Sunday, July 31, 2011

Evangelicals Without Blowhards

By Nicholas Kristof:

In these polarized times, few words conjure as much distaste in liberal circles as “evangelical Christian.”

That’s partly because evangelicals came to be associated over the last 25 years with blowhard scolds. When the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson discussed on television whether the 9/11 attacks were God’s punishment on feminists, gays and secularists, God should have sued them for defamation.

Earlier, Mr. Falwell opined that AIDS was “God’s judgment on promiscuity.” That kind of religious smugness allowed the AIDS virus to spread and constituted a greater immorality than anything that occurred in gay bathhouses.

Partly because of such self-righteousness, the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and, if anything, immoral.

Yet that casual dismissal is profoundly unfair of the movement as a whole. It reflects a kind of reverse intolerance, sometimes a reverse bigotry, directed at tens of millions of people who have actually become increasingly engaged in issues of global poverty and justice.

This compassionate strain of evangelicalism was powerfully shaped by the Rev. John Stott, a gentle British scholar who had far more impact on Christianity than media stars like Mr. Robertson or Mr. Falwell. Mr. Stott, who died a few days ago at the age of 90, was named one of the globe’s 100 most influential people by Time, and in stature he was sometimes described as the equivalent of the pope among the world’s evangelicals.

Mr. Stott didn’t preach fire and brimstone on a Christian television network. He was a humble scholar whose 50-odd books counseled Christians to emulate the life of Jesus — especially his concern for the poor and oppressed — and confront social ills like racial oppression and environmental pollution.

“Good Samaritans will always be needed to succor those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem-Jericho road of brigands,” Mr. Stott wrote in his book “The Cross of Christ.” “Just so Christian philanthropy in terms of relief and aid is necessary, but long-term development is better, and we cannot evade our political responsibility to share in changing the structures that inhibit development. Christians cannot regard with equanimity the injustices that spoil God’s world and demean his creatures.”

Mr. Stott then gave examples of the injustices that Christians should confront: “the traumas of poverty and unemployment,” “the oppression of women,” and in education “the denial of equal opportunity for all.”

For many evangelicals who winced whenever a televangelist made the headlines, Mr. Stott was an intellectual guru and an inspiration. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, who has worked heroically to combat everything from genocide to climate change, told me: “Against the quackery and anti-intellectualism of our movement, Stott made it possible to say you are ‘evangelical’ and not be apologetic.”

The Rev. Jim Wallis, head of a Christian organization called Sojourners that focuses on social justice, added: “John Stott was the very first important evangelical leader to support our work at Sojourners.”

Mr. Stott, who was a brilliant student at Cambridge, also underscored that faith and intellect needn’t be at odds.

Centuries ago, serious religious study was extraordinarily demanding and rigorous; in contrast, anyone could declare himself a scientist and go in the business of, say, alchemy. These days, it’s the reverse. A Ph.D. in chemistry is a rigorous degree, while a preacher can explain the Bible on television without mastering Hebrew or Greek — or even showing interest in the nuances of the original texts.

Those self-appointed evangelical leaders come across as hypocrites, monetizing Jesus rather than emulating him. Some seem homophobic, and many who claim to be “pro-life” seem little concerned with human life post-uterus. Those are the preachers who won headlines and disdain.

But in reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I’ve seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.

I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.

Why does all this matter?

Because religious people and secular people alike do fantastic work on humanitarian issues — but they often don’t work together because of mutual suspicions. If we could bridge this “God gulf,” we would make far more progress on the world’s ills.

And that would be, well, a godsend.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Round Up All Gays"

In a new burst of African homophobia, a government minister in Ghana has drawn support after calling on the country's intelligence services to track down and arrest all gays and lesbians.

Does such brazen evil foreshadow the "Christian" nation that many right-wing extremist groups, such as the Venango County-based American Family Association of Pennsylvania, in the U.S. are fighting to create?

from The Pretoria News:

In a new burst of African homophobia, a government minister in Ghana has drawn support after calling on the country's intelligence services to track down and arrest all gays and lesbians.

The call from Paul Evans Aidoo, the minister for the Western Region of Ghana, marks the latest in a series of expressions of officially condoned homophobia across the continent, which has previously been seen in Malawi, Uganda and South Africa.

Joy FM, a popular radio station in the capital Accra, reported earlier this week that Aidoo, a Catholic, said: “All efforts are being made to get rid of these people in society.” He called for the Bureau of National Investigations to round up gays and called on landlords and tenants to inform on people they suspect of being homosexual. “Once they have been arrested, they will be brought before the law,” he is reported to have said.

The comments from the National Democratic Congress politician come in the feverish run-up to the 2012 elections in the West African country.

There has been controversy over the meaning of a clause in the criminal code of Ghana's 1992 constitution which condemns “unnatural carnal knowledge”.

The constitution guarantees human rights “regardless of race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, religion, creed or gender”, but does not mention sexuality.

The move by Aidoo has drawn support from other politicians, including the general secretary of the People's National Convention (PNC) who told Radio Gold on Tuesday: “Homosexuality is abhorrent. Media discourse across the world is being dictated by the vulgar opinions of homosexuals. Ghana and probably Africa cannot sustain the menace of homosexuals.”

The lifestyle of gay, lesbian, bisexuals and transgender people are listed as criminal in 38 African countries, according to South African campaigners.

Last year, the launch of a parliamentary bill in Uganda proposing the death penalty for same-sex encounters sparked a campaign of “outing” of a dozen lesbians and gay men by a Kampala newspaper.

One of those named, gay rights activist David Kato, was beaten to death with a hammer in January. The law is still under discussion in Uganda but after intense international pressure, MPs supporting it now say imprisonment rather than the death penalty would be appropriate.

In Malawi, two men who staged a partnership ceremony in December 2009 were jailed for 14 years. They were pardoned in April 2010 after pressure from European and American aid donors.

The prime ministers of Zimbabwe and Kenya, where new constitutions are under debate, have in the past year denounced homosexuality.

South Africa, whose constitution recognises same-sex partnerships and condemns discrimination, has an uneasy relationship with homosexuality: township practice of “corrective” gang rape of lesbians seems on the increase. The current Mr Gay World is a South African, Charl van den Berg, and the country is hosting the contest next year. - The Independent

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Does Norway Attack Amidst Rise of Right Wing Extremism in Europe Foreshadow the Effects of Hate in Venango County?

Should Venango County worry about the Right Wing Hate Group in its midst: the American Family Association of Pennsylvania?

Norway Attacks Put Spotlight on Rise of Right-Wing Sentiment in Europe

from The New York Times:

BERLIN — The attacks in Oslo on Friday have riveted new attention on right-wing extremists not just in Norway but across Europe, where opposition to Muslim immigrants, globalization, the power of the European Union and the drive toward multiculturalism has proven a potent political force and, in a few cases, a spur to violence.

The success of populist parties appealing to a sense of lost national identity has brought criticism of minorities, immigrants and in particular Muslims out of the beer halls and Internet chat rooms and into mainstream politics. While the parties themselves generally do not condone violence, some experts say a climate of hatred in the political discourse has encouraged violent individuals.

“I’m not surprised when things like the bombing in Norway happen, because you will always find people who feel more radical means are necessary,” said Joerg Forbrig, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin who has studied far-right issues in Europe. “It literally is something that can happen in a number of places and there are broader problems behind it.”

Last November a Swedish man was arrested in the southern city of Malmö in connection with more than a dozen unsolved shootings of immigrants, including one fatality. The shootings, nine of which took place between June and October 2010, appeared to be the work of an isolated individual. More broadly in Sweden, though, the far-right Sweden Democrats experienced new success at the polls. The party entered Parliament for the first time after winning 5.7 percent of the vote in the general election last September.

The bombing and shootings in Oslo also have served as a wake-up call for security services in Europe and the United States that in recent years have become so focused on Islamic terrorists that they may have underestimated the threat of domestic radicals, including those upset by what they see as the influence of Islam.

In the United States the deadly attacks have reawakened memories of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, where a right-wing extremist, Timothy J. McVeigh, used a fertilizer bomb to blow up a federal government building, killing 168 people. That deadly act had long since been overshadowed by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

According to Mr. Forbrig, isolated right-wing groups in Europe would rise up and then quickly disappear from the ’60s into the ’90s. But in recent years far-right statements have appeared to lose much of their post-World War II taboo even among some prominent political parties.

A combination of increased migration from abroad and largely unrestricted movement of people within an enlarged European Union, such as the persecuted Roma minority, helped lay the groundwork for a nationalist, at times starkly chauvinist, revival.

Groups are gaining traction from Hungary to Italy, but it is particularly apparent in northern European countries that long have had liberal immigration policies. The rapid arrival of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants, many of them Muslims, led to a significant backlash in places like Denmark, where the Danish People’s Party has 25 out of 179 seats in Parliament, and the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom won 15.5 percent of the vote in the 2010 general election.

Mr. Wilders famously compared the Koran, the holy book of Islam, to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” Both the Danish and Dutch right-wing parties are backing precarious minority governments while not directly participating by having ministers, and inching toward mainstream acceptance in the process.

Friday’s attacks were swiftly condemned by leaders from across the political spectrum in Europe. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was particularly sharp in speaking out against what she called an “appalling crime.” The sort of hatred that could fuel such an action, she said, went against “freedom, respect and the belief in peaceful coexistence.”

Yet some of the primary motivations cited by the suspect in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik, are now mainstream issues. Mrs. Merkel, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain all recently declared an end to multiculturalism. Multiculturalism “has failed, utterly failed,” Mrs. Merkel told fellow Christian Democrats last October, though stressing that immigrants were welcome in Germany.

Perhaps the most surprising about-turn came in Britain, a country that has long considered itself among the most immigrant-friendly in Europe until a series of coordinated bomb attacks in London six years ago. In one of his most noticed speeches, Mr. Cameron told the Munich security conference in February that the country’s decades-old policy of multiculturalism had encouraged “segregated communities” where Islamic extremism can thrive.

France, a fiercely secularist state where all religion is banned from the public sphere, was long isolated and berated for its staunch opposition to the laissez-faire of multiculturalism. Girls who show up in public schools there with the Muslim headscarf are suspended, as are teachers or any other employees in the public sector.

If Mr. Sarkozy appeared to soften his understanding of official secularism, or “laïcité” earlier in his political career, even toying with the idea of affirmative action, he has recently scrambled to backtrack. He held a nationwide debate on “national identity” last year and earlier this year banned Muslim full-face veils like niqab, as well as the burqa.

That hasn’t stopped the far-right National Front, now led by Marine Le Pen, the daughter of its founder, to surge in opinion polls, with some surveys predicting that she might make it into next year’s presidential runoff. She compared Muslims praying in the streets outside overcrowded mosques to the Nazi occupation, and decries the European Union and the euro.

Earlier this month the daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung reported that neo-Nazis were attacking the offices of the far-left Left Party with increasing frequency. In the former East German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, statistics showed that there were 30 such attacks in the first half of 2011 compared to 44 attacks in all of 2010.

Due to its Nazi past, Germany keeps a watchful eye on right-wing extremists, and the parties of the far right have a hard time gaining traction, with no representatives in Parliament. In Finland, the True Finns, a populist nationalist party founded in 1995, became the third largest party represented in the Finnish Parliament after winning 19 percent of the vote in April. And Norway’s Progress Party, a right-wing populist party, is the second largest in the country, winning 23 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary election in September 2009.

“The Norwegian right-wing groups have always been disorganized, haven’t had charismatic leaders or the kind of well-organized groups with financial support that you see in Sweden,” said Kari Helene Partapuoli, director of the Norwegian Center against Racism. “But in the last two or three years our organization and other antifascist networks have warned of an increased temperature of debate and that violent groups had been established.”

But neither does Norway exist in a vacuum. Its right-wing scene is connected to the rest of Europe through the Internet forums where hate speech proliferates and through right-wing demonstrations that draw an international mix of participants.

“This may be the act of a lone, mad, paranoid individual,” said Hajo Funke, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin who studies rightist extremism, referring to the right-wing fundamentalist Christian charged in connection with the killings, “but the far-right milieu creates an atmosphere that can lead such people down that path of violence.”

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Terror Attack by Right-Wing Christian Extremist in Norway Kills At Least 91

from The New York Times:

OSLO — The Norwegian police on Saturday charged a 32-year-old man, whom they identified as a Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections, over the bombing of a government center here and a shooting attack on a nearby island that together left at least 91 people dead.

The police said they did not know if the man, identified by the Norwegian media as Anders Behring Breivik, was part of a larger conspiracy. He is being questioned under the country’s terrorism laws, the police said, and is cooperating with the investigation of the attacks, the deadliest on Norwegian soil since World War II.

“We are not sure whether he was alone or had help,” a police official, Roger Andresen, said at a televised news conference. “What we know is that he is right-wing and a Christian fundamentalist.” So far Mr. Breivik has not been linked to any anti-jihadist groups, he said.

On Saturday, King Harald and Queen Sonja met with survivors of the camp shooting and their family members at a hotel outside Oslo.

The prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who also met with survivors on Saturday, would not speculate on a motive for the attacks.

“Compared to other countries I wouldn’t say we have a big problem with right-wing extremists in Norway,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters at a news conference. “But we have had some groups, we have followed them before, and our police is aware that there are some right-wing groups.”

As details of the shooting continued to unfold, soldiers arrived in Oslo on Saturday to secure government buildings. The explosions here, from one or more bombs, turned the tidy Scandinavian capital into a scene reminiscent of terrorist attacks in Baghdad or Oklahoma City, panicking people and blowing out the windows of government buildings, including one that housed the office of the prime minister.

Even as the police locked down a large area of the city after the blast, the suspect, dressed as a police officer, entered the youth camp on the island of Utoya, about 19 miles northwest of Oslo, a Norwegian security official said, and opened fire. “He said it was a routine check in connection with the terror attack in Oslo,” one witness told VG Nett, the Web site of a national newspaper.

The police said the suspect had used “a machine pistol” in the attack, but declined to provide additional details.

At least 84 people, some as young as 16, were killed on the island, the police said Saturday on national television. The death toll could rise as they continue to search for bodies in the waters around the island.

In a news conference on Saturday, the Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, confirmed that former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland had made a speech on Utoya hours before the shooting.

Adrian Pracon, who had been working in an information booth on the island, told the BBC that almost everyone on Utoya — about 700 people — had gathered after reports of the Oslo bombing.

It was at that point, Mr. Pracon told the BBC, that a man in a police uniform arrived on the island and opened fire on the group.

“People were falling dead right in front of me,” Mr. Pracon said. “I ran through the campus to the tent area. I saw the gunman — two people started to talk to him and two seconds later they were both shot.”

He described the gunman as “sure, calm and controlled.”

“He screamed at us that we would all die,” Mr. Pracon said.

Terrified youths jumped into the water and “started to swim in a panic, and Utoya is far from the mainland,” said Bjorn Jarle Roberg-Larsen, a Labor Party member who spoke by phone with teenagers on the island, which has no bridge to the mainland. “Others are hiding. Those I spoke with don’t want to talk more. They’re scared to death.”

Many could not flee in time.

“He first shot people on the island,” a 15-year-old camper named Elise told The Associated Press. “Afterward he started shooting people in the water.”

Mr. Pracon said he also jumped into the water, but realized he could not reach the mainland and turned back.

“I saw him standing 10 meters from me, shooting at the people who were swimming,” he told the BBC. “He aimed his machine gun at me and I screamed at him, ‘No please no, don’t do it.’ I don’t know if he listened to me but he spared me.”

Mr. Pracon said he was huddled freezing in the cold rain with a number of other people, when the gunman returned later.

“The shooting started again and people were falling on top of me, on my legs and falling into the water,” he said, according to the BBC, “that’s when many people died. I just had to shield myself behind them, praying he wouldn’t see me.”

The gunman came so close that Mr. Pracon said he could feel the man’s breath and the warmth of the gun barrel, “But I didn’t move and that’s what saved my life,” he told the BBC.

Mr. Breivik was captured “by the emergency forces,” police officials said Saturday, but declined to provide further detail about the circumstances of his capture.

“As for right now, one man has been apprehended, and that’s all I can say,” Mr. Andresen said. The acting police chief, Sveinung Sponheim, said the suspect’s Internet postings “suggest that he has some political traits directed toward the right, and anti-Muslim views, but if that was a motivation for the actual act remains to be seen.”

He said the suspect had been seen in Oslo before the explosions. The police and other authorities declined to say what the suspect’s motivations might have been, but many speculated that the target was Mr. Stoltenberg’s liberal government.

The police said they also recovered explosives on the island.

Mr. Breivik had registered a farm-related business in Rena, in eastern Norway, which the authorities said allowed him to order a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, an ingredient that can be used to make explosives.

Reuters quoted a spokeswoman from a farm supply chain as saying that the suspect had purchased six metric tons of fertilizer in May. “These are goods that were delivered on May 4,” Oddny Estenstad, a spokeswoman at agricultural supply chain Felleskjoepet Agri, told Reuters, without giving the exact type of fertilizer purchased.

Authorities were investigating whether the chemical may have been used to make the bombs.

A Facebook page matching his name and the photo given out by the police was set up just a few days ago. It listed his religion as Christian and his politics as conservative. It said he enjoys hunting, the video games World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 2, and books including Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and George Orwell’s “1984.”

There was also a Twitter account apparently belonging to Mr. Breivik. It had one item, posted last Sunday: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”

The attacks bewildered a nation better known for its active diplomacy and peacekeeping missions than as a target for extremists.

In Oslo, office workers and civil servants said that at least two blasts, which ripped through the cluster of modern office buildings around the central Einar Gerhardsen plaza, echoed across the city in quick succession around 3:20 p.m. local time. Giant clouds of light-colored smoke rose hundreds of feet as a fire burned in one of the damaged structures, a six-story office building that houses the oil ministry.

The force of the explosions blew out nearly every window in the 17-story office building across the street from the oil ministry, and the streets on each side were strewn with glass and debris. The police combed through the debris in search of clues.

Mr. Stoltenberg’s office is on the 16th floor in a towering rectangular block whose facade and lower floors were damaged. The justice ministry also has its offices in the building.

Norwegian authorities said they believed that a number of tourists were in the central district at the time of the explosion, and that the toll would surely have been higher if not for the fact that many Norwegians were on vacation and many more had left their offices early for the weekend.

“Luckily, it’s very empty,” said Stale Sandberg, who works in a government agency a few blocks down the street from the prime minister’s office.

After the explosions, the city filled with an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability. “We heard two loud bangs and then we saw this yellow smoke coming from the government buildings,” said Jeppe Bucher, 18, who works on a ferry boat less than a mile from the bomb site. “There was construction around there, so we thought it was a building being torn down.”

He added, “Of course I’m scared, because Norway is such a neutral country.”

For some Norwegians on Saturday, the scale of the attacks, and the fact that they appeared to have been carried out by one of their own, seemed particularly hard to grasp.

“It is difficult to think this is coming from inside our country, not outside,” said Thorbjorn Jagland, a Norwegian who is secretary general of the Council of Europe. “This is something surprising for all of us.”

“This is something that is not possible to understand at all,” he told BBC radio.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lies Are Commonplace in Religious Right Data

This article highlights many of the same tactics used by the Venango County-based Hate Group, the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, to demonize, marginalize and exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

from Holy Bullies:

The big news today is about the DOMA hearing and how Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) called out Focus on the Family's Tom Minnery for his distortion of a study.

Minnery cited a Department of Health and Human Services study to make the case that children do better in a heterosexual household as opposed to a same-sex household. Franken, however, proved that Minnery had distorted the study's wording.

While everyone is reveling (with good reason) in this pivotal moment from the hearing, let's not forget one thing.

What Minnery did was not an anomaly. His distortion was not a one-time thing from a lazy employee of an otherwise honorable organization.

Minnery's misreading of study in order present a bad picture of same-sex households is commonplace in religious right data. Often times, religious right spokespeople will cite studies which have nothing to do with same-sex households in order to claim that these households are not the best place to raise children.

Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage committed this grievance last year by misrepresenting a study of abused children.

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council committed the same intentional faux pas earlier this year by citing two studies, neither having anything to do with same-sex households,

And we're not just talking about studies regarding households, either.When groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, or the National Organization for Marriage aren't busy scaring people with how the gay community wants to "recruit children," they busy themselves distorting all sorts of legitimate data, creating conclusions that the researchers never intended or worked for.

We know this because at least 11 of these researchers complained about this. They include:

National Institute of Health director Francis Collins, who rebuked the right-wing American College of Pediatricians for falsely claiming that he stated sexual orientation is not hardwired by DNA.

Six researchers of a 1997 Canadian study (Robert S. Hogg, Stefan A. Strathdee, Kevin J.P. Craib, Michael V. Shaughnessy, Julio Montaner, and Martin T. Schehter), who complained in 2001 that religious right groups were distorting their work to claim that gay men have a short life span.

The authors of the book Unequal Opportunity: Health Disparities Affecting Gay and Bisexual Men in the United States (Professors Richard J. Wolitski, Ron Stall, and Ronald O. Valdiserri), who complained that their work was being distorted by Focus on the Family.

University College London professor Michael King, who complained that the American Family Association was distorting his work on depression and suicide in LGBT individuals

University of Utah professor Lisa Diamond, who complained that NARTH (the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), a group which also share board members with the American College of Pediatricians, distorted her research on sexual orientation.

Dr. Carol Gilligan, Professor of Education and Law at New York University, who complained that former Focus on the Family head James Dobson misrepresented her research to attack LGBT families.

Dr. Kyle Pruett, Ph.D., a professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, who has also complained that Focus on the Family distorted his work.

Dr. Robert Spitzer, Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, who has consistently complained that religious right groups distorted his study to claim that the LGBT orientation is easily changeable.

Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology at New York University, who has had to, on more than one occasion, cry foul over how religious right groups distorted her work on LGBT families.

Greg Remafedi, Professor at the University of Minnesota, who has complained several times about how religious right groups such as the American College of Pediatricians and PFOX have distorted his work, all to no avail. The American College of Pediatricians refused his request to remove his work from their site.

And late last year, John Horgan, a science journalist and Director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology, became the 11th researcher to complain.

These are the reasons why many of us are celebrating Franken's dressing down of Minnery. It revealed to so many what a lot of us in the gay community have known about the religious right for years - that all of their talk about "morals" and "values" and "personally held religious beliefs" are a dodge. They are a smokescreen which these organizations use to hide their deceptions.

When it comes to the gay community, the vast majority of religious right studies and data have been fallacious distortions designed to exploit fear, not educate.

It's not unintentional. These folks - Maggie Gallgher, Peter Sprigg, James Dobson, et. al. - know that when they misrepresent studies, particularly in front of Congress, they are committing fraud but they don't care as long as they can get away with it.

After today, however, it will be more difficult for them to get away with it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sen. Franken Destroys Focus On The Family Witness, Exposes Misuse Of HHS Study

During July 20th Senate DOMA hearings, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) destroyed Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery’s argument that children are better off with opposite-sex parents by demonstrating how Minnery misrepresented an HHS study. The study — which Minnery cited to oppose marriage equality — actually found that children do best in two-parent households, regardless of the parents’ gender. Watch it:

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Lavender Scare: Is It Still Going On In Venango County?

The stories in this trailer may seem like days gone by, but in Venango County, and across Pennsylvania, where there still are no protections against discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people in employment, housing, education, or other areas of public accommodation, they are all too real today.

What are you doing to help make change?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why LGBT History Is Important

If only Venango County school districts could break free from the tyranny and demonizing propaganda of a local anti-LGBT hate group, the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, to help all young people survive and thrive in their communities.

By David Mixner:

An enormous amount of energy went into Governor Jerry Brown's office in California surrounding legislation insisting that the LGBT community's struggle and history be included in text books and class room discussion. Happily, it was announced late Thursday that Brown had signed the FAIR Education Act (SB 48, Leno) into law. Congratulations to all involved in this great success, especially Senator Mark Leno, who authored the bill, and Governor Brown whose signature made the bill a reality.

A friend of mine today said he didn't understand why it was so important and shouldn't we just be included with everyone else. Well, he is right on the second point, we absolutely should be included with everyone else in the text books. And as to his first point, nothing could be more important.

There are many ways to kill people and one of the ways is to pretend that they never existed at all. Remove all traces of their journey and hope no one discovers their story. Often the issue of self-esteem among young LGBT citizens stems from the fact that they think our common denominator is just sexually based. They have no idea of their noble, proud and heroic traditions and actions of their pioneers.

LGBT history is filled with dramatic courage, dignity and determination and innovative and extraordinary leaders.

Unlike other communities that have struggled to preserve and create awareness about their history, we have seen systematic attempts to destroy and distort our journey. When we lost so many of our storytellers from AIDS, their surviving family members usually destroyed any trace that their family member was a LGBT citizen or had AIDS. Tens of thousands of stories of courage and heroism were lost. Boxes upon boxes of historical documents were burned. The shame of the families about their LGBT son or daughter made it even more difficult to keep our history intact.

In addition, we have organized groups now attempting to quash any positive role models, stories or epic struggles by this community. Some have linked us to Nazis and others insist we are nothing but pedophiles. Any positive portrayal of a community whose history is rich and full would threaten those lies.

If you feel like you have come out of nothing then you might feel you are nothing. If you think only sex is the basis of our journey then you will miss the remarkable stories that define this community as one of heroes, heroines and a very proud people.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is It A Choice? A Scientist's View

When Tim Pawlenty said the science was "in dispute” about whether being gay is genetic, that sure came as surprise to molecular biologist Dean Hamer, Co-Director of the OUT IN THE SILENCE Campaign.

By Dr. Dean Hamer for The Advocate:

In a recent interview, Tim Pawlenty was asked “Is being gay a choice?” The presidential hopeful replied that “the science in that regard is in dispute.”

As a working molecular biologist, that was certainly a surprise to me.

In fact, the scientific community has long regarded sexual orientation – whether gay, straight, or somewhere in between – as a phenotype: an observable set of properties that varies among individuals and is deeply rooted in biology. For us, the role of genetics in sexual behavior is about as “disputable” as the role of evolution in biology. Come to think of it, pretty much the same folks are opposed to both ideas.

The empirical evidence for the role of genetics in sexual orientation has steadily mounted since I first entered the field in the early 1990s. Back then, the only quantitative data was derived from studies of unrepresentative and potentially biased samples of self-identified gay men and lesbian. But in the intervening 20 years, studies of twins – the mainstay of human population genetics – have been conducted on systematically ascertained populations in three different countries. These studies are notable because they have large sample sizes that are representative of the overall population, they’re conducted by independent university-based investigators using well-established statistical methods, and the results are published in the peer-reviewed literature.

Each of these studies has led to the same fundamental conclusion: genes play a major role in human sexual orientation. By contrast, shared environmental factors such as education, parenting style, or presumably even exposure to Lady Gaga, have little if anything to do with people's orientation. While there is a substantial amount of variation that cannot be ascribed to either heritable or shared environment, the differences might also be due to biological traits that are not inherited in a simple additive manner.

One criticism frequently leveled at my work was that sexual orientation couldn't possibly be inherited because “gays don't have kids.” As the gay father of a daughter with lesbian mothers, I always had to shake my head in disbelief – but now there is a solid scientific explanation for how genes that increase same-sex attraction might persist or even increase in the population. Careful family studies by two groups of investigators show that the same inherited factors that favor male homosexuality actually increase the fecundity of female maternal relatives, and that this effect is sufficient to balance out the decreased number of offspring for gay men and maintain the genes over the course of natural selection. This explanation may not be the only one, but it serves to show that the evolutionary paradox is not necessarily overwhelming.

Another criticism frequently brought up by politically motivated critics of the research is that there is still no single identified "gay gene." However, the same is true for height, skin color, handedness, frequency of heart disease and many other traits that have a large inherited component but no dominant gene. This doesn't mean that sexual orientation is a choice; it simply confirms that sexual orientation is complex, with many genes contributing to the phenotype.

In certain animal model systems, the precise genes involved in sexual partner choice have in fact been identified and their neuro-biochemical pathways have been worked out in detail. Humans may be more socially and culturally complex, but it is likely that some of these mechanisms are preserved, as they are for every other behavioral trait we know.

Given the accumulated evidence, why might Pawlenty assert that the scientific community is still debating the role of biology in sexual orientation? Probably because that's what the religious fundamentalist groups that vehemently oppose LGBT rights want people to think, and have spent considerable time, effort and money trying to promote.

There is good reason for their opposition to the scientific findings. Studies in college classrooms have shown that exposure of students to information about the causes of sexual orientation has a direct, positive influence on their opinions about LGBT civil rights. This fits with polling data showing that people who believe that gays are "born that way" are generally supportive of full equality, whereas more than two thirds of those who believe it is "a choice" are so opposed that they favor the re-criminalization of same-sex relations.

I would never want my life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness to be subject to a DNA test or any other sort of scientific analysis. Basic rights are just that – basic. But it is essential to acknowledge that lack of scientific knowledge can actually result in having our rights and freedoms taken away through the actions of misinformed voters, legislators and judges.

At least Pawlenty acknowledged that science has some role to play. I doubt that would be the case for his competitor Michele Bachman, who considers sexual orientation to be so malleable that people can “pray away the gay”. She's hopeless. With Pawlenty, it might just take some education – and plenty of Lady G, of course.

Dean Hamer is a molecular biologist who works on human genetics and HIV prevention and is the author of several scientific books including The Science of Desire. When he's not in the lab, he is visiting small towns and rural communities with his husband Joe Wilson on the OUT IN THE SILENCE Campaign.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

American Psychological Association Says: "Christian Efforts to 'Pray Away the Gay' are Harmful"

Pray Away the Gay at Bachmann's Clinic?
report from ABC News Nightline

from ABC World News:

Leading mental health experts today strongly condemned the Christian counseling center owned by GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus for engaging in a discredited therapy designed to convert gays to straights through prayer and self-reflection.

"This is so far outside the mainstream it's practically on Mars," said Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on the practice of gay conversions.

Marcus Bachmann had denied the family's suburban Minneapolis treatment centers employed so-called reparative therapy in a newspaper interview five years ago, but ABC News reported Monday on the experience of a former patient, and on an undercover operation mounted by gay rights advocates. Both provided evidence that practice is occurring there.

The "path for my therapy would be to read the Bible, pray to God that I would no longer be gay," said Andrew Ramirez, who was 17 years old at the time he sought help from Bachmann & Associates in suburban Minneapolis. "And God would forgive me if I were straight."

An undercover video shot by the group Truth Wins Out shows a Bachmann & Associates therapist telling a gay client that God designed men to be attracted to women, and with prayer and effort he could eventually become straight.

Both Drescher and Dr. Clinton Anderson of the American Psychological Association, the nation's leading professional organization for psychologists, told ABC News that efforts to convert patients from gay to straight not only don't work, they can actually harm patients.

"They may feel more depressed, more anxious, some people may feel more suicidal because this treatment didn't work," Drescher said. "There's a lot of technical language that sounds like mainstream psychology or mainstream psychiatry, but it's not."

Gay rights advocates decried the practice, circulating a petition calling on Bachmann to disavow the practice. Officials at the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign said they would be deeply concerned if federal or state funds went to support it.

"It would be a real disservice to the people who are harmed if any kind of public money were to be going towards the clinic that practiced them," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, the group's spokesman.

Bachmann & Associates has received tens of thousands of dollars in state and federal funds, but it is not clear whether any of the public money was used to support these therapies. Questions about this sent to the Bachmann campaign went unanswered.

Rep. Bachmann, her Congressional office, and her campaign staff remained silent on the issue -- other than to say the congresswoman is proud of the Christian counseling center that she and her husband have co-owned since 2003. The center's web site was unresponsive Tuesday.

Bachmann Silent on Allegations Her Clinic Offers Gay Conversion Therapy