November 17, 2007

Gay Demographics Changing Political Landscape

From the USA Today, emphasis added by me:

On Desperate Housewives recently, Susan finally realizes her new Wisteria Lane neighbors Bob and Lee (both men) are not just business partners, and exclaims, "Oh, that's super! Yeah, I've seen a lot of cable, so I get it. You're just great."

New analyses of Census Bureau data suggest this scene is playing out increasingly across this nation as same-sex couples become more visible in even the most conservative neighborhoods. What remains to be seen is whether politicians understand what this means.

Since 1990, the Census Bureau has tracked the presence of same-sex "unmarried partners," commonly understood to be lesbian and gay couples. From an initial count of about 145,000 same-sex couples in 1990, the 2006 data show that this population has increased fivefold to nearly 780,000 couples. The number of same-sex couples grew more than 21 times faster than the U.S. population did. So either gay recruitment efforts have succeeded, or lots more lesbian and gay couples are "coming out" on government surveys.

As a demographer, I say it's the latter. In a 1992 survey by the University of Chicago, 2.8% of men and 1.4% women identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Ten years later, a National Center for Health Statistics study pegged that figure at 4.1% — almost one-and-a-half times more men and three times more women.

Meanwhile, support for gay people grows. In the late 1980s, Gallup polls found about 30% of Americans thought "homosexual relations between consenting adults" should be legal. A May 2007 poll finds this figure has risen to 59%.

If it's no surprise that Americans are becoming more comfortable living among openly gay men and lesbians, the Census data do pack a wallop that politicians ignore at their peril. Since 1990, the number of self-identified same-sex couples in Mountain, Midwest and Southern states has averaged a sixfold increase. Compare that with the more liberal East and West Coasts, where increases have been less than fourfold.

Mountain states such as New Mexico and Colorado now rate among the nation's "gayest" states, ranking 2nd and 9th in the concentration of same-sex couples. Utah, where President Bush received more than 70% of the vote in 2004, has moved from 38th in 1990 to 14th in the most recent rankings.

Political pundits say many of the Mountain states will be battlegrounds in 2008 as they transition from red to "purple." Small wonder, then, that Arizona recently became the first state to reject a voter referendum to limit marriage to male/female couples. More generally, changes in the number of same-sex couples might be a leading indicator of which historically red states are trending purple.

The bellwether state might be Utah. In 2005, Salt Lake City approved a benefits program for lesbian and gay couples. Identifying openly as gay no longer represents an honor code violation at Brigham Young University. And, perhaps most striking, the state now has three openly gay state legislators. That's one more than in the U.S. Congress. Shades of purple?

In the past few elections, strategists used voter referendums and rhetoric against marriage rights for same-sex couples to mobilize religious conservatives. This "wedge issue" strategy banked on widespread discomfort with gay and lesbian couples that is clearly eroding.

As a gay demographic tidal wave empties the closets in some of the most conservative states, any notion that the rights of same-sex couples and gay men and lesbians are somehow separate from those of mainstream America looks politically iffy at best. In fact, using the gay and lesbian community as a political wedge might just wedge candidates into a losing corner.

Gary J. Gates is a senior research fellow at the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute and co-author of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas.

November 16, 2007

Video from the 2007 Ex-Gay Survivor Conference

Peterson Toscano, the co-founder of "Beyond Ex-Gay", was kind enough to let me know about a video posted online with highlights from this summer's Ex-Gay Survivor Conference.

You can view the video here.

Peterson and Beyond Ex-Gay co-founder Christine Bakke recently spent some time together working on the organization's website, and Peterson writes about their relationship and the goals of Beyond Ex-Gay on his blog.

The two leaders also appeared on the Strictly Confidential Radio Program to discuss their individual backgrounds and experiences and talk in detail about the organization. That program is linked on Peterson's blog entry.

I'm happy to publicize anything these folks do because they have been willing to put themselves out there to deliver a very important message--not only does ex-gay therapy not work, it often causes serious harm to the individual. Both Peterson and Christine found that out first hand and are investing a lot of themselves to help others avoid the pain they endured and learn to accept and even love who they are.

They do so without anger or bitterness about their own experiences, just a sincere interest in helping people.

It's go to know people who are still motivated to do that.

November 15, 2007

A Sign of Hope From a "Love Won Out" Conference

Bill Browning, who runs the outstanding LGBT blog "The Bilerico Project," attended a recent Love Won Out conference in Indianapolis, IN as the guest of Ryan McCann, Public Policy Director of the Indiana Family Institute. It's sad that most organizations with "family" in the title are anti-gay, but the IFI is yet another one of those.

Browning came away with a different take than you might expect:

What happened to fire and brimstone, Sodom and Gomorrah? What happened to holy retribution and pillars of salt? Is it possible that the evangelical church has finally realized that gays and lesbian exist and have a right to share the planet? While they are not reaffirming our lives are they, at the very least, acknowledging the fundamental need for kindness and tolerance? It wasn’t that long ago that the tent revival-call of “Repent!” was the only voice we heard echoing out of the church. How many untold suicides and hate crimes have happened as a direct corollary to anti-gay teachings? I was almost one of those statistics. How many children have been thrown out of their family homes?

As many mainline Protestant denominations have welcomed the LGBT community into their pews, the evangelicals have steadfastly condemned our very lives. I attended Love Won Out because I accepted the Indiana Family Institute’s challenge to see it for myself. IFI opposes and demonizes our community. They fight against our rights to fair housing, workplace discrimination protections, public accommodations and even our protection from hate crimes – all items they favor continuing for the religious community. By no means are they a friend to my family or countless others, but even IFI draws a line in the sand and doesn’t condone parental abuse.

I found a small kernel of hope at that convention. No child should be abandoned because of its sexuality. No child should be “shunned.” That should be the clarion call of all religious organizations no matter their stance on homosexuality. Perhaps it is too late for my parents to hear this message but for the hundreds of attendees that early Saturday morning I hope the statement came through loud and clear.

I heard it. I’ll bet God did too.

Click here to read the rest of the post. When you read more about Browning's religious background, you'll appreciate what this must have meant to him.

Silencing Religious Speech In the Workplace

One of the claims by the religious right in regards to the Employer Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is that it would curtail religous freedom. In his latest column, Wayne Besen discusses the falicy of part of this arguement; religious speech in the workplace.

Focus on the Family's true agenda reared its ugly head in a story on the group's website which said: "ENDA would prevent employers from taking sexual orientation into consideration when hiring, promoting or firing."

Well, this is absolutely true. Why should sexual orientation be taken into consideration for a job? If people work hard, pay taxes and play by the rules they shouldn't have their careers ruined and personal finances wrecked because of an employer's religious hang ups."

ENDA also could silence religious speech in the workplace," the story goes on to say. Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for the Free Market Foundation, elaborated on this point in a debate against me on the Alan Colmes radio show, by complaining that ENDA might force him to take down a screen saver with a Bible verse condemning homosexuality.

First, the notion of "free speech" at work is patently absurd. If we could truly say whatever we wanted to our boss - few people would be employed. There is reasonable expectation that employees make the effort to create a harmonious workplace. Condemning anyone - for whatever reason - results in a hostile work environment that lowers morale and production. Any employee that can't make it through eight hours without hurling insults at co-workers - even if they are based on an interpretation of the Bible - should be fired. Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if people were given the green light to debase others based on their beliefs?

Of course, these fundamentalists don't want all people hurling nasty barbs at the water cooler - they want to reserve for themselves the special right to be nasty. If a co-worker insulted their faith - they'd be on the phone with a lawyer crying victim faster than one could say Leviticus. Finally, ENDA has a religious exemption - so no radical churches would be required to hire gay people. Therefore, the choir can remain closeted, as it has for centuries.

Besen hits on a very important point, the religous right is not interested in true religous freedom, they want to preserve the right to express their religious views, regardless of who might be hurt or offended. When you claim the moral high ground, that kind of thing doesn't matter.

Of course, when you put yourself up on a pedestal like that, the only thing left to do is fall off, and there has been plenty of that among these self-righteous leaders in recent years.

November 14, 2007

Here We Go With Another Year of "Defending Christmas"

From the Christian Post:

This Christmas season, whether a store greets you with “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” makes all the difference where you should do your shopping, says a Christian legal group.

Liberty Counsel is urging Christians to fight back to save Christmas from being erased from the public sphere by shopping at stores that honor instead of disregard Christmas.

The Fla.-based legal group released the first draft of its “Naughty & Nice” checklist Monday to advise consumers on which businesses to support.

Businesses and retailers are placed on the “Nice” list if they recognize Christmas and on the “Naughty” list if they censor or exclude the Dec. 25 holiday.

“Every consumer should make a list and check it twice, stop patronizing retailers which are naughty and shop at those which are nice,” said Mathew D. Staver, the group’s founder and chairman.

“Retailers which seek to profit from Christmas while pretending it does not exist should realize they have offended the vast majority of Americans who enjoy Christmas,” added Staver.

I never underestimate the religious right's ability to insult the intelligence of "the vast majority of Americans," and in my opinion they do so again with this innane campaign.

If they are so offended, perhaps they should take heed of this scripture, Proverbs 19:11

A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

If they want to make a naughty list, perhaps they should gather information on stores that sell merchandise made in foreign sweat shops that violate basic human rights. Perhaps they should list companies that practice discriminatory hiring policies.

Oops, forgot they are working hard to protect the right to discriminate against GLBT people.

I don't need a clerk at a store to wish me "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Hollidays" to understand what Christmas means, and I pity anyone whose understanding and appreciation of Christ's birthday is shallow enough for that to matter.

Christmas does not need to be protected, it needs to be celebrated. You can't force people to celebrate by boycotting their businesses. A much more effective approach is to let the light of Christ shine through us and minister to people one-on-one.

Organizing a boycott does get the press though, doesn't it?

November 13, 2007

Montgomery County, MD Passes Transgender Anti-Discrimination Protection

Here's an example at a local level how things could work out nationally with ENDA. I'm happy to say that again it's my home county that's ahead of the curve.

From Equality Maryland:

A three-year campaign to add Montgomery County to the list of growing jurisdictions nationally that ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression has paid off for Equality Maryland and residents of the County. Bill #23-07, sponsored by Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) at the request of Equality Maryland, passed unanimously, with all eight Council Members present voting in support. The ninth Councilmember, George Leventhal (D-At Large), had also pledged his support for the measure.

"Equality Maryland praises the Montgomery County Council for taking this important step in securing the livelihood of transgender individuals locally,” said Executive Director Dan Furmansky. “We applaud Councilmember Trachtenberg for her leadership and advocacy, and the entire Council for its commitment to social justice in the face of great hostility from rabid, anti-LGBT forces. Equality Maryland also proudly recognizes the pivotal role played by our board member, Dr. Dana Beyer, who serves as an aide to Councilmember Trachtenberg, in passionately championing passage of this bill.”

Equality Maryland has been advocating for transgender equality legislation since 2001, when the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation to prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation but failed to cover the category of gender identity and expression. In 2002, Equality Maryland (then known as Free State Justice) worked with advocates to pass a law unanimously in Baltimore City that was sponsored by then-Mayor Martin O'Malley. In 2007, the organization worked with legislators to introduce bills in the house to address discrimination in housing, employment, lending and public accommodations. The bill failed by one vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Earlier this year, Gov. Martin O'Malley reissued an Executive Order to clarify that transgender-motivated discrimination will not be tolerated in the state hiring process.

"Based on data from the 2000 Census, the total number of people now living in a jurisdiction with a transgender-inclusive anti-discrimination law in the United States is already 104 million," said Councilmember Trachtenberg. "Montgomery County is simply catching up with the times and creating a climate where all people are treated equally and free from discrimination and harm."

The Washington Transgender Needs Assessment survey estimates that 42% of transgender people in the DC Metro Area are unemployed; 31% have incomes of less than $10,000/year; and 19% do not have their own living space. The most common barriers cited by those who lack housing are their economic situation (38%), housing staff insensitivity or hostility to transgender people (29%), estrangement from birth family (27%) and lack of employment (23%).

November 12, 2007

Remembering Those Who Lost Their Lives To Hatred

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.

Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as transgendered — that is, as a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant — each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgendered people.

We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgendered people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgendered people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.

Especially in light of all the recent debate about the role of transgender people in the fight for GLBT equality, let's take time on the 20th to remember those whose lives were cut short because of someone's senseless hatred and prejudice.

You can find out more on the official site of the 9th Annual Transgender Day of Rememberance.

Announcing the 17th Edition of the ICP

The 17th edition of the International Carnival of Pozitivities has been posted on Slimconomy. This is truly keeping with the designation "international" since the host lives in South Africa.

From the ICP homepage:

Welcome to the blog carnival for people living with HIV/AIDS around the world. This includes every human being on the planet Earth. The intent of this carnival is to provide an international forum for interaction among those of us who are living with HIV/AIDS and for their caregivers, family and/or friends or those who are involved in the fight to end this Worldwide pandemic.

As a former host of the ICP myself, I can vouch for the fact that among the variety of posts each month there is something for everyone. I encourage you to check it out.

November 11, 2007

Canda Marks 40 Years of Gay Rights

On November 7, 1967, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the appeal of George Everett Klippert, who had been condemned to indefinite imprisonment for consensual sexual relations with other men.

The next day, Tommy Douglas, the first leader of Canada's New Democratic Party, rose in the House of Commons and called for homosexuality to be decriminalised.

Since then, the NDP has led the pack in defense of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

New Democrats succeeded in banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, tirelessly worked for equal marriage and are fighting today for international LGBT rights and for an end to discrimination based on gender identity.

As proof of its firm resolve to stand up for full equality and human rights, the NDP marked this important anniversary by unanimously adopting a comprehensive range of policies on LGBT rights during its Federal Council in Winnipeg last weekend.

In light of the fact that same-sex marriage is now legal in Canada, I was quite surprised that it has been less than 40 years since homosexuality was against the law up north. They've come a very long way in a very short time.

Click here to read more about the history and the new action taken by the NDP from PinkNews.