USA’s Oldest LGBT Bookstore to Close

April 28, 2014 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 160

Giovanni's Room PhiladelphiaSad news this week as the Philadelphia Gay News reports that Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the country, will close for good in May.

Owner Ed Hermance, who has operated the store since the dark early days of the gay-rights movement in the 1970s, tried to find a buyer for the store so he could retire, but an apparent deal fell through. According to the PGN, Hermance blames Amazon and similar retailers for making business difficult for indie booksellers, and says he’s lost between $10,000 and $15,000 keeping Giovanni’s Room open so far in 2014.

I’ve shopped at Giovanni’s Room many times in the last twelve years or so, and lived for two years at Juniper and Pine Streets, less than two blocks away. It’s always been a dream to one day see a book I’d written on their shelves, one of those fantasies young writers have about how we know when we’ve “made it.” Giovanni’s Room was a terrific, welcoming space where the shelves were always well-stocked and well-maintained. It felt like a place where people loved books. Continue Reading

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Stop Defending Brendan Eich

April 10, 2014 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (3) 191

The Mozilla CEO was not fired, and he’s not a victim of discrimination.

Firefox

I’m a big fan of Dan Savage, and a regular listener to his weekly podcast. Dan has a great moral compass and a strong sense of logic and fairness, but even Dan Savage can be wrong–and this week was he ever. This week’s show began with a fifteen-minute rant in which Dan first draws a parallel between opposition to marriage equality and support for segregation, then distances the gay community from the outcry over Brendan Eich’s appointment as CEO of Mozilla, and finally declares Eich’s resignation “a setback for the LGBT rights movement.”

Brendan_Eich_Mozilla_Foundation_official_photoThis parallels a number of recent arguments I’ve heard from various other sources that say Eich’s brief and ill-fated tenure represent a new form of workplace discrimination, that employees who disagree with marriage equality should now fear for their jobs, and that the arguments against Eich’s appointment are the same arguments used to justify firing gay people.

All of these arguments are false, for varying reasons. Any regular reader here knows that I’m a staunch defender of free speech and religious freedom–but this case has nothing to do with either of those things. Here’s why the most common criticisms of Eich’s resignation, and the pressure that led up to it, are wrong:

1. Brendan Eich’s right to free speech was not violated.

Eich, like all people in the United States, has the right to speak and express himself without fear of government reprisal. Continue Reading

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The Brief but Stupid Story of Bill Donohue’s (Almost) Anti-Gay Gay Pride Float

March 22, 2014 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, New York City Comments (0) 229

...except, of course, EVERYONE expects the Catholic League.

Torquemada was also defending the civil rights of Catholics.

I’m posting this story here because I just love it so much.

So the Catholic League is an organization established to “defend the Catholic Church,” headed by a man named Bill Donohue. Like most Christian advocacy groups, the Catholic League interprets “defending their religion and civil rights” as imposing their beliefs on other people, and claiming they’re harmed any time a person or group of people choose not to be Catholic. Probably because there’s no need to defend something that isn’t being attacked, but I digress.

This year, a few beer companies pulled their sponsorships of the Saint Patrick’s Day parades in New York City and Boston because the parades don’t LGBT people to march. [Those beer companies, by the way, are Guinness, Sam Adams, and Heineken. Hooray for them! Buy more of their products. I would, but I don’t think my apartment can hold any more beer.] LGBT marchers have been banned by Saint Patrick’s Day parade organizers for decades, by the way.

In response to the boycott, the Catholic League sprung into action. Remember, not endorsing Christianity is attacking it. Bill Donohue had a brilliant idea to call attention to the hypocrisy of the LGBT community: He would attempt to register the Catholic League for New York City’s Pride Parade in June. Their float would be dedicated to “straight pride,” with signs like “STRAIGHT IS GREAT,” a huge wedding cake featuring a heterosexual couple [transgressive!] and assorted other pro-straight paraphernalia. Continue Reading

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Fred Phelps, In Memoriam

March 20, 2014 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Pop Culture Comments (0) 108

Fred Phelps was a closeted gay man.

No, I have no conclusive proof of that, and I’m not being facetious in a “ha-ha, he sure would hate me saying that” kind of way. It’s what I truly believe, because it’s the only rational explanation I can come up with for the sheer volume of the man’s hatred for homosexuality and the LGBT community. [pullquote position=”right”]Fred Phelps was attracted to men, and he hated himself so much for that, with such fervor and intensity, that hating himself was not enough.[/pullquote] He needed all of America, all of the world, to hate him too.

How else to explain the decision to move from protesting the funerals of gay men who died of AIDS, as Phelps and his “church” of family members, did for years, to protesting the funerals of America’s war veterans? To protesting the funerals of beloved celebrities, to eventually jumping in front of the cameras at any widely-covered event, just so he could show a few more Americans why they should hate him? Continue Reading

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Religious Imposition, Not Religious Liberty

February 28, 2014 Gay and Lesbian, In The News Comments (0) 127

Gay_friendly_churchAs a rule these days I try to avoid investing time and energy in online debates, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. Yesterday I got sucked into a debate at the Matt Walsh Blog about Arizona’s rightly-vetoed Senate Bill 1062, the “Turn Away the Gay” bill. I was more than a little startled by the outpouring of right-wing support for SB 1062 that followed Governor Brewer’s veto, and the arguments mounted at MWB grabbed me because they were especially heinous.

For starters, of course, there’s the standard refrain of the straight, white cisgendered libertarian male: “The solution is simple, just don’t do anything.” In this case, Walsh argues that the proper solution to anti-gay discrimination is for the government to do nothing, and the free market will eradicate discrimination. I’m not even going to spend a lot of time refuting this position because (a) it’s so incredibly stupid; and (b) if you’re here reading, you probably already agree that it’s incredibly stupid, so I won’t waste your time. Let’s just agree that if LBJ were alive, we could all share a hearty laugh about what a fantasy world some libertarians live in.

The reason I write about it here is to point out how ludicrous it is to call SB 1062, or the many similar bills in other states, “Religious Freedom Laws.” The so-called ‘right’ of Christian business proprietors to turn away LGBT people is presented as a protection of their religious observation. A government mandate to treat LGBT customers identically with other customers is, according to the bill’s defenders, a tyrannical denial of religious liberty. This is absurd on several levels. Continue Reading

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Get the Olympics Out of Russia (Just Say Nochi)

August 14, 2013 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 102

httpv://youtu.be/NWE7mDbNBAI

Russia’s persecution of LGBT people is ample reason for the IOC to pull the Olympics out of Sochi, even with only six months to go before the Sochi games. Here’s a response to the bullshit rationalizations for keeping the Olympics in Russia.

LOTS OF LINKS TODAY:

IOC says it will punish athletes who make shows of LGBT support: http://instinctmagazine.com/post/olympic-committee-confirms-it-will-punish-athletes-who-support-lgbt-rights-russia

Dmitry Kiselev speaks about “burying the hearts” of gays: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=2NlayCtujlU

Russian authorities confirm anti-gay propaganda law will be enforced in Sochi: http://en.ria.ru/russia/20130812/182723811/Russia-Confirms-Anti-Gay-Law-Will-Be-Enforced-at-Olympics.html

RUSA LGBT, Russian LGBT activist group, asks allies to boycott Sochi Olympics: http://rusalgbt.com/

Cost of Sochi Olympics, including those covered by Putin’s wealthy backers: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/21/us-russia-sochi-idUSBRE91K04M20130221

Wikipedia’s list of LGBT athletes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_LGBT_sportspeople

Chris’s Blog: http://www.christopherkeelty.com

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Sochi, Human Rights, and Cognitive Bias

August 12, 2013 Gay and Lesbian, In The News Comments (0) 102

I want to talk about the Sochi Olympics. But first I want to talk about status quo bias.

I have a theory. It says status quo bias is one of the most powerful influences on Americans’ decision making, if not the most powerful. Status quo bias, for the uninitiated, is the bias toward things as they are right now. I’m not alone in my suspicion about its power; there have been studies.

Status quo bias is powerful, and particularly in nationalist societies like ours, because people want to believe that all the stuff they’ve grown up loving is good. They want to believe that our heroic forbears built the best possible society, and assume the alternatives must have been explored and discarded for a good reason. Status quo bias is, I think, the reason many white Americans couldn’t understand the uproar around Trayvon Martin: They didn’t want to believe the United States has built a racially biased system of criminal justice, and unlike their dark-skinned neighbors, their privilege means they’re never confronted by the truth.

Status quo bias is the reason many Americans oppose Affirmative Action: “Everyone already HAS an equal opportunity!” It’s the reason we don’t have a massive public demand to rename the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, and Atlanta Braves: “Those names have been around for years. They’re historical, not discriminatory.” Status quo bias is the reason people get offended by so-called “political correctness.” The words they’re used to, in their minds, are more important than courtesy and consideration toward the people they hurt.

Status quo bias, I think, is the reason Conservativism and the Republican Party are even viable. Change is probably the most frightening thing to any human. The status quo is safe and familiar and, to many people, worth fighting to protect.

So why do I bring up status quo bias? Because I’m watching a lot of reasonable people, including personal friends, celebrities, and the President defend the continuation of the Sochi Olympics, and I’m reading their long list of bullshit rationalizations for their positions:

  • “A boycott hurts the athletes, not the nation.” Bullshit. The loss of billions in revenue sure hurts Russia more than it hurts athletes, not to mention the international embarrassment of losing an Olympiad.
  • “Russia has assured us the athletes aren’t in danger.” Bullshit. What about all the LGBT Russians? We don’t care about their lives or their human rights?
  • “The athletes have trained too hard to miss an Olympiad.” Bullshit. With all sympathy to the athletes, some things are more important than sports. I realize that’s an unpopular opinion in the United States, but it’s true. This also leaves aside the possibility of relocating the Olympics so that competition can proceed, outside of Russia.
  • “Sponsors have invested too much money to pull out now.” Bullshit. First of all, I can’t believe people actually make this argument, but then again there does seem to be a consensus these days that money is more important than people. Setting aside ethics, however, those sponsors better realize the message they are sending: “We support gay rights…sometimes. If there’s money in it, we support imprisoning and murdering gay people.” 
  • “The Olympics aren’t contingent on human rights.” Bullshit. Tell that to South Africa, who was banned for 50 years by the IOC because of apartheid. I’m not suggesting Russian athletes should be banned; just that the Olympics, and their revenues, should no longer be given to Russia as a nation.

There is no good argument in favor of holding the Olympics in Sochi, and the only motivating factor (besides money) is status quo bias. People have been fans of the Olympics for a long time, and they don’t want their fandom “tainted” by cynicism. They want to watch the competition with a guilt-free conscience, assuring themselves that if there really was anything wrong with this, it wouldn’t have been going on for so long.

[Nevermind, of course, that the Olympics as we know them have a whole lot more to do with Nazi propaganda than with any Greek tradition.]

It’s an understandable, natural, and human way to think. But it’s entirely wrong. I fully realize the IOC is being confronted here with a near-impossible problem. Sochi was awarded the Olympics years ago, and the anti-gay propaganda law and its associated war on queers is a recent development. The IOC and sponsors have invested millions, perhaps billions [I could look it up, I know, but I’m lazy] into these Olympics, and to cancel or relocate now would mean losing much of that investment, and would constitute an embarrassing international incident. By proceeding, however, the IOC and every member nation send a clear message to the world’s LGBT population: You are not a priority.

It’s time to set aside cognitive bias, consider the reality of what we are doing, and pull the Olympics out of Russia. While we’re at it, we might consider where else status quo bias is preventing us from improving our world and our society, and reconsider.

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OFFENDER’S GAME: Why I’m boycotting Orson Scott Card and the Ender’s Game movie

July 16, 2013 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Writing Comments (0) 92

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5W1tyuIOUmQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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Stonewall at 44 / the death of DOMA

June 26, 2013 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, New York City, Personal Comments (0) 84

Stonewall2013This photo is of Christopher Street, where I just watched Edie Windsor announce that she defeated DOMA. It’s where I went as soon as I left the office.

It was 44 years ago, almost to the day, when our brave brothers and sisters in the Stonewall Inn decided they’d had enough abuse from the NYPD, and took to this very street with their bottles, beer cans, and bricks. Now the police cordon off the street while we revel in our victory, and keep an eye out for those who may try to do us harm on our day of celebration.

Forty-four years. My mother and father were graduating from high school. My grandfather was, as it happens, driving a paddy-wagon for the NYPD. He was not at Stonewall, as far as I’m aware. Just look what has changed in forty-four years.

I want to congratulate all the couples whose marriages are, as of today, really equal. I want to thank my former colleagues at the ACLU, and my allies at the organizations and law firms who helped to fight this fight. But mostly I want to thank my LGBT elders, the people who came before me, who had it so much harder than I’ve had it. I want to thank those drag queens and fags and dykes who threw bottles and cans and punches, and finally declared on behalf of the whole queer population of America that we had enough. I wonder what it feels like for them, those who are still with us, to see the NYPD protecting us.

I felt a sense of awe tonight every time I heard the name of this case, Windsor v. The United States of America. Edie Windsor is five feet tall, she just turned 84, and she can’t weigh more than the average seventh grader–but she took on a country. And she won.

 

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