Gender & Sexuality

Obama Administration Restricts Plan B Access

The Food and Drug Administration was on the verge of approving the emergency contraceptive known as "Plan B One Step." Access to emergency contraceptives is important to the reproductive freedom of women, and having to obtain a prescription or get past a pharmacist with reactionary moral beliefs can be a substantial burden on women. As the FDA's decision reflected, denying over-the-counter access to emergency contraception increased unwanted pregnancies without any good medical reason. The two-tiered system that required young women under the age of 17 to obtain a prescription was also determined to increase unwanted pregnancies in the for whom they are most burdensome. But in a decision that RH Reality Check's Jodi Jacobson calls "astounding," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has overruled her own medical experts and denied American women over-the-counter access to Plan B. This action is, quite simply, a disgrace. It's awful on the merits, and politically...

Starving Homophobia

Is it right to deny foreign aid to countries that discriminate against gays and lesbians?

AP Photo
Yesterday the Obama administration brought LGBT rights to the top of its foreign-policy agenda, announcing it would tie the receipt of foreign aid to a country’s treatment of gay and lesbian citizens. “Gay rights are human rights,” Hillary Clinton said in a rousing speech to the United Nations in Geneva. “It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.” As one would expect, the GOP quickly jumped on the opportunity. Rick Santorum assailed the president for "promoting gay lifestyles" around the globe, and Rick Perry quickly followed with a statement denouncing the administration's "war on traditional American values." By now the right’s sky-is-falling alarmism on gay issues has come to seem quaint. The new policy puts some bite behind the administration's effort to promote LGBT rights worldwide. While it may not cause an immediate about-...

You Big Bully

Over the past five years we've seen a surge of concern—as evidenced by legislation in 46 states—about bullying. That's heartening. There's no question that serious bullying hurts children and adults alike, especially Lord of the Flies -type bullying that goes beyond the usual teen drama and can destroy a child. Some bullying, especially what happened to many now-adult gay men when they were young (cf: the masculinity patrol ), includes severe physical harm. In the 1990s, Lambda Legal won a landmark lawsuit on behalf of Jamie Nabozny , whose experience in a Wisconsin school included four years of this: Students urinated on him, pretended to rape him during class and when they found him alone kicked him so many times in the stomach that he required surgery. Although they knew of the abuse, school officials said at one point that Nabozny should expect it if he’s gay. Nabozny attempted suicide several times, dropped out of school and ultimately ran away.... a jury found the school...

Department of Overreaction: Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la

Longtime gay community reporter Rex Wockner passes along this story of a Wisconsin teacher who has taken the "gay" out of Deck the Halls. You can't really blame her, what with "gay" being a common grade school slur, and all: The music teacher at Cherry Knoll removed the word "gay" from the song Deck the Halls because the children kept giggling. Instead students were taught to sing "don we now our bright apparel". That's not so gay, now, is it? If you watch the video, the principal has all the right reactions, saying he wished the teacher had used the song as "a teachable moment," building on their anti-bullying policy and support for diversity in sexual orientation, explaining what "gay" used to mean, and reinforcing the idea that "gay" is not a bad word. What do you think: Will this incident join Fox News' "war on Christmas" seasonal parade, in which the homos are joining in with the secular elites to ruin the holiday?

Die, Faggots

I have a tendency to hurrah, regularly, about how vastly American attitudes toward lesbians and gay men have improved. (Attitudes toward transgendered folks are much further behind, as I will discuss here soon, as that column of the movement started later and includes fewer people.) But whenever I write about how amazing it is that I never worry that someone will call me a f***ing dyke on the street, or that The New York Times not only uses "gay" instead of "homosexual" but actually profiles same-sex couples in the wedding section, I am reminded that it's not this way everywhere. For instance, while adults can choose to live in parts of the country that are more or less welcoming, children have no choice in the microcultures we call "family" and "school." Some of those are welcoming; some, not so much. Belatedly, I came across this YouTube video , posted in August, by a boy who said he had been bullied since first grade ("fag! homo!"), had been cutting himself, was terrified to enter...

Siri, Sexism, and Silicon Valley

Siri might not be sexist, but that doesn't let Apple—or the tech world—off the hook.

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that there is nothing intentional in the fact that Siri, Apple’s AI assistant for the iPhone 4S, has a hard time providing information for abortion clinics, birth control, and other reproductive health services. As both Amanda Marcotte and Jill Filipovic have pointed out, Apple relies on external databases for Siri, which often offer faulty or inconclusive information for reproductive health services. What’s more, because of the difficulties inherent to location-based search algorithms, it’s likely that Siri has a bias toward avoiding all but the most unambiugous results, which—given the extent to which abortion providers often demure about their identity—would explain the presence of crisis pregnancy centers in results for abortion-related queries. As for the responses Siri gives when you say “I was raped” (“Really!”) or “Are you pro-life?” (“I am what I am”), it’s likely that those are canned responses to declarative statements or questions...

The (New York) Times, They are A-Changin'

Last Sunday, I got silly-happy when I came across the Vows column in the Times' Style section. (For those who don't know, every week NYT highlights one couple's wedding with a little feature story and pictures, among the wedding listings.) Usually I simply scan that section briefly, checking up on how many same-sex couples appear, almost by habit. Since the NYT started allowing same-sex announcements in its wedding section in September 2002 , a few prominent couples have crashed that Vows feature. If I remember correctly (and if I'm wrong, please let me know!), the first was folksinger Janis Ian's marriage to Patricia Snyder, whom I assumed was the same person Ian had, in her Advocate columns, been entertainingly referring to as "Mr. Lesbian." After that came Tony Kushner and Mark Harris's wedding. After that I stopped keeping such close track, but, and somewhere along the line, got married myself. (Thank you for asking, but no, we did not send a notice to the Times.) This past...

Ain't Misbehavin'

Ginger White's apparently painful confession of having had a 13-year on-again, off-again affair with Herman Cain seems to have dealt the final blow to his tottering political campaign. I've heard conversations, since, in which political insiders are annoyed about that—believing that adultery should never be what brings a public person down. Here's the idea: Adultery is a private, consensual behavior. While it may violate a person's marriage, that's none of our business as citizens. Sexual harassment , on the other hand, is a public matter precisely because a) it is not consensual, and b) it is employment discrimination against women (or sometimes men), that makes it difficult for a person to earn a living. Violating another person's body and discriminating against them in the workplace is, in this view, completely relevant to governing, because it is an abuse of power that indicates someone may well abuse other power, and doesn't deserve to wield it. (Cf: Senator Bob Packwood : after...

Ask for More

Gentlemen, I would like to ask you to leave the room for a moment. Move along, now. Yes, you too, over there in the corner, I see you! Okay. Ladies: Do you have trouble asking for more money when you're offered wages, salaries, speakers' fees, or any other financial negotiations? Read. This. Now. It's a well-established fact that women are far less likely than men to negotiate for more money. Women Don't Ask was the title of an excellent book exploring the topic. Yes, that's partly because women are more likely to be socialized that we'll be punished for being aggressive in a way that men aren't. But we can still find ways to do it that are effective and natural. There are some great books on the subject. Go to your library or bookstore and find the one that works for you. This isn't the only reason for the yawning gender wage gap . There's sexual harassment (Herman Cain!), occupational segregation, bias against mothers, and other contributors. But this one matters. Teach yourself,...

So You Think You Have Problems?

Even if your parents didn't like who you dated, they didn't send him to Siberia. And while they may haunt you in various ways after their deaths, that haunting can never weigh on you as much as Stalin's overhanging ghost. Do read this sad obituary of someone who, because of her father, could never find a place in life: “Wherever I go,” she said, “here, or Switzerland, or India, or wherever. Australia. Some island. I will always be a political prisoner of my father’s name.” Yes, the sins of the fathers are indeed visited upon the children, often in very peculiar ways.

Queering Congress

(AP Photo/Russel A. Daniels) Tammy Baldwin, center, and Jared Polis, right, both openly gay members of Congress, answer questions from Jonathan Capehart, left, at the International Gay & Lesbian Leadership Conference in San Francisco, Saturday, December 5, 2009. Both spoke optimistically about key legislative agenda items sought by LGBT advocates. W hen California teacher Mark Takano ran for Congress 15 years ago, he lost to Republican challenger Ken Calvert by a scant 519 votes. Two years later, things looked more promising. Police had caught Calvert with a prostitute; Takano should have easily clinched a win. But just three months before the election, Ray Haynes—a Calvert supporter in the state assembly—outed Takano as gay. "I said quite clearly I personally don't want a homosexual representing me in Congress," Haynes said at the time. Takano's opponents sent a late mailer, which asked voters in pink letters to consider whether Takano should be "A Congressman for Riverside … or...

Off-Season

The possible demise of the Women's Professional Soccer league leaves soccer-playing girls without a dream to aspire to — and women's soccer in the U.S. without a plan. 

Natasha Kai of Sky Blue FC // Credit: WPS
The future is not looking bright for Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) in the United States. The pro league has dropped down to just five teams with October's disqualification of Florida's bungled magicJack franchise (the old Washington Freedom of the WPS, and WUSA, its predecessor league). At the moment, U.S. Soccer, the sport's governing body in the U.S., is dragging its heels in granting the waiver WPS needs to operate a Division 1 league with fewer than eight teams. For various reasons, national team players like the newly famous and semi-famous Abby Wambach, Lauren Cheney, Alex Morgan, and Hope Solo aren't likely to play in a noncertified or Division 2 league, and discussed new teams in Connecticut and even Detroit aren't likely to manifest before the early December deadline U.S. Soccer has placed on the league . The possible, perhaps even probable, demise of the WPS after three seasons would leave the United States without a pro soccer league and no place for soccer-playing...

Barney Frank Goes Home

The idea that Massachusetts could lose Barney Frank in our congressional delegation never crossed my mind before yesterday, but I'm told that he's been signalling he's ready to go for a couple of years now. The New York Times ' Abby Goodnough had a nice item about his departure announcement, which includes a great kicker about his famous combativeness with reporters and, well, everyone: Mr. Frank’s famous petulance was on display at times on Monday; he dismissed what he called a “gotcha” question from a reporter about his personal investments and, upon learning she worked for Fox News, said, “Quelle surprise.” He also said he looked forward to leaving office so that “I don’t even have to pretend to try to be nice to people I don’t like,” leading another reporter to ask, “Have you ever?” “Some of you may not think I’ve been good at it,” Mr. Frank said. “But I’ve been trying.” I have to say, I am really looking forward to the "Barney Frank greatest hits"—the quips, the tongue-lashings,...

Advertising for Marriage

Rex Wockner, longtime gay reporter, says this is the best marriage equality TV spot he has ever seen. The LGBT newsweekly The Advocate agrees . I haven't seen as many as they have, but it's pretty great. My only thought: it could be even better if there's another one just like it, in which the principal figure is a woman. What do you think?

GOP Candidates: Let's Resegregate the Military!

Around this time last year, the Senate was setting in to tackle various pieces legislation it put off over the course of the year and capitalize on the remaining time before the House majority switched parties in January. Repealing "don't ask, don't tell"—the '90s-era provision that allowed LGBT soldiers to serve in the military so long as they did not reveal their sexual identity—was near the top of the list for Democrats. Rather than immediately repealing the measure after the 2008 election on the grounds that the rule clearly violated civil liberties, Democrats did their best to appease the regulation's proponents and commissioned an impact study, which concluded that there would be no negative impact on military readiness or morale if the law were overturned. With the public backing repeal 77 to 21 percent , it easily sailed through the House, and after some wrangling was passed by the Senate; eight Republicans even joined the Democratic majority to overturn the law. "They will do...

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