Friday, November 7, 2008

Good news and bad news.

You probably already know the good news - we've got a new president-elect.

The bad news comes from California - Proposition 8, which eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry, passed by about a 5% margin. This is a step backward, and in California of all places on top of that. Measures in Florida and Arizona also passed, with the same effect, as did Arkansas Initiative 1, which bans "umaried sexual partners" from adopting children - this would apply to both gay and straight people, but because because only straight people can legally marry in Arkansas it's quite obvious who this is aimed at.

A friend and fellow blogger who lives in California has started a blog called No Surrender, in which she's been writing about events in California since Proposition 8's passing. There are already talks of lawsuits against the state for the right to marry, as well as protests by some more well-known gay Californians. My friend has written an open letter to the people of California, which I encourage all of you to read an pass along. This isn't over yet, and if we keep fighting we may still be able to beat this thing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

You keep using that word.

Some fun things to know about John McCain:

  • We already know that he supports the troops - but only as long as they stay in Iraq. Once they come home John McCain doesn't seem to care so much anymore. He even opposed expanding the G.I. Bill, which gives college tuition and other benefits to war veterans. His logic is that if all those soldiers know that there was more money waiting for them when they finish their tours of duty, why they might actually want to come home, and we can't have that now can we?

  • When it was time to vote on a bill to raise the federal minimum wage, John McCain took part in a filibuster to keep it from happening. Our federal minimum wage is currently $5.85 an hour - about $1,000 a month. I wonder if he seriously thinks one person can support themselves on $1,000 a month. I mean theoretically you could - if you don't ever do anything fun, don't drive a car, don't put too much away in a savings account, don't eat much, don't ever get sick, and don't have to pay rent because you own your own cardboard box. If you did all of those things, you might just be able to get by.

  • John McCain opposed giving health insurance to low-income children. Now, this is not universal health insurance for all Americans, here. This is not even health insurance for all American children. This was for poor kids whose parents might not otherwise be able to send them to the doctor. But McCain doesn't think kids need to go the doctor! When he was their age, his parents just gave him a little bit of whiskey grandpa's cough medicine, and if that was good enough for him then by God it's good for everyone else!
Incidentally, his views on all three of those issues are right in line with those of our current Moron-In-Chief, the self-declared "compassionate conservative". Now, do these sound like the decisions of a compassionate person? I think not. Personally, I think they sound more like the decisions of the sort of individual who might do things in like kick puppies for fun in his spare time - but that's just my opinion. In any case, the only thing McCain's got going for him here is that at least he hasn't tried to label himself "compassionate" yet. Granted, he has shown us that the term "straight talk" can also be used to mean "hey guys, there's a whole bunch of stuff I'm not telling you",  so he may yet sink to Bush's level.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Here come the gender police.

First, the article which inspired this post: Times Online - Thomas Beatie, a married man who used to be a woman, is pregnant with a baby girl. I know this is old news, but I just found this article the other day, and over the couple days since then it's spawned this post.

The content itself is not terrible. The writer consistently refers to Mr. Beatie using male pronouns and doesn't sensationalize any aspect of the story, nor does he gloss over the difficulties and discrimination that the Beaties faced while trying to get pregnant, both from doctors and from their own families. The terrible parts are in the comments left by other readers - they highlight just how prejudiced and ignorant most people are when it comes to transgendered people. I've picked some of the more shockingly backward ones and... analyzed them.

To start off, we have generic religious wingnuttery from "Mason Wheeler, Honolulu":
"Readers, how coulcd this be the will of God? God designed Women to have children. Not women who turn into men having babies. It just isnt right. We need to pray in the name of Jesus that the remaining months of Mr. Thomas and Nancy Beatie will be having a healthy baby girl."
Ah yes, the "sandwich prayer". I really hate these; he's essentially saying "You're horrible sinners and you're going to hell. But um, all the best. I'll pray for you." (And then there's the really strange wording of that last sentence; are we supposed to pray for the remaining months to have a healthy baby girl?)

Next we have Exhibit B, a horrible analogy from "Christi, St. Louis".
"You can't change DNA. Thomas Beatie didn't become a man. Thomas has the appearance of a man. If I had surgery to add a tail, whiskers, and pointy ears, and received therapy to purr and mew, would I BE a cat? No, just an altered human. Thomas is an altered woman, & pregnant. God bless baby."
This is just a really awful statement for two reasons. First, they're failing to distinguish between a person's biological sex and their gender. Biological sex is determined by many things, including your DNA, and your DNA is indeed something that you can't change. Your gender, however, refers to your internal identity - that it, whether you are most comfortable thinking of yourself as male, female, or perhaps both or neither. It's not the same thing as your sexual orientation, but like sexual orientation it's determined by a whole bunch of factors that aren't fully understood, and the experience of "being trans" varies a lot from person to person. Some people know from a very early age that their biological gender is "wrong", while others go through long periods of soul-searching and confusion before coming to the same conclusion - some people have supportive families and are able to "come out" and transition, while others have very little in the way of an IRL support system and are unable to. But if someone says they identify as a man or a women, then the polite, decent, and respectful thing to do is to take their word for it and use the appropriate name and pronouns. You should not question their judgment or point out that they're still really their birth gender because of their DNA/genitals/whatever. This is precisely what this commenter has done here, and it is beyond rude.

Second, they're comparing cats and humans (two different species) to men and women, which is just... no. Men and women are both human, albeit different categories of human, and when it comes to gender identity those neat little categories are not so useful. Indeed, they're even a hindrance for some people - for example, gay trans men and lesbian trans women. They often have to deal with accusations of "not being trans" or "not knowing what they really want" even more than heterosexual trans people, because people assume that all trans people are heterosexual. But as I said above, gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate things - it's totally possible for someone born female to to transition to a male identity, and still be attracted to men, and in this case you would refer to them with respect to their gender identity (not as a straight woman, but as a gay man.)

Next up, some "ewww gross" and "think of the children" from "Jennifer, Reynoldsburg".
"I think it is disgusting. When she chose to be a "man" then she gave up her right to have a baby. You can't go back and forth. If she wants to be a man, and if your 'wife' can't get pregant then adopt. It is immoral and unethical.It's very confusing for children to see a 'man' pregnant. Not natural"
You know what? When people see guys with large stomachs, their first thought is not usually "pregnant" but rather "beer belly." Ergo, seeing a guy who looks like this is probably not going to confuse or traumatize anyone, including little kids. Then there's this whole "chose to be a 'man'" (and look, she even used scare quotes!) The fact is that trans people don't "choose" to be uncomfortable with their birth-assigned sex, any more than people "choose" their sexual orientation - that is, they don't. The only choice involved is whether to come out and transition; for many this is a very difficult decision to make, and to belittle that fact by saying that they chose their situation is quite insulting. As for giving up the right to have a baby, it is an unfortunate fact that in most countries, trans people must undergo sterilization in order to change their legal gender. In the US it varies from state to state, and the state of Oregon (where Beatie lives) sterilization is not required. In my opinion, sterilization requirements are awful and unnecessary: not all trans people want this done, and it's not as if anyone other than their doctor will even be able to tell if it's been done or not. I can only conclude that this requirement is the government's way of saying "you can live like this if you want, but get out of the gene pool."

Moving on, we have some no doubt well-meant "concern" followed by sheer stupidity from "Danarene, Lake View Terracce, CA".
"Well, if that don't beat all! One of my concerns would be how the parents go about explaining sexuality and reproduction to the child down the road. This is really the ultimate case of having your cake and eating it too. 'Mr.' Beatie decides she's not really a woman and does the ultimate renouncement and alters her biology in order to mimic a man but in a pinch determines that it's acceptable to fall back on her innate reality - how convenient is that? Obviously 'Mr.' Beatie is a woman at her core, regardless of her attempt to become a man, it appears that she's likely a lesbian and putting on the facade allows her and her lover to live without harrassment from homophobes. Good luck!"
You know what really "beats all"? This comment. There are so many things that are so incredibly wrong here that I think I'll just list them:
  1. This "concern" about how the Beaties are going to explain where babies come from to their daughter. This was not the only comment guilty of this one, I saw some other people speculating that they'd tell her that babies come "from daddy". But I'm guessing they'll probably go with the standard "egg + sperm = baby" explanation, and tell her about her dad being trans when they feel she's old enough to understand it. And when they do, it'll put her way ahead of most of her peers (not to mention most of the commenters here) because she'll know that there's more to gender than what most people would like you to think.
  2. Again, questioning Mr. Beatie's gender identity. In this case it's made worse by the fact that he's pregnant (something that we associate with women) but a lot of trans men who decide not to get a phalloplasty are targeted with similar criticism. A phalloplasty is a very expensive and complicated procedure, is rarely covered by insurance for gender transition purposes, and many trans men don't feel that the high cost is worth the risks of undergoing surgery. This is no one's business but their own, but that doesn't stop people - both in the GLB community and in society at large - from questioning whether they really want to be male since they still have a vagina.
  3. This sort of goes along with the previous point, but I am utterly baffled by this idea that Mr. Beatie is "a lesbian and putting on the facade allows her and her lover to live without harassment from homophobes." It clearly hasn't occurred to this person that trans people deal with harassment just like gay people do, and in some ways to a greater extent - "gender identity disorder" is still listed as a mental illness in the DSM, and some therapists still recommend "reparative therapy" aimed at getting trans people to live as their birth-assigned sex, particularly in the case of younger kids. These therapies are no more effective than the reparative therapy that were used to "treat" homosexuality, but they persist nonetheless. There are many other things that cis gay people generally don't have to worry about that trans people frequently do (which bathroom or changing room to use, whether they're being perceived as male or female, how to explain their bodies to potential sexual partners, and so on.) This is not to say that gay people have it easy, but non-trans gay people are still very far ahead of trans people in terms of being accepted by mainstream society. I doubt that a cis lesbian couple would've had as much difficulty as the Beaties did in finding a doctor to perform artificial insemination and a OB/GYN later on.
And this one from "Lamecia, Nashville" absolutely takes the cake:
"I feel bad and embarrassed. Just think of how upset God is...this is not how he created things. What do we tell our kids? They will be so confused. As for the baby girl she will have such a hard time in life because she was carried by a man during pregnancy. Kids will pick on her. Kids are hard on each other they pick on people that is almost perfect so just think of what she has to look forward to. This is not normal. I will not accept it and I will continue to teach my son that this is not right."
Wow. Let's go through this one, shall we? There's some "eww, gross", a statement that tran speople are upsetting God with their "choice", followed by a "think of the children", which neatly segues into "why would they do this to their daughter?! She'll be bullied!!" And then she goes on to say that "I'm going to raise my son the right way - by teaching him that trans people are freaks." The fact that this statement follows her "concern" is almost funny. It clearly hasn't occurred to her that if the Beaties' daughter is bullied, it won't be because of her parents. It'll be because of people exactly like this, people who tell their children that "different" is weird and unnatural, basically giving them carte blache to bully anyone who's not like them.But if you go to the article and read the comments yourself, you'll see that it isn't all bad. For every negative and hateful comment that I saw, there was another one congratulating the Beaties, and calling out the hateful and prejudiced commenters on how wrong and self-righteous they were being. This was really heartening, especially considering that this is a mainstream paper rather than one aimed at the GLBT community. Indeed, much of the opposition I've seen to Mr. Beatie and his pregnancy - on other articles that were in GLBT newsletters - came from other GLBT folks. I won't quote any of them here (I think this post is getting quite long enough) but some of them were very much like the ones above: statements that if Thomas Beatie wanted to be a "real" man he wouldn't have done this, and even saying that he was not and could never be a real man, and that his choice to go public with his pregnancy would "hurt the movement." This is what I mean when I say that trans people have a much more difficult time than gay people when it comes to discrimination - they get it not only from straight cisigendered people, but from GLB folks who ought to know better. I disagree completely that this is going to "hurt the movement" - yes, it has brought some people like the above-quoted commenters out of the woodwork, but its also brought out people like those other commenters, people who might never have said a single word in support of trans people until now. There will probably be backlash - when Massachusetts began allowing gay marriage, many other states initially began passing laws and even amending their constitutions to prevent it from ever being allowed there. This might seem like a step backward, but four years after Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, we now have civil unions and gay marriage being allowed in New Jersey and California, people suing for the right to marry in numerous other states, and a presidential candidate (Barack Obama) who favors repealing the DOMA and allowing federally-recognized civil unions that would provide all the rights and privileges of marriage. In the short term it caused a few setbacks, but in the long term we've made progress that we might not have made otherwise. This will probably have a similar effect - the short-term backlash will draw attention to how unfair and intrusive society and the law are in the lives of trans people. The folks who oppose the GLBT movement will keep doing so, but we may gain some outspoken new allies who might have remained silent, and make long-term progress that might otherwise not have happened. That is a definitely a good thing.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ideas, anyone?

I found this article via some sporadic link-clicking: LifeNews.Com - Barack Obama Would Back Daughters' Abortion, "Don't Punish Them With a Baby"

I read the entire article and there was one particular quote at the end that caught my attention:
"[Obama's remarks] align him squarely with abortion advocates who view laws protecting unborn children as 'punishing' pregnant women by forcing them to give birth to the baby instead of taking the child's life through abortion."
Now, given that this is a pro-life newsletter, nothing about this quote is surprising; they refer to pro-choice people as "abortion advocates" (although I don't think any pro-choice people would actually advocate or encourage abortion) and describe an embryo/fetus as a child (although it is clearly not a child yet.)

What I find ironic, though, is that they seem to take offense at the use of the word "punishment" to describe a baby. In my experience, the most oft-repeated lines against allowing abortions for women who simply don't want kids usually sound something like "Well, she shouldn't have had sex." When people say things like this to pregnant women who never wanted kids - that this pregnancy and the resulting child are a consequence of having sex and they should have to deal with it - how is that not punishing them? The way I see it, this attitude is exactly the opposite what having a kid should be: something that's welcomed and looked forward to, and even planned for, not a consequence to be dealt with.

I can't help but wonder how the writer of that article is rationalizing this, or if it's even occurred to them.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why I will never vote for John McCain.

Now that the Democratic primary's over, I'm seeing things like this article appearing all over the place:
Mrs. Nour-Hinkle said she would rather vote for Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, than for Mrs. Clinton's rival, Sen. Barack Obama -- echoing the sentiments of many protesters.

"It would be the first time in my life I would vote Republican for president," said Mrs. Nour-Hinkle, 35. "I think Obama is an empty shirt, the same as [President] George W. Bush but only a Democrat."
I mentioned in my last entry that while I am not a huge fan of Hilary Clinton, I would not vote for John McCain even if she became the nominee. And I think it's time for another post now: why I would never vote for John McCain, and why I would advise anyone who is considering it to sit down and think about this.

I'm going to start with Iraq. John McCain seems to think he's the most capable of handling this mess we've gotten into with this war. But by "handling", John McCain means "keeping us in" -- for one hundred years, if he thinks we need to. Considering that we had no reason to invade Iraq in the first place, and that our presence there appears to be doing very little good, this is a pretty absurd idea. His comparison with Japan is totally inappropriate - World War II was neither unprovoked nor based on false premises, and our troops over there aren't met with nearly as much hostility as in Iraq. (There are indeed some people who question the necessity of our presence there... but that's another topic entirely.)

That aside, in spite of all McCain's claims to be the best man for the job, he seems to be very poorly informed about what is actually going on over there in Iraq. For one, he didn't seem to know that al-Quaeda is not the only Islamic extremist group in the world. In fact some of the others -- the Shiite groups in Iran, for example -- actually hate al-Queda almost as much as they hate us. One of the oldest military strategies in the book ("the book" being Sun Tzu's The Art of War) is "know thy enemies and know thyself". McCain doesn't seem to be doing either of those things very well: to listen to him talk, you would almost think that he doesn't know what's happening on our side either, nor much about what's going on in Iraq at all.

Indeed, his whole idea of what constitutes foreign policy seems a tad backward. He is of the opinion that if we hadn't invaded Iraq, and that if we withdraw, we will be appeasing Hitler - um, the terrorists. The problem with this is that Iraq is not Nazi Germany -- once again, he's drawing faulty comparisons. And for all that he's speaking against isolationism in the last article, his proposed approaches to Cuba and Russia are basically "refuse to talk to them". In the case of Cuba, this what we've been doing for 50 years, and (as Senator Obama rightly pointed out) it has not changed a thing. Our fears of Cuba and communism may indeed have been well-founded back when we put the embargo in place, but nowadays it seems pretty ridiculous, not to mention pointless.

But John McCain thinks we should keep doing what we've always done -- and indeed he seems to think that this is what we always do. Clearly he is not only a bit fuzzy on the modern political situation, but on his history as well. This may even be why he's drawing all these ridiculous comparisons between Iraq and Japan and Nazi Germany and whatever other countries he can think up. I suppose we can hardly expect him to remember his high school history classes when he can't even remember some things he said about Hamas two years ago, or certain aspects of his voting record.

His domestic policy isn't exactly sound either. He wants to take the taxes cuts that George Bush gave us and make them permanent. This might sound like a good idea to some people, but what these particular people don't realize is that if McCain has his way with the tax cuts, the Hundred-Years War, and everything else he has planned, our national debt would get even bigger. (I wanted to say that it would go through the roof, but the problem there is that it it already has.) I guess we shouldn't be surprised that his economic plans are just a tad screwy, given that McCain himself has admitted that he doesn't know as much about economics as he should. But this hasn't stopped him from getting ideas about the housing crisis and gas prices - and of course he cares about the global warming issue, but not enough to actually do anything about it.

Ah, but he certainly know how to win over voters, right? He's trying to appeal to women, and in order to appeal to women you have to make an appearance on The View, right? But when it comes to actually walking the walk, he doesn't do so well. He doesn't think that women should be allowed to sue employers who pay them unfairly. Many people don't know that John McCain does not support a woman's right to choose what goes on in her own body. He doesn't seem to think that gay voters are even worth winning over -- he not only opposes gay marriage but any form of legal same-sex partnership, as well as allowing gays in the military and even laws against employment discrimination.

To top this off, he's also claimed that he's "the only one the special interests don't give any money to", but the problem with this is that it isn't true. Either his campaign is really bad at keeping track of where their money comes from, or John McCain is lying. And in fact, he's already had to take out a couple a very large loans, one of which may have violated campaign financing laws.

In the absence of having anything good to say about him, some in the McCain camp have resorted to good old-fashioned smear tactics. The McCain campaign itself is even asking supporters to promote him by comment-trolling on progressive blogs, because blogging what all the kids do on that newfangled internet thing these days. The problem with this plan (besides the fact that "troll your opponent" is the kind of strategy that dumb internet trolls would come up with) is that not everyone on the internet is such a fan of McCain, and they're being a lot less easy on him than the mainstream press is. In fact, they're being pretty damn blunt.

And the mainstream press is being ridiculously easy on John McCain. Almost none of the things I've mentioned here have received significant coverage in the news, and so it's not surprising that people might think that he's a better choice than Obama. But knowing all of these things here, not only could I not vote for him, the very idea of him becoming president and prolonging the disaster that George Bush has led us into actually scares me. Even Hilary Clinton has said that voting for McCain over Obama would be a mistake, and this is something that definitely bears thinking about.

To conclude, it's my opinion that a vote should be an informed decision, based on knowledge and personal convictions, not something done as a threat or out of spite. And I hope that the people who planning to vote for McCain -- for whatever reason -- will learn the facts about him, so they will at least know exactly what they're voting for.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'll stay over here with the "elitist intellectuals", thanks.

So this whole ugly nonsense in Pennsylvania is over. In the process we got to watch Hillary Clinton
"'...[throw] the "kitchen sink' at Obama, as her campaign aides described it. Her campaign had been an assault on Obama's character flaws, real and imagined, rather than on matters of substance. Clinton also suffered a bizarre self-inflicted wound, having reimagined her peaceful landing at a Bosnian airstrip in 1996 as a battlefield scene complete with sniper fire. After six weeks of this, according to one poll, 60% of the American people considered her 'untrustworthy' a Nixonian indictment." (TIME Editorial - "The Incredibly Shrinking Democrats")
That sounds pretty bad, yes? And yet somehow, she won. Because somehow, this was not as bad to what happened with Obama. What happened with Obama? Well, this...


"...the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was "friendly" with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement."

And this is somehow worse than lying and mudslinging. Never mind that he's distanced himself from Reverand Wright since then, never mind that Reverand Wright's comments were quoted selectively and taken wildly out of context to begin with. Never mind that the Vietnam era happened when Obama was in elementary school. Never mind that his comments (which he has apologized for) were actually rather insightful, if poorly-worded.

That last link that I've got there makes a reference to TheMiddleClass.org, a project which rates state representatives "on their performance on votes that pertain to the current and aspiring middle class." They gave McCain a 50% , Clinton a 67% , and Obama a 75%. And in spite of this, people are still convinced by things that the writer of the "TIME" editorial I've been quoting describes as "scurrilous trash". To use another quote:
"...there is an immutable pedestrian reality to American politics: you have to get the social body language right if you want voters to consider the nobler reaches of your message. In his 1991 book, The Reasoning Voter, political scientist Samuel Popkin argued that most people make their choice on the basis of 'low-information signaling' — that is, stupid things like whether you know how to roll a bowling ball or wear an American-flag pin. In the era of Republican dominance, the low-information signals were really low — how Michael Dukakis looked in a tanker's helmet, whether John Kerry's favorite sports were too precious (like wind-surfing), whether Al Gore's debate sighs over his opponent's simple obfuscations were patronizing."
Low indeed. This is precisely the kind of thing that Obama's been attempting to avoid - incidentally, this is one of the reasons I like him. Hilary Clinton, on the other hand, has been feeding people's desire for "low information" to the point of nausea.
"...downing shots of Crown Royal and promising lower gas prices, attacking her opponent over trivia and threatening to 'obliterate' Iran. It was enough to earn the ire of the New York Times editorial page, which harrumphed, 'By staying on the attack and not engaging Mr. Obama on the substance of issues ... she undercuts the rationale for her candidacy that led this page and others to support her: that she is more qualified, right now, to be President.'"
And the gentleman who wrote that editorial does not seem to be any different from "most people"; immediately following the above quote is this:
"Well, tsk-tsk and ahem! But part of the problem with editorial writers — and, truth to tell, columnists like me — is a narrow definition of the qualifications necessary to be President. It helps to be a warrior, for one thing. It helps to be able to take a punch and deliver one — even, sometimes, a sucker punch. A certain familiarity with life as it is lived by normal Americans is useful; a distance from the √©lite precincts of academia, where unrepentant terrorists can sip wine in good company, is essential."
Aha, I see. So I guess that drinking shots of liquor while making childish personal attacks and idiotic comments about blowing up foreign countries is the way to show you're in touch with normal people these days? If I were among the blue-collar folks in Pennsylvania, I might have been more offended by this than by anything that Obama said. But instead of being appalled at what her actions implied (does she think they're all hard-drinking warmongers or something?) they ate up every bit of low-information signaling that was fed to them, and Hillary Clinton won the state because of it. It seems to me that this particular group of voters has decided they'd like a candidate who would make a nice drinking buddy, rather than someone who actually knows anything. And now I'm going to extrapolate a little: could it be that this is how we ended up electing George Bush — twice?

(Don't misunderstand me, here; if Clinton wins the nomination, I am not going to vote for John McCain. I'm not just wary of him, I am actually afraid of what might happen if he gets elected... but that's another topic for another post.)

I know that all of these things — the childish personal attacks, the negative campaigning, the "low-information signals" — are part of modern American politics. I am aware of this, and I am disturbed by it. I am disturbed that this seems to be all that people pay attention to, that people would rather base their opinions on a five-second sound clip than a candidate's voting record, that the news media treats a presidential election as nothing more than fodder for scandals. The sorry excuse for a debate that ABC pulled off is only one example of this. It's bad enough that politicians resort to digging up mud to sling at each other, and it becomes even worse when the people who are supposed to be providing us with information encourage this.

Most of all, I am disturbed that a lot of people don't see anything wrong with this. We're simply accepting these things of a fact of life, rather than demanding actual information instead of exaggerations. We're accepting sound-bites instead of demanding some context. And this election is much too important for people to be making decisions based on trivialities: George Bush is leaving us with a giant mess, and his successor is not going to be able to get rid of it with mere lip service to the middle class.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

One step at a time.

I recently watched a video on YouTube, of Barak Obama speaking at a rally in Beaumont, Texas: Obama speaks about GLBT and Christianity. Reading through the comments I noticed people pointing out something that I've heard from others as well: Obama is not in favor of gay marriage. In fact, none of the candidates are. And this got me to thinking, which got me to writing this.

To start with, I support Obama. I have a few reasons for this - he stopped taking donations from lobbyists when he began his campaign, he's pretty progressive, he opposes the war (and unlike some people, myself included, he has done so from the start.) And while some people may say he's inexperienced, I think that this isn't necessarily a bad thing: he's been in politics for a while, but not so long that it's made him jaded and cynical. Something that I've noticed a lot of GLBT people and allies pointing out, though, is that while he supports equal rights for gays and lesbians, he's against gay marriage and has only ever supported civil unions. I've seen people calling this inconsistency and even hypocrisy, and saying that he's supporting the idea of "separate but equal".

Well, that's all true. And I'm supporting him anyway, because when it comes to GLBT rights he is probably the best candidate we can hope for right now.

Much as it disgusts me, the fact is that anyone who supported full marriage rights for gays at this point in our history would be committing political suicide. Frankly I'm impressed that he was willing to say what he did in the video: that he's heard people in the Christian community say things that "[aren't] very Christian" about gays and lesbians, and that this is wrong, and that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their sexual orientation. Not only that, he said this in Texas, in front of an audience made up of primarily Christian heterosexuals. Given that, it's impressive that he was so direct about it.

And these aren't empty words, they match his past actions and voting record. He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, and is in favor of overturning it at the federal level. He was also against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which fortunately didn't pass. He's against the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that the US military still thinks is necessary for some reason. He wants to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation. He supports allowing civil unions at a federal level which would be equivalent to marriage in everything but name, and would leave the issue of whether to call it "marriage" up to individual states. This is all stated in a PDF file posted on his website. Not only that, he's repeatedly defended gay rights during his public appearances - even if, as in Beaumont, he was speaking in front a group of people who would likely disagree with him. (This is, by the way, one of the things that separates him from Hillary Clinton; when she speaks about gay rights it's almost always been in front of a primarily gay audience.)

I won't deny that the naming issue bothers me, because of the "separate but equal" concept. But if this is the best we can get right now, I say let's take it. Every single group that has ever been marginalized has had to get through things like this while they fought and waited for society to change. It took African-Americans nearly 100 years to go from being newly-freed slaves to being equal under the law, because for a long time it was widely thought that blacks and whites could not be equal. It took American women until 1920 to be able to vote in all elections, because the general opinion was that women lacked the intelligence to be involved in politics.

Now it's our turn. We're up against the people who think we should replace the Constitution with Leviticus, the people who still think that being gay causes AIDS, and the more "moderate" folks who "don't have anything against gay people, but...". I detest these viewpoints, and I try my best to convince the people who hold them that they're wrong, but I also know that people don't change their minds about these things overnight. I once attended a lecture given by Daryl Davis- he was the first black person to write a book about the Ku Klux Klan from the perspective of an interviewer rather than a victim. Most of the Klan members he met with and interviewed eventually became good friends with him and later quit the Klan because of it; some of them even gave him their robes as a kind of symbolic gesture. But there was almost always an in-between period, before the cognitive dissonance set in, where they were both staunch KKK members and friends with a black man.

People can be astoundingly persistent in this kind of doublethink without even realizing it (which is where the "I don't hate gay people, but..." folks come from) and there's not much we can do to change that. This does not mean that we should stop fighting or become complacent, it just means that we need to be patient and take what we can get as it comes along. And if that means calling it a civil union instead of a marriage for the moment, then that's what we should do. Barack Obama isn't being quite as broad-minded as I'd like him to be, but he's offering us a hell of a lot more than anyone else is... so I'm willing to forgive him for that.