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Entries in homophobia (19)


A billion people have access to marriage equality

Thanks to today's decision by the US Supreme Court, and a much quieter decision by the Supreme Court of Mexico two weeks ago, there are now a billion people living with marriage equality. Progressives have won this issue with an unbelievable speed. 15 years ago it was illegal to have a same-sex marriage anywhere in the world. Netherlands broke the taboo in 2001, followed by Belgium (2003), Spain, Canada (2005) and South Africa (2006). Conservatives crowed with the first major setback in 2008 (when California legalised and then criminalised same-sex marriages), but since then victory has been accelerating, with a stampede across Europe and South America. Today we just crossed the one billion mark for people living in countries with same-sex marriage.



Florida acknowledges marriage equality

Today marriage equality reaches Florida.

10 years ago, nowhere in America was there marriage equality. With today's news, 37 US States, covering more than 70% of the population, have acknowledged marriage equality. 

Progressives are winning this battle, and faster than anyone thought possible.


This makes me happy

One of my small pleasures in life is reading the online comic “The Order of the Stick” by Rich Burlew. I only started reading a few years after he started, which is just as well because it is when he transitioned from a gag-a-strip in-joke comic to a story that is at once witty and wise, with characters that are rich and oh-so-very-human. Burlew is also a rare exception to the consensus exclusion rife within the fantasy genre – a genre that has no problems in writing about magical elves and fire-breathing dragons, but which finds female equality to be “unrealistic”. He just has a gift for opening your eyes about damaging tropes imbedded so deeply into the genre that you can forget they don’t have to be that way.

This week’s comic was a nice sample of Burlew’s recent ability to include characters beyond straight white males (*cough* Tolkien *cough*). One of the characters is just casually out, and the other character does not make a big deal of it. This is true inclusion – sexuality is there, it is open, people can be different but is it not a big deal. People reading the comic can believe in a world with both dragons and human equality. Some people can be inspired or even find a role model, others may question why they would have responded differently.

Of course, being the internet, there is pages of howling protest against this one panel.  Many “fans” of the comic are protesting that this single panel (out of 10,000 and counting) is disrupting the story and that the author’s ethics have no place in his story. Over and over there are howls of “I’m not being homophobic, but unless the character’s homosexuality has a direct role to play in the story it should not be mentioned”. I’m sorry, but this is in fact homophobia. Not the raging homophobia of fire-and-brimstone religious nuts, but rather the bland homophobia of excluding anyone different from the public space. The characters in literature are meant to have backstories, personal histories and, well, character. To leave out anything not essential to the plot is to be a bad story-teller. To eliminate any characters of alternative sexuality is to create an artificial (and poorer) world, which reeks of the author’s own bias. Throughout history people have lived within a spectrum of sexuality. If an author seeks to write about believable people, then their characters must live within this spectrum. And yet within literature in general there is almost no mention of non-normative characters outside of literature that explicitly write about sexuality.

This is why I wanted to call out a simple panel in my favourite web-comic, to thank Rich Burlew for showing us how easy it is to be inclusive. As an aside this is also why I was profoundly disappointed in J.K. Rowling when she had Dumbledore come out after the Harry Potter books had finished. Her heart is clearly in the right place, but it would have been so easy for Dumbledore to mention just once how he had been spurned by Grindelwald, and a single sentence could have given a whole generation of children a chance to have a mature discussion about being gay.


Global survey on homosexuality

An interesting new survey came out, of 38,000 people across 39 countries, asking about their acceptance of homosexuality. A few predictable trends emerge, and a few trends that allow us to make predictions:

  • Geographical spread. Most of the highly accepting countries are the obvious candidates: Western Europe (Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, France, UK, Italy), Canada and Australia. Argentina is perhaps not so surprisingly, being one the first countries in Latin America to legalise same-sex marriage, but the Phillipines is a surprise to me. The most homophobic countries are pretty much all the countries of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, plus a few others such as Russia, China and El Salvador. Somewhere in between are the US, eastern Europe and Japan. 


  • Demographic trends. Within each country, the same trends emerge - young women are the least homophobic and old men are the most homophobic. The most striking examples of the age difference are Japan and South Korea, where homophobia in the 50+ category is common (61% and 84%, respectively), while it is rare in the 18-29 age group (17% and 29%). The most striking example of sex differences is Israel, where homophobia is normal in men (69%) and more balanced in women (51%).
  • Changing attitudes. In the past five years, the greatest decline in homophobia has come in South Korea (-21%), America (-11%), Canada (-10%) and Italy (-9%). The greatest increase (+6%) was measured in France, but hopefully that is just a temporary blip associated with the conservative attack on marriage equality. 
  • Religion promotes homophobia. Yeah, not exactly headline-making news, but the correlation is extremely strong, with only a few examples breaking the trend (China and Russia are relatively low religion countries with common homophobia, the Philippines is a highly religious country with low homophobia).


Interesting side-note: all the countries in the Americas fall above the curve (meaning, they are less homophobic than you would expect based on religiosity), while all the countries in Africa and the Middle East (both Islamic and Christian countries) fall below the curve (meaning that they are more homophobic than can be explained by the religious effect alone). This could indicate a cultural component independent of religion, or (my preferred interpretation) that the relationship is sigmoidal rather than linear, a model which would account for the "threshold effect".

  • Conflict between policy and public opinion. In comparing public opinion to policy, most countries match up (ie, homophobic countries have homophobic policies, such as banning same-sex marriage). There are a few exceptions, however. In particular, there are a cluster of countries with very accepting attitudes to homosexuality where same-sex marriage is still illegal - notably Germany, Czech Republic, UK, Italy, Australia, Phillipines and Chile. The only clear example of the opposite (the law being more open than public opinion) is South Africa, which has a unique LGBTQ history (the apartheid government was virulently anti-gay and anti-communist as well as being racist, and the unification of these groups helped form the new country).


Where we can expect rapid political change on same-sex marriage.

UK and Ireland. The public is clearly in favour of same-sex marriage and the major parties support it. Expect to see legal same-sex marriage in England, Scotland and Wales within a year, and in Northern Ireland within two years. Ireland wasn't surveyed here, but the trends are the same as in the UK, with the added factor that the Catholic Church has lost its supposed moral authority badly after the scandals relating to child rape and women dying due to no access to abortion.

Germany, Czech Republic, Luxembourg and Finland. Really it is bizzare that these countries don't already have same-sex marriage. The public is so overwhelmingly in support that it is only the presence of centre-right governments that is stopping marriage equality. Expect to see governments change their mind within the next year to try to gain some of the youth vote, otherwise there will be new elections soon after anyway.

Chile. Homophobia is dying in Chile and the rapid progress in South America will galvanise support. There are no pesky constitutional bans against same-sex marriage, so change could happen almost overnight if a big push starts.

Where political change on same-sex marriage will come soon.

Australia. Like I did, a lot of young Australians think 'Mardi Gras' means 'gay parade', not some religious festival. Australia has every component required for movement on same-sex marriage - a large urban population, public support, no constitutional ban, a vibrant LGBTQ scene - except the political climate. If the left won the elections in September, same-sex marriage would be legal within a year, but since the conservatives will probably win, expect it to be five years instead.

America. Homophobia is more common in America than in Western Europe, but the Democratic leadership has finally come around and the progressive states are legalising same-sex marriage one-by-one. There is an outside chance the Supreme Court will allow same-sex marriage nation-wide, but more likely it will take a big Democratic win in 2016 before this is even seriously on the legislative agenda.

Ten years from now...

The Philippines and Italy. There is overwhelming public support for the LGBTQ community in the Philippines and Italy, but the Catholic Bishops have iron-strong control over the political system, with politicans too gutless to cross them. Same-sex marriage will happen, but politicans first need to learn that crossing the Church won't cost many votes. 

Japan and South Korea. The public is nearly there right now, and the demographic shift in opinion is stronger in Japan and South Korea than anywhere else in the world. Still, Japan and South Korea have very long life expectancies and notoriously elderly politicans, so the change will be slow to come.

China. China is the opposite of Japan. Homophobia is still common in the public (79%), even among the young (68%), but change can happen so fast in China that you wouldn't bet against it. The lack of a hard-line religious opposition will certainly help.

The rest of the EU. Once the majority of the EU has marriage equality, I would not be surprised if the EU parliament started to push for EU-wide human rights legislation, pushing down the opposition of the final hold-outs such as Poland.

The rest of Latin America. Give them 10 years, and the rest of the continent will realise the sky didn't fall.

Not in my lifetime.

Russia, the Middle East and the rest of South Asia and Africa. Sadly, there are no signs of change in these countries. The horrificly high levels of homophobia are just as high in the young, and these countries are more likely to reinstate the death penalty for homosexuality than to permit same-sex marriage.


France joins the equality club

Today France voted to recognise love. Finally same-sex couples will be able to have their love for each other recognised in exactly the same way as opposite-sex couples - through marriage if they chose, through adoption if they chose, or not - if they chose. For anyone who is LGBTQ or a supporter, this is a huge step forward for equality. For everyone else - it doesn't affect you in the slightest. 

And yet. The same old gang of reactionaries have came out to voice their hatred: the Catholic church, Muslim groups, evangelical Christians and right-wing conservatives. What makes someone so virulent that they will spend so much energy in order to ensure that other people don't gain equal rights? The massive anti-gay protests have even turned violent, and hate-crimes have been committed against LGBTQ people. Not hard to predict considering the violent language spouted by the leaders (Frigide Barjot: "Hollande wants blood, and he will get it"; Hervé Mariton: "This is an incitement to civil war"). Nasty regressive thugs, nothing more. 

Fortunately, the tide has turned against these regressives. It is only April, and this is already the best year in history for marriage equality - three more countries have approved same-sex marriage (Uruguay, New Zealand and France, plus four more Brazilian states) and another 100+ million people have been granted to right to have their love recognised by the state, regardless of sex or sexuality. The Christian and Muslim Churches are showing once again that preventing equality is far more important to them than any other topic, and political parties like the UMP will be tarred for decades by their embrace of open homophobia in an era where attitudes towards sexuality are inexorably turning progressive.


Pants for Parisian women, just don't dress gay in Antwerp

In a long-delayed advance for women's equality, women in Paris now have the right to wear pants. The law from 1800 had previously been updated in 1909 to allow women to wear pantaloons when riding a bike or horse, but now it has finally been repealed. 

Meanwhile, in Antwerp, the mayor has decided that civil servants are not allowed to dress in a manner that identified them as openly gay. The example used was a rainbow shirt, but the concept was explained such that a civil servant cannot dress in a way that "makes clear that he or she adheres to this obedience". By all means, Mr Mayor, please give us the official homosexual dress code so that styles that are too obviously gay can be banned. Also, to achieve your desired neutrality, please ban all dress styles that are too openly heterosexual. 


Marriage equality will be the new normal

Two years ago I wrote about the surge in marriage equality across the world. At the time, I was sure that progressives always win social issues in the end, and marriage equality would continue to spread. Conservatives were arguing that they reversed marriage equality in California, and it would only be the small European states that would allow same-sex marriage. So two years later, what has happened? Only one new country has legislated for same-sex marriage, Denmark, but the governments of four additional countries have committed to introducing new legislation: France, Ireland, the UK and New Zealand. The number of people that live in states that have marriage equality has also grown from 250 million to 300 million, largely fueled by several US states moving ahead of the federal government in allowing marriage equality: New York, Maine, Maryland and Washington. Since California, marriage equality has never been reversed.

Here are the graphs:

Another couple of years and marriage equality will be the norm across Europe and North America. Give it another five years and marriage equality will also be normal in South America and the South Pacific, and will be common across Asia. My prediction - by 2020, half the population of the world will have marriage equality.


Race and the American election

Have the 2008 and 2012 election wins ushered in a new era for American race relations? After all, this is a "post-racial America", where a black man was voted President twice by a clear majority of citizens. Right?

No. Barack Obama won both elections for one reason only - demographic change. If it wasn't for demographic change, both McCain and Romney would have won landslides equal to that of Ronald Regan. Consider this - Obama lost the white vote by 20 points (60% Romney, 40% Obama). In 1980 this was the margin of loss by which Carter lost the white vote to Regan. The difference is just that in 1980 the white vote was 88% of the electorate, now it is only 72%. Obama badly lost the white vote (39%), but he overwhelmingly won the black (93%), hispanic (71%) and Asian (73%) votes. If you give Romney his 2012 results by race, but use the 1980 demographics, Romney would have won the election 53% to 45% - almost the same spread as Regan beat Carter (8 points vs 9 points). This is not to say there hasn't been enormous improvements in race relations in America, but the election of Barack Obama does not mean that race doesn't matter.

The Republicans need to be really, really scared. The white vote is just going to decrease in every election from now on. In 2011 white babies were a slight minority in America - using the demographics of the 2011 birth cohort, Obama would have won 59% of the vote. This is going to be a slow process, but unless the Republicans stop their race hatred they are simply doomed. Actually, I'll go a little bit further: they need to stop their race hatred, their homophobia, their Christian supremacy ideas and their misogyny. Among people who identified as LGBT, 90% voted for Obama. Among the non-religious, Obama won 70% of the vote. Among women, Obama won 55% of the vote (although he lost white women). Every growing demographic is being alienated by the Republicans - whether they are Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBT or atheist. The only groups that the Republicans can really rely on are white men (62% voted Romney) and the highly religious (59% of weekly Church-goers voted Romney). That is a dying demographic, and the Republicans need to wake up and realise that from now on, America is a pluristic society.

Finally, the election result that may have the most profound, long-lasting impact on politics in America: Puerto Rico just voted for Statehood (61%). Now a petition for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of America will go before Congress, and once it is accepted (I assume the Republicans try to block it for awhile), Puerto Rico will become a proper State. This will be huge. For the first time, ~4 million American citizens will get to vote in Federal elections, having 2 Senators, 5 Representatives and 7 Presidential Electors. For the first time ever, a new state will be accepted into the Union that is non-white (all other states were not accepted until they were majority white, even if now a few have become minority-majority). For the first time ever, there will be an officially bilingual state in the US (Spanish/English). The new America is evolving, and it is going to look more diverse, more multicultural and more mutually respectful.


Homophobic fried chicken

I'd never actually heard of Chick-fil-A until the recent homophobic outburst of their COO Dan Cathy. Fried chicken is not really my thing, and the stores don't even exist in Seattle. For anyone who missed the comments that started the controversy, Cathy said:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage'. I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

The media showed about two minutes of outrage at what Cathy said from the left, followed by two weeks of counter-outrage from the right. Most of the right-wing push-back came from redefining the issue as one of freedom of speech. Apparantly, there is freedom of speech for conservatives to bully the LGBTQ community, but no freedom of speech for LGBTQ-friendly people to protest. 

First, the facts: this was not an isolated speech against same-sex marriage. Chick-fil-A has been running a long-term anti-LGBTQ campaign, financed by their fried chicken sales. 

* The company openly bases its policies on the Southern Baptist religion of the Cathy family; the official corporate policy is "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."

* Both the Cathy family owners and the company itself funnel money into the WinShape Foundation, which is directly controlled by the Cathy family and runs almost entirely on Chick-fil-A / Cathy funding. This foundation pours millions of dollars every year into anti-LGBTQ groups, such as Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and Exodus International (which runs the psychologically damaging anti-gay conversion programs). The WinShape Foundation also discriminates against LGBTQ employees, for example not allowing same-sex couples to attend events.

* Chick-fil-A also directly sponsors other anti-LGBTQ groups, such as the Pennsylvania Family Institute, when they attempted to block anti-discrimination legislation passing in Pennsylvania. They also sponsor organisations that are trying to keep the homosexuality a criminal act around the world, endorsing laws that lead to the executation of people based simply on their sexuality.

* Within the company, Chick-fil-A discriminates against employees based on their conservative Christianity. Under the applicable employment laws, they can legally fire people for being "sinful"; there are also documented cases which probably cross the line into illegal activity, such as firing an employee for refusing to pray to Jesus

So when you hear conservatives trivilising the actions of Cathy as "simply making a speech in favour of traditional marriage" (as The Economist put it), remember that the context is that of a family and company that directly and indirectly persecuates people based on their religion and sexuality. In this context, almost all the protests against Chick-fil-A have been completely legitimate expressions of free speech. Only two comments shoiuld even be controversal - the Mayor of Boston and an Alderman in Chicago said that they wanted to block Chick-fil-A from expanding in their areas. They didn't propose any legislation and rapidly backed down from their comments, so we don't know whether they were saying something that is probably unacceptable (proposing policy to specifically punish one company) or if they were proposing a positive policy like that of several university campuses - a law stating that any company which wishes to operate in the area must not discriminate based on sexuality. This would not be a law which specifically targetted Chick-fil-A, but rather it would force any company that wanted to operate in these areas to change their corporate code, a move which would benefit employees that work in franchises all over the country. This, of course, would be legally and ethically acceptable, as all companies would face the same choice: to change national corporate policy and operate within Boston and Chicago, or to not modify corporate policy and to withdraw from these districts.

The vast majority of people who came out against Chick-fil-A were against the content of Cathy's speech, not the right of Cathy to make that speech. There were no calls to imprison or fine Cathy for his obnoxious views. Yes, people openly disagreed with Cathy, but that is also freedom of speech. Yes, people called for a boycot of Chick-fil-A, but according to the Supreme Court, spending money is speech. Freedom of speech protects Cathy's right to make offensive statements, it does not mean that he will not face financial or social consequences for airing them. 

Since freedom of speech was never in doubt, I'm going to come right out and state the obvious - those who participated in "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" are simply cowardly bigots. The First Ammendment was never under threat, by buying fried chicken you were not supporting the right of Cathy to be obnoxious; rather, if you turned up and gave money to Chick-fil-A you were supporting the content of Cathy's speech. Let's take an uncontroversal example, that of the Westboro Baptist Church. Almost everyone in America would publically call Pastor Phelps obnoxious (his anti-LGBTQ hatred is not that different from Chick-fil-A, but he combines it with an anti-US military stance that repels left and right). Time and again, Phelps says something hateful and people condemn him for it. Supporting the First Ammendment doesn't stop you from condemning Phelps' views, as long as you affirm his right to have them. So if you hear Phelps says "God Hates Fags" and you respond by sending the Westboro Baptist Church a donation, it is pretty obvious that you agree with his views. Likewise, if you responded to Cathy's anti-LGBTQ speech by giving money to Chick-fil-A, it is pretty obvious you agree with his views, even if you are too cowardly to publically admit it. How about next time you spare a thought for the real people that you are hurting with you actions, such as this man:

I am a gay Christian.  This whole Chick-fil-A controversy meant nearly nothing to me until I saw a picture of my conservative parents (whom I love deeply) on Facebook yesterday proudly holding their Chick-fil-A sandwiches. I broke down crying in front of my computer screen.


When the National Organization for Marriage, supporting Chick-fil-A, saw this criticism of the type of "traditional marriage" endorsed by Cathy, they agreed with it: "Look carefully at the image and you will see that in ALL of the examples, both genders are represented. This image reinforces the conservative position about needing a gender requirement." 


Promoting universal human rights is not cultural imperialism

In the past few months have heralded a titanic shift in international gay rights. In October, advancing international gay rights was a topic of conversation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, with UK Prime Minister David Cameron stating that gay rights in Africa is a major concern, and that respect for gay rights should influence foreign aid decisions. Then in December the US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a statement indicating a similar shift in US foreign policy, that the US would use all of the tools of American foreign diplomacy to promote international gay rights and fight criminalisation of sexuality. 

These statements were aimed squarely at Africa, where gay rights have lagged behind the rest of the world, and in particular countries like Uganda, where gay rights are actively being destroyed. In Uganda there has been a major backlash in response to these comments, such as from John Nagenda, a senior Presidental advisor, who said in response "Homosexuality here is taboo, it’s something anathema to Africans, and I can say that this idea of Clinton’s, of Obama’s, is something that will be seen as abhorrent in every country on the continent that I can think of.” One Ugandan commentator summed up the response: "It is unfortunate that Uganda is now being judged on the actions of opportunists whose ideas are based on violence and blackmail and even worse, on the actions of aid attached strings. It is regrettable that government is pretentiously expected to observe their 'human rights', yet, by their own actions, they have surrendered their right to human rights."

Persecutors of homosexuality, both in Africa and in developed nations, commonly shout "cultural imperalism" or "ex-colonial mentality" to defend their "right" to kill gays. Cultural imperalism is a major problem, and leaders like David Cameron do show signs of a deep-seated racism in their policy decisions. However defending gay rights in Africa does not met any of the criteria for cultural imperalism, for three reasons.

Firstly, universal human rights is not a "Western construct". It is too easy for non-Western governments to claim that the human rights agenda is simply an import of Western values. This is a cop-out, and disgracefully ignores the non-Western contribution to the concept of human rights. To understand the basis of universal human rights we need to accept the contribution of multiple historical strands, which independently derived universal rights and built on each other. Ancient Greek philosophy, Zen Buddhism and Confusionism all sewed the seeds for individual rights. Early Islamic scholarship, the European enlightenment, the American Revolution and the labour movement all built on these foundations. The leading figures in the modern human rights movement were global - from Gandhi in India, Mandela in Africa, and Martin Luther King in America. Today if you are looking for beacons of gay rights you can include countries from South Africa to Argentina to Nepal. In fact, only half of the people who live in countries allowing gay marriage are in Europe or North America; universal rights has been a global collaborative venture. 

Secondly, African homophobia is actually the cultural import. Ironically, those people who scream "cultural imperalism" when they are asked not to kill gays in Africa are actually defending a cultural import. The virulent anti-gay culture is based on the British import of Christianity and the recent evangelical campaign from America. In fact, African leaders such as Nelson Mandela have been among the bravest politicians in the world in standing up for gay rights. In short, there is nothing authentically "African" about wanting to kill gays. 

Thirdly, Gay rights is (sadly) not "Western culture". Western countries do not have a long history of accepting homosexuality. As previously mentioned, they actively exported homophobia; sexuality equality is a recent development that has grown from the concept of universal human rights. In the case of Uganda, the two main imperial players have been the UK and America. Both have a long history of persecuting people based on their sexuality. Removal of persecuation of homosexuality started in 1967 in the UK, with equal sexual rights only achieved in 2003. The US was even worse, with laws against homosexuality standing until 2003 and discrimination laws still in place in parts of the country today. Neither country today provides for full equity. 

When conservative thugs try to excuse their thuggery by citing "culture" it is tempting to simply echo the sentiment of Charles Napier, the British General who stopped the practice of suttee in India: "Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs." With both telling and pithy, we can come up with a better attack than this. Mrs Clinton is exactly right when she argues that gay rights are like other universal human rights, transending cultural, religious and national boundaries. Afterall, "universal" does not mean "everyone but the gays".

Most people would argue that the right to maintain your culture is also a universal right. This I would agree with, and for example I have actively defended the right of Islamic women to wear the headscarf or burqa, even though I disagree with the practice. So how is wearing a burqa different from imprisoning gays? Quite simply, the right to maintain your culture is a personal right. If you want to wear a burqa or a kippah based on your culture, go ahead. If you want to hate gays or women based on your religion, that is your right. But, and this is a big but, everyone else also has the right to maintain their own personal culture and rights. Cultural rights do not only go to straight male bigots. Women have the right to wear a burqa if they chose; no-one has the right to force them to wear a burqa against their will. A gay evangelical can chose to punish himself for violating his own religion, or even seek out punishment from his church, or he can chose to accept his sexuality - it is a personal decision.

Conservative thugs always invoke their culture or tradition when defending their right to persecute others. Whether it is slave owners invoking culture for keeping slaves, men invoking culture for dominating women or heterosexuals invoking culture for persecuting homosexuals, we can't let them get away with it. Their personal right to culture and tradition does not over-ride everyone else's rights to their own free choice in culture and tradition. If an Islamic woman wants to say that she is making a cultural choice to wear a mini-skirt, or a Ugandan woman decides to live openly as a lesbian, then that is her choice, and her choice alone. We are ethically bound to support those choices.