E.J. Graff

Thrown Away for Being Gay

(Letter image courtesy of thinkprogress.org)
Over at ThinkProgress, Zack Ford quotes and verifies a letter from a father disowning his son for being gay. Here’s an excerpt: Don’t expect any further conversations with me. No communications at all. I will not come to visit, nor do I want you in my house. You’ve made your choice though wrong it may be. God did not intend for this unnatural lifestyle. If you choose not to attend my funeral, my friends and family will understand. Read it in full . It’s heartbreaking. Yes, I often celebrate here how much LGBT rights are winning. But here’s what we haven’t won: safety for children growing up in families that have been taught to consider their own offspring an abomination if they were gay. About ten years ago, when I was doing public speaking on marriage equality, I found myself talking to LGBT college kids across the country. The best part was getting to spend time with the kids who volunteered to pick me up from the airport and ferry me to and from my hotel. But I was stunned by how...

The Boy Scouts' Learning Curve

(Flickr/David Blumenkrantz)
Since the Sandusky horror story first broke, we’ve seen a lot of articles exposing horrific behavior from the 1970s and 1980s. Serial abuse at the Horace Mann School. Philadelphia sprtswriter Bill Conlin 's long history of molesting children. Surely, there are more to come. This week's news comes from The Los Angeles Times, which has published an explosive, in-depth account of how the Boy Scouts of America have responded over the decades to child sexual abuse: by keeping a central file of volunteers banned for molesting Scouts, with detailed information about the relevant allegations and investigations. The headline, subhead, and introduction (the “nut graf,” in the lingo) suggest that the system failed: Boy Scout files reveal repeat child abuse by sexual predators Los Angeles Times review of Boy Scout documents shows that a blacklist meant to protect boys from sexual predators too often failed in its mission. A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files dating from 1970 to...

Who Said Women Can Have It All?

Remember that Anne-Marie Slaughter article in The Atlantic about a month and a half ago, whose title—"Why Women Still Can't Have It All"—drove feminists bonkers, while the substance nevertheless rang true for roughly 70 gazillion working parents in this country who are doing the impossible every single day? Rebecca Traister proposed forever retiring the phrase " having it all " here, and I chastised the magazine for the framing. But the article's core idea was right, as I wrote at the time: She’s right about this core truth: Being both a good parent and an all-out professional cannot be done the way we currently run our educational and work systems . When I talk to friends who’ve just had children, here’s what I tell them: Being a working parent in our society is structurally impossible. It can’t be done right, so don’t blame yourself when you’re failing. You’ll always be failing at something—as a spouse, as a parent, as a worker. Just get used to that feeling. Slaughter’s entire...

The Opposite of American

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
The Sikh temple shooting , which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random. I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him. The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively...

Friday Poetry Break: When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer

From Walt Whitman : WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer; When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me; When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them; When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; 5 Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. (With thanks to Kevin Franck for the suggestion!)

Sally Ride's Right to Remain Silent

Astronauts of the STS-7/Challenger mission (Wikimedia Commons/NASA)
I’ve been startled by certain gay men who have petulantly demanded that it wasn’t enough for Sally Ride to be an astounding feminist hero, a role model for all girls; she also should’ve stood up for the gays. Andrew Sullivan ( and others ) had a tantrum about her postmortem announcement, as if coming out were the central patriotic duty of everyone who loves someone of the same sex: I'm not so understanding. We can judge this decision in the context of Ride's life. Her achievements as a woman and as a scientist and as an astronaut and as a brilliant, principled investigator of NASA's screw-ups will always stand, and vastly outshine any flaws. But the truth remains: she had a chance to expand people's horizons and young lesbians' hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to. She was the absent heroine. #Srsly? As if being lesbian or gay were a more important—or even equally important — identity than, say, being the first American female astronaut? Imagine what it must've been like to be a...

RIP, Sally Ride

Sally Ride (Wikimedia Commons/National Archives and Records Administration)
Yesterday, the day before Amelia Earhart’s 115th birthday, Sally Ride joined the skies for a final time. At 61, she died of pancreatic cancer—a horrible disease. Back in 1983, it was thrilling to watch her smash the American gender barrier as she zoomed into space. When she headed off into the final frontier, it was not as it was with the subordinate Lieutenant Uhuru on the Enterprise—the closest analogue there was at the time—but as an equal astronaut. Ride strode up to the Challenger as if she belonged there—which, of course, she did. She had degrees in physics, astrophysics, and English—what an underachiever! When she saw a NASA newspaper ad seeking astronauts, she applied and got the job. Sally Ride was one of a host of exhilarating barrier-smashers in that decade when young feminists like me thought all barriers would soon come crashing down, from Sandra Day O’Connor to Geraldine Ferraro. Of course women could do anything, including fly to the stars! It’s funny now to read The...

This American Darkness

(Wikimedia Commons/David Levy)
If there’s anything that illustrates the term “kneejerk liberal,” it would be the immediate assumption, this weekend, that the Batman shootings required a national debate about gun control. As has been reported elsewhere, Friday’s “assailant” (I profoundly respect Steve Erickson’s refusal to do him the honor of using his name) used not just a semiautomatic rifle, gas canisters, a rifle, and a pistol in a theater, but also jury-rigged bombs to boobytrap his own apartment. (The Associated Press reports that he's refusing to talk to police, so he's at least minimally sane, realizing there is no way to explain what he's done.) Yes, banning assault weapons and all the rest would be useful. So would background checks, the end of gun-show loopholes, and so on. But it wouldn't have stopped this particular killer, who had nothing in his record to suggest he was troubled or troubling. It wouldn't have stopped others like him. Anonymous shootings and public bombings for some obscure and...

More on the Boy Scouts

While I'm in shock over the Batman shootings (check out Garance Franke-Ruta's painfully accurate outline of how this will play out in public discourse), here are some further thoughts from around the web on the Boy Scouts' decision to keep out the homos: The must-read, of course, is our own Gabriel Arana's Merit Badge of Silence . Mitt Romney was against banning lesbians and gay men from the Boy Scouts before he was in favor of it. Check out the clip, at the beginning of Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC segment, of Romney promising Massachusetts voters that, as a Boy Scouts board member, he would work to end the ban. Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, raised by two moms, says that a " secret cabal " can't stop the change that's gonna come, and notes that the Minnesota Boy Scouts just stuck out their tongues and said "nyaah-nyaah, we're going to include gay folks in our Scouts." (Snarky language is all mine.) Neil Steinberg at the Chicago Sun-Times compares the Boy Scouts' exclusion of gay folks to...

Parenting without a Net

For god’s sake, let’s give Marissa Mayer, the incoming Yahoo CEO, a break. Good for her that she’s a little “ gender blind ” and didn’t notice that she was the only female in her computer science courses. Social cluelessness goes with being a code-focused nerd. No, she’s not a feminist , she doesn’t understand feminism, and she doesn’t have the right prescriptions for all women. But maybe we could decide, for a change, that she doesn’t stand for all women and for feminism as a whole, any more than Scott Thompson—her immediate predecessor in Yahoo’s churning top spot—stood for all men? And yes, Stephanie Coontz is right that Mayer, by saying she’ll work through her pregnancy and maternity leave, is giving the wrong signal to the civilian men and women beneath her at Yahoo, who might actually want to spend time with their families. Family leave is essential to most family's health and well-being. But isn’t that part of why CEOs—especially of companies in desperate need of makeovers—get...

What Poor Women Need Is ... Marriage?

Flickr/eivindw
For several years, sociologists and demographers have been discussing a new socioeconomic division in this country: the widening family divide between the highly educated and everyone else. On one side are those who get at least a bachelor's degree—or wait even longer—before they marry and have children. On the other side are those without a college education who have children—early and often—and have a series of partners (with or without marriage) who may or may not be related to their children. In the second group, an unexpected pregnancy may interrupt the woman's education; sometimes she wasn't going on anyway. The first set of families—call them "blue" families, because they cluster in those states—tend to be stable, maritally and financially, which is extremely helpful for the children's well-being. The "red" families are far more chaotic, emotionally and financially. The children's family configurations shift around them, with parental figures coming and going; the parents don't...

The Boy Scouts Get It Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Wikimedia Commons/Norman Rockwell
David Crary at the Associated Press just broke the news that "the Boy Scouts of America on Tuesday emphatically reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays." A month ago, when I wrote that it was almost time to return to the Boy Scouts because they were going to dump the policy, I apparently placed too much faith in those who wanted to reform the organization. I'm told, so far, that the LDS church (hmm, don't we know a prominent public figure who is Mormon?) and the Southern Baptists have a lot of power internally, and that they blocked any movement into the 21st century. Here's Crary's quote that suggests that (emphasis mine): The Scouts' chief executive, Bob Mazzuca, contended that most Scout families support the policy, which applies to both leaders and Scouts. "The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting," Mazzuca said...

Friday Fiction Break

As a kid I consumed fiction like a ravenous beast. I swallowed whole whatever came my way, from Tolstoy to Heinlein, Michener to Eugene O'Neill. My fiction addiction kept up for years, dragging me through Trollope, Muriel Spark, Colson Whitehead, Dickens, Murakami, Russell Banks, Christina Stead, Alice Munro, W.G. Sebald, Chang-Rae Lee, and hundreds of others. I have always profoundly wanted to see the world through everyone else's eyes: What does it feel like to be someone else, in another part of the world, facing the unimaginable? Since most people have trouble articulating their deepest experiences, even reporters don't necessarily get to hear what others feel. Great fiction has always seemed the best way to peer into others' joys and horrors. But at some point I lost the habit, and began reading primarily for information. Maybe it's because reading is what I do all day for work. Maybe it's the parenting exhaustion, leaving so little brainpower left at the day's end. Maybe it's...

Penn State Redux

Flickr/davidambrocik
How in the world did Penn State allow assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to molest children—sometimes on its grounds—for 11 years without notifying authorities? That's the question the institution hired former FBI director Louis Freeh's consulting firm to investigate in-depth. This morning, Freeh's task force released its independent review—which is just as damning as you can imagine, saying that all the key people, Paterno included, "repeatedly concealed critical facts" to protect the institution rather than the victims. Here are the key findings from the executive summary: Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University—President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno—failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky's activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and...

Sorkin's Newsroom

So Aaron Sorkin is redoing The West Wing , but this time in a newsroom. The West Wing redid the Clinton administration, but better, with everyone making the right decisions for the right reasons despite their charming and lovable personal failings. In the same way, HBO's Newsroom gives us a set of high-minded, hyper-educated, East Coast elite liberals (in some cases disguised as Republicans, snort ) play-acting their way through the past two years, but—with the benefit of hindsight—presenting it the way it should have been given to us the first time around. The BP oil spill is recognized instantly as a major crisis, and is announced as such, with no one worrying about being sued. Arizona's immigration bill is instantly recognized as a civil-liberties disaster. The Koch Brothers' takeover and bankrolling of the high-minded original Tea Party, dragging the Republican Party far to the right, is made headline news every single night. (Someone over there has been reading AlterNet's Adele...

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