Tuesday, December 30, 2008

21 Reasons why Gender Matters: shonky referencing and the mental health of gay people

I found a second serious referencing error in the anti-gay pamphlet 21 Reasons why Gender Matters. Like the earlier one, it falsely claims that a study includes text which it doesn't actually include. Unlike the earlier one, I can actually see how they got it wrong.

On page 14 of the pamphlet, the following text appears:
One study revealed that “the lifetime prevalence for two or more psychiatric disorders for men who engaged in homosexual behaviors was 37.85 per cent versus 14.4 per cent for men who did not engage in homosexual behaviors. For women engaging in homosexual behaviours, the rate for two or more psychiatric disorders was 39.5 per cent versus 21.3 per cent for women not engaging in homosexual behaviours. Society’s oppression of homosexual people is a hypothesis unlikely to find support in this study, concluded the Netherlands [sic], which is perhaps one of the most homosexual-affirming and tolerant countries in the world.”110

Footnote 110 refers to a study that is very popular among anti-gay activists trying to "prove" that homosexual behaviour itself directly causes the person engaging in it to become mentally disturbed: "Same-sex Behavior and Psychiatric Disorders", by TGM Sandfort et al, published in volume 58(1) of the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2001.

I have now read the complete study, and the text quoted above as appearing in the study itself does not appear anywhere within in. Given the actual sentiments expressed by the authors in the study, particularly their fairly clear statement in the "Comment" section that "because of the study's cross-sectional design, it is not possible to adequately address the question of the causes of the observed differences" in mental health, it is highly misleading to claim that they made any statement of fact as clear-cut as the one that the pamphlet falsely attributed to them.

The actual source of the quoted text is this article from the so-called "research and therapy" group NARTH, a little way in to "Section D:Mental Health, Physical Health, Stability of Homosexual Men and Women and Longevity of Homosexual Relationships". The shoddy use of HTML, in which a separate font is used when quoting a study, but that font accidentally spills out of the closing blockquote, could, if you're not reading carefully, give the misleading impression that the paragraph after the quote from the study is also a quote from the study. Apparently the Fatherhood Foundation didn't notice the problem.

The study itself that they're misquoting is interesting, and probably deserves a more thorugh consideration given the multiple lies that a great deal of anti-gay organisations tell about it, not just NARTH and the Fatherhood Foundation. For now I'll just point to a news article about a much more recent study about the issue of homosexuality and mental health, one which should give pause to any anti-gay activist trying to encourage negative attitudes to homosexuality: Parents' response key to health of gay youth:
Kids with parents who reacted negatively 8 times more likely to try suicide
by Lisa Leff
Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO - Young gay people whose parents or guardians responded negatively when they revealed their sexual orientation were more likely to attempt suicide, experience severe depression and use drugs than those whose families accepted the news, according to a new study.

Follow the link for the full article.

Friday, December 26, 2008

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters on transgenderism, cont.

The pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" can be found online here.

The pamphlet offers three footnotes citing two documents in support of their contribution to the question of "whether gender re-assignment surgery can ever be justified". The first footnote refers to a court case, in which they reference an online post from the right-wing site Worldnet Daily about the case rather than the case itself. The other two refer to statements made by transgender individuals who allegedly express regret about undergoing gender reassignment surgery, the second of which is also from the Worldnet Daily post.

The court case referred to is Marc Andrew Mario vs P & C Food Markets, Inc, in which Mario tried - unsuccessfully - to argue that his gender reassignment surgey should have been covered by his employer's health insurance because it was "medically necessary". The court found in a summary judgement that this was not the case, a judgement which was upheld on appeal. The characterisation in the pamphlet that the decision was made due to the court's perceptation that there was "conflict in the medical community over whether or not gender dysphoria is a legitimate illness worthy of such severe medical intervention" seems accurate. It's not entirely clear with the court's impression was accurate, though.

Opponents of the ruling point out that this particular decision is "an anomaly in light of the many recent developments signaling a growing acceptance of the reality of transsexualism", including the Medicaid program in the US covering gender reassignment surgery in many states and jurisdictions, "under regulations that limit coverage to medically necessary procedures". There's apparently some room for disagreement here.

Not so much with the second, though. It's a quote from a transgender woman named Dr Renee Richards, taken from an interview with her in Tennis Magazine in March, 1999:
“I would have been better off staying the way I was,” said tennis star Renee Richards, the high-profile sex-change recipient.26 She goes on to say: “I wish that there could have been an alternative way, but there wasn’t in 1975. If there was a drug that I could have taken that would have reduced the pressure, I would have been better off staying the way I was - a totally intact person. I know deep down that I’m a second-class woman. I get a lot of inquiries from would-be transsexuals, but I don’t want anyone to hold me out as an example to follow. Today there are better choices, including medication, for dealing with the compulsion to crossdress and the depression that comes from gender confusion. As far as being fulfilled as a woman, I’m not as fulfilled as I dreamed of being. I get a lot of letters from people who are considering having this operation...and I discourage them all.”

I couldn't find the original interview, but a later interview with the New York Times provides some interesting context when she talks about her 1999 comment. Contrary to the implication in the Gender Matters pamphlet, Dr Richards does not believe that transsexualism doesn't exist, and does still think of herself as a woman:
''In 1999, you told People--'' the reporter begins.

Dr. Richards interrupts.

''--I told People what I was feeling, which I still feel: Better to be an intact man functioning with 100 percent capacity for everything than to be a transsexual woman who is an imperfect woman.''

In the same interview, Dr. Richards talked about wishing for something that could have prevented the surgery.

''What I said was if there were a drug, some voodoo, any kind of mind-altering magic remedy to keep the man intact, that would have been preferable, but there wasn't,'' Dr. Richards says. ''The pressure to change into a woman was so strong that if I had not been able to do it, I might have been a suicide.''

Does she regret having the surgery?

''The answer is no.''

Got that? She does not regret the surgery, she did not view her gendery dysphoria as "curable" through mere therapy, and the reason she does not want others to undergo the surgery is not because she thinks it's wrong to try and change gender, but because it doesn't go far enough in changing it.

The final footnote refers once again to Worldnet Daily, in which is quoted a self-described "former trans-sexual" named Joseph Cluse:
“How can outward physical change bring about the needed change
within? (After surgery) there is still a painful void,” says a regretful Joseph Cluse, who in 1979 had surgery in Trinidad, Colorado. “Relationships are destroyed and everyday I have to live with scars. The mirror is ever before me.”

Joseph Cluse is described on the Exodus International website as "a man whom God redeemed from transsexuality". His statement there that he no longer views himself as transgender, and that he sought gender reassignment surgery in the first place because "Satan’s stronghold on my life was such that I could see no other course for my life than a complete sex change operation" seems sincere enough, but it's difficult to tell with testimonials from people affiliated with ex-gay organisations. Will Joseph Cluse become JoAnna Cluse again as an ex-ex-transsexual, as so many ex-gays have become ex-ex-gays? Only time will tell.

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters on transgenderism

The pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" can be found online here.

On page 5 and 6, the pamphlet disgracefully misuses the story of Dr John Money as an argument against the very existence of transgender people. Apparently because one unwilling boy still viewed himself as a boy after an attempt to force him into girlhood was attempted, then this supposedly "highlights the dangers in gender reassignment which does not match the chromosomes of the individual."

No, this story tells us nothing about people who want to have their gender reassigned at all. But then, the Religious Right always did have a problem fully understanding the concept of free will.

21 Reasons why Gender Matters: Footnote 7

The pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" can be found online here.

It's unclear to me which part of the text footnote 7 refers to. There are two sentences just preceding it: "Yet various social engineers, including extreme feminists and homosexual activists, have sought to ignore or minimise these inherent differences. Their attempts have led to social and personal upheaval." Does the Footnote refer to just the sentence about "social and personal upheaval", or does it contain evidence about the alleged activities of "extreme feminists and homosexual activists" as well? The way it's laid out is not at all clear.

The footnote itself is also singularly unhelpful, saying merely "See for example, Dale O’Leary, The Gender Agenda. Lafayette, LA: Vita Issues Press, 1997." I have to read an entire book to verify the claim (or possibly claims) being made? Again?

The book's full title is "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Inequality". It is not readily available to me, and I can't give any kind of verdict about it without reading it, even assuming I could take the time to do so, and trace down the further references almost certainly within it. I'll just have to add it to the pile I guess. In the meantime, here's a description of it from the viruently anti-feminist site "Fathers For Life":
The Gender Agenda, by Dale O'Leary, a book that explains the sinister strategy — firmly rooted in communist ideology — for the destruction of our families and the role that the U.N. and the seemingly innocent word gender play in it.

Oookay, then.

There's just too much referenced in this pamphlet to be able to examine everything properly (and why do I suspect that that's deliberate?). I'm going to have to change strategies and go after the low-hanging fruit first.

edit: Here is a further book review of "The Gender agenda", in which the author's bizarre confusion between the concepts of "gender" and "sexual orientation" can be seen:
It is a useful instrument to expose the aims and machinations of a strange new breed of people - people who believe in five genders, male, female, homosexual male, homosexual female, and bisexual.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Treatment of Muntadhar al-Zeidi looking very suspicious

So now the Iraqi government is claiming that the shoe-thrower was put up to the act by an un-named (but definitely evil) "militant".
"He revealed ... that a person provoked him to commit this act, and that person is known to us for slitting throats," al-Maliki said, according to the prime minister's Web site. The alleged instigator was not named and neither al-Maliki nor any of his officials would elaborate.

No word from al-Zeidi himself at this stage, although his brothers have been allowed to visit him. They contradict the government's claims:
"He told me that he has no regret for what he did and that he would do it again," Uday al-Zeidi told The Associated Press."

Muntadhar al-Zeidi's brothers continue to say that he's being tortured while in custody, although the AP is at pains to point out that "there has been no independent corroboration that al-Zeidi was abused once in custody." However, there is confirmation that he received injuries in the process of being arrested:
The investigating judge, Dhia al-Kinani, has said that the journalist was beaten around the face and eyes when he was wrestled to the ground after throwing the shoes at Bush during a Dec. 14 press conference in the Green Zone. The judge said al-Zeidi's face was bruised but he did not provide a further description.

I've been trying to give the Iraqi government the benefit of the doubt over the torture allegations, but this admission that he received injuries during his arrest, combined with the claim that he did not appear in open court on Wednesday 17th December despite earlier expectations that he would, do not bode well.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rick Warren - the reason behind the anger

The kerfuffle over the inclusion of evangelical minister Rick Warren at Obama's inauguration has inspired a fair bit of writing around the blogosphere. I might as well add my two cents.

I think that the reaction to Warren's inclusion is excessive, but the strength of the reaction has a reason behind it. This reason is more than just "hysterical faggots are over-reacting to nothing", which is in some cases disturbingly close to an accurate assessment of the sentiment expressed by people telling us to quieten down.

Having spent some time reading and listening to those who oppose gay rights, there's a certain style to their rhetoric. In many, many cases, the words and language convey kindness and a desire to help, but the sentiment behind them is deeply painful to the gay target. An example is in the motivations anti-gay people ascribe to themselves: where they say they're only so opposed to homosexuals being homosexuals because they love us and want to "rescue" us from the "evils" we face by being "in the homosexual lifestyle". I wonder if it has ever even occurred to them that they just told those of us who don't want to be "rescued" that they think we're in love with our "evil". Why else would we actively resist any attempts to "rescue" us, in their opinion?

I don't know if this duel-messaging is intentional, but it comes off as passive-aggressive: publicly conveying insulting messages, but then acting deeply hurt and shocked when called out on it, insisting that they never said anything insulting at all. Anyone who's been on the receiving end of such a tactic will know how deeply infuriating it is, made all the worse when others insist that it's the target who's in the wrong for losing their temper over "nothing".

Glenn Greenwald has suggested that the existence of the controversy here "is a proxy for numerous pre-existing conflicts and agendas that have nothing to do with Rick Warren". I do think that the anger has something to do with Rick Warren, or rather with evangelical anti-gay sentiment in general. It's frustrating that an evangelical can casually say in response to a question about gay marriage that "a committed boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is not a marriage. Two lovers living together is a not a marriage. Incest is not marriage. A domestic partnership or even a civil union is still not marriage", and then we get berated for suggesting that he just equated gay marriage with incest, and get lectured that Pastor Warren "shows no indication of hate or bigotry". The frustration at that false statement from someone who claims to be on our side needs an outlet.

It's unfortunate that the outlet has become Rick Warren's presence at Obama's inauguration, because it's a symbolic gesture really matters very little, if at all. But telling gay people to "quieten down", while making ZERO effort to understand the source of their anger, no matter how misdirected it might currently be, won't make them quieten down. It'll probably make us more frustrated, and noisier, especially if you give indications that you don't see what's going on. The "loving" and "compassionate" language of evangelicals is deeply hurtful to us, and we fear that people don't see the hurt it's causing.

Please don't give us reason to believe that our fear is justified.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: footnotes 4, 5 and 6

The pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" can be found online here.

Footnote 4 is intended to act as clarification rather than an academic cite. The footnote is used to back away somewhat from the claims made in the pamphlet so far that give the impression they believe that gender variation is 100% biologically determined. The footnote mentions that "environmental influences certainly have a role to play". Unfortunately such acknowledgement of environmental influence extends only to a concern about resisting "cultural norms which may constrain the free and natural expression of males and females". I take issue with the argument that environmental factors have such a tiny role to play, but the footnote serves a reasonable function even though it isn't citing anything.

Verdict on Footnote 4: Null Verdict (explanatory footnote, not a cite)

Footnote 5 once again offers an opportunity to explain just what the writers mean when they define homosexuality with the pseudo-scientific sounding label "gender disorientation pathology". This footnote once again fails to do so, once again merely citing the pamphlet itself by saying "See Section 11". Section 11 will (if I ever get there) be dealt with in due course.


Footnote 6 is from the book "Taking Sex Differences Seriously", by Steven Rhoads. The quote is "Sex differences are large, deeply rooted and consequential. Men and women still have different natures, and, generally speaking, different preferences, talents and interests....These differences can be explained in part by hormones and other physiological and chemical distinctions between men and women. Thus they won't disappear unless we tinker with our fundamental biological natures".

The full quote in the original source, with the small amount of redacted text emphasised here, reads "Men and women still have different natures, and, generally speaking, different preferences, talents and interests.The book provides evidence that these differences can be explained in part by hormones and other physiological and chemical distinctions between men and women. Thus they won't disappear unless we tinker with our fundamental biological natures".

The omitted text is logical to remove, but removing it may give the impression that the book is repeating established and uncontested fact about the hormonal/physiological basis of sex difference, while keeping it in illustrates that the author is making an argument and preventing evidence which is contestable. I'm unsure if I should consider this misleading or not.

In any case, examining this footnote means examining the merits of the argument of the book.

The book author - Rhoads - has this to say in response to possible criticism of his work, on page 6: "I will not consider my argument disproved if some of my evidence is questioned. There is so much of it that what remains will be enough to challenge the dominant ideology of the last thirty years that sees men and women as having fundamentally equivalent natures and goals".

So, to challenge Rhoad's argument, Rhoad thinks I need to read his whole book, and then examine each and every book and study that he cites. You begin to see why critically engaging with footnotes like this is very rarely done. I'll say for now that the original source was represented accurately in footnote 6 of the pamphlet (well, except for that slight omission), without going into the relative merits of the source itself. I'd like to though, someday.

Verdict on Footnote 6: Accurately Represented

I wonder how long I can keep doing this?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Strange arguments from supporters of Conroy's censorship proposal

The backlash against Senator Conroy's proposed Internet filter for Australia made the New York Times. Two supporters of the filter were quoted in it.

Clive Hamilton, described by the Times as "a senior ethics professor at the Australian National University and a supporter of the plan", said "The laws that mandate upper speed limits do not stop people from speeding, does that mean that we should not have those laws?.....We live in a society, and societies have always imposed limits on activities that it deems are damaging.....There is nothing sacrosanct about the Internet."

Mr Hamilton seems confused about the difference between a legal restriction like laws against speeding and a technological limitation like what's being proposed for the Australian Internet. This filter is not like passing a law - is Mr Hamilton not aware that child pornography is already illegal in Australia?

The correct analogy to Senator Conroy's proposal in the context of speeding would be as if the government started requiring all cars manufactured in Australia to be made in such a way that they could not go over the speed limit at all. Needless to say, no cars in Australia are made like this, and no car maker would ever accept such a stupid and technologically ignorant demand. I admit I don't fully understand the technical details that make such a thing unachievable in today's cars, but I trust the people who do understand when they say that cars need to be made the way that they're made: with the ability to let the user violate speeding laws. It is the task of the user, not the car, to respect the law and refrain from doing so.

And yet when the people who understand the technology that drives the Internet say that requiring an ISP to filter Internet traffic won't work and is a technically ignorant demand, their expertise is ignored because the answer "it can't be done", no matter how accurate and no matter how well-informed the person giving the answer, is not the answer that Senator Conroy wants to hear. And we get subjected to quotes from ethics professors who confuse the issue with inaccurate analogies.

The other supporter was the group ChildWise, who said filtering child pornography on the Internet would be "a victory for common sense". I guess ChildWise is still in denial about the (lack of) effectiveness of the proposed filter.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: Footnote 3

For reference the pamphlet "21 Reasons Why Gender Matters" can be found online here.

Footnote 3 is provided as evidence that the brains of men and women are different, claiming "for example, one University of Massachusetts researcher reported that “at least 100 differences in male and female brains have been described so far”." The quote is a secondary quote, footnoted as being "cited in Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens, The Mind of Boys. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005, p. 46.

It was tricky to track down for two reasons. The first was that they got the title of the book they cited slightly wrong, and while the difference between "The Mind of Boys", and "The Minds of Boys" (complete title is "The Minds of Boys: Saving our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life") may seem unimportant, it can mean the difference between a successful and a failed Google Book Search.

The second was that the quote in the book was cited in the book from another source, not published there originally. I found the details for the original source. The unnamed-in-the-pamphlet University of Massachusetts researcher has a name: Nancy Forger. The quote from her is not from any academic work, but from a news article. The footnotes in "The Minds of Boys" give the following source: "Quoted in Amanda Onion, 'Sex in the Brain: Research Showing Men and Women Differ in More than One Area', ABC News, Sep 21 2004". This article does not appear to be online anymore at abcnews.com.

I'm forced to rely on what appears to be a reposting of some or all of the original article on a web forum. Again, the quote isn't quite right. "The Minds of Boys" lists the quote as given above, but this repost of the news article includes an extra word: "At least 100 sex differences in male and female brains have been described so far" (emphasis added).

So after all that, does this footnote support the claim that the pamphlet makes in the main text? Yes, as far as demonstrating the existence of differences in brain structure between the sexes goes. But Nancy Forger makes a further statement that isn't included in either the pamphlet or the book quoting her. From the article itself:
This kind of research [searching for differences between sexes in the brain] remains controversial, as does any work that looks for explanations for human behavior in the brain. But most researchers looking into differences of the brain are quick to point out that there are many more differences in the brain just between individuals than between groups of people or between the sexes.

"Men and women are more the same than different in the brain — without a question," said Forger. "But," she added, "little differences can go a long way."

When the pamphlet states in the main text that "our brains are different", it seems to me that they are vastly overstating the limited findings so far. They leave the findings behind completely in the very next sentence, claiming that "such hardwired differences explain why men and women are so different in areas of behaviour, perceptions, the way they process information, and so on".

While there is some of evidence of some difference in brain structure provided, the news article (not a research paper) cited does not support claims about those differences as grandiose as those made in the pamphlet.

Verdict on Footnote 3: Exaggerated

Friday, December 05, 2008

Islamic school controversy: the news reporting is confusing me

After reading about allegations that a Muslim school had banned singing of the Australian national anthem because singing the anthem, or possibly the anthem itself, was against the "Islamic view and ethos", I'm now reading conflicting reports about what really happened. I'm confused about what was in the memo that's the source of the controversy. Later reports only heighten my confusion.

What exactly about the entire situation was against the "Islamic view and ethos"? The news reporting says that "his [the teacher's] proposal for students to sing Advance Australia Fair was ruled to be against the 'Islamic view and ethos'". It doesn't say what specifically about the proposal was problematic. But despite that my reading of the news report strongly implies that we should believe that there's something inherently incompatible between Islam and the national anthem as far as the school is concerned.

The school and its defenders are also disputing the characterisation of their actions as a blanket "ban". And I would dispute the characterisation of their actions as a ban as well, even if it turned out that the national anthem was never sung at any school event at all (which is not actually the case, as per the school officials): it's not as if the decision not to enforce the singing of the anthem is the same thing as explicitly preventing it. Calling this a "ban" makes no sense to me: something is not forbidden just because it's not actively promoted.

I'm also desperately trying to reach back in memory to my school years and failing: I don't recall if I was required to sing the national anthem at every assembly or not. I vaguely recall that I was expected to sing it at some, but I also vaguely remember some in which I didn't. My memory may be faulty or the situation may have changed, but is this school doing something unusual by not expecting the national anthem to be played at every assembly, if that's actually all that they're doing?

It's not entirely clear to me if the anthem was not going to be sung at every assembly or just some. The linked article in the Australian does provide the tantalising quote from the memo saying "the singing of the anthem will be put on hold", but provides no context as to when. Or why. I think that's the main problem I'm having here: the full text of the memo which is the entire source of the controversy is not being made available. By anyone - the newspapers quoting from it or the school that authored it. I find that disconcerting.

Where is the original text? Why is nobody making it available?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: Footnote 2

Footnote 2: inaccurately listed as a second "footnote 1" in the main text. It's purportedly a source for the claim that "some people" refer to a condition called "gender disorientation pathology" (by which they mean "homosexuality"). It isn't a real academic footnote, saying only "refer to Section 15" of the exact same pamphlet.

Section 15 of the pamphlet concerns homosexuality and is predominantly, but not completely, unfootnoted pseudoscientific gobbledygook like "Many homosexuals report that as children, they had a dysfunctional relationship with their same-sex parent - such relationships being their primary means of gender identification and affirmation". Those limited areas which were footnoted in that section will, hopefully, be dealt with in time.


PS Failing to footnote correctly by repeating "footnote 1" twice in the text? Sloppy.

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: Footnote 1

Well, this is going to get old really quickly, but I said I'd do it. I'm going to attempt to go through each footnote of the pamphlet 21 reasons why gender matters and check their validity. Having already seen 1 outright lie buried in footnote 82, I'd like to go through as many as I can for as long as I can. Can I do all 178? Probably not, but I'll attempt it.

To start with, Footnote 1: used to support the claim that "The great majority of single-parent families are fatherless". The footnote reads "In 2006, 87% of one-parent families with children under 15 years were headed by mothers. “Australian Social Trends, 2007: One Parent Families.” Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007."

Original source is here. The footnote's characterisation of the data is accurate.

However, the main text of the pamphlet's characterisation of this data is not. Note that the claim is that children in these families "grow up fatherless". However, according the ABS study quoted, the majority of single-parent families are created from divorce. A further substantial proportion are created from the break-up of de facto couples. Therefore the children from these families have had fathers in the lives, and in some cases may still do so, albeit only in the form of the father's visitation rights. They are not "fatherless" in the alarmist sense that the pamphlet claims.

This is not the evidence of masculinity in crisis that the pamphlet authors claim it is. It is evidence of the unfortunate prevalence of divorce, and possibly an argument that courts in custody battles side with the mother of a child much more than the father (a VERY common complaint of fathers in custody battles, by the way). But the conclusions drawn by this pamphlet here are misleading.

Verdict on Footnote 1: HALF-TRUTH

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thoughts on the Lori Drew conviction

I think the most complete summation of the Lori Drew case is the Wikipedia page on Megan Meier. Short summary: a teenage girl (Megan) killed herself after receiving bullying-style messages on Myspace from a person she believed to be a 16-year old boy ("Josh Evans"), but was in fact a fake account created by the mother ("Lori Drew") of one of her schoolfriends ("Sarah Drew"). Lori has since been charged and convicted, although the charges brought against her don't really seem to match up with the crime: three charges of using a computer account without authorisation.

I can't really find myself in agreement with any of the interests who've presented an opinion on the issue so far. Neither the lawmakers pushing for "cyber-bullying" to be outlawed in the wake of this case nor the people thinking this case tells us nothing new seem to have it right, in my opinion.

danah boyd rightly notes the foolishness of blaming this occurence on computer technology, and highlights the problem of treating "cyber-bullying" as somehow distinct from and more dangerous than offline bullying: all that the internet has done in many instances is made what was a private activity between youth into a public one. Blaming the computer for what people do with them is stupid. But I disagree that this particular case is no different from what has gone before.

Perhaps I'm losing touch in my old age with how young people use the internet these days, but there is one aspect of this bullying case that is completely new to me. It is the fact that much of the emotional abuse inflicted on Megan Meier came from a "person" she was interacting with was a fake identity, and she didn't know that.

Regular internet users are deeply concerned that Drew's conviction was basically for violating that part of Myspace's TOS which states that people should not use a fake identity. I believe that they're right insofar as this could be used against anyone who adopts a pseudonym online at some point (i.e. a huge percentage of the entire Internet-using population). But that doesn't really conform to the situation in this case. The key, in my opinion, is not that the identity was fake, but that Megan Meier thought it was real.

According to the wiki article, the people behind the account went to a great deal of trouble at giving that impression of reality. They provided legitimate-sounding explanations to conceal possible avenues of exposing the account as fake: claiming that "Josh Evans" had no home phone (no contact outside Myspace), was home-schooled (no school to verify his identity with), and had only recently moved into town (accounting for a suspicious lack of long-term local friends). This is, to my mind, very different from some teen or twenty-something deciding to post under the moniker "Pete_Wentz_can_have_my_babies!!!!" instead of their real name. They should be treated differently.

So merely signing on under a different name should not have been grounds to prosecute Lori Drew. The fact that she did not disclose that the fake identity was fake - and took active steps to make it appear real - places it in a different - and worse - category than regular internet anonymity, in my opinion.

Here's where I get speculative: Meier's presumption of validity of "Josh Evans'" identity may have led to a perception of that identity's actions which would be different from what it would be if that identity was known to be fake. The faker could exploit this, inflicting emotional abuse of a type that is qualitatively different, perhaps quantitatively different as well, from what would otherwise be available. In other words, the fact that "Josh Evans" was a fake identity pretending to be a real one may have provided new and interesting ways of exacerbating the harassment. Did that upping of the ante push Megan Meier to suicide in a way that regular online bulling would not have done?

Despite that possibility, I hesitate to say that a blanket prohibition on such deceptive use of a fake identity should be enacted in law. I'm having difficulty seeing where adopting a fake identity and passing it off as real could have a positive benefit that could not still be provided by adopting a fake identity that is known to be a fake, but that may be simply becausing I'm focusing too much on the current situation. Should such identity fraud - not just anonymity, but actively passing a fake identity off as real - be illegal? Should it be illegal only under certain circumstances? if so, which ones? Should it perhaps not be a crime in itself, but be treated as an aggravating factor when considering the punishment given for other crimes that can involve it?

In any case, any such law should have no reference to technology in my opinion. It's the fact of identity fraud, not the use of computer technology to enable it, that is the issue. And I do think that some sort of law needs to be enacted: the very fact that vigilante justice was meted out against Lori Drew suggests to me that there is an interest in dispensing justice here which the law as currently written can't successfully serve.

Mercy Ministries' instructions for Demonic Exorcism leaked

I'm sorry I missed this when it was first reported: Mercy Ministries' exorcism books have been leaked. This is noteworthy in that Peter Irvine, then-head of MM, had earlier specifically denied that his group used such techniques: "There’s no exorcism, no driving out of spirits it’s not how the program works".

The book is called "Restoring the Foundations" and...well, read the article and check out the excerpts Livenews have put online for yourself. I'm just trying to make sense of picture 5. I'm pretty sure that's a list of demons, based on the information provided by the pseudonymous "Megan Smith" about how it all works. If so, then I'd have to say that "lesbianism" is actually one of the less surprising things to be listed there as demonically inspired. Check it out.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Rare it is that I get a chance to show in unequivocal terms how dishonest anti-gay people are in their use of academic resources. Today I have that chance.

I first discovered the unequivocal lie I'm about to expose when checking footnote 82 of the pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters". It is alleged that in an academic article entitled "Lesbian mothers and their children: A comparison with solo parent heterosexual mothers and their children", published on pages 167-184 of Volume 15, issue 2, of the academic journal 'Archives of Sexual Behavior', the researchers Green et al found
developmentally important statistically significant differences between children reared by homosexual parents compared to heterosexual parents. For example, children raised by homosexuals were found to have greater parental encouragement for cross-gender behaviour (and) greater amounts of cross-dressing and cross-gender play/role behaviour”.

The anti-gay pamphlet specifically quotes this text as allegedly appearing in the "Lesbian mothers" article. Well, I found the article in question (thank you, university access to academic databases). The text they say is in there is not there.

Really, the fact that the article's title plainly specified that it was comparing single-parent families, and not comparing "homosexual parents" (plural) with "heterosexual parents" (plural), should have been a slight clue that it couldn't possibly include the quote that these anti-gay fraudsters say it includes. But they went ahead and used it anyway. Ponder what that says about their ability to understand the whole concept of "evidence".

But the best part for me is what the article they're lying about actually does say. The summary at least is available to the general public here. Emphasis is mine. The study's real conclusions were that:
No significant differences were found between the two types of households for boys and few significant differences for girls,. Concerns that being raised by a homosexual mother might produce sexual identity conflict and peer group stigmatization were not supported by the research findings. Data also revealed more similarities than differences in parenting experiences, marital history, and present living situations of the two groups of mothers. The postulated compromised parental fitness of lesbian mothers, commonly asserted in child custody cases, is not supported by these data.

Gee, it seems to me that the study that the anti-gay people are using to "prove" that a difference was found between gay and straight parents is actually saying that they can't find any difference at all - at least as far as comparing single lesbian mothers to single heterosexual mothers goes.

The only question left for me is what the real source of this quote may be. I've searched for it online, unsuccessfully. It's definitely not in any article published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that I can find (and my access to that journal is total). And all I get on the web is people repeating the lie that it's this 1986 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that is the source. I wonder how long it would take to visit each one in turn and correct them?

I'll keep looking for the true source I guess. If there is one.

"21 reasons why gender matters" - the whole pamphlet

Looking closer at the "21 reasons why gender matters" issue, apparently the NARTH page I linked to earlier was just the summary of the main points. The full text is much more detailed, and is available online. Like most anti-gay tracts, it's brimming with footnotes, based on the usual anti-gay assumption that pointing to the sheer volume of footnotes is a good enough substitute for actually examining their quality and accuracy. Seriously. One of the first footnotes (footnote 2 to be precise) doesn't really qualify as an academic footnote at all, being just an exhortation to "refer to section 11" of the exact same document.

The pamphlet has its own dedicated site here. I'll give the footnotes a stab if I have time.

GetUp joins opposition to Australian Net filter

I'm aware that a lot of people have been trying to bring the Net censorship threat to GetUp's attention for a while now. They've finally weighed in. They're talking pretty big, too.
GetUp says it plans to run mainstream ads and offline action that will be as elaborate as its free Hicks campaign. In just a day, a petition on its website has attracted over 22,000 signatures; GetUp said it had received more emails urging them to act on this issue than "any other campaign in recent history".

With both the Opposition and the Greens opposed to the filter, I believe that means that the government will have to look to Senator Fielding of Family First and to Independent anti-pokie campaigner Senator Nick Xenophon to get any legislation on this through the Senate. Hello nationwide restrictions on all gay-related and gambling-related content? A bit much perhaps, but who knows what the two Senators will demand to be put on the blacklist in exchange for their votes?

The trial of the filter is scheduled to start on December 24, although it can be postponed if need be. That doesn't leave a lot of time to fight it.

The unfortunately anti-gay stance of the Fatherhood Foundation

Roxon sacks health ambassador over gay slur

Somewhat predictably, one of the men is playing the victim card, insisting that he's being "persecuted".
"If I am attacked it is because I believe that our children matter," he said in the statement.

"If I am attacked it is because I believe every child has the right to a mother and a father. Children need a mother and a father, not two mummies or two daddies."

Mr Marsh said certain journalists had claimed he was "homophobic" and he was baffled by "this sort of heterophobia".

Apparently Mr Marsh believes that defending homosexuals from pseudo-scientific smears means that heterosexuality is under attack. This actually makes sense in anti-gay peoples' warped worldview, as they sincerely believe that homosexuality's unchallenged existence threatens heterosexuality. Examine the pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" that is the source of the controversy:
14. In healthy societies, gender complementarity is celebrated; societies rejecting this face harmful consequences.

Their idea is that accepting that there is a slight exception in so-called "gender complementarity" for some (GLBT people) automatically means negating the very concept of different genders altogether. Everyone will have sex with everyone willy-nilly, and heterosexuality will cease to exist. There are times that I honestly believe that they are literally incapable of understanding any different, the belief is so deeply embedded in their worldview.

I won't waste time refuting the remaining points dealing with homosexuality (or "gender disorientation pathology" as they pseudo-scientifically call it). Anyone with a modicum of scientific understanding (which is far too few people, sad to say) can figure out what's wrong with them if they really want to. As for the Fatherhood Foundation itself....

Finding the Fatherhood Foundation's website was easy enough. Their About Us page lists them as one of the founding members of the National Marriage Coalition. People may remember that organisation as the one which in 2004 lobbied for a ban on gay marriage to be explicitly written into Australian law, a ban which both major political parties support to this day. The other two, as per information from the NMC's website, are the Australian Family Association and the Australian Christian Lobby.

Despite rubbing shoulders with those two, my tentative impression is that the Fatherhood Foundation isn't specifically malicious towards gay people. They've just never had any reason to doubt the centuries' old prejudice that our sexuality is a sickness (a "gender disorientation pathology") that needs to be contained. I would hope that they can be convinced otherwise by the examination of reality rather than of anti-gay institutions' pseudo-science, but Mr Marsh's reaction to him being called out on his smears suggests that it won't be easy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Iinet sued for allegedly "allowing" copyright violations

THE Australian film and television industry has launched legal action against one of the largest internet service providers in the country for allowing its users to download pirated movies and TV shows.

The action against iiNet was filed in the Federal Court yesterday by Village Roadshow, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Disney and the Seven Network.

For the record, there's no legal precedent or ruling in Australian law that would suggest that Iinet can accurately be described as actively "allowing" people to download copyright-infringine material. ISP's aren't in the business of policing content, although the sheer number of political forces with a vested interest in getting them to start is worrisome.

First Stephen Conroy's pathetic effort to build a Great Firewall of Australia, and now this. I worry for the future of the Australian Internet sometimes.

And really, how long is it before the two ideas get combined? The conglomerates comprising the "Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft" are almost certain to have a list of demands for the government about further "unwanted" content that they want the filter extended to cover.

I note that ITWire has also put 2 and 2 together here. I agree also that it seems odd that it's Iinet, the ISP who just happens to employ the outspoken Managing Director Michael Malone, and not Telstra or Optus, that's getting sued.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What opposition to gay marriage is really about

It's not about marriage. It was never about marriage. It's about homosexuality.

Many opponents of gay marriage claim otherwise. Some are sincere in that belief. But they're still mistaken.

The "we're pro-marriage, not anti-gay" argument rests on the assumption that the relationship between two gay people is qualitatively different from a relationship between two straight people in such a way that the entire meaning of marriage would be changed if it were to be applied to both types of couples. This inaccurate impression is bolstered by the cosmetic fact of the difference in gender make-up of the two couples.

Those of us who support gay marriage believe that the difference in gender make-up does NOT translate to any difference in meaning. A man wanting to marry a man and not a woman is no different from a man wanting to marry a 60-year-old and not a 40-year-old. All the emotional aspects of an opposite-gender relationship that are fulfilled by marriage occur in EXACTLY the same way in a same-gender relationship. Not "almost" the same, not "approximately" the same, but EXACTLY the same.

Same-sex couples who want to get married do not believe that marriage would be "redefined" by letting them marry. Letting them marry would instead mean that marriage was finally being made available to every couple that qualifies for it according to its current meaning.

They have no problem with the meaning of marriage as it currently exists. They just disagree about which types of relationships conform to that meaning. They believe that their relationships do conform to it.

Opponents of gay marriage do not believe this. They believe that a same-sex relationship CANNOT be the emotional equivalent of an opposite-sex one. It therefore cannot be fulfilled by marriage in the same way that an opposite-sex relationship can be, and the very meaning of marriage would be changed if marriage could include same-sex relationships as well as opposite-sex ones.

People's opposition to gay marriage therefore stems not from their view of marriage, but from their view of homosexuality. As long as they believe that homosexual relationships cannot have the same emotional aspects to them as heterosexual relationships do, they will believe that including same-sex couples in the definition of marriage would mean "redefining" marriage in a way that renders marriage less than it was. Because they believe this, they will also view themselves as "pro-marriage" rather than "anti-gay". They are mistaken.

The Christianist condemnation of Ted Haggard's family

Ted Haggard recently returned to the media spotlight, apologising for sinning and claiming to be all "cured" of his sinful homosexuality. His attempt to blame the origins of all homosexual desire on sexual molestation is pretty stock-standard, but there's another comment from him that is especially interesting:
"I'm very, very sorry that I sinned," he [Haggard] said. "My wife -- all my sin and shame fell on her. People treated her as if she had fallen. And my children -- they all went through carrying my shame."

Why did people treat his wife as "fallen"? Why did they require his kids to "carry his shame"?

Police report contradicts some claims about Bash Back action

Well there's a shock. Seems like the "loving" Christians describing the actions of Bash Back against their church exaggerated a few of the details. First about the fire alarm that was supposedly pulled:
The protest — according to reports from the media, the church and the protesters — was held both inside and outside Mount Hope Church on Nov. 9, during which someone is alleged to have pulled a fire alarm inside the church.

However, a spokesman for the Delta Township Fire Department, which covers fire issues in the area, said today the department had not received any fire alarm calls nor did they respond to one in the area of the church on Sunday.

And second about the "illegal" protest that happened outside:
Also, a church press release stated that “The Eaton County Sheriff’s office was called and the illegal demonstration ceased.” In a follow-up email, Mount Hope Church communications director David Williams asserted that “the demonstration is under investigation.”

But in an interview yesterday, Eaton County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Warder said that when two officers were called to the scene for “disorderly persons,” they found protesters on the public sidewalk.

“They were picketing,” Warder said. “The church security people came out, the pastor contacted the deputies and told us we want them off our property. We had to tell them they [the protesters] were on public property.”

After further discussion with protesters, it was determined some had parked in the church’s parking lot. Officers directed that the vehicles be removed from the lot, or the owners could face trespassing charges for retrieving them if police had to return. The protest broke up as a result of that, according to the sheriff.

Warder said that at no time did the church inform officers of the disruption inside the church and that no charges were filed. He also said that there was no criminal investigation and that the church had declined to file any formal complaints.

To the extent that the group Bash Back has been unfairly maligned by these "Christians" lying about what really happened, I apologise for my earlier condemnation of them.

That said, it does still appear that the group Bash Back trespassed on the Mt Hope Church's property, which I still condemn as morally wrong. If they're anarchists, then I doubt there's anything I could say to convince them that trespassing of any kind is wrong, but I would point out that it's counterproductive. Yes, some of the reason it's counterprodcutive is because anti-gay people are good at exaggerating the wrongfulness of any actions against them in order to elicit undeserved sympathy, like they've apparently done here to some extent, but I think that the fact of these exaggerations and smears needs to be taken into account when protesting.

Yes, I think that it's monstrously that we have to do that, but if life was fair, we'd have marriage rights by now.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The "black people voted for Proposition 8 so protest them" red herring

I read these comments from time to time, usually from opponents of gay marriage currently feeling the backlash from California, stridently pointing to the 70% of African-Americans who votes in favour of Proposition 8, and demanding to know why African-Americans aren't being singled out for protests and boycotts.

The answer is really very simple. Absolutely nobody to date has been singled out for the way they voted on Proposition 8. For funding the campaign pushing it, yes. For telling parishioners that they must vote for it, yes. For telling lies about the eeeevil and scary things that will supposedly happen if gay marriage is legally recognised, yes. But the actual way that people voted has not been a factor in deciding who to protest.

So why are our opponents so desperate to see us start? Because it takes the heat of them for their political advocacy and their dishonesty of course.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Feeling the need to condemn the actions of other gay people already :(

Well, it was only a matter of time before a gay activist group got nasty:
A gay anarchist group infiltrated the Mt. Hope Church in Eaton County Sunday morning, disrupting a service by pulling a fire alarm, dropping leaflets and yelling at parishioners, a pastor said.

The group, Bash Back, was simultaneously picketing outside the church, beating on buckets and using a megaphone to shout “Jesus was a homo” and other slogans as confused churchgoers continued to enter the building.

I do not believe these actions from Bash Back are right either morally or practically. These churchgoers aren't gaybashers. This is what I mean when I say that many gay activists have misunderstood the nature of much contemporary opposition to homosexuality. I think all of these parishioners would genuinely be horrified and appalled that anyone would think it okay to bash a gay person just for being gay, even as they work hard to try and prevent a political "gay agenda" out of fear it will lead to them being subjected to...well, to what Bash Back did to them, for one. Yes, they also have the hopelessly wrongheaded idea that opposing gay rights will somehow encourage their kids to stop becoming gay if they're ever in "danger" of going down that path, but still....

In my opinion, this action by Bash Back here was neither necessary nor helpful. It validated the parishioners' fears.

That's not to say that every action gay people might do in support of their rights should be avoided if gay rights opponents show the slightest disapproval of it. For example, I note from the comments of that news article that many people there are now trying to pin this one action on the entire gay community. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who tries to do that has just indicated that it's okay for me to pin the antics of Fred Phelps and his funeral-picketing clan on all of them. If they disapprove of that being done to them, then they should stop doing it to me.

"Join the Impact" protests followed by....what?

The Join the Impact effort to protest against the passage of Proposition 8 specifically, and in favour of gay marriage generally, proceeds apace. Protests are intended for across the entire USA. There's even an effort to make it an international effort, although the page for Australia doesn't exactly inspire confidence that there'll be much of any action here: looks like someone in the US just threw up something saying "gather at Federation Square in Melbourne everyone! And nobody's planned any signs or anything, so organise your own!"

I've read a little bit about grassroots mobilisation efforts. Their biggest obstacle, from what I understand, is keeping the momentum going. It's all too easy for them to falter in the face of unclear direction about what to do next. Even worse, the energy that inspires them can turn in on itself, and the people involved can end up doing nothing but bickering amongst each other, spending so much time fighting about "how we should go forward" that the movement as a whole never does go forward.

I don't know how things are going for the protests in the US. There seems to be a lot of raw enthusiasm. But to date I haven't seen any ideas about a follow-through. What happens after the protests?

Yes, I realise that I'm trying to spur a debate about "how we should go forward". As long as any grassroots movement doesn't become entirely an argument about that, I think it's a productive question. Up to a point, anyway.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Taking part in Conroy's censorship trial: wise?

Michal Malone, the head of Iinet - the ISP that I use - has decided to take part in what he calls the "ridiculous" trials of Senator Conroy's Internet censorship program. Malone's stated intention is to demonstrate "how stupid it [the proposed filter system] is" using "hard numbers". I'm sure Mr Malone's intentions are good, but I'm not sure if what he's doing is such a good idea.

See, in most tech-oriented situations like I assume Mr Malone would be familiar with, statistics are viewed as useful mathematical tools, essential to understanding any number of issues. But in politics, statistics aren't tools. They're weapons. They're not used to describe reality, they're spun and cherry-picked and massaged and then quoted to give the veneer of "mathematical" legitimacy to a political claim.

I'm concerned that this trial isn't really about gauging the effectiveness of the filter system. I think it's not about having real-world workings to examine, but statistics to cherry-pick. I recall that Senator Conroy has already shown he's willing to do something like this, saying that there was a "successful" lab test of his filter system previously when the results actually showed that it slowed internet speeds down significantly, and didn't block P2P content in the slightest. If Mr Malone is serious about exposing the filter system as flawed, I hope he understands that to do that, he's going to have to consistently and repeatedly get out in front of any spin that Senator Conroy puts on the results.

On a semi-related note, I see that according to this article, ISPs taking part in the test will be doing the testing by asking for volunteers from their own subscribers to try the system out. I guess it'd probably be too much to hope that absolutely no subscribers bother to volunteer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Civil unions vs gay marriage: "separate is not equal" explained in depth

In advocating the inadequacy of civil unions as a substitute for gay marriage, a claim is often made that "separate but equal" is an impossibility: separate cannot be equal. I've never really seen an adequate explanation as to why this is. Sure, Brown vs Board of Education struck down the idea as unconstitutional when the US Supreme Court ruled against segregated schooling, but simply pointing to the fact of that court ruling, and saying that's the end of it, isn't good enough. You have to look at the reasoning of the decision and see if it can apply to civil unions. So I did.

An interesting fact that I see straight up is that the decision was only intended to apply to the question of segregated schooling. Plessy vs Ferguson, the 19th century court decision that created the "separate but equal" idea in the first place, was originally applied to segregated accomodation, and wasn't actually overturned by this ruling. In this ruling, the legitimacy of the "separate but equal" doctrine in any area besides education wasn't considered. It seems that it is therefore necessary to explicitly lay out a case why the "separate but equal" doctrine is just as pernicious in a different context.

There is guidance from the ruling on this. It was the "intangible" factors associated with education that tipped the court in favour of ruling "separate but equal" unconstitutional in the realm of public education. These "intangibles" were described in one case as "those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school". Even with complete equality in legal statute, and in access to buildings and teachers, the mere fact of separation negatively impacted these intangible qualities because the act of separation was inferred to demonstrate the inherent inferiority of the minority group. This created in the segregated school-children "a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."

If it is possible to point out that there are "intangible" factors associated with marriage, then they need to be taken into account to determine if separation of same-sex couples into "civil unions" unjustly demonstrates the "inherent inferiority" of same-sex relationships.

Are there such "intangible" factors in marriage? Hell, yes. The intangible benefits of marriage are the whole point of legally recognising any marriage at all in the first place. All the legal framework about rights and responsibilities is there entirely because marriage is presumed to have some indefinable qualities, "incapable of objective measurement" to use the Supreme Court's language, that makes it worthwhile.

And yes, the separation of same-sex couples from opposite-sex couples does promote inequality in the way those "intangibles" would be provided. You can see this already in the way people talk about the issue. Talk to any person who supports "civil unions" for gay people but "marriage" for straight people. Their excuses make it clear pretty quickly that they want the separation specifically because they believe that the "intangible" benefits of marriage for opposite-sex couples either couldn't exist, or would exist only in an inferior form, in a gay "marriage". "Marriage is about raising children" implies that same-sex couples are inferior child-raisers. "Marriage is a sacred tradition" implies that same-sex couples are excluded from the sacred. "Marriage is about what's best for society" implies that same-sex couples are not good for society. Even "we shouldn't risk experimenting with the established definition of marriage" implies that there's something inherently risky about treating same-sex relationships as on par with opposite-sex ones.

So the reasoning of Brown vs Board of Education does apply to the question of civil unions and gay marriage. A separate institution for gay people, even one that functions like marriage in legal statute, will create an inherent inequality in the provision of the intangible benefits of marriage that is biased against gay people. This is wrong. Only gay marriage can provide complete equality.

Unfortunately, most people don't believe that same-sex couples are really equal to opposite-sex couples.....

Proposition 8 debates on the ground: depressing

Just read a comments section of an LA newspaper from before Proposition 8 was passed. My impression?

The supporters of Proposition 8 tended to make highly specific claims about what would supposedly happen in California due to its passage, and what had supposedly happened in other states already. The opponents tended to make vague generalised appeals to rights and to the importance of opposing bigotry.

Really not good enough.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

From the journals: "Origin Stories: Same-Sex Sexuality and Christian Right Politics"

This journal article is much more obviously relevant to GLBT issues: "Origin Stories: Same-Sex Sexuality and Christian Right Politics", by Jyl Josephson and Cynthia Burack, published in volume 6, issue 3, of the journal "Culture and Religion" in 2005.

The article notes that there are two ways in which opponents of gay rights understand how homosexuality originates: there's the "narrative of choice", which is the one gay activists usually work against, but there is also the "narrative of development". There's some overlap between the two narratives, but they also contradict each other in some areas. I think it's important to understand the developmental narrative, as it usually gets neglected in political advocacy.

The developmental narrative claims that homosexuality is not consciously chosen. It instead views homosexuality as an aberrant development, an emotional malfunction caused by some sort of psychological disruption in childhood. The exact type of "disruption" varies depending on which anti-gay group you ask, but the finger usually gets pointed at either sexual abuse, or at parents who failed to have the "right" type of emotional relationship with their offspring. For example, Dr Nicholosi of NARTH, a proponent of the idea that homosexuality is caused by a lack of emotional bonding between father and son, has told people that "if fathers don't hug their sons, then some other man will".

According to the article's authors, the narrative of development treats homosexuality as something adopted without conscious intention; a "homosexual identity" gets unconsciously incorporated into an individual through behavioural reinforcement. It accepts that homosexuality is something that cannot be easily changed in those that have already gone down a "homosexual path", so to speak, but it also maintains that prevention is possible: "pre-homosexuals" or "proto-homosexuals" who have undergone the triggering disruption but have not yet accepted and embraced their same-sex attractions can be "saved".

There's some overlap with the narrative of choice here, in that it's implied that people can choose whether or not to embrace their homosexual identity or to fight against it, but where the developmental narrative gets real serious play is when talking about those individuals who are not yet able to make any kind of "choice" for themselves: children.

You can see the narrative at play in the excuse-making for Lawrence King's murder, in particular the placing of blame on the lesbian principal for allowing Lawrence to engage in such "reinforcing" behavioural acts as wearing high-heel shoes and flirting with boys. As Gaywired put it: "The assistant principal, our lesbian heroine, was questioned for pushing a gay agenda on a sleepy, otherwise happy middle school." The developmental narrative would have people believe that a principal acting properly could have (and definitely should have) been able to address the issues effectively by guiding the emotionally disturbed young boy Larry away from the "problem" of homosexuality that he was developing. That's one way of interpreting what "pushing a gay agenda" means: the belief that Larry could have been straight if the lesbian hadn't interfered.

There's a wide latitude in anti-gay rhetoric about what could lead a child to "develop" (not "choose") homosexuality. A contributing factor could be as simple as growing up in an environment where homosexuality is not condemned. Take this comment from a gay marriage opponent: "It worries me deeply that my kids could grow up in a world that accepts homosexualality [sic]. I do not want my children to come home from school and tell me that they learned it is ok for them to have a homosexual relationship." In the developmental understanding, being taught that homosexuality is ok may not necessarily encourage homosexuality, but it will make it that much harder to discourage it. In other words, many opponents of gay marriage really do believe that legalising gay marriage, and having their existence so much as mentioned in schools, will make it more likely that their own children will embrace any homosexual tendencies they might develop, and that it is their moral duty to stop this happening.

I think existing gay rights organisations have neglected this developmental understanding of homosexuality to their detriment. The fight against the idea of "homosexuality as perverse and degenerate choice" has been relatively successful against stopping individual mistreatment, but neglecting the other narrative has led to a situation in which the most common refrain from our opponents is "I've got nothing against homosexuals as people, but I object to them pushing their agenda on society". They tolerate gay people as individuals but fight any measure that could be perceived as encouraging the "development" of homosexuality. This includes explicit legal recognition of gay marriage. They'll accept a "civil union" compromise for those poor be-knighted gay souls who are beyond "help", but will fight tooth and nail against any measure that makes homosexuality and heterosexuality look even slightly morally equivalent. After all, they believe their children are at stake.

Some thoughts on Proposition 8: I'm not mourning

My attitude towards the successful passage of Proposition 8 in California has been surprisingly optimistic, given the emotions of sorrow and hurt expressed by others concerning its passing. Sure, I don't have the personal connection to things that happen in the USA, or to the gay couples in California who were hoping to get married, that those who do feel hurt by its passage have.

But consider:
In 2000, the Vermont state court legalised civil unions. Such unions were a scary and radical notion at the time, and their initial existence only just survived an attempt at a constitutional amendment outlawing them. Gay couples, in the form of "civil unions", remain legally recognised there to this day.

In 2003, the Massachusetts state court legalised gay marriage. Gay couples, in the form of marriage and not just "civil unions", remain legally recognised there to this day.

In other states of course, constitutional amendments restricting marriage to the union of a man and a woman were passed even in advance of any state court ruling suggesting that it should be otherwise. These amendments often passed by very large margins.

And yet, in 2008, in California, their version of civil unions – domestic partnership legislation – is and remains uncontroversially on the books. Far from radical and threatening, they are viewed as the safe compromise. As for the passing of Proposition 8....

Support for the Proposition received an enormous amount of financial support, such that gay rights groups were constantly struggling to match it. Much of the work to garner support for the Proposition came from the considerable financial and political muscle of the Church of Latter Day Saints, who came awfully close to crossing the line separating church from state, if not passing over it entirely, in their zeal to see it passed. And a great deal of the attempt to garner support for Proposion 8's passage was done through propagating distortions and fabrications, as documented by the LA Times here

With all of these tremendous advantages, the total amount of support that this huge assault of money and lies managed to muster for Proposition 8 was....52%. A paltry 2% over the majority mark.

I am sorry for those who have suffered because the advances made in the last 8 years were not as far-reaching as they were thought to be. But they are far-reaching. The anti-gay forces may have won this time, but they were barely able to hold their own, even with their full amassed might brought to bear. And even then it's still unclear whether they got everything they wanted; word from the California Attorney-General's office is that Proposition 8 will not be applied retroactively: already-married same-sex couples will remain legally married.

All that's happened here is a temporary setback. In fact, from where we were a year ago, we've actually gained a tiny bit of ground. We now have actual married gay couples to point to in California, which makes it that little bit easier to talk about the issue in real human terms rather than in terms of airy abstract ideals. I think we're continuing to inch ahead.

Friday, November 07, 2008

From the academic journals: "contingent" relationships, "essential" relationships, and why gay people would want to marry

A side-effect of my time at uni is that I see academic articles in the scholarly databases I can access which make me think: "hm, I can see how that's relevant to a public issue of the day". For instance, I found an article in the Canadian Journal of Political Science that clarifies a few issues about gay marriage. Well, about marriage, at any rate.

It's by P. Neal and D. Paris, from vol 23, issue 3 of that journal, published in 1990. Its title doesn't make it sound that relevant: "Liberalism and the Communitarian Critique:
A Guide for the Perplexed", but it is. The subject matter is concerned with elucidating an ongoing debate between, as it says, liberals and communitarians. Communitarians accuse liberals of having an understanding of the self that is unjustifiably "atomistic", ignoring the importance of social relationships and community in two ways: missing the importance of social relationships in people's construction of their own identity, and missing the general moral good in itself that comes from having a "community". Liberals for their part accuse communitarians of placing the values and rules of institutions and groups above the right of an individual to make their own individual choice for themselves.

The relevance of the debate to marriage comes from the two different understandings that the two groups have of what Neal and Paris call "shared relations": liberals emphasise the value of contingently shared relations, while communitarians emphasise essentially shared relations. Quoting Neal and Paris:
A contingently shared relation is a relationship between two or more antecedently defined separate selves which, however much it may affect their attitudes and behaviour, does not penetrate the identity of the separate selves to the point that the identity of each becomes partially or wholly constituted by the relation itself. An essentially shared relation penetrates this deeply; when two selves essentially share a relation, the identity of each self is partially or wholly constituted by the relation.

Neal and Paris make no value judgement on which view is superior, but they do point out which relationships conform to which model. Marriage, for examples, is generally an essentially shared relation:
marriage is or can be a relation whereby two separate selves become redefined in their identities as one through the relation with the relation (as union rather than contract) coming to constitute what were once separate selves as one shared self.

This is, I believe, what people who are pushing for gay marriage for themselves want. They value and want an essentially shared relationship with their would-be spouse that would subsume the identity of the participants: "let two become one", "'til death do us part", and so forth. I wonder if the people pushing gay marriage as an abstract matter of legal rights for others, and who personally think that the idea of getting married is stupid, understand that?

Neal and Paris mention that essentially shared relations can be poisonous to those involved: abusive relationships and divorce are both depressingly common occurrences. Yet, as they also say, it is not enough to discredit the very idea of essentially shared relationships based only on the existence of abusive cases; it would be just as easy to criticise liberal values of individual independence on that basis using those horror stories of people who die alone and whose bodies go undiscovered for months.

To date I don't think I've seen an argument against marriage that wasn't based on either pointing to the subsection of those marital relationships that are abusive and problematic, or else asserting freedom and a sense of self as values that shouldn't be given up to something like marriage. I think enough marriages are sufficiently unproblematic enough to view the institution itself as not inherently compromised, and I am unconvinced that a person who chooses to subsume their identity in marriage has made an inferior moral choice to someone who doesn't. Sure, it could be the wrong choice for some, and nobody should be forced to get married if they don't want to be, but for others, subsuming their identity in marriage may be the thing that makes them happiest.

I think this understanding of marriage as being an essentially shared relation is also why "civil unions and "domestic partnerships" are an inferior alternative to marriage. Do those legal constructions carry the same sense of two individuals giving themselves to a shared identity, incorporated from both of them, that marriage does? My impression is that they don't. In fact, I think placing gay unions in a separate legal category can encourage the view that such relationships are contingent. They're not really marriage, after all.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smallish Biden/McCain dust-up in America

There's been a mini dust-up in the US election as the McCain campaign desperately tries to spin an attack out of the following comments from Joe Biden:
"Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy," Biden said. "The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America.

"Watch, we're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy," Biden went on to say.

McCain has portrayed the comment as evidence that electing Obama is dangerous, that electing Obama - Obama specifically, not just a new president generally - will invite threats and attacks from all the evil people living in the big bad world outside America's borders (no idea how he believes the evil people living inside America's borders would react, but after seeing the low-level violence already occurring against Obama's supporters in some parts of the country, I think I can guess).

It took a moment of examining this charge for me to realise that the thrust of it isn't that electing Obama invites attack, but that Obama won't be able to handle the danger he invites because he's too inexperienced. This is not a new meme from the right: we have here the same basic charge, with the "experience" component made explicit, in the writings of a conservative journalist from several months ago:
Experience especially in the area of foreign policy is increasingly important with the instability around the globe. Many rogue nations and world leaders would test the Senator [Obama] early on in his administration making a determination about his leadership, wisdom, and judgment.

I find it interesting that in response to Biden's comments, the Obama campaign is having none of the "experience" charge and focusing entirely on the "Joe didn't really say a specifically Obama presidency would invite attack" part. That's actually pretty clever: Obama's defusing the main thrust of the attack by getting McCain and the press hung up on the part that doesn't matter so much. Nice dodge.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Daily Show on Wasilla, Alaska

I think some of the recent comments from Republican spokesdroids about how "real America" supports them have pissed the Daily Show team off just a tad.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The conservative movement's mythology versus statistical evidence

One of the recurring themes of the McCain-Palin campaign has been that Obama is "out of touch", or "doesn't understand the problems of everyday Americans"

Well, check out this poll, and understand the difference between electioneering and observable reality.

By the by, I've settled on the phrase "conservative moment" to try and distinguish what I see as two conflicting versions of conservative ideology. The first is "classical conservatism", which values respect for tradition, opposes radical change and is, although not my preferred intellectual preference, a fairly useful philosophy to have around. The other, "movement conservatism", is little more than an angry mob railing against anything slightly different to them, and which is coming dangerously close to turning into a movement of brownshirts. Both currently exist in today's Republican party I think. But the number of non-movement conservatives in it appears to be dwindling rapidly.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

McCain: tragic figure

Tragic in the classical sense: a figure who is undone by himself.

McCain is now trying to walk back the Krystalnacht-style turn that his campaign has taken. But his Republican supporters are having none of it:
Said McCain, "I want to be president of the United States and I obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be. But I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person. And a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States."

The crowd booed.

Bits and pieces of bad behaviour continue to leak out from McCain's campaign rallies. Here we have a McCain supporter who'd brought in a monkey with an Obama bumper sticker stuck on it. Here we have the official clergyman for the event give the following invocation at the start:
"I would also pray, Lord, that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god - whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah - that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons,” Conrad said.

“And Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their god is bigger than you, if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name with all that happens between now and Election Day"

"Buddah"? Praying to "their god?"

Sometimes the McCain campaign gives a lukewarm indication that McCain doesn't like this sort of thing, as with their official statement about that invocation:
While we understand the important role that faith plays in informing the votes of Iowans, questions about the religious background of the candidates only serve to distract from the real questions in this race about Barack Obama’s judgment, policies and readiness to lead as commander in chief.

But sometimes the campaign comes out with the claim that pointing out this bad behaviour is an unfair attack on Mccain's supporters:
Barack Obama’s attacks on Americans who support John McCain reveal far more about him than they do about John McCain. It is clear that Barack Obama just doesn’t understand regular people and the issues they care about. He dismisses hardworking middle class Americans as clinging to guns and religion, while at the same time attacking average Americans at McCain rallies who are angry at Washington, Wall Street and the status quo.

By the by, this post contains a poll comparing Independent voters' opinion about if they think Obama or McCain "understands your needs and problems". Obama blows McCain out of the water.

The difficulty McCain faces now is that the destructive social forces he unleashed are beyond his control, and are threatening to destroy not only him, but the social fabric of the country as well. Can you imagine what these people are going to do if Obama wins? Some commentors on American blogs I read are already discussing the best small arms to get for self-defense purposes should the Reichstag Right turn violent after "Barack Hussein Osama" becomes President.

Worse for Mccain, the Reichstag Right appears to exist within his own campaign apparatus, and even appears to include his own Vice Presidential nominee. That's my interpretation of this recent article from the Sunday Times, anyway: McCain tussles with Palin over whipping up a mob mentality. Read the whole thing, and be very afraid.

In classical tragedy, the tragic hero must sacrifice himself in order to right the larger wrong he helped create. It's certainly not necessary to go that far in this day and age of course, but I will say this: John McCain, the only way you can win is by feeding this mob. If you don't, they'll turn on you and demand you be replaced by someone who will, like your own running mate. If you do, you'll be responsible for everything that this mob does in the future to all the people that they merely demonise and threaten now.

You can either try to become president of the United States of America on the backs of those who do not believe that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the right of anyone who is not exactly like them, or you can show that you truly believe in American values, ensure that the next President is not faced with a large segment of his own population wanting to kill him just for being who he is, and oppose this mob and everything it stands for, even though politically it will cost you everything.

It's either you or the country. Make your choice.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"He's got the bloodlines"

My opinion has been that the question of who wins the US presidential election is important for the world and for liberal democracy, but just as important is how they are perceived to have won it. That will tell us what values America really stands for - whether the American people genuinely want to stand up for their liberal democracy and what it has given them, or whether they're just going through the motions in a slow descent to...something else.

On that basis, here is a 4 and half minute Youtube of some McCain-Palin supporters from one of Palin's campaign events.

I'll transcribe what I think is by far the worst part, starting at about 1:00, when the cameraman asks two women about Obama:
Cameraman: He's a terrorist?
Woman #1: Definitely.
Woman #2: He's got the bloodlines.
Cameraman: What does that mean?
Woman #2: Well, just think about it. The name.
Cameraman: So you do think he's a terrorist.
Woman #2: I didn't say that, but, ah...
Woman #1: I think he is.
Cameran: You do? Why?
Woman #1: He's got the connections. Have a look at his name!

Democracy can tell you so much about a people. Oh yes, I'll know how John McCain won the election if he does.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Election year in October in the US; ugly time

And the Republican Party has discovered new lows amongst the party faithful. I think one commenter from here had the best response to any attempt to absolve Palin from responsibility for the near-violent rhetoric of the crowds at her gatherings:
she is not lynching him, but she's a hell of a rope salesman.

I've becoming addicted to watching Pollster's poll of polls from day to day. Near as I can tell, Obama's popularity hasn't taken much of a hit over the past few days after the McCain campaign went full negative. But the start of the Republican incitement to hatred seems to roughly coincide with McCain's popularity slowly but steadily going up after a long period of decline.

I'll see if the trend continues before I speculate on what it means. But I think people need to keep in mind that even though Obama's currently ahead, he has not secured more than 50% of the vote: there are enough undecided voters that it's still statistically possible for McCain to win the popular vote even if Obama doesn't lose any support from now until election day. It seems unlikely, but I find that worrying nevertheless.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Lawrence King's killer has a defense fund in his name

Well, Brandon McInerney is a 14-year-old who's being tried as an adult, and plenty of people, including several GLBT rights groups, think it important that a minor still be legally treated as a minor even in the case of murder. I could imagine any number of groups would cheerfully and openly fund McInerney's defense on that basis.

But I find it slightly odd that the people actually responsible for The Brandon Mcinerney Defense Fund are not identifiable. The Fund's own website says that the account is administered by Leiderman Devine LLP, a fairly mainstream lawyer group from what I can see, but they only administer the account, and have no actual involvement in the court case itself. One possible advantage of this arrangement is that the real identity of the Fund's owners is likely protected by attorney-client privilege. The domain name of the website is registered via Domains by Proxy, a service that offers itself as a way of keeping a domain name owner's details out of the public whois registry.

I try not to be distrustful of anonymity per se, since I think it's important as a way of making speech truly free. But this is about funding a court case rather than speech, and I'm concerned about why the identity of the fund maintainer is veiled. All the groups that I can think of who might have an interest here, including "pro-family" (ie, anti-gay) groups like the Alliance Defense Fund, would want their identity known. Who is this?

Document from inside an anti-gay organisation leaked.

The anti-gay group in question is called the Eagle Forum. Seems like someone accidentally attached the wrong document to an e-mail that they were sending to an openly gay radio host. The full text is currently here. I'm mirroring it in full here just in case.

Dear Jack,
Hello, I am so sorry, I just found out I'm going to have to participate in a meeting that continues after our conference ends on Sunday. That will preclude me from doing the interview. I apologize for telling you this now. (I hate to risk pulling a McCain! And I hope it doesn't create problems for you.) I just found out, myself, and am bummed. I was looking forward to talking with you. Any chance we could reschedule?


I was giving more thought to why people are hesitant to get involved in this issue, which led to trying to brainstorm ways to counter the “Will and Grace” effect. The other side has so effectively used rhetoric and emotionality to manipulate and flat-out bully many Americans away from taking any position indicating that homosexuality is wrong. It’s not surprising that politicians, media members and even military leaders are shying away from the topic, because Hollywood and other media outlets react so virulently at even the slightest hint of negativity toward homosexuality. There are so many examples. One that you’ll probably remember that really illustrated the hysteria to me happened when American Idol runner up Clay Aiken was co-hosting the morning talk show “Regis and Kelly.” While exchanging banter with host Kelly Ripa, Clay (then-rumored, now confirmed to be homosexual) put his hand over her mouth to stop her from talking because he disagreed with something she was saying. Legally, his actions constituted battery, in addition to
being a terrible violation of etiquette and civil conduct among adults. Ripa, understandably upset, moved his hand away and said something like, “That’s a no-no, I don’t know where that hand has been.” Ripa insisted that she was merely concerned about germs as a working mother with three young children. Rosie O’Donnell and other gay media advocates blasted Ripa – the actual wronged party in the situation - insisting that the comment was a homophobic slur. The issue has become such a tar baby, people don’t want to go anywhere near it, because the “homophobe” moniker is so dreaded and so liberally applied. It’s also very distracting, because the homosexual advocates are so strident and relentless in their attacks. Thus, people fear saying anything that might risk their ire, for fear that such attacks will detract from other issues or work the figure might want to focus on or accomplish.

One thing I thought that might be somewhat helpful in your efforts to recruit members of the military for your cause is to do what Pete or Peter, the gentleman seated to your left against the wall during the meeting indicated – use “horror stories” to illustrate that allowing homosexuals in the military is not simply a matter of respecting one person’s personal choice, but they actually threaten our national security and in some cases individual soldiers’ personal safety. I know the horror stories are very difficult to find as you explained. It sounded like you did have some that illustrate the very serious issues.

I saw this use of “horror stories” executed very well earlier this summer when I attended the Family Research Council’s Panel Discussion on Same Sex “Marriage.” (Which can be found online at: http://www.frc.org/panel/california-same-sex-marriage-the-impact-on-religious-liberty)

Admittedly, that was a very friendly forum. In fact, it was about 6-1, with only Chai Feldblum defending the same sex marriage. Even though she was in the minority, she was treated very respectfully (I’m so sorry members of the U.S. Congress did not feel it was necessary to afford you the same respect.). There were many constitutional law and policy experts, but the most compelling arguments were the “horror stories” in
which children were being intimidated on playgrounds for being “homophobes” (synonymous with Christians) and one parent was actually arrested for peacefully dissenting against his child’s being forced to participate in a pro-homosexual “educational” presentation.

One presenter discussed some of these examples. Chai Feldblum scoffed at them and said essentially, “the other side will tell you the sky is falling. . . ,” but indicated those were extreme examples and there was no danger of those scenarios actually happening. Feldblum was followed by Ben Bull of the Alliance Defense Fund who had cases in hand to say that not only is the sky falling, he was holding pieces of it. This was so effective in not only illustrating the dangers same sex marriage presented, but it enabled the listener to overcome the intimidation and fear of being labeled a homophobe by having tangible examples to further legitimize their position.

I know all this is easier said than done, but these are just some ideas about the PR battle that it seems needs to be waged first against any hesitation military leaders who support the current law might have to taking a stand for it.

Again, just some ruminations for now, but I would love to continue the discussion and to see if there is any way we can help. Again, I appreciate what you’re doing so much and know that this is a very intense battle not just politically and interpersonally, but I really believe it is a spiritual battle.

Looking forward to talking to you more soon.

Many blessings,


Colleen Holmes
Executive Director
Eagle Forum