Monday, February 19, 2007

An Open Letter to the American Family Association......

To: The American Family Association (

Dear Sir / Madam,

I am profoundly disturbed by your repeated defamation and vilification of the gay community, both here and abroad. In writing this, I realize full well that I am wasting my time – but I consider it to be my moral and social imperative to ensure that efforts to harm a minority – particularly when those efforts are motivated by religious bigotry – are, at a bare minimum, subjected to comment and dispassionate analysis.

My understanding is that one of the largest “ex-gay” organizations in the US is an organization named Exodus International. This organization claims to have a very high “success” rate in terms of “curing” homosexuality – but has never released the raw data that would permit informed professionals to determine the manner in which this “success” rate is computed or derived. The sharing of information – particularly information pertaining to issues that generate considerable controversy – is considered to be central to the advancement of the scientific process, and failure to provide non-biased professionals with raw data is indicative of what can only, sadly, be described as a complete lack of intellectual integrity. How are scientists to evaluate the claims of “sexual reorientation” when those organizations responsible for such claims refuse to share information pertaining to the manner in which they conducted their studies?

I am, however, aware of the fact that two of the founders of Exodus International fell in love with each other and denounced the efforts of Exodus International as being both fruitless and damaging to the psyches of vulnerable gay men and lesbians who feel pressured by society to conform to strict notions of gender roles and identifies, regardless of whether or not such efforts could ever be successful. This speaks volumes about the integrity of Exodus International and, by extension, other organizations that make reckless and ill-informed claims about the lives of gay men and lesbians.

I am also aware that the poster child of the “ex-gay” movement – John Paulk – was thrown out of his position at the Family Research Council after he was caught chatting up men for sex in a gay bar off DuPont Circle, in Washington, DC, several years ago. He spent about an hour in this bar. When a gay activist recognized Paulk and telephoned another gay activist, who arrived with a camera and started taking pictures, Paulk beat a hasty retreat from this bar. Paulk then made a number of excuses for being in the gay bar (which is widely known as a “pick-up” bar) – including the claim that he merely wished to use the restroom (despite the fact that there were numerous restaurants and stores near the gay bar at which he could have relieved himself), followed by the claim that he was simply “interested” in seeing how his life had changed since his “conversion” to heterosexuality.

The hard, cold fact is that there is not one – I repeat, not one – reputable, unbiased psychiatric or psychological professional that considers homosexuality to be a mental illness, and that no reputable scientific authorities believe that it is possible for a person to undergo a change of sexual orientation. Some forms of organic brain damage (Kluver-Bucy syndrome, which is the result of bilateral damage to the temporal lobes of the neocortex, is an example) are associated with abrupt reversal of sexual polarity – which, when viewed from within the scientific paradigm to which I allude above, as opposed to the religious fanaticism to which you subscribe, would seem to reinforce the assertion of the overwhelming body of mental health professionals to the effect that sexual orientation is definitely a function of biology as opposed to personal choice. It is certainly true that gay men and women can become chaste and refuse to engage in behavior that, for them, comes naturally – or can even marry members of the opposite sex (as in the case of John Paulk) – but this does not render them heterosexual. A heterosexual man or woman who, for religious or other reasons, becomes celibate (as in the case of Catholic priests) does not cease to be heterosexual by virtue of the creation of a behavioral vacuum. What applies to heterosexuals also applies to gay men and lesbians – a young gay man can be terrorized by religious fanaticism into chastity, but that does not change his sexual orientation one iota.

What puzzles and amuses me the most is your unwillingness to listen to the reports of those people who know, better than anybody else, what it is to be gay – specifically, what puzzles me is your refusal to accept the assertions of literally millions of Americans who, when asked, repeatedly inform members of organizations such as yours that they are gay, and that they have neither the ability nor the desire to change their sexual orientation. Normally, one listens carefully to self-reporting in the context of a study of complex psychological phenomena – it is simply not possible to quantify, file, spindle, staple, fold, and reference states of arousal. Yet with respect to this issue – which continues to generate much controversy – organizations such as yours simply refuse to accept the direct testimony of gay men and lesbians. Are we to conclude that you believe that all members of the gay and lesbian community are involved in a massive conspiracy?

You further ignore the prevalence of homosexuality in every society ever studied by anthropologists, as well as the extraordinary consistency of the percentage of the population that is thought to be gay across all such societies. Even in societies in which homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty, gay men and lesbians continue to exist and to meet. Facile attempts to explain this away by comparing gay men and lesbians to criminals disintegrate when viewed more carefully, since the prevalence of criminal behavior is not consistent across societies. If there is any characteristic that can be best compared to homosexuality, it is laterality. Just as approximately 10% of the male population is considered to be gay, about 10% of the population is thought to be left-handed. Vicious and physically violent attempts to stamp out usage of the left hand in writing met with the same dismal failure as the “therapeutic regimens” of organizations such as Exodus International (many members of which report, following their discharge from this organization, that gay sex is rampant behind the backs of the “counselors” and “therapists”).

The parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates heartbeat, respiration, pupillary dilation, and other bodily functions not within the conscious control of the vast majority of human beings (Tibetan monks and experts in meditation aside), does not lie. When shown heterosexual pornography, the pupils of a heterosexual male subject dilate. When shown gay pornography, the pupils of a gay male subject dilate. These are hard facts. Regardless of religious teaching, the parasympathetic nervous systems of gay men and lesbians act on desire for members of the same sex. This cannot be explained away.

In this country, freedom of religion is cherished, and is enshrined in the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. Courts of law regard any legislation that classifies people on the basis of their religious beliefs with great suspicion; in legal parlance, classifications on the basis of religion are “suspect.” Any classification impacting a fundamental right is considered to be “suspect.” Additionally, a “suspect class” is any group, the members of which are no less capable of contributing to society than the members of any other group, which has suffered a history of persecution where such persecution has been on account of an “immutable” characteristic shared by members of that group; the group in question is also relatively politically powerless, usually due to its small size. Race is the most obvious suspect class. Several state supreme courts consider sexual orientation to be a suspect class (see Footnote 1 to Baehr v. Miike, No. 91-1394-05 (1996), in which the Hawaii Supreme Court declared, authoritatively, that for all purposes other than marriage, classifications based on sexual orientation are suspect; see also Commonwealth v. Wasson, No. 90-SC-558-TG (1992) (striking down the Kentucky sodomy statute on state constitutional grounds)). Even were it to be proven that homosexuality is chosen, this would not justify the imposition of societal sanctions, violence, and rhetorical abuse against gay men and lesbians. Religion is chosen; in fact, Christianity places heavy emphasis on free will and its role in the lives of men and women. Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit summed this up in his dissent in the case of Holmes / Watson v. California Army, No. 96-15855 (1997):

"I recognize that we are bound by this court's recent decision that the military may discharge service members who engage in homosexual conduct. See Philips v. Perry, 106 F.3d1420 (9th Cir. 1997). Although I must follow that decision here, I note that it is necessarily rooted in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), a decision that I have previously described as similar in its bias and prejudice to Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). I remain confident that some day a Supreme Court with a sense of fairness and an adequate vision of the Constitution will repudiate Bowers in the same way that a wise and fair-minded Court once repudiated Plessy. Indeed, I hope that day will not be long in coming. In my view of the Constitution, there is no more justification for discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation, which is most frequently a happenstance of birth, than there is for discrimination against blacks, Hispanics or Asians -- or against Catholics, Jews, or Muslims, who at least have the option to convert." [emphasis added].

Judge Reinhardt expressly articulated this principle despite the fact that he clearly does not believe that sexual orientation is chosen; in his view, discrimination against gay men and lesbians is as pernicious as discrimination against members of any given religion; in fact, the former form of discrimination is even more reprehensible, due to the fact that gay people cannot change their sexual orientation, whereas members of religious minorities can change their religions. While this may offend many religious people, the logic is unassailable. Simply put, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. (Judge Reinhardt’s wish was realized in 2003, when the US Supreme Court bluntly and expressly overturned Bowers v. Hardwick, openly acknowledging that it had made a very serious mistake in its analysis in Bowers (see Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)))

A few years ago, organizations such as yours were convinced that there was one particular struggle in the “culture war” (or, as Associate Justice Antonin Scalia so delicately and evocatively described it in his dissent in Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), the “kultuurkampf” (a particularly interesting choice of language and noun from a man whose tool is the written word, given the fact that Scalia was writing about the rights of a group of Americans who have been repeatedly and systematically abused, and who were also targets of the Nazis during the Holocaust) could be won; while Scalia whined about the homosexual “problem” in the State of Colorado, organizations such as yours were confident that gay men and lesbians would never win the right to marry in this country. Wrong again. One state recognizes gay marriage in both name and substance (Massachusetts). Three other states recognize gay marriage in substance, but not name (Vermont, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the last of which implemented civil unions without any prompting from its judiciary). California could well become the fifth state to recognize gay marriage in substance and the second state to recognize gay marriage in name, as soon as this year. The most recent attempt to amend the US Constitution to ban gay marriages did not even attract a simple majority of members of the US Senate, let alone the 67 votes needed to ratify the proposed Amendment.

Around the world, the US has become the international laughing stock of more progressive societies. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom now recognize civil unions that confer upon gay couples all of the benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage. Belgium, Germany, Canada, The Netherlands, Argentina, Spain, Brazil, and South Africa have gone even further, recognizing gay marriage in both name and substance. The dominos are falling. Has your organization given a moment’s thought to the damage that would be done to this country were thousands of gay industrialists, scientists, professionals in short supply in the US, and other needed sources of high-tech labor to decide not to immigrate to this country due to the fact that their relationships with their spouses would be instantly annulled upon entry to the US?

You are entitled to your religious beliefs, and you would be surprised by the vigor with which I would fight for your right to believe in them and to live by them. But when your religious beliefs become the mace of government coercion – when the wall of separation between Church and State is breached, and organizations such as yours – organizations which portray gay men and lesbians as filthy and disease-ridden people who are morally debased and sexually depraved – attempt to force your beliefs down the throats of the rest of us, I will fight back. We will fight back. We will do so because we are not fodder for religious zealotry, and we will not stroll back into the camps.

Got it?



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