The following is a guest post by South Dakota State Senator Angie Buhl O’Donnell, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.
Harvey Milk’s words inspired audiences throughout his life, but his most enduring words may have been the simple push to “come out, come out wherever you are.”
To me, that’s the most important legacy of the political leader we lost 35 years ago this week – his insistence on the far-reaching impact of the very personal act of coming out. Despite the potential downsides, despite the fact that it can feel easier not to come out, Harvey Milk knew that our community must be visible in order to make legal and social equality a reality.
While Milk spent much of his life in urban centers, I believe the urgency to make ourselves visible is even greater in places like South Dakota, where I live. It’s 2013, but some people still think LGBT people only exist in New York or San Francisco. As researcher Mary Gray has written, popular representations of rural LGBT people paint us as “out of place” in states like South Dakota – as people who need to “seek out belonging in an urban elsewhere to find happiness.” But LGBT people are in every part of our country, and we are increasingly visible in the political landscape.
Milk’s legacy has been a personal inspiration for me, as an openly bisexual elected official. Earlier this year, I became a Harvey Milk Champion of Change. While I was honored to be recognized by the White House with an award bearing his name, I actually had some hesitation about accepting. As a bisexual woman married to a man, I was worried about people thinking I didn’t really “deserve” it. But I realized that line of reasoning was not what Harvey Milk would have embraced. His legacy is about sharing your own identity, your own truth in whatever form that might take. Besides, there’s a “B” in “LGBT” for a reason.
A couple of weeks ago, the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society -- an Illinois-based group that through its World Congress of Families helped promote Russia’s new anti-gay laws -- was forced to relocate a Capitol Hill symposium on “family policy lessons from foreign lands” when Sen. Mark Kirk learned what it was up to and pulled the plug on its meeting room.
The group got a last-minute helping hand from House Speaker John Boehner , but the symposium’s speakers – World Congress of Families (WCF) founder Allan Carlson, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute president Austin Ruse, and Concerned Women For America senior fellow/WCF board member Janice Shaw Crouse – still spent much of the event bashing Kirk over the scheduling snafu .
Now, Religious Right groups including the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council, and the American Family Association are coming to WCF’s defense.
The National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown – who WCF arranged to testify before the Russian parliament in favor of its broad ban on adoption by gay people – told the American Family Association’s One News Now that Kirk decided to “discriminate against a group that stands for traditional marriage” and that by doing so he was “undermining the party platform” because “it’s part of the Republican Party platform to stand up for traditional marriage.”
The Family Research Council piled on with a press release accusing the senator of “true discrimination” and “silencing anyone who doesn’t adhere to a politically correct view of sexuality.”
"Holding a different view of marriage and sexuality is not discriminatory - especially when all the social science research demonstrates the benefits of the natural family,” added FRC’s Tony Perkins.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Family Institute, the state affiliate of the American Family Association, published an article accusing Sen. Kirk of wanting to “normalize sexual deviance while trampling the conscience rights of untold numbers of people” and followed it up with an email urging its members to call Kirk’s office and express their displeasure.
Despite what all three groups said, the Howard Center and the World Congress of Families don’t merely hold “a different view of marriage and sexuality.” WCF actively works to push oppressive anti-gay laws throughout the world, including actively working toward Russia’s ban on pro-gay-rights speech. Indeed, the speakers at the Capitol Hill symposium enthusiastically defended Russia's anti-gay laws and denyied that the laws actually harm gay people.
It maybe shouldn’t come as a surprise that three of the largest anti-gay groups in the US have jumped to the defense of WCF: Brown has close ties with WCF and has signed fundraising emails for the group, and FRC and AFA are both official “partners” of the organization.
The following is a guest post by Campbell, California Mayor Evan Low, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.
In 2009, I became the youngest openly gay mayor as well as the youngest Asian-American mayor in the country. Some journalists wrote about how I was making history, but I like to point out that I was preceded by a number of other courageous “firsts.”
I became mayor 35 years after Kathy Kozachenko was the first openly LGBT person elected to public office, and 32 years after Harvey Milk – affectionately known as “the mayor of Castro Street” – was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the same state I serve today.
This week marks the anniversary of the tragic end of Milk’s short time in office, when he and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Supervisor Dan White. But the legacy of Harvey Milk and other LGBT trailblazers is very much alive. Today there are more than 500 openly LGBT elected or appointed officials serving our country. Through their service and that of public officials representing other marginalized communities, it is clear that our democracy works best when our lawmakers reflect the nation’s diversity.
That’s not to say that things are always easy for LGBT elected officials. Like Milk, I have received my share of hate mail, with messages like: “We don’t want the homosexual agenda in our community.” As I have told reporters before, I don’t know what is on that so-called agenda, other than basic equality for all people.
One issue that’s certainly on my agenda is the end of the FDA’s ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. In a petition that now has more than 62,000 supporters, I wrote:
…recently, I hosted a blood drive on city property, but was banned from donating blood myself.
As the mayor of Campbell, providing for the welfare of the general public is a top priority. As a gay man, however, I am conflicted in my advocacy for blood drives. Under current U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, a man who has sex with another man is deferred for life from donating blood. The ban was imposed in 1983 when there were no reliable tests for screening blood for HIV/AIDS. It was also made during a time of mass medical confusion and cultural homophobia associated with HIV/AIDS. The current FDA ban is wildly outdated and perpetuates unfair labels against gay and bisexual men that live on through decades of discrimination.
These kinds of stereotypes are not unlike the ones Harvey Milk was fighting nearly four decades ago, and why he, like I do today, encouraged LGBT people to come out whenever possible – to dispel the harmful lies about our community with the truth. Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk and founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, continues his uncle's legacy, and we are so fortunate to have Stuart carry the torch.
In a tape Milk recorded before his death, he said, “I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement.” I think he would be proud of the movement that lives on in his spirit today.
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way (PFAW), a national progressive nonprofit advocacy group, has launched a petition urging YouTube to change its video takedown policy in response to a barrage of frivolous complaints aimed at PFAW’s Right Wing Watch YouTube channel.
On November 7, YouTube automatically terminated the channel of PFAW’s Right Wing Watch blog after Pastor Gordon Klingenschmitt, a right-wing activist who is a frequent subject of Right Wing Watch’s reporting, made a number of frivolous copyright claims against the account. On November 20, the channel was restored following YouTube’s procedure for challenging such false claims. Within a day, Klingenshmitt filed another series of complaints, causing the channel to be suspended yet again.
“We must be doing something right if right-wing, anti-gay activists are so eager to silence our voice,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “But we can’t allow a hatemonger like Klingenschmitt to hide his record of dangerous, bigoted rhetoric simply by filing a few false complaints. We appreciate the service that YouTube provides and have made it a central part of our work monitoring and exposing the radical right. Although we distribute our videos through multiple channels, YouTube is an important network for sharing this information. It’s disappointing that a single activist with a grudge can exploit a loophole in YouTube’s policies to bring down the work of an entire watchdog organization.”
Right Wing Watch has recorded Klingenschmitt’s long history of extremist rhetoric. Videos on our YouTube account show Klingenschmitt
YouTube’s policy requires the automatic removal of an account if three challenges have been filed against theaccount simultaneously. Klingenschmitt has previously attempted, unsuccessfully, to get individual videos of himself removed from Right Wing Watch’s channel. Other right-wing figures have similarly attempted to abuse YouTube’s policy to hide videos of themselves; all the challenged clips have ultimately been restored.
Right Wing Watch’s YouTube channel holds thousands of videos that have collectively received more than 20 million views.
“Klingenschmitt’s attacks speak to the success we have had in monitoring and exposing extremism on the right,” added Keegan. “However, unless YouTube changes its policy to prevent serial frivolous copyright claims from people like Klingenschmitt from taking down accounts, we will continue to risk losing valuable reporting for any reason at any time. YouTube should not allow extremists to silence the watchdogs reporting on their extremism.”
The Associated Press reported last week on the efforts of Sheriff Adrian Garcia of Harris County, Texas, to prevent violence against the Houston county jail’s estimated 250 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inmates. The AP notes that while a number of major cities have taken similar steps, Harris County will be the first in Texas to implement such a program.
Naturally, the American Family Association and Eagle Forum are scandalized.
Under the headline, “Deputy, Ronnie is now called Regina: Jail enacts sexual orientation policy,” Charlie Butts, a reporter for the AFA’s OneNewsNow, interviews Texas Eagle Forum president and former Texas Republican Party chairwoman Cathie Adams, who claims that Houston’s mayor Annise Parker – who is openly gay – is behind the new policy.
Adams claims that Parker actually wants to leave LGBT people “more vulnerable to abuse” and that the policy “will eke into the community and set up a very tragic situation.” She suggests instead of allowing transgender people to identify as they choose, that the jail offer conversion therapy to transgender inmates; Butts claims, “The mental health field has an excellent track record in treating transgendered people to conform to their biological gender.” In fact, major medical groups including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association oppose the practice of reparative therapy.
Cathie Adams, with Texas Eagle Forum, says Houston is being influenced by its mayor, Annise D. Parker, an open lesbian. The city needs a better role model, she says.
"Not a person who is going to leave them more vulnerable to abuse," says Adams. "And I'm very sorry to say, I think that is exactly what this policy will do, not just in the prison but of course it will eke into the community and set up a very tragic situation."
The policy also suggests that transgendered people can choose between male and female sections of the prison.
Adams calls that allowance "tragic," noting that a "man is born as a man."
Jailers must address the transgendered by their "chosen name" and include it on the bracelet, the AP also reported.
The mental health field has an excellent track record in treating transgendered people to conform to their biological gender. So Adams wonders why, if Houston wants to help jail inmates, they don't offer counseling instead of affirming their gender confusion.
Jailers fall under a "zero tolerance" rule for sexual misconduct or harassment toward LGBT inmates, which could include firing and criminal charges. It was unclear from The Associated Press story if those rules only apply to homosexuals.
As Miranda reported earlier, House Speaker John Boehner’s office stepped in to provide space to the anti-gay Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society for its symposium on what Americans should learn from other countries when it comes to “family policy.” Sen. Mark Kirk, who had originally sponsored the group for a room, withdrew his support last night saying he doesn’t affiliate with groups that discriminate.
The Howard Center’s Allan Carlson, who described himself as a historian by training, saw fascism at work: “The parallel I see here is what happened in Italy, Germany, other lands in the 1920s and 1930s as fascism began to impose its fear-driven grip on debate, on conversation, and on policy-making.”
[UPDATE: Concerned Women of America has posted videos of the event]
Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America boasted about having been a speaker at all but one of the World Congress of Families summits – annual events organized by the Howard Center and attended by conservative religious activists from around the world. Crouse acknowledged that “things don’t look so good” to activists watching the advance of same-sex marriage in Europe and the U.S., and public opinion in many countries shifting to “quote LGBT rights.” But, she said that’s not the whole story, and praised countries that have outlawed gay marriage and other groups of citizens who are “with the help of God” changing the world.
Crouse is particularly excited about what is happening among opponents of marriage equality in France, which she portrays as a “David v. Goliath” battle of plucky pro-family activists fighting the French government and media. She mentioned activists in Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, and Nigeria. She encouraged the small number of attendees to “take heart” and count on the power of truth and faithfulness.
Austin Ruse, the enthusiastically anti-gay head of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, devoted much of his remarks to supporting Russia’s new anti-free-speech and anti-gay propaganda law. He read from a statement of support from “pro-family groups” defending Russia’s new law. The letter claims that “the Russian law protects the innocence of children and the basic rights of their parents recognized in the international legislation and treaties.” More from the letter:
With its new law Russia is protecting genuine and universally recognized human rights against artificial and fabricated “values” aggressively imposed in many modern societies….We thus call for respect of the sovereignty of the Russian people and we invite all organizations and people who feel responsible for the protection of the innocence of children and their rights, the natural family and parental rights to stand up for Russia, as well as for Ukraine and Moldova suffering the same pressure due to similar laws.
Ruse, who has been spending time in Russia to prepare for the World Congress of Families 2014 summit, being held in Moscow, said western LGBT rights advocates were guilty of overheated rhetoric and “propaganda” about the status of gays in Russia. He saw gays everywhere in Moscow! They can enjoy themselves “hassle-free” at clubs. Russians, he said, accept that homosexuality exists, but they believe the political movement to celebrate and regularize it is harmful to children.
Speakers actually seemed envious of Russia in some ways. Ruse said that with the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Christians over there are truly dominant.” In the U.S., though, there is “an increasingly hostile atmosphere toward people with traditional values” and a “vicious totalitarianism that is loose in the land.” And “there’s more trouble coming” with the Employment Non Discrimination Act. Crouse said American gay-rights activists are “turning into thugs who are destroying freedom of speech, destroying religious liberty.” It’s very “refreshing,” she said, to see that’s not the case in other countries.
Ruse acknowledged that anti-gay violence and thuggery is a problem in Russia. He denounced such violence and said he has urged Russian officials to do more to stop it. But when he was asked whether the conversation about the anti-gay propaganda law and protecting children from gay people might encourage such violence, he said anti-gay violence in Russia has been going on for a long time and didn’t think the new law was to blame. And he said blaming religious conservatives for creating a climate of hate is a tactic of gay-rights groups, a “maneuver to silence people.”
Carlson said he cuts Russia a lot of slack because the country is “trying to put decent moral society back together” after both Communism and some of the “bad things” – like a “libertine approach to sexuality” – that poured into Russia from the west after the fall of Communism.
A Capitol Hill event featuring groups that push anti-gay laws abroad, which was scheduled to take place in a Senate office building today, developed a layer of unexpected intrigue last night when the event’s organizers sent out an email announcing that the meeting would be moved to a House building after the unnamed “senator who was sponsoring our room” canceled the room “due to media pressure.”
It turned out that the senator in question was Illinois’ Mark Kirk (home-state senator of the event’s organizer the World Congress of Families), and that the “media pressure” was Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder simply calling up his office to ask about it. Kirk’s office immediately dropped the event and announce that “Sen. Kirk doesn’t affiliate with groups that discriminate.”
WCF responded by announcing that “obviously Senator Kirk doesn’t care about families and children and freedom and has chosen to side with the policies of decline, death and disease promoted by the Sexual Radicals.”
To the rescue came none other than Speaker Boehner, whom World Congress of Families president Allan Carlson thanked for providing the group with its new Capitol Hill digs. Boehner’s spokesman nevertheless distanced his boss from the group in a statement to Feder: “This administrative task obviously does not imply endorsement of any particular point of view.”
All of this drama then became a central focus of the event, which was billed as a discussion on what the U.S. can learn from “family policy lessons from other lands.”
Carlson kicked off the event by announcing, “A great fear seems to be descending on what was once called the world’s greatest deliberative body” and saying that Kirk’s pulling the plug on the event’s room reminded him of the early days of fascism in Europe.
[UPDATE: Concerned Women of America has posted videos of the event]
Another speaker, Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse, who is also on WCF’s board of directors, blamed the change of plans on “a group of radicals” – an odd accusation since there had been no organized effort to prevent the event from taking place.
Finally, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute’s Austin Ruse declared that Sen. Kirk’s action made him less friendly to free speech than Russia – whose law criminalizing pro-gay-rights speech has the vocal support of C-FAM and WCF .
UPDATE: Peter has a post on the summit speakers' defense of Russia's anti-gay laws.
WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans today voted to deny Nina Pillard a yes-or-no vote on her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Pillard is one of three nominees to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit; Senate Republicans previously filibustered nominee Patricia Millett and they have indicated that they will also block the nomination of Robert Wilkins to the court. Republicans signaled they would filibuster all three nominees before President Obama had even announced their names.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were the only Republicans who voted to allow Pillard’s nomination to proceed to a yes-or-no vote. They were also the only two Republicans to support allowing a vote on Millett’s nomination.
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:
“First, Republicans in Congress threw a temper tantrum about health care reform that shut down the government and threatened our economic stability. Now, they’re threatening to keep one-third of the seats on a critical court vacant just because they don’t like the president who is charged with nominating judges.
“This stunningly irresponsible approach to governing shortchanges the individuals and businesses seeking justice from our courts and makes a mockery of our judicial system.
“Nina Pillard is an extraordinarily qualified nominee who deserves a fair, yes-or-no vote from the Senate. Instead, her nomination is caught up in the GOP’s latest attempt to nullify existing laws by obstructing their implementation. Pillard, and American voters, deserve better.”
At the beginning of last year, freedom to marry for same-sex couples was the law of the land in only six states and DC. Now, in less than a two-week span, Illinois and Hawaii have become the 15th and 16th states set to join a fast-growing list.
State senators in Hawaii today gave final approval to a marriage equality bill, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie has said he will sign it into law. Following his signature, same-sex couples will be able to marry in Hawaii beginning Dec. 2. Civil unions have been available since January of last year, and The Advocate reports that it will be possible to convert those unions into marriages online if couples so choose.
Today’s news is not only a major victory for committed couples in Hawaii, but also an exciting step in the march toward equality nationwide.
Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) responded to the Senate’s passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act with a column in Crisis magazine today declaring that ENDA will lead to “quotas for transsexuals” and force businesses to hire unqualified transgender workers: “They don’t even have to know how to type as long as they have lopped off their penises or at least wear dresses.”
All of which got Ruse to wondering why the “totalitarian” gay rights movement isn’t “embarrassed by the T in LGBT,” or what he calls “displays of obvious psychological disturbances.”
Race hustlers everywhere know exactly where this is headed, toward self-imposed quotas by businesses large and small. The only way a business can inoculate itself against charges of discriminatory hiring practices is to hire the aggrieved class no matter what. If pushed by the Justice Department, Hobby Lobby’s only line of defense would be to trot out the transsexuals. They don’t even have to know how to type as long as they have lopped off their penises or at least wear dresses.
One of the truly strange things about the gay-rights movement is how free they are with their strangest cousins. You would think that even gay men and lesbians might be rather embarrassed by the T in LGBT. But so bold are they, so fearless, that they now lead with the T. Most Americans are rightly put off by such displays of obvious psychological disturbances.
The bill that just passed the US Senate was met with no genuine objection even by conservative Senators, so cowed are they by the new totalitarians of the sexual left. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives where there are more spines, one hopes.
Also today, Ruse gave an interview to the Catholic website Aleteia about a year-old report on rising STI rates in the U.S., from which Ruse concluded that “the sexual revolution has been tried and shown to be an utter failure” and that those who don’t agree with him “are as willfully blind as the most hard-line Stalinists ever were.”
“The evidence is overwhelming,” says Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM). “The sexual revolution has been tried and shown to be an utter failure. The body count and the diseases continue to rise. Marriages and families are destroyed.”
“The only ones who do not see this are the ideologists who refuse to see the empirical evidence. They are as willfully blind as the most hard-line Stalinists ever were. And they keep asking for more and more of the same.”
On Tuesday, the Illinois legislature voted to make their state the 15th to allow marriage equality.
The marriage law’s primary opponent, the Illinois Family Institute, did not take it well.
In a blog post emailed to the group’s supporters last night, IFI “cultural analyst” Laurie Higgins offers her “random thoughts” on the “tragic marriage vote,” which range from warning that “public schools will teach about sexual perversion in positive ways” to declaring that “plural unions” are now “inevitable” to lashing out at pro-equality Christians to comparing marriage equality to slavery, segregation, and “Hitler’s reign of terror.”
We can only hope that Illinois will escape the fate of Maine, which IFI told us invoked the wrath of God when it legalized marriage equality.
Random Thoughts on Tragic Marriage Vote
Written By Laurie Higgins | 11.06.13
My random thoughts following the vote on marriage:
1.) Tuesday, cowardly and/or ignorant Illinois lawmakers in defiance of truth, history, logic, compassion, and in some cases, their own religious traditions voted to legally recognize non-marital unions as marriages. In so doing, they have expanded the role of government in the lives of Americans, diminished religious liberty, rendered inevitable the legalization of plural unions, and harmed children in incalculable ways. They have given their stamp of approval on the practice of denying children’s inherent right to have both a mother and father. And they have assured that public schools will teach about sexual perversion in positive ways to children from kindergarten on up.
4.) The Left makes the non-sequitur claim that because heterosexual marriages are failing, homosexual unions should be recognized as marriages. By that “logic,” one could argue that because marriages composed of two people are failing, we should legally recognize plural unions as marriages. Or because marriages composed of biologically unrelated people are failing, we should legalize incestuous marriages. Or because marriages between people of major age are failing, we should legalize marriage between adults and children.
5.) Far too many Christians and their religious leaders were missing in action on this battle and have been for a very, very long time. Churches are not educating either their adult members or their youth on the issue of homosexuality in general and marriage in particular, and this dereliction of duty leaves Christians either confused or, worse, persuaded by the lies of the world.
6.) Far too many religious leaders claim the church should not be involved in “political issues.” But what if political issues are first biblical issues? During the slave era, should churches have remained silent as Scripture was twisted to justify slave-holding (just as it is twisted today to justify same-sex pseudo-marriage)? Was it right that so many Christians refused to stand for truth during Hitler’s reign of terror? Should Christians have refrained from participating in the Civil Rights marches in the 1960’s?
It’s been an exciting few days for supporters of LGBT equality. Following last night’s Senate cloture vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, today the Illinois House passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry, setting the stage for Illinois to become the 15th state in the nation with full marriage equality. One version of the bill has already been passed by the Illinois Senate, and Governor Pat Quinn has promised to sign it. When he does, thirty percent of our nation’s states will have marriage equality.
PFAW has been on the ground in Illinois, supporting the push for marriage equality in any way we can. In addition to providing lobbying training materials so Illinois voters could bring their support for equality directly to their elected officials through calls, emails, and in-person visits, PFAW members joined thousands of friends in the March on Springfield for Marriage Equality last month.
In what the CEO of Equality Illinois has called the “national march toward full recognition of the dignity of all gay and lesbian couples,” Illinois has brought us one state closer to full marriage equality nationwide. And while 15 states represents real momentum, we won’t stop until every committed couple in the country has access to the legal protections they need to take care of each other and their families.