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Posts for October, 2011

Why is Amtrak Blocking LGBT News Sites?

Jim Burroway

October 21st, 2011

Click to enlarge.

And why is Seattle Gay News considered a porn site?

A truly misguided ruling

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

January 14th, 2011

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has its collective head up its collective butt. (Rolling Stone)

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has ruled that “Money for Nothing,” a Dire Straits hit from 1985, is too offensive for Canadian airwaves. The song is being singled out for the repeated use of an anti-gay slur — “that little fagg*t” — in its second verse.

The little fagg*t with the earring and the makeup
Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair
That little fagg*t got his own jet airplane
That little fagg*t he’s a millionaire

Now there is no doubt whatsoever that the lyrics of this song are sexist, racist and homophobic. But the important matter is whether the song celebrates these attitudes or mocks them.

The song narrator is a appliance store delivery man who is resentful of the rock stars he sees on MTV who “ain’t working” but are “banging on the bongos like chimpanzees” and have “the earring and the makeup” and who get their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” And the lyrics are based on direct quotes from one such guy in a New York appliance store who Mark Knopfler overheard making some of the exact comments, grabbed a pencil, and scribbled down.

But along with the resentment is envy and regret, the acknowledgment that he didn’t “learn to play the guitar” and he doesn’t have his own jet airplane and he isn’t a millionaire. And, as the song was, ahem, heavily played on MTV, it shouldn’t take genius to figure out that the musicians were singing about the attitudes of the people who derided and hated them.

When I first hear Money for Nothing, the “fagg*t” language was jarring… until I finally realized that the protagonists lyrics answer himself, are a reminder of what his own bigoted values have given him. His choices have led him to hauling refrigerators and installing microwave ovens.

But I guess the Very Serious People at the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council just don’t get irony or sarcastic social commentary. So no more “I want my, I want my, I want my MTV”.

Advocates Protest NJ Library Censorship with Public Reading

Jim Burroway

August 4th, 2010

In a follow-up to last week’s story about the Burlington County (New Jersey) Library System pulling the rare, out-of-print LGBT coming-out anthology Revolutionary Voices from its shelves while circumventing the normal review process, local LGBT advocates are responding vigorously to the action. The Register-News reports that local advocates are staging a public reading of Revolutionary Voices and are calling on both the public library and the Rancocas Valley Regional High School library (which removed the book earlier this year) to restore the book to its rightful place.

When asked by a local branch librarian why the book was being removed, library system director Gail Sweet called the book “child pornography.” She now claims that the emails (PDF: 11 pages/296 KB) in which she said that was meant to be “facetious.” If true, this means that she didn’t take questions about the book’s removal seriously. But that’s only if it were true. All too often, any material that presents LGBT people in a neutral-to-positive light are tagged as “pornographic” by people with anti-gay animus. LGBT advocates vigorously challenge that label:

Melanie Yan, a North Hanover resident who graduated from Northern Burlington County Regional High School in June, is an actor with “Revolutionary Readings,” a group dedicated to reading passages from the book aloud. She said she knows a number of people who fall under the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) umbrella and so takes the removal personally.

”I have to really, really feel strongly about not only the issue of censorship but homosexual rights and being able to express yourself through writing,” she said.

”I think it’s absolutely ridiculous they banned it for ‘pornographic reasons’ when every single piece that’s read (in the show) is just so beautiful and so moving,” she added. “Nothing about them can even be called pornographic for any reason.”

Brandon Monokian is the group’s founder and director. A graduate of RVRHS, he said he saw similar material in his time there and was upset the high school, and then the county, decided to remove this one book from their shelves. He said he thought it was targeted because it features LGBT content.

The group has established a web site, and the next readings are scheduled for Aug. 19 in Montclair and Aug. 22 in Lumberton. The ACLU is still evaluating the case and hasn’t decided whether to act. Meanwhile, Sweet contends that while they “always willing to reconsider things,” she called the library’s attempt to withdraw the books without public notice “a nonevent that has become one.”

Maybe Sweet will consider including the book in its annual display for Banned Books Week.

NJ Library Removes LGBT Book, Calling It “Child Pornography”

Jim Burroway

July 28th, 2010

The public library system for Burlington County, New Jersey, has ordered that all copies of Amy Sonnie’s Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, which the library director labeled as “child pornography,” be removed from library shelves.

Library director Gail Sweet ordered the book’s removal without having followed a formal book challenge process. Instead, she acted on an informal complaint from a member of the local chapter of Fox News commentator Glenn Beck’s 9.12 Project. Emails (PDF: 11 pages/296 KB) obtained by American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey show that the complaint was made by Project member Beverly Marinelli, who is also credited with persuading Rancocas Valley Regional High School to ban the same book in May.

The book, which Marinelli describes as “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate,” is a collection of essays by LGBT youth describing their struggles with coming out to themselves and their families. According to a description on Amazon.com:

While the work is wildly diverse (one of my favorites involves a mother who bakes a cake to help her queer daughter celebrate Ellen DeGeneres’s coming-out), all of it speaks to the isolation and fear of being queer and young. A boy lies awake at night practicing to be more masculine. An intersexed gay boy comes out to his high school. A butch girl tells of years of daily bashing. Fear, though, is not the overriding emotional tone to this collection. The contributors exhibit a belief in themselves, a well-placed youthful confidence that speaks as loudly as the most poignant writing. Their determination to survive and thrive despite a homophobic society comes through loud and clear. It’s the perfect antidote to adult cynicism about youth.

The School Library Journal reports that the Burlington County Library System has a formal process for removing books from the library:

BCLS’s formal process for handling controversial materials, as found in documents obtained by the ACLU, states that patrons must fill out a Request for Reconsideration form, and then a “committee of staff selectors as designated by the Library Director will review the material in question.”

…In the case of BCLS’s removal of Revolutionary Voices, an informal, rather than formal written request appears to have been made. In addition, Sweet’s email indicates that the committee was made up of her and one other person. Assistant director Margaret Delaney confirmed that she is the “Marge” mentioned in Sweet’s email as also recommending the book’s removal, but she’s not allowed to talk about the situation.

A key player in circumventing the formal process appears to be Patrick Delany, a member of the library commission. He has also been identified by the National Coalition Against Censorship as being a member of the same local 9.12 group as Beverly Marinelli, the woman who lodged the informal complaint.

That informal complaint from Marinelli apparently went first to Delany. According to a letter dated March 16 (PDF: 480 KB/5 pages) from library Director Sweet to Marinelli, Sweet wrote that “Library Commissioner Patrick Delany indicated at our meeting this morning that you have contacted him with concerns about several books we have in the library system.” Sweet also provided Marinelli with a copy of the Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials form and information on the formal process for requesting the removal of library material.

But it appears that the formal process was never followed. According to the emails obtained by the ACLU, Sweet wrote to Marinelli on April 27 that:

The Library Commissioners supported our staff recommendation to remove “Revolutionary Voices” from our shelves. As the copies that are checked out return, we will take them out of circulation.

On May 3, Sweet ordered that the the remaining copies should “totally disappear”:

We need to pull “Revolutionary Voices” by Amy Sonnie from our shelves. There are still two requests. How can we grab the books so that they never, ever get back into ccirculation. [sic] Copies need to totally disappear (as in not a good idea to send copies to the book sale) .

A later email dated May 24 from Sweet to a branch librarian clarified that the commission “supported our decision,” but “[t]here was no official challenge, no actual vote by the commissioners.” When the same branch librarian asked why the book was being removed, Sweet responded on May 25 with a two-word email: “Child pornography.”

Delany is also a committee member of the Lumberton Township Council in Burlington County. In the May 4 minutes (PDF: 4 pages/32 KB), Delany and another official planned to meet with officials from Rancocas Valley Regional High School that same evening. The purpose of Delany’s attendance at that meeting isn’t stated, but May 4 also happens to coincide with the school board’s decision (PDF: 160 KB/19 pages) to remove Revolutionary Voices from the school library by a unanimous vote (with one abstention).  Two weeks later, the Township government approved an appropriation for the high school’s 2010-2011 budget (PDF: 36KB/5 pages). All of this was concurrent with the public library’s removal of Revolutionary Voices. Messages obtained by the ACLU from the school district (PDF: 164 KB/3 pages) indicate that “the 9-12 group will eventually visit every HS in [the] county.”

Beverly Marinelli, it turns out, had also served as a Lumberton Township Committeewoman from 2005 to 2008, while Delany was the township’s mayor. Delany endorsed Marinelli during the 2005 election. Marinelli has also been active in the tea party movement.

UPDATE:

[Timothy:] An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer provides the motivation for Marinelli’s request:

The path to the book’s ban at Rancocas Valley began last year when Beverly Marinelli, a widely known activist in Lumberton who joined 9.12 last year, was poking around online and found a list of books recommended by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

“We decided to see if these books were here, and, lo and behold, they were,” Marinelli said. “There’s stuff that’s appropriate for children and stuff that’s not. People wish to distract from the real issue by going into the 9.12 thing.”

It would appear that Marinelli’s objections lie entirely in her anti-gay prejudice.

Paul Cameron’s experience with censorship

Timothy Kincaid

March 24th, 2010

paul cameronPaul Cameron longs for the good ol’ days when homosexuality was taboo, outlawed, considered a mental illness, a cause for lobotomies or other bizarre experimentation, and unacceptable in polite society.

In a strange turn of events, Cameron’s Family Research Institute briefly got a chance to relive those days, but from the other side. In a move reminiscent of the 50’s, FRI’s March 2010 newsletter was deemed obscene by the US Post Office. (Colorado Springs Gazette)

On March 4, according to the complaint sent to the Postal Service by Cameron’s attorney, the newsletter was delivered to the bulk mailing office on Fountain Boulevard and was initially approved for bulk mailing.

The next day, however, Cameron’s group was informed by postal supervisor Paul Hill that it did not qualify for the nonprofit mailing rate because it violated the regulations against mailing material that was “obscene” and incited forcible resistance to the government, the complaint stated.

Hill later told the group’s representative that the initial decision had been reviewed and the newsletter would be accepted at a slightly higher pre-sorted rate, which Turner said is about 3 cents per piece more than the nonprofit rate.

Cameron does not appear to post his newsletter online in pdf or other whole form. However, the two pieces which we were able to review do not fit the definition of obscene. Offensive, untruthful, and brimming with contempt, but not obscene.

Although FRI is but a vehicle through with Cameron indulges his personal hatred, it is nonetheless a valid non-profit organization and does engage in “educational” activities. And while FRI is listed as a Hate Group by the SPLC (as is anyone who relies too much on Cameron’s claims), the direction of one’s opinion about homosexuality is not cause for denying non-profit status.

Finally the USPS finally did the right thing. After a review by the Postal Service headquarters, the USPS reversed the local decision and restored FRI’s non-profit billing rate.

Ironically, Cameron owes his freedom to mail objectionable materials about homosexuality in part to the “militant homosexual activists” which he so despises. A decision more than 50 years ago by the Supreme Court had cleared FRI from the USPS’ objections to materials about homosexuality.

Up until 1957 material that was depraved or corrupting of young mind was considered obscene. And obscene material was not protected under the First Amendment. But in that year, the SCOTUS changed the definition of obscene to be “whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest.”

ONE, October 1954But the relevant application of this decision was the following year in One, Inc. v. Olesen, a gay rights case.

The Postmaster of Los Angeles had declared that the October 1954 issue of One Magazine, an advocacy, education, and general interest magazine for gays and lesbians, was obscene and thus banned from the postal service. The magazine lost in court in March 1956 and at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in February 1957.

But the Supreme Court didn’t even wait for oral testimony and on January 13, 1958, acting collectively, issued a one sentence reversal based on the previous year’s decision thereby determining that material about homosexuality was not necessarily obscene.

So Paul Cameron has a pre-Stonewall gay publication to thank for his postal discount. But somehow I suspect that his “thank you” card has been lost in the mail.