sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘gay rights’ Category

Jon Stewart on "should Muslims be allowed to build their mosques in the neighborhoods of their choosing?"

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2010

Sometimes Jon Stewart is just so on.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Wish You Weren’t Here
www.thedailyshow.com
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Posted in Congress shall make no law, gay rights, human rights, Jon Stewart, religion | Leave a Comment »

turns out Gallagher has become an evil clown.

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2010

The Seattle newspaper The Stranger is a free alternative newsweekly, so I suppose that explains the strident anti-conservative tone of a recent piece about the aging comic Gallagher.

The primary target of this piece is Gallagher himself; the author describes Gallagher as “a paranoid, delusional, right-wing religious maniac,” then offers up some pretty convincing evidence:

Gallagher is upset about a lot of things. Young people with their sagging pants (in faintly coded racist terms, he explains that this is why the jails are overcrowded—because “their” baggy pants make it too hard for “them” to run from the cops). Tattoos: “That ink goes through to your soul—if you read your Bible, your body is a sacred temple, YOU DIPSHIT.” People naming their girl-children Sam and Toni instead of acceptable names like Evelyn and Betty: “Just give her some little lesbian tendencies!” Guantánamo Bay: “We weren’t even allowed to torture all the way. We had to half-torture—that’s nothin’ compared to what Saddam and his two sons OOFAY and GOOFAY did.” Lesbians: “There’s two types—the ugly ones and the pretty ones.” (Um, like all people?) Obama again: “If Obama was really black, he’d act like a black guy and get a white wife.” Michael Vick: “Poor Michael Vick.” Women’s lib: “These women told you they wanna be equal—they DON’T.” Trans people: “People like Cher’s daughter—figure that out. She wants a penis, but she has a big belly. If you can’t see your dick, you don’t get one.” The Rice Krispies elves: “All three of those guys are gay. Look at ’em!” The Mexicans: “Look around—see any Mexicans? Nope. They’ll be here later for the cleanup.” The French: “They ruin our language with their faggy words.

Holy crap. With hate speech like that, Gallagher deserves as much disgusted critique as writer Lindy West can dish out. But she doesn’t stop there; the audience, she explains, are “rabid, frothing conservative dickwads” who lap up Gallagher’s racist, xenophobic rant. Okay, so the question becomes: Is West responding in kind? Is she unloading hate speech on the group she dislikes in a similar way to Gallagher’s anti-gay, anti-liberal “act”?

First, I want to make clear that while all hate speech is abominable, hate speech that targets marginalized groups is more abominable than hate speech that targets dominant groups. Why? Because of power and inertia. Marginalized groups–the LGBTQ community, for example–in lots of ways exist at the mercy of dominant groups–in this case, the heteronormative community. “Should we give them the right to marry?” “Should we pass laws to protect them against anti-gay violence?” “Should we let them claim each other on their tax returns?” It’s taken for granted that American society needs to decide what rights to “grant” gays. The alternative would be to assume that the LGBTQ community already has the same rights as everyone else, and laws that violate those rights need to be struck down.

Power. Inertia.

So calling a language “faggy,” advocating “girly” names to avoid giving daughters “lesbian tendencies,” finishing up an act by, as West describes it, smashing a plate of fruit cocktail and an Asian vegetable mix and announcing “This is the China people and queers!!!”–way more abominable than calling Gallagher’s appreciative audience “rabid, frothing conservative dickwads.” It’s an audience, as Gallagher himself points out, filled with white people, and the risk of getting beaten, killed, or legislated against for being a conservative white person is fairly low relative to the risk that goes along with being gay, African American, Mexican, or any of the other ethnic and cultural minorities against whom Gallagher is stirring up the pot of hatred.

Which makes West’s response understandable but still not quite okay. I say this as someone who absolutely adored this article, who is aghast that hate speech like this attracts any audience whatsoever, and who has the same impulse to rage against anyone who would even chuckle at Gallagher’s diatribe (which, by the way, doesn’t even seem particularly funny).

Anyway, you should read the whole article, which is fairly short and extremely well crafted, then let me know what you think.

Posted in bigotry, evil clowns, gay rights, human rights, obnoxious | 1 Comment »

you don’t need to be that tough

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 26, 2010

Here’s a commercial that ran in Norway. The text at the end reads:

You don’t need to be that tough.
Helpline for gay youth / We guarantee we’ll answer.

In my opinion, this commercial, which the creator has said was developed as part of an advertising competition, sort of fails. Its target audience, gay youth, are supposed to feel affinity with that kid, right? But though the commercial attempts to convince us otherwise, the kid’s behavior isn’t brave–it’s kinda stupid. First of all, whether the other boy is straight or not, he’s clearly into the girl sitting next to him. Even if this is the Most Progressive School Dance in the History of Western Culture, asking someone to dance when he’s clearly into someone else is just begging for public rejection. And given the purpose of the commercial, we can assume this isn’t the Most Progressive School Dance in the History of Western Culture–it’s the kind of school dance we’re all familiar with, the kind at which asking someone of the same gender to dance is an act of extreme bravery, even if that kid isn’t already sitting with someone else.

And what makes this an act of extreme bravery? Well, the fact that it’s insanely risky to publicly present yourself as gay. And what makes it risky? The fact that, according to this commercial at least, straight kids are not to be trusted–they’re dangerous. And coming out to the straight kids is the stupid kind of bravery, at least according to this commercial.

So the messages of this commercial include:

  • If you’re a gay adolescent, coming out to your classmates is extremely brave but kind of stupid and also unnecessary.
  • If you’re a gay adolescent struggling with coming out, it’s better to talk about it privately with people who promise they won’t reject you than it is to talk about it openly with your (straight) classmates, who will probably reject you.
  • If you’re a gay adolescent, the straight kids you go to school with are dangerous for you.
  • Coming out is brave but also dangerous, and before you do something stupid you should talk to us about how to do it right.
  • If you’re a gay adolescent, your impulses about how to perform your orientation are probably wrong, and we can tell you how to perform your sexual orientation appropriately.

Imagine you’re a 12-year-old boy struggling with coming out. You see this commercial where a boy with whom you’re supposed to identify not only behaves really stupidly but then also gets his actions judged by the very people who say they want to help him. “You don’t have to be that tough”–translation: Call us–we can tell you the right way to come out.

Queer kids deal with enough judgment from their families, their friends, their classmates, their culture–they don’t need more people telling them how they should behave, and they certainly don’t need a support agency for gay youth telling them whether they’re behaving appropriately.

Posted in advertising, gay rights | Leave a Comment »

against ‘tolerance’

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 10, 2010

I want to share with you a beautiful piece of prose I encountered via Out Magazine. The essay, “Riding in Cars with Lesbians,”  by Helena Andrews, is the memoir of a woman who grew up with a pair of painfully abusive mothers. Though they mainly directed their abuse at each other, the scars crisscrossing the writer’s emotional terrain are evident everywhere you look. Here’s an excerpt:

A 99-cent store dry erase board saved my life. I’d never given the thing much thought before using it to slash manic slaps of marker onto our Frigidaire. The grown-ups were in the living room arguing during the commercials, trading insults to a soundtrack about sunglasses. Frances, we need to talk about this. My name is Geek, I put ’em on as a shocker. Do whatever you want, Vernell, leave me out of it. Man, I love these Blublockers. I hate you. Everything is clear. Keep your voice down. They block out the sun. Why? Helena knows what a bitch you are. Oh, yeah, I gotta get me some.

I also love this piece because it presents a clear-eyed picture of an abusive household that happens to be headed by a pair of lesbians, though really, the author treats the gay issue as a secondary thing. Sure, the teenaged daughter is embarrassed to have two mothers–but her embarrassment is depicted as on par with the range of things our parents can do to embarrass us. A trashy car, embarrassing wardrobe choices, the fact of a mother and a stepmother with no father in evidence–it’s all approximately equally embarrassing.

We need this sort of narrative.

We need people who can talk about members of the LGBTQ community in terms as human as those we’ve traditionally reserved for mainstream (straight) people. Gays are neither the vile, depraved and hellbound pedophiles that religious and far-right political groups would like you to believe; but neither are we the perfect angels who only have missionary sex at night with the doors locked and the lights out, who want nothing more than a house in the suburbs and our allotment of stock options and children, who pray to the Lord Our God each night before we go to sleep. Like most people in the world, most LGBTQ people fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum. Sometimes we want to act up and act out; sometimes we want  to toss up our queerness like a flaming red mohawk:

And sometimes, like my friends Elaine and Nancy, we just want to get married:

And sometimes, as in Helena Andrews’ essay, we’re far less generous and kind than we wish we could be. Sometimes we can’t help but talk shit about our partners, even in front of children. Sometimes we’re mad enough that we can’t help but take a swing or two, even at the people we love.

It’s not okay to behave badly, but it’s okay to acknowledge that gays could be better or worse people, depending on the day or the circumstances. It’s okay to acknowledge that gays are decent people, beautiful people, sometimes heroic people, but mostly gays are just average people who are trying to live their lives as fully and kindly and with as much joy and love as they can.

I’m not a fan of the notion of “tolerance,” mainly because I believe it suggests that the people who are supposed to be “tolerated” must be proven to be acting “tolerably.” That’s not equality; that’s patronizing. That’s a power differential that favors the status quo. That’s charity, handed out to the trembling hand held up in supplication. That’s a stunted revolution that permits only the most limited type of dancing.

I prefer multiplicity, openness, dialogue. I prefer that we strike down the cultural narrative of gays as a monolithic group walking together in lockstep, especially since that narrative is not borne out by the truth of “gay culture.” I prefer–I propose–that we craft a new narrative, one that presents members of the LGBTQ community as exactly as diverse, as variable, as perfect and flawed, as everyone else in the world.

Posted in beauty, creativity, gay rights, gender politics, human rights, politics, social justice, writing | Leave a Comment »

best. live performance. ever.

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 24, 2010

I just got back from a show starring the Indigo Girls, with a special appearance by a band I’d never heard of. The group is called Girlyman, and they are drop-dead fantastic. They knocked us all absolutely dead, and it was obvious that the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, had a great deal of respect for these guys.

Here’s a vid of one of their recent songs, “Young James Dean.” In the live performance, they also had a drummer, JJ Jones, who added a nice kick to their sound. You might want to consider checking them out if they come to a town near you.

Posted in awesome, creativity, gay rights, gender politics, human rights, music | 1 Comment »

how to make like an ally

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 11, 2010

You read Sady Doyle’s blog Tiger Beatdown, right? Everybody reads Sady Doyle’s blog Tiger Beatdown. If you’ve never been to this site, may I suggest you leave my blog immediately in order to immerse yourself in the glory and ladyrage that is Tiger Beatdown? Here, I’ll even do something I never ever do: I’ll give you a link to her blog that takes you directly away from my blog and deposits you at her blog, which if you haven’t read her blog is actually where you belong anyway.

Today I want to direct your attention to the most recent Tiger Beatdown post, which is about feminist allies and offers a nice description, in the person of one Freddie de Boer, of how not to be an ally. Freddie, it appears, is Sady Doyle’s enemy in the worst way: He explains that, as a feminist man, he’s tired of being silenced by feminist women who purport to have more right to speak about sexism than he does!

Well, Sady gives ol’ Freddie a glorious smackdown, which I’m sure he has already interpreted as yet another example of why we shouldn’t let ladies speak their minds. In the middle of her smackdown, Sady offers up what I consider to be most excellent advice for anybody who wants to serve as an ally to a marginalized group. I’m going to include an abridged version of her advice below, though this should in no way hinder your intention to read the entire post in its gorgeous entirety.

Sady writes:

A common phrase, which just about every ally has ever heard or been instructed to heed, is, “if it’s not about you, don’t make it about you.” That is: If someone is describing a gross, oppressive behavior that some people in your privileged group engage in, then there is no reason to get defensive unless you personally engage in that behavior, in which case you need to stop complaining about your hurt feelings and focus on how quickly and completely you can cut that shit out. And rushing to the defense of people who do engage in the oppressive behavior, even if you don’t engage in it, is not acceptable, because you’re showing solidarity with your privilege, rather than with the people who are being hurt or oppressed. There is no better way to announce that you seriously don’t care about racism than to leap to the defense of some racist-ass people and ask people of color to stop talking about them in such a critical tone, for example.

To illustrate what the ally behavior Sady describes above actually looks like on the ground, I want to tell a story about my friend Adam, in whom I recently–and unexpectedly–found an ally.

I have a history of being a woman, and I also have a history of being involved in romantic relationships with women. I talk about the first thing all. the. effing. time. I haven’t done much talking about the second thing, though I’m proud to announce that I’m getting better at talking about it.

I was out with a group of friends a few nights ago and decided to talk about it. Specifically, I decided to talk about my tendency to judge people who affiliate with organizations that make it their business to try to keep gay people as unhappy and unable to live freely and without risk of personal or psychological harm as possible. (I do not accept ignorance or political apathy as an excuse, in case you were wondering.) Uproar ensued around the table, which was filled with people who to my knowledge did not have any history of dating people of the same gender. Everybody wanted to weigh in on whether I was right or wrong to judge others. Everybody wanted to weigh in on whether I was being closed minded. Which was fine with me, really. These guys are my friends, and they seem to like me an awful lot, and I wasn’t mad or upset or anything. I was interested in learning how each of my friends (some of whom belong to their own marginalized–or even doubly marginalized–groups) understood the notion of marginalization. I was intensely interested in fighting about this issue for as long as they were willing to fight.

But Adam, who I believe to be a straight white man, did something I didn’t expect: He acted as my ally. He participated in the conversation, but he mainly did so to help me to clarify my stance and open up space for me to speak. He did this so gracefully and so intelligently that I assumed he agreed with me but only later realized I actually don’t know his opinion on my stance toward people who affiliate with anti-gay organizations. I don’t think he ever weighed in.

Adam is a classmate, and he’s near the end of his graduate career. In class, he’s kinda pushy and extremely talkative; he tends to dominate discussions and it’s sometimes hard to get a word in. But on the other hand, he knows an awful lot about his field and has a lot to say about it.

So I know Adam can dominate a conversation, which means that in Friday night’s discussion, he chose to stand back in order to give me more room to speak.

This is Adam:

Adam knows a thing or two about how to listen. Adam is an ally. I didn’t thank him on Friday night, so Adam, consider this my thanks.

Posted in awesome, bigotry, feminism, gay rights, gender politics, graduate school, human rights | Leave a Comment »

Marilyn Musgrave tries to quash health care reform

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on March 10, 2010

Former U.S. Rep Marilyn Musgrave is the kind of politician I was born to hate.

Musgrave built her career out of an anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-empathy and anti-compassion platform. Before she was soundly trounced by Democrat Betsy Markey in 2008, Musgrave was featured on multiple worst-politicians lists. This profile in Rolling Stone explains that

Musgrave does not believe in the separation of church and state. She entered politics in 1990, running for her local school board on a crusade to end sex education as part of the curriculum. By the time her tenure was over, the schools taught “abstinence only” — and offending passages in health textbooks had been blacked out. During her eight years in the Colorado legislature, Musgrave continued her moralizing, overcoming two vetoes by the governor to pass a state ban on gay marriage.

Once in Congress, Musgrave introduced a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage — which she calls “the most important issue that we face today” — nearly a year before a Massachusetts court approved civil unions. “She doesn’t like the idea of one gay person,” says Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. “So obviously the idea of two of us hanging out makes her very unhappy.” For her opposition to gay marriage — as well as her push to legalize concealed weapons — Musgrave received an endorsement from the KKK in May.

Let me emphasize: Marilyn Musgrave was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

Did I mention that she was thumped by Betsy Markey in 2008? Upon her loss, Musgrave disappeared from sight, never officially conceding the election, never congratulating her opponent, never answering reporters’ requests for comment about her loss.

Now Musgrave has resurfaced as the Director of a project called “Votes Have Consequences,” an effort by the Susan B. Anthony List to scare politicians out of voting to fund reproductive health care services. Specifically, this group is trying to scare politicians out of voting for any health care bill that covers a range of procedures including abortion. Here’s how 700 Club-affiliated blogger Dave Brody explains it:

The Susan B. Anthony List will be targeting certain members of Congress who are out of step with their district on the life issue. No specific Congressmen have been identified yet but the group plans to launch an aggressive TV, Radio and print campaign against them very soon. They don’t want to wait until 2010. They believe the issue needs to be addressed right away because pro-life groups have all too often taken a back seat approach to getting involved early in congressional races.

Priorities, folks. Let’s talk about priorities.

Nearly 46 million Americans are living without health insurance. About 8 million of those uninsured are children. And each year, 45,000 Americans die for lack of health insurance. Even if you’re a cold, cruel, apathetic person who doesn’t care about the human toll of our crumbling health care system, you can appreciate the financial drain of dealing with so many uninsured citizens. If you’re uninsured, you avoid expensive doctor visits. You don’t get physicals. You don’t deal with health issues when they first emerge, and if they get bad enough that you need medical care, you wait until you can’t delay any longer and then you take yourself to an emergency room. At this point, more care–more expensive care–is generally warranted.

When it comes to our health care system, we’re in full-on crisis mode. That’s why the effort of Musgrave and her ridiculously named Susan B. Anthony List to quash any reform simply out-Herods Herod.

Posted in elections, gay rights, human rights, politics, social justice | Leave a Comment »

the sleeping alone review of films: And Then Came Lola

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on February 3, 2010

summary: I have a big problem with this movie.

I’ve been sitting on a review of And Then Came Lola (2010), described in press materials as a “time-bending, comedic and sexy lesbian romp-loosely inspired by the art house classic Run Lola Run,” since it showed at Bloomington’s Pride Film Festival last weekend. On the one hand, yay! This film presents a welcome antivenin to the cultural poison of heterosexual action-romances, romantic comedies, action-comedic romances, thriller-romances, romantic melodramas…you get the idea. On the other hand…well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

The story is much more than loosely inspired by Run Lola Run, the 1998 German film that has a fire-haired Lola desperate to get 10,000 Deutsche Mark in 20 minutes in order to save her boyfriend’s life. The conceit of this film is that when Lola fails, she gets to try again: shot by a police officer and dying on the sidewalk, she yells “stop” and starts over, armed with an awareness of what went wrong the first time. As the story resets itself again and again, the audience is offered backstory: Lola’s relationship with Manni, her boyfriend, is not fully secure; there are doubts about whether each feels a genuine love for the other. There is a question, then, over why Lola would risk her life, again and again.

And Then Came Lola works with several of the plot points of its inspiration, not least of which is the main character’s ability to go back in time and try again. As in Run Lola Run, there is a punk with a dog; there is a homeless man; there is a beautiful woman named Lola and a camera that cannot look away from her as she runs through the streets of her city. This time, though, Lola is a photographer running through the streets of San Francisco to deliver prints to her girlfriend, Casey, who needs them right away in order to secure a Big Client. Beneath this is a backstory: Lola has issues with commitment, has issues with being dependable and on time, but thinks that Casey might be The One and wants to prove that she can change. As in Run Lola Run, this Lola needs multiple tries to secure the happy ending.

And Then Came Lola is basically a lesbian retelling of Run Lola Run, which isn’t in itself a bad thing. In this version, every character is gay (or gay-curious, as in the mixed-sex tourist couple who invite Lola to share their taxi and then put the moves on her), and the film starts from an assumption that same-sex romances are neither perfect nor fundamentally much different from heterosexual romances. And thank god for that–it’s about time we started moving beyond the startpoint of needing to justify same-sex attraction and romance.

On the other hand, for a lesbian action-romance, And Then Came Lola feels pretty heteronormative. First of all, the main characters are beautiful in a way that most straight men could probably get behind. Here are Lola and Casey, played by Ashleigh Sumner and Jill Bennett:

I don’t challenge the notion that some lesbians look like Lola and Casey (and, in fact, the actors made an appearance at the showing I attended, and they look about the same in real life as they do in the film*). But I do have a problem with a film that aligns femininity with heroism and turns anything else into comedy. In this relationship, it’s Lola who’s the problem–she’s emotionally distant and because of this, as one character explains, sex with her is “like sex with a man.” In order to get the girl, Lola has to learn to access her feelings; her big breakthrough comes when she can no longer have sex with Casey without knowing if Casey loves her.

This film is pretty overtly about sex, and its plot is pushed forward through presentation of sexual fantasy. In their fantasy, Lola and Casey get romance, with candles, caresses, and glasses of wine. They are therefore the heroes of the story.

Here are the villains: The punk with a dog is a little butch lesbian who trips Lola up again and again and, it’s revealed, has a disturbingly close relationship with her dog. The most evil villain of the movie is a lesbian parking officer, who’s presented as a fat, disheveled Latina. She’s ugly, we’re told, and also mouthy; and her fantasies are therefore presented as hilarious. They’re offered up as a joke, as comic relief.

It’s not enough, not anymore, to make films with tons of gay characters. What we need is films with tons of gay characters that also strive to complicate our understanding of sexuality, attraction, romance, and what it means to be human. And Then Came Lola would have us believe that the stereotypes are correct, that the more traditionally beautiful you are, the more right you have to your sexuality. That’s not only blatantly wrong, it’s deeply problematic, especially for a film making the rounds at LGBTQ film festivals.

*Note: I’m making a fairly big leap in assuming that Sumner and / or Bennett are gay, when it’s entirely possible that both are straight. If they are, that doesn’t negate the fact that there are plenty of lesbians who are approximately as heteronormatively beautiful as Sumner and Bennett are.

Posted in culture, gay rights, gender politics, movies, sex | Leave a Comment »

on homophobia, classism, and the politics of rape: Don Belton and Bloomington’s Pride Film Festival

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on January 30, 2010

I want to talk about Don Belton.

Belton, you may remember, was the Indiana University professor who was found stabbed to death in his home on Christmas day. He was the gay Indiana University professor; his killer, ex-Marine Michael Griffin, has not only confessed but has explained his motive for stabbing Belton:

The former military man told police that Belton, who was openly gay, sexually assaulted him in front of his girlfriend, while they were both intoxicated on Christmas Day. And because the assistant professor of English refused to “show remorse,” Griffin stabbed him to death, according to court documents.

Bloomington’s LGBTQ community was hit fairly hard by the news of Belton’s death. In part, this is because Belton was well liked; and in part, this is because the killing repeats the old message that nobody wants to be reminded of: It’s (still) not safe to be gay in America.

A web site was built and called “Justice for Don Belton.” Vigils were held. Press releases (here, here) were circulated mourning Belton’s death and noting the loss to the IU community. And this year’s Pride Film Festival, an annual LGBTQ event held in downtown Bloomington, has been dedicated to Belton’s memory.

All of this for someone who has officially been identified as a perpetrator of sexual assault.

If this were a hetero situation, and the killer were a woman who claimed to have killed a man after two incidents of sexual assault, there would be no vigils. There would be no websites. There would be no film festival dedicated to the dead man’s memory. And rightly so: After centuries of struggle, we have finally started to evolve into a society that does its best to side with the alleged victim in cases of sexual assault. We aren’t a society that does its very best, of course, and you know, we sort of keep having to have the same conversation every time it comes up: Rape is not about sex. It’s about power. And women who accuse a man of literal rape have been subjected to metaphorical rape by a court system that embraces a blame-the-victim mentality. And so on. But we’re trying, and we’re getting better at having these conversations.

And of course this isn’t a hetero situation, and the gender, power, and sex issues don’t map. We pretty much don’t believe that Belton was a rapist or that Griffin was a victim; we believe–and, to be clear, I believe–that Belton was brutally murdered, and that the motive was homophobia. Homosexuality is a deep threat to heteronormative culture, to the status quo. It’s dangerous and terrifying and the most insecure among us believe it must be blotted out. With violence, if needs be.

Belton’s death is a reminder that no matter how far we’ve come, we’re still a society that cannot guarantee the safety of its marginalized members. Bloomington was recently named America’s 4th gayest city by the Advocate, which confuses me but let’s go with it for now. And this year’s Pride Festival,
which is deploying at the Buskirk-Chumley theater this very weekend, has drawn hundreds, if not thousands, of beautiful, joyous, and celebratory LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly community members. But all it takes is misreading one person, or showing up at the wrong bar at the wrong time, or acting a little too gay, or even just holding your partner’s hand in public; and the Great Lie starts to unravel. It’s not safe to be gay in America. It’s not even always acceptable to be gay in America.

This isn’t to say the reaction of the LGBTQ community to Belton’s death is completely ick-free. There is the issue of classism. Part of the reason we don’t believe Griffin is that Belton was so cultured. He was well educated. He was a writer. He was a professor, for godsake. He couldn’t have possibly raped someone. I mean, just look at his picture:

Here’s Griffin, an ex-Marine, 23 years old:

Leaving aside issues of race–not because I think we should leave those issues aside, but because I’m not qualified to talk about race–we craft a narrative around Belton and Griffin, and it’s a narrative that points to deep class assumptions that hover above issues of gender and sexual orientation. It’s the same sort of narrative that frames, for example, the story of Tiger Woods and his multiple mistresses (“Cocktail waitresses! Pancake servers! Why’s Tiger rooting around in the trash?!?”), our attitudes toward celebrities (“Britney Spears–you can take the girl out of Hicksville, but….”), and the political decisions that undergird our social structure.

It’s easier and simpler to use Belton’s murder as a touchstone for conversations about the state of gay rights in America. In fact, this story, like all stories worth telling, is far more complicated and multithreaded. Like all stories worth telling, the work of interpreting the details is far less clearcut than it seems upon first blush.

Posted in crime, gay rights, gender politics, human rights, movies | Leave a Comment »

update on bigot Jan Moir

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on October 18, 2009

First, I want to show you this fantastic video I snagged from the Online Journalism Blog. If you’re like me, you’re not thrilled about the notion of sitting still and watching a 3 minute video, but I promise it’s worth it.

The video was embedded in a post by Paul Canning called “Jan Moir is a Heterosexist.” If Canning and I were to follow the advice of the video above, we would write things like:

  • Jan Moir’s column was heterosexist (or homophobic, depending on your take).
  • Jan Moir’s column adopts a heteronormative (or homophobic, depending on your take) approach to gay rights.
  • Jan Moir’s argument promotes homophobic (or bigoted, depending on your take) attitudes toward gay rights.

Nope, I’m going with the old “Jan Moir is a bigot” approach. It’s not that I think the advice in the above video is wrong; it’s just that Moir followed up the bigoted assumptions espoused in the column in question with an Official Statement that rejects the notion that the piece espoused bigoted assumptions. Here’s her statement, in full:

Some people, particularly in the gay community, have been upset by my article about the sad death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately. This was never my intention. Stephen, as I pointed out in the article was a charming and sweet man who entertained millions.

However, the point of my column-which, I wonder how many of the people complaining have fully read – was to suggest that, in my honest opinion, his death raises many unanswered questions. That was all. Yes, anyone can die at anytime of anything. However, it seems unlikely to me that what took place in the hours immediately preceding Gately’s death – out all evening at a nightclub, taking illegal substances, bringing a stranger back to the flat, getting intimate with that stranger – did not have a bearing on his death. At the very least, it could have exacerbated an underlying medical condition.

The entire matter of his sudden death seemed to have been handled with undue haste when lessons could have been learned. On this subject, one very important point. When I wrote that ‘he would want to set an example to any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine’, I was referring to the drugs and the casual invitation extended to a stranger. Not to the fact of his homosexuality. In writing that ‘it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships’ I was suggesting that civil partnerships – the introduction of which I am on the record in supporting – have proved just to be as problematic as marriages.

In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.

Mischievous in the extreme? Really? Let’s return to the scene of the crime, where Moir writes:

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately’s last night raise troubling questions about what happened.

It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death.

Ok, so let’s be clear on the association Moir is making here: The only thing that these three men have in common is that all engaged in relationships with men. Michael was arrested for public indecency; McGee, after a long struggle with depression and addiction, committed suicide; and Gately was in an apparently happy relationship with his husband, Andrew Cowles.

And, by the way, it’s not at all clear what the death of McGee has to do with Gately’s death, though for some reason Moir thinks the two events together “raise troubling questions about what happened” on the night that Gately died.

What the hell does the suicide of a young gay celebrity have to do with the death, apparently of natural causes, of another young gay celebrity?

Moir’s column was homophobic; but her defense of the column, when a public mea culpa would have been the appropriate action of someone who–as she herself declares–has in the past publicly supported civil partnerships, takes things one step farther. Her column presents a bigoted argument; and her follow-up self-defense presents her as the bigot she is.

  • Jan Moir is heterosexist (or homophobic, depending on your take).
  • Jan Moir is heteronormative (or homophobic, depending on your take) about gay rights.
  • Jan Moir promotes homophobic (or bigoted, depending on your take) attitudes toward gay rights.

Additionally, her writing skills are fairly abysmal, though I suppose that’s another argument for another day.

Posted in bigotry, celebrity, gay rights, human rights, lame, obnoxious | 2 Comments »