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Posts for July, 2009

More Bigotry From Texas Police

Timothy Kincaid

July 8th, 2009

What is it about law enforcement in Texas?

Last Sunday night, Carlos Diaz de Leon and some friends stopped to have a bit to eat at Chico’s Tacos. Two of the guys kissed each other, which seemed to annoy the rent-a-cops.

“We went, sat down to eat our food and security guards came and said that if they kept doing that, they were going to throw us all out of the restaurant.”

Carlos said he then asked them why? Their response, according to Carlos: “They said ‘we didn’t allow that gay stuff to go on here.’ “

Carlos mistakenly thought that he and his friends have the right in Texas to be treated the same as straight people. So he called the police. But he didn’t get the response he expected. Rather than come to the support of Carlos and his friends, they were threatened with citation.

“Told us it was against the law for two males and two females to kiss in public, that they could cite us for homosexual activity.”

While there is a homosexual conduct ordinance in the state’s penal code, “We don’t enforce that law, there’s been court decisions about Texas’ law on that. We don’t enforce it and what happened there wouldn’t have even have met the elements of the offense, even if it had been enforceable,” said El Paso Police Department spokesman Chris Mears.

The police department admits the situation was not handled properly by a rookie police officer, but deny it was discrimination.

“Did he make a comment that he shouldn’t have made? Yeah, he did…but that comment I don’t think was discriminatory in nature, I think it was poor understanding of the law,” Mears said.

No, Mr. Mears, it isn’t just “poor understanding of the law.” If was official police harassment of a citizen of El Paso based on that citizen’s sexual orientation. It was discrimination. It was intimidation. It was bigotry.

In 2003 the Supreme Court of the United States told a state that its sodomy laws contrary to the US Constitution. And what state was that? It was Texas. It is simply not credible that there is a police force in the State of Texas that was not fully aware of Lawrence v. Texas and what it means.

Prior to the Court’s decision, it wasn’t as though the state was much in the habit of enforcing the law. They didn’t put folks in jail. That wasn’t its purpose.

The intent of the sodomy laws in Texas were to create a culture of intimidation, to leave gay persons under threat of being criminalized, to allow harassment without recourse, and to make it very clear that the State of Texas “didn’t allow that gay stuff to go on here.”

It seems to me like things haven’t changed much.

In light of the recent police brutality in a gay bar in Ft. Worth, it’s time to ask some questions.

  • Why don’t the police in Texas know that they don’t have enforceable sodomy laws?
  • Why does Texas still have sodomy laws on the books after they have been told by the Supreme Court that such laws are discriminatory and unconstitutional?
  • Why doesn’t El Paso’s Police Department consider the blatantly bigoted response of the officer to be discrimination?
  • Why would officers with the Texas Alcohol Beverage Control and with the Ft. Worth Police Department think it was “restrained” to bust heads, break ribs and thumbs, and harass 20 people selected arbitrarily and not associated with any obvious intoxication just because they were patrons of a gay bar?
  • And why is it still perfectly legal for Chico’s Tacos in El Paso, Texas, to refuse service to Carlos and his friends based solely on their sexual orientation?

I believe the answers to these questions are all the same.

Research: Anti-Gay Harassment in Childhood Leads To Poor Adult Health

Jim Burroway

January 28th, 2009

Mark S. Friedman, Michael P. Marshall, Ron Stall, JeeWon Cheong, Eric R Wright. “Gay-related development, early abuse and adult health outcomes among gay males.” AIDS and Behavior 12, no. 6 (November 2008): 891-902. Abstract available at DOI 10.1007/s10461-007-9319-3.

The Urban Men’s Health Survey (UMHS) has revealed a lot of useful information in the decade since it was conducted. Much of it “dismaying,” in the words of Ron Stall, who worked on the survey at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is now at the University of Pittsburgh. Stall was one of four researchers from the University of Pittsburgh (joined by a fifth researcher from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis) who analyzed a subset of that data and concluded that “experience of homophobic attacks against young gay/bisexual male youth helps to explain heightened rates of serious health problems among adult gay men.”

The UMHS was a telephone interview of a probability sample of men who have sex with men (MSMs) living in four cities: San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The survey was conducted between November 1996 and February 1998, with 2,881 UMHS participants being asked a wide-ranging battery of questions resulting in 855 variables. The results of that survey were fed into a database, which scores of researchers have been mining ever since for dozens of studies covering many different topics. Dr, Mark Friedman, who has previously investigated the link between anti-gay hostility and suicide among young gay males, led a team which poured over responses to key questions in that database to see if a link could be established between anti-gay hostility against young gay men and adverse health outcomes as adults.

Among the many questions in that survey, participants were asked about their experiences, if any, with parental physical abuse, gay-related harassment during childhood and adolescence, and forced sex. They were also asked about four gay-related identity milestones: the age at which they became aware of their same-sex attractions, age of first same-sex sexual activity, age of deciding that they were gay, and age of first disclosure that they were gay.

Participants were also asked about current depression, HIV serostatus, sexual risk behavior during childhood, partner abuse during adulthood, anti-gay victimization during adulthood, and suicide attempts during childhood.

Dr. Mark Friedman and associates used the responses from these questions from 1,383 men aged 18 through 40, and divided them into three categories (early bloomers, middle bloomers and late bloomers) according to how participants answered questions based on the four gay-related identity milestones. Then, by looking at the answers to the other questions, they were able to demonstrate three principle findings:

1) Gay males who developed early with respect to their sexual orientation were much more likely to experience anti-gay harassment and sexual abuse during adolescence than middle bloomers and late bloomers. This might be something of a “duh” conclusion since it stands to reason that those who are more visibly gay draw more attention than those who aren’t, and those who are visibly gay earlier have more time in which to experience anti-gay harassment and sexual abuse. Nevertheless, it’s important to establish this finding statistically, because it leads to the next finding.

2) Those early bloomers were also more likely to anti-gay victimization, depression, and become HIV-positive as an adult. Taken alone, this finding might play into the hands of anti-gay activists who contend that gay youth should remain closeted and continue to deny their true experiences for as long as possible. Well, not so fast, because…

3) While early bloomers were more likely to experience adverse health outcomes as adults, it wasn’t just because they were early bloomers. Friedman and associates found that harassment and violence were very common experiences among all young gay and bisexual males. Regardless of “bloomage,” 74% reported experiencing anti-gay harassment and 24% experienced parental physical abuse before the age of 17. And these experiences were capable of statistically predicting specific negative health outcomes as adults:

  • Early gay-related harassment was found to be positively associated with gay-related victimization in adulthood;
  • early parental abuse was found to be positively associated with partner abuse, gay-related victimization, depression, attempted suicide and becoming HIV-positive;
  • and early forced sex was positively associated with adult partner abuse, depression, engagement in high-risk sex, and becoming HIV-positive.

The men in this survey became adults, on average, in the mid 1980′s. We don’t know whether adolescents today experience statistically the same levels of abuse and harassment as adolescents did then. But the authors conclude that regardless of the extent of anti-gay harassment today, that:

“…a compelling case can still be made that the three sets of findings above, as a whole, support the hypothesis that the experience of homophobic attacks against gay youth contribute to health disparities among gay men. … [T]his suggests that their experience of abuse is related to homophobia and that these experiences in part determine the adult health problems that gay men often experience.

“To summarize, some of the health disparities of gay and bisexual men may have their genesis in these individuals’ childhood and adolescent years given that these disparities are already in place by early adulthood. The findings described above support the hypotheses that the disparities appear to be due, in part, to the timing of [gay-related development] and the violence these individuals experience related to being gay during their formative years.”

This week is National No Name Calling Week, sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). According to GLSEN’s non-representative survey of 6,209 middle and high school students, 86% of LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year, 61% felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 33% skipped a day of school in the past month because of they felt unsafe. This survey isn’t statistically representative nationwide, but that’s beside the point. They found an awful lot of harassed and frightened kids out there.

Of course, Focus On the Family is against No Name Calling Week, complaining that it has a hidden agenda. And they’re right; it does. The “hidden agenda” consists of safer youth and healthier adults, which Focus continues to oppose at all costs. After all, they’ve invested a lot of energy in maintaining the image of gay men as depressed, suicidal and unhealthy. Now we know that their own policy solutions will only serve to perpetuate that image.

Discrimination at the State Department

Timothy Kincaid

December 4th, 2007

guest.jpgIn 2001, Colin Powell was the Secretary of State and George W. Bush was settling into his administration. Those of us looking for signs of progress were encouraged when the President selected Michael Guest, an openly gay career State Department diplomat as ambassador to Romania, a post-communist country seeking to enter NATO. We were even happier to see the Secretary of State acknowledge Guest’s partner, Alex Nevarez, at his swearing in ceremony.

As Guest was the first openly gay ambassador confirmed by the Senate, and as Nevarez was encouraged to move with Guest to Romania, some of us hoped that perhaps the administration might be supportive of equality, at least in employment, and the administration’s lack of response to anti-gay protest seemed promising. That was 2001.

By all accounts, Guest performed his duties admirably during a time of significant change and ended his term in 2003 with Romania sharing a closer friendship with the United States, a member of NATO, and well into establishing European contacts that would eventually lead to inclusion in the European Union.

But much has changed since 2001. The President stopped appointing gay people – or even gay-supportive people – to positions of authority. And after failing to meet expectations on the foreign front, his handlers decided that he reelection message would focus on a greater threat to the nation: committed gay couples.

Ultimately this administration went from cautiously supportive to blatantly hostile to gay persons with the threat of a veto over a non-discrimination policy that is overwhelmingly supported by the populace. There are currently no efforts to lift discrimination against gay citizens that are not vehemently opposed by this President.

Subsequent to his ambassadorship, Guest has served the Department as Dean of the Foreign Service Institute’s Leadership and Management School. But now, after 26 years of service, Guest is calling it quits. And he’s not shy about sharing the reasons why. Per the NY Times,

“Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes . . . But I want to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love,” said Mr. Guest, 50, whose most recent assignment was dean of the leadership and management school at the Foreign Service Institute, the government’s school for diplomats.

“For the past three years, I’ve urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this. And so I’ve felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner — who is my family — and service to my country. That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary’s leadership and a shame for this institution and our country,” he said.

Among the inequities cited by Mr. Guest and other gay diplomats: unlike heterosexual spouses, gay partners are not entitled to State Department-provided security training, free medical care at overseas posts, guaranteed evacuation in case of a medical emergency, transportation to overseas posts, or special living allowances when foreign service officers are assigned to places like Iraq, where diplomatic families are not permitted.

The Secretary and the administration share the shame of their behavior towards those who, like Michael Guest, make personal sacrifice to serve their nation. And not only gay people but our Nation as a whole is victim to these policies that are hostile to our best and brightest.

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