Monday, July 30, 2012

Chick-fil-A Dustup Shows Freedom For Fundies is a One-Way Street

by Wayne Besen for Truth Wins Out:

In his latest screed, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat implored those who are opposed to Chik-fil-A's anti-gay views to, "Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that's good and decent, and that you're going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will."

Well, let's toss the idea right back at Douthat. "Say what you really think: that you and other fundamentalist Christians are superior and that allowing people with whom you disagree to have equal rights and opportunities threatens all that's good and decent, and that you're going to continue in the un-American business of using the levers of power to bend us to your will."

Fundamentalist Christian authors George Grant and Gary North best summarized this view in their infamous book, Changing of the Guard:

"But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after."

This is precisely what fundamentalists have been doing for as long as they could get away with it. When it was permissible, they would bully non-Christian students into reciting their sectarian prayers in public schools. Fundies talk a good game on "parental rights," but conveniently abandon this principle whenever it involves non-Christian parents who don't want taxpayer money used to indoctrinate their children.

How about race?

"If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 [Brown v. Board of Education] decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn the line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line." Rev. Jerry Falwell once wrote.

For much of American history, secular Americans were forced to abide by repressive Blue Laws, which dictated when people could drink alcohol or sell goods and services. For example, until April 2011, one could not buy alcohol in Georgia on Sundays because the states' governor, Sonny Perdue, was a right wing teetotaler. Even now, instead of individuals having the right to decide when they drink in Georgia, it is voted on in each county.

Given this historically despotic behavior by religious majorities, isn't it rather hypocritical for fundamentalists to now claim that their religious freedom is threatened because Boston mayor Tom Menino is against having Chik-fil-A open up in Boston?

"You can't have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population," the mayor said, with his comments echoed by the mayors of Chicago and Washington, DC.

The histrionic fundies are now pretending to be martyrs. However, I'd love to have them answer a simple question: If Gov. Perdue can use his beliefs to tell people they can't have a cold beer on a hot summer day in Georgia, than why can't Mayor Menino use his equally heartfelt beliefs to tell people that they can't have a greasy chicken sandwich in Boston?

The answer is that fundies believe that religious freedom is a one-way street. For example, they can gang up on secular and religious minorities and vote for a dry county and that is "liberty." But if voters ever decide to vote for a city free of fundie-fowl, it suddenly becomes a perfidious act of religious persecution. You either adhere to their values, or they scream "victim!"

The same principles apply for marriage equality. There are religious denominations and clergy who would perform same-sex unions. However, they aren't allowed because fundies think that their beliefs supersede both secular law and the religious freedom of others.

Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy, is an example of this double standard. While he trumpets his own personal religious liberty, he funds the Family Research Council (FRC), a group that has no compunction about limiting freedom.

"The oft-repeated mantra 'you can't legislate morality'--the contention that moral arguments have no place in formulating public policy--is absurd," FRC writes in a brochure opposing same-sex marriage. "It is the duty of legislators to evaluate the right legislation needed to correct some wrong or injustice, or promote some positive or good result."

Isn't that exactly what Mayor Menino is doing - using his sense of morality to correct an injustice?

Contrary to their insincere shrieks, there is no crisis of religious liberty for fundamentalist Christians. The problem is that they have been drunk on their own power for so long that they equate the exercise of religion with forcing others to live by their restrictive rules. Because they can no longer dominate, dictate, and discriminate without push back, they are whining that they are somehow suppressed.

The truth is, Chick-fil-A should be able to open wherever it wants in the same way that I should be able to marry in any state that I want. However, as long as fundies insist on a puritanical pecking order where the "moral" majority rules, they have no basis in which to complain when they can't have their fundie fowl in Boston. The fundies must decide if they want dominion or democracy, but it is doubtful that both ideas can co-exist in the free society they claim to cherish.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Heterosexual Hedonism and Right Wing Hypocrisy: Strip Clubs in Tampa Ready to Cash In on G.O.P. Convention

by Lizette Alvarez for the New York Times:

TAMPA, Fla. — Over at the back door of the 2001 Odyssey, a limo-size tent with flaps — especially designed for discretion and camera-shy guests — is ready to go up. Déjà Vu is welcoming extra “talent” from around the country in its V.I.P. rooms.
And Thee DollHouse is all Americana: women plan to slip out of red, white and blue corsets and offer red, white and blue vodka. The headliner that week is expected to bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain ex-governor from a wilderness state, known for her strong jaw and devotion to guns and God.

“She’s a dead ringer for her,” said Warren Colazzo, co-owner of Thee DollHouse. “It’s just a really good gimmick to get publicity.”

As Tampa gears up for the Republican National Convention, the biggest party it has ever held, the city and its businesses are primping and polishing for the August arrival of tens of thousands of visitors. Like it or not — mostly not, for city officials — Tampa’s well-known strip clubs have joined the welcome wagon.

Club owners here say they have schmoozed with their counterparts in former host cities, like Denver, and have been told that revenue pours in during conventions, sometimes quadrupling earnings from a Super Bowl week. As for party affiliation, this is one place where the country’s caustic partisan differences fall away, owners say.

Angelina Spencer, the executive director of the Association of Club Executives, which serves as a trade association for strip clubs, said an informal survey of convention business in New York and Denver had determined that Republicans dropped more money at clubs, by far.

“Hands down, it was Republicans,” she said. “The average was $150 for Republicans and $50 for Democrats.”

As further evidence of the clubs’ nonpartisan appeal, Don Kleinhans, the owner of the 2001 Odyssey, said when the Promise Keepers, a male evangelical group, came to town years ago, business was rollicking.

“We had phenomenal numbers all weekend, and they walked in wearing badges and name tags and weren’t shy at all,” he said.

James Davis, a spokesman for the Republican National Convention, declined to discuss Tampa’s prominent strip clubs.

“We’re expecting to have a great convention,” Mr. Davis said. “We’re focused completely on having a great convention.”

To be fair, Tampa is known for other things: cigars, Ybor City — the historic district where Cuban and Spanish cigar makers first settled in the late 1800s — three major sports franchises, four Super Bowls and beautiful beaches a short drive away. It is the Florida Gulf Coast’s economic engine and hosts a raucous pirate party every year called Gasparilla.

But Tampa cannot shed its national reputation as the strip club capital of the country. “It’s not true,” said Joe Redner, the owner of the renowned Mons Venus and a man famous for fending off local attempts to close his club. “It would be nice, though.”

The Tampa Bay Times has reported there are 20 strip clubs in Tampa and 30 in the Tampa Bay area. Tampa does not have as many strip clubs as New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston, New York and Las Vegas, owners said. Miami boasts quite a few, too.

Mr. Redner, who has repeatedly brandished the First Amendment, has been arrested 150 or so times and has run often for public office, may be one reason for the city’s reputation. Savvy and colorful, he took on the city in 2000 when it tried to cripple his club; instead, it bolstered his reputation. A Tampa councilman back then, Bob Buckhorn, who is now Tampa’s mayor, backed an ordinance to ban lap dances by keeping customers six feet away from dancers. The rule, intended to curb prostitution and drugs, passed but is mostly not enforced.

During that fight, Mr. Buckhorn recalls saying that he “did not want Tampa to become the lap dance capital of the country.” But the statement got truncated and twisted, like in a game of telephone, then repeated, most recently during the debate over gambling in Florida.

“We wanted Tampa to be a place where we were proud to call home,” said Mr. Buckhorn, a Democrat. “But we have grown so much bigger and moved beyond that small city we were. We don’t think about it anymore.”

Yet he is not without a sense of humor. “I wonder whether the look-alike will be able to see Russia from the stage,” he asked, a question meant for the ex-governor’s doppelgänger.

The spaceship, a much-talked about private V.I.P. room perched atop the 2001 Odyssey like a wedding-cake embellishment, has also helped burnish Tampa’s louche label. It is white, oval, with round windows, a rare prefabricated Futuro house designed by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in the 1960s and 1970s.

“It was named one of the seven wonders of Tampa Bay,” said the Odyssey’s manager, Todd Trause. The provenance of that distinction is hard to decipher.

Inside, Jazmin, 19, prepared to live-chat on a webcam to a faraway customer, one of the club’s new features. She is also preparing for the convention. Given the opportunity to stand up before a politician, she will do her job, naturally, but also share her own tale of financial struggle, as many voters here would do.

Laid off from a job in the Medicaid billing industry, she scraped by as a cashier at a grocery store. The paycheck scarcely covered her car payments, she said. Then a friend of a friend told her about the strip club, and now there she is, saving her money (the most she’s ever made) for nursing school.

“With the economy,” she said, “it’s hard.”

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spokesman for Venango County-based Hate Group Uses Colorado Massacre to Attack Gay People

Hate Group Leaders Use Colorado Massacre To Attack Gay People

by David Badash for The New Civil Rights Movement:

Hours after the tragic shooting at a screening of the new Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, leaders of hate groups began to use the massacre, which left twelve dead — including a six-year old girl — and 50 injured, to demonize and attack gay people.

Bryan Fischer, the public face of the certified anti-gay hate group, American Family Association (and its affiliate the Venango County-based American Family Association of Pennsylvania), said via Twitter, “Chick-fil-A provides free meals to first responders in CO. Let’s see Big Gay demonize that.” The Chick-Fil-A comment is a reference to attacks Chick-Fil-A president and COO Dan Cathy has made on LGBT people and same-sex marriage.

Fischer, whose own attacks on gays have included the false claim that gays “are Nazis,” linked in his tweet to a article noting the local Aurora, Colorado Chick-Fil-A restaurant near the movie theater had opened its doors and served tired police and emergency workers. That Breitbart article used the tweets of anonymous Twitter users to sarcastically claim that it is “heartwarming to see that people can put aside political differences in a time of tragedy.”

Meanwhile, “God Hates Fags” stepped into the mix as well. Margie Phelps, daughter of Westboro Baptist Church scion Fred Phelps, also via Twitter, pointed to a month-old gay pride parade in Colorado and falsely claimed it was to blame for the massacre.

Both the American Family Association and the Westboro Baptist Church, aka God Hates Fags, have been certified as anti-gay hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Birds of a feather…

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Ex-Gay" Extremists Cure Themselves of Their Delusions

But if history be our guide, viciously anti-gay hate groups such as the Venango County-based American Family Association of Pennsylvania won't leave their evil, and harmful, ways behind for another decade or so.

Rift Forms in Movement as Belief in Gay ‘Cure’ Is Renounced

by Erik Eckholm for The New York Times:

For more than three decades, Exodus International has been the leading force in the so-called ex-gay movement, which holds that homosexuals can be “cured” through Christian prayer and psychotherapy.

Exodus leaders claimed its network of ministries had helped tens of thousands rid themselves of unwanted homosexual urges. The notion that homosexuality is not inborn but a choice was seized on by conservative Christian groups who oppose legal protections for gay men and lesbians and same-sex marriage.

But the ex-gay movement has been convulsed as the leader of Exodus, in a series of public statements and a speech to the group’s annual meeting last week, renounced some of the movement’s core beliefs. Alan Chambers, 40, the president, declared that there was no cure for homosexuality and that “reparative therapy” offered false hopes to gays and could even be harmful. His statements have led to charges of heresy and a growing schism within the network.

“For the last 37 years, Exodus has been a bright light, arguably the brightest one for those with same-sex attraction seeking an authentically Christian hope,” said Andrew Comiskey, founder and director of Desert Stream Ministries, based in Kansas City, Mo., one of 11 ministries that defected. His group left Exodus in May, Mr. Comiskey said in an e-mail, “due to leader Alan Chambers’s appeasement of practicing homosexuals who claim to be Christian” as well as his questioning of the reality of “sexual orientation change.”

In a phone interview Thursday from Orlando, Fla., where Exodus has its headquarters, Mr. Chambers amplified on the views that have stirred so much controversy. He said that virtually every “ex-gay” he has ever met still harbors homosexual cravings, himself included. Mr. Chambers, who left the gay life to marry and have two children, said that gay Christians like himself faced a lifelong spiritual struggle to avoid sin and should not be afraid to admit it.

He said Exodus could no longer condone reparative therapy, which blames homosexuality on emotional scars in childhood and claims to reshape the psyche. And in a theological departure that has caused the sharpest reaction from conservative pastors, Mr. Chambers said he believed that those who persist in homosexual behavior could still be saved by Christ and go to heaven.

Only a few years ago, Mr. Chambers was featured in advertisements along with his wife, Leslie, saying, “Change is possible.” But now, he said in the interview, “Exodus needs to move beyond that slogan.”

“I believe that any sexual expression outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is sinful according to the Bible,” Mr. Chambers emphasized. “But we’ve been asking people with same-sex attractions to overcome something in a way that we don’t ask of anyone else,” he said, noting that Christians with other sins, whether heterosexual lust, pornography, pride or gluttony, do not receive the same blanket condemnations.

Mr. Chambers’s comments come at a time of widening acceptance of homosexuality and denunciation of reparative therapy by professional societies that say it is based on faulty science and potentially harmful.

A bill to outlaw “conversion therapy” for minors has passed the California Senate and is now before the State Assembly. Earlier this year, a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, apologized for publishing what he now calls an invalid study, which said many patients had largely or totally switched their sexual orientation.

Defenders of the therapy say that it can bring deep changes in sexual orientation and that the attacks are politically motivated.

David H. Pickup, a therapist in Glendale, Calif., who specializes in the treatment, said restricting it would harm people who are unhappy with their homosexuality by “making them feel that no change is possible at all.”

Mr. Pickup, an officer of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, composed of like-minded therapists, said reparative therapy had achieved profound changes for thousands of people, including himself. The therapy, he said, had helped him confront emotional wounds and “my homosexual feelings began to dissipate and attractions for women grew.”

Some in the ex-gay world are more scathing about Mr. Chambers.

“I think Mr. Chambers is tired of his own personal struggles, so he’s making excuses for them by making sweeping generalizations about others,” said Gregg Quinlan, a conservative lobbyist in New Jersey and president of a support group called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays.

Exodus International, with a budget of $1.5 million provided by donors and member churches, is on a stable footing, Mr. Chambers said. He said the shifts in theology had the support of the Exodus board and had been welcomed by many of the 150 churches that are members in North America, which increasingly have homosexuals in their congregations. More opposition has come from affiliated ministries specifically devoted to sex-related therapies, with 11 quitting Exodus so far while about 70 remain.

In another sign of change, the vice chairman of the Exodus board, Dennis Jernigan, was forced to resign in June after he supported anti-sodomy laws in Jamaica. The board pledged to fight efforts anywhere to criminalize sexual acts between consenting adults.

Robert Gagnon, an associate professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of books on homosexuality and the Bible, last week issued a public call for Mr. Chambers to resign. “My greatest concern has to do with Alan’s repeated assurances to homosexually active ‘gay Christians’ that they will be with him in heaven,” he said in an e-mail.

Gay rights advocates said they were encouraged by Mr. Chambers’s recent turn but remained wary of Exodus, which they feel has caused enormous harm.

“Exodus International played the key role in planting the message that people can go from gay to straight through religion and therapy,” said Wayne Besen, director of Truth Wins Out, a group that refutes what it considers misinformation about gays and lesbians. “And the notion that one can change is the centerpiece of the religious right’s argument for denying us rights.”

Many of the local ministries in Exodus continue to attack gays and lesbians, said David Roberts, editor of the Web site Ex-Gay Watch, and they often have close ties with reparative therapists. He speculated that Mr. Chambers was trying to steer the group in a moderate direction because “they were becoming pariahs” in a society that is more accepting of gay people.

Mr. Chambers said he was simply trying to restore Exodus to its original purpose when it was founded in 1976: providing spiritual support for Christians who are struggling with homosexual attraction.

He said that he was happy in his marriage, with a “love and devotion much deeper than anything I experienced in gay life,” but that he knew this was not feasible for everyone. Many Christians with homosexual urges may have to strive for lives of celibacy.

But those who fail should not be severely judged, he said, adding, “We all struggle or fall in some way.”