Gender & Sexuality

Merit Badge for Silence

As with the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the Boy Scouts' position on homosexuality denies gay people the basic right to self-definition.

(AP Photo/LM Otero)
(AP Photo/LM Otero) Jennifer Tyrrell delivers a petition with 300,000 signatures to the Boy Scouts of America headquarters urging the organization to abandon its policy of excluding gays. Tyrrell was ousted as a den mother because she is a lesbian. On Tuesday, after a two-year review, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) "emphatically reaffirmed" its current ban on "open or avowed homosexuals"—a restriction that applies not only to Scout leaders, but to Scouts as well. I have a soft spot for the Scouts, having been a member until I reached high school (the uniforms, if you haven't noticed, are radically uncool, and as soon as I hit adolescence, my interest in earning merit badges evaporated). But I still remember how to tie a square, bowline, and sheet knot—and how to hang a bear bag. I learned the importance of the latter the hard way, at Boy Scout camp. Too tired to be bothered with finding a tree tall enough to hoist my bag of food, I swung it onto the roof of the Scoutmaster’s lean-to...

Sharia Scare in Tennessee

(Courtesy of the Vanderbilt Alumni Association)
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, just outside Nashville, the Muslim community won a hard-fought victory Wednesday. After a two-year legal battle that inflamed anti-Islamic sentiment across the state, a federal judge ruled that a new Islamic community center could get the permits necessary to open. Elsewhere in the state, however, Muslim residents got a cold reminder this week of just how much prejudice exists around them. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a conservative Republican who's pro-life and anti-tax, is facing a chorus of angry voices from county Republican parties. It seems he's just not concerned enough about the threat of Sharia law. According to The Tennessean , Republicans in Stewart, Carroll, and Williamson counties passed resolutions criticizing Governor Haslam for hiring Samar Ali, a Tennessee native and Muslim American, as international director of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development. The Tennessean reports that six other counties have also adopted...

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...

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...

Frank Kameny Blazes Through the Skies

As some of you know, Frank Kameny was the real thing, one of the great trailblazers in the American gay-rights movement. In the 1950s, he worked as an astronomer for U.S. Army map service—until they discovered he was gay, and fired him. He spent his life fighting back, and by the time he died last October, he had been vindicated. He was in the room when President Barack Obama signed the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." He had a Washington, D.C. street named after him. How do you top that? You name an asteroid after him, that's how: When astronomer Gary Billings read Kameny’s obituary, he consulted with others in the astronomy world. They decided to submit a citation to the Paris-based International Astronomical Union and the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., seeking to designate Minor Planet 40463 as Frankkameny. ... After Billings read Kameny’s obituary, he wrote to Kinne. “Hey, I have a few asteroids I discovered that I haven’t named yet,” he said. “What do you say we name...

Vive la France!

Flickr/gpaumier
Yes, folks, it's another Tigger day. Last week, while I was talking about how straight people changed marriage so that same-sex couples now belong in it, the new French government announced that it will gender-neutralize the entrance requirements for marriage early next year, which will also grant same-sex couples full adoption rights. That would mean that twelve nations marry same-sex pairs, plus some states and provinces scattered hither and yon. In historical order, that would include The Netherlands (2001), Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Canada (2003, in some provinces; 2005, nationally), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Portugal (2010), Iceland (2010), Argentina (2010), and Denmark (2012). After France, I'm looking at Australia, where the debate is in full swing; the majority of Australians ( 62 percent ) say they favor marriage equality; the relevant Senate committee has recommended that Parliament pass an equal-marriage law; and a highly active national...

Don't Blink

I've talked in the past about how unconscious bias works—and how it's an aspect of some very healthy parts of our brains and bodies. For very good reasons, we all navigate by intuition, habit, and practiced behaviors every single day. Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer have written about these neurological facts beautifully and well. Every parent knows how time-consuming it is to have to articulate and teach habits we don't even realize we navigate by. Walk on the right and pass on the left. The fork goes here and the knife and spoon go there. It's not polite to say that in public. You can't take that until you pay. Turn your head this way to breathe while you're swimming. That truck means that person delivers the mail. Don't talk back to the people in airport security. If our brains had to sort consciously through every action, behavior, and category (the way parents have to explain things all day) before we could act, we'd be paralyzed. If we didn't practice thinking in categories—...

What's the "Chief Purpose" of Marriage?

Flickr/inottawa
Last week, I laid out some of my ideas about what is and is not radical about same-sex marriage, boiling down a few of the chief concepts I've argued in public over the past 15 or so years. Maggie Gallagher, chief nemesis of the marriage-equality movement, referred to one of those three posts at The Corner, National Review 's group blog. In response, I noted that we agree , in small part, that allowing same-sex pairs to marry continues to nudge the meaning of the institution in the direction of separating sex and diapers. Maggie responded, paraphrasing me incorrectly (which, all right, isn't misquoting exactly, but which still puts words in my mouth that I would never say, imply, or think) this way: E. J. says we agree that gay marriage in some nontrivial way disconnects marriage, sex, and diapers. It reduces the connection between marriage and its erstwhile chief public purpose: regulating responsible procreation. No, Maggie, that's not what I said. I said that same-sex couples are...

The DOJ Takes Aim at DOMA

Late on Tuesday, when just about everyone had already left for their Fourth of July celebrations, the Department of Justice announced that it was asking the Supreme Court to take two DOMA lawsuits, promptly. The first was no surprise: You know that the First Circuit already, very cautiously, declared in the Massachusetts cases ( Gill v. OPM ) that DOMA’s Section 3 was unconstitutional. That’s the section that says that, for federal purposes, marriage is between one man and one woman—and therefore that the United States will refuse to recognize any state’s decision to marry same-sex pairs. It’s because of DOMA Section 3 that I’m married in Massachusetts but not in the United States. If that were overruled, the federal government would have to treat me as married, for purposes such as taxes, social security, inheritance, and so on. I wouldn’t have to file as single hither but as married yon. You recall the backstory here, right? Last year, Obama’s Justice Department declared that it...

Anderson Cooper Is WHAT?

Flickr/dbking
Did anyone even notice, yesterday, that Anderson Cooper came out as gay? One person I know said, "You mean he wasn't out?' She wasn't kidding; she really thought he was as out as Ellen , who was indeed a trailblazer back in the day, and took a lot of hits for it—making it possible for Cooper's news to be just another item in everyone's Twitter feed. As June Thomas wrote , "The news was met with a whole lot of 'duh!' and a little bit of bitterness . It’s not like Cooper’s sexuality was a big secret—just last week I referred to him as ' openly closeted .'" (Andrew Sullivan, whose email to Cooper purportedly spurred the announcement, got this comment as a response.) So here's something even more groundbreaking, which I missed until now. Last month, the UConn men's hockey team posted a video announcement , as a team, saying that they welcome anyone who can play, gay or nay. As ESPN reported : ... the players pledge to support "any teammate, gay or straight, that can help us win games."...

Mississippi's Threat to Roe v. Wade

WikiMedia Commons
As Salon 's Irin Carmon reports , a Republican appointed district-court judge has prevented a new statute that would force the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi to close. (The new law was necessary because, despite the best efforts of past Mississippi legislatures, one lone clinic in Jackson has managed to heroically persevere through a maze of state restrictions.) The stay is temporary, and the issue will presumably have to be resolved by a higher appellate court, possibly ending with the Supreme Court of the United States. Should this case make it up the appellate chain, it will provide a crucial test for Planned Parenthood v. Casey , the 1992 case that currently controls reproductive-freedom cases. Under Casey , previability abortions cannot be banned, but regulations that do not constitute an "undue burden" are permissible. The implicit premise of the compromise that upheld Roe v. Wade was that while women seeking abortions could be inconvenienced, they could not be...

The Shocking Radicalism of "Brave"

While it isn't flawless, Brave has an impressive satirical eye for a mainstream movie.

Pixar
(Warning: This review spoils major plot points for Brave ) The marketing for Pixar’s new girl-centric film, Brave , suggests it is a movie in which a wild-haired heroine single-handedly conquers the monarchy, the patriarchy, and the myth that there are no attractive flat-heeled shoes. Feminists as much as anyone imagined that this would be the story, since so much of today’s media aimed at girls is about “empowering” young women (as if the main obstacle to women’s equality throughout most of history has been a lack of spunk, instead of eons of direct and indirect oppression based on the notion that women exist to be the trophies and helpmeets of men). Small wonder then that so many critics have emerged from the theater a bit befuddled by what they saw: the story of a young princess and her mother trying to understand each other despite their radically different approaches to life as a woman in medieval society. Tom Carson, while praising the movie’s effectiveness , argued that the...

Maggie Gallagher and I Agree to Agree

So my three-part series last week on whether or not marriage equality is radical (in brief: who cares ?; yes ; and no ) drew the attention of Maggie Gallagher, longtime opponent of same-sex marriage. It was kinda fun to be called "always interesting and honest." I've known for a long time that she and I agree about the symbolism of allowing two people of one sex into marriage—it's why we were paired several times in debate. As she says, quoting me whole : Graff also acknowledges that Blankenhorn’s (and mine!) core concern is not irrational. Gay marriage furthers the disconnection of marriage from procreation; it helps in an ongoing way to sever the link between sex and diapers. I just think the change is a good idea, while she thinks it's a bad one. I have long wondered, though, why she's fighting this particular rearguard action. Our 1.5 percent of the population is hardly a very important symbol. Why doesn't she focus on the real source of this disconnection—same-sex couples are...

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