Some Tuesday Morning Prop 8 Stories, One of Which ANGERS ME

Well, today we get back to business. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what nonsense Andy Pugno comes up with this week; it can actually be fun to reply to. Plus, before the week’s out, we’ll see the defense’s approach to the trial and what their “expert” witnesses have to say.

This morning I just want to bring your attention to a few more articles that I think are worth reading, but I’ll be brief about them (except one).

» Edge brings us a brief glimpse into how some of the plaintiffs are feeling one week into the trial: Prop 8 plaintiff reflects upon trial’s first week

» Marcy Wheeler at Firedoglake reflects upon Friday’s proceedings and the vastly different ways that Matthew McGill (for the plaintiffs) and David Thompson (for the defense) approached their questioning of expert witness, Dr. Michael Lamb. She points out some key excerpts from the day that show just how incompetent Thompson seemed to be in trying to twist science to support his side. It’s definitely a worthwhile read: Prop 8 Trial: A Tale of Two Lawyers

» While a lot of folks have been speculating how the Supreme Court might eventually rule on this case, an article in the Los Angeles Times this morning looks at Judge Walker’s history, and it turns out he’s been pretty gay friendly in the past! Check it out: Same-sex marriage Judge Vaughn Walker has dealt with other gay rights cases

» Curious as to what to expect from today’s testimony? Firedoglake’s got a preview. It should be another interesting day! Prop 8 Trial: Tuesday 1/19 Witness Preview

» Law dork Chris Geidner gives us a look at week 2 and ponders why there’s a trial as opposed to a summary judgment. While many gay activists are optimistic about the potential implications of this case, he’s not so sure. Even if there’s a ruling that favors marriage equality, it might still only have implications for California because of how it might get deemed unconstitutional. If you’re into thinking about things from the legal perspective, check out his post: Perry: Week Two

Now, the legal aspect is important, but this other new post really has me kind of upset.

There’s this other site out there right now called “Prop 8 On Trial,” and it’s written by two Berkeley law students who are actively following the trial and offering their analysis. That’s all well and good. As I wrote yesterday, this trial needs publicity.

Their new post, however, is about the question of whether homosexuality is a choice, and they approach it only as a legal question. That seems to translate into simply weighing opinions and beliefs. They discuss the question like it’s still up for grabs, and not in the most respectful light, asking: “Can homosexuality be prevented?” [NOTE: This morning the post has been tweaked to be slightly more appropriate by asking “How do people become gay?” with some other tweaks in the quotes below. My concerns are unchanged.]

This bothers me because it’s not objective. It assume that homosexuality is a defect, and a negative one. Would anyone ever ask the question, “Can heterosexuality be prevented?” [The same is still true for “How do people become straight?”] No. Such an idea would never be considered. But these two law students treat homosexuality as if it’s still some big mystery that hasn’t been researched and which nobody understands:

In these ways, Perry is a novel airing of nearly a century of American anxiety about the source of homosexuality and its transmission.  There seems implicit in this culture a question of:  How can we control homosexuality?  How can we contain it?  What’s more, tracing this history is instructive, because it reveals the origin of many gay stereotypes and helps place the current same-sex marriage debate in the context of an argument that has been simmering for at least the last 60 years.

The source? Its transmission? Control? Contain? Those are the kinds of questions we should be asking about religion. Variations in sexual orientation are not up for grabs, and it’s upsetting to be reminded that it may be upon the plaintiffs to prove this point. In other words, the court gets to decide whether modern knowledge of human development is “right,” based upon opinions and beliefs. It seems Judge Walker is a pretty rational thinker, unlike these two law students:

Perhaps many of these stereotypes could be relegated to a painful but irrelevant recounting of the history of American gay culture if everyone believed what gay rights advocates have been saying for years:  That people are not turned gay; they’re born gay. The problem is that a lot of people don’t believe that.

Perry plaintiffs have also testified exactly to that.  “I’m proud to be gay.  I’m a natural-born gay,” plaintiff Paul Katami declared on the first day of trial.

Yet for much of the country, the matter is just not that simple. How gay men and lesbian women come to exist is an age-old inquiry whose answer still baffles scientists and divides the American public…

“For much of the country?” What else do they need? It’s quite offensive, really, this notion that other people’s intuition is better judgment than our knowledge of ourselves. And I can promise you that there are no gay folks who are baffled or divided. Are we gays, with our agenda, still so untrustworthy that you doubt us when we explain how we experience our identities to you?

Actually, I’m starting to have some doubts about you straight people. Could you go take this questionnaire (written in 1972) and help me feel a little more comfortable around you?

Even if American opinion is changing, it is curious that the Perry defense is not addressing this issue more head-on.  Why don’t they overtly say that homosexuality begets homosexualityAre they afraid that doing so implicitly embraces the unpopular – a statement that they want to limit the number of people who are gay? It seems obvious that this is their point.  Then again, this is certainly an unwelcome view in the San Francisco courtroom, where giggles emanate every time an attorney asks a gay witnesses if there’s some chance that he might be mistaken about his sexual orientation.  However, the importance of the issue seems clear even to the plaintiffs, who repeatedly question their own witnesses about whether gay couples can be good parents and raise heterosexual adults.  The implicit message behind these questions is that anxiety about the origins of homosexuality must be addressed.

This is certainly an unwelcome view in the San Francisco courtroom, where giggles emanate every time an attorney asks a gay witnesses if there’s some chance that he might be mistaken about his sexual orientation.  But according to US history and broader current opinion, it does not seem an outlandish stance. Until the country is confident that homosexuality is both natural and beyond influence, those who want to prevent same-sex marriage will be able to summon and rely upon an American cultural tradition that is both ambivalent about the homosexual phenomenon and perhaps fearful that the current gay population is only the beginning.

And according to US history and broader current opinion, it does not seem an outlandish stance. Until the country is confident that homosexuality is both natural and beyond influence, those who want to prevent same-sex marriage will be able to summon and rely upon an American cultural tradition that is both ambivalent about the homosexual phenomenon and perhaps fearful that the current gay population is only the beginning.  In short, the public is still asking: How do people become gay?

Actually, the reason the defense probably isn’t overtly saying homosexuality begets homosexuality is because THEY’D BE OVERTLY WRONG. There are piles of scientific evidence collected by decades of psychologists demonstrating the opposite. The few verified theories we have about possible causes of homosexuality do show some genetic components (see video below), but there’s nothing that demonstrates inheritance.

The more important point is that the question of “how?” or “why?” is totally irrelevant. All that matters is Is sexual orientation an immutable characteristic? and ALL evidence points to YES for all sexual orientations (including you breeders out there!). That’s surely why the plaintiffs are using experts to hammer this home.

It seems poor Amanda and Sarah might have been sucked into the defense’s anti-science agenda, though I appreciate that they at least made a few tweaks to their post since it went up last night (and I’m generally glad they’re blogging about the trial). Apparently though, as long as a perspective is popular or long-held, it’s still considered a valid opinion. If this is how our new generation of law students are being encouraged to think, I’m very worried about our future. Ladies, please go read Marcy Wheeler’s post that I linked to above. It’s still much more informed than yours is. I’ve also included a short video below that might help address some of your doubt.

In the meantime, keep writing the way you’re writing and I’m sure plenty of LGBT folks will swarm to your blog to let you know how insensitive you sound by talking about gay people like we’re some race of mutants.

I Think People Who Can’t Discern Between Sexual Orientation and Paraphilia Should Shut Up

Wow, harsh title. I guess I’m just tired of society being so ho-hum when people are just wrong in what they say. No, it’s not that they have a “different opinion.” They just have no clue what they’re talking about.

Here’s a quick primer. Everyone has a sexual orientation. Everyone. And it only means one thing. It means to which sex(es) a person is oriented. It’s right there in the name. You can be oriented towards males or females or potentially both or potentially those whose sex defies the binary. But, that’s pretty much it. It has been measured, documented, and defined over and over again and that is all that it means.

Guess what’s not a sexual orientation? Necrophilia. Death is not a sex. Here’s another one: pedophilia. Kids are not a sex. So guess what? Those are not sexual orientations; they never have been considered sexual orientations; and they never could possibly be confused for sexual orientations if you have any clue whatsoever what you’re talking about! They are called paraphilia and they are considered disorders and they have nothing to do with sexual orientation.

But you know who doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Oklahoma State Senator Steve Russell.

This bright gentleman is convinced the new hate crimes law hinders free speech and religious freedom. I wonder if he read it? Or did he just buy into the crap they were preaching at that pathetic rally they held on Monday? The law makes it pretty clear it can only be enforced for violent crimes, not speech. If he doesn’t think the government should be protecting special classes of people, why didn’t he oppose hate crime protections based on religion?

But here’s where Russell lets us know that it’s not just a difference of opinion, it’s ignorance:

“The law is very vague to begin with,” Russell said. “Sexual orientation is a very vague word that could be extended to extremes like necrophilia.”

No, you’re just wrong. You, sir, are JUST PLAIN WRONG! A lot of links show up in the ads on this site for online degrees. Senator Russell, please enroll in a Psychology 101 class before you open your mouth again about these issues. You’re hurting people.

You know who else is hurting people with ignorance? The Catholic Church of course! They’re good at that.

As you may recall, in response to the huge scandal of lots of little boys (and some girls) being sexually abused by priests…

In 2005, the Vatican issued a policy statement that men with “deep-seated’’ attraction to other men should be barred from the priesthood.

How convenient for the Church. They can use one thing that they’re wrong about as a scapegoat for another thing they’re wrong about. Too bad they weren’t smart enough to leave it at that. See, they commissioned this study and found just the opposite:

A preliminary report commissioned by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to investigate the clergy sex-abuse scandal has found no evidence that gay priests are more likely than heterosexual clergy to molest children, the lead authors of the study said yesterday.

We tried to tell them that, but I guess they needed to hear it for themselves. That’s right. There is absolutely no connection between having a sexual orientation toward other men and having a paraphilia for nonconsenting children.

I wonder if they’ll ever learn. I’ll let Dan Savage take us out…

According to the authors of the study the Church has to distinguish between sexual identity and behavior and be on guard against pedophile priests, not gay priests, “and to look at who the offender had access to when seeking victims.” This study is going to throw a serious wrench in the Vatican’s efforts to pin the whole clergy sex abuse scandals on teh gays.

Why Is Society So Afraid and Ashamed of Sex? Short Answer: Religion.

I’ve been thinking about this one, because it comes up a lot. Sex is something that raises eyebrows and it’s because people are really terrified of sex before it happens and really ashamed of it after it does. Of course, I mean mostly in the public light.

Before I get into too much detail, let’s do a little thought experiment. What would sex look like if we could start society over with a clean slate (a la The Sims) with what we know now? Well, we know that sex is enjoyable and everyone is capable of it, so I think we could start by seeing it in a very positive light. Then, we’d talk about thing like consent to ensure people have ownership of their own bodies and to discourage things like rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. We know that there are possible consequences like unwanted pregnancies and STIs, so we’d probably promote using protection and frown upon having a crazy number of anonymous sexual partners. We’d recognize the deep level of emotional connection that is possible with sex and its ability to serve as a foundation for a family, so some level of commitment (though not necessarily monogamy) would be valued. And we’d also recognize that sexual relationships can be disruptive—in the workplace, for example—so there might be a certain extent to which we’d value a certain level of discretion and privacy. But I think that’d be that.

Ian McKellenSo why is sex so taboo in society? The only answer I can see is religion. I think Ian McKellen said it best in his recent interview:

Why should I take the judgment of a declared celibate about my sexual needs? He’s basing his judgment on laws that would fit life in the Bronze Age. So if I’m lost to God, organized religion is to blame.

For hundreds of years, the most holy men in society were those who were committed to celibacy. Sex had this entirely spiritual meaning that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in a secular light. And let’s not forget that women had like no rights. They were property. Our sexual values were totally set off-course by the bizarre values of the Church, and those archaic values persist in modern America.

Take a look at some stories that I’ve written about here. Parents in Illinois protested their children reading about sexual behavior in animals in a sophomore honors class (11/3/09). Newsweek wrote recently about the future of abstinence-only sex ed, conceding, of course, that it doesn’t work (10/27/09). A study found that the most religious states have the highest teen birth rates (9/17/09). The AFA called “safe sex” a mythical message that deprives American teens of their “sexual innocence” (9/10/09). They also published a book called Truth For Youth that promotes “sexual purity” (8/28/09). And let’s not forget that Proposition 8 and Question 1 both passed because of intimidating lies about “teaching homosexuality” in our schools (11/4/09).

What are “sexual innocence” and “sexual purity” except rhetoric that paints sex as something to feel guilty and dirty about? There is nothing foul about sex (it’s pretty great, actually), and the only guilt comes from betraying the religious values that discourage any kind of sexual behavior. And this makes people so sensitive about sex that people are totally afraid of learning anything about it at all! And of course we always have to keep private parts censored because even thinking about another person in a sexual way is “unclean.” (It’s obviously impossible to be attracted to somebody or even turned on by them without “coveting” them.) This is all absurd circular reasoning that deprives many young people of the opportunity to truly learn how their own bodies work! It’s not just fear; it’s paranoia that is only driven by commitment to values preached by the church.

Carrie PrejeanAnd then, when sex does happen, OH THE SHAME! Let’s talk about Carrie Prejean again for a little. Do we really care that she had some nude photos taken or that she made a few sex tapes (eight) for her boyfriend? I don’t think so. I mean, we live in an age where every computer and phone comes with a camera; I’m sure there are PLENTY of people out there who have taken photos or made videos intended for private viewing only. It’s not a shameful thing to do; it’s just private, so it’s embarrassing if they get out. I honestly don’t think there is anything wrong with anything she did. As my good friend (not really) Josh Malinaactor Josh Malina tweeted recently:

Leave Sister Helen Prejean alone! The woman’s done some wonderful work. I say if she wants to diddle herself on camera, she’s earned it.

The scandal comes in when you look at her integrity. See, Prejean has made an icon of herself for preaching hateful conservative sexual values. By promoting these archaic sexual values, she set a standard for herself to meet them. Any hint that she might be a sexual being would be in complete opposition to her rhetoric. If she had been totally open and supportive of the gay community instead of walking this Christian hard line of morality, we probably wouldn’t see this documentation of her sexuality as negative or scandalous. We’d say, “Good for her! It’s probably embarrassing those got out, but she has nothing to be ashamed of!” That is not the case. And as I wrote last week, this happens time and time again with moral conservatives who talk a talk that does not match the walk they walk. (Meghan McCain sees the hypocrisy, but promotes a bit of it herself.)

So what’s the deal with sex? I think sexual liberation is still something we need to fight for. There are some people doing some amazing work at the National Sexual Resource Center to promote sexual literacy:

At NSRC, we focus on a positive, integrated and holistic view of sexuality from a social justice perspective. We believe that every person should have the knowledge, skills and resources to support healthy and pleasurable sexuality—and that these resources should be based on accurate research and facts. We examine how race, gender, culture, ability, faith and age intersect with and shape our sexual beliefs. We know that sexuality education and learning should be lifelong. We call this sexual literacy.

I think it’s admirable work that goes far beyond simple “comprehensive sex education.” We should be able to fully understand and explore our bodies without being told to feel guilty about it. Religion continues to work against this freedom in ways I think terribly damage our society. Until we recognize that there is no reason for fear, guilt, or shame, we cannot attain true sexual literacy, and I think that’s a damn shame.

IL Parents Afraid of Their Kids Learning About the World They Live In?

IL teacher Dan DeLongIf you haven’t heard this story yet, let me catch you up. An English teacher in Piasa, IL, Mr. Dan DeLong, was suspended for giving his Sophomore Honors students an article to read about homosexuality in the animal kingdom. Unsurprisingly, it takes ignorant, paranoid parents to create a situation like this. (You can check out today’s update on the story on Towleroad and then come back here for my analysis.)

Let’s break this thing down and see how insulting the whole thing is.

First let’s take a look at the article itself: The Gay Animal Kingdom. It describes sexual behavior in animals. It’s a science article about sexual behavior in animals, so, I think it would be pretty hard to describe the pertinent sexual behavior in animals without, you know, describing the pertinent sexual behavior in animals. The result of taking a sincere look at these sexual behaviors leads to some really interesting conclusions:

According to Roughgarden, gayness is a necessary side effect of getting along. Homosexuality evolved in tandem with vertebrate societies, in which a motley group of individuals has to either live together or die alone. In fact, Roughgarden even argues that homosexuality is a defining feature of advanced animal communities, which require communal bonds in order to function. “The more complex and sophisticated a social system is,” she writes, “the more likely it is to have homosexuality intermixed with heterosexuality.”

There should be absolutely nothing controversial about reading an article like this. It’s a scientist sharing her research with surprising results. I would think it very easy to understand why Mr. DeLong would offer such an article. Developing advanced English skills like you would in an Honors English class means being able to comprehend new ideas and respond to them. What better than a science article that totally warps a lot of preconceived notions both in society and in science to create space for critical dialogue in the classroom!

So, what happens next? The parents complain that this is “inappropriate material for sophomores,” the teacher get suspended, and the School Board actually asks Illinois Child Welfare Authorities to probe whether Mr. DeLong’s actions constituted child abuse. Oh, and we can’t ignore the fact that the biggest concern the opposed parents had is that Mr. DeLong exposed the students to “his agenda.”

I’m sorry, but I really struggle to connect those dots. I would hope by the time the students are 15 and 16 they would have learned what sex is (because some of them have already been having it for a couple years). This is an article from a science magazine. I would hope that the school library does, in fact, provide access to science magazines for its students. This is an Honors course, the point of which (I think I can safely assume) is to challenge students and hold them to higher expectations of learning. So what is Mr. DeLong’s horrid agenda? To make his students learn and think about the world—to be able to read about it, discuss it, debate it, and write about it. That’s what good teachers do.

Last night was the big meeting of the school board, and what was the result? We would hope that they would appreciate the innovation and modernity that Mr. DeLong offered his students, who rallied pretty hardcore for him thanks to a Facebook support page. But no, they gave him a remedial warning and made him apologize:

“I agree with the Board that the material in my class was not age appropriate for my sophomores and for that, I apologize. I understand the Board has decided that I shall receive a Notice of Remedial Warning,” he said in the statement.

DeLong also said that the administration’s concerns centered not on “sexual preference or homophobic condemnation,” but rather “the age appropriateness of the material.”

There are probably gay kids in Mr. DeLong’s class who figured out their identities a couple years ago, and by the time they’re sophomores, students are fully functional sexual beings. I fail to see what is not “age appropriate” about studying the behavior of animals and considering how new knowledge would affect the way society thinks.

You know, for as much security as university professors have with tenure and academic freedom, there seems to be little to no trust for educators in public grade schools. Mr. DeLong should have been defended for his teaching, not chastised to cater to homophobic paranoid parents who are afraid of their children learning anything new. He should apologize for nothing.

Our nation needs to grow up. Sex can’t always be taboo. It’s a part of our lives. We can’t hide from it and we can’t treat it like it’s dirty. These kids should be applauded for their scholarship and for the respect they have for their teacher. The school and community should be ashamed that they don’t appreciate what they have in Mr. DeLong.

Why Now? Well, Will & Grace Didn’t Legislate Anything…

A lot of people are asking, “Why now?” Is there something happening that prompted this march? It seems a bit late for a Prop 8 reaction. What’s the equalitymarch logobig deal? Why now?

It might also seem like it’s a big deal over nothing. I mean, after all, there has been a lot of progress for the queer community over the years, right?. In an article on AP, Lisa Leff reminds us how things really look today:

A Democrat in the White House. Demands for sweeping civil rights protections. Religious opponents working to undo a string of state-based victories.

That was the backdrop in 1979 when gay rights activists staged their first national march in Washington. Thirty years later, with the landscape looking much the same, thousands of advocates are preparing to rally again in the nation’s capital this weekend.

And they are demanding many of the same things: a bill to outlaw job discrimination based on gender, a law that would treat attacks on gays as federal hate crimes, and a presidential order allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

See, there is both truth and misunderstanding when one claims that there has been a lot of progress in the queer movement. Has visibility improved? Yes. Will & Grace was a huge step, but looking back, it portrayed inflated stereotypes of gay men that would no longer be well-received. Now we have an organization that even advocates on our behalf for media portrayals (rock on GLAAD!).

But just because we have more visibility doesn’t mean our circumstances have drastically improved. In fact, if you look at the headlines from the 00’s, you see the same kind of headlines you saw 30 years ago. There are hate crimes (we at least call them that now). There is police brutality in the form of bar raids. There are repeals of rights ordinances just like Anita Bryant campaigned for.

What I don’t think a lot of people comprehend is that being “accepted” isn’t enough. If we are still treated by the government as less than, than we’ll always be treated that way by society as well.

[David] Mixner said the march’s agenda is being framed as a single demand for equal rights. Organizers say they are no longer willing to quietly wait for Democratic office holders to come through on decades-old promises, believing that lawmakers’ actions should catch up to the growing acceptance of gay relationships.

That’s why this march, and hopefully the momentum it sparks, is so important. We can not and should not wait another 30 years. There is no good reason we should have to wait. We need to courageously and adamantly stand up for our rights and accept nothing less.

Check out this lovely video featuring photos created by Laura Kanter set to the music of “Courage of Our Convictions” by Julie Clark. Clark will perform her song live at the march on Sunday.

Academic Standards and Religious Doctrine Don’t Mix

I recognize that my opinion on religiously-affiliated universities is “controversial.” I have been admonished and challenged by my peers and colleagues for suggesting that any religious doctrine is an obstacle to rigorous academic study. You can’t expand human thinking if you are being told how to think. You can’t explore different opinions (academic freedom) and different forms of diversity if you are surrounded by people who believe (by mandate) the same as you. My argument is not that you can’t have a positive learning experience attending a religiously-affiliated school, but that we shouldn’t treat them as if they are “on par” with other institutions whose environment is not so limited.

I want to specify that I’m not talking about schools with loose affiliations to certain religious organizations, but schools like Wheaton College, Liberty University, Bringham Young University, and Oral Roberts University where religious belief dictates campus policy. These include rules for what students can and cannot do on campus (or even what information they can or cannot access), rules for what professors can teach, oaths that all students and staff are expected to take regarding what they believe and do not believe. By letting beliefs dictate knowledge instead of the other way around, these schools inherently lack the open critical exploration that the highest standards of academia demand. They have a right to exist, they have a right to do what they please, but I don’t think they should be immune to critique from academics for the learning environments they create (or rather, don’t create).

News this week from Calvin College in Michigan demonstrates just how limiting this set-up can be not only in the professional lives of the school’s community members, but in their personal lives as well. Here’s what happened:

College employees received a memo last week saying the Board of Trustees has revisited issues surrounding the college’s position on homosexuality, concluding it is “unacceptable” for faculty and staff to teach, write or advocate on behalf of the issue.

Where to begin? How about the fact that homosexuality isn’t an issue; it’s a phenomenon. I don’t know how you properly study or teach communications, education, biology, psychology, sociology, social work, art, music, English, writing or any kind of history without including homosexuality, yet those are all majors at Calvin College. The American Psychological Association just published an important review of scientific studies about the dangers of trying to suppress homosexuality, but I guess understanding human nature according to scientific research is not acceptable at Calvin College.

Of course not:

The college in 2008 affirmed its commitment to the Christian Reformed Church’s position on homosexuality: that the practice is sinful, but a person’s orientation is not. The board formed the Homosexuality and Community Life Working Group to discuss the implications of the college and church position and how it relates to the day-to-day life in the college.

See, it doesn’t matter what knowledge tells us about these issues, because the school will continue to follow what the Church says. The Church can say whatever it wants, but such untruths are even more dangerous in the hands of an institution of higher education. The Church just says what to believe, but then the college actually prevents the dispensation of any information that might counter subscribing to that belief. How can such a school have any dignity or claims to academic discipline? We only study that which doesn’t run counter to what we believe. Then how do you ever grow or learn anything new?

And just belonging to such a community is toxic:

The trustees in May revisited the topic and stated expectations for the faculty, including that advocacy by faculty and staff both in and out of the classroom is unacceptable.

So now, a place of work is dictating what its employees can do (or in this case, possibly even what they can be) in any part of their lives. In fact, it would be the school’s right (because of its religious designation) to fire any employees, regardless of their esteem and possibly even tenure, if they do not comply with the policies. (Many such schools include some kind of oath or pledge to the school’s belief system in job contracts employees are required to sign.) Duty to the Church comes before any sense of duty to knowledge or academia:

The board says there are cases where academic integrity will “require acquainting students with alternate views. However, the position of the church and the college should be clearly and sympathetically presented, and advocacy of homosexual practice and same-sex marriage is not permitted.”

I read that as saying that any teachers who even suggest the position is not totally merited (in other words, who don’t present the position “sympathetically”), are in violation of the policy.

These kind of policies might be the exception, but they still set a precedent! If I had studied music education at Calvin College, I might have gotten the same course of instruction regarding how to be an effective teacher (minus all that appreciation of teaching to diversity I got in my sociology classes). However, knowing that there are some facts that the college refuses to acknowledge tarnishes academic standards across the board.

Institutions either have academic integrity and academic freedom or they don’t. There should be no room for exceptions. Schools that try to make such exceptions should never develop competitive academic reputations. I would go so far as to suggest that by accrediting these institutions the same as others, the value of all schools’ accreditation is compromised. If they teach beliefs, they’re houses of religion; if they teach knowledge and critical thinking, they’re schools. There isn’t room to have it both ways.

I’m just one young professional with one unpopular opinion, but I will say it here and without hesitation: by humoring these schools that have questionable approaches to academics, we are doing a huge disservice to education in our nation. It’s not working and it has to change.

Dark Parallels (Probably Intentional)

Okay, here is a list of statements describing a certain group. See if you can figure out who it is.

» They make up a small minority of the population.

» There is a lot of prejudice and even harassment from the majority towards them.

» They go through a very personal coming out experience.

» Sometimes when they come out they are ashamed of who they are, while some others embrace stereotype.

» Many are prone to hide their identities.

» They often lose friends and families because of their identities.

» They have only begun to get public visibility over the past few decades.

» Many people consider them unholy and are sure they will go to Hell.

» There is a push for laws to grant them rights, but those bills are hotly contested, particularly by the religious right.

» People who support them publicly are often considered to be just as unholy and detrimental to moral society as the people themselves.

» They have some unique sexual behaviors.

» Such behaviors are more common among the general public than people realize.

» They are often unfairly/inaccurately perceived as predatory.

» Some people are afraid to let them near their children.

» They are often defined only by what they do instead of by who they are.

» There are a lot of unfounded rumors and stereotypes about them.

» They congregate in their own bars.

» Their bars are often unfairly raided by the police.

» Police also profile and discriminate against them.

» They drink their own beverages.

» We still don’t know exactly how they came to be.

Think you’ve figured it out? Here are a few extra lines you’ll have to scroll past so I don’t spoil the game.

So what’s your guess? If you guessed vampires on True Blood, you were correct!

That’s not what you guessed? Huh.

Christians Ignoring Science: That’s the Joke!

Literally moments after I finished publishing my entry on the APA report, I found a link to a OneNewsNow article with the following title:

APA ‘ignoring the science’ on homosexual reparative therapy

And the expert is a Christian attorney. Apparently he knows more about psychological research than the APA. Impart your wise words, Mat Staver:

“When it declassified homosexuality in the 1970s, it did it against the background of a lot of science that continued to classify it as a mental disorder. It also ignored over 120 years of research, which by the way has recently been published showing that individuals who are same-sex attracted can change,” he notes.

“Consequently, the APA’s position that you’re born with it and that it would be detrimental to counsel someone to change or leave behind their same-sex attractions is simply ignoring the science.”

120 years of research? The APA report showed that most of the recent research on the topic wasn’t valid or up to methodological standards. I’m sure all that old stuff is good and bias-free.

Apparently, it was the APA task force that was biased. David Pruden, a spokesperson for the faux-science organization NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) claims that the whole committe “were very openly gay and gay activists.” Even if that is true, I don’t think it changes the fact that most of the research was inadmissable and/or inconclusive!

“The suggestion was as a Christian, when your conscience comes in conflict with what’s going on in your life — temptations, attractions, concerns, whatever they happen to be — that what you simply do is jettison your standards so that it becomes easier to live with your temptations.”

There is “the other side” for you.

So here’s a question to ponder. Which is more important: keeping the faith or finding cohesion in your identity?

Here’s another. Is there only one strict set of beliefs that defines a Christian? And where is that established? Who established it? Who enforces it?

It’s sad to see that maintaining power is more important to some Christians than supporting their fellow believers. Certainly, my post from earlier this week indicates that this is true. And this story shows they will twist information any way they can to continue that control over their followers. Seriously, I find that frightening, and the fact that we don’t call it out for what it is (intellectual tyranny) and just let it continue disturbs me greatly.

If you haven’t already, please read my previous post about the results of the APA study on reparative therapy. Reparative therapy is unfounded and dangerous, and that’s the bottom line.

The APA’s Report on Reparative Therapy (Abridged Summary)

This week, the American Psychological Association published an extensive report regarding Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. The New York Times summed up the findings pretty succinctly in their article Wednesday:

The American Psychological Association declared Wednesday that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments.

In addition, the APA adopted a pointed resolution in response to the research.  The resolution says a lot, but I think the following are the three most important points:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association encourages mental health professionals to avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts by promoting or promising change in sexual orientation when providing assistance to individuals distressed by their own or others’ sexual orientation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association concludes that the benefits reported by participants in sexual orientation change efforts can be gained through approaches that do not attempt to change sexual orientation;

You can read the full report (PDF) yourself on the APA’s website. The intent of this post is to provide a digest of the report’s findings as laid out in the Executive Summary. I’m going to blog as I read from the Executive Summary and include highlights of the findings. I had considered blogging the 100 pages of the rest of the report, but that does not seem as helpful. I hope this condensed form will help make the important findings of the study more accessible to you. I will be citing page numbers so that you can easily retrieve this information in the future. As always, all emphases (green) is mine.

Minority Stress (p. 1-2)

One of the first points addressed in the study is that sexual minorities are subject to minority stress. This means that the prejudice and discrimination people who are non-heterosexual experience is similar to other minorities, and the APA works toward affirmative interventions with a multicultural competence. So, people who experience minority stress because of age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic status should be treated in a way to help them feel positive about their identity.

We see this multiculturally competent and affirmative approach as grounded in an acceptance of the following scientific facts:

• Same-sex sexual attractions, behavior, and orientations per se are normal and positive variants of human sexuality—in other words, they do not indicate either mental or developmental disorders.

• Homosexuality and bisexuality are stigmatized, and this stigma can have a variety of negative consequences (e.g., minority stress) throughout the life span.

• Same-sex sexual attractions and behavior occur in the context of a variety of sexual orientations and sexual orientation identities, and for some, sexual orientation identity (i.e., individual or group membership and affiliation, self-labeling) is fluid or has an indefinite outcome.

• Gay men, lesbians, and bisexual individuals form stable, committed relationships and families that are equivalent to heterosexual relationships and families in essential respects.

• Some individuals choose to live their lives in accordance with personal or religious values (e.g., telic congruence).

SOCE (Sexual Orientation Change Efforts) (p. 2-3)

The main goal of the study was to address three questions regarding sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE):

• Are sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) effective at changing sexual orientation?

• Are SOCE harmful?

• Are there any additional benefits that can be reasonably attributed to SOCE?

To this end, they reviewed 83 peer-reviewed studies from 1960-2007, most of which had been conducted before 1978. Unfortunately, a LOT of this research had methodological problems.  Many of the older studies did not isolate and control factors as in proper experimentation, and “none of the recent research (1999-2007) meets methodological standards that permit conclusions regarding efficacy or safety.” The few studies that were conducted appropriately were qualitative, and are thus informative, but not conclusive.

Given the limited amount of methodologically sound research, claims that recent SOCE is effective are not supported.

Of the “high-quality” evidence, the studies available show that:

enduring change to an individual’s sexual orientation is uncommon. The participants in this body of research continued to experience same-sex attractions following SOCE and did not report signicant change other-sex attractions that could be empirically validated, though some showed lessened physiological arousal to all sexual stimuli.

There was also evidence to indicate individuals experienced harm from SOCE, including “loss of sexual feeling, depression, suicidality, and anxiety.” High drop rates from SOCE were also seen as an indicator that individuals thought the treatments were harmful.

Individuals Who Seek SOCE (p. 3)

While the research did not say much about SOCE, it had a lot to offer about the people who seek SOCE. They are mostly adult White males who “consider religion to be an extremely important part of their lives and participate in traditional or conservative faiths (e.g., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, evangelical Christianity, and Orthodox Judaism).” Almost all of the studies come from convenience samples because the participants were recruited by the groups endorsing SOCE.

Some participants reported benefits from SOCE, such as reduction of isolation (finding a sense of community), alterations in how problems are viewed (having others with whom they could identify), and stress reduction. BUT:

The research literature indicates that the benefits of SOCE mutual support groups are not unique and can be provided within an affirmative and multiculturally competent framework

Recent studies did not distinguish between orientation and orientation identity. Some individuals modified how they identify, but their orientation did not actually change.

Children and Adolescents (p. 4)

Here are a few key findings from the research on children and adolescents:

  • There is no research demonstrating that providing SOCE to children or adolescents has an impact on adult sexual orientation.”
  • The few studies of children with gender identity disorder found no evidence that psychotherapy provided to those children had an impact on adult sexual orientation.”
  • There is currently no evidence that teaching or reinforcing stereotyped gender-normative behavior in childhood or adolescence can alter sexual orientation.”
  • Of inpatient facilities that offer coercive treatment, “many do not present accurate scientific information regarding same-sex sexual orientations to youths and families, are excessively fear-based, and have the potential to increase sexual stigma” and “they potentially violate current practice guidelines by not providing treatment in the least-restrictive setting possible, by not protecting client autonomy, and by ignoring current scientific information on sexual orientation.”

Key Findings (p. 4-5)

• Our systematic review of the early research found that enduring change to an individual’s sexual orientation was unlikely.

• Our review of the scholarly literature on individuals distressed by their sexual orientation indicated that clients perceived a benefit when offered interventions that emphasize acceptance, support, and recognition of important values and concerns.

• Studies indicate that experiences of felt stigma—such as self-stigma, shame, isolation and rejection from relationships and valued communities, lack of emotional support and accurate information, and conflicts between multiple identities and between values and attractions—played a role in creating distress in individuals. Many religious individuals’ desired to live their lives in a manner consistent with their values (telic congruence); however, telic congruence based on stigma and shame is unlikely to result in psychological well-being.

I think that last point is super important. Basically, not all beliefs are compatible with psychological well-being.

In the case of children and their families:

Research indicates that family interventions that reduce rejection and increase acceptance of their child and adolescent are helpful. Licensed mental health providers (LMHP) can provide to parents who are concerned or distressed by their child’s sexual orientation accurate information about sexual orientation and sexual orientation identity and can offer anticipatory guidance and psychotherapy that support family reconciliation (e.g., communication, understanding, and empathy) and maintenance of the child’s total health and well-being.

Another important finding was in regards to social support for young people.  Schools and communities should promote acceptance and safety.

For those with conflicting religious beliefs, it is important for pyschologists to recognize the importance of faith to that individual as well as the science of sexual orietnation.

The other information in the executive summary relates to psychologists’ code of conducts and training, as well as recommendations for future research and APA policy.

I hope this digest was helpful! Obviously, the rest of the report is chock full of research findings, which I encourage others to pursue if you have interest in these issues or if they have relevance to you, your experiences, or your work.

Faculty Responsible for Campus Climate, Too! (NYU School of Law)

[2/28/10 – This post has been selected as a semifinalist for being one of the Best of the 2009 Just Posts! Please check out the other nominees!]

Earlier this month, I wrote about Thio Li-ann, a law professor from the University of Singapore who had been invited to a visiting professorship at the NYU School of Law.  She has openly expressed her anti-gay views, advocating that same-sex behavior should not be decriminalized, and mocking the LGBT community with comments like anal sex is “like shoving a straw up your nose to drink.”

Well, it seems she has declined to come.

Last week, the Dean of the NYU School of Law published an open letter to the NY Times.  In it, he explains how the situation went down.

I am writing to let you know that Professor Li-ann Thio informed me today that she is canceling her Fall visit to NYU Law School as a Global Visiting Professor as a result of the controversy surrounding her views regarding homosexuality and gay rights. She explained that she was disappointed by what she called the atmosphere of hostility by some members of our community towards her views and by the low enrollments in her classes. The Law School will therefore cancel the course on Human Rights in Asia and the seminar on Constitutionalism in Asia, which she had been scheduled to teach.

At Inside Higher Ed, they obtained a copy of Thio’s resignation letter:

As an Asian woman whose legal training has spanned the finest institutions in both East and West, I believe I would have something of value to offer your students. However, the conditions no longer exist to proceed with the visit, given the animus fueled by irresponsible misrepresentation/distortions and/or concerted invective from certain parties. Friends and colleagues have also expressed serious concerns about my safety and well-being.

I think this situation illuminates two important points about life on college campuses:

  1. Faculty are just as responsible for the campus climate as anyone else on campus.  They can contribute to it and detract from it.
  2. Faculty have a responsibility directly to their students.  Being a knowledgeable expert in a field is not enough; how a professor treats students and how a professor applies that expertise publicly counts too.

I think there is this myth in higher education that the faculty are just there to teach and do research while the student affairs staff “takes care” of everything else affecting the students.  Student affairs staff are there to provide all the cushy, comfortable stuff while the faculty are there to dispense the hard knowledge.  Why student affairs staff deserve more respect as educators is a post for a different day.  Faculty need to better understand that their presence has a bigger impact than publishing papers and handing out grades.

I’m quite proud of the students at NYU’s School of Law.  They made a bold statement.  They didn’t just say Thio’s beliefs offend us and we don’t want her here.  They went a step farther and said We choose not to learn from her.  They recognized that her words are hurtful and do not abide with the standards of inclusion at the foundation of their educational experience.  If I were to ever need a lawyer, I would now feel more comfortable hiring an NYU graduate because those students have demonstrated that they don’t just want to be lawyers; they care about justice.

I think this episode also speaks to the importance of lifelong learning.  Thio seemed to assert that the breadth of her knowledge was good enough, but the students said that it was not.  Even though this situation is not about religion (though we aren’t sure what exactly informs Thio’s beliefs about homosexuality), it relates to the point at the very core of this blog.  It’s not just enough to have views; a person needs to be able to defend those views.

Much like the conservative religious right in the United States, Thio tried to play the Victim card.  She claims that she’s the one hurt because people did not respect her belief.  Again, this confuses respecting the right to believe and respecting actual beliefs.  Her viewpoints and the way she expresses those viewpoints is not worthy of respect from the students at NYU.  That’s her problem, not theirs.  If she is not even willing to show up because she can’t be in a place and hold an unpopular (and disrespectful) point of view without crying foul, then I really wonder what she would even have to teach about human rights.  I’m no expert and certainly no scholar of law, but it would seem to me that she can’t even stand up for her own rights, or she cannot tell the difference between rights and privilege.

I hope other faculty in other fields really take some time to consider this situation.  Look at the effect that a faculty viewpoint had on the campus community before she even set foot on it.  How should faculty regard themselves in terms of how their students see them?  Are there some ways in which students should not see them (as in Thio’s case)?  Are there some ways in which students should see their professors more?  What can faculty do to enhance the learning environment in their classrooms?  In what ways can faculty support an inclusive campus climate beyond the classroom walls?

I think this situation ended the best way it could.  The school maintained its dignity by not rescinding the invitation, the students reacted in a positive way, and Thio was shown for who she really is.

I highly recommend you read the article on Inside Higher Ed.  It describes the situation quite well.