Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Another Reason You Should Want Gay/Lesbian Marriage (Hint: Because It’s Wonderful)

By: Martin Kantor, MD
Gay Pride Week is among the best of times to contemplate the political realities of gay marriage. It is crucial that marriage be an option for those gay men, as well as lesbians, who strongly believe that being officially married feels right, and should be available to them without their having to beg for it, or having to spend too many hours away from home trying to alter the political scene just to get something they should by rights already have.
But the issue of “is it desirable for you?” is as important as the issue of “should it be legal for everyone?” For gay men and lesbians need to see marriage not only in terms of its practical benefits, but also in terms of “what are its joys as well as its challenges?” Will you be contented if you enter into a permanent gay or lesbian partnership? Is gay/lesbian marriage the royal road to your happiness?
Gay and lesbian marriagelike anything elsehas its downsides. It’s squarer, more establishment, more routine, and more predictable than any of the alternatives. You lose some freedom, you have to make some compromises, and you have to think of someone besides yourself. You take on some financial risk and you take on emotional risk too just by getting involved with and trusting another person. But in my opinion being single is even harder, and far less fun. Being married is a sanctuary; it keeps you healthy and stabilizes you emotionally; it keeps you from needing to depend on the kindnesses of strangers; it helps you build a life by giving you something to do and someone to do it with. Professionally you will be better able to concentrate on your job instead of expending all your energy searching. And it helps you be happy forever, not just when you are young. Should you get sick you will have a caring hand to help make you well, and when you die you will have something to leave behind, and someone to leave it to.
So my message at this time is this: work not only to make such marriage a political reality, also work at making a permanent partnership your personal goal.
Make that happen for you as it happened to me. Discover the happiness, joy, peace, and harmony of a wonderful marital relationship. Help others partake of this particular blessing. Be also blessed on your own by what you have helped create. 
Martin Kantor, MD
This book is an invaluable resource manual and survival guide for gay men who often turn to peers, parents, educators, or the media for direction, only to encounter misleading myths about gay life, such as the notion that "coming out solves everything."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Debate Over Same-sex Marriage, 1953-1959—and Sixty Years Later

By: Jim Elledge

On Sunday morning, May 6, Vice-President Joe Biden looked Meet the Press host David Gregory straight in the eye and announced his support of same-sex marriage. While not quite the second “shot heard round the world,” it nevertheless heralded a new, and long overdue, support of equality for all Americans. Within days, President Barack Obama made his own stance public. His views had evolved, and now he, too, would support equality in marriage. Had it not been for the unblinking eye of TV, Gregory’s moxie, and Biden’s honesty, we’d probably still be in the dark about Obama and what may very well be a deciding factor in the next election among right-wing Christians—and right-wing others.

Many of us believe that the debate over what is usually called “gay marriage” is a relatively new phenomenon in this country. We typically believe it’s a product of the push for human rights by various political ideologies at the end of the twentieth century, a consequence of TV’s inclusivity (from its Uncle Tom-ish—or would be Auntie Mame-ish?—Three’s Company to the much more with-it Modern Life), and the result of the liberalism of many icons of popular culture, from Brangelina to Lady Gaga. But that’s not the case. The debate originated in the 1950s.

While I was compiling the essays in the three-volume Queers in American Popular Culture that I edited for Praeger/ABC-Clio (2010), C. Todd White submitted an eye-opening essay that he’d written entitled “Marry, Mary! (Quite Contrary): Homosexual Marriage in ONE Magazine, 1953-1959” to me. In it, White shines the spotlight on the debate among queer people—not between liberals and conservatives—about same-sex marriage as it played out in L.A.’s leading magazine for gay men and women. Appearing in its August 1953 issue, E.B. Saunders’ “Reformer’s Choice: Marriage License or Just License?” was the first published article to explore that debate, often tongue-in-cheek, and caused a stir.

Saunders succinctly revealed the complexity of the concept of gay marriage in Cold War America when he announced that the debate was premature: “Is it not a bit crazy to talk of homosexual marriage when homosexual sex is still forbidden?” In every state in the Union, same-sex sexual activities were illegal, and those caught engaged in them were subject to fines and/or prison terms. Premature or not, “homosexual marriage” became a hot topic in ONE’s Letters to the Editor column in subsequent issues. Interestingly, many gays pooh-poohed the idea because they were against aping heterosexual conventions. Eventually, the hubbub died down, ONE published other pieces, subscribers wrote other letters, and in June 1969, the world of gay men and women changed forever because of the riot at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

Almost sixty years ago, the first debate of same-sex marriage was noted in an obscure magazine with a tiny subscription base and quickly forgotten. Then as now, popular culture played an important role in the debate. Then as now, it was a complicated issue. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Christianity is a Queer Thing

By: Jay Emerson Johnson

Religion is by far the biggest roadblock on the journey toward full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. For that fact alone, secular activists ignore religion at their own peril. This is especially true in the United States, a country that supposedly separates “church” from “state” in its social policy deliberations. But of course, voters rarely if ever leave their religious convictions behind when they enter the voting booth. Unless and until people of faith and religious institutions come on board with LGBT social justice, the movement will stall.

So I am committed to changing religious discourse on sexuality and gender for the sake of social justice, and great strides have been made in that regard over the last fifteen years. I am just as passionate about changing that discourse for the sake of religion, for religious practice, for spirituality. LGBT-identified people, both today and historically, offer profound insights for that work – not for themselves alone, but for everyone.

As a priest in the Episcopal Church and a Christian theologian, I no longer worry about how to justify the presence of “homosexuals” in Christian churches. That argument has been made repeatedly and persuasively for decades now. I am much more interested in and passionate about the potential of LGBT sensibilities to transform religion itself; and indeed, those sensibilities have already been doing that kind of work for many decades. Some would argue that such work has been going on for centuries.

In both my academic and pastoral work, I find the insights of “queer theorists” to be particularly helpful in transforming contemporary religion, and especially for me, Christianity.

“Queer” means different things to different people, of course. Prior to the twentieth century, “queer” was a somewhat benign synonym for whatever was unusual, rather odd, or a bit peculiar. It eventually attached to those who were perceived to be “homosexual” or those who didn’t quite conform to standard ways of acting like a man or a woman.

In the 1990s, some individuals and communities, especially in the United States, retrieved “queer” in a more positive yet intentionally counter-cultural fashion. At roughly the same time, “queer theory” also emerged as a burgeoning academic discipline which has, in some locations, eclipsed “gay and lesbian studies” as the preferred mode of analyzing, interrogating, and reflecting on the spectrum of diverse sexualities and genders.

I understand queer theorizing to be rooted in a deep suspicion of fixed and stable gender identities, which also extends that critical analysis toward similar complexities regarding race and ethnicity, and class and economics, and how these intersect with political policies and ideologies.

I am particularly fond of William Turner’s musings about whether everyone might in some sense, and at various times, be “queer,” since queerness refers to the experience of not fitting in to established and assumed categories of experience or patterns of relation. I believe that adopting this rather “queer” posture in Christianity offers enormous potential. Beyond apologetic or assimilationist arguments, in other words, one can find queer insights in the history of Christianity that carry the potential to revitalize and transform not only the academic discipline of theology, but also the practice of Christian faith and ministry, and not only for the benefit of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people but for the whole people of God. As Elizabeth Stuart has argued, “Christianity itself is a queer thing.”

I am so proud to have worked with my friend and colleague Donald Boisvert in collecting and editing the essays in the two-volume anthology, QueerReligion. The breadth and depth of these essays, spanning both historical eras and religious traditions, bear ample witness to the queer transformation of religion. Working on that project renewed my hope, not only for LGBT-identified people, but for everyone who cares to ponder the significance of religion in the project of human and, indeed, planetary thriving.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Queer Religion: An Interview with Co-editor Donald L. Boisvert

What prompted you to co-edit Queer Religion?  What “message” did you want to convey?

When Jay and I started thinking about Queer Religion, our intent was to make it an all-purpose 3-volume reference collection looking at religion and same-sex desire.  There’s lots of material out there on religion and homosexuality, but no one had really attempted to bring it all together in an accessible yet scholarly manner.  That was our challenge.  We eventually whittled the collection down to 2 volumes, with the first providing a general historical survey and the second focusing on more contemporary manifestations of “queer” religious writing.  Actually, the two volumes follow the general arc of the historical development of the LGBT movement.  We also wanted to be as inclusive as we could of non-Christian voices and perspectives, though that is always a challenge.  We didn’t necessarily have a particular “message” to convey, though we did want to demonstrate that religion and same-sex desire are not mutually exclusive.  We were fairly insistent on including the word Queer in the title, so as to be quite clear about the overall inclusiveness of the volumes.

What was the highlight of your research?  In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most?  What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

The three introductions that we wrote for the collection provide the reader, I think, with a really good summary of the issues and challenges of studying and writing about religion and same-sex desire—and, of course, of actually living as an LGBTQ religious or spiritual person.  There aren’t any really big discoveries to be made, if only to be pleasantly surprised about the fact that religious thought is not totally negative when it comes to queer desire.  Queer Religion provides an eclectic mix of essays written by veteran and new voices, but it also brings together different styles of writing, from the scholarly to the autobiographical.  That was important for us.  We wanted to show that this was not just an academic enterprise, but an intensely personal one, and that, for queer people, religion is so much more than something distant and oppressive.
How did your research change your outlook on religion and same-sex desire?

Speaking for myself, it didn’t fundamentally change my outlook.  Both Jay and I have written extensively about these issues.  But what editing Queer Religion did do for me was to reaffirm my hope and my genuine joy at reading and hearing, once again, the beauty and wonder of the queer religious voice, as well as its amazing variance.

How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas set forth?  Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?

It’s always a bit difficult to gauge people’s reactions.  Reviews have been positive, and some have remarked on the attractive design of the collection.  Content-wise, it’s still making its way, but I think it will become one of those unavoidable reference works on religion and same-sex desire.  And that’s really all we could ask for.  There’s always more to be done.  A collection of essays written by young religious queers would really be important.  Maybe someone out there will take up the challenge.  

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a new book looking at masculinities in Catholic cultures. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Transgender In The Workplace: An Idea Whose Time Is Now

It’s a remarkable moment to be openly transgender and working for a living.  Extraordinary progress has occurred in this timely area of business interest over the last dozen years or so.  For example, in the year 2000 there were only three Fortune 500 companies with anti-discrimination protection for transgender employees.  Today, nearly half of the Fortune 500 organizations have adopted policies that protect transgender employees from discrimination.

Despite various political efforts to pass a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), there is still no federal statute that protects transgender workers.  However, in an amazing turn of events, in April of 2012, the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects transgender workers from on-the-job discrimination. The ruling formally took effect on May 23, 2012, and the nation's employers have now officially been put on notice that transgender discrimination won't be tolerated in the workplace.

With all this activity swirling around the transgender phenomenon, factual resources are sorely needed to help organizations deal with the many ramifications.  However, until ABC-CLIO chose to publish my book, The Complete Guide to Transgender in the Workplace, there had never been a full-length, hardcover volume on this leading-edge business topic.  I am pleased to report that many people and organizations throughout the country and around the world have found the book to be a useful tool.

The goal was always to help people.  That’s why I wrote my book.  If the book didn’t make a difference, then the entire exercise was a waste of time and energy.  However, I’m pleased to say that my book is helping organizations to evolve and people to learn and grow.

One of the most gratifying responses I have received was from Europe.  Let me share it with you:

I’m a 47-year-old transsexual woman that recently transitioned successfully at work at Telefónica R&D, in Spain.  Your book, “The Complete Guide to Transgender in the Workplace,” has been vital in the success of my transition at work.  I am eternally grateful to you for having written it.
--Amanda Azañón

It’s a humbling thing to know that someone half a world away found my book useful in her successful transition on the job.  I take no credit for her success, but I’m glad I was able to help in some small way.  I’ll probably never meet Amanda Azañón in person, but I know that her life is now a little better because of something I did.  How can you put a price on something like that?  All I can say it that it feels very, very good.

I’m going to share a secret with you: my book was rejected 116 times by literary agents and other publishing houses before ABC-CLIO agreed to publish it.  I’m not sure what that says about the book, but I think it says something about the lack of insight and/or courage demonstrated by those who turned it down.  ABC-CLIO recognized that transgender in the workplace is a viable, relevant area of business interest, and I’m grateful to the company for making the choice to publish my book.  Organizations have been positively impacted and people’s lives have been changed because of that forward-thinking--and historic--decision by this publishing company.

As we celebrate LGBT pride, let’s remember that progress really is being made, hearts and minds are being touched, and transgender inclusion is more of a reality today than ever before.  I’m honored to be one of many who are working to make a difference in this area.  Thank you, ABC-CLIO, for doing your part.

Vanessa Sheridan’s website:

Vanessa Sheridan’s Twitter page:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

An Introduction to Pride Month

Glorious June, the beginning of summer and the month when gay pride parades crisscross the globe commemorating the1969 Stonewall Riots; the month when ordinary looking men and women join their stunningly handsome and beautiful and their exotic and eccentric brothers and sisters on floats, at times showing more skin than anyone across America really needs to see on television. Of course, the heterosexual girls strutting their wares on spring break are doing much the same thing.

June is one of the two times of the year when the GLBTQ community traditionally pauses to celebrate our major and modest successes in securing what ought to be our unchallenged liberties, and to protest those who would impede our march to freedom.

Twenty-five years ago, it was also the month when Americans would get their annual exposure to the term “gay rights” blasted across the airwaves.  Not so anymore, as the battles for and against these rights are mentioned daily in the national and international media.

This year, men and women in the U.S. military will openly march in these parades. We will celebrate a growing support for marriage equality, including that of our President who dragged his feet and used his vice president as a test balloon before coming out in favor – while we try to make sense of this support contrasted against state electorates that are adding constitutional bans against such unions. And for those of us who are research wonks, we will pause to acknowledge Richard Spitzer’s long over due, but nonetheless much welcomed recanting of his terribly flawed study that has been touted for over a decade as proof that reparative therapy and other forms of interventions can cure homosexuality.

As these parades move through the streets of America and well beyond, in Jacksonville Florida our focus will be on an extraordinary coalition of GLBTQ community, titans of local and national businesses, leaders of faith communities and former and current political figures from across the aisles that have come together to nudge our city into the twenty-first century with the passage of amendments to our local human rights ordinances – amendments that would prohibit discrimination against members of the GLBTQ community in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. For many within our community, as is true across the land of the brave, the question of employment rights has already been settled by corporate policies. But now in Jacksonville we seek to codify these rights into law so that all of the citizens of this the largest city by land mass can join the 50% or more of you out there in the blogosphere who take these rights for granted. 

As I sit dead center in the middle of this local struggle, I am keenly aware that our conversation is but a reflection of the larger conversations that continue across America.  Reaffirmed by the allies who have jumped on the train with us and completely unsurprised by those who would throw obstructions onto the tracks in an effort to derail us, I am burdened by the question of how many of the GLBTQ community can remain on this train.  We have our Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic Bishop supporting the measure for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, but stopping short of mentioning the Ts and some of the Qs.  And we have women and men who sit on the City Council questioning the inclusion of the words “gender identity” and “gender expression” in our local amendments, pointing to some of the earliest amendments in the state that still don’t carry this nomenclature.

The solid support for sexual orientation contrasted against the silent and open resistance to mention of gender Identity and gender expression is causing me great angst.  I feel torn between playing the roles of U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin versus Congressman Barney Frank during the 2007 House of Representatives fight over ENDA, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act that would have ended GLB discrimination across the country. In this debate, Ms. Baldwin demanded that transgender people be included in the legislation at any and all costs. Mr. Frank certainly supported this inclusion, but not at the expense of the bill dying in the legislature.

In writing Queer Questions, Clear Answers, I focused on questions about issues surrounding sexual orientation, only occasionally commenting on transgender members of our community.  And when I did speak of these sisters and brothers I was forced to note my lack of knowledge and understanding about the issues that they faced, and to confess my own very early history of discomfort.  A discomfort remedied by personal friendships with transgender and gender-queer individuals – the kinds of friendships that occur when honest intimacy replaces cordial or forced banter.  If it took me time to learn to love and respect these, the “untouchables” of our day, how can I now expect my straight allies to understand why these men and women are in most need of these protections?  How do I make real the message that until we are all free, none of us is truly free?

As gays and lesbians, we self-inflicted at least some of the wounds we have suffered by hiding in our closets, socializing on the margins, and denying our existence even to ourselves.  You just have to compare 13th and 14th century Japan where homosexuality was openly admitted and spoken of to Europe of the same era, where it was most often hidden in the shadows, to understand this. In the early 20th century no one had to know that the person working in the office next to him was gay. This ignorance made it easy for the heterosexual to remain fearful, suspicious and ill informed about who we are.  Then starting slowly in 1969 but later going full steam ahead, we openly declared our presence. And our families and friends began to recognize our humanity and work with us to secure our rights, often urging us not to move too quickly or expect too much.

But how does the transgender person accomplish the same thing – getting the job and then coming out of the closet, without these protections? With low numbers of transgender individuals, most Americans have little to no opportunity to meet them and to learn the incredible stories behind their metamorphoses and the pains they suffer with their new identity contrasted against the pains that ravaged them before their acceptance of self. Nor do we Americans understand that these women and men pose no more and, based on crime data, most likely much less threat to our children than the heterosexual living next door.  Yes, we are uncomfortable with looking at them because of their differences, but differences always make us uncomfortable. We are also troubled looking at the extreme burn patient and we feel awkward talking to the individual with extreme cerebral palsy until we meet them as a friend.  Our discomfort can not be equated with threat or allow for rejection.

So what do I do this June as much of the world celebrates gay pride?  Do I accept a vote that gives gays and lesbians in Jacksonville Florida rights in the workplace, housing and public accommodation that should have been theirs all along and then continue to work for the rights of people equally deserving and in greater need?  Or do I say “no, it’s all or nothing?”  To further complicate this decision is the ironic fact that a little less than a month ago the EEOC passed a ruling that would protect gender identity and gender expression but not sexual orientation in employment.  But even with this, these groups remain unprotected in housing and public accommodation.   And, because they’re based on an EEOC ruling, these protections are open to challenge in the federal court.  One decision makes a great politician; one makes a great humanitarian. What if I want to be both? Stay tuned….