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Posts for August, 2013

The Unique Challenges of Russian Homophobia

Jim Burroway

August 13th, 2013

It’s important to understand the particular nature of Russian homophobia if we ever hope to address it. In the U.S., much of our anti-gay politics emmanates from a politically influential religious class, and so it would be reasonable to assume that Russia’s anti-gay animosity springs from a similar source. And while the Russian Orthodox Church is virulently anti-gay, Masha Lippman says it would be a mistake to try to address Russian homophobia on religious grounds.

The country may appear to be fairly conservative, if one looks at its widespread homophobia or public condemnation of irreverence toward Russian Orthodox Church. Yet when it comes to other social habits, such as divorce, abortion, or birth rate, the picture is very different. Russia has one of the world’s highest rates of both divorce and abortion, and some of the most liberal laws on the latter. Russia’s birth rate is not dissimilar from that of secular cultures of western Europe. Premarital sex and single motherhood are fairly common; in one survey, a mere fourteen per cent of respondents said they believed a single parent can’t raise a child properly. And while a large majority of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, the proportion of those attending services or observing religious rituals in Russia is not dissimilar from many European countries.

A partial explanation of this discrepancy can be found in Soviet history. The early Soviet period involved a radical rejection of the ancien regime, a forced modernization by the Bolsheviks that included universal literacy and suffrage (along with the elimination of political choice, of course), as well as brutally imposed secularization, among other things. But the Soviet Union mostly missed the later, post-war stages of the Western social modernization, and especially the gay-rights movement. In the U.S.S.R., it was a crime to be a gay man. The atmosphere grew much freer for gays in the post-Communist period, yet gay rights have not become a nationwide issue until now, as the government has abruptly moved toward social conservatism.

This diary over at Daily Kos goes into it deeper, where Russian homophobia is seen in the context of Russian nationalism and distrust of foreigners. This is not the first time I’ve seen this; a number of Russians and citizens of former Soviet countries themselves have said this over the years:

In every way the homophobic tendency in contemporary Russia is riding the coattails of a decade’s worth of ethnic violence and xenophobia.  Even the horrific videos of Russians torturing young people because of their perceived sexual identity are a recent addition to an already crowded field of anti-immigrant videos, in which Russian neo-Nazis beat up, and in some cases kill, people they suspect of being non-ethnic Russians.  They share these videos on the internet for fun.  (If you can bear it, this short documentary on anti-immigrant crime is as eye-opening as it is horrific.)  On their own, these are the acts of fringe neo-Nazis like Maxim Martsinkevich (a major player in the torture video genre, who takes shirtless pictures and sexually violates LGBTs… read into that what you will.)  Taken more broadly, once you throw in mass unemployment, frustration, and malaise, you start to see these hateful, exclusionary beliefs drift more and more into mainstream discourse.

Another important aspect of this is still-widespread nostalgia for the USSR  – not the totalitarian policies per se, but the feeling that, for a couple of decades, Russia was an unchallenged world superpower, secure in its central place in international politics.  Not for nothing did Putin call the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”  This is all of a part with Russia’s attempts to assert itself on the national stage – think oil pipelines, Syria, etc. – as a pathetic echo for the glory days of Soviet power.  The gap between Russia’s (belief in its) former greatness and the inability to assert itself in the contemporary world has led to an ideological vacuum, conveniently filled with desperate nationalism.

Later, he adds:

No exaggeration here: there is a sadly widespread belief that the LGBT movement is a CIA-funded operation à la MKUltra.  For a local example, check out the current wiki page on Patriarch Alexy II, cached here, and note the section on his opposition to homosexuality.

That’s been one of the challenges in dealing with anti-gay politics in Africa, the belief that LGBT rights and that gay people themselves are a product of foreign meddling. Those charges find fertile ground in Africa where  European colonialism — and its import of sodomy laws — still casts a long shadow. That is why public threats of cutting foreign aide (as distinguished from private diplomatic engagement in which the same messages have been delivered) have sometimes been much more disruptive than helpful to LGBT advocates on the ground. The same potential effect could conceivable play out in Russia, where an attack on its laws, however repulsive and oppressive to human rights they may be, is seen as an attack on Russian sovereignty itself. This is where foreign protests can backfire.

That’s not to say that I’m against, for example, the Russian vodka boycott. I personally think it’s been a smashing success, although you won’t be able to measure it in economic terms. I don’t think you will see any impact on Russian vodka producers’ balance sheets, but you do see it in how people are suddenly talking about what’s happening in Russia, and their doing it on a daily basis. The so-called “anti-propaganda” law has been on the books since June, but it wasn’t until Dan Savage issued his call for a vodka boycott a month later that the media decided to take a look. And it has been a daily topic ever since.

Recognizing that this kind of pressure can exasperate Russian nationalism at the expense of LGBT people there doesn’t mean that we should suspend the boycott and call off all protests against Russia’s gross violations of human rights. I don’t see how we can cater to a culture’s xenophobic biases any more than than its homophobic ones. But I do think that there are some smart ways to go about it, and that we should consider following the lead of Russian LGBT activists who know their country and culture far better than we do. I think these examples are good ones to keep in mind:

In responding to the charge that queerness is a Western import, the St. Petersburg advocacy group Vykhod (“Coming Out”) put together an astute set of advertisements aimed at dismantling the rhetoric of Western cultural imperialism by showcasing various figures from Russian history.  It’s hard to argue that homosexuality is a CIA plot when so many famous Russians, particularly in the reasonably relaxed culture of the early 20th century, left such a prominent legacy on their culture while living quasi-openly as gay, lesbian, and bisexual. (Transgender history is less prominent but no less there, especially during the early Soviet years and, surprisingly, the 1960s.)  Tchaikovsky is of course the usual starting point, but actively open and out Russians included a diverse slate of artists, politicians, scientists… names like Georgy ChicherinMarina TsvetaevaSergei DiaghilevSophie Parnok… The list is very long, because turn-of-the-century Russia’s queer history is actually richer than anything contemporary in the West, where it was handled with much more euphemism.  … For their troubles Vykhod was labeled a “foreign agent” and fined 500,000 rubles.  So there’s that.

Quite a lot of Russian LGBTs have not kept silent, risking arrest and condemnation in order to make their existence known.  One worth getting to know is the “404” movement (like their FB page here), a Russian spin on the “It Gets Better” web presence. Celebrity culture, so vital in turning around attitudes in America, has been considerably more muted, but there are exceptions: e.g. actor Aleksei Panin came out as bisexual in an interview earlier this year in order to draw attention to the widespread cultural intolerance; socialite and media figureKsenia Sobchak has been very outspoken against the homophobic law; news anchor Anton Krasovsky came out on air and was immediately fired, etc.  My first and most important piece of advice is this: get to know these people, share their stories, and don’t let them disappear into the memory hole.

As a service to the anti-gays

Timothy Kincaid

February 1st, 2012

I know it is unfair of me to insist that anti-gays boycott every business that supports equality without at least offering them some other opportunities. So I have taken it upon myself to make some inquiries. And, assuming that I receive appropriate responses, I’ll be certain to let the anti-gays know of just which companies can be a suitable alternatives.

To Smith Corona

Hello,

A number of conservative organizations are currently upset that significant manufacturers of computers and operating systems – including Microsoft and Apple – have taken public positions in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry. They are seeking to boycott, but are having difficulty finding alternatives.

I would like to recommend that they use the manual typewriter as an option for their word processing, but before I do so I want to make certain that there are typewriter manufacturers who have not expressed support for same-sex marriage.

I understand that you no longer manufacture typewriters but do provide supplies. But before I offer this option, can you please let me know whether or not your company has taken a position on the matter.

To Crosley Appliances

Hello,

A number of conservative organizations are currently upset that significant communications providers – including Google and Apple – have taken public positions in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry. They are seeking to boycott, but are having difficulty finding alternatives.

I would like to recommend that they use the rotary telephone as an option for their communication needs, but before I do so I want to make certain that there are rotary telephone manufacturers who have not expressed support for same-sex marriage.

I know that you manufacture the Crosley Desk Phone (CR 58-IV). But before I offer this option, can you please let me know whether or not your company has taken a position on the matter.

To Central Tools

Hello,

A number of conservative organizations are currently upset that significant manufacturers of computers and operating systems – including Microsoft and Apple – have taken public positions in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry. They are seeking to boycott, but are having difficulty finding alternatives.

I would like to recommend that they use the slide rule as an option for their calculating, but before I do so I want to make certain that there are slide rule manufacturers who have not expressed support for same-sex marriage.

I know that you manufacture the Central Tools 65060 Caliper Slide Rule. But before I offer this option, can you please let me know whether or not your company has taken a position on the matter.

No, the gay community is not boycotting the Salvation Army

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

December 1st, 2011

Unlike, say, the Southern Baptist Convention, the widely diverse group of people who fall under the general category of “the gay community” do not have an official spokesman. And, fine as Bil Browing (editor of Bilerico) is, and as committed to our community as he is, he doesn’t speak for anyone but himself – as, indeed, is the true for all of us bloggers.

But to some in the news, a whiff of disagreement between a gay person and a religious group is a news story and so off they have run.

MSNBC: Gay groups boycott Salvation Army red kettle drive
Christian Post: LGBT Groups Boycott Salvation Army’s Red Kettles
And USA Today: Gays, lesbians call for Salvation Army boycott, really gets it wrong:

The gay and lesbian community is calling for a boycott of The Salvation Army and its annual holiday red kettle drive because of the organization’s stance on gay and lesbian relationships, Christian Today, MSNBC and other news organizations are reporting.

Let me first address the facts, the hype, and the conflict.

The facts:

The Salvation Army is a church. It’s a denomination, just like the United Methodist Church or the Assemblies of God. But, unlike those denominations, the Salvation Army is best known for its charity.

And, indeed, the Salvation Army has been focused on the less fortunate since its start in the 19th Century. William Booth’s intention to bring the gospel message to the poor including “alcoholics and prostitutes” was not only a challenge to class and status but a genuine care for the physical needs of those to whom he preached.

The three ‘S’s’ best expressed the way in which the Army administered to the ‘down and outs': first, soup; second, soap; and finally, salvation.

Personally, I find that a church which focuses first on caring for physical necessities and then on social integration and finally on religious conversion has their priorities in order. I would go so far as to say that a good many churches could take a lesson from the Salvation Army.

But, paradoxically, the Salvation Army’s prioritizing has led to criticism by some. As so few churches do place care for the unwealthy unsaved and unloved as their fifth, sixth or eighteenth priority, it comes as a surprise to some that those people calling themselves the Salvation Army are actually a church. But, but, but churches don’t act like that; only non-religious non-profit organizations – or the government – help those in need!

The hype:

And upon finding out that the Salvation Army is a church, many assumed that therefor it must be a right-wing extremist anti-gay church. After all, it’s sneaky: pretending to be a charity like that! And when the Salvation Army responded to questions with theological positions which were not those of, say, the United Church of Christ, such fears were confirmed.

Making matters worse, in 2001 when George W. Bush proposed funding faith-based charities, the Salvation Army requested that the Bush Administration exempt religious charities that receive federal money from local laws that bar anti-gay discrimination. Their concern was based in fear that they would be required to provide domestic partner benefits to their gay employees, something they felt contradicted their religious teaching. Bush ultimately said, “no”.

And thus was created the public image of the Salvation Army as being virulently homophobic. Google “Salvation Army homophobic” and you’ll get over 60,000 responses.

And, as he has in times past, Bil Browning has written to advise his readers to find a better choice for their charity dollars than the Salvation Army.

And the Chicago marxist organization masquerading as a gay group, Gay Liberation Network, has jumped in to and emailed news organizations that they “support the boycott”, thus providing the press with both “an LGBT group” and the b-word.

The conflict.

The Salvation Army is not homophobic. But it has somewhat conservative theology on the matter and has behaved carelessly, if not callously, towards the gay community.

The Church’s theology falls within mainstream Christianity and its teaching on homosexuality is not divergent from that general realm. They do not, as do many conservative evangelical churches, deny sexual orientation or champion ex-gay ministries or even deny membership or positions of leadership to gay people. But, consistent with a significant portion of mainstream Christianity, they believe that gay people should live celibate lives:

The Salvation Army holds a positive view of human sexuality. Where a man and a woman love each other, sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage. However, in the Christian view, sexual intimacy is not essential to a healthy, full, and rich life. Apart from marriage, the scriptural standard is celibacy.

Sexual attraction to the same sex is a matter of profound complexity. Whatever the causes may be, attempts to deny its reality or to marginalize those of a same-sex orientation have not been helpful. The Salvation Army does not consider same-sex orientation blameworthy in itself. Homosexual conduct, like heterosexual conduct, requires individual responsibility and must be guided by the light of scriptural teaching.

Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.

Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation. The Salvation Army opposes any such abuse.

In keeping with these convictions, the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation. The fellowship of Salvation Army worship is open to all sincere seekers of faith in Christ, and membership in The Salvation Army church body is open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline.

Not an embracing position, but not exactly hateful either. And, other than their efforts to protect their own self-interest, the Salvation Army has not been much of a player or – with a few exceptions – actively campaigned against civil equalities or inclusion in the fabric of society. On the scale from SBC to UCC, they are closer to the middle.

And now my recommendation:

People are in need. This economy sucks. If you are able, please give to those who have less than you. However, in giving you have a responsibility. And you have choices.

Bil Browning reports that the Salvation Army discriminates in the providing of services:

I’ve seen the discrimination the Salvation Army preaches first hand. When a former boyfriend and I were homeless, the Salvation Army insisted we break up before they’d offer assistance. We slept on the street instead and declined to break up as they demanded.

Bill’s situation may have been a local policy or it may have been revised since that time, but currently the church has as policy that sexual orientation is not considered in its provision of services. And the church reportedly does not discriminate in the hiring of bell ringers (though its permanent gay employees do not get partner benefits).

However, ultimately, this is a church. And while it invites you to give to help support its charity efforts, once the soup and the soap have been distributed, it will seek to fulfill the third “S”, the one in its name. The charitable efforts of the Salvation Army were never intended to be secular, but rather the distribution of care from Christians to those in need.

So if you do not support the reason they have an S on their crest, “Salvation from sin through Jesus”, or if you believe that their theological teachings are incompatible with your own beliefs, the Salvation Army should not be your first choice for caring for the essential needs of those suffering most in this economy. Perhaps your local Episcopal Church or Lutheran Church has a soup kitchen (many mainline churches have established programs which – while not on the scale of the Salvation Army – do reach their local community). Or perhaps a secular organization is a better fit for you.

But we are not “boycotting”. Generally, boycotts are ineffective and end up with embarrassment in the media. So, while our community does on rare occasion rally together and make a universally accepted purchasing decision (which seems to happen spontaneously), when the gay community boycotts you, you will know it.

Though we are not boycotting, I echo Bil’s call:

Instead of donating to the Salvation Army, choose a different charity that will help everyone without prejudice. Find a local secular charity [or pro-gay religious charity] – or here are some national organizations that provide help to anyone who needs it:

Goodwill (disabled and unemployed)
The Red Cross (medical and emergency relief)
Doctors Without Borders (medical and emergency relief)
Habitat for Humanity (homelessness and housing)

But I add this caveat. Some of you may find that you are less propelled to click the above links, make a pledge, pull out a credit card or send a check. Best of intentions aside, you know you aren’t going to give.

Others might not be able to give much and feel embarrassed to attach their name online to a gift of only give a few dollars. Don’t be. They are delighted to get your two dollars and will put them to good use.

But if you can’t overcome your embarrassment or motivate yourself to make a more socially responsible selection, don’t choose to simply not give. Don’t let someone do without this holiday season because Bil or I have criticism of the Salvation Army. So while we both encourage another choice, if reality says that its the Salvation Army or nothing at all, then drop something into their red buckets.

Because this isn’t about “boycotting”. It isn’t about “punishing the Salvation Army” or demanding that they change their theology. It’s about helping the poor and doing so in the most responsible way we can.

AFA boycotts the Home Depot

Timothy Kincaid

July 21st, 2010

It must be boycott season, cuz the American Family Association has named their latest target. This year the featured business will be Home Depot.

Home Depot, the lumber/hardware mega-store, refused to acquiesce to AFA’s demands that they ban all employees from participating in gay pride:

“At the end of the day here, we’re not going to send anything out that forbids our associates to be involved in these pride festivals in any way.” – July 15, 2010

Well if Home Depot isn’t going to get control over their employees on their own time, then by golly AFA will.

So here’s what I predict will happen.

1. AFA will auto-email Home Depot pre-fab letters from their member list declaring that they will not shop at Home Depot.

2. Home Depot’s stock will go up. (I still haven’t figured out why this happens)

3. At some point Home Depot will agree to some tiny concession of no material concern.

4. AFA will declare victory and call off the boycott.

In the meanwhile, I’ve been meaning to change my sticking front door-knob… maybe it’s time.

The DNC Boycott: Count Me In

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the opinions of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

November 10th, 2009

Frustration is boiling over concerning the Democratic Party’s ongoing neglect of LGBT issues. The latest insult to injury? The Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America set emails to Mainers urging them to vote, but didn’t ask them to vote against Question 1. In fact, the email didn’t mention Question 1 at all. The DNC then sent another email urgently asking Mainers to get involved right away in … wait for it … New Jersey! 

When John Averosis at AmericaBlog contacted the DNC about the emails, he got the classic run-around. They first denied targeting Mainers to help with the New Jersey gubernatorial election, and then admitted that they lied about it.

This is just the latest in a long list of grievances and slights that have been building up since last November. That’s why several bloggers led by Avarosis and Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog are banding together for a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Give” campaign to urge doners to stop donating to the DNC:

It’s really more of a “pause,” than a boycott. Boycotts sounds so final, and angry. Whereas this campaign is temporary, and is only meant to help some friends – President Obama and the Democratic party – who have lost their way. We are hopeful that via this campaign, our friends will keep their promises.

So please sign the Petition and take a Pledge to no longer donate to the DNC, Organizing for America, or the Obama campaign until the President and the Democratic party keep their promises to the gay community, our families, and our friends.

This was launched yesterday. I haven’t taken the pulse of the other contributors at BTB, so I can’t speak for them. But I support this wholeheartedly. One of the DNC’s most loyal constituencies — and among the most reliable sources for cash and sweat equity — has been taken for granted for far too long. The goals of the “pause” are pretty simple:

We are asking voters to pledge to withhold contributions to the Democratic National Committee, Organizing for America, and the Obama campaign until the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is passed, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) is repealed, and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is repealed -– all of which President Obama repeatedly promised to do if elected.

…Candidate Obama promised during the campaign to be the gay community’s “fierce advocate.” He and the Democratic party have not kept their promise.

Longtime LGBT activist David Mixner is on board with the boycott, along with Andy Towle, Michael Goff, Dan Savage, Pam Spaulding, Robin Tyler, Paul Sousa, Bil Browning, Jane Hamsher and Michaelangelo Signorile. Interestingly, even the Human Rights Campaign appears to have tacitly endorsed the boycott, in an email response to David Dayen at Firedog Lake:

“Individual donors should always make their own careful assessments of how to spend limited political contributions. We all need to focus on the legislative priorities identified by AmericaBlog and with whatever tactic individuals decide to employ, the ultimate objective needs to be securing the votes we need to move our legislative agenda forward.”

You can sign the petition and take the pledge here, and you can spread the word to your friends and family here.

Boycotted Hotelier Looking For Resolution

Jim Burroway

May 8th, 2009

Last summer, San Diego hotel owner Doug Manchester donated $125,000 to the effort to pass California’s Proposition 8. Gay activists responded with a call to boycott the hotels he owns and operates. Those hotels include the the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina, the Grand Del Mar, Whitetail Club and Resort, and the big daddy of them all, the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. Now it looks like Manchester is trying to get out from under the boycott:

His plan – which his people warned this newspaper against publishing, even after a Hyatt representative discussed it – is to give $25,000 to a national organization that promotes civil unions and domestic partnerships. Manchester also is considering offering $100,000 in hotel credit to local gay and lesbian organizations so they can use the Grand Hyatt for events such as fundraisers. The $125,000 total matches what he gave to Proposition 8. So it would be even-steven.

Is Manchester now among those who say they oppose same-sex marriage but have no objection to civil unions or domestic partnerships? If so, we’ve heard those words before. If that’s the point he’s trying to make, I don’t know of any national organization that promotes civil unions and domestic partnerships exclusively, or at the expense of marriage.

Besides, donating $125,000 now to ostensibly pro-gay causes, after his large donation previously helped to strip LGBT Californians of their rights last summer isn’t exactly “even-steven.” It might have been a legitimate “even-steven” offset during last fall’s campaign, but it’s not now after the damage has been done.

Fred Karger, whose Californians Against Hate is spearheading the boycott, says he has not been contacted by anyone associated with Manchester, and local San Diego LGBT groups haven’t heard anything about the proposed credits. I don’t see how any resolution can be achieved without dialog with representatives of the local gay community.

Jamaica Boycott: What Are The Alternatives?

Jim Burroway

April 15th, 2009

Yesterday, I provided a quick update to the Jamaican Boycott. In that post, I noted the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, Allsexuals and Gays’ (JFLAG) opposition to that boycott. But as I demonstrated, JFLAG’s position doesn’t speak for all LGBT Jamaicans any more than the HRC speaks for all LGBT Americans. I also closed with this question:

To those who are against the boycott, I have one thing I’d be interested in learning: what do you think ought to be done differently from what has been tried before — assuming you really want a different result?

Today, JFLAG’s blog has joined the debate in two posts. The first is a repost of Michael Airhart’s article on Jamaican voices in support of the boycott. The second is a post which defends JFLAG’s opposition to the boycott, and ends with a re-wording of a similar question I asked yesterday:

Do any of you support this boycott? If not, what alternatives, if any, are there for helping the LGBT people of Jamaica in a respectful manner?

Jamaican Boycott Update

Jim Burroway

April 14th, 2009

The Jamaican Boycott continues to stir controversy in Jamaica and here in the U.S. On Wednesday, Wayne Besen will host a Rum Dump in front of the historic Stonewall Inn in New York at 6:30 p.m.  This follows a similar Rum Dump held in San Francisco by Michael Petrelis. Meanwhile, the Jamaican LGBT advocacy group J-FLAG continues to voice strong opposition to the boycott.

Just as our own Human Rights Campaign doesn’t speak for all LGBT people in America, J-Flag doesn’t speak for all LGBT Jamaicans. But for whatever reason, the idea is percolating among some LGBT advocates that Jamaicans are united against the boycott. But try telling that to Jamaican blogger Dave, or some of the Jamaican commenters here at BTB. Just under a year ago, exiled Jamaican LGBT advocate Garth Henry who was co-chair of J-FLAG until he was forced to flee to Canada, had supported calls for a similar boycott there.

There is another argument that goes like this: Because we’re Americans, we have no right to advocate for human rights outside of our borders. Well if we really believe that, then I guess we should stop tutt-tutting any of the violent threats that we see around the world. Uganda? I guess you’re on your own now. Too bad American anti-gay extremists have no compunction whatsoever in observing the niceties of international boarders in exporting their rhetoric.

But the strangest argument against the boycott seems to go something like this: anti-gay violence in Jamaica is bad and getting worse. If you boycott Jamaican travel and products, anti-gay violence in Jamaica will be bad and likely get worse. As I said, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, and its eerily reminiscent of a classic hostage standoff. Go away or we’ll shoot. And when you do go away, we’ll probably shoot anyway if history is a reliable teacher.

Yes, we can sit on our hands and watch the situation in Jamaica continue to spin out of control, but that just reinforces the old adage which points out that doing the exact same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome is madness. But it appears that this is precisely what our critics would have us do.

This action isn’t being taken to completely remake Jamaican society. In fact, the goals are very limited to two very modest aims:

  1. Jamaican officials publicly committing to ending gay bashing on the island and improving the human rights situation.
  2. A statement from the Prime Minister clearly and unequivocally condemning violence against GLBT people and expressing regret for past violence.

Notice what’s missing from the goals. We’re not demanding that Jamaica repeal its sodomy law, simply because we don’t believe Jamaican leaders should be held to a standard our own legislators would fail to meet. And for similar reasons we’re not asking the Jamaican people to change their religious views, nor are we asking Jamaican politicians to “embrace” anyone. Because of this, many who support a boycott might argue that the aims are too milquetoast. But all we’re asking is that Jamaican officials defend the lives and safety of Jamaican people.

And what we’re doing is not all that groundbreaking. Many LGBT Americans have been engaging in a quiet unofficial boycott for quite some time, and they’ve been involving their friends, families and other straight allies. BoycottJamaica.org merely puts a highly visible face on top of what had already been taking place informally.

So for me, the reason I continue to support the boycott comes down to this: We all have an obligation to know what is happening to LGBT citizens around the world, and we all have a responsibility to decide how we want to spend our money. I know how I want to spend mine, and I encourage everyone else I know to avoid Jamaican products and travel. I’m no different from many countless other LGBT people who have been doing precisely the same thing for quite a long time — except, of course, that I have a blog.  And so I am simply saying publicly what I and many others have been saying privately.

And I will continue to do so. The only way to expect a different result is to do something different. To those who are against the boycott, I have one thing I’d be interested in learning: what do you think ought to be done differently from what has been tried before — assuming you really want a different result?

Appearance on Michelangelo Signorile Show

Jim Burroway

March 31st, 2009

At 4:30 ET, I will be joining Wayne Besen on the The Michelangelo Signorile Show to talk about the boycott of Jamaica. You can listen on Sirius OutQ, 109 or XM 98. If you’re not a subscriber, you can get a free three-day pass and listen online.

JFLAG Opposes Jamaican Boycott

Jim Burroway

March 30th, 2009

The Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, Allsexuals and Gays (JFLAG), while grateful for the support, has come out against the Jamaican boycott:

While I appreciate the support in the cause for justice and tolerance towards everyone here despite their sexual orientation, groups planning or who have planned these events must be mindful of the repercussions such actions may have on an already marginalized grouping as we are here.

Members of the public and by extension select public opinion shapers will consider this as interference by foreigners and hence push for more hatred and opposition towards gays. Not to mention the increase in violence that occurs when a situation like this becomes public knowledge. As we have seen before during the planned Canadian group EGALE’s boycott early last year many persons including lesbians suffered attacks, we saw a spike in the numbers that was never so for lesbians especially before.

I mentioned my reluctance in joining the call for a boycott, and this was one of the main reasons. It continues to give me great pause, and I do not take these concerns lightly. But when I read the State Department Human Rights Report on Jamaica, it is clear that violence against LGBT people is already at a crisis level. Jamaica is a small country. It’s estimated population of 2,804,332 is similar to the populations of Kansas, Arkansas or Mississippi. Imagine the outcry we would be hearing if any one of those three states were experiencing the scale of violence that LGBT people in Jamaica are experiencing already without the boycott.

As I see it, it’s damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t. What do you do in the face of this scale of violence, and how do you weigh taking action against the threat of more violence? Do you take the modest step of declaring that you won’t spend your money on that nation, or do you remain silent and hope for the best?

I am also cognizant of the fact that others have been calling for this very step for a very long time. Every time we post a story about a murder or attack in Jamaica, we get comments and emails asking why there isn’t a boycott already. And after looking at the situation for the past few years, I’ve come to the point of wondering the same thing.

Some anti-gay Jamaicans are already charging that we are trying to force our values onto that nation’s society. But the only value we are discussing is a decrease in violence, a value that all of us should be able to agree on. That’s why the goals are very limited to two very achievable and modest aims:

  1. Jamaican officials publicly committing to ending gay bashing on the island and improving the human rights situation.
  2. A statement from the Prime Minister clearly and unequivocally condemning violence against GLBT people and expressing regret for past violence.

We’re not demanding that Jamaica changes its laws. We’re not asking Jamaicans to change their religious views. And we’re not asking Jamaican politicians to “embrace” anyone. In fact, there’s nothing the least bit radical or controversial in either of these goals. All we’re asking is that Jamaican officials defend the lives and safety of Jamaican people.

LGBT Americans, it can be argued, have an obligation to be informed of what LGBT people around the world are experiencing. LGBT Americans, unarguably, have the right to make informed decisions in how they spend their money. We are asking that you consider the events over the past year and make your decisions according to your conscience.

And speaking of spending money, I do think there is one more important thing you can do. JFLAG provides emergency services to LGBT citizens in Jamaica, and their needs are great. Please donate, and be as generous as possible.

Jamaica Boycott Kicks Off In San Francisco

Jim Burroway

March 28th, 2009

There will be a rally today at noon on San Francisco’s Harvey Milk Plaza in the heart of The Castro to kick off a boycott of Jamaican products and travel:

But starting this weekend, at Harvey Milk Plaza, site of many actions by Milk in his crusade against Coors beer, a coalition of activists will gather to launch the boycott of Myers’s rum and Red Stripe beer.

The time has come to ask all gay bars and restaurants in San Francisco to boycott Jamaican rum and beer. Switch to serving rums from Puerto Rico and beers produced in countries with enlightened gay laws and social acceptance.

The Jamaican boycott encompasses not only Myers’s rum and Red Stripe beer; we are also asking travelers to avoid cruises to the country. There is no justifiable reason for gays and our allies who value the lives of LGBT and persons with AIDS in Jamaica to vacation there, or consume their alcoholic drinks.

Several bars and restaurants in San Fransisco have pulled Jamaican beverages from their shelves.

Oh yeah, I’m in there somewhere:

In Brooklyn, Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out is developing a Web site to provide background information. He’s working closely with Jim Burroway of Arizona, researcher and editor of the Box Turtle Bulletin blog. Besen and Burroway have both written extensively on the need to flex gay economic muscle and not spend our dollars in a country that explicitly hates us.

Actually, BTB’s Timothy Kincaid has done the lion’s share of reporting on events in Jamaica. Earlier this month, he called on Americans to avoid traveling to Jamaica after that island nation’s Prime Minister announced that “we are not going to yield to the pressure … to liberalize the laws as it relates to buggery.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica, where it carries a ten year prison sentence. According to the U.S. State Department, Jamaican LGBT people are subject to “arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of homosexuals. Police often did not investigate such incidents.”

After much debate and with some reluctance, I too join the call for a boycott. My reluctance stems from concerns about the impact this boycott may have on LGBT Jamaicans. But in the end, I cannot recommend that American dollars be spent in such a hostile environment. I believe consumers have a right to know what’s happening there and make their spending decisions accordingly.

The goals of the boycott are modest and easily achievable:

  1. Jamaican officials to publicly commit to end gay bashing on the island and improve the human rights
  2. A statement from the Prime Minister clearly and unequivocally condemning violence against GLBT people and expressing regret for past violence.

These modest goals aren’t difficult for anyone who values basic human rights. They shouldn’t be difficult for Jamaica’s policy makers. You can learn more at the Boycott Jamaica web site.

AFA Boycotts Pepsi

Jim Burroway

January 8th, 2009

Remember when we asked whether the American Family Association was gearing up for a Pepsi boycott? Well, game on.

Boycott Utah?

Jim Burroway

November 10th, 2008

There’s a move afoot to launch a boycott against the state of Utah in response to the LDS Church’s heavy-handed role in passing California’s Proposition 8 (and please don’t forget their role in Arizona’s Prop 102!):

Gay rights activist John Aravosis, whose well-trafficked AmericaBlog.com is urging the boycott, is unapologetic about targeting Utah rather than California, where voters defined marriage in the state Constitution as a heterosexual act. Utah, Aravosis said, “is a hate state,” and on this issue, “at a fundamental level, the Utah Mormons crossed the line. . . . They just took marriage away from 20,000 couples and made their children bastards. You don’t do that and get away with it.”

Utahans didn’t vote on Prop 8 or Prop 102, not all Utahans are Mormons and many Mormons opposed these marriage amendments, including faithful Mormons in Utah. I can see boycotting Mormon-owned businesses which supported Prop 8 and Prop 102. There’s no shortage of targets there. I can also see the logic of boycotting Mormon-owned businesses which make their LDS connections an integral part of their identity — Marriott, for example.

There are businesses I refuse to patronize on principle, even though I’m sure they don’t miss my dollars much. While I question the effectiveness of boycotts as a tactic, I’m all for it in principle as long as the target is appropriate.  But boycotting an entire state? I’m not so sure what that will accomplish. It seems to me we risk harming those who had nothing to do with this, while letting others — businesses in California, Arizona and elsewhere — off the hook.

What do you think?