Gay people are not unmentionable

What happens when sports writing meets LGBT issues? In this case, an oblivious eruption of heterosexual privilege. AOL’s FanHouse columnist David Whitley seems to think gay relationships aren’t fit for public viewing. The issue involves the “Kiss Cam”, which scans around the crowd during breaks in the game and focuses on (usually) a man and a woman, who are then expected to kiss. This is displayed on large screens for everyone to see. Problems arose when Pride St. Louis noticed that the Kiss Cam at Busch Stadium typically doesn’t feature gay couples – only straight couples. They requested that the Kiss Cam include gay couples as well, but David Whitley doesn’t think this is such a good idea. Why?

I’d like to take the socially enlightened high road on this one, but I can’t help sympathizing with that father who’ll be sitting next to his son or daughter at Busch Stadium.

“Daddy, why are those two men kissing?”

“Umm, err, hey isn’t that Albert Pujols coming to bat?”

If you have similar qualms, does that make us homophobic? I’d like to think not, but then I’ve never sat in a gay person’s seat during “Kiss Cam.”

Does that make you homophobic? Actually, yes. And the reason it’s homophobic is because you’re holding a distinctly negative attitude toward gay couples and judging them by a separate standard from straight couples. In this instance, it’s taken the form of a notion that while heterosexuality is a very basic concept that requires no explanation, homosexuality is somehow more difficult and challenging, to the point that younger minds must not be exposed to it. This is utterly baseless, because it’s not that complicated at all. You can explain homosexuality to your children in much the same fashion that you’d explain heterosexuality to them, if they’re mature enough to understand that. It is not different in such a way as to present additional, insurmountable hurdles. A child who can understand heterosexuality can grasp homosexuality as well, without being damaged or traumatized by the mere knowledge that some people are gay.

Since you’ve never been in a gay person’s place, I’ll try and describe what it’s like. Think about the love you feel for another person. It’s something that’s fundamental to your being, it’s something that should be the simplest thing in the entire world. There is nothing wrong about your love, and there’s nothing wrong with you. You know that. Now imagine your love for someone being vilified as inexplicable, incomprehensible, and potentially hazardous to children, as if you and your partner’s mere existence and visibility constitutes a threat to their psychological well-being. As if you’re a danger to children if they so much as see you. Imagine if your love was segregated and treated differently from everyone else’s kind of love, regarded as an inappropriate subject for discussion, something that requires greater maturity and strength of mind to understand, even though you’re really no different from everyone else. Imagine your love being denigrated in all these ways, while everyone else’s love is publicly celebrated, in front of thousands, on a giant screen. A giant screen that you can’t be on.

And then everyone else would insist that it’s not because they have any particular aversion to you or anything. It’s not like they have some kind of phobia. No, they’d like to think of themselves as tolerant, as understanding, even after they’ve put you through all of that – implied you pose a threat to their children, tried to keep you out of public view – just because you don’t love the same way that they love. But actions speak louder than words, and you’d probably think that doesn’t count for much. Does that seem like a decent way to treat a person?

Whitley continues:

“Why shouldn’t we be on camera, too?”

Because I’m not ready to discuss same-sex relationships with my 3-year-old. I don’t think she’s ready, either.

But same-sex relationships don’t require any greater mental ability in order to be understood. They aren’t taxing on a child’s brain in new and different ways. They need not spark an extended discussion either, any more than heterosexual relationships would require a lengthy explanation. A child who hasn’t yet learned and absorbed the prejudices of society may very well find this easier to understand than an adult would. Why are those men kissing? The answer isn’t difficult. They’re kissing for the same reason as heterosexual couples.

Whitley tries to exhibit some tolerance, but only some:

To them, the old Shield-the-Kids excuse simply masks an underlying bias. A same-sex smooch is no different than if Nicholson had planted a wet one on Dyan Cannon. If “Kiss Cam” showed an interracial couple, would you quickly cover Little Johnny’s eyes?

No.

The sooner my kids see examples of racial harmony, the better. But this issue has torn up entire religions. Call me homophobic, but I just don’t think a 5- or 10-year-old brain is ready to tackle those complexities.

Why would you want your kids to witness normal interaction between people of different races? Presumably, because you consider acceptance of this to be an important value to instill in them, especially to inoculate them against the pernicious prejudice of racism. But if you claim to be accepting of gay people – after all, you seem to believe you aren’t homophobic – then why not also allow your children to see normal, age-appropriate, uncontroversial expressions of same-sex love, the same kind of expressions that are completely acceptable for heterosexuals? Wouldn’t you want to raise your children to be tolerant of gay people, too? To not treat them as something inferior to heterosexuals? Or is this a kind of equality that isn’t so important to you, so it’s okay if your children grow up not even knowing that gay people exist?

Entire religions may have been divided over “this issue”, but they’ve been divided by their own hand. It’s become an apparently unbridgeable gap between those who are willing to renounce their prejudice, and those who are unwilling to let go of it. The issue isn’t one of homosexuality. It never was. The issue is homophobia, the desperate clinging to an ideology that designates some people as lesser than others, in the face of a cultural shift towards acceptance and equality in society. It isn’t a problem with gay people. It’s a problem with the religions that, sometimes literally, demonize us.

And frankly, if a child is unable to understand homosexuality by 10, in the same way that they can understand heterosexuality, I would be somewhat concerned about them. Fundamentally, it doesn’t come with any extra complexities that are unable to be deciphered by young minds, and can be explained in the same age-appropriate way that you would explain heterosexuality. You don’t need to give them a crash course in 2,000 years of Christian moral theology just to point out that sometimes, people love each other.

Whitley closes with this:

If my daughter grows up and falls happily in love with another woman, I’ll proudly walk her down the aisle. But parents should be able to discuss such issues when they choose, not when the local sports team flashes them on a scoreboard.

So I understand why gays get mad at “Kiss Cam” pranks. I get why they demand equal time and respect.

I just wish they’d accept that sometimes a kiss is not just a kiss.

Is there a reason that gay couples must bear the stigma of being labeled as an “issue” – the sort of thing that should only be discussed in private, if at all? Certainly nobody considered it an “issue” to display heterosexual couples on the Jumbotron, nor did they even have to think about the prudence of exposing children to this. It’s just automatically accepted; it’s not an issue at all. So why can’t gay couples simply be treated with that very same implicit acceptance, the kind that straight people are granted without question? This doesn’t have to be an issue, and if you don’t want it to be, you can help by not making an issue of it, and treating it with the same normality and ordinariness as anything else.

Sometimes a kiss isn’t just a kiss, but only because you’ve decided to make something more of it.

I bet I can find at least one good reason for what I do

Hi, Aaron. As you’ve probably come to expect of me, I’m just going to jump right into analyzing some of the things you said.

Your central point appears to be that my videos make no difference – that they fail to influence people’s religious views, and are thus a waste of time. You seem to place all potential viewers into two distinct categories: either they already agree with me, making my videos superfluous, or they don’t agree and are completely beyond the reach of any kind of persuasion, firmly and inextricably entrenched in their views.

This probably isn’t the case. Not all of the people who don’t share my views are forever inaccessible and totally unable to be convinced otherwise. Some are, but they certainly don’t comprise the entirety of everyone who disagrees with me. There are actually plenty of people whose belief systems, while different from my own, are capable of changing when challenged in one way or another. They are potentially “vulnerable” to that – they have not all placed themselves off-limits to argument.

One case of someone who may be open to persuasion would be a person who perceives that there may be something not quite right about their religion, and harbors some primordial doubts about it, but lives in an environment where their culture and even their own life has been thoroughly infused with religion, to the extent that actively rejecting and leaving their faith is unthinkable. These influences may deter them from further pursuing any doubts they may have, and they’ll instead simply “go with the flow” as their family, friends and culture expect of them, remaining observant of their religion. They may not even be aware that outright nonbelief is possible, let alone capable of offering a more richly developed and satisfying outlook on life than their current faith. Exposing such people to the atheistic worldview can open doors for them that they might not have even realized were there.

Another example would be the people who simply don’t think very much about the religion they follow. If it’s something they’ve always been a part of, they might not have contemplated the possibility that there are other religious views available, or that they could be wrong. Some people really have just never considered these things, instead operating on “autopilot” for a large part of their lives without critically examining their own beliefs. In this case, there could definitely be certain arguments that might make them think about their religion in ways they never have before. It’s quite possible that such people can have various different “threads” hanging from the sweater of their beliefs which, when pulled, kickstart the process of unraveling the entire thing. Some people really do have weak spots in their belief systems that can be targeted by specific arguments.

In essence, there is still a movable middle here of people who, while religious, can be persuaded to change their views. Religion is not always a fully-enclosed, impenetrable and unfailingly self-reinforcing system for everyone who believes in it. For instance, I’ve received numerous responses from Christians and other nonspecific believers who acknowledge that I have good points, even if they don’t fully share my views. There are also many atheists who were previously religious, but eventually settled on atheism because something happened that helped to change their beliefs.

You said that, if someone is capable of becoming an atheist, they can “get there on their own” without our assistance, and that they can only “see it and realize it for themselves”. But not everyone truly is capable of reaching these conclusions on their own. It isn’t an inevitability; simply being capable of arriving at a position of atheism does not mean that one necessarily will. Individuals are not fully complete, independent and self-reliant fonts of rationality unto themselves. By sharing our ideas, we fill in the gaps in each other’s abilities, the different areas that were missed and left blank by our varying faculties. Outside perspectives are valuable because they present ideas that people may not have realized or discovered by themselves – or it may have taken them a much longer and circuitous route to get there. So, while you maintain that “if someone’s smart enough to connect the dots, they’re going to do it with or without your help”, we can still accelerate this process by smoothing the path ahead of them. Even if they are smart enough to connect the dots – and I certainly hope they are – they could nevertheless benefit from having the dots clearly pointed out, in the form of pre-digested and easily accessible arguments. They aren’t equally obvious to everyone, even among potential atheists.

You are right to point out how important it is to reach people as early as possible and provide them with the intellectual tools to recognize, resist and reject religious belief systems. Prevention should certainly be a significant component of atheistic outreach. But religion, once acquired, is clearly not an incurable condition. These people are not forever lost, and it’s just as important that we try and reach them as it is for us to keep religious belief from taking hold in the first place. Not all of them can be written off, because there is a real possibility that some of them could change their views – given the proper approach. It would be foolish to ignore all of them as hopeless when many may not be.

So, am I really making no difference here? Is it true that “no number of YouTube videos will win people over”? I don’t think so. The format in particular lends itself to easy, widespread dissemination of ideas and arguments. YouTube is an immensely popular platform, and there are many people who prefer to simply watch videos as a “passive receiver”, rather than having to actively read something which requires greater effort on their part. Perhaps unfortunately, video can be more popular than the written word, and it appeals to a very different kind of audience. I consider it worthwhile to present my views to them, because I think it’s possible that they could find it helpful, and it could ultimately effect some kind of positive change in their beliefs. Posting videos also makes it simple for viewers to share them with their own networks of acquaintances, and expose more and more people to these ideas. In this way, it can take on a life of its own, and grow into something more than I could accomplish alone.

Are there “better battles to fight” than this? Quite possibly – I certainly wouldn’t doubt it. But religion is still a very important one. Working to reduce the prevalence of religious belief and observance holds the promise of, in turn, reducing the problems it causes, and that is not a minor issue. If this can realistically be achieved, it’s worth fighting for, and I hold that my efforts can be effective in influencing people’s beliefs here. While it’s obvious that the unreachable people are unreachable, not all people are. And the ones who can be reached, should be.

When neutrality isn’t right

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” -Elie Wiesel

This July, 15-year-old Justin Aaberg of Anoka, Minnesota committed suicide after he was bullied at school for being gay. Following his death, many students have spoken up about the prevalence of anti-gay harassment at Anoka High School, which the staff have failed to address in any meaningful way. This is due to the school board’s policy, which states:

“Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.”

As a result, teachers are reluctant to do anything to stop homophobic bullying when they see it, not knowing whether this would contravene school policy. The district’s excuse for this is unbelievable.

“It’s very difficult. We have a community that has widely varying opinions, and so to respect all families, as the policy says, we ask teachers to remain neutral,” said District Spokeswoman Mary Olson.

How is it that respecting the opinions of bigots can even be given the same weight as preventing harassment in schools? Why are both homophobia and promoting basic respect and equality reduced to simple “opinions”, as if they should be treated as equal in merit? Working to make schools a safe place for every student is more important than catering to the community’s prejudiced attitudes. Their biases do not need to be respected at the very real expense of children who are being bullied. No student should be forced to bear the personal cost of someone else’s bigotry. Period.

In a situation like this, where concrete harms are being ignored just to satisfy irrelevant and outdated hate that has no place here, a position of “neutrality” is nothing more than the most repugnant neglect. It is a pitiful failure to ensure something so basic as the safety of all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no conceivable moral argument whereby the safety of LGBT students can legitimately be sacrificed just to make homophobes more comfortable in their prejudice. Never.

Fortunately, the district seems to have recognized that they may have screwed up here, and they’re making some changes:

Olson said the district doesn’t tolerate bullying and expects staff to stand up to it, but does acknowledge it happens to gay and lesbian students at school. She said the schools are adding some new training to their anti-bullying policy, which is currently seven years old.

Teachers will get a new training on sexual orientation and harassment. Every student will also be shown a video to lay out what that might mean.

This is a good start, and a necessary step toward handling the serious problems at their schools. When homophobic bullying becomes prevalent, there need to be specific policies geared towards counteracting that. Other schools should learn from this and work to prevent this indefensible anti-gay harassment before it can claim more lives. Anything less is a stark abandonment of fundamental moral duty, and the stance of “neutrality” becomes the utmost irresponsibility.

georedd manipulates reddit again

It looks like an incident from about a year ago has made a surprise reappearance on reddit.com. Last year, a user named georedd was posting dozens of stories pertaining to health insurance and other assorted political issues, and insisting that his submissions were being targeted for down-voting by networks of insurance lobbyists operating on reddit. Once he started claiming this in his posts, they were frequently voted up into the high thousands by people who, understandably, wanted to counteract what they believed to be an attempt at censorship.

The problem is that there was never any evidence that this was actually happening. None of the voting patterns in any of his posts were out of the norm or unusual in a way that would suggest some kind of coordinated suppression. He specifically claimed that it was “statistically impossible” for some of his posts to have 0 points (an equal number of upvotes and downvotes). Yet this happens often with controversial or unpopular submissions – sometimes, there really are just a roughly equal number of people who like and dislike something. This occurs anywhere on reddit, not just on posts about healthcare and politics.

Similarly, the voting patterns on his posts with less than zero points (more downvotes than upvotes) didn’t appear to be abnormal, either. It is possible for posts to just be voted down a lot; this is pretty common on reddit. His posts often had irritating titles which could easily be construed as spam, and were cross-posted to multiple sections of reddit that they weren’t always relevant to. It’s not surprising that people would vote him down – none of this was excessive or odd, and it was nothing that would require the coordinated efforts of insurance lobbyists.

Once I noticed what georedd was doing on reddit, I posted a video explaining that he was most likely just claiming to be systematically censored so that more people would vote on his submissions, and suggested that reddit users vote his stories down in response to discourage this. After a few weeks, he mostly faded into the background and people stopped caring.

Until now. Yesterday, georedd made a post titled: “A year ago a reddit moderator made a video which told redditors to downvote my posts categorically because the moderator thought my claims of right wing suppression groups operating on social networks like reddit was ridiculous.”

Guess this goes in the category of “I told you so.”

I again recently ran across the youtube video made by a reddit moderator who told redditors to downvote me categorically because the moderator thought my claims of right wing suppression groups operating on social networks like reddit was ridiculous in 2009. ( did you get that? The reddit moderator told people to downvote me enmasse because my claims of groups of people voting down my comments enmasse was not real… sigh. )

here’s that video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfrfyszQdJE

(please note since then it has been widely proven via this story at alternet.org http://blogs.alternet.org/oleoleolson/2010/08/05/massive-censorship-of-digg-uncovered/

That huge right wing groups called “bury groups” indeed were operating on social networks doing exactly what I said – they were massively downvoting stories in organized efforts that didn’t agree with their conservative outlook on Digg and they do the same thing on Reddit although they haven’t been tracked as closely on reddit yet. (I documented some of them in some of my own posts years ago including some redditors who pointed people to bots to manipulate reddit.)

This was interesting. It seems he hasn’t given up trying to mislead reddit users. To call me a “reddit moderator” isn’t quite accurate, since it has no relevance here. Anyone can be a moderator on reddit, and it isn’t administratively assigned – all you have to do is start your own section, which anyone can do, or be added as a moderator for a section. I’m only a moderator of the WTF and LGBT sections; I’ve never had anything to do with georedd’s submissions. So when I posted my video, it’s not like I was acting in any official capacity as part of reddit – I’m just another user.

More importantly, georedd seems to think he’s been vindicated here when he actually hasn’t. Stating that there are “right wing suppression groups operating on social networks like reddit” suggests that such groups actually were systematically suppressing his posts as he claimed. And yet there’s still no proof of that, or even any evidence vaguely pointing to it. The story he referenced was about a large network of right-wing Digg users who would organize to bury specific submissions that they disagreed with. From this, he seems to think it can automatically be assumed that his own posts were being subjected to the same treatment, and that similar networks are operating on reddit. Such an assumption is unfounded, and even he admits this – he just says they “haven’t been tracked as closely on reddit yet.” In other words, either evidence of this is eventually found, and he was right, or we should just have faith that it will be found, meaning he’s still right. Regardless of whether there’s anything to support his claims, he ends up being right either way – the total lack of evidence means nothing here.

And, just like what happened last year, his deceptive post convinced hundreds of reddit users to vote it onto the front page. He misled them into believing he was being censored when he wasn’t, and now he’s misleading them into thinking he was right when he wasn’t. He lied last year, and he’s lying again. And reddit took the bait: the truth lost, and the lie won.

By the way, would you like to see what reddit thinks of gay people, trans people and women?

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Good fucking luck if you’re expecting an apology from this bitch.