Wednesday, December 22, 2004

 

Liberals and Hot Air America

What can be made of something like Air America? For those that do not know, Air America is the liberal answer to the right-wing dominated talk-radio world. Here in New York it airs on WLIB and has replaced programming that was geared to the Afro and Caribbean American community which had been a staple for years. Listeners from these communities, however, are crying foul! Instead of being able to listen to news, announcements, music and discussion of issues relevant to the Black community, whether Afro or Caribbean, we are treated to white liberals holding court. Only two of the hosts broadcasting during Air America’s allotted hours here in New York are black and they are stuck with white co-hosts. Why is it that in a city with a large population of people of color we get so little representation over the airwaves? This is not to say that Air America is not a better alternative to the right-wing crap, along with sports talk, that dominates radio. But surely, at least in the case of WLIB, there is programming that would better serve local communities than having the likes of Al Franken carry water for the Democratic Party. It appears that Air America will mostly play like a long moveon.org ad devoted to trashing, no doubt deservedly so, the Republican Party while bringing up the rear of the cowardly and servile Democratic Party. Talk about blowback; now progressive folks have their own to deal with in the guise of Hot Air America. It is too bad liberals either can’t or won’t recall the words of Malcolm X 40 years ago when he spoke of the twin headed hydra that these bourgeois parties really are: ‘One comes along and stabs you in the back (The Republicans), the other one (The Democrats) comes along and pulls out the knife a wee bit and says they done something.’

Rather than recognizing the truth of Malcolm words, liberals, like Linus of the children’s cartoon Peanuts who forever is clinging to his blanket, cling to the Democratic Party. So then, what is Air America? Air America is Chock-Full O’ White liberals; served fresh every day. They say: listen to us because we give you a Rush without the bitter aftertaste. O’Reilly, you can Factor us in to your day and not worry about making stuff up. We guarantee you no one will dare get Howard Stern with us here at Chock-Full O’ White liberals . . . er we meant Air America. Yeah, we here are all just doubting Thomas Friedman or is that Thomas Friedman has no doubt about us. We’re all Americans by golly! Well, on a more serious note, not too long ago I reached the conclusion that, as bad as the neo-cons are, it is the liberals that have been the principle obstacle, before even getting to the neo-cons or right wingers, standing in the way of true progressives. I say “true” not in some dogmatic holier than thou sense. I say true in the sense that true progressives stand on simple principles such as ‘do onto others as one would have them do onto you” or Kant’s moral maxim that "Act on that maxim and that maxim only, which you can at the same time will to be a universal law of nature." Liberals in deed and in thought violate this simple maxim. Imagine that just this one slogan of U. S. liberals were taken to its logical conclusion. That slogan is the cry to “let’s take our country back!” Following Kant’s maxim it is easy to see that, should this cry be taken seriously and universally applied, after liberals finish taking back “their country,” Native Americans can then, and with all justification, say ‘now we want back our country.’ Likewise, African Americans can say we want back our freedom and full restitution made for taking us out of our country and stealing our labor. Surely liberals would not be square with that because their opposition to the status quo has evermore been cosmetic and thus concerned with appearances and tactics.

Ultimate aims, such as overturning the rotten capitalist order and embarking on the path toward an open and egalitarian society, is not what they are after. They just make it seem like it is. This is why Michael Moore proceeded to endorse the killer of the Balkans Wesley Clark (a tactical move, he claimed on WBAI’s Democracy Now!) and why an atypical liberal organization like moveon.org can, without a sense of historical irony, wrap themselves in the flag, declare “anyone but Bush,” and support an open imperialist like presidential candidate John Kerry. This supposedly all in the name of defeating G. W. Bush. Never mind that his ostensible replacement is fellow Skull and Boner John Kerry who dutifully did his genocidal part in Vietnam and, more recently, when he voted for both the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. For liberals, the bizarre call to ‘take back our country’ and the chant of ‘anyone but Bush’ takes precedence over everything. Liberals also seem to miss the point that for many around the world, most recently Haiti and Iraq, the U. S. flag, as a symbol, is little different than the Nazi swastika. In many places where it has flown death and destruction on a mass scale have accompanied it. Indeed, in his book “Rogue State,” William Blum writes that Since World War II, the U.S. military has been involved in over 200 military operations that have resulted in a conservative estimate of between 10-17 million people killed.

As damning, and it is in this aspect that they have been the bane of radical/progressive movements, is that liberals have continually posed as being on the right side of history and so have been able to funnel change from below within the U. S. into a completely bankrupt electoral system. It is the Democratic Party that has been the vehicle of choice in this game of bait and switch. Once properly contained within the Democratic Party many a radical/progressive movement in the U. S. has languished there and finally disappeared. At key points throughout U. S. history even those movements that have been able to keep from being trapped by the blandishments of the liberals, such as the Black Panther Party, have been so hostiley met by the liberal establishment that it compromised their survival and left them totally, rather than partially, open to the worst depredations of the hidden fist, as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times put it, inside the glove of the state. Like fish, movements need a welcoming sea to swim and thrive in. Liberals have invariably either poisoned the sea or changed the water. The killing of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition at the behest of the Democratic Party in the late 80’s (with Jesse’s help no less!) comes to mind here.

To pose an analogy, if radical/progressive movements were a prizefighter, liberals would be the equivalent of a bought off corner purposely giving all the wrong advice while giving only superficial support to “their” fighter. Meanwhile, the opposing fighter, representing the neo-cons or right wingers, is winning practically every round handily. But is this not the point? Liberals primp and pose as a better alternative while all the while leaving untouched the fundamental structures of power that are at the root of the ills plaguing both U. S. society and the world. With friends like liberals we do not need enemies. It would be much wiser, for black people in particular, and the working class in general, to forget about the cheap wares proffered by liberals and their Democratic Party backers. We need to develop an independent political perspective along with a movement to express it that then seeks to go to the root of the problem which, for those who want me to name names, is the class and racial caste system embodied by the Capitalist order. As events in Argentina, and Venezuela in reaction to the abortive Coup, showed recently, when the people decide to take matters into their own hands, it does not matter whether this or that politician is in power. Whoever it is either has to respond to the will of the people or he or she will find him or herself out of office or, if need be, dead.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

 

Superman No More


Well the Military-Media-Industrial complex has been caught at it again. After months of legend making and narcissistic bereavement, it officially has been finally revealed that ex-Cardinals football player Pat Tillman died from friendly fire. Though alternative media outlets months before had reported that Tillman had died not from enemy fire, as had been claimed by the military and trumpeted by the mainstream media, but at the hands of his own fellow troops, only now has it become official. Like the Kleenex snatching story of Jessica Lynch that came before it, the Tillman saga is yet another public relations stunt gone sour.

Whoever he may have been as a person, and it appears that he, to put it succinctly, was a real life Captain America who believed in justice, truth and the American way, Pat Tillman was presented as this supremely un-selfish individual who gave up a lucrative professional football career in order to serve his country. Clearly his motivations cannot be questioned. However, his naïvetivity and lack of historical memory is clearly apparent to anyone who knows the history of U. S. interventions that typically are not undertaken to protect citizens at home but instead to protect private elite interests and power abroad. Had Pat Tillman familiarized himself with U. S. history he would today be making tackles playing in the NFL instead of being dead and buried.

The fact that the Military-Media-Industrial complex is ever vigilant for a story, any story, which will prop up the ideological and emotional underpinnings of the U. S. global war on terror says much about the way this war is going and the shakiness of the support for this war amongst the U. S. population. While Bush barely won (by cheating at that), the recent elections clearly showed that a large portion of the U. S. population either has doubts about this global war on terror as it is currently being run or is outright opposed to it. So, a hero or heroine is needed to capture the hearts and minds of the masses. Jessica Lynch was the first in line to play that role and then when that blew over Tillman arrived just in time to, like Superman, save the day. Even more so than Jessica Lynch, who was more damsel in distress saved from those savage Iraqis (sic), than heroine, Pat Tillman, because of his prior fame and physical attributes (white, male and blond), could be easily presented as Superman; a Superman who had gone down fighting for the love of country. Unfortunately, this Superman was brought down by kryptonite shot from the weapons of those on his own side.

The Military-Media-Industrial complex understood intuitively, and likely consciously as well, that Tillman, because of the intersection of race and celebrity he embodied, represented the opportunity to give the white masses, especially of the fundamentalist right, a hero they could truly embrace. Here was an individual who could proudly bear the S of Superman’s outfit on his chest. He had the physique, projected the right attitude, died seemingly in a blaze of glory under enemy fire, was already well known, had proved his manliness on the toughest of all gridirons; the NFL and most importantly was white. But like all heroes, it is all about who is the beholder. While the S painted on Tillman might have meant Superman to most of the white masses living in the U. S., to others, such as those oppressed by the U. S., whether directly or indirectly, that S stands for supremacy; as in white supremacy. Any perceptive reader of the comic book, especially the older issues that are closer to the original, can pick up on the white supremacist undertones conveyed by the character.

The Superman of comic book lore could do no wrong, he was as strong as 200 men or better, faster than a train and could fly . . . like an eagle. Being created in 1938, only seven years before the U. S. would stand virtually alone out of the ashes of World War II, Superman as a character embodied the can do spirit of America but also the American exceptionalism (and its distinctly racist flavor) that had always been that spirit's companion. Like Superman, America was/is invincincible and can do no wrong. It is these two qualities (we can do anything and only we are fit to do so) that ultimately lied at the heart of who Tillman was as a person (why else would he leave fame and millions on the table) and lies at the heart of America's
psyche (i. e. 'we are bringing democracy to Iraq and only we are uniquely qualified to do so'). While Tillman’s death was a tragedy on human terms because he died in a war that has little to do with actually combating terrorism (even recently Bush said he was unconcerned about Osama bin Laden!) and thus was needless, his passing showed once again the pusillanimous nature of the Military-Media-Industrial complex and that Superman or Superwoman does not really exist. It is up to us to get through the lies and obfuscations and free ourselves.

Monday, December 13, 2004

 

Gary Webb Remembered

As I read the news of reporter for the San Jose Mercury News Gary Webb’s death I felt deeply saddened. Here was a solid reporter whose life, as have been countless others, was snuffed out by the system in general and the mainstream press in particular. Whether or not his death was really a suicide or not, it is clear that one way or another, it was the system that killed him. For simply doing what any good investigative reporter should do, Webb was dragged through the mud by the mainstream press who, because they purposely overlooked the story Webb broke and because they also serve as guardians of what is and is not acceptable public discourse, had to make an example of him as a warning to all who would dare cross the line.

For those who may not know, Gary Webb was the reporter who broke the story in 1996 of CIA involvement in the drug trade sweeping Los Angeles in the 1980’s. His series of articles under the title "Dark Alliance" appearing in the Mercury News exposed the sordid details of CIA backed drug running in L. A. whose ultimate center of motivation rested within the Iran/Contra scandal that shook the Reagan administration. Later, after being pilloried in the press and by self-serving politicians alike, Webb dug in and published in book form ("Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion") a more thorough and scathing account of CIA drug related activities during the 1980s. Many, specifically among the mainstream press, will hardly mourn the passing of Webb but to many others on the Left and in Black communities across the U. S. he will be remembered for providing a window into the sordid activities of the CIA during a time the agency was involved in numerous operations all across Latin America and, apparently, in the good old US of A. It is too bad that it is the likes of Dan Rather and Thom Brokaw, news readers at best and suck ups to power at worst, that are instead lionized and revered. For the sin of truth telling, however, Webb paid with his career, his marriage and, ultimately with his life.


 

Decency Should Not Be Assumed

As I’ve read much on the material on blackcommentator.com I’ve been impressed with the focus and dead on analysis of U. S. society. Specifically, on the current misadventure in Iraq, much of the commentary focused on the enabling character of the white U. S. population. Although there is some truth to Noam Chomsky’s assertion that the high levels of support for the war is a result of the massive and unprecedented propaganda campaign unleashed on the North American populace, I have always maintained that the strength of the propaganda campaign is not solely based on its intensity and pervasiveness but on the receptiveness of the white American audience that it is directed at. It does not take much to convince a population who are inured to violence (witness the popularity of professional wrestling and reality TV), mesmerized by popular media that consistently and unabashedly define democracy and freedom as uniquely American values and finally, are heirs to three plus centuries of fashioning a national identity based on white superiority and privilege.

What is disturbing is that much of the rag tag left in this country continue to insist that if only the American public were better informed by the media then a movement would arise to challenge the neo-con’s plans specifically and all injustices generally. But the truth does not get through the filters of the corporately controlled media and naturally, the color red or orange or any other color can mean something only to someone who can see to begin with. Clearly, the white U. S. population by and large has been blinded by centuries of racism. As, indeed, historically is the case with settler states which typically have genocidal origins. The pogroms (what else can they be described as) carried out in Tulsa and Rosewood should be a lesson to those who believe in the inherent goodness or benevolence of white U.S society as a whole. As a people, sectors of the white population throughout the long and tortured history of the country, have personally engaged in genocide or ethnic cleansing. Many of those that have not, which may be the majority, have either cheered from the sidelines or tacitly agreed through their silence. The main difference between the genocide of the past and that ongoing today being that for much of the country’s existence it was accomplished by the settlers themselves and now its labeled “the war on drugs” and carried out by the various state institutions comprising the prison-industrial complex.

Even if one charitably assumes that the U. S. media can and will accurately report on U. S. adventures or misadventures abroad, will as racist society such as the U. S. be able to muster the appropriate moral outrage and countervailing action appropriate to the slaughter and maltreatment of black and brown peoples? Not likely since so much of their identity is based on the domination of and perceived superiority over black and brown peoples. Then, when someone among their own, such as Eugene Debbs, decides to stand with humanity and attempt to move the white U. S. masses away from their allegiance to the brutish U. S. ruling class, he is either quickly marginalized (ala Noam Chomsky) if he or she is lucky or simply murdered or imprisoned if not. But lets also not forget the economic dimension. Much of the wealth of not only the U. S. but of the global North as a whole originated and continues to originate with the destruction and exploitation of people of color. Racism is integral to the maintenance of a modus vivendi with the conscience (such as it may be) of whites individually and collectively. This is why poor whites consistently vote against their material interests by voting for the most reactionary politicians. Abandoning racism would simply mean the destruction of their collective identity. An identity that while having spelled doom for non-white peoples and perhaps ultimately whites themselves cannot be easily discarded. Apparently, the psychological comfort of their white skins is more valuable than decent healthcare, wages and schools. In short, if the Iraqis, or the rest of the world for that matter, is waiting for the white masses in the U. S. to wake up from their stupor and put the clamps on their ruling class, we all should collectively not hold our breath.


 

The Argument for Gay and Lesbian Rights

Gay and Lesbian rights over the last 40 years has been a contentious issue within the United States. From former Bill Clinton’s misguided “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the armed forces to Actress Ellen DeGeneres “coming out” on the sitcom Ellen to Stonewall the fight for gay/lesbian rights has had many ups and downs. In this essay I will provide a rough sketch of the struggle for gay and lesbian rights in the United States as well as deal with some points of philosophical import. My objectivity will not stem from any notion of the “detached observer” carefully noting the facts. Although I will present the facts as best I can in the strongest light possible, I will do so as an advocate for gay/lesbian rights. Moreover, this essay will provide a brief historical sketch combined with a philosophical backdrop.

Here it is important, for purposes of clarity, to define some terms: A homosexual is someone whose sexual inclination is towards that of that individual’s own sex rather than the opposite sex. A lesbian is a homosexual woman. A transvestite is a man who derives sexual pleasure by dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex. An effeminate person is someone possessed of qualities generally attributed to women such as weakness, gentleness, delicacy . . . etc. A pedophile is someone who is sexually attracted to children. A trans-gendered person is someone who was born a female and was surgically converted to a male or vice versa. Finally, the generally accepted definition of a hermaphrodite is someone born with both male and female sex organs. But in reality, there are three types: True, Male pseudo and Female Pseudo. “A True hermaphrodite is a person born with both ovary and testicular tissue, this could be 2 separate gonads ( one of each) or a combination of both in one (an ovotestes). The genitalia can vary from completely male or female, to a combination of both or even ambiguous looking. A Female Psuedo is a person born XX with normal female internal organs but with "masculanized" genitalia. They can appear more male then female or a combination of each. Finally, a Male Psuedo is a person born XY with testes (usually in the abdominal cavity). The external genitalia are usually female but can be ambiguous.” [1]

I have defined these terms because frequently when I am arguing for or speaking of gay rights I invariably get comments like ‘I don’t want my child taught by no homo!’ The implication being that the child will be either taught a gay lifestyle, to accept a gay lifestyle or, what is usually meant, the child will be sexually molested. Many times people confuse homosexuality with pedophilia, a person who is hermaphrodite, effeminate, trans-gendered or a transvestite with the end result that I am talking about apples, so to speak, and they are talking about oranges. Granted a homosexual can have any of the qualities described by the terms I’ve just defined but he or she cannot possess them by definition. So, in other words, making an objection to homosexuality because you fear your child will be molested is an invalid inference because a homosexual by definition or necessity is not a pedophile anymore than a heterosexual is.

There is, however, another classification that does not get as much press but more than heterosexuality and homosexuality exemplifies the fluidity of human sexuality. This is bisexuality. Being bisexual means having many options. Such an individual likes men and women alike. In her book Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life Marjorie Garber noted that “when an interviewer asked Dr. Wardell Pomeroy, co-author of the Kinsey report, what made someone bisexual, he replied that it was the wrong question. You should ask, ‘why isn’t everybody?’”[2] Indeed, considering the obvious suppleness of human sexuality that is an interesting question. Likely, a large part of the answer is the power of Western civilization to enforce rigid gender roles. But also likely is the difficulty in settling on what one is. Are you straight or are you gay? Answering neither seems to be a bit too equivocal or ambiguous. Sort of like being left adrift at sea and not knowing which way to face before starting to row. It is thus not surprising that Kinsey institute research has found that “at least 25 percent of all American men had a sexual experience with another male as teenagers or adults. [However,] the majority of these men think of themselves as heterosexual.”[3] From a societal standpoint bisexuality, in relation to heterosexuality and homosexuality, can be heard as saying ‘ruin on both of your houses.’ It can be seen as radical in that it rejects the defined roles projected from either camps or conservative in that it appears as a “glass half full” to both sides. Perhaps it is this inability to be classified one way or another that adds to the appeal of stars such as Mick Jagger and Madonna. Gore Vidal explained it this way:

It is an underlying assumption of twentieth-century America that human beings are either heterosexual or, through some arresting of normal psychic growth, homosexual, with very little traffic back and forth. To us, the norm is heterosexual; the family is central; all else is deviation, pleasing or not depending on one’s own tastes and moral preoccupations. Suetonius reveals a very different world. His underlying assumption is that man is bisexual and that given complete freedom to love—or perhaps more to the point of the case of the Ceasars, to violate—others, he will do so, going blithely from male to female as fancy dictates . . . It is an odd experience for a contemporary to read of Nero’s simultaneous passion for both a man and a woman. Something seems wrong. It must be one or the other, not both.[4]

For those bisexual folks who are not stars their ambiguous sexuality likely will draw fire upon themselves. As Gore Vidal noted, theirs is a sexuality that the contemporary American, if not European, cannot pin down. It is easy to see how bisexual people would not be welcome in either the men’s locker-room or the women’s locker-room. For perhaps what is loathed more than being different, is being different with no place to go. Bisexuals don’t fit; there is no easy way to categorize them and so no easy way deal with them. Most heterosexuals view them as homosexuals plain and simple while many gays see them as phonies and fakes for not “going all the way.” To borrow a line from the present discourse over terrorism, bisexuals have to decide whether “you’re either with us or against us.” These types of attitudes have the effect of splintering the categories of sexual identity and adding to the confusion over sexuality and identity.

Indeed, sexual identity itself involves more than just a set of practices and notions about sex that a society ascribes to this or that group. Sexual identity is forged through the crucible of history and where and when one finds oneself. Being a homosexual in Ancient Greece, for example, is of a different character than being a homosexual in the contemporary U. S. In the former homosexuality in certain forms was not only accepted but even elevated above heterosexuality. In the latter homosexuality is condemned and heterosexuality made compulsory. No one, however, sits still and passively allows him or herself to be labeled or categorized. While one is being defined, one also consciously or unconsciously reworks this unsolicited definition and reflects this back onto one’s society. This reflection in turn redefines the social and cultural terrain where these identities are continually contested.

Probably the most misunderstood and marginalized group of gay and lesbians as a distinct class are queers of color. White middle-class gay men are quite visible in comparison to their colored, usually non-middle class, counterparts. This is no accident as from the start sexuality in general in U. S. society had been racialized. Beginning almost immediately following the “discovery of the New World” people of color where marked as, at best, beings living in a unmediated natural state (meaning uncivilized) or, at worst, simply savages or barbarians in need of the civilizing hand of Europeans. For example, often Africans and Native Americans were depicted in woodcuts, drawings and paintings with hardly any clothes on in subordinate positions to Europeans. These images cemented in the minds of Westerners notions that those depicted were uncivilized people on the one hand and exotic sexual objects on the other. Siobhan B. Somerville quotes Kobena Mercer and Isaac Julien as saying:

The prevailing Western concept of sexuality . . . already contains racism. Historically, the European construction of sexuality coincides with the epoch of imperialism and the two inter-connect . . . The personage of the savage was developed as the other of civilization and one of the first “proofs” of this otherness was the nakedness of the savage, the visibility of its sex.[5]

Race thus has to be understood as

a historical, ideological process rather than fixed [on] trans-historical or biological characteristics: one’s racial identity is contingent on one’s cultural and historical location. Processes of ‘racialization’ [are] the extension of racial meaning to a previously unclassified relationship, social practice or group. ‘Racialization’ is an ideological process, an historically specific one[6]

It is through this prism, which this legacy of conquest and imperialism represents, that gays and lesbians of color are seen. While most people of color in U. S. society to this day have two identities, one African-American and the other simply American[7], gays and lesbians add a third; their identity as homosexuals. Not being able to exist outside of the society in that surrounds them, African-Americans and Latinos show little more tolerance for their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters than the larger society. Homophobia runs deep in communities of color like in the rest of society. Prison is one of the few places where one sees a peculiar breakdown in this area. There a man is considered homosexual if he plays the role of “catcher” rather than the role of “pitcher.” So in prisons we are left with a situation within the sphere of homosexuality where the stigmatized other is feminized in the absence of the ability, because of objective conditions, to racialize the other.

In terms of relations between gays and lesbians themselves, race adds another layer of complexity and ambiguity. For example, earlier in the twentieth century psychologist Margret Otis, in an article appearing in a medical journal in 1913 and entitled “A perversion not Commonly Noted,” wrote of the pervasive “love-making between white and colored girls” in all female institutions such as reform schools. She drew attention to what she deemed the “peculiar moral code” that governed these relationships:

In particular, she noted that the girls incorporated racial difference into courtship rituals self-consciously patterned on traditional gender roles: “one white girl . . . admitted that the colored girl she loved seemed the man, and thought it was so in the case of the others.”[8]

Already segregated by gender these girls apparently replicated traditional gender roles through the use of race. In this case black skin became synonymous with masculinity while white skin represented femininity. A curious development since Black men practically from the beginning of slavery were painted as sexual predators always looking for a white woman to take. In this instance, however, it is the black woman that is recast as the black man. This being early in the twentieth century when Victorian norms of sexuality between women still held on one hand and “Jim Crow” was alive and well on the other, Ms. Otis’s readers were likely appalled by the inter-racial nature of these relationships rather than the homosexual aspect of it. In essence the fear and loathing heaped upon the Black man for his supposedly uncontrollable sexual urges, could, through homosexuality, be transferred to the Black woman. But more telling is the adaptability and pragmatism of human relationships. The lessons that need to be learned here is that race and homosexuality can combine in a peculiar social cocktail that can lead to not easily resolved tensions in sexual identity and that one’s identity, as discussed earlier, is as much about what one does with what is handed down.

From a constitutional perspective one of the more important cases dealing with the legal status of gays and lesbians in the last ten years is the case of Romer v Evans. This suit was launched as a result of the passage of a law known at the time as Amendment 2. Amendment 2 was a state-wide anti-gay initiative prohibiting all branches of state government in Colorado from passing legislation or adopting policies prohibiting discrimination against lesbians and gay men based on their sexual orientation. This measure was passed by a slim majority of Colorado voters in 1992. In 1996, however, as a result of this suit the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark 6-3 ruling struck down this law. There was very little choice for the Court to do otherwise unless it was willing to destroy a century of legal precedent and law. The 14th Amendment clearly states that

all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In essence the court simply upheld the “equal protection clause” of the Constitution that had been in place since 1866. Writing in “Women, Gays, and the Constitution” Professor of Law Daniel A. J. Richards states:

The strongest constitutional argument for constitutional limits on antigay/lesbian rights iniatives has been the one least explored in the available literature and the one all other arguments impliedly depend on for their force: namely, the initiatives in question express constitutionally forbidden sectarian religious intolerance through public law against fundamental rights of conscience, speech, and association of lesbian and gay persons protected by America’s first and premier civil liberty, the liberty of conscience.[9]

While I certainly can agree with Mr. Richards that the right arguments need to be presented I think that it should be kept in mind that, like the “Jim crow” laws existing between the era bracketed by the end of Reconstruction and the apex of the Civil Rights Movement, anti-gay initiatives find their force during times most favorable to their enactment and enforcement. Arguments need to be presented yes. Also, legal recourse can be pursued such as the strategy of the NAACP that challenged the legal basis of segregation. But ultimately it is mass movements, rather than lawsuits, agitating for overarching social change that will transform the political climate where these initiatives germinate. In addition, while the U. S. Constitution states, “that all men are created equal,” this was certainly not true, at the time the constitution was ratified, for enslaved African-Americans, Native Americans, Women and the property-less. They were to remain outside the loop for some time to come. My point being that laws are as much a function of political expediency as they are guarantors of our rights as citizens. It all depends on the alignment of political forces outside the legislative chambers of Congress and the courtrooms of the legal system.

For gays and lesbians living in the United States the defining moment and point where their fight for equality took off occurred in a small bar on Christopher Street in New York City called Stonewall. This event has taken on mythic proportion so stories vary as to what exactly happened that fateful night in 1969. David Bianco writing for www.planetout.com gives one of the more credible accounts:

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a dingy, Mafia-run "private club" on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village with a predominantly gay clientele. The charge was illegal sale of alcohol. It was the second time that week the bar had been targeted by the police, and other gay bars had also been raided in prior weeks. Police officers lined up the Stonewall's 200 patrons to check identification. Most were free to leave, but the staff, as well as three drag queens and two male-to-female transsexuals, were detained.
Eyewitnesses recalled that the scene outside the bar was at first campy and festive. Tourists and passers-by joined patrons and everyone cheered when a gay person emerged from the bar, dismissed by the police. But when a paddy wagon arrived and the police loaded the bar's staff and the three drag queens inside, the crowd on the street grew surly. One person threw a rock through a window, and eventually garbage cans, bottles, and even a parking meter were used to assault the building. Someone set a fire with lighter fluid. By newspaper accounts, 13 people were arrested and three police officers sustained minor injuries in the confrontation.

Later that night and into Sunday morning, a crowd again gathered in front of the ravaged bar. Many young gay men showed up to protest the flurry of raids, but they did so by handholding, kissing, and forming a chorus line. "We are the Stonewall girls," they sang, kicking their legs in front of the police. "We wear our hair in curls. /We have no underwear. /We show our pubic hair." Police cleared the street without incident this time, but another street altercation occurred a few days later.[10]

Coming as it did during one of the most politically charged periods in U. S. history (the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-Vietnam War Movement were in full swing); the Stonewall riots ushered in a new era in the struggle for gay/lesbian rights. Clearly the message being sent by gays and lesbians was that they were no longer going to tolerate being marginalized and abused. The time had come to push back hard against the old ways of thinking and doing. But as mentioned earlier, the alignment of political forces at the time was quite favorable to any kind of progressive politics. While before “Stonewall” there were only a few dozen gay/lesbian rights groups, after a few years following “Stonewall” they numbered in the hundreds. One of the more important and long-lived organizations formed was founded in July of the same year and took the name “Gay Liberation Front.” The “Gay Liberation Front” and organizations like it fought for repeal of sodomy laws, legal protection from discrimination in housing and employment as well as against the spread of hate speech and anti-gay violence.

Undoubtedly, the history of the fight for gay/lesbian rights has been a long, tortuous and winding road in the United States. While progress has been made there is still much to be done. Comments, made in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington, such as those of Jerry Falwell and his fellow traveler Pat Robertson (quoted below) on the September 13th edition of their television program “The 700 Club” show that anti gay/lesbian sentiment is still strong and has an audience. Here is what they had to say:

[Falwell] "What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, if in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen."

[Robertson] “Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.”[11]

From a philosophical standpoint, these comments, their illogic and venomous invective aside, expose the paradoxical ideological and political framework that underpins United States society. It is within this framework that, on the one hand, comments, such as those of Falwell and Robertson, are protected and, on the other hand, numerous other voices, while also having the formal right to be heard, are all but shut out because of the manner in which power is allocated. Understanding this framework will shed much needed light on both sides of the struggle over gay/lesbian rights and progressive causes in general. While many thinkers contributed to this framework, it is the views of John Locke and J. S. Mill that standout. I will therefore briefly discuss the contributions of these two men before going on to argue forthrightly on gay/lesbian rights.

In the realm of political--economic theory, no one, other than Adam Smith, had as much influence as John Locke. John Locke was an English philosopher born on August 29, 1632 who came to be best known for his book “Two Treatises of Government (1690).” In it he argued that, labor is the origin and justification of property; contract or consent the nexus of government. However, the state of nature knows no government; but in it, as in political society, men are subject to the moral law, which is the law of God. Men, as he puts it, are born free and equal in rights. However, whatever a man "mixes his labour with" is his to use and “by his labor does, as it were, enclose it from the common.”[12] Or, at least, this was so in the primitive condition of human life in which there was enough for all and "the whole earth was America." Locke sees that, when men have multiplied and land has become scarce, rules are needed beyond those which the moral law or law of nature supplies. Oddly, for Locke, the origin of government is traced not to this economic necessity, but to another cause. He admits that while the moral law is always valid it is not always kept. Consequently, in the state of nature all men equally have the right to punish transgressors and civil society originates when, for the better administration of the law, men agree to delegate this function to certain officers. Thus, government is instituted by a "social contract"; its powers are limited, and they involve reciprocal obligations. Moreover, these powers and obligations can be modified or rescinded by those that originally entered into this social contract. Nevertheless, from here Locke goes on to argue more strongly from the premise that the state exists in order to protect the rights of property holders than for its role as an arbiter between men who in their “natural state” would all be at odds with each other. His statement that man:

. . . hath by nature a power not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty, and estate against the injuries and attempts of other men . . .[13]

would make its next appearance 86 years later, almost to the word, in The United States Declaration of Independence (1776) where Thomas Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Locke’s arguments however rest on some shaky assumptions. First, he assumes that “though the things of nature are given in common, man . . . had still in himself the great foundation of property.” [14]This is an argument from nature. Are “men”, by nature greedy or possessive? Second, while it is true people have a right to the product of their labor, it does not follow that land, being the means through which one realizes the product of one’s labor, entitles one to exclusive possession of both the means (the land) and the product (born of one’s labor). Third, because he sees only the consensual aspect of community he is mistakenly led to argue that “it is necessary the body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the consent of the majority.”[15] Of course, this leaves the minority at the mercy of the majority. Finally, more a mistake born from the era in which he lived, where America stretched out as a great frontier awaiting “improvement”, Locke believed “men” could always depart or dissolve whatever community they found themselves in and start afresh in any part of the world “they can find free and unpossessed.”[16] Of course today, that is out of the question. You can move to another part of the world but in general you just cannot simply start your own nation-state. Perhaps sensing some of the weaknesses in Lockian political theory, Thomas Jefferson when writing The United States Declaration of Independence (1776) replaced “life, liberty, and property” with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

It is with J. S. Mill that we find a somewhat different conception of the individual, his or her role in society and, in turn, society’s function and the form and role of government. John Stuart Mill was born in London on May 20, 1806, and was the eldest of son of James Mill. He was educated entirely by his father, James Mill and from his earliest years was subjected to a rigid system of intellectual discipline. He was profoundly affected by, at least early in his life, Utilitarianism and its main proponent Jeremy Bentham. His early works are tinged throughout their entirety with the philosophical determinism of utilitarianism.

Here, what concerns us is his works “On Liberty” and “Considerations On Representative Government” where he argued for the freedom of the individual from undue government intrusion and what government’s role should be. For Mill, the individual was sacrosanct. The individual had the natural right to pursue his own aims without hindrance as long as in pursuit of these aims he did not keep others from doing the same or cause harm. Furthermore, he recognized that human beings, while possessing a nature, are still very much conditioned by the social context in which they exist. Thus, the free flow of information and ideas is paramount not only to guarantee individual freedom but also to precipitate the mental growth of the individual and by extension raise the cultural or intellectual milieu. The best form of government, he believed, was one of proportional representation. To his credit, Mill recognized that proportional representative government, characterized by checks and balances along with separation of powers, could still fall prey to a tyranny of the majority, a “general ignorance and incapacity, or, . . . insufficient mental qualifications in the controlling body [and] the danger of its being under the influence of interests not identical with the general welfare of the community.”[17] No doubt, he would see the oligarchic nature of present day “democracy” in the United States as an affront to his ideals.

Locke’s legacy in the United States has meant winner-take-all elections through the concept, put in practice, of majority rule, a highly punitive justice system, by way of the over-zealous mis-application of the rule of law, and the large gap that exists between rich and poor, built upon the deification of property so prominent in Locke’s writings. While Locke would be aghast by the means and ends of the United States since its inception, his conception of government as the ultimate protector of property rights played no small part in the construction of United States political institutions. To be fair, Locke’s intent may not have been what has evolved in the United States, or in the nations of the West generally, but certainly the logic of his ideas pointed to few other alternative outcomes. Mill’s impact is evident in the guarantees of personal freedom contained both in the “Bill of Rights” and “The Constitution,” and the representative form, albeit formal at this juncture, of government in the United States. Unfortunately, rather than challenge laissez faire economics he instead drew from other political theorists of his day, such as David Ricardo and Adam Smith, and attempted to humanize these extant theories.[18]

Because Mill’s contributions were reformist and did not seek, as Karl Marx did, to transform the socio-economic relations that grew out of bourgeois political and economic theory, it is now up to others to complete this project of transformation. It is precisely this project, or at least a piece of it, that the gay/lesbian community, along with other groups, such as people of color and the working poor, must persevere in completing if they are to gain the rights that Locke and Mill spoke of.

Here I’ll just mention, in regard to homophobia (which can be defined as a fear or hatred of homosexuals) that studies have been conducted, of which the most recent I came across appeared in a 1996 issue of Journal of Abnormal Psychology, that appear to show that "Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies," In sum, this study of 64 volunteers, strongly indicate[s] that most homophobic males (54%, but up to 80%) have a detectable homosexual component in their psyche and that their homophobia reflects the concept called "projection" [or the transfer of qualities or features one hates in oneself onto others] in psychiatry”. [19] I make mention of studies such as this one not to present their conclusions as verity, though the evidence seems strong, but as “food for thought”. My hope is that my readers can put into perspective or gain some insights into the virulence, vehemence and violence that seem to characterize anti-gay/lesbian forces. If we are to wage a successful fight for gay/lesbian rights we need to be aware of all the contours of this issue.

There are some common misconceptions and faulty arguments put forth by anti-gay forces. Here I will deal with some of these. The most common argument used to condemn gay people is the idea that same sex relations defeat the purpose of reproduction. Closely related to this idea is the notion that female sex organs are expressly to be used for intercourse with that of males and vice versa. This begs the question as to how much of the time humans engage in sex for purely reproductive purposes? Also, when humans engage in heterosexual intercourse, do they always engage in the activity in a manner that would lead to pregnancy?

Furthermore, both male and female sex organs also act as conduits for the ejection of urine. An elephant uses its nose both to breathe and to bathe. Humans use their limbs in many different ways. In soccer, players frequently use their heads to hit the ball. My point is that people as well as animals use their body parts in many different ways. So to say that people can only use their genitals in a certain way and only with the opposite sex is, in fact, not only unnatural but also myopic. In fact, there is ample evidence that homosexuality has existed throughout human history in diverse cultures, societies and places. However, it was something was considered an activity one did rather than a main marker of identity. Michael Foucault described this phenomenon within Western culture, in regard to sexuality, of becoming what you do in the following way:

Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.[20]

This is not to say that this makes homosexuality right but it does show that its occurrence is not uncommon and that therefore its supposed uncommon occurrence makes it abnormal. Moreover, humans as a species have separated themselves more than any other from the animal or “natural” world exactly because we seek to shape our surroundings to our will rather than allowing the opposite. Automobiles, cellular phones, private property and nuclear weapons all stand as monuments to both our genius and our folly.

Another branch of the argument from nature is that homosexuality is not inborn but a learned behavior. In fact there have been a number of studies done, especially recently because of the rise of bioengineering and the techniques it has spawned, that test whether or not homosexuality is inborn or learned. To cite one study, conducted by Northwestern University psychologist Michael Bailey and Boston University’s Richard Pillard entitled “A Genetic Study of Male Sexual Orientation”, it found, after comparing fifty-six identical twins, fifty-four fraternal twins and fifty-seven unrelated adopted brothers, that “homosexuality is highly attributable to genetics: by some measures up to 70% attributable”. The study broke down its findings thusly: for adoptive brothers there was a gay to gay concordance rate of 11%, for fraternal twins the rate was 22% and finally for identical twins 52%. [21] I must, however, caution that humans are extremely complex creatures that can be affected at least as much by their environment, likely more so, than by genetics. Or as J. S. Mill put it:

Human nature is not a machine built after a model, and set to do the work exactly proscribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing . . .[22]

Also, even if homosexuality is wholly a matter of genetics it seems more likely than not that it involves a number of genes. Thus, trying to isolate “the gay gene” may turn out to be a quixotic quest. Clearly, though, the body of evidence in the field of genetics dealing with this issue has proven its worth. Beyond that, the field of psychiatry has long held that “homosexuality is immutable and non-pathological”.

That homosexuals spread disease is also a part of the rational for denying gays their rights and even recognition of their existence. However, According to a 1998 report covering 25 states by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

In the most recent full year from which overall trends in these states can be examined – 1995 to 1996:

· HIV diagnosis declined slightly among men (-3% from 10, 762 to 10,395), but increased among women (+3% from 4,126 to 4,253).

· HIV diagnoses declined slightly among African-Americans (-3% from 8,569 to 8, 300) and among whites (-2% from 5,093 to 4,966), but increased among Hispanics (+10% from 971 to 1,070).

· Amongst young people in these states (13 to 24 year olds), the majority of infections were diagnosed among African Americans and women. Thus of the 7,200 cases of HIV reported . . . from January 1994 to June 1997:

· 44% (3,203) were female

· 63% (4,566) were African-American and 5% (394) were Hispanic

· At least 26% (1, 886) had heterosexually acquired infections, 31% (2, 270) were in men who have sex with men, and 6% (449) were in injection drug users

From these statistics we can see that rates of HIV infection for gay men (31% out of 7,200) is nearly that of heterosexuals (26% out of 7,200) and that the most highly affected groups are women and people of color. In fact, the report later goes on to note that:

Because many cases of HIV infection initially reported without risk information are later determined to be related to heterosexual contact, those numbers likely underestimate the true number of individuals diagnosed with heterosexually acquired infection.[23]

So, if as the religious right, but many others as well, claim that gays are paying for their sins and that we should let them suffer the consequences, then what are these folks to say to women and African-Americans? Should they, as heterosexuals, have to suffer the consequences or just gays? What is to be done about intravenous drug users? Some would say they all should pay for breaking the mores of god and mammon alike but the reality is that such callous and cavalier attitudes not only work to make HIV sufferers in general, but gays in particular, invisible but likely has led to much needless suffering. While it is OK for religion to concern itself with the sexual mores of society, the job of a well-ordered and smooth functioning society is to look after the overall well being of all its members and not, as the religious right would have it, impose the faith based views of one group over everyone else.

Another common argument presented condemning homosexuality from a religious standpoint is that it goes against the word of God. Because Christianity in general, and Protestantism in particular, is the dominant creed within this country I will for the sake of time restrict myself to dealing with Christianity’s condemnation of homosexuality. However, in general, whether it is the god of the Bible or the Koran or any other deity, please keep in mind that what is moral or right ethically is independent of who offers support for or commands it. In other words, moral standards are not set they are either endorsed or not endorsed. Here I will quote Walter Wink, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, speaking on homosexuality and the bible:

The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no Biblical sex ethic. Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand-year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period.

The very notion of a "sex ethic" reflects the materialism and splitness of modern life, in which we increasingly define our identity sexually. Sexuality cannot be separated off from the rest of life. No sex act is "ethical" in and of itself, without reference to the rest of a person's life, the patterns of the culture, the special circumstances faced, and the will of God. What we have are simply sexual mores, which change, sometimes with startling rapidity, creating bewildering dilemmas. Just within one lifetime we have witnessed the shift from the ideal of preserving one's virginity until marriage, to couples living together for several years before getting married. The response of many Christians is merely to long for the hypocrisies of an earlier era.

I agree that rules and norms are necessary; that is what sexual mores are. But rules and norms also tend to be impressed into the service of the Domination System, and to serve as a form of crowd control rather than to enhance the fullness of human potential.[24]

While what the Bible says seems damning at first glance, a careful reading might show something different. It is this “careful reading,” that Dr. Daniel Helminiak gives the bible in his book “What The Bible Really says About Homosexuality.” His overarching thesis is that the Bible does not really condemn homosexual relationships as such. To show this he argues from two supporting thesis: First, that a contextual or historical-critical reading rather than a literal reading of the bible is the way the to get at what is really being said and second, as he puts it, “the Bible does not provide the last word on sexual ethics. In my mind, the matter is more complicated than that. Historical, cultural, philosophical, psychological, sociological, medical, spiritual and personal factors all come to bear on the matter.”[25]

Of course, it is the first of the two points where the issue hinges for the average Christian since how the Bible is to be interpreted has profound implications for belief. The most seemingly damning of the passages in the Bible in regard to homosexuality can be found in Romans Chapter 1, verses 18 to 32. Analyzing these verses Dr. Helminiak looked at the vocabulary the Apostle Paul used, the structure of the writing and the overall purpose of the “Letter to the Romans.” His main point is that the Greek word physis, meaning nature, and its derivatives as used by Paul throughout these passages does not mean “Nature” as in the “Laws of Nature.” Indeed he writes:

For Paul, something is natural when it responds according to its own kind, when it is as expected to be . . . Rather natural refers to what is characteristic, consistent, ordinary, standard, expected and regular. When people acted as was expected and showed a certain consistency, they were acting naturally. When people did something surprising, something unusual, something beyond the routine, something pout of character, they were acting unnaturally. That was the sense of the word nature in Paul’s usage.[26]

To bolster his case Dr. Helminiak points out that in Romans Chapter 11 verse 24 Paul talks of God acting in a para physin (unnatural) manner when he “grafted the wild branch of the Gentiles into the cultivated olive tree that is the Jews”[27] Obviously what is meant is not that God is doing unnatural, meaning bad, acts but that he is doing something, grafting a wild branch into a cultivated tree, which is not usually done. Thus, just as Paul spoke in this manner about God in this instance, he must have been speaking in the same vain when he spoke of homosexuality earlier in the same letter. Or else, why would he use the same terminology if what he really meant was to morally condemn one (homosexuality) and not the other (unusual tree grafting)?

Drawing from his historical-critical perspective, Dr. Helminiak reminds his readers that Paul lived at a time when Stoic philosophy was everywhere in the Roman Empire. Out of this philosophy developed the notion that sex, other than for procreative reasons, was a violation of “Nature.” Consequently, any sexual act that was not procreative in nature was called para physin or “unnatural” (meaning unnecessary or beyond the usual). It is from the influence of Stoicism in early Western civilization where we, in part, get our ideas about “Nature” in the abstract as well as the view of sex as something “dirty.” More on that later. Here, Dr. Helminiak makes clear that:

Paul does not use the term “nature” the way the Stoics did. Paul’s usage is concrete; the Stoic is abstract. Moreover, although Paul is aware that sex para physin would refer to non-procreative sex, including same-sex acts, he certainly is not concerned about procreation. Paul was expecting the speedy return of Christ, the end of the world, so nowhere in his writings does he show concern for procreation.[28]

In sum, when read contextually the supposed condemnation of homosexuality found in Romans is not quite that at all. The vocabulary Paul uses suggest a concern over purity rather than ethics. This is evident by the way the passages are constructed in that what is regarded as a sin or morally wrong is divided from what is socially frowned upon, for reasons of purity, such as homosexual activity. Then, when these verses are placed within the flow of the whole letter it is apparent that “Paul’s purpose is to teach that in Christ the purity concerns of the Old Law no longer matter and they should not be dividing the members of the Christian Community.”[29]

The upshot to all of this is that there are apparent instances of gay love in the Bible itself. I Samuel Chapter 18, verse 1 to 4 (KJV) reads thus:

1) And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2) And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. 3) Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. 4) And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.[30]

Later in I Samuel Chapter 20, verse 30 King Saul gets mad with Jonathan over his relationship with David:

30) Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?[31]

But it seems that King Saul’s protestations did not have any affect (verse 41 and 42):

41) And as soon as the lad had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times; and they kissed one another, and wept with one another, until David recovered himself. 42) Then Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, `The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever.'" And he rose and departed; and Jonathan went into the city.[32]

It would appear that the Bible’s apparent condemnation of same sex love is not the airtight case Falwell, Robertson and his ilk would have us believe. Surely any contemporary reader could not help but “read in between the lines” when looking at these verses and surmise what the nature of the relationship between these two men likely was. Like it or not, the Bible is an imperfect historical document which has many messages. Clearly much depends upon what the reader is looking for rather than what is truly being said. It is difficult to figure out intent or what is meant when dealing with each other person to person much less trying to do so across centuries when the world the writer inhabited has long since ceased to exist. Thus, Dr. Helminiak is certainly correct in assuming that a historical-critical reading of the text is the best way to figure out the intent of those who long ago wrote these words.

Now the question still remains, why should we support gay rights? Well, as Dr. Wink touched upon we live in a highly materialistic and commercialized culture that sends two conflicting notions of human sexuality. On the one side you have the monogamous, heterosexual, two parent, 2.5 kids, nuclear family, commonly pushed by the family values crowd, that is considered the ideal. Of course, if you are gay, lesbian, even single and unattached or single with kids, then you are seen as abnormal, deviant or eccentric. It is with this mindset Jerry Falwell can say:

Minority status for homosexuals will guarantee them an equal place at the table with women, Hispanics and African-Americans in matters like affirmative action, job quotas, financial benefits for same-sex partners and much more. For the first time in American history, it appears we will soon be rewarding persons for their misbehavior. [33]

As I showed previously, claiming that homosexuality is immoral cannot be logically supported. Simply, an act can only be considered bad if it really does harm. What goes on between two consenting adults can hardly be shown to be harmful especially in light of the fluidity of human sexual mores and practices. Notice that Mr. Falwell in his comments expressly seeks to keep gays from, though they’ve also fought for these, benefiting from the hard won redresses from past injustices suffered by other oppressed groups. His comments then are as much of a political and economic nature as they are of a moral nature. He later reveals that:

For Christian schools, churches and other ministries, tax-exempt status could eventually be denied to those who do not hire a quota of gays and lesbians as teachers, pastors and workers.[34]

Moreover, as discussed earlier, the bible at worst frowns upon homosexuality for reasons of purity rather than any moral condemnation. It would be interesting to note how Mr. Falwell would deal with David’s, the greatest hero in the Bible other than Jesus, apparently homosexual relationship with King Saul’s son Jonathan.

Alicia Pedreira is an example of what logic of people like Falwell and Robertson leads to. Alicia was working at the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children until on October 23, 1998 when she was fired after word got out in her office, because of a photo taken at a 1997 AIDS walk that surfaced at a local fair, that she is a lesbian. Never mind that Alicia liked her job and was well respected by her peers, some of whom quit after her dismissal, “because religious organizations have long been exempted from the provision of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that forbids religious-based discrimination by employers, on the grounds that they would otherwise be forced to act against their beliefs when hiring personnel”[35], Alicia found herself without a job. Besides the complications introduced by the idea of the separation of church and state, should, as Eyal Press the piece’s author asks, “a group that takes government money . . . be able to fire someone like Alicia Pedreira? Should, as several courts have ruled, the Title VII exemption, allow as well, the right of Christian schools to fire female employees who have had out of wedlock births? The important question to ask is even if certain behaviors, such as drinking, adultery, or fornication, are immoral, should the state be in the business of restricting or eliminating such behaviors considering the difficulty, for obvious reasons, in doing so? As far as President Bush, whether it is the first or the second, is concerned, the government should not only continue to but also to increase funding for religious charities and, among other faith-based policies, also support prayer in schools. I think at this point, the political implications and the alignment of forces are clear.

The rise of capitalism, as Fredrick Engels noted in the “Family, Private Property and the State,” meant that the family had to take on a form and roles unlike any other era. For one, capitalism, being based on private property, needs more than any system prior to it, a way to determine inheritance. Hence marriage, monogamy (to insure paternity) and the cult of domesticity thrust upon women. Two, as a system existing for profit it also uses the family as a way to externalize the cost of replenishing and reproducing labor. What this means is that marriage has become a means of making women responsible for refreshing the current labor force (meaning ensuring workers are fed, come to a clean home, clean clothes . . .etc.) and raising the next generation of workers. All at little or no cost to Capital. It is here where notions such as “the women’s place is in the home,” the man as breadwinner, and “personal responsibility” find their locus. The internal dynamics of the family and its place within the larger society is thus greatly affected by the demands of Capitalism. It is easy to see how homosexuality would throw this important economic site off kilter both because of the lack of literal reproductive ability by same sex couples and the ideological undermining of the desired norm. Moreover, as David Nibert notes:

How people produce and distribute goods and resources strongly affects how they organize their society, and how they relate to one another, as well as the ideas they shape about what constitutes acceptable behavior.[36]

What the fight over gay and lesbian rights has done, looked at still in other ways is to challenge prevailing kinship norms in an even more powerful way than the rise of single parent households. Gay and lesbian couples have increasingly sought to become parents and be recognized as such. As couples, gay and lesbians mirror the nuclear family upheld by societal norms but in doing so underline what I call the ‘commonality of difference.’ Meaning the idea that two people can form a couple, have children, hold middle-class values and yet be gay or lesbian. For many this strikingly similar but yet, in their eyes, twisted model represents an alternative. An alternative that strikes at the heart of their belief on how the world should be ordered and who should be at the pinnacle of that order. Mark Blasius comments that

lesbian and gay politics, then, has problemitized not only the normative status of hetero/homosexuality and the instances of power exercised on the basis of this normativity as hetero sexist domination and homophobic subjection but the entire installation of sexuality into a regime of truth and how historically, it has become a technology of government—techniques through which people are governed and how they come to understand themselves and their own agency.[37]

It is apparent that by hijacking the heterosexual standard of the family, gay and lesbian couples represent a threat to the religious right and their allies in government. For what is feared is the lost of its most powerful mechanism of moral authority through the erosion of the traditional family model and its underlying patriarchal structure.

On the opposite end of what can be termed the “family values-complex” you then have this hyper-sexualization of culture where sex is something everyone is doing and doing a lot. What this means in this society is that sex sells and is sold. Vanity Fair or Redbook sits side by side with Playboy/girl or Hustler. Human sexuality is de-contextualized, depersonalized, objectified and converted into raw materials for profit. The “family values-complex” sits side by side with the sex industry and its fellow traveler Madison Avenue or the advertising industry. Under such conditions, how, specifically, are sexual practices that are deemed deviant or abnormal handled? Until recently, when same sex love is not being parodied it is either treated as too taboo to mention or depictions of it are grotesquely distorted or it is sold, in real life or through images and prose within the confines of a niche market. There also is the overall tendency for sexual practices not acceptable in the mainstream, but not necessarily immoral, such as fetishism or cross-dressing, to be shoved into an underground existence.

For gays and lesbians, as for other historically oppressed groups, the role that class plays is to greatly limit progressive change whether it is social, political or economic. Specifically, the class divisions generated by capitalism, a system characterized by the enrichment and dominion of a few over the many, necessitates a continual war, sometimes hot or sometimes cold, between classes. Granted, Capitalism did not invent nor does it hold exclusive rights to racism, sexism or homophobia, it does however, continually breathe new life into the worst in us because of its unique and historically unprecedented imperative to insinuate itself into all aspects of nature and human life in ways that lead or lend themselves toward social, political and economic stagnation not to mention environmental degradation. The end result is a culture characterized by extreme commercialization and alienation that is ripe for scapegoating, discrimination and violence (remember Mathew Sheppard) when what is desperately needed is the opposite. Capitalism, however, must continually create divisions within society or exacerbate existing ones in order to survive. Consequently, “citizens . . . allow themselves to be oppressed in proportion as hurried by blind ambition, and looking rather below than above them, they come to love authority more than independence.”[38] But in the end, as George Bernard Shaw put it:

...Capitalism drives the employers to do their worst to the employed, and the employed to do the least for them. And it boasts all the time of the incentive it provides to both to do their best! You may ask why this does not end in a deadlock. The answer is it is producing deadlocks twice a day or thereabouts.... The reason the Capitalist system has worked so far without jamming for more than a few months at a time, and then only in places, is that it has not yet succeeded in making a conquest of human nature so complete that everybody acts on strictly business principles.”[39]

What this means for gay folks is the same as what it as meant for people of color, immigrants and women, the denial of basic political, social, and economic rights accompanied by a state that increasingly exhibits its authoritarian face. Human rights does not only include political rights such as the right to free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion and so forth but, the right to adequate food, housing, clothing and medical care. [40] In other words, the acknowledgment of social and economic rights as being on par with political rights. Not, as John Locke would have it, the inviolability of property rights to the point of stripping democracy of its content if not its procedures but, as Mill would have it, individual freedom, though not of the hyped up and distorted strain prevalent in United States culture, and social cohesion overseen by representative government.

It is precisely because the political structure of the United States has, in practice more than in form, denied many groups a say that struggle is necessary. As “African American scholar and activist W.E.B. Dubois once noted that the attitudes of an "imprisoned" group could take three forms: "a feeling of revolt and revenge; an attempt to adjust all thought and action to the will of the greater groups; or, finally, a determined attempt at self-development, self-realization, in spite of envisioning discouragements and prejudice." While the first two options may be attractive and the only ones available, realistically speaking, depending on the circumstances, it is the last option that presents a long term solution because it neither breaks up on the rocks of vengeance nor does it die the slow death of conformity. It calls for the “imprisoned” to continuously and strongly affirm their humanity while not denying, in the process, the same to others.

Taking the last of Dubois’s options to be the correct path, there then are a number of reasons to support gay rights. First, if homosexuality is inborn or hereditary, as science at present seems to affirm, then denying gays their elemental rights is no more rational or morally correct than denying these same rights to someone for being short or bald or for any other genetically determined attribute.

Second, a successful fight for gay rights would mean the end of the stigmatization and concomitant discrimination over what essentially is a lifestyle choice. No more half measures like ex-president Bill Clinton’s disastrous “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” that actually led to more gays and lesbians being unfairly booted from the military. No more “coming out of the closet” or worse staying locked in and living in fear. No more fractured families and lives. No more violence against gays and lesbians. More, however, freedom of sexual expression for gays and lesbians that likely would also mean freedom of sexual expression for all. To paraphrase J. S. Mill, freedom of thinking is not necessary simply to create great thinkers but to “enable average human beings to attain the mental stature which they are capable of.” Likewise, freedom of sexual expression is required not only for the liberation of gay/lesbian people but for the sexual emancipation of all whatever their sexual preferences and as long as these do not harm or impinge on others.

Third, gay and lesbian rights would mean that a public health issue would be dealt with as just that. This means the de-politicization of HIV/AIDS which, in turn, would fully allow society to deal with the public health crisis that is HIV/AIDS though education, proper treatment and well-funded research.

Finally, as a system that seeks to divide and conquer, capitalism uses homophobia, as well as racism and sexism, to both super-exploit the victims of discrimination and as a way of throttling social change by keeping working class people divided. The “Willie Horton” presidential ad campaign of George Bush sr. is a perfect example of this strategy at work through the use of racism that tapped into white fears of the black male as predator. Alicia Pedreira shows what this means to gays and lesbians in terms of life’s opportunities killed and The “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996” by supposedly getting single, largely Black and Latino women to find non-existent jobs or jobs at poverty wages, shows what this amounts to for women. In short, it means an attack on the rights and conditions of life for these groups and ultimately for all of us, because of the continual creation of a reserve army of the poor driving down wages and, more to the point, the greatly diminished ability on our part to even hope to combat the consequences of the system, such as the yawning gap between rich and poor, because of lack a of solidarity. As Jean Jacques Rousseau warned,

despotism tolerates no other master, wherever it reigns; the moment it speaks, probity and duty lose all their influence, and the blindest obedience is the only virtue to slaves.[41]

If it is true, as Karl Marx remarked, that the dominant ideas of any age are the ideas of its ruling class, then the divisions nurtured by Capitalism amongst the groups that would oppose it, namely the working class, are very destructive for two important reasons. First because of the lack of solidarity and concomitant isolation these divisions themselves represent and second, because of the internalized oppression the system’s victims acquire from the prevailing notions, mindsets, perspectives and outlooks that are projected upon them from on high. Under these conditions all oppressed groups must first cut through the thicket of ideologies that serve the interests of the ruling classes before taking the path, whether revolutionary or reformist, toward social and economic change.

Some have argued that, by approaching the fight for their cause as separate entities, historically oppressed groups, such as gays and people of color, weaken themselves by highlighting their separateness from society at large as well as from humanity in general. As a result, it is maintained, their struggle in time becomes a demand for special rights. While I fully recognize the weaknesses within what is commonly referred to as “identity politics”, it must be remembered that these groups are compelled to fight for their rights precisely because they have been excluded by the larger society and that, therefore, this struggle invariably must, out of necessity and because of “the facts on the ground”, originate from outside the predominant or mainstream discourse and structures of society. Trying to do otherwise more often than not leads to frustration, half-measures, co-option, or, at times, complete capitulation. What should occur is that the struggles of gays/lesbians coalesce with those of other groups, such as the anti-war movement and the global economic justice movement, in the fight against elite hegemony and oppression. Support for gay rights is not only the moral or ethical course of action because all of us deserve the same rights and protections as any other member of society but also because solidarity among blacks, whites, women, gays and other groups, which the system must seek to continually undo if it is to survive but we must reinforce and expand, is the only way we are going to achieve a fair, just and environmentally sustainable society. Ultimately, the fight for gay and lesbian rights is a fight for human rights.

Bibliography

1. Stewart, Robert M. ed. Readings in Social and political Philosophy (Political Obligation and Consent). New York, Oxford University Press 1996

2. Helminiak, Daniel A. What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. Alamo Square Press, New Mexico 2002

3. Holy Bible, King James Version (1611). American Bible Society, New York, 1973

4. Garber, Marjorie. Bisexuality and The Eroticism Of Everyday Life. Routledge, New York 2000

5. Blasius, Mark. Gay and Lesbian Politics: Sexuality and the Emergence of a New Ethic. Temple University Press, Philadelphia 1994

6. Richards, David A. J. Women, Gays, and the Constitution: The Grounds for Feminism and Gay Rights in Culture and Law.University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1998

7. Reinisch, June M. The Kinsey Institute New Report On Sex. St Martin’s Press, New York 1990

8. Burr, Chandler. Homosexuality and Biology. The Atlantic Monthly, Mar. 1993. Volume 272, Nos. 3

9. Press, Eyal. Faith-Based Furor. New York Times Magazine, April 1, 2001.

10. Somerville, Siobhan B. Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture. Duke University Press, Durham 2000

11. Nibert, David. Hitting the Lottery Jackpot: Government and the Taxing of Dreams, Monthly Review Press, New York 2000.



[1] http://www.jax-inter.net/~help/sexdiff.html

[2] Garber p 249

[3] Reinisch p 13

[4] Garber p 320

[5] Somerville p 5

[6] ibid p 7

[7] For an interesting exposition of this duality of identity amongst transplanted African peoples refer to Black Skins, White Masks by Franz Fanon.

[8] Somerville p 34

[9] Richards p 377

[10] http://www.planetout.com/pno/news/history/archive/06211999.html

[11] Americans United for Separation of Church and State. http://www.au.org/press/pr91701.htm

[12] Stewart p 20

[13] Stewart p 27

[14] Stewart p 24

[15] Stewart p 29

[16] Stewart p 31

[17] Stewart p 351

[18] See his work “Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1844)”

[19] Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal? http://www.virtualcity.com/youthsuicide/adams.htm

[20] Somerville p 3

[21] Burr pp. 47 - 65

[22] Stewart p 122

[23] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Trends in the HIV and AIDS Epidemic, 1998 www.cdc.gov

[24] Wink, Walter. Homosexuality and the Bible. http://www.melwhite.org/index.html

[25] Helminiak p 19

[26] ibid p 79

[27] ibid p 80

[28] ibid p 84

[29] ibid p 77

[30] Holy Bible (KJV) p 289

[31] ibid p 292

[32] ibid p 293

[34] ibid p 1

[35] Press, Eyal. Faith-Based Furor. New York Times Magazine, April 1, 2001. p 62

[36] Nibert p 15

[37] Blasius p 46

[38]Stewart p 207

[39] Shaw, George Bernard. http://www.zmag.org/

[40] For an expanded description of what exactly are “human rights” please refer to United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, NEW YORK December 10, 1948. http://www.hri.org/docs/UDHR48.html

[41] Stewart p 209


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?