenge the rest of the world to follow suit."

Let's hope PM Brown answers the call, and let's also hope that Elton John continues his push to fund AIDS treatment and research worldwide.