The Absurdity Of Rejecting Transgender Identities: A Response To Widely-Circulated Harmful Bigotry

Trans people of color and their allies speak their truth this weekend at Creating Change.

Trans people of color and their allies speak their truth this weekend at Creating Change.

This is a response to the wildly transphobic Public Discourse piece, “The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern but Necessary Critique,” by Carlos Flores, president of the UC Santa Barbara Anscombe Society, an organization that takes conservative (read: anti-LGBT, among other things) positions on “family, marriage, and sexual integrity.”

Flores basically argues that there is no such thing as transgender identities. They should not be socially affirmed, they should not receive affirmative therapy and treatment, and they should not receive legal protections. Needless to say, it’s a fairly problematic essay. I responded on Twitter by claiming that its authors and promoters have blood on their hands, which Erick Erickson was all too happy to boast about (but no citation to me, Erick? Come on!).

I confronted Flores on Twitter, and he confirmed to me that he has only met one transgender person ever, whom he misgenders. Despite this severe lack of context, he proclaims himself expert enough on transgender identities to reject them outright.

He challenged me on Twitter to write a point-by-point rebuttal. As I sit in the lobby of Creating Change, surrounded by hundreds of trans people, this seems like a very simple errand. I know trans people exist because I believe them when they tell me they’re trans. And unlike Flores, I’ve met a lot of them. I’ve heard countless stories. I write about them all the time. I consider myself a proud friend and ally to the trans community, and the feedback I get from them is that I’m doing a pretty good job at advocating on their behalf. (I’m not worried about the implications of saying “I have trans friends” here since my support for them hopefully isn’t in question.)

But Flores wants a point-by-point rebuttal, so let’s get to it. I’ll otherwise follow his points in order, but I want to start with this one:

“What is medicine? Here is a plausible answer: medicine is the enterprise of restoring bodily faculties to their proper function.”

That’s a reasonable sounding answer, but it’s a skewed and incomplete one. I find a better model for the answer is the Hippocratic Oath. Its commitment that patients “suffer no hurt or damage,” its promise to not “administer poison,” and its vow to “willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood” present a much better guide for understanding what it means to help someone. The Psychotherapist’s Oath more specifically calls on professionals to promote “healing and well-being,” “respect the integrity” of patients, and “provide a safe and trusting haven for healing.” The well-being of the patient is a much more plausible answer for the purpose of medicine, and one that does not grant the premise Flores uses to reject transgender people and their experiences.

Indeed, I find this rationale to be the core flaw in everything that Flores argues, which is why I mentioned it first. Flores’ obsession with what he sees as “natural” ignores what is actually very natural for transgender people: their gender identity. He pays no heed to what might actually be best for the welfare of trans people, instead imposing his own assumptions at their expense. With this in mind, it’s quite hard to see his piece as anything but a call to erase transgender people and disregard their lives; in fact, he makes no claim to actually wanting to help transgender people. Indeed, he does just the opposite. I’ll say more about it as I address his other points.

“Why think that what one “identifies as” is significant at all, especially to the extent that others should actively recognize or cater to such an identity, and especially when the identity one adopts is contrary to reality?”

Flores rejects the idea that sex and gender are different components of identity. He doesn’t actually substantiate this rejection; he just asserts it. (This will be a recurring theme.) This, more than anything, reinforces how little he actually knows about what it means to be trans. Even the World Health Organization, which unfortunately still treats transgender identities as a mental disorder, nevertheless appreciates the sex/gender distinction. A recent study on the valid way young transgender children experience their gender demonstrates that biological sex does not always determine gender.

This distinction is essential for understanding what trans people experience. The reason that many trans people face mental health challenges associated with gender dysphoria is because of the gap between their sex and how they experience their gender. It is these consequences that must be addressed. Depression, anxiety, and their more extreme consequences are what mental health professionals seek to rectify. It is not being trans that causes them, it is not being able to experience gender as one feels it. That’s why a consensus of medical professionals support affirmation, and why transitioning improves the mental health of transgender people. That’s medicine working.

“No amount of surgical mutilation of body parts, effeminate behaviors, or artificial female appearances can make a man a woman.”

Oh hey, another assertion without evidence based on a flawed assumption. But the real reason Flores is wrong here is because he is ignoring the actual experience of transgender people. If a transgender person feels more whole, more complete, or more authentic with a body that represents the person they think they should see in the mirror, that benefits the mental health of that person. Not only does Flores not grant that premise, he insists that it’s wrong on mere principle. The use of words like “mutilation” and “artificial” judges what is very real and very crucial to a trans person’s everyday life, to what allows them to function, prosper, and contribute equally to society. Each trans person finds peace of mind in a different way; transition means something different for each of them. However a person transitions, however, it is not about changing their gender, but confirming their gender. Helping them achieve that peace of mind should be the goal not only of medical professionals, but for all of us.

The Analogies: “Suppose that a Caucasian man from Finland—call him Gunther—suddenly decided that he identifies as being of Sub-Saharan African descent.”

I’m always amazed by conservatives who invent hypotheticals that don’t actually exist in reality to criticize something actually does exist. Ethnicity does not function in the same way as gender identity. Flores has already demonstrated that he doesn’t understand gender identity, so there’s not much to dismantle here. There is no such thing as “transethnic” nor a community of people persecuted for that identity. The analogy is simply irrelevant.

The Analogies: “Similarly, suppose that a seventy-year-old man—call him Bob—comes to identify as a sixteen-year-old.”

There’s no such thing as “transage” either. I can’t even quite conceive of what it would mean for Bob to “identify as a sixteen-year-old,” but hey, I applaud him for staying young at heart.

The Analogies: “It is for this reason that we can make sense of mental disorders such as anorexia nervosa as disorders: they involve persons’ having persistent, false beliefs about their identity or how they really are.”

Here again the priority of well-being is important to keep in mind. People with anorexia face negative health consequences for trying to change their bodies to match their perceptions. Transgender people face negative health consequences if they don’t. That’s besides the fact that body image, like ethnicity and age, functions differently from gender. This analogy does not serve Flores’s purposes because anorexia represents the exact opposite kind of problem from what transgender people face.

“Now, put to one side the fact that 70-80 percent of children who report having transgender feelings come to lose such feelings.”

Put to one side that Flores links to Paul McHugh’s article here. We’ll get to McHugh soon enough.

There is actually truth in the fact that not all young people who explore or experiment with gender ultimately conclude that they are transgender. But so what? Nothing is lost in the process of that exploration. Even those young people who take the step of delaying the onset of puberty to allow extra time to make such a decision face no consequences. Affirming young people however they might express their gender spares them the mental health consequences of forcing them to deny it.

“And because love compels us to seek the good for another, it is thus a grave evil to condone such surgical procedures.”

This is, unsurprisingly, another example of pure conjecture, but I have to call it out separately for revealing Flores’s bias against transgender people. “Grave evil” is quite a dark description. I don’t know how he defines “evil,” but I would think it would have to in some way entail a promotion of harm in the world. He describes transition-related surgeries as harm, except they serve the exact opposite purpose of supporting trans people’s mental health. I’d counter that the real grave evil is encouraging the rejection of transgender people, especially if done in the name of love. If evil means promoting harm as he seems to intend it, then he is the one guilty of evil.

“Dr. Paul McHugh’s words here are particularly incisive.”

Opponents of transgender equality cite Paul McHugh all of the time because he is the only doctor that actually supports their position. It doesn’t matter that the consensus of major medical organizations support affirmative therapy for transgender people. It doesn’t matter that McHugh’s interpretation of the research on transgender people has been thoroughly debunked. It doesn’t matter that McHugh’s biases against all LGBT people, rejecting decades of scientific research even on sexual orientation, have been thoroughly documented. He’s a person with a title who says things that they want to hear.

McHugh is not an expert on transgender people; he is an expert on rejecting transgender people. It’s unsurprising that he is the only authority Flores cites in his essay.

“The suggestion, then, that gender identity disorder therapy should be criminalized is as absurd as the suggestion that therapy to eliminate anorexia should be criminalized.”

Given there is ample evidence that rejecting trans identities is harmful, considerable evidence that transgender identities have biological components, and absolutely no evidence that a a person can be cured of being transgender, Flores’s ardent defense of ex-trans therapy is incredibly problematic. Moreover, it reveals how uninformed he is about transgender people. The American Psychiatric Association no longer defines being transgender as a disorder, so his continued reference to a “disordered transgender identity” reflects either his bias, the fact he’s using information that’s now at least two years old, or quite likely both.

“If habitually watching pornography can change a man’s brain so significantly, then it should hardly be surprising that through intentionally and habitually behaving like a woman a man’s brain would too change to some extent. But again, this does not thereby show that such a man is a woman after all; all it shows is that through habituated action of some sort, the man’s brain behavior has changed.”

The tangent about brains largely doesn’t make much sense. What’s worth pointing out here is that people don’t habitually act like a gender and then claim to be trans. It’s actually the other way around. The two-year-old who knows her gender didn’t condition her brain to be like a girl’s brain. She knows because it may already be that way. Of course, brains only offer one clue into the biological components that underlie a trans identity and hardly tell the whole story. Thus, little is gained from further humoring Flores’ sideline on this matter.

“Cases in which an individual is intersex, however, are exceedingly rare. Indeed, even granting the point, it would not be unfair to say that in 99.99 percent of cases (and even this might be too low a percentage), a person is either male or female.”

It’s worth flagging Flores here. Intersex people are real regardless of how few he thinks there are. If your assertion that genitalia is a deciding factor, then you can’t just rule out people whose genitalia defies the binary you rely on. The mere variety of intersex identities and the complex way these individuals arrive at their gender identities — especially when they were surgically “fixed” as infants without their consent — paints an incredibly vibrant picture of gender that Flores can not so easily disregard. According to the Intersex Society of North America, intersex conditions occur in about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. That number jibes with his percentage, but I think it makes it sound quite a lot more people than his percentage suggests.

“But, alas, LGBT activists are actively working to make it the case that the state and private businesses cover “gender-reassignment” surgeries, that men who identify as women be able to use women’s restrooms, that girls who identify as boys be able to play on male sports teams, that we consider it immoral to refer to infants as male or female lest we insidiously impose upon them a “gender” they might not identify with, that we ban therapy to treat gender dysphoria, and that we generally co-opt language and social norms to reflect pernicious falsehoods about the human body.”

Here is where Flores lays out all of the trans protections he opposes. He doesn’t want businesses to have to cover procedures that could be essential to the health of transgender people. He reinforces the myth that trans women are somehow predatory by default; you never hear about letting “women who identify as men use the men’s restroom,” and I don’t think they want my trans brothers who are bald and have beards walking into the women’s restroom. Girls can already play on some male sports teams like wrestling and football, so I don’t know what’s so profound about his objection to trans boys doing the same. I don’t know of any legislation trying to ban gendering children, but I do think it’s harmful to reject a gender identity a child asserts. As for that last complaint, it sounds like Flores will just be pissed people will disagree with him. I’m personally not worried about offending his sensibilities when there are lives on the line.

“What is relevant is whether we will make public policy and encourage social norms that reflect the truth about the human person and sexuality, or whether we will obfuscate the truth about such matters and sow the seeds of sexual confusion in future generations for years to come.”

You know how kids get confused? When you try to force them to be something that they’re not. As referenced above, the kids who know they’re trans are not confused at all. It’s only a society that rejects what they know about themselves that creates that problem. And it’s essays like this one that unabashedly promote that rejection.

So there you go, Carlos. You told me that I made too many bare assertions on Twitter and that you wouldn’t take my perspective seriously unless I charitably responded point-by-point. I do consider it charity, because this weekend I’m surrounded by a gorgeous mix of genderqueer, transgender, gender non-conforming people at the Creating Change conference, people you only wish you were lucky enough to ever meet. But I decided that your words, now shared over 17,000 times, were so dangerous to their well-being that I’d take the time to explain why you were just so, so wrong.

And, chances are, you might not care, and your mind might not be changed in the least. But, if you even bothered to read my response, you at least can’t unread it. And whether it has any effect on you or not, hopefully others will see how baseless and bigoted your assertions were and choose to ignore them.



Hate Mail From Sharon Kass: ‘Zack Ford, Captive of Gay-ness’

My best approximation of Sharon Kass.

My best approximation of Sharon Kass.

I got some very amusing hate mail this week!

Many folks out in the LGBT activism world are familiar with Sharon Kass. She regularly trolls advocates of equality with emails extolling ex-gay therapy and the ex-gay group NARTH. In fact, Truth Wins Out has been tracking her for some time, and she’s also had run-ins with my friends at The Bilerico Project, Good As You, and others. She contributes occasionally to some uber-conservative sites like WorldNetDaily, where her schtick is the same.

Most recently, Kass targeted Tennessee 11-year-old Marcel Neergaard, who successfully petitioned Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst group to rescind an education award from state Rep. John Ragan (R), sponsor of the pro-bullying “Don’t Say Gay” bill. (I met Marcel’s mom, Misty, this summer at Netroots Nation, and let me just say that the world would be lucky to have more moms like her.) Kass wrote to Marcel’s dad telling him that he was responsible for Marcel’s homosexuality, which she called a “disorder of deep-seated gender self-alienation.” She went on to explain how the family clearly didn’t want a second boy and so the distance between father and son is what caused Marcel to be gay. “The ex-gay truth,” she wrote, “will prevail in this country.”

A Change.org petition asking Kass to stop sending hate mail currently has over 600 signatures.

I’ve heard from Kass plenty of times myself. Back in September, she even suggested that we hold a public debate. After exchanging a few emails, she decided I was not a “worthy opponent” because I sneer at “Christians” (her quotes, not mine) and ignore “original sources” (those quotes are mine) like NARTH, Joseph use-gay-porn-to-cure-homosexuality Nicolosi, and Richard hit-a-pillow-with-a-tennis-racket Cohen.

I was disappointed, actually, because I don’t know if “Sharon Kass” is a real person. I’ve never seen a picture of her anywhere. I’ve never seen her make a public appearance anywhere. Her name outside of her hate mail might not even be Sharon — she might not even be a she. (That would be disappointing, because I hate misgendering people.) During the should-we-have-a-debate debate, I asked to see a picture of her, and I think that may have put her off.

But this week, I heard from her out of the blue! And this time, she wrote a custom article about me! It includes some quite random quotes from here at ZackFord Blogs as well as over at ThinkProgress. I replied to ask her if it was published anywhere, but her only reply was, “To quote Hillary… what difference does it make?” I sure hope that my sexual identity doesn’t become an overblown fake scandal like Benghazi, but I assume — with some Google confirmation — that she meant “no.” So, I’ll solve her that problem and print it here because I think it’s just so amusing. To be nice, I’ll even toss in some links to my posts and her sources (since she only included the reference list at the bottom). Here is a direct copy and paste of her email:

Zack Ford, Captive of Gayness

Sharon Kass
October 29, 2013

I’m just a regular guy, I think.  Well, maybe.–Zack Ford, “Who is Zack Ford?”  ZackFordBlogs.com

He’s young.  He’s Leftist.  He’s gay.

Welcome to the world of Zack Ford, head gay at the Leftist D.C. think tank the Center for American Progress.

He’s a self-described atheist.  Psychologist Paul Vitz, in his Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, explains how an early troubled relationship (or nonrelationship) with the father contributes to a lifelong troubled relationship with authority.  God, of course, is the Ultimate Authority.

Male homosexuality originates in faulty bonding and identification with the father, starting at or before age two.  Psychologist Joseph Nicolosi discusses this in his article “Fathers of Male Homosexuals: A Collective Clinical Profile.”  To the male homosexual, with his insecure masculinity, the male object of desire is not the object of mature erotic love but a source of a masculine fix.  (A “gay” relationship may have an element of true friendship, but the erotic part is neurotic.)

He says, of himself, that being adopted is “just kind of cool.”  He’s in denial.  Being casual about family ties is a pose he puts on in order to escape his feeling of hurt.  Deep down, he wonders what role his having been adopted played in his father’s difficulty relating to him.

He loves knocking ex-gays and critics of homosexuality.  But he’s got no opposing case.  He’s very invested in being a “sexual minority” because then he gets to be part of a “protected class” like blacks and gets to force his fellow Americans to affirm his “gay identity.”  Nicolosi’s “Gay as Self-Reinvention” explains this.

More Fordisms:

It [the assertion that “gay” is psychotherapeutically treatable]’s the latest evidence that all of these groups [such as Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays and the Family Research Council] are actively working against the lives of LGBT people ….

How to Invalidate Gays: Validate Ex-Gays

Ex-gay Rich Wyler, founder of People Can Change, had the opportunity to reiterate many untrue ex-gay talking points, including unfounded “causes” for a gay orientation, the misguided notion that it’s ethical to support a patient who wants ex-gay therapy, and a completely inaccurate comparison between ex-gay and transgender patients.  ….  NPR [National Public Radio] has no obligation to highlight their [ex-gays’] harmful, anti-scientific, and anti-gay views as having any merit.

Ford lives in a bubble of denial, a Leftist bubble.  All his life, he has been among the millions of Americans who have been used for bogus civil rights cache.  He makes his living repeating unsubstantiated talking points.  He is a captive of gay-ness.

GayScam could end as soon as 2021.  If Zack Ford is smart, he’ll get real help and start working on learning who is really is.  No time to waste.  ///

Sources:  http://thinkprogress.org.feedsportal.com, www.zackfordblogs.com.  For real information, see www.narth.com, www.gaytostraight.org, www.peoplecanchange.com, www.jonahweb.org, www.janellehallman.com, www.josephnicolosi.com, www.voiceofthevoiceless.info, and www.pfox.org.  The 2013 meeting of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality is November 8-9 in Phoenix.  

So, a couple quick thoughts:

  • I don’t think I’m the “head gay” at CAP. Lots of other people are doing great LGBT work there, and they definitely do not report to me.
  • If gay sex is “neurotic,” so what?
  • Why is GayScam, whatever it is, going to end in 2021? I didn’t get any memos.
  • Why is everything my dad’s fault? Is it his fault I also don’t like peanut butter?

Speaking of my dad, I showed him Kass’s letter. He wrote me the following response:

Zack,

Tell her the next meeting of the National Association of “Hypocrites of America” is on November 3, 2013, at your local church. Remember Ms. Sharon, Jesus despised the hypocrites and the money lenders (rich white right wing bankers).

Love,

Dad

My dad always jokes that he likes to read the last lines of my posts (which he reads daily, by the way), because he enjoys how I drive home whatever point I’m trying to make. I think I’ll let his be the final point here, though.



Should Transgender People Have To ‘Compromise’ On Which Facilities They Can Use?

This post continues a dialogue with Brandon McGinley of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, who opposes transgender nondicrimination protections because sex-segregated locker rooms allow for “camaraderie” while reducing the “sexual nature” of a space where there is usually nudity. I countered at ThinkProgress that the safety of transgender students, like those protected by California’s new law, trumps such fears. McGinley has written a follow-up, and though back-and-forth debates aren’t conducive to how we publish at TP, I wanted to continue the dialogue with him here.

His primary concern seems to be genitals:

To be clear, I am not arguing that transgender people should go in the woods. All the examples I gave of the troubling implications of this type of legislation were of people who appeared as one sex being granted access to facilities reserved for the opposite sex. I didn’t address the question of what facilities people who have undergone sex change surgery should use because, to my understanding, it is not a source of controversy.

The common sense answer is this: Folks should use the facilities where they would appear, regardless of their own convictions about their gender, most at home, or a private unisex facility. Some gender non-conforming people might prefer to use facilities in accord with their (internal) gender identity, and some other people might be uncomfortable even with a post-op transgender person in the bathroom; though both of these impulses are understandable, this is the type of compromise on which social comity is built. But more than that, it just makes sense given the purpose of sex-segregated facilities to begin with, as I argued in the Public Discourse essay.

First, let me say this: If McGinley believes that transgender people who have had sex-reassignment surgery should be protected from discrimination, I’m glad to hear it. It’s certainly a start. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of people who identify as trans actually have the surgery. In addition to being too expensive for many trans people (who also tend to experience high rates of poverty thanks to employment discrimination), it also results in losing their reproductive ability. Some trans people find coherence with their gender identity without making this very personal sacrifice. It’s my hope that McGinley is not in favor of forcing people to be sterilized in order to participate equally in society; perhaps he can clarify this point in another response.

Moreover, let’s talk a little bit about appearance. Perhaps McGinley doesn’t appreciate the definition of gender identity, which is an enduring aspect of identity. It’s not a switch that is flipped daily. In other words, there’s nothing about gender identity protections that enables people to “fake” being the other gender just to sneak into the other restroom. They are designed to protect people who live their whole lives according to their gender identity.

Given his caveat for people who’ve had gender reassignment surgery, it thus seems that he is defining “appearance” entirely by genitals. But that’s really not what appearance means to most transgender people. If we’re talking how safe other people feel in the locker room, let’s take a look at a few test cases.

Here’s Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center:

Masen Davis

Davis is transgender, which means he was assigned female at birth, but he identifies as a man and has used hormone therapy as a part of his transition. I think most people would look at him and agree he sure looks like a man. Now, I don’t know what surgeries Davis may or may not have had, and it’s frankly not anybody’s business but his, and it’s an irrelevant point to the rest of his appearance. I don’t think anybody looks at a bald man with a beard and concludes that he must use the women’s room. (I’m pretty sure Davis won’t mind me using him as an example like this since he uses himself as an example in media appearances all the time — thanks Masen!)

Just to provide a reverse example, here’s Jenna Talackova, who placed in the Top 12 in last year’s Miss Universe Canada contest:

Jenna Talackova

Which locker room would Talackova be safer in, the men’s or the women’s? I think it’s fair to objectively say that she is quite a beautiful woman, and subjecting her to a men’s locker room because she was assigned male at birth is most definitely not in the best interest of her safety and well-being.

According to what I think McGinley is saying though, Davis and Talackova should have to drop trou and let someone else assess the current state of their genitals in order to determine which facility they’re allowed to use. Exposing transgender people to that kind of skepticism and humiliation surely cannot be the only solution “on which social comity is built.” And what exactly does that “social comity” mean, exactly? That women won’t have to see a trans woman’s penis? What exactly is the problem that really needs to be solved? If the answer is “safety,” then that’s just an unfounded, prejudiced assumption that trans people are somehow more likely to be dangerous or predatory. If the answer is, “trans people’s bodies are icky,” that’s outright intolerance. And if the answer is just that people should never have to see a genital that they don’t have one of themselves, that’s an argument with no foundation whatsoever.

McGinley also defends the idea that imposing heteronormative standards is not a problematic thing to do:

One might object that this second point is heteronormative, and indeed it is because the world is heteronormative. We can never completely de-sexualize any aspect of the human experience, but we can try to minimize the sexual nature of places and experiences that ought not to be sexual. And the fact of the matter is that opposite-sex sexual attraction is the norm in the human species, both in terms of raw numbers and its orientation toward procreation. Nude men and women comingling is more sexually-charged, more often than nude men or nude women comingling. Only the most abstract and obdurate sexual theoretician could deny this fact.

We should clarify some language here. The world is not heteronormative; it is simply hetero-majoritarian. Imposing the norms of a ruling class of people — say, white people — on a smaller segment of the population — say, African Americans — is not really a precedent that is easily defended.

To be fair, I do see some merit to what he is saying, at least to the extent that I am not advocating for gender-neutral locker rooms. But heteronormativity doesn’t justify discrimination against transgender people. McGinley doesn’t seem to have any problem letting gay men use men’s locker rooms or lesbian women use women’s locker rooms, so I don’t see how this argument warrants any different kind of policy against transgender people. In particular, transgender people identify as something other than straight about 77 percent of the time; in fact, there is an incredible diversity of sexual orientations within the trans community. There’s really no valid way to justify that trans people would somehow add to how “sexually charged” a locker room is. If anything, this assumption once again echoes the prejudiced beliefs that trans people are somehow more deviant or are somehow a threat to “safety” — stigma, not “common sense.”

Despite his best efforts, I still don’t see a compelling argument against gender identity nondiscrimination protection that isn’t simply based on some degree of discomfort regarding transgender people. Discomfort alone does not justify depriving trans people of equal access to society, including the freedom to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the trans people in my life, it’s that their genitals are pretty much the least interesting thing about them.



Being Adopted Does Not Mean My Parents Bought Me As ‘Chattel’

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here at ZFb, because I find my role as LGBT Editor at ThinkProgress provides me the venue to say most of what I feel needs to be said. Today is an exception, as I feel the need to write a personal response to an attack I received on me and my family from a semi-prominent spokesperson for the anti-equality movement.

This past week, the Republican National Committee approved a resolution affirming its opposition to same-sex marriage. I debunked that resolution earlier in the week, pointing out that its only foundation was the “bullshitjunk-science study on gay parenting by Mark Regnerus as well as a number of assertions that simply amount to declarations of heterosexual supremacy. This provoked a fairly heated response from one Robert Oscar Lopez.

Here’s what I know about Lopez’s story: he identifies as bisexual but has disowned his gay side, he blames his lesbian parents for his social ineptness, and he seems all too happy to help out groups who oppose same-sex marriage — at the state, federal, and international levels. Notably, he was among the featured speakers at the National Organization for Marriage’s “March for Marriage” last month.

Lopez’s primary talking point is that he was damaged by same-sex parenting and he wants to save other children the same fate. As my fellow blogger Joe Jervis describes his argument, “Nobody Likes Me,” and he makes it over and over. His argument against my “reckless dismissal” of the RNC resolution was similar:

 If you don’t see flashing red lights and a gigantic billboard saying “BAD IDEA” when you contemplate gay couples buying other adults out of their offspring and then raising kids as if one of the biological parents never existed, then there’s really no point in discussing the ethics of parenting. Please don’t call in the APA to settle the matter for you.

Zack Ford discredits Doug Mainwaring’s line that the same-sex marriage movement is turning children into “chattel” to serve the selfish demands of adults. Zack, how do gay men and lesbians come to be exclusive parents of children? They pay men for their sperm and women for use of their wombs, then pay them to go away. This is essentially buying other human beings as property because certain adults — not always gays, but here we are talking about gay adults — care more about having kids than about the kids’ right to half their ancestry. What part of “chattel” or “selfish” is unclear?

Mainwaring, I should point out, is another of NOM’s go-to “gays against gay marriage” — except they like to leave out the part that he’s a Tea Party activist essentially living an ex-gay life with a wife and children. Mainwaring and Lopez may both have sexual orientations that aren’t exclusively heterosexual, but if they’ve disavowed those identities except when it’s politically expedient, it’s hard to credit them as members of the LGBT community.

At any rate, I think Lopez’s argument is pretty offensive on its face and doesn’t require a whole lot of analysis on my part. It’s worth noting that he pits his own testimony and one fraudulent sociologist against the consensus of all psychological, psychiatric, and sociological groups. To prove his point, he made the following suggestion to me and my colleagues at ThinkProgress:

Maybe Zack’s compadres should talk to adoptees and people conceived with anonymous sperm donors or surrogate mothers.  While some are unaffected by the dislocation from their biological origins, many are haunted and scarred.  (As a descendant of slaves, I am haunted and scarred because my ancestors were cut off from me.)

But here’s the thing: I was adopted. I’ve also gotten to know a lot of other people who were adopted, as well as children of same-sex couples. As far as I know, none of us are “haunted and scarred.” I know essentially nothing about my blood-parents, but you know what? I know a lot about my actual parents — the ones I’ve known my whole life — and about their ancestors and whatnot. Just because I don’t share their genes doesn’t make me scarred. It’s actually just kind of cool. When I go to my cousin’s wedding next month, I’m not going to feel somehow ostracized from everyone there just because we have a few different strands of DNA. Family is family.

And I’ll be honest, while I think knowing about your past can be interesting and fulfilling, I don’t know that it’s healthy to feel like you need that information to define yourself and live your own life. I feel bad that Lopez doesn’t know anything about his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather — and obviously slavery was an egregious human atrocity — but is that what’s really holding him back in life?

That might be kind of a harsh personal challenge, but he did just insinuate that my parents were the equivalent slave-traders for adopting me. And given I’m also a gay man who someday hopes to have my own family, he also seems to think that I’m going to “buy” children for selfish reasons that will somehow impede their identity development.

Here are a couple questions I have for Lopez:

  • Were my (heterosexual) parents “selfish” for wanting to have a child in the first place?
  • Was my mom “selfish” when she put her body through hell (a.k.a. in vitro fertilization) trying to have a child?
  • Were my parents “selfish” when they adopted me after my mother failed to conceive?
  • Given you apparently oppose adoption, does that mean you fervently support a woman’s right to choose an abortion?

What I find most interesting about arguments like Lopez’s is how easy it is to see how they are the last remnants of past anti-gay talking points. It used to be that same-sex couples would either abuse their children or somehow turn them gay. Nowadays, the supposed threat to children is that they might just learn in school that same-sex families exist. The Regnerus study — and its knock-off imitations — are a last-ditch effort to try to convince people that there are consequences for the kids of same-sex couples. Now NOM is stuck arguing against adoption, suggesting the children of same-sex couples will resent their parents, and Lopez’s icing on the cake is that they will be deprived of “half their ancestry.” Is that compelling to anybody?

It just strikes me as sad that these groups have such antipathy against gays and lesbians that they actually have lost sight of what’s best for children. Adoption and foster care are good for children who don’t have parents to care for them. Marriage is good for same-sex couples and their children so that they have the same legal and financial protections as other families. Perhaps Lopez is just so troubled by the conflicting values he’s faced throughout his life that he’s lost sight of these common sense realities. I sincerely hope he can find a way to feel better about himself, his past, and his identity that doesn’t require attacking families like mine — both the one in which I was raised and the one I plan to raise myself one day.

 



Netroots Dispatch: Building Trust, Building Coalitions

This post was generated live at Netroots Nation 2011 in Minneapolis, MN.

I want to offer one more post today synthesizing what I addressed in my previous two posts today. In both, I spoke to the partnerships between groups and strategies that are often perceived as antagonistic, and in this third post, I want to make sense of that in a discussion about trust.

Trust between individuals and groups can be incredibly difficult to build and requires outreach in both directions. Organizations need to be able to trust that the bloggers who may very well criticize them and hold them accountable are committed to the same efforts of LGBT equality. Likewise, bloggers need to be able to trust that the organizations are prioritizing the movement over the organization and that their strategies are an effective approach to the desired solutions. In the same vein, insider and outsider organizations need to be able to trust that the strategy of the other is ultimately contributing to the success, not creating new obstacles.

In achieving this trust across the movement, risks have to be taken. Insider organizations have a particular obligation to earn trust with other leaders in the movement. By including them in off-the-record conversations about their strategy, they can entrust bloggers, direct action groups, and others with certain tips that can accentuate the campaign. Ego cannot get in the way of this happening; if any particular group or individual attempts to take full credit on an initiative, they are effectively eliminating the potential to build a coalition.

Likewise, as skeptical as “outsiders” might be, giving the insiders a certain benefit of doubt goes a long way to building the bridge of trust from the other direction. There are definitely times when a blogger’s investigation can blow the lid on what might have been a very successful strategy. My hope would be that insider orgs see the value of blogger and queer media perspectives, even if it’s not the picture they would paint. Effective communication across that bridge can alleviate all of these problems; bloggers can honor the confidentiality of the big orgs as the orgs bring the bloggers into the over-arching strategy.

I’ll leave it at that for now. This is a complicated paradigm change we must achieve, but it’s built on lessons learned from campaigns over the past decade. If we can tap into that greater synergy and see the interacting potential of diverse strategies across the movement, our in-fighting will come to an end and our success will be guaranteed.



Netroots Dispatch: Direct Action vs. Insider Lobbying (There Is No Conflict)

This post was generated live at Netroots Nation 2011 in Minneapolis, MN.

As groups debate the best strategy for moving an LGBT equality agenda, there is often a perceived conflict between the “insider” private negotiating and the “outsider” public direct actions, blogging, etc. As I’ve listened to the dialogues this weekend, it seems to me that the conflict is, in fact, perceived. While various groups, leaders, lobbyists, and bloggers might not agree with each other’s strategies, that disagreement does not mean that the strategies actually conflict. In stark contrast, the diverse strategies can actually create an incredibly synergistic movement if strategists use each other’s tactics instead of just worrying about distinguishing themselves.

Unfortunately, egos on both sides and the absence of an orchestrator for the meta-movement seem to prevent this synergy from being fully realized.

I thought that Heather Cronk from GetEQUAL made this point most eloquently in a panel Thursday morning about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act. When GetEQUAL did direct actions at the White House fence, it might have superficially looked like a rebellion against the insider tactics of “Gay, Inc.” lobbying that a group like HRC traditionally does. But the two are not mutually exclusive. As Heather pointed out, “moments of chaos help cut through the political bullshit,” and actually create more space for the HRCs of the movement to exert more power. They can go into the meetings and say, “Look, we’re trying to make this work, but we’ve got these ‘crazies’ acting out, so you have to give us more to work with.”

Some might not buy that argument, but as we realized in the LGBT strategy session yesterday, there is another very important benefit to those kinds of direct actions. Even if the action does not directly benefit the political negotiating, it indirectly supports the movement by generating media stories. Often times, there is very little happening in the news to sustain coverage of a particular issue (e.g. ENDA). Blogs cannot drive any coverage to the mainstream media if there are no stories to cover. Introduce a well-executed direct action, however, and we get breaking news, several days of coverage, follow-up for arrests and trials, and more importantly, personal faces on the issue. Even if insider groups cannot use the direct action in their negotiations, those negotiations still benefit from media attention and the shaping of public opinion on the issue.

The outcome, inarguably, is synergistic momentum, and I think the DADT effort exemplified the way it can work. While some may try to paint a revisionist perspective, there was a sharp divide in early 2010 between activists and the Obama administration about what approach to take on repeal. The administration was opposed to pursuing any legislative repeal until after the military survey was complete, rather than concurrently. While it’s hard to argue what-if’s, I think there is a compelling case to make that direct actions by GetEQUAL and SLDN’s blog-promoted campaign of letters from servicemembers advanced the campaign that made sure repeal happened before the end of 2010.

Regardless of our roles in the movement, we all need to get to a place where we see the difference between “I wouldn’t do that” and “We shouldn’t do that.” There might never be an orchestrator to “conduct” the movement at a meta-level above all of its players. If, however, we can trust each other and play off each other instead of playing against each other, we can truly work in concert toward the LGBT equality we all believe in.



Netroots Dispatch: Blogger/Organization Cooperation (An Effective Case Study)

This post was generated live at Netroots Nation 2011 in Minneapolis, MN.

I haven’t posted much here on good ol’ ZFb (I’ve been kind of busy), but I thought it would be a good place to share a few thoughts from my weekend at Netroots Nation. Many of our conversations this week — particularly in the LGBT movement — have been about cooperation between blogs and organizations, as well as the sustainability of independent blogs. I want to share a little case study from this very weekend that I think exemplifies effective partnership. (I’m also happy to share this because it speaks to the amazing work the staff at GLAAD continues to do despite the upheaval in its leadership right now.)

On Thursday, I was going through some of the day’s news and found a story about a lesbian couple who were harassed by a security guard at a Minnesota Twins game. Because the Twins had announced the day before they would be creating an “It Gets Better” video, it seemed important to highlight that videos don’t solve all problems. I was sitting next to my good friend Allison Palmer, GLAAD’s Director of Digital Initiatives, and I mentioned it to her; she hadn’t yet heard about it. We had a great off-the-record conversation (that I got permission to mention here) about the incident as two individuals with unique professional perspectives. Allison had some great ideas and opinions that I definitely incorporated into my post at ThinkProgress; my post was stronger because of my conversation with her.

Shortly after Allison and I parted ways, I got an email from her colleague, Aaron McQuade (GLAAD’s Deputy Director of News and Field Media). Allison had let Aaron know about the story, and he contacted me to share some extra details from his direct interactions with the team and the commitment they’d made to GLAAD to rectify the situation. I incorporated them into the post, which had fortunately not yet been published.

Then, shortly after my post went up, GLAAD published their post, crediting (and more importantly, linking back to!) my post on the story. Obviously, the tone of my post (“It doesn’t get better…”) was quite different from GLAAD’s (“Twins will reach out…”), but in exactly the ways that respect our unique goals as a blogger and an org. For this “small” story, both the blogger and the org were able to benefit from cooperation without compromising.

So, here are the highlights of this experience:

» The blogger and someone from the organization had insightful, off-the-record conversation that highlighted both sides’ perspectives.

» The org provided background info about its response to support the blogger’s story.

» The blogger was given the opportunity to “break” the story first.

» The org linked back to the blog to support the blog’s traffic.

» Though the blog and org approached the story in different ways, the result was a synergistic response to the incident.

At the end of the day, an incident of harassment at a baseball game is not going to be the revolutionizing political story of the year, but here it demonstrates how the “insiders” and the “outsiders” can work together toward the common goal of LGBT equality.



Transgender Professor Denied Tenure ‘Without Cause’

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is not expected to pass the current House of Representatives, but proponents hope to use the bill as an educational tool about workplace discrimination against the LGBT community. A story unraveling at Southeastern Oklahoma State University demonstrates how higher education is one of many fields vulnerable to discrimination against people who are gay and trans.

Dr. Rachel Tudor, a professor of English, Humanities, and Philosophy at SOSU has been denied tenure despite ample support from her colleagues, immediate supervisors, a Faculty Senate resolution with no opposition, and two Faculty Appeals Committee rulings in her favor. No explanation was given for the rejection, and she was blocked from reapplying (as many professors successfully do), again without explanation. At this point, Tudor has exhausted every forum to rectify her situation and her contract with the university will be terminated as of May 31 “without cause.”

All the evidence suggests that Dr. Tudor has been discriminated against for being transgender, primarily by Dr. Douglas McMillan, SOSU’s Vice President for Academic Affairs. When Tudor first transitioned, McMillan request she be terminated because her identity “offends his Baptist beliefs.” Though he could not have her fired, he was successful at requiring she only be allowed to use a single-stall restroom on a different floor from her office. In addition, the dean who oversees Tudor’s department, Dr. Lucretia Scoufos, regularly disrespected Tudor by referring to her with male pronouns. These two individuals had sole authority over the original tenure decision and McMillan was also who blocked her from reapplying.

Despite the way it seems her administrators went out of their way to block her continued employment, Tudor appreciates how others have stood up for her:

I’m completely overwhelmed and gratified so many people have taken initiative and shown their support. It’s amazing to see that people have such integrity.

According to a recent study, nearly half (47 percent) of transgender people have been fired, not hired, or denied promotion for their identity. Oklahoma has no state-level discrimination protections for gender identity, and without a federal ENDA, there is nothing to protect talented, successful employees like Tudor from being terminated without cause. Still, Tudor has taken her case to the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, the US Department of Education, and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in hopes of intervention. You can support her by signing a petition for her reinstatement.



Target, Chick-Fil-A, and Our Reluctance To Sacrifice

The retort is: “Yeah, well maybe I’m afraid of being seen as a Target shopper.”

Believe it or not, the American Family Association is (I think—who can tell?) still boycotting Pepsi and Home Depot, and probably a few other companies who have done anything pro-LGBT. I guess that demonstrates that the AFA is all bark, no bite.

But part of the power of a boycott is its visibility. It’s not always just enough to not shop at a certain store or not buy a certain product. For example, I don’t buy peanut butter or eat at Long John Silver’s, but not because I’m boycotting either.

I actually have been boycotting Target, though. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t been the best at it. Sure, I’ve not purchased anything at Target in a good 10 months, but I haven’t been vocal about it, and I certainly haven’t stood in front of Target protesting or written letters to the editor or done any of the things effective boycotters should do. For me, it’s just been a matter of personal principle.

There are a lot of folks in the LGBT community who shrug their shoulders at boycotting Target, and I can appreciate their reluctance. I used to think Target (tar-zhay) was the gay store. It was the anti-Wal-Mart and anybody who was anybody had one of those chic medusa lamps in their dorm room. And Target has long been lauded by HRC as being pro-LGBT. Target’s donations last summer challenged that image, and just because we can understand why Target would support a pro-business PAC doesn’t forgive them for supporting an anti-gay PAC, nor for continuing to support anti-gay candidates since that debacle. Lady Gaga’s calling off of her deal with Target should’ve suggested we haven’t seen the last of the store’s anti-gay antics.

The same goes with Chick-Fil-A. A lot of people really like Chick-Fil-A and don’t want to stop enjoying their tasty chicken. I am fortunate, I suppose, that thanks to geography I’ve never really had Chick-Fil-A. (Ironically, the one time I’ve ever had it was on the campus of a university who ended up not hiring me as a social justice educator because they weren’t “ready” for someone so outspoken about LGBT issues; unsurprisingly, that campus has not had much debate about the presence of a Chick-Fil-A in its campus center.) But plenty of folks will continue to eat there, regardless of how anti-LGBT the company might be. After all, it’s just chicken, right?

But this week, we learned a little bit more about both of these companies and just how anti-LGBT (and duplicitously so) they really are. In the case of Chick-Fil-A, Equality Matters uncovered that Chick-Fil-A is a WHOLE lot more anti-LGBT than we already knew them to be… to the tune of $1.1 million. And that’s money not just going to pro-business right-wing PACs; it’s going directly into the hands of “pro-family” groups who spread lies about LGBT people, defend Christian bullies, and promote harmful ex-gay therapies.

In the case of Target, we learned this week of their lawsuit against Canvass for a Cause, and as I wrote about over on The Wonk Room, they seem to be targeting this group exclusively because of its support of same-sex marriage. While the complaint speaks of CFAC’s harassment of customers, the trial saw no first-hand testimony confirming these allegations. But Target’s own filed complaint (PDF), corroborated by its employee’s testimony, confirms that Target is concerned customers will “never shop at Target again,” “ensure their friends and family do not shop at Target,” and “return everything they bought at Target” because they “believe Target promotes the same sensitive political message” as CFAC.

And while CFAC promotes a number of issues, that particular “sensitive” message is support of gay marriage marriage equality; it’s the only issue mentioned in the whole case from the documents I’ve seen, and they mention it a lot. Daniel Brown, the employee who provides the only testimony hearsay (PDF) about the complaints, said that some customers were “offended” and that “many mothers with children have complained about the sensitive nature” of the messaging.

For decades, the LGBT community has been fighting the meme that queer people are dangerous to children—that we’re going to molest them, recruit them, and teach them all about anal sex while they’re in Kindergarten. And here is a supposed “friend” using that same old stereotype to defend itself in a gratuitous lawsuit against a grassroots group being defended by a volunteer lawyer.

Target doesn’t want to be known as supporting marriage equality because gays are dangerous to children. That’s the takeaway. It’s in the public record.

So the decision comes back to the LGBT community. Do we still patronize these companies—companies that actively demonize us and work against our equality? While my personal answer will continue to be No, I think the larger community needs to have a serious conversation about it.

If the recent poll on marriage equality tells us anything, it’s that we have more allies than ever. If we really wanted to mobilize a huge block of people to support us, I’m betting that we could. The problem, I think, is that we’re too comfortable. We like shopping at Target and eating at Chick-Fil-A and we don’t see their actions as that big of a deal—at least not big enough to change our habits. We want equality, but it almost seems as if many of us would rather wait than make any sacrificial efforts in the meantime.

Maybe AFA is the lesson for us. Maybe boycotts don’t work in 2011, or don’t catch on, or aren’t worth it. Maybe bad press is enough to get the job done, along with a certain quota of negative tweets. Or maybe we’re desensitized to our inequality; we’re willing to tolerate it, such that  it takes something as big and visible as Prop 8 or DADT to really get us off our asses.

But gosh, I’d love to see us try. I’d love to see pickets in front of Targets and Chick-Fil-As (Chicks-Fil-A?). I’d love to see all the big orgs really visibly condemning the corporations and every single blogger actively promoting the boycott. I don’t think we’ve tried it on the national stage, at least not anytime recently. And certainly we saw a lot of success—or at least visibility—from the boycotts of Prop 8 supporters like the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. So the only thing stopping us is ourselves.

At the end of it all, when we finally get all the equality we deserve in this country, I hope we don’t look back and say, “We could’ve gotten it a lot sooner if we’d just acted more like we wanted it.”



Westboro Wins Before SCOTUS, As They Should Have

Say whatever you want about Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church.

They won their right to protest, and I’m glad. It may be vile, but it’s free speech.

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and– as it did here–inflict great pain,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”

But I’m going to go a step further and say that I’m also glad they get to continue protesting.

Why would I be glad about a group of crazies continuing to spout anti-gay filth in incredibly insensitive settings?

Because they are a stimulus that forces everyone else to react.

Folks who are anti-gay have to respond to Westboro by clarifying they are not that anti-gay. But of course, they are! And so often, the distinction is made in regards to Westboro’s rhetoric, but not their message. Anti-gay opponents don’t want to be associated with “God hates fags,” but it’s amazing how many stop short of saying “God doesn’t hate fags.” Continue reading “Westboro Wins Before SCOTUS, As They Should Have” »