Gender & Sexuality

Friday Miscellany, Year-End 2011

Herewith a few things to think about before you disappear into 2012: Sweeties. On Wednesday, the Virginian-Pilot ran what I thought was an adorable story about a Navy first. Apparently, when ships come in, someone gets the honor of disembarking for the first official welcome-home kiss with their beloved. It's been three months since the dock landing ship left home for Central America, and all of the usual fanfare is waiting to greet its crew: crowds of cheering families, toddlers dressed in sailor suits, and the lucky, excited woman who's been chosen to take part in a time-honored Navy tradition - the first homecoming kiss. The twist: this was the first time that the Chosen Kisser had a same-sex partner. The two young women involved, who are engaged, are just cute as buttons. The story made me smile. Channeling my great-aunts, when I watched the video, I wanted to pat their pretty heads and wish them a long, happy, healthy life together. But apparently I'm an outlier...

Time for Plan B on Plan B?

New research proves progressives were right to be upset by restrictions on emergency contraceptives.

"Modest" restrictions on reproductive freedom don't ever work the way their centrist supporters intend. They always end up hurting women least capable of shouldering the burden. Two new studies underscore this point. First, Amanda Marcotte points out research in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that the Plan B restrictions supported by the Obama administration—against the advice of its medical professionals—will have effects more far-reaching than keeping the emergency contraceptive out of the hands of 11- and 12-year-olds . The JAMA study shows that this decision not only requires 15- and 16-year-old young women to get a prescription to obtain Plan B; it makes it harder for adult women to obtain Plan B as well. In theory, putting Plan B behind the counter allows access, but also incentivizes consultation with a pharmacist about proper use. But in practice, not making Plan B available over the counter because of regulations put in place without understanding the...

Forget "Stranger Danger"

I'm a silver lining kind of gal. Ever since the media storm over allegations that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky raped and molested children, I've been waiting to hear about many other such cases in the sports world. After all, that's what happened in 2002, when the Boston Globe first exposed that the local Catholic Church archdiocese had covered for dozens of area priests who had abused children. After the initial exposé, hundreds of victims who had endured similar abuse came forward around the country and across the world. With the tidal wave of Penn State news coverage, I expected a similar wave of coaches' victims to find the courage to tell their stories. The most reliable statistical estimates on the subject say that, two decades ago, one in four girls and one in six boys were sexually abused before they reached age 18. Given the priestly power of coaches—and their access to children—I assume that there are a lot more stories out there, and I'm on the side of...

The Social-Conservative Frontrunner

FORT MADISON, IOWA —Rick Santorum's campaign staffers must have fallen asleep with smiles on their faces last night. The former Pennsylvania senator has spent more time than any other candidate visiting Iowa, yet he has struggled to gain traction in the polls even among the evangelical base that led Mike Huckabee to victory in the 2008 Iowa caucus. A string of new endorsements from the state's evangelical leaders might have provided Santorum with just the boost he needs to move out of the bottom rung, but they also carry the risk of reminding voters of Santorum's history of incendiary comments against the LGBT community. Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, endorsed Santorum yesterday. I met with Hurley earlier this summer in the basement cafeteria of the Iowa State Capitol to discuss the state's judicial politics and the campaign against three state Supreme Court justices who in 2009 ruled that denying same-sex couples marriage rights was...

The Latest Proposition

Opponents of California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, have started collecting the 807,615 signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot. It’ll be a slog—they have to have them all by May 14. Earlier this year, Equality California, the largest organization in the state fighting for same-sex marriage rights, declined to participate in the effort to gather signatures, citing the uncertainty of a win at the ballot box and the pending lawsuit against Prop. 8, which the Ninth Circuit is set to decide on soon. This leaves Love, Honor, Cherish (LHC)—another gay-rights organization—leading the way. It’s difficult to guess whether LHC will succeed in its effort to put Prop. 8 to a vote. But it is woefully underprepared to launch an advocacy campaign that can outgun the opposition. LHC is pretty short on cash; whereas Equality California received $3.2 million in contributions in 2010, LHC says it has only $500,000. The results of a recent poll—in which 48 percent...

Full Court Press

DAVENPORT, IOWA —Newt Gingrich's preposterous claim that, as president, he would ignore court decisions he didn’t like and subject the judiciary to congressional and presidential review has received the proper amount of ridicule from the press today. Scott Lemieux and Paul Waldman have already delved into the topic here at the Prospect , but these attacks aren’t solely coming from the left. This morning the Wall Street Journal ran the headline "Gingrich vs. Courts Echoes South's Criticism of 1950s Segregation Decisions," which even among the most conservative crowds won't be a favorable comparison. It's a proposal so unhinged that it might be the final straw that forces establishment Republicans to distance themselves from Gingrich. But it's a popular sentiment on the judiciary among the caucus voters Newt needs to win Iowa. Judicial politics have become the cause célèbre among the state's social conservative grassroots ever since Varnum v. Brien, the landmark 2009 decision in which...

Friday Miscellany

A little bit of this, a little bit of that: So you're a conservative Republican mayor, deep in Mississippi, who ran for Congress in 2008 "on a conservative, family-values platform," according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wouldn't you think you'd keep yourself from using your official credit card "at a visit to an adult store catering to gay men while on a recruitment trip to Canada"? #justsaying A review by The CA shows that Davis spent thousands of dollars at the Mesquite Chop House in Southaven and thousands more at local liquor stores. Also included in the receipts is a charge for $67 at Priape, a store in Toronto that is described by its website as "Canada's premiere gay lifestyle store and sex shop." New York City is reporting a drop in its schoolchildren's obesity rates. If the drop is real, and if Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's activist health commissioner, have really caused it with their recent multi-pronged anti-obesity campaign (bans on...

Your Brain Is Racist

ICYMI : ProPublica and the Washington Post took a look at whether people of any particular race are more likely to receive presidential pardons. You'll be shocked, I'm sure, by what they found: White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities... Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president's ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data . Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered. "I'm just astounded by those numbers," said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department's pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office's practices that would have skewed the recommendations. "I can recall several African Americans...

Pocketbook Rules

DES MOINES, IOWA —Leaders of Iowa's religious right gathered here Wednesday night in an attempt to recalibrate the presidential race to focus on the social issues. A full crowd packed into the ornate Hoyt Sherman Place theater for the world premiere for Gift of Life , a pro-life film produced by Citizens United and narrated by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The film was full of CGIed fetuses, heart-rending stories of adults whose parents had considered abortion, and Huckabee strolling on a beach wearing a blazer as children built sandcastles in the background. The crowd sat enraptured throughout the movie, but the four Republican candidates who spoke before the film were the real draw. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all happily stepped on stage to flaunt their pro-life credentials; Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Jon Huntsman turned down the invitation. Each of the candidates in attendance used the opportunity to make outlandish claims and...

Identical Twins: One Boy, One Girl

In July 1984, three high school kids tossed Charlie Howard off a Bangor, Maine, bridge, to his death, for being gay. The boys spent some time in juvenile detention; one later wrote a book called Penitence and spoke about accepting diversity to ease his remorse. (When I started dating the woman who is now my wife, she found that book on my shelves and turned ghostly white. In her history class at Bangor High, she told me, she sat behind one of the killers. She was out at the time. You can imagine how she felt when, as she recalls, the town rallied around the killers.) The national news media didn't notice homos at the time, but the news of Charlie Howard's death scorched the lesbian and gay community. It was the Matthew Shepard story of its day. Charlie was what we then called a "flamer"; now we'd probably call him transgendered. I thought of Charlie as I read Bella English's Boston Globe story this weekend about twin boys in Orono , Maine—just a few miles up from Bangor, about two...

Romney Meets Veteran

Stop me if you've heard this one before. So Mitt Romney sits down next to a grizzled, flannel-shirt-wearing Vietnam vet in hyper-conservative Manchester, New Hampshire, and asks him about his service. It's a softball, right, made for the TV cameras? Wrong : But 63-year-old Bob Garon wanted to talk about gays in the military—because he is a gay veteran. Garon was sitting in a booth across from his husband, Bob Lemire, at Chez Vachon, a must-stop diner for politicians looking for votes in the New Hampshire primary. Garon and Lemire eat there nearly every morning. The owners call them "The Bobs." Surrounded by a crush of TV cameras, Romney asked Garon about his tour in Vietnam. But Garon asked if Romney would support efforts to repeal the New Hampshire law that legalized gay marriage in the state and allowed him and Lemire to marry. As the old slogan had it, we're everywhere. This is why we're gonna win. Even grizzled Vietnam vets want their husbands to have equal protection under the...

My "Friend" Is Travelling with Me

Following up on Hillary Clinton's announcement last week that foreign aid would be tied in part to nations' LGBT rights records, the Christian Science Monitor took a look at the state of those rights across Africa, reporting that almost all 54 countries criminalize homosexuality. (Notable holdouts are South Africa and Rwanda, which have had their own brushes with legal hatred, even if they're not necessarily welcoming on the ground.) Homos, check out the map before you travel— "or should I say, before you ask for just one double bed for you and your "friend."

Fearless in Uganda

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be hunted and hated for your sexuality? Read Mac McClelland's indispensable report in Mother Jones on being out and gay in Uganda. It's a brilliant portrait, simultaneously intimate, terrifying, and inspirational. Mac makes it impossible to see these men and women as foreign "others" facing the unimaginable; she makes it easy, rather, to relate to each one. For instance, reading this made me feel like I'd hung out with these women or their American incarnations: She wants me to hide her identity, not because she's afraid of arrest or vigilantism but because we spend much of our time talking about how she has two girlfriends and one of them doesn't know that. We retire to the little cement patio in the back while, inside, a meeting commences among a pack of lesbians who look about as much like a pack of lesbians as a pack of lesbians can, polo shirts and baseball caps and shoulders squared. In fact, I think I've dated one of these gals. Even...

Occupy Our Ovaries

Here's a prediction: The Plan B backlash is going to reverberate for quite a while. The ladies are furious that, once again, the administration has backed the bus right over their ovaries, overruling scientific research in the name of patronizing paternalism. If boys and men can pick up condoms as easily as a bag of Skittles, why can't girls and women also bypass a potentially conscience-ridden pharmacist and buy an easy-to-use pill to prevent pregnancy after—after — having sex? Come on, people, it's already happened; if she's too young to have sex, surely she's also too young to have a baby and raise a child. As for wanting parental oversight, well, if the 11-year-old is potentially pregnant by her father or stepfather or uncle, wouldn't it be terrific for her to be able to skip that little nicety? There have been some brilliantly scathing pieces written about the decision. Katha Pollitt announces that the Department of Health and Human Services has decided to treat all women like...

Barney Gets Frank

Over at the Washington Blade , longtime gay community reporter Lou Chibarro Jr. offers up the gay exit interview with Barney Frank. Here's why we love Mr. Curmudgeon: Frank said he became the first member of Congress to voluntarily disclose he was gay in 1987, six years after taking office in 1981, after he determined staying in the closet was too constraining on his personal life. “I got there and I thought, OK, well I can be privately out but publicly closeted,” he said. “But it didn’t work. I found it very hard to have a satisfying, healthy emotional and physical life.” Frank said that during the years he withheld disclosing his sexual orientation, both as a congressman and a member of the Massachusetts State Legislature, he promised himself that he would never hold back on his strong political support for LGBT rights in an effort to conceal his status as a gay person. “I remember my thought process was, well I can’t be honest about being gay. I wouldn’t win. But it would be...

Pages