Dan Savage is right about the Bible

A couple weeks ago, Dan Savage was the keynote speaker at the National High School Journalism Convention, where he discussed social media, anti-gay bullying, and his It Gets Better Project. While addressing the role of religion in homophobia, he said:

We can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people, the same way we have learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation. We ignore bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things. The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document.

He went on to explain how the Bible contains specific instructions about keeping people as slaves, and not once does it prohibit the practice of slavery. While he was speaking, a number of students got up and walked out, to which he responded:

It’s funny, as someone who’s on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-ass some people react when you push back.

Two weeks later, this has now become the latest manufactured controversy of the Christian right. Breitbart.com devoted their entire front page to stories about Dan Savage, accusing him of “bullying high school kids” with a “profane Bible rant”. The gay conservative group GOProud claimed that Savage was “attacking high school students who were offended by his outrageous remarks” and demanded that he apologize. Michelle Malkin accused “the activist left” of “anti-Christian bigotry” for having Savage speak to student journalists, and the president of the Family Research Council called him a “disciple of division and intolerance”. Todd Starnes of Fox News has written a handful of melodramatic stories about the Christian students who were present at the speech. Starnes describes their decision to leave as follows:

Some will say what happened next took courage – but [student Jake] Naman said he was simply following the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Isn’t that just so brave?

Of course, this reflexive outrage at any criticism of the Bible is really nothing new. This January, the National Organization for Marriage demanded that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie withdraw his nomination of a judge who had criticized arguments against gay marriage that appeal to tradition and pointed out that slavery was also a tradition endorsed by the Bible. Clearly, this is something that many right-wing Christians just don’t want people to talk about.

But let’s get one thing straight: The Bible is unequivocal in its support for slavery. This isn’t a situation where there are a variety of conflicting verses that can be interpreted as for or against slavery. In every instance that slavery is mentioned in the Bible, it is never condemned. Instead, the authors of the Bible only address how slaves should be acquired, how they should be treated, and how they should obey their masters. And despite every apologetic argument about how the context of this enslavement of human beings was different from the more modern forms of slavery, the Bible consistently and indisputably endorses the buying and selling of people as the property of other people. If this is wrong, then the Bible is wrong – and if we can choose to disregard the Bible when it comes to slavery, we can likewise disregard it on the topic of sexual morality.

So regardless of Dan Savage’s tone or how terribly offended some Christians were, his underlying point is completely valid. And its impact was only amplified by the incredible sight of devout Christians literally fleeing from the truth about their Bible and their own moral hypocrisy. In doing so, they made his point even better than he did. After all, if you’re so pious that you won’t tolerate anyone speaking ill of your Bible, then how can you be so completely unprepared to face the reality of what it actually says? What the hell kind of Christian are you?

And if this was your reaction as a student of journalism, then what the hell kind of journalist are you? Make no mistake, this was an event where attendance was voluntary. It was not a mandatory school assembly and they were not a captive audience. And while they certainly had no obligation to stay there and listen to him, I have to wonder whether they really understand what journalism is about. Journalists may often have to talk to people with whom they disagree. They’ll find themselves covering events that they find objectionable. Yet these aspiring journalists decided there was no need to listen to Dan Savage as soon as he said something that offended them.

Now, I’m no journalist, but when the Westboro Baptist Church came to my neighborhood, I didn’t run away from them. I walked right up to them and asked for an interview! I consider the human equality of gay people to be fundamentally truthful, but that didn’t stop me. And many Christians consider their alleged “word of God” to be fundamentally truthful as well, yet these journalism students were unwilling even to be in the presence of someone who criticized their beliefs.

Considering what Savage actually said, it’s remarkable that conservatives would call his comments “outrageous”, “bigoted”, “hostile”, and “bullying”. Do they not agree that slavery is bullshit? Because if you think supporting slavery is bullshit, then the Bible’s position on slavery is also bullshit. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. If these particular Christians haven’t yet found a comforting explanation for the slavery, stonings, and other unpleasantness in the Bible, then they should either cut those parts out of the book, or stop being offended when we quote what it says. Why should there be anything offensive about saying that a text which endorses slavery is not the best source of moral guidance? And why should such a book be immune from criticism merely because some people believe in it strongly?

Just because something is part of your religion, that doesn’t mean it can’t be wrong. And slavery is wrong, even if it’s in the Bible. No matter how much these people whine and scream and cry about it, the all-knowing, eternal God of the Bible apparently saw fit to instruct us on who we can buy and sell, whether we can keep their spouse and children as slaves, and how badly we’re allowed to beat them. Complain all you want! It’s still in there. If you have to grapple with the unpleasant realization that even you yourself have ignored the Bible’s antiquated teachings, then great! But that’s your problem – not our fault. You might walk out on us, but good luck walking out of your own mind.

Dog meat isn’t special, whether you eat it or not

Recently, much has been made of a passage in Barack Obama’s 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father where he speaks of eating dog meat as a child in Indonesia. He described it as “tough”, though not as tough as snake meat. Others have claimed that Obama has never apologized since then or expressed any regret over having eaten dog. But regardless of the veracity of these claims, or the ethics of other dog-related acts such as transporting a live dog on the roof of a car, there’s little reason why this would be newsworthy. And even if Barack Obama were completely unapologetic about eating dog and continued to enjoy dog meat to this day with no compunctions whatsoever, this still should never have become an issue. Whatever your views on the morality of eating meat, there’s no reason why the ethical status of eating dog should be substantially different from that of eating cow, pig or chicken. The concerns that apply to the raising of dogs for meat are equally applicable to other livestock as well.

The need to spare the animal as much cruelty as possible has been raised, but it’s not as though dogs have a greater ability to perceive and suffer from pain and discomfort than other meat animals. They feel pain just as much as dogs do. While we might find ourselves much more disturbed and emotionally pained at the sight of a dog being deliberately slaughtered or kept in inhumane conditions, there’s no reason to assume that our own unique suffering must mean the dog suffers uniquely as well. If we feel that the circumstances in which a dog is raised or killed cause undue distress to the dog, then we should be just as insistent that pigs or cows be treated equally humanely – whether we prefer that they be treated well before slaughter, or not be killed at all.

Others seem to regard dogs as special due to their intelligence and ability to learn. However, pigs have also proven capable of learning commands and remembering them for years. They’ve also shown their competence at playing video games designed for chimpanzees. The intelligence of dogs is not qualitatively different from that of other animals, and it seems arbitrary that dogs should define the level of intellect that would rule out using an animal for meat. And even if we do subscribe to that definition, it would still encompass more than just dogs. Yet nobody finds it especially notable if a presidential candidate is found to have eaten bacon.

The question of food safety is an important one, since the unpopularity of dog meat in many areas means that it’s often processed and sold with little or no oversight. But this problem is not limited to dogs, and can be remedied by bringing dog meat within the purview of a proper regulatory framework, just as with other meat animals. A lack of regulation is not inherent to the use of dogs as livestock.

Another objection I’ve heard is that dogs are an inefficient source of food because they don’t provide enough usable meat relative to the resources used to raise them. While I haven’t been able to find information about the resource consumption of dog meat farming, the raising of cows, pigs and other livestock is remarkably inefficient as well. 100,000 liters of water are used to produce a single kilogram of grain-fed beef, whereas only 2,000 liters of water are required to produce a kilogram of rice or soybeans. The grain being fed to livestock in the United States could be used to feed 800 million people, and livestock production is responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions.

If the environmental effects of livestock dogs are a concern, the environmental effects of all livestock should be a concern – and if one is willing to overlook the impact of all other livestock, there seems to be little reason why dog would stand out as unacceptable. In any case, livestock dogs could simply be bred to have more usable meat, as has been done with cows, chickens and turkeys. In fact, there’s already a breed of dog in South Korea specifically meant to serve as a source of meat.

Finally, many people have appealed to the history of canine coexistence with humans to justify why dogs deserve special treatment. Given that they’re considered “man’s best friend”, often exhibiting a great degree of personal devotion and serving a variety of useful purposes to us, it’s been suggested that we owe it to dogs not to eat them. But the consumption of dogs is just as much of a historical tradition as the companionship of dogs – their relationship to us hasn’t ruled out their use as food before, so why would it now? Either tradition can justify eating dogs as well, or their history as pets is as irrelevant as their history as food.

And if a certain lifeform deserves to be treated respectfully and humanely, then they deserve dignity regardless of what services they can offer us or how much they like us. Their entitlement to respect is not contingent upon any particular alliance we have with them. When it comes to devotion, other domesticated livestock are quite capable of exhibiting similar attachments, and people are likewise able to form bonds with these animals as well – it’s just that most of us don’t have a pet cow or pig to greet us when we come home. Conversely, while cows are deeply respected in India, not many people elsewhere seem to find this a compelling reason to refrain from eating beef. And if canine allegiance to humans is still troubling, we could always try to breed dogs that, while docile, have no special attachment to people. If that’s not enough to make them acceptable as food, then it’s hard to see why any other livestock would be acceptable, either.

Ultimately, the cuteness and friendliness and unique companionship of dogs is less like a serious argument, and more like an anti-abortion billboard that says, “Your baby’s heart is already beating!” – true, but irrelevant. In the present context, highlighting Obama’s consumption of dog meat as if there were something strange about it is likely meant to depict him as some kind of alien “other” who’s violated one of our most deeply held taboos, marking him as part of a foreign culture and mindset. Meanwhile, few people have bothered to question whether this taboo has any actual merit. If we’re looking for a reason not to eat dog, there are plenty of better arguments which don’t rely on the assumption that dogs are categorically different from other livestock. Unfortunately for some of us, treating other livestock as not categorically different from dogs may have undesirable implications.

A challenge to Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays

The organization Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays is one of the more bizarre and contradictory elements of the anti-gay Christian right. Intended as a counterpart to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFOX claims to conduct “public education and outreach to further individual self-determination and respect for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation.” They also say that they’re “supporting parents in loving their homosexual children unconditionally.”

In keeping with these principles, PFOX has shown their friendship and respect toward gays by publishing flyers stating that “The homosexual lifestyle, especially for males, carries grave health risks”, that “Declaring and validating a student’s same-sex attraction during the adolescent years is premature and may be personally harmful”, that “For many youth, homosexual attraction develops due to negative or traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse”, and that Maryland’s Marriage Protection Act is needed “to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” PFOX has repeatedly distributed these flyers at public high schools.

They’ve also cited various articles saying that gay people have a “reduced life expectancy” of “45 vs. 75 years” compared to straight people, that “as homosexuals gain more civil rights, heterosexuals are losing theirs”, that “A genuine, conspicuous display of Christian love quickly and decisively eclipses the counterfeit love found in homosexuality”, that “America’s black gay and lesbian community needs to come home to God”, and even “I’ll donate $100 to their favorite charity if anyone can show me a scientific study that proves condoms prevent the transmission of HIV.”

In response to this year’s Day of Silence in protest of anti-gay bullying, PFOX is asking students to circulate another one of their flyers, which ironically states that “PFOX supports tolerance for all.” Rhetorically asking, “Why is discrimination against ex-gays wrong?”, they claim that “formerly gay men and women are discriminated against simply because they exist.” These allegations of discrimination are a recurring theme for PFOX, and they’ve often fought for the inclusion of ex-gays in sexual orientation non-discrimination policies. Yet even as they trumpet their alleged victory in a Washington, D.C. court ruling that found ex-gays to be a protected class under the D.C. Human Rights Act, they frequently inveigh against laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In one flyer, they claim that “sexual orientation laws and policies discriminate against ex-gays”, and later say that “To give sexual orientation protection to one group while excluding another is outright discrimination.” But the protected class of sexual orientation already encompasses everyone, because everyone has a sexual orientation, whether they’re gay, straight, bisexual or otherwise. If “ex-gays” actually are heterosexual, they’re still covered by this.

Elsewhere, PFOX has republished newsletters from the anti-gay group MassResistance which describe the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as “the homosexualization of the Armed Forces”. They also quoted a column from Ann Coulter where she argued that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should remain in place because Private Bradley Manning was gay. The policy of requiring only gay servicemembers to remain closeted is practically the textbook definition of “giving sexual orientation protection to one group while excluding another”, which PFOX has said is “outright discrimination”. Is that what they call “tolerance for all”?

PFOX has also consistently opposed the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, suggesting that it would “hurt children” and complaining that it “includes transvestites, but not ex-gays” and would “force – under penalty of law – Christian, Jewish or Muslim business owners to adopt a secular-humanist viewpoint, ignoring all matters surrounding sexual morality”. They especially focus on invalidating transgender identities, falsely claiming that the medically accepted standards of care for transitioning are ineffective and that psychotherapy alone is sufficient to treat gender identity disorder. As an “ex-gay” organization, you might think they would fully support transgender people, given that plenty of them could be considered “ex-gay”. If someone who’s attracted to men was assigned male at birth, and later transitioned, she would have previously been considered gay – but not anymore. Are they not ex-gay enough for PFOX? These might be the only actual ex-gay people they’ll ever find – their same-sex attractions really have become opposite-sex attractions! Yet PFOX seems to have very little respect for their “individual self-determination”.

So here’s my challenge to PFOX: If you’re so concerned about discrimination against ex-gays, will you support sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination laws covering employment, housing, public accommodations, and military service? If you’re truly ex-gay, and even if you’re not, these laws would still apply to you. So will you stand up for these crucial protections for ex-gays, including transgender ex-gays? Or is it unacceptable to you that this would also protect current-gays? If you’re serious about “individual self-determination and respect for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation”, then this is what your stance requires: ensuring that equal participation in society is possible for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That is what you’re looking for – isn’t it?

Open letter to our local Supercuts

Hi, local Supercuts employee. We hadn’t been to your particular branch before, and after seeing how you treated our 3-year-old this past Sunday, we won’t be going back. Given that you’re apparently willing to serve very young children, we assumed that you would have some experience handling toddlers who are uncomfortable with haircuts. Clearly we were mistaken.

We fully realize that nobody relishes the experience of dealing with screaming kids. We understand the stress and difficulty of it, and we know this probably won’t be very enjoyable for anyone involved. That’s why we told you ahead of time that our youngest was prone to anxiety and crying during haircuts. If this wasn’t something you felt equipped to deal with, you could have mentioned this at the outset. We would have gladly taken him elsewhere, as we later did with our eldest, even though he would have been much better behaved for you.

But because you decided that you were willing to give our child a haircut, we believed that you – and your manager – would have a somewhat more tactful approach than repeatedly getting in his face and telling him he needs to be quiet because there are other people there. It should have been clear from the state he was in that he was not at all able to cope with what was happening. When a child is so alarmed that his only means of communication is screaming with such sustained intensity that he very well might make himself vomit, he will not be able to comprehend what you are saying.

And even if he were calm enough to understand you when you told him he had to be quiet, he still wouldn’t understand why. At that age, a child has no concept that his distress might be impacting everyone else’s enjoyment of your establishment. And as our son was sitting there, all he understood was that he was terrified. He was simply frightened out of his wits, beyond the use of language, and not amenable to reason. Please try to understand that from his perspective, there were much more pressing matters at hand than your complaints that you can’t stand the sound of children screaming.

We know that such behavior makes your job harder. That’s why my partner held him in her lap for you. That’s why I was doing my best to distract and entertain him the entire time. That’s why we told you we weren’t all that concerned about accuracy – he’s three years old, and he’s not going to be on television any time soon. That’s why, even when we do everything we can to make this as quick and easy as possible, we still put off his haircuts for as long as we can. That’s why we tipped generously even though we had no intention of ever returning.

All we hoped for was that you would show the slightest bit of professionalism as someone whose job it is to provide haircuts. We were already sorry for putting you in that situation. It’s not something we enjoy, and it’s certainly not something he enjoys. If there were a way to calm him and teach him not to be afraid, we would do it in a heartbeat. This isn’t something we want to inflict on you or anyone else. He simply needed a haircut. And everyone needs haircuts, even screaming children.

But no matter how loud he was, remember that he held still for you, the stranger who did nothing but reprimand him when his terror was out of control. He even said thank you, with tears running down his face, when you gave him a lollipop. I dare say he handled the situation better than you did. Even if you had no desire to try to make this any easier for him, simply saying nothing would have been better than what you did. And if you were concerned that his presence would impact your business, you should have been more worried about your own behavior toward a 3-year-old in front of other customers. We won’t be back, and maybe you don’t even want us back, but there will be others like our son. Think about the next fearful young child who walks through your door, and how you’re going to treat them. A little understanding goes a long way.

Potential barriers to “curing” homosexuality

Every so often, I run into people who are fairly confident that if the precise causes of homosexuality are ever identified, this would lead to either the near-universal abortion of gay fetuses, or widespread “treatment” of gay individuals to eradicate their same-sex attractions. They tend to assume that this would be a relatively straightforward affair, and probably inevitable. In fact, the myriad assumptions in play here are far from established. Most have not even been examined or scrutinized at all, and this simplistic and limited vision shows a profound failure of imagination. While it’s possible that events could occur just as described in this poorly thought-out scenario, there’s good reason to believe that attempts at diagnosing and “treating” homosexuality may not proceed so smoothly.

Let’s first explore the hypothetical phenomenon of gay-targeted abortion. For selective abortion of future homosexuals to be possible, there must first be a way to identify them prenatally. The difficulty here is that current evidence indicates homosexuality is not caused by a single identifiable factor. It can be influenced by genetics, the intrauterine environment and prenatal hormones, early childhood experiences and upbringing, and the overall interaction of these. But as far as we know, there isn’t one feature that’s present in all or even most gay people, and few or no heterosexuals.

This isn’t like testing for sex, or extra copies of a chromosome, or physical birth defects. The identified differences involve such diverse traits as left or right-handedness, finger length ratios, the startle response, auditory system functioning, hair whorl direction, response to sex pheremones, brain activity, brain hemisphere symmetry and the size of other brain structures, genetic linkage, having more older brothers from the same mother, maternal stress levels during pregnancy, skewed X-inactivation in the mother, high fertility in female relatives, early childhood socialization, gender nonconformity as a child, and growing up in urban areas during adolescence, among other things. Additionally, many of these results were not found to be applicable to lesbians.

Even worse for the prospect of prenatal identification, these are average differences that appear in groups of people, not all-or-nothing traits that would be of individual diagnostic value. There’s a substantial overlap between gay and straight populations, with many straight people having gay-associated traits, and many gay people having straight-associated traits – to say nothing of bisexuals. Given our current knowledge, any prenatal tests attempting to discern these features would frequently misidentify future heterosexuals and homosexuals. While mistakenly aborted straight people would never get the chance to reveal their heterosexuality, parents who rely on such tests may be quite surprised when their presumably straight children turn out to be gay.

It would be much too optimistic to believe that few people would engage in gay-targeted abortion if accurate diagnosis were possible, considering that abortion for the mere purpose of selecting against female children is already widespread in certain cultures. The difference here is that the broad biological and environmental basis of sexual orientation could thwart such motives and make reliable prenatal identification practically impossible. Aside from running an extremely detailed and computationally intensive simulation of the brain to determine their sexual inclinations, which is currently far beyond our grasp, it seems the best way to tell a baby’s orientation is simply to wait and ask them yourself.

Rather than abortion, another potential means of eradicating homosexuality would be prenatal treatment of suspected gay fetuses. This actually does have a scientific precedent, though not specifically in relation to homosexuality. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is known to cause masculinization of girls, with symptoms such as ambiguous genitalia. Women with CAH also have higher rates of bisexuality and lesbianism, and lower interest in childbearing and motherhood. Prenatal use of the steroid dexamethasone was shown to reduce genital ambiguity somewhat in female fetuses with CAH, although it doesn’t cure the underlying condition. Some have speculated that this treatment could also reduce the incidence of same-sex desires in these women.

While lesbianism may be more prevalent in women with CAH, the condition is too rare to account for more than a very small subset of lesbian women overall. However, homosexuality has variously been associated with apparent over-masculinization in men or women, under-masculinization in men, and certain similarities to the opposite sex. Studies have shown that gay men tend to have equally sized brain hemispheres like those of straight women, whereas lesbians tend to have larger right hemispheres like those of straight men. On average, the anterior commissure of the brain is larger in gay men than in straight men or women, though later studies found no difference. The third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus tends to be smaller in gay men than in straight men, and similar in size to that of straight women. The suprachiasmatic nucleus in gay men tends to be larger than that of straight men. The auditory systems of lesbian and bisexual women are more like those of men than of straight women. Lesbians tend to exhibit finger length ratios that are similar to men rather than straight women, which is associated with high levels of androgens.

It seems plausible that attempts at preventing or treating homosexuality prenatally might focus on controlling the degree of masculinization or feminization of the developing fetus. But again, the physical differences between gay and straight people are average differences which appear in groups, not reliable markers of an individual’s orientation. In addition to being compromised by the substantial diagnostic inaccuracy of prenatal orientation testing, such treatment could expose suspected gay fetuses to an unknown risk of side effects and birth defects instead of simply aborting them.

Medication intended to influence sexual and neurological development prenatally could have a number of unforeseen adverse effects such as those seen in the children of pregnant women who had taken the synthetic estrogen DES. Considering that various physical traits of gay people suggest either over-masculinization or under-masculinization, and that many straight people exhibit these characteristics while many gay people do not, any medication designed to enhance or inhibit prenatal masculinization could conceivably have an effect that’s precisely the opposite of what was intended.

Another potential treatment might rely on the hypothesis that homosexuality in men is caused by the immune sensitization and response of a mother who had previously given birth to one or more sons. Suppressing this immune reaction could prevent any effects it may have on the developing fetus, although this hypothesis could only account for a small fraction of male homosexuals overall. Given what little we know about the precise developmental causes of sexual orientations, any attempt at prenatal treatment would be poorly targeted and little more than a shot in the dark, especially when there’s no way to be certain whether a fetus will be gay or not. Unless we’re able to identify a trait or process that occurs in most homosexuals and few heterosexuals, the possibilities for treatment seem limited, to say the least.

Finally, if homosexuality can’t be identified or counteracted before birth, there might be attempts to eliminate same-sex desires in childhood or adulthood. Unlike prenatal diagnosis or treatment, there’s an extensive and tragic history of trying to “convert” gay adults to heterosexuality. If the only goal is to prevent same-sex attraction or sexual activity, and nothing else is of any concern, then there are plenty of ways to do this, such as chemical castration, surgical castration, genital mutilation, capital punishment, or just psychologically damaging someone so extensively that they can no longer form intimate relationships. All of this has been done before.

But nowadays, most people recognize that there should be some kind of limit to the suffering that’s considered acceptable in exchange for the eradication of same-sex desires. Many people would rightly place that limit at zero. As therapeutic efforts have become somewhat more humane, focusing instead on voluntary celibacy, religious devotion and straightforward repression, they’ve also become much less effective. Now that the more visibly harmful and damaging “treatments” of the past face widespread disapproval, some people have speculated that there could eventually be a medical treatment that would reduce homosexual inclinations without being physically or psychologically crippling.

This, too, seems likely to be overly optimistic. Whatever its physical basis, which often appears to be inconsistent, homosexuality can manifest in differences throughout the entire body, just as with heterosexuality. Altering the biological correlates of homosexuality on a permanent basis may turn out to be quite a tall order. This isn’t as simple as taking a painkiller, or a vaccine, or an antidepressant – unless it does turn out to be that simple, which it hasn’t so far. Yet proponents of a gay “cure” scenario often seem to think that this would be as easy as taking a pill and turning straight. But altering such a significant feature of the body and mind is rarely so effortless, if it’s possible at all.

Why assume that any eventual treatment would be so basic? What if it’s actually much more complex than that? It might require an expensive course of gene therapy with a risk of causing cancer or other life-threatening reactions, as seen in the SCID gene therapy trials in France and the death of Jesse Gelsinger. Or it might be a kind of neurosurgery, with all the risks of cracking open the skull and cutting out pieces of the brain. It might take the form of hormone therapy, with all of the known side effects and possibly some new ones. Maybe it’ll be a daily medication that people have to take for the rest of their lives. The risks or adverse effects of the treatment might be so undesirable that the goal of eliminating same-sex attraction is simply no longer worthwhile. And given that sexual orientation appears to have multiple etiologies, it may only be treatable to varying degrees depending on the individual. Some people may still turn out to have untreatable homosexuality, depending on the “treatment”.

Furthermore, hardly any consideration is given to the potential social implications of medically altering sexual orientation. The treatment for homosexuality might be so expensive, it would be beyond the reach of the poor. Health care agencies might refuse to cover it, given that homosexuality is not a medical condition. Adolescents might resist having such treatment forced upon them by their parents. And whatever the nature of the therapy, there might also be a counterpart treatment to turn heterosexuals gay. Maybe these treatments would be weaponized for military or political purposes – and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that someone might release the “cure for heterosexuality” at the Republican National Convention.

If any of this seems implausible, that’s because it’s just as speculative as the assumption that a “cure” for homosexuality would be simple, widely accepted and universally employed. So what makes people think this would be so easy? If they were asked to reflect on the kind of effort it would take to negate their own heterosexual attractions and give them a homosexual orientation, they would probably perceive this as a much more significant change. It seems that some people tend to view being straight as a default state for everyone, with homosexuality as an additional deviation that’s simply masking an underlying heterosexuality, which would emerge on its own once homosexuality is taken out of the picture – just like curing an ear infection. They fail to consider that homosexuality is actually just as complex and deeply rooted as their own heterosexuality.

So while there certainly might be various attempts to treat or abort gay people, the prospects for their success aren’t looking very good right now, and many people don’t find such efforts appropriate at all. There’s no telling what new discoveries might be made about sexual orientation in the future, but on this front, social progress has a good chance of outpacing scientific progress. Even if this is inevitable, by the time it becomes possible, there may just be no one who’s interested.

NOM in panic after whistleblower leaks major donors: John Templeton, Knights of Columbus, Mitt Romney and more

Yesterday, the National Organization for Marriage issued a press release calling for a federal investigation of the Human Rights Campaign and the Internal Revenue Service. This follows the publication last week of a portion of NOM’s 2008 tax return (PDF) provided to the Human Rights Campaign by a whistleblower. The document lists dozens of major donors from that year. NOM president Brian Brown now claims: “It’s clear that the tax return was stolen, either from NOM or from the government.”

While the majority of media attention has been focused on a $10,000 donation by Mitt Romney’s Free and Strong America political action committee, much greater contributions were made by a number of other donors. The largest donation on the list was $450,000 from John Templeton, president of the John Templeton Foundation. The foundation is best known for its grants to scientists whose research supposedly demonstrates the compatibility of science and religious belief, and it’s been criticized for blurring the lines between science and religion. Another $100,000 was given by Josephine Templeton. John Templeton also donated $1.1 million to pass Proposition 8 in California.

$250,000 came from the Knights of Columbus, an organization for Catholic men which also gave $1.4 million to pass Proposition 8. An additional $25,000 came from the California State Council Knights of Columbus. $172,500 was donated by Terry Caster, the chairman of Caster Companies, which owns A-1 Self Storage. Another $83,700 was given by other members of the Caster family. The Caster family also donated nearly $700,000 to pass Proposition 8. $150,000 came from Michael Casey, president of the Delivery from Heaven Foundation in Rhode Island, whose purpose is “to make contributions to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations”. And $100,000 was given by Sean Fieler, chairman of NOM’s American Principles Project, which campaigned to keep the Guantanamo prison open.

These are only a handful of NOM’s donors, yet this one document dating from 2008 has them calling for a federal investigation. This is what they don’t want us to see: the people and organizations enabling them to take away the rights of American citizens. NOM and their donors wanted to deny us our equality with no accountability whatsoever, and increasingly, it looks like that’s not going to be so easy. So far, this hasn’t been a very good year for NOM. Let’s hope there’s a lot more where that came from.

Support Bill C-279: Equal protection for transgender Canadians

Did you know that Canada still has no federal law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people? While the Canadian Human Rights Act forbids discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, nationality, disability, marital status and sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are not included.

Last year, Bill C-279 was introduced to ensure that transgender people are protected from discrimination as well. But until it passes, trans Canadians are still subject to prejudice in employment, housing, and public accommodations. They’re also not considered an identifiable group in the provisions against advocating genocide and public incitement of hatred, which already include race, religion and sexual orientation. Further, the sentencing principles for bias-motivated crimes fail to mention gender identity or gender expression. Trans people are not currently covered by any of these laws, and this won’t change unless Bill C-279 is passed.

Imagine being turned down everywhere you apply for a job – not because of your qualifications, but simply because of who you are. Or imagine not being able to find a home because people can openly discriminate against you for being trans. Imagine being kicked out of restaurants because of who you are. Imagine not even being able to use public restrooms because of who you are. Imagine not being able to find a doctor who’s willing to treat you. That is the everyday reality faced by trans people, and they have no legal recourse against any of this.

Bill C-279 could finally put an end to that, but it’s received practically no coverage in the media. If you want to do something about this, call your Member of Parliament and explain to them why this matters. Sign the petition at Change.org, and spread the word about this bill to everyone you know. Protection from discrimination is crucial in allowing every citizen to have a fair shot at achieving their full potential, without being held back by anyone’s prejudice. We should all be able to participate in society on an equal footing, regardless of how we identify. Do the right thing, and get Bill C-279 passed.