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“View Bob McDonnell With Alarm!” (E-I-E-I-O)

April 7th, 2010 No comments

Let’s face it: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is an inept head of state who can’t even manage to keep his culture warrior pants neatly pressed. For anyone who’s been paying attention, he’s already done enough to disqualify himself from any Presidential ambitions he’s widely thought to entertain.

First, there was the embarrassing imbroglio over gay rights, when he had to act to quell a public riot over his Attorney General’s “request” to the states’ universities that they rescind any non-discrimination policies protecting gays and lesbians. Ken Cuccinelli’s AG opinion had been given whiskey courage by McDonnell’s own “guess the missing words” Executive Order that had promised not to discriminate on almost every conceivable basis — except sexual orientation. But when McDonnell faced the heat over Cuccinelli’s tone-deaf follow-up, he flamed out spectacularly, issuing a strongly worded “Executive Directive” that did protect against sexual orientation discrimination in state government, citing a number of legal sources he’d somehow missed in putting forth his earlier Order. The full story is here.

At the time, I wrote that McDonnell was an especially wimpy kind of culture warrior: One who believed in all sorts of natural law piffle about homosexuality, but didn’t have the courage of his convictions, when challenged. Today, he’s provided Exhibits B through about ZZ in support of my point. It turns out that sometime last week he’d issued some kind of play-to-the-Dixie-base proclamation that April was to be Confederate History Month. Unless April suddenly runs for only about two days, though, it seems like there’d be some time in that month to consider the role of, oh, slavery in the Civil War and the confederacy. Instead, silence on that small detail, in favor of this gush: It’s important to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present.”1

When initially questioned on the omission, McDonnell, typically, made matters worse with this read-it-to-believe-it statement:

McDonnell said he did not include a reference to slavery because “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”

It “involved” slavery? And that wasn’t one of the most significant issues “for Virginia”? Translation: It wasn’t one of the issues that the base wanted him to focus on, and he thought he could slip the Proclamation through. But it didn’t work. By today, the outrage — now reinforced by this inane ‘explanation’ — had reached a level eerily reminiscent of what had whacked him after GayGate. And again, McDonnell apologized (caved, backed down, went into pillbug protective mode) and wrote a brand new Proclamation that prominently mentioned slavery. As with the Executive Directive, you can’t fault the statement on content, even though we’re now more than a week into the month that’s being proclaimed:

Whereas, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history….

So, here’s the disturbing pattern that’s emerged: McDonnell does something that he thinks will energize “the base” but doesn’t stop to consider that every other group then wants his head on a pike. Once they show up at the statehouse, complete with flaming torches and pitchforks, he chuckles over the silly misunderstanding, issues an apology, and tells them to return to their homes.

Didn’t he run on a platform of fiscal responsibility and competitiveness? Bob, forget about your incinerated Presidential aspirations and stick to basics for a few years.

  1. Wait! Our history has led to our present?! Why didn’t I think of that?

Boiled in Oil

November 29th, 2009 No comments

A few years ago, Martina Navratilova was asked about how her openness about being a lesbian had affected her tennis career. In characteristically honest and amusing fashion, she had this assessment (and here I paraphrase): Well, it wasn’t great. It cost me some fans, I took some heat for it, and I lost almost all of my endorsements. But it could have been worse. In the Middle Ages, I would have been boiled in oil.

A great line from a terrific and warm champion. (I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago at yet another event where she was being honored, and she was both humble and funny in accepting.) But, with all respect: Worse things are happening to gays today.

Jamaica’s horrendous treatment of gays — by both officials and the public — has been well-documented, and is (again) sometimes justified by religion. In addition to the legion of under-noticed stories on the brutal murders and beatings of gay men goings on there, there is this “gem” from Wayne Besen at Huff Post, which chillingly attests to the extent of the homophobia:

[T]he Jamaica Cancer Society has raised concerns that the fear of being labeled gay is causing some Jamaican men to avoid prostate examinations, causing one of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world.

This also means that doctors are complicit in some way, which is worse – but not surprising. Both straight and gay men who undergo a prostate exam in the U.S. often hear snarky comments about the exam from their docs, an artifact of the fear of gay sex.

In Iraq, an unintended consequence of our “liberation” the people has been the coordinated — and militia-supported — murder of many gay men. Things were better for gays under Saddam Hussein. Again, the fear of gay sex is the driver: The linked story relates stories of gay men having their anuses glued shut, and then force-fed laxatives; a painful death ensues.

These heartbreaking stories find expression in the U.S. as well, where a collision of religious belief and homophobia lead to actions that are equally repugnant, yet little noticed.

The creepy, secretive  cabal known as “The Family” is supporting the Ugandan government’s push to make homosexuality punishable by death. This story is a good primer on this corrupt, politically powerful, organization, which uses religious belief chiefly to gain tax advantages and to support the opulent lifestyles of its members. Jeff Sharlot’s exhaustive account of the group, The Family, would be expected to drive these nuts out of business — but this is a nation where torture is redefined and no one who authorized blatantly illegal practices gets prosecuted for it, so I’m not optimistic.

You’ll notice that the stories, and the actions of these anti-gay groups, focus on gay men, not lesbians. While there’s plenty of anti-lesbian sentiment to go around (and well-documented economic costs to being lesbian), sex between males remains particularly transgressive. A few years ago, a colleague introduced me to a list serve for Constitutional Law professors (after about two days of endless, theoretical postings, I got out of there), and I was astonished to see a comment from one anti-gay law professor joking that he, himself, didn’t understand male sex (the comment was much worse than that; I’m sanitizing for your protection).  And this is a supposedly respectable law professor.

Of course, Obama would never make such a comment. But he would — and has — ignored the 720 murders of gays in Iraq, despite clear and persuasive reporting on the topic. As far as I can tell, he’s said nothing about Jamaica, either (and has not responded to this suggestion, either).

I’m not naive enough to think that the Administration can get involved in every controversy, or that it should put issues of concern to the gay community ahead of other diplomatic goals. But we’re not talking about small stuff here. People are being killed, with something at least close to official approval, and…silence. With no other group would this be considered business as usual.

There’s something else. It’s hard to say much about what’s going on in other countries when your own domestic record is less than exemplary. Here’s where all of this ties back to marriage equality, if only in theoretical political terms. By not committing himself to that goal, Obama is stating, in effect, that he doesn’t favor full citizenship for gay and lesbians. So even though Obama is leagues away from dangerous right-wing nuts like the members of “The Family,” his credibility on gay issues is compromised. Perhaps that explains his otherwise puzzling silence.

Lysistrata’s Daughters

March 27th, 2009 4 comments

In Aristophanes’ funny-through-the-ages play, “Lysistrata,” the title character (from Athens) leads a pack of determined Greek women in withholding sex from their husbands until these war-mongering hubbies cease the endless Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta.

Although the play is often (justifiably) remembered for its ribald descriptions of the sex that’s withheld  (my favorite is a position referred to as “The Lioness and the Cheese Grater”) 1 and the windy oath by which sex is renounced, the play also contains a serious message about the toll war takes on the women and children left behind, who are at the mercy of the idiotic and childish decisions the men are making. Using what power they have, these powerful women put a stop to it.

The women featured in the following trailer are Lysistrata’s spiritual daughters:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uon9CcoHgwA

No, these women are not withholding sex (as far as I know). But they — Christian and Muslim together — have taken a courageous and dangerous stand against the violence that long wracked Liberia, destroying their families, children, and husbands. Indeed, the training of children soldiers was one of the most egregious of former President Charles Taylor’s many human rights violations.

Liberia now has its first female President, the Harvard-educated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Following the model of South Africa, she has established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to try and heal the wounds wrought by decades of brutal civil war. Her leadership is helping to inspire her countrywomen to seize control of their nation’s destiny, pulling it from the whirlpool of civil war onto the solid ground of a functioning democracy.

The empowerment of women is often cited as one of the most potentially powerful tools in achieving global public health; most notably, in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has especially devastated sub-Saharan Africa. As the Liberian women are demonstrating, the prevention of disease can be but one part of a larger moral, social, and political agenda.

Long live Lysistrata!

  1. Aristophanes was apparently unaware that lions are carnivores, who would have little use for a cheese grater.