Mere speech

There is a long predigree in liberal public discourse about the dangers of punishing hate speech. The oft-quoted aphorism goes something like “the antidote to hate speech is more speech”*. The basic idea is that in a marketplace of ideas, bad ideas will be forced out by good ones, and thus the solution to hate speech is to marginalize hateful voices by speaking up vigorously in the defense of those who need it. This has been, proponents of this view claim, the way our society has moved overt and hateful racism from the mainstream to the margins: good people decided it was time to push racist voices out of the mainstream, and nobody had to pass a law making it a crime to be racist.

The truth, of course, is far more complicated than that. This account moves the agency of black people to the back of the bus (yeah, I went there) and makes the provisional successes of civil rights groups in eradicating racism the work of the goodwill of the majority rather than the work of organized people who fought against the system. It also ignores the fact that, even to this day, racist language might be gone, but the racism it described has just found more palatable words to convey the same message it always has. Finally, it ignores the role that craven politics and opportunism played in whatever cultural shift has genuinely happened.

That being said, the point remains: it is not necessary to criminalize hate speech to reduce it. The argument then (often) follows that we should therefore not criminalize it, because of some non-specific harm that may come to some white person down the road who will be mistakenly blamed for saying something that hurts a brown person’s feelings. Or something. I have, in recent years, moved away from the “absolute free speech” position I held for many years, and it’s partially because of stories like this: [Read more…]

Canadian government funds anti-gay group to work in Uganda

If you don’t watch the Rachel Maddow Show, you really should. She is unparalleled in her journalistic excellence, and her self-deprecating wit is matched only by her insightfulness. If you’ve watched The Newsroom and longed for a hard-hitting newsman like Will McAvoy, the good news is that Rachel Maddow has been doing exactly what Sorkin fantasizes about, and has been doing so for years.

One of the most heart-wrenching episodes of her show I’ve ever seen takes the form of an interview with Uganda’s David Bahati. Having painstakingly detailed the extent to which Uganda’s anti-gay legislative fervor finds its ideological home in the American conservative movement, Maddow interviews Bahati as one of the chief architects and facilitators of a Uganda bill that would make homosexuality a capital crime. The palpable subtext of the interview is that Maddow is herself gay, and somehow manages to keep her rage in check long enough to expertly interview a clearly-outmatched Bahati.

Canada has decided to insert itself into the anti-gay quagmire that is Uganda’s political infrastructure by sending in exactly who you would want as ambassadors of Canadian values: [Read more…]

Glass ceilings, cliffs, and the wrong side of history

Undoubtedly, the vast majority of you don’t pay attention to Canadian provincial politics. To be quite honest with you, I don’t either (outside of a bit of attention paid to my own province, mostly by accident). However, this past Saturday my non-provincial-politics-watching streak was broken by the occasion of the Ontario Liberal leadership convention coming to a close. Without wanting to go too far into the history, the former premier (a position equivalent to a governor in the United States) resigned quite suddenly in the midst of a number of political crises. The convention on Saturday was the result of a democratic process internal to the party to select his successor, and the presumptive premier of the largest province in the country.

In a move that may have surprised a number of people, the winner of the election, on the third ballot, was Kathleen Wynne, an experienced politician and member of the provincial cabinet. After a second round in which Ms. Wynne was the front-runner alongside Sandra Pupatello. Two other candidates trailed, but with enough delegates to sway the final voting in either direction. They both chose to endorse Wynne, and brought a large percentage of their delegates along with them, cementing Ms. Wynne’s appointment by a final vote split of 57% to 43%.

If you care to do so, you can read some of my initial reactions to the outcome as a Storify log. What I want to do in this piece (and likely in a subsequent one) is to explore a few of the statements I heard in the wake of the announcement. [Read more…]

“Real” Women Deciding Which Women Are “Real”

A post by Jamie

Yesterday evening, I received a letter directing my attention to a women’s organization in Canada (called REAL Women of Canada, formally established in 1983), that presently seeks to undermine a private member’s bill. The bill proposes changing the Canadian Human Rights Act, such that discrimination against trans* people will be considered a human rights violation; and changing the Criminal Code of Canada, such that aggravated assault, battery, or murder perpetrated against a trans* person will be considered a hate crime. Once again, for clarity, RWoC finds this proposal troubling and vehemently oppose it. You can even read RWoC’s brief in PDF format (if your stomach can handle it by the end of this writing). But first! Why do they call themselves REAL?!

Our name defines our aim.  The word REAL is an acronym which means Realistic, Equal, Active, for Life.

(from their website)

I advise strongly against giving that website too much traffic (or any at all, really). That’s how they make money, and then they use it to promote a barely repackaged vision of the ideal family that harkens back to 1950. It’s also pretty clear that for females who aren’t busy popping out babies, you’re not a real woman whose needs should be heard by the government (think that “for Life” part is just a coincidence? Think again.) It might be advisable to have a barf bag handy for the rest of this post, which deals with the brief they published on why they think Bill C-279 shouldn’t be allowed to pass.

[Read more…]

Minority (LGBTQ Edition)

A post by Jamie

Some time ago, I overheard someone say that people shouldn’t refer to marginalized groups by calling them this or that “minority”. I didn’t catch the reason why they said this at the time. And then I found myself sitting in the theatre at a queer film festival. The film was about creative non-fiction writers telling their coming out stories, and at one point, an individual who had become a queer radio host after coming out as transgender started to talk about the word minority. She said that referring to a group of people as a minority has the effect of directly minimizing their needs as much as possible. Thus, when the first major pushes for LGBTQ equality began, heterosexuals everywhere could be heard declaring that gays and lesbians are a minority. And the inevitable declarations of “why should we?” followed. Why should we change the way we talk to protect your delicate feelings? Why should we change this law so that you aren’t thrown in prison for holding hands in public? Why should we de-classify same-sex love as a mental illness? Why should we even care? In other words, you’re a minority. You don’t matter as much as everyone else. Stop trying to inconvenience us and just get over it.

[Read more…]

BDSM, Erotica, & Pseudo-Snuff: Astounding Observations of Groupthink

A post by Jamie

In July of this year, a former friend of mine who is an RCMP officer was exposed on national news as a practitioner of BDSM who had starred in his very own erotica. Unfortunately, he was also erroneously identified as the male component of a series of photos I can only reasonably describe as pseudo-snuff, which bear a chilling resemblance to the last moments on Earth faced by 49 women at the hands of serial murderer Robert Pickton — this was stated as an objective observation by journalists from two separate national media outlets, which both accused the RCMP officer of having some unspecified part in the serial murder spree (which was extended for nearly three years due to apathy and incompetence on the part of investigators in two separate jurisdictions, including his, because a marked majority of the victims were Aboriginal females engaging in sex work and illicit drug use). One of the journalists actually seems to have fabricated an even more sensational description of the photos as well. Turns out they were all duped by a single man whose hobbies include cyber-stalking, compulsive lying, and creative fiction writing in the form of letters to the media, RCMP, blog writers, and the lawyer who represented many of the grieving families of the serial murderer’s victims.

When the story first appeared in national news, I wrote a blog entry about what it was actually like to be this RCMP officer’s friend (spoiler: it’ll give any rational person at least one case of goosebumps). I criticized the photographer and models in the pseudo-snuff photos that were aired on national news, for attempting to eroticize violence against women. I also criticized the rest of the community for pretending this was not exactly what was intended when the male model took a fistful of the female model’s hair, bringing her to her knees in front of him, and held a large knife against her throat as she gazed up at him in terror. I didn’t know that my former friend was not the male model until I received a phone call that triggered a whole other past trauma (which I’ve since reported to RCMP), from the man in the photos. RCMP had found my first blog post within days, written an internal memo about it, and started monitoring my blog. They came to my home and I gave a two-and-a-half-hour statement about every detail I could summon from the depths of my memory. I took a look at the online space I used to share with this RCMP officer, which was named in the news stories, and was shocked to see hundreds of people convincing each other that there was no crime, therefore no criminal investigation. [Read more…]

How is a black man like a parking space?

Because all the good ones are taken or gay!

Wait… I think I screwed that joke up. Speaking of things that are screwed up, here’s a thing:

Extremist Christian and Bishop Earl Walker Jackson may believe gays are ‘sick’, but he has admitted he thinks they have stolen ‘all the nice looking black men.’ He made these comments while in an interview with Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, Right Wing Watch reports.

Jackson said: ‘Their minds are perverted, they’re frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally and they see everything through the lens of homosexuality. When they talk about love they’re not talking about love, they’re talking about homosexual sex. So they can’t see clearly.’

Once again… a whole lot to unpack in even just this snippet of a statement. [Read more…]

Paging Dr. Freud?

I am not really a big supporter of the whole “anti-gay bigots are secretly closeted gay men” meme. I find it far too ‘pat’ an answer – human behaviour and beliefs are multifaceted and complex. While there have been a number of examples where anti-gay crusaders (Eddie Long, George Rekers, Ted Haggard) have turned out to be something other than the sterling avatars of pure heterosexuality that they claim to be, there are enough men in public life who hate gays with equal sincerity and virulence who show no evidence of being gay, secretly or otherwise. Whatever the relationship between gay hatred and self-hatred by gay men, I find that particular explanation sometimes borders on succumbing to ‘shaming’ straight men for being gay, and that makes me uncomfortable.

All that being said, sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation*:

“Untrammeled homosexuality can take over and destroy a social system,” says [anti-gay activist Paul] Cameron. “If you isolate sexuality as something solely for one’s own personal amusement[1], and all you want is the most satisfying orgasm you can get- and that is what homosexuality seems to be-then homosexuality seems too powerful to resist[2]. The evidence is that men do a better job on men and women on women, if all you are looking for is orgasm.” So powerful is the allure of gays, Cameron believes, that if society approves that gay people, more and more heterosexuals will be inexorably drawn into homosexuality[3]. “I’m convinced that lesbians are particularly good seducers,” says Cameron.

“People in homosexuality are incredibly evangelical,” he adds, sounding evangelical himself. “It’s pure sexuality. It’s almost like pure heroin. It’s such a rush[4]. They are committed in almost a religious way. And they’ll take enormous risks, do anything.” He says that for married men and women, gay sex would be irresistible. “Martial (sic) sex tends toward the boring end[5],” he points out. “Generally, it doesn’t deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does[6]” So, Cameron believes, within a few generations homosexuality would be come the dominant form of sexual behavior.

There’s a lot to unpack here: [Read more…]

In loco parentis

One of the things that I have found in my relatively few years involved in scientific research is that there are parts that are much more difficult than others. From conception to execution to communication, there are a number of repeatable discrete steps in the research pipeline, and while it varies somewhat, there is definitely a pattern. I know that lab work is tricky, and nobody likes grant writing, but the hardest part for me is coming up with a research question. The way in which you ask the question dictates, to a certain extent, how you approach answering it. Some questions, like “why is math hard” are far too broad and poorly-defined to be operationalized. Others, like “does fire ruin my new phone” are too trivial and mundane to be worthwhile.

A properly-created research question is money in the bank. So, as an act of magnanimity, I am offering up this fruitful research question for free, to be researched by anyone who wants to tackle it. “What is it about having kids that turns people into stupid assholes?“: [Read more…]

Race and gay marriage: the story of a proposition

It’s been a weird week for Americans who support equal marriage rights for gay people. On the disappointing side, there was the more-or-less inevitable passage of an amendment to North Carolina’s state constitution that doubly extra-bans gay marriage (while smuggling in a bunch of other assholish nonsense for good measure). It also appears that Colorado would rather dither and adopt a faux-libertarian posture than see gay people achieve even second-class status. On the other hand, the President finally decided to alight from his perch on the fence* and state, finally, that he supports gay marriage. Of course, marriage is not the be-all-end-all of the gay rights struggle, but it has become a proxy for general acceptance of gay Americans as full-fledged citizens.

Whenever the gay marriage issue comes up, there is always someone in the conversation (and sometimes it’s me) who brings up the intersectionality between race and homophobia – pointing out that in California’s notorious “Proposition 8” battle in 2008, black Californians voted 70% in favour of denying marriage equality to gay people. It is often raised in discussions of the seeming hypocrisy in a group that was so long denied civil rights using those freshly-granted rights to deny others the same. I stumbled across an interesting analysis of actual voting data (rather than exit polls) that examines this exact question, and I thought it would be worth taking a closer look. [Read more…]