Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Reading

June is Gay Pride month, with events and parades taking place at different times in different places. I remember attending my first Gay Pride festival in Albuquerque in 1998 or so; it took place on the state fairgrounds and was a lot of fun with people of all different backgrounds — including a lot of families with babies in strollers, teens, and grandparents — and a lot of straight people there with their gay friends or co-workers or relatives, everyone having a good time. There was also a parade down Central Avenue, and it had the usual collection of cars, floats and dancers; it was more like a Mardi Gras parade than your typical holiday parade. If there’s one thing we’re good it, it’s coming up with something festive and colorful. That part of the gay cultural stereotype is probably the truest.

This June also marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village. It’s considered to be the beginning of the gay rights movement. Since then we’ve made enormous progress — some legal barriers have been shattered — and also faced devastating setbacks — HIV and hate crimes still darken our lives — and as is the case with any cause that involves a whole class of people from as many different backgrounds and with as many different stories and feelings and agendas, it has become woven into the fabric of our society. And like any movement that challenges traditions, privilege, and patriarchy, it has had to evolve and adapt, sometimes making compromises and trying the patience of those of us who have been working to make being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered or whatever it is that makes us different on that irrelevant level of sexual orientation not just accepted or tolerated, but just ordinary enough that laws and regulations that set us apart and control our lives no longer matter. To be able to love and commit our lives and our fortunes to someone else, to be able to serve our country in the military if we so choose, to be able have the peace of mind knowing that the rights enshrined in the fundamental law of the land are not subject to the whims and dictates of mythology and theology, and to just go about our lives as citizens and people, no different than anyone else. It would seem that such a simple wish would be easy to grant, but forty years after Stonewall, we still face legal obstacles, bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance. These are intractable, and if the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and ’60’s taught us anything, they are ever with us. But they are not insurmountable, and even if the best intentions of political leaders fall short in answering to the immediacy of the moment, the clock cannot be turned back. If we’re not going straight ahead, at least we’re going forward.

Continued below the fold.

Adam Nagourney looks at how politics is lagging behind the move to full equality for the LGBT community.

WASHINGTON — For 15 minutes in the Oval Office the other day, one of President Obama’s top campaign lieutenants, Steve Hildebrand, told the president about the “hurt, anxiety and anger” that he and other gay supporters felt over the slow pace of the White House’s engagement with gay issues.

But on Monday, 250 gay leaders are to join Mr. Obama in the East Room to commemorate publicly the 40th anniversary of the birth of the modern gay rights movement: a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York. By contrast, the first time gay leaders were invited to the White House, in March 1977, they met a midlevel aide on a Saturday when the press and President Jimmy Carter were nowhere in sight.

The conflicting signals from the White House about its commitment to gay issues reflect a broader paradox: even as cultural acceptance of homosexuality increases across the country, the politics of gay rights remains full of crosscurrents.

It is reflected in the surge of gay men and lesbians on television and in public office, and in polls measuring a steady rise in support for gay rights measures. Despite approval in California of a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, it has been authorized in six states.

Yet if the culture is moving on, national politics is not, or at least not as rapidly. Mr. Obama has yet to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal the policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military. The prospects that Congress will ever send him a bill overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, appear dim. An effort to extend hate-crime legislation to include gay victims has produced a bitter backlash in some quarters: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, sent a letter to clerics in his state arguing that it would be destructive to “faith, families and freedom.”

“America is changing more quickly than the government,” said Linda Ketner, a gay Democrat from South Carolina who came within four percentage points of winning a Congressional seat in November. “They are lagging behind the crowd. But if I remember my poli sci from college, isn’t that the way it always works?”

Frank Rich reflects on President Obama’s timidity towards dealing with gay rights issues.

No president possesses that magic wand, but Obama’s inaction on gay civil rights is striking. So is his utterly uncharacteristic inarticulateness. The Justice Department brief defending DOMA has spoken louder for this president than any of his own words on the subject. Chrisler noted that he has given major speeches on race, on abortion and to the Muslim world. “People are waiting for that passionate speech from him on equal rights,” she said, “and the time is now.”

Action would be even better. It’s a press cliché that “gay supporters” are disappointed with Obama, but we should all be. Gay Americans aren’t just another political special interest group. They are Americans who are actively discriminated against by federal laws. If the president is to properly honor the memory of Stonewall, he should get up to speed on what happened there 40 years ago, when courageous kids who had nothing, not even a public acknowledgment of their existence, stood up to make history happen in the least likely of places.

Leonard Pitts, Jr., on exorcising the demons of homophobia summoned up by religious insanity.

To Manifested Glory Ministries of Bridgeport, Conn.:

Perhaps you wouldn’t mind telling me what a ”homosexual demon” looks like.

I will confess that until last week, I had no idea demons even had sexual orientations. Or, for that matter, sex. Then I happened upon a video that is making the rounds online. It depicts members of your congregation conducting what can only be described as the ”gay exorcism” of a 16-year-old boy.

He convulses on the floor as if in the grip of a seizure while adults circle above, apparently attempting to holler the gay out of him. They yell things like, “C’mon, you homosexual demon! We want a clean spirit!”

And . . . ”Come out of his belly! It’s in the belly!”

And . . . ”Right now, I command you to leave!”

And . . . ”Rip it from his throat! Come on, you homosexual demon!”

A woman fans a towel at the writhing boy. At one point, the child, limp and unresisting as a sack of flour, is held upright and vomits into a bag. A piano plays gospel chords in the background.

Originally, you all had posted the full 20-minute video on YouTube, but for some strange reason (surely not embarrassment?), you’ve since taken it down. Still, snippets survive and are as near as a Google search. The ones I saw do not make clear whether the demon ever poked its head out,but if it didn’t, you have to wonder if maybe it was scared to. That was quite an unsettling scene, after all. Unsettling enough that it has landed your church in the middle of controversy and outrage.

The Associated Press reports that some advocates for gay youth regard what the video depicts as abuse and are calling for an investigation. They warn that this is not an isolated event. To the contrary, they say, things like this happen all the time.

The AP went to get your side of things and one of your leaders, ”Apostle” Patricia McKinney, told a reporter the boy actually came to you seeking help. She said your church isn’t prejudiced in the least. ”We have nothing against homosexuals,” she said. ”I just don’t agree with their lifestyle.”

I know you’re up against it right now, but I want to assure you: I’m not here to beat up on you, or to accuse you of being the bigots you say you aren’t, or to call you a bunch of backwards mouth breathers who abused a confused teenaged boy. No, I’m just hoping you’ll tell me what a homosexual demon looks like. I’m scared I may unknowingly run into one, so please help me sharpen my demon gaydar.

Gay Pride is showing up in some unexpected places. Like China.

“BRING in the boys!” an announcer howled on a recent Saturday afternoon at Cotton’s, a bar in Shanghai.

The occasion was a daylong celebration with drag shows, Chinese opera performances, mock same-sex weddings — and, yes, a “hot body” contest — to help conclude Shanghai’s first Gay Pride Week. And as seven beefcakes, including two from New York and one from Indonesia, strutted onto an outdoor stage, a crowd of hundreds erupted in whoops and hollers before awarding the hottest body title to a strapping, six-foot-tall Shanghainese who went by the name Grant. He was wearing a pink “Beware Pickpockets and Loose Women” T-shirt, until he wasn’t.

“We realized that now is the right time,” Tiffany Lemay, one of the organizers, said of the week’s events. Well almost. Although China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, visits by the local authorities prompted the cancellation of several gay pride activities. Still, the revelry bore witness (in some cases bared witnesses) to a growing gay scene that, despite the occasional setback, has contributed to Shanghai’s already vibrant night life in ways once hard to imagine.

There’s even an epicenter: a trio of bars in the French Concession neighborhood known as the Gay Triangle. Many visitors start there at the long-running Eddy’s (1877 Huaihai Zhong Road; 86-21-6282-0521; www.eddys-bar.com), a tony concrete-walled bar offering the kind of Chinese exotica (Mao-inspired art, antique door panels) that Westerners and the Shanghainese who congregate with them can’t seem to resist.

A stone’s throw away is Shanghai Studio (1950 Huaihai Zhong Road, Unit 4; 86-21-6283-1043; www.shanghai-studio.com), a onetime bomb shelter where a more eclectic, hipper crowd wends its way through a warren of rooms that includes a dance floor and a men’s underwear shop called MANifesto. Completing the triad is the intimate Transit Lounge (141 Tai An Road; 86-21-6283-3051), a favorite among Japanese men who come for the swanky red banquettes, loungey vibe and mojitos.

With their international mix of patrons, these and other spots point to Shanghai’s cosmopolitan makeup. But more locally oriented establishments offer something for everyone, too. Consider Bobos (Bugaoyuan Clubhouse, 307 Shanxi Nan Road; 86-21-6471-2887; www.bobosbar.com). Exceedingly well hidden within a compound of residential high rises (go through the main gate, turn right, look for the glass dome and head downstairs), it’s where you’ll find the somewhat hairier, fuller-bodied set, known as panda bears, loading up on carbs and singing karaoke on a stage flanked by an illuminated rainbow.

If you need any proof that gay pride is becoming mainstream, then the fact that NPR reported this morning that WalMart has a WalMart Pride group at its Fayetteville, Arkansas headquarters. It’s hard to get more mainstream than that.