Monday, May 01, 2006

Equal Humanity for Gays/Lesbians? Part I

There is a movement or backlash in America to revoke the established protections regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation. This seems to have started in 2003 with both Virginia Tech’s repeal (and later reinstatement) of Sexual Orientation protection and the state of Minnesota with House Bill File 341. This bill, inspired by Conservative Christian group Minnesota Family Council, requires that the term “Sexual Orientation” be taken out of the protections defined in the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

As you ponder how exactly people can decide how a “right” can be repealed, in 2004 the White House Office of Special Council, Scott Bloch, altered the web information and appeal form content on discrimination and harassment to eliminate “sexual orientation.” The Office of Special Council is the place where federal employees complain regarding harassment, which, for LGBT harassment, was now physically impossible. Scott Bloch was promoted to this position from the White House’s Office of Faith-Based Programs. Scott explained that “the statutes protecting people from racial and gender discrimination do not apply to sexual orientation” but that he would protect people from discrimination from perceived conduct or orientation. So, if you are straight and people harass you because you were at a pride parade, you will be defended, if you are actually gay, you won’t. This was immediately followed by the Social Security Agency trying to remove “Sexual orientation” from it’s discrimination clause in contract renegotiations. In 2005, due to frustration regarding continued refusal to protect gay and lesbian employees a US Congress Bill called “Clarification of Federal Employment Protection Act” was created to try and force the Office of Special Council to protect sexual orientation. It remains awaiting vote.

The Office of the Special Council is not the only federal agency which takes cues from conservative Christianity regarding LGBT issues. The IRS, who previously announced that in upholding the DOMA ruling, they would not accept joint tax returns of legally married US gay couples, this year overturned an earlier ruling that no medical expenses regarding treatment for transsexuals, including surgery would be allowed. In citing the evidence to make their decision, they used, instead of any medical or legal journals, an article from the Conservative Christian magazine, First Things, written by the man who convinced the Vatican that transsexualism doesn’t exist. First Things also has an article entitled “Homosexuality and the Truth” by Elizabeth Moberly, you may remember her from last weeks blog about her belief that lesbians could be “cured” with a makeover.

I recommend a few stiff drinks to try and comprehend why the IRS is making policy decisions from Conservative Christian magazines, meanwhile you might enjoy the Alice in Wonderland perversity of the Governor of Kentucky, who announced April 11, 2006 as “Diversity Day” and then used that day to eliminate protection for state workers regarding either “sexual orientation” or “Gender Identity.”

While the government “for the people” (was that all the people, or just straight people?) is deciding which type of diversity is worth protecting, conservative Christians are continuing to target and bully large corporations. The American Family Association (AFA) is the epicenter of all Christian boycotts, going after everyone from Disneyland (for having a “gay day”) to Johnson and Johnson (for advertising on Ellen). Frustrated at their late start and total failure with closing down “Desperate Housewives”, the AFA has moved to banning shows before they even air, targetting NBC’s Book of Daniel, a TV show about a minister with a gay son, by getting in 500,000 complaint emails before airing and threatening all potential advertisers with boycott. The show was cancelled after three episodes.

General Meetings appear to be a new battleground with Bank of America facing a stockholder resolution to remove “Sexual Orientation” from employee discrimination. American Express defeated an identical resolution on April 24th 2006 and now there is a similar proxy vote at Ford’s General Meeting on May 11th. Ford went unsuccessfully to the SEC to try and remove the proxy as it will threaten not only their image with gay rights groups (who know that Ford is under an AFA boycott due to pulling and then reinstating gay-friendly ads), but also may exclude them from recruiting workers from universities with non-discrimination policies. For businesses, gay rights or lack thereof means money, and companies tend to jump to the side they think will do them the most financial good.

As a person whose current apartment manager didn’t want to rent to a lesbian couple (eventually informing us that the building owner would be told we were "sisters") and having lost a job due to orientation harassment, these are not abstract issues. Anytime a government agency or representative starts dictating who has rights and who doesn’t based on the most extreme views of Christianity, I worry. Anytime someone celebrates “diversity” by giving in to those who want to eliminate it, I worry. I should hope that religious groups deciding what you should be allowed to watch, to buy or who to hire based on whether I or people like me are given equal rights would cause, if not anger, at least irritation. I worry for the new targets (or “third wave”) for Conservative gay-hating groups, those who don’t have as many options: Teens & Gay Christians (covered in Part II)

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GayProf said...

This is a great overview of all the events in the past few months. Thanks, Elizabeth! Of course, being reminded of all this also aggravates my emerging ulcer. So, maybe not so much thanks after all. **sigh**

I can’t believe that your apartment manager actually stated that she didn’t want to rent to lesbians. Aren’t things supposed to be better in Canada? Was she worried that two lesbians would suddenly start doing all sorts of home-improvement tasks on the apartment, thus threatening her job?

elizabeth said...

I think that a lot of people figure if gay couples aren't given rights - it means they somehow don't exist. One of the things that really bothers me is that - a straight couple can live together and when one dies the other continues to receive pension benefits etc (as they should) why then shouldn't a gay couple have that same right? What is the difference? Everyone should be allowed to - just as they should be allowed some legal say in what medical procedures are approved for their partner? I know of one instance where a man wasn't allowed to go into his dying partners hospital room because he wasn't "immediate family". That makes me really angry and sad for all of the people who have been faced with that over the years. If two people find each other in this world, carve out a life together and find happiness- that's all that should matter. The rest of it is ignorance.

Elizabeth McClung said...

"If two people find each other in this world, carve out a life together and find happiness- that's all that should matter. The rest of it is ignorance."


aRodeoJock said...

One other note on the bright side, Kraft Foods faced a stockholder proxy to eliminate the $25,000 it would donate to the Gay Games in Chicago later this summer (keep in mind the company donates over $85 million every year). Shareholders REJECTED the proxy with a 99% against vote. If these faux-christians (or christian extremists or christian talabangalists or whatever you want to call them...) continue to micro manage our corporations, they will not only boycott themselves into a tizzy (and we know historically christian boycotts fail) and bankrupt the companies we all hold stock in.

Ceara said...'s frustrating to have to fight all the time for just basic things that straight people take for granted...they need to pick up a history book...see the pattern to what their actions are...don't through out history...

Elizabeth McClung said...

arodeojock: yes, visable activism works, though sometimes slowly - Exxon has resisted votes on including Sexual orientation to thier discrimination policy, while Sandals resorts held out for years and only changed thier "straight couples only" policy once Ken Livingstone told them they could no longer advertise in the city of London.

Ceara: Exactly - for instance in last year in Washington, a county near here vetoed workplace discrimination protection because "if gays are careful, then no one will know" - ????? - how exactly is that equal?

areopagitica said...

I hope you don't mind that I've referred to this posting from freecommonwealth - it's an important topic, although I've used it to link to more abstract questions about the nature of the state.

Karla said...

I'm almost to a point where i avoid reading about the news in America. I get SO ANGRY every time I do. Whether it's discrimination against women. women's rights, gay/lesbian rights, immigration, healthcare, whatever, I'm just so sick of it.

The US is falling apart.

Kathleen said...

I guess I may have to defend my (not so) great state of Minnesota. The bill mentioned was from 2003, and is off the table. Right now they care more about amending the constitution to make it illegal to do something that is already illegal (aka get married.)
I don't know if you heard about Minnesotans in Defense of Marriage (blah to them) who hired a truck to drive around Minnesota promoting "defense of marriag" The good news is, the marriage amendment is off the ballot until it can (and most likely will) be reintroduced in 2008.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks on the minn update - they often issue a press release for when it is created and then.....silence - does it ever officially die or just circulate in committee until doomsday. First ban marriage then go for other rights. In a bizaare twist last week, New Hampshire determined that a married woman having a lesbian affiar doesn't constitute as adultery (see, Queen Victoria was right, NOTHING really happens).