Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for June, 2009

Majority of New Yorkers Support Marriage Equality

Timothy Kincaid

June 23rd, 2009

A new Quinnipiac poll shows that a majority of New Yorkers support a law allowing same-sex couples to marry.

New York State voters support 51 – 41 percent, with 8 percent undecided, a law allowing same-sex couples to marry, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

While it is news that support finally crossed the 50% mark, support from New Yorkers has been in the 40+ range for a couple years. But we can glean some other interesting facts from this poll:

  • Marriage is supported by both NYC residents (52% – 37%) and by Upstaters (49% – 45%).
  • Marriage is supported by whites (52% – 42%), by Hispanics (55% – 39%), and by blacks (43% – 42%). This is of particular interest because some NY anti-gay activists (Sen. Diaz, for example) have tried to make this a racial issue and claim that Hispanics oppose same-sex marriage. Additionally, it suggests that the much-discussed black opposition to marriage equality may be regional and that a winning approach can be crafted to appeal to this demographic.

The poll also asked about civil unions.

New York State voters support same-sex civil unions 68 – 25 percent, with support from all groups, including 55 – 37 percent among Republicans.

As stated, there were no demographics – age, race, religion, education, location – which opposed civil unions. The largest opposition, 39%, came from weekly church goers.

It appears that recent attention given to the issue – including anti-gay advertising by NOM – has only served to increase support for marriage equality in the state.

LGBT Adults Are More Likely To Read This

Jim Burroway

June 12th, 2009

From Harris International:

…[G]ay and lesbian adults online are reading more blogs than their heterosexual counterparts. When asked, just over half (51 percent) of the gay and lesbian respondents reported reading some type of blog, compared to 36 percent of heterosexual adults. A similar question on blog readership also was asked in November 2006, and at that time 32 percent of gay and lesbian adults then reported reading blogs.

Thank you for your support.

By the way, LGBT adults also are more heavily into instant messaging, social networking, and Internet dating than their online heterosexual counterparts.

Hispanics Support Marriage Equality the Same as Whites

Timothy Kincaid

May 26th, 2009

Nate Silver, the genius behind FiveThreeEight’s voter trend analysis, has looked at attitudes towards gay marriage in **White voters and Hispanic voters and found them to be virtually identical.

There is a somewhat persistent conservative myth that Hispanic voters are vehemently opposed to gay marriage. Although a majority of Hispanics are probably are opposed to gay marriage — as most (though no longer all) surveys suggest are a majority of Americans in general — Hispanics appear to be no more opposed to gay marriage than are whites.

Silver weighted several recent surveys on the issue and found that nationally Whites and Hispanics support marriage equality at about 47%. Blacks averaged around 31%

California has a disproportionatly large population of Hispanic voters. In the efforts to overturn Proposition 8 by means of initiative, this time round leaders had best not make the mistake of ignoring racial minorities or assuming that they are, by definition, not supportive.

- – - –

** I’m always bemused at the White v. Hispanic classifications as it often leaves my friends in a bit of nowhere land. More than a few have Hispanic ancestory or a Spanish last name but are often fully assimilated into “mainstream” culture. Since Miguel speaks no Spanish, what box is he to tick? Is he culturally any less “white” than, say, my Armenian friends?

Minnesota Poll on Marraige

Timothy Kincaid

May 1st, 2009

From the Star Tribune:

As you may know, the Iowa Supreme Court recently legalized same-sex marriage in that state by declaring unconstitutional a state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Do you believe Minnesota should pass a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage or legalize same-sex marriage or make no changes in its marriage laws and leave it to the Minnesota Supreme Court to interpret the state Constitution?

33% Prohibit same-sex marriage
25% Legalize same-sex marriage
35% Leave it to the MN Supreme Court
6% Don’t know/refused

New Hampshire Voters Support Marriage

Timothy Kincaid

April 28th, 2009

The New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition is reporting that a poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center finds support for marriage.

A poll released today by New Hampshire Freedom to Marry shows that 55% of New Hampshire Voters support marriage for lesbian and gay couples, while 39% are opposed.

The Senate will vote on the marriage bill tomorrow.

Americans Shift Sharply in Favor of Marriage

Timothy Kincaid

April 28th, 2009

A poll release by CBS/New York Times shows a recent very sharp shift in support for marriage equality. For the first time, support for marriage went above 40% and opposition to all forms of recognition dropped below 30%. And, for the first time, “marriage” is the most preferred of choices offered.

42 – marriage
25 – civil unions but not marriage
28 – no recognition for couples
5 – uncertain

Although polling has shown a steady increase of about 10% in support for marriage since the devisive 2004 Presidential elections in which President Bush made it a campaign issue, this latest poll suggest that there has been about a 9% jump in support in the past six weeks.

In the period between the two polls:

  • The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously determined that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex couples.
  • The legislature of Vermont voted for marriage equality and overrode the governor’s veto.
  • The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted for marriage equality.
  • The District of Columbia unanimously voted to recognize out-of-district marriages.
  • The legislature of Connecticut codified marriage.
  • The Governor of New York initiated a drive to push marriage equality through the legislature. He was supported by the Mayor of New York City.
  • The legislature of Washington upgraded Domestic Partnerships to include All-But-The-Name.
  • The Maryland Senate voted to increase benefits offered to Domestic Partners.
  • The legislature of Colorado passed a Designated Beneficiaries act.
  • The Delaware Senate rejected a ban on same-sex marriage amendment.
  • The West Virginia House of Delegated rejected a ban on same-sex marriage amendment.
  • The legislature of Arkansas rejected a bill that would have hindered cities and municipalities from setting up domestic parter registries.
  • The Governor of Utah publicly pondered whether the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage had any leeway to allow other forms of recognition.
  • The National Organization for Marriage release a fear-based anti-marriage ad that backfired and resulted in parody.
  • A Miss USA contestant spoke against same-sex marriage and was reviled.

Any one of these might be expected to result in negative reaction. But if this week’s poll is accurate, there has not been an uptick in voter outrage; rather, quite the opposite has occured.

Either this poll is an anomoly, or it provides support for those who claim that America is reaching a tipping point on the issue of marriage equality.

Anti-Gays Rely on Masters and Johnson

Timothy Kincaid

April 23rd, 2009

William Masters and Virginia E. Johnson were sex researcher in the 60′s through 90′s. Their books Human Sexual Response in 1966 and Human Sexual Inadequacy in 1970 were considered classics that broke through misconceptions and myths about human sexuality.

But unlike their predecessor, Alfred Kinsey, they are not hated and reviled by anti-gay activists. Because in 1979 they released Homosexuality in Perspective, in which they claimed that homosexuality could in most cases be cured. And this is a claim very much treasured by those who seek to deny rights and equality to gay citizens.

For example, Thomas E. Schmidt writes in his article Homosexual Causation: Nature or Nurture? hosted on the Exodus International website:

W. Masters and V. Johnson conducted a study of fifty-four men and thirteen women who expressed a desire to convert or revert to a heterosexual orientation. Therapists chose candidates for their apparently high degree of motivation and for their accompaniment by an understanding opposite-sex partner who could serve as a support during the transition period. The treatment format consisted of an intensive two-week program followed by periodic follow-up over a five-year period. The client couple worked with a man-woman therapy team who focused on nonjudgmental identification and explanation of the influences that had led to the client’s homosexual behavior.

The therapists then worked to reduce these influences within the context of the clients’ value system and to encourage heterosexual function on the part of the client couple. About 20 percent failed during the initial treatment period, but the five-year follow-up revealed no more than a 30-45 percent total failure rate, much lower than even Masters and Johnson had expected.

Such well known and respected names as Masters and Johnson lend great credibility to the insistence that homosexuality is not an orientation and can, indeed, be reversed. See how prominently NARTH displays their names.

Is homosexuality immutable? Is it fixed, or is it amenable to change? The 1973 decision to delete homosexuality from the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association had a chilling effect on research. The APA decision was not made based on new scientific evidence-in fact, as gay activist researcher Simon LeVay admitted, “Gay activism was clearly the force that propelled the APA to declassify homosexuality” (1996, p. 224).

In reviewing the research, Satinover reported a 52% success rate in the treatment of unwanted homosexual attraction. (Satinover, 1996, p. 186). Masters and Johnson, the famed sex researchers, reported 65% success rate after a five-year follow-up (Schwartz and Masters, 1984, pp. 173-184). Other professionals report success rates ranging from 30% to 70%.

And anti-gay gadflies Stephen Bennett and Peter LaBarbera hauled out a 1979 Time Magazine article about the book as evidence that “a permanent, or at least longterm, switch to heterosexuality is possible more than half the time among gays who are highly motivated to change.”

However, as time passed, other researchers were unable to duplicate Masters’ success.

A study conducted by conservative evangelical researchers Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse which sought to validate the reorientation efforts of Exodus International found that a change from homosexual orientation to heterosexual orientation was nowhere near 65%. They reported a “conversion” rate of 15% and defined conversion in such a way as to allow for roaming eyes, sex dreams, and other attributes that are not generally considered to be indicative of heterosexuality.

The study, while the best published to date, is fraught with problems including sample size, measurement and definition of change, comingling of retrospective and prospective samples, and lack of follow-up. At best it could be said that

Perhaps eleven percent of an nonrepresentative sample of 98 highly motivated gay people who went through Exodus programs reported that after four years there was “substantial reduction in homosexual desire and addition of heterosexual attraction and functioning”.

But even that statement is challenged by the fact that one of the eleven successes wrote to the study coordinators to inform them that he was not truthful with them and that he had no change in attraction at all. He simply wanted to tell them what all parties really wanted to be true.

So why then is it that the optimistic results of Masters and Johnson are not readily evident in later studies? After all, Masters was reporting success within the first two weeks.

Well new information suggests that the secret may not be the inferior methods of more current attempts. Rather, the fault may lie with the source.

For more information see Masters and Johnson Gay “Cures” Were Likely Faked

Prop 8 and Race: More Complex Than First Reported

Clayton Critcher

January 15th, 2009

Guest columnist Clayton Critcher emailed me (Jim) a few days ago with comments on my critique of the NGLTF report on Prop 8. Since he had some very pertinent observations — that the relationship between religion and race with regard to African-Americans and Prop 8 is more complex than reported — I invited him to write up a guest post for Box Turtle Bulletin.

Clayton Critcher is a summa cum laude graduate of Yale University, and is now a PhD candidate in social psychology at Cornell University, where he is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.  His research and publications include experimental work on political ideology and unintended consequences of anti-gay public policy.

The recent NGLTF-sponsored report on Prop 8 and race has reignited the discussion about the determinants of support for Prop 8.  Unsurprisingly, most of the interest in this report has been on what it says about African American voters’ support for the amendment.  In my opinion, the report does an impressive job of demonstrating that exit polls likely overstated Black voters’ support.  Instead, just under 60% of  both African Americans and Latinos supported Prop 8, while Whites and Asians were barely against it.

But what explains the gap between Blacks/Latinos and Whites/Asians?  This is where things get controversial.  The report suggests that the remaining gap between these ethnic groups can be explained by differences in religiosity. On Monday, Jim suggested that this analysis may have suffered from a low sample size, which can make real differences difficult to observe (statistically).  Was the NGLTF report too quick to claim that racial differences were entirely explained by religious differences?

I set out to answer this question by doing my best to reconstruct the results of the poll on which the race and religion results were based. According to a comment on BTB by Jamie Grant of NGLTF, there were 149 African Americans sampled. I used other information from the report about the poll’s sample size, data about the demographics of the sample, and the study’s assumptions about the California voting population, to complete a “best-guess” reconstruction of the racial composition of the remaining sample.

Report Modification #1: Although it is true that there is no significant effect of race after controlling for religion, there was not a significant effect of race before controlling for religion. This suggests that Jim’s point about high margins of error was right on.  If we could not find racial differences before controlling for religion, it is not very impressive that we cannot find them afterwards.

Because the first point in the report was that African Americans’ support had been overstated, and that it was African Americans and Latinos together that showed (modestly) more support for Prop 8 than Whites and Asians, I then dichotomized people racially.  I identified each person as a minority (African American or Latino) or not.  By not dividing into as many small groups, we help to bypass the sample size problem identified by Jim.

Report Modification #2: This analysis produced an unexpected finding, one that has not been considered in the discussion.  The influence of race depended on whether one was religious.  Among those who were highly religious, support for Prop 8 was equally high across the races.  But among those who were less religious, African Americans and Latinos were more supportive of Prop 8 than Whites and Asians.  The NGLTF report misses this effect because neither Latinos or African Americans by themselves show significantly higher support (in the low religiosity subsample) because of Jim’s high margins of error.

This suggests that the relationship between race, religion, and Prop 8 support is slightly more complicated than has been discussed.  Being religious was associated with increased support for Prop 8, but among those who were not religious, being African American or Latino was associated with support for Prop 8.

These conclusions aside, I must say I have been confused by the intense interest in whether religiosity can “explain away” racial differences in support for Prop 8.  Unless one believed that the skin color gene also produced support for Prop 8, racial differences in support for Prop 8 would have to be “explained through” some cultural factor.  If that factor is religion, the question simply becomes, “Why do some racial groups show more interest in homophobic religious institutions than others?”, and I do not see why this would be any less troubling to those who seek to shift this discussion away from race.  Nevertheless, my new analyses suggest that among the non-religious, an unidentified explanation for racial differences remain.

Prop 8 and Race: A Rejoinder

Jim Burroway

January 14th, 2009

I want to highlight this comment left by Jaime Grant, director of the NGLTF Policy Institute, the research arm of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Jaime critiques my critique of the NGLTF study on California’s Prop 8 shedding some light on a key figure, discusses my concern about margins of error, and disagrees outright on some of my points. This is why we have comments; well-informed commenters keep us on our toes. We will have someone else weighing in on the study, hopefully later today.

As director of the NGLTF Policy Institute, I want to thank Jim Burroway for ultimately concluding that the authors of our recent election analysis report on Prop 8 – Ken Sherrill and Pat Egan “were successful in demonstrating that the Black vote may be closer to 58% than 70%.” At no point in the Task Force report do we make a claim that 58 percent is the precise answer. Rather, we stress throughout the study that the range of data available to us leads us to the conclusion that 58% is much more accurate than 70%.

Burroway is justifiably concerned about sample size. The DBR survey includes 149 African Americans, making the margin of error for that population (as is typically calculated by pollsters) 8 percentage points. Our analysis of this minority population is of course limited by its sample size in this survey. But unlike other polls, the DBR survey makes a deliberate attempt to rectify this problem by over-sampling African Americans, resulting in an African American sample that is at least double the size of those found in typical surveys of Californians. This greatly augments the statistical power of our survey to detect differences among racial and ethnic groups.

Burroway says that we conclude that “religiosity explains the differences in how African-Americans voted relative to everyone else.” This falsely characterizes our conclusions. We say rather that “controlling for frequency of religious attendance helps explain why African Americans supported Proposition 8 at higher levels than the population as a whole.” In other words, if you’re trying to figure out why African Americans voted at higher rates for Proposition 8 than the general population, part of the answer is that they as a group are more religious than the general population–and religious people voted at high rates for Prop. 8. We show this quite clearly.

Thanks for your attention to this study, which we believe points to the value of LGBT-friendly faith based organizing in ballot measure campaigns. As all of us consider how to move the dial just a few more critical points toward marriage equality, taking a close look at the vote, while taking stock of our strategies to date, is an important next step.

Jaime Grant
Director of the Policy Institute

The NGLTF Study On Race and Prop 8: The Problem of Margins of Error

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

January 12th, 2009

Well, I’ve said before I had some homework to do this weekend. It turns out that this weekend was jam-packed with unexpected activities, but I did manage to give the NGLTF report (PDF: 420KB/17 pages) a careful read this morning while sipping tea from my family’s heirloom Fiestaware handed down from my great-great grandmother. Yes, I’m a dish queen.

Margin of Error: The Key
Timothy’s Kincaid’s analysis garnered a lot of controversy last week. Many people privately called and emailed to ask if I agreed with it. My only response at the time is that I hadn’t had a chance to look over the NGLTF report or Timothy’s analysis, but I generally trust his judgment. Well, now I have studied the report, and I do think it falls short, but in very different ways than what Timothy found.

My concerns about this report begin with one important paragraph on page 2:

Table 1 displays findings from a poll of California voters conducted by David Binder Research (DBR) between November 6th and 16th, 2008. The survey included 1,066 respondents selected at random from state voter registration lists, including an oversample of 266 African American, Latino, and Asian‐American voters. Participants were asked a series of questions about Proposition 8, as well as basic questions about their demographic background, religion, political views, and other characteristics. The sample in the DBR survey was limited to those who reported voting in the November 4 general election, and its margin of error was 3 percentage points (although the margin is greater for analyses of subgroups within the sample).

The DBR survey is the backbone of this study. That three-percent margin of error applies only to the 1,066 respondents overall, not to the smaller sample of 266 African-American, Latino, and Asian-American voters. The authors acknowledge that “the margin is greater for analyses of subgroups within the sample,” but they don’t tell you what those margins are. This is important, because as sample sizes get smaller, the margin of error gets larger.

A simple calculation for the 266 African-American, Latino, and Asian-American voters reveals that this margin of error is actually plus or minus 6 percentage points. That is margin of error for the three groups combined. Nowhere in this report is a breakdown of the three groups revealed. Of the 266 participants in the subgroup, how many were African-American?

Since they don’t tell us, we’re left to guess. If Blacks made up half of that pool, then responses from African-Americans alone are subject to an 8.5% margin of error. Cut that in about half again to separate the church-going from the non-church-going, then you’re up to about a plus or minus 12 percentage point margin of error for the two groups of African-Americans separately. If Blacks only made up a third of that pool, then the margins of error are greater still — about 10.4% and 14.7% respectively. This is huge. How do these large margins of error affect the rest of the report?

Religiosity As An Explanation
To see, let’s move on to this graphic, which illustrates the religiosity of the four ethnic groups using the DBR survey data with the margins of error we just talked about. You’ll have to click on the image to see it clearly:

According to the DBR survey, 57% of African-American voters attend church service weekly, compared to 40% for Asians, 47% for Latinos, and 42% for White. The authors assert that the differences between African-Americans and the rest of the population is statistically significant, which checks out according to the standard measures for statistical significance. Even with this small sample size and large margin of error, the DBR data does successfully demonstrate that African-Americans are more likely to attend weekly religious services than the other groups.

That then leads us to this graphic, based again on the same DBR survey. Again, you’ll have to click on it to see clearly:

The authors say that the differences shown in this graph between ethnic groups are not statistically significant, and they conclude that this shows that religiosity explains the differences in how African-Americans voted relative to everyone else.

Well, at least one part of their statement is absolutely correct. The differences between ethnic groups in the figures referenced in this table are not statistically significant according to all the standard measures of significance — but that’s because the sample sizes are so small.

There is a logical fallacy in saying that just because this data shows no statistically significant difference, that there is no actual difference. That’s not true. All we can say is that this data is incapable of showing a statistically significant difference based on these results and these small sample sizes. It cannot demonstrate that there is no difference in actuality. Remember, we’re dealing with a probable margin of error for the African-American churchgoing sample of somewhere in the neighborhood of plus or minus 12% to 14.7%. With an uncertainty that large, these numbers could be all over the place and still be a statistical tie. Any assessment of actual differences is completely swamped by the margins of error.

If the study consisted of a larger pool of African-American respondents to get a lower the margin of error, we might have been able to converge on a statistically significant difference. Or maybe then we can prove that there really is no difference in how religious African-Americans voted compared to the other groups. But with this data, we cannot tell either way. The Achilles Heel in this study remains the very small sample size for African-Americans and the resulting large margins of error for that sample. I don’t think they are able to make the case that religiosity explains the African-American vote with this data.

The African-American Vote on Prop 8
So how did African-Americans vote? Let’s go to this graphic from the NGLTF report:

The NGLTF study is being used to throw cold water on CNN’s NEP exit poll, which said that 70% of African-Americans supported Prop 8. The middle set of bars are the NEP exit poll, which shows African-Americans voting 70% for Prop 8 (in gray) versus 52% overall voting for Prop 8 (in black). The graphic also shows two surveys taken before the election (The Field Poll of 10/23 and SurveyUSA on 10/30) and two surveys taken after the election (the DBR poll we’ve already mentioned showing 58% of African-Americans supporting Prop 8 versus 51% overall on 11/11, and the SurveyUSA on 11/19). The study authors note:

As shown in Figure 2, two surveys conducted just before Election Day (by Field and SurveyUSA) found insignificant differences in support for Proposition 8 between African Americans and Californians as a whole. Two surveys conducted in the weeks following Election Day found similar results. On average, the difference in support between African Americans and all voters in these four surveys was just two percentage points. The NEP exit poll finding—that black support for Proposition 8 was 18 points higher than Californians as a whole—is most likely an “outlier,” a result that is very different than what concurrent data trends suggest to be the case. [Emphasis mine]

The authors dismiss the NEP exit poll as an outlier, an assessment that I can agree with. Exit polls, by their nature, don’t include margins of error. But since it is likely that the sample size of African-Americans was very small in this exit poll, I can accept that it is probably not an accurate snapshot of how African-Americans voted.

However, the study authors claim that the four remaining surveys show a difference of just two percentage points on average. True enough, in a strictly mathematical sense. But since the last SurveyUSA was the only survey showing African-Americans actually opposing Prop 8 to a remarkable degree compared to everyone else — that difference is a whopping eight percentage points in the other direction — I don’t see how we can regard that as anything but an outlier as well. So, with the three remaining polls, the difference is now back up to five percentage points.

Is this significant? I can’t tell, since again, we don’t know the sample sizes of African-Americans in these polls to judge whether they are robust enough to draw a reasonable conclusion.

The problem of sample sizes and margins of error, in my mind, does lay to rest one of Timothy’s concerns, and that is this:

In their Table 1, they lay out their breakdown of ethnic voting:

Well sorry, but those numbers don’t get us to 52.3% support. One of those ethnic demographics is understated.

Given the likely margins of error involved, I don’t think that this chart is off base entirely. No poll is likely to mimic the 52.3% of the actual vote at the means, but shoving all of these figures around their margins of error will get there quite easily. (I also wonder if maybe there ought to be an “other” category not included in the table.)

Fifty-eight percent as a very rough ballpark figure could be about right for the African-American vote. But given some of the margins of error we tossed around earlier, that figure could be as high as about 67% to 70%, or as low as 49% to 46%. Which means that if we used the DBR survey as the reference survey as the NGLTF study authors did, then none of those surveys which I (or the NGLTF authors) suggested were outliers may be outliers after all. The DBR survey may well validate all of them.

The study authors then replicate a 58% estimate by using data depicted in this figure, which is based on precinct-level voting data from five California counties:

The line drawn through the figure represents a “running-mean smoother” to show the overall trend as the racial mix of precincts moves from 0% to 100% African-American. Unlike Timothy, I’m satisfied with this representation which the authors use to arrive at a 58% figure for African-Americans, although I am keen to learn the algorithm for the smoother. But generally this verifies what many of us suspect: Those who live in diverse settings are more comfortable with diversity. Those who don’t, aren’t.

The reason I’m okay with this is that the authors also ran this same data set through two other independent analyses which led them to report a degree of comfort with an estimate of 58% of African-Americans voting for Prop 8. They do caution however, that “rather than being treated as definitive, these estimates should be considered as helping to corroborate the individual-level findings discussed earlier in this section of the study” — namely, the discussion of the five surveys we discussed earlier.

But in the end, I do believe the authors were successful in demonstrating that the Black vote may be closer to 58% than 70%. The higher figure, technically speaking, still barely remains in the theoretical realm of possibility, but I think we can safely dismiss it. But I would also caution that 58% might not be accurate either.

Can The Scapegoating End?
But if 58% is plausible, does this mean that the scapegoating of African-Americans can come to an end? Of course it does.

But what if the authors instead determined that the figure was closer to 70%? Would that have meant that blaming African-Americans for Prop 8′s passage was legitimate? Ask yourself this and take a hard look at how you answer, because this is critical to where our movement goes next. The answer to this question speaks loudly to our own character as a community.

If all it takes is a survey to give one oppressed minority the justification it needs to blame another oppressed minority for its woes, then we have a lot more work to do before we can credibly address society’s attitudes about fairness and equality. We will have to change our own attitudes first.

We cannot assume that one oppressed minority ought to automatically empathize with another oppressed minority’s oppression. If that were true, Jews and Palestinians would see themselves in each other and peace would break out all over the Middle East. Well that certainly hasn’t happened, has it?

Just to touch the tip of a few icebergs, gays were never enslaved or lynched in mass numbers. Non-Black gays really have no idea what it’s like to have that in their history. On the other hand, heterosexual Blacks were never obliged to undergo cruel “cures,” nor were they ostracized from their own families because of their Blackness. We really don’t know — internally know — the other’s experiences with history, and we can no longer be so naive in assuming that others will naturally see and recognize our experiences with discrimination just because they were discriminated against in a different way for different reasons.

So we must begin the task of reaching out to the African-American community, and more importantly, we need to work to raise the visibility of African-Americans within our own raucous LGBT family. If we want to confront homophobia in the Black community, we must also deal with examples of both overt and underlying racism within our own.

And we need to talk honestly and listen patiently to each other. We need to do this not to “educate” the other, as though we had some sort of special prize that we wish to arrogantly bestow on some poor, unenlightened folks. Instead, we need to do this with the sincere intent of understanding each other and ourselves better.

We need to do this not because a survey says we ought to. We need to do this because it is the right thing to do.

And we need to do this not just because elections are at stake, but because lives are at stake as well.

Proposition 8 and Race Revisited

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

January 7th, 2009

It disturbs me that forty years after the death of Dr. King we still as a nation seem incapable of having frank discussions about race. And this seems to me to be particularly true within the gay community.

When exit polls reported that African Americans had voted in favor of Proposition 8 by a ratio of 70 to 30 percent, gays tended to respond in one of two ways. A small number of persons seemed to see this as some vindication of their own personal racial animus. But nearly all other gay writers, bloggers, and opinion spouters immediately sought to dismiss, discount, or deny this figure and what it had to say.

There was a lot of creative talk about outreach and errors and even some race-based self-justification. But what seemed to be lacking was much honest discussion about those truths that all seem to want to overlook:

  • The Black Church is for the most part hugely homophobic
  • Even non-religious African-Americans are disproportionately politically anti-gay

This week the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has released a report that seems to exist for the sole purpose of discounting the second fact. Now, I’ve long since come to see the NGLTF as more of an agent of spin than an advocate for honesty so it didn’t surprise me much that their report seemed more appropriate on the stage of a prestidigitator than in a news report.

But I couldn’t ignore this slanting of the story. Mainstream news sites jumped right on this, making such bizarre (and completely false) statements as this from Oakland Tribune reporter Josh Richman:

Neither African-Americans nor any other ethnicity were disproportionately in support of Proposition 8, which changed California’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, according to a study of election results and post-vote surveys released Tuesday.

While the NGLTF report said no such thing, it did make two astonishing claims about the black vote:

  • Analysis of the full range of data available persuades us that the NEP exit poll overestimated African American support for Proposition 8 by ten percentage points or more.
  • Furthermore, much of African Americans’ support for Proposition 8 can be explained by the fact that blacks tend to be more religious than Californians as a whole.

The justification for the first assertion consists mostly of “because I want it to be true”. The NGLTF compares polling before and after the election to the exit poll and declared it to be an outlier. What they fail to notice is that the polling before the election predicted the failure of Prop 8 and the exit polls got it right.

Then they provide a graphic to support their claim:

This chart represents an analysis of the voters in four counties in which most black Californians live. This would seem to me to be a pretty reasonable way to verify whether exit polls got it right. But in order to gain value from such an analysis, one needs to avoid making claims that appear wacky from even the simplest glance.

The line you see on this graphic is a running-mean smoother, a way of showing a pattern in data. I don’t have access to the raw data, but something strikes me as peculiar about this line.

An “arithmetic mean” is what most folks think of as an average of numbers. You add up the totals and divide by the number of items. Considering this, take a glance at the right end of the chart – that which shows the larger percentage of African-Americans in the voting precinct. Does it look to you as though the line represents a mean average of the data points?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the skill or experience to refute the methodology of their line, but I will say that it does not, on the surface, appear to present a visual representation of Yes votes in the precincts shown.

NGLTF does admit that “a slight but unmistakable relationship exists between the proportion of a precinct’s voters who are African American and support for Proposition 8″. And they estimate that between 57 and 59% supported Proposition 8.

But that just doesn’t make any mathematical sense. In their Table 1, they lay out their breakdown of ethnic voting:

Well sorry, but those numbers don’t get us to 52.3% support. One of those ethnic demographics is understated.

Frankly, were this from a source I consider more credible, I’d delight in the reduction. I would very much like to believe that a majority of black voters are like the straight black folk I know who were all horrified that Prop 8 won. But based on the available information, I just don’t see the justification for this reinterpretation of history.

But what troubles me most about the NGLTF report is what they next assert: “much of African Americans’ support for Proposition 8 can be explained by the fact that blacks tend to be more religious than Californians as a whole”.

I do not know the credibility of the survey on which they rely for the claim, but I am pretty much willing to accept that African American Californians attend church more regularly than do other ethic groups. However, the graphic provided by NGLTF to show that religion is the reason that blacks voted disproportionately in favor of Prop 8 actually suggests exactly the opposite:

If the above chart is accurate, religion played less of an impact on the black church-goer than on any other demographic. And non-religious blacks were 12% more likely to favor Proposition 8 than non-religious whites. To suggest that it was religion rather than ethnically-shared community values that most strongly determined the outcome of the black vote requires a trip down the rabbit hole.

NGLTF then goes on to discuss how, as a whole, religion, party affiliation, conservative identification, and age are more important to predicting the state’s support for anti-gay positions than is race. There is no doubt that these played a great role. No one is surprised that conservative evangelical Republicans overwhelmingly voted for Proposition 8.

But all of that is a smoke screen. Because it is also true that liberal non-religious Democrats overwhelmingly voted against Proposition 8 … unless they were black.

And if the only difference between the voting patterns of liberal Democrats can be traced to their ethnic identity, then it requires magical thinking to say that ethnic identity is not an important factor.

Some of you, no doubt, are already crafting a reply calling me a racist. And, sadly, some are giggling while feeling justified for anti-black biases. Both of those responses are pointless (and wrong) and get us nowhere.

The fact is – regardless of how much NGLTF would wish otherwise – that the gay community does not truly have a strategic alliance with black voters. We do not have African American support. We can fully expect that unless something drastically changes, future votes on gay equality will have large percentages of African Americans voting against our rights.

Now there are a number of things we could do.

We could make a concerted effort to strategize and find allies for a long-term plan to educate and influence the African American community to recognize that discrimination based on sexual orientation is no more admirable than discrimination based on race. We know that many leaders, from Coretta Scott King and Mildred Loving to John Lewis and Al Sharpton, have been open to learning this message.

But we also know that there is a strong and unapologetic voice of harshest homophobia that has no hesitation in using race as a justification for denying that gay and lesbian Americans deserve civil equality. If we seek change, it cannot be haphazard or hesitant. It will be no picnic and we have to be willing to offend some who believe that they own the concept of civil rights and not be afraid to be called racist by those who oppose us.

Or we could also just write off this subset of the population and hope that we can sway enough whites and Asians to outweigh the African American vote. But while it may be pragmatic for winning an election, this approach strikes me as particularly cold. It not only leaves another generation of young black gay men and women growing up in a community that has pockets of severe hostility, but it also dismisses a lot of otherwise decent people as not being worth our time or effort.

There are no easy answers. And I don’t even begin to know how to go about approaching this issue in a way that is productive or appropriate.

But the one response that I believe is the height of foolishness is to say, as did NGLTF, “differences seen among racial and ethnic groups in support for Proposition 8 … do not merit the amount of attention they have received”. Ignoring it won’t make this issue go away.

Seamus Hasson’s Amazing Mathematics

Timothy Kincaid

December 10th, 2008

Seamus Hasson, new recipient of our LaBarbera Award for his comparison of Prop 8 protesters to El Qaeda, made some amazing claims on KPFK yesterday:

…there have been at least ten churches painted with swastikas, threats to close down or else. There’s been six churches with small-bore rifle fire through their windows. By my count, there have been at least six instances of burning Books of Mormon on the church steps. These aren’t isolated occurrences here and there; this is an uprising of some sort.

I checked up on Hasson’s claims by reviewing newspaper reports of vandalism following the passage of Proposition 8. While I may have missed some reports (if so, please advise), my numbers are substantially different from those of Hasson.

Instances of swastika vandalism:

Other use of swastika:

  • Days following vote – Roman Catholic Church in Riverside, CA. Yes on 8 signs arranged in the form of a swastika on the lawn – no spray painting. (from SL Tribune’s compilation of Prop 8 response)
  • 11/9/08 – Saddleback Church in Orange Co., CA. A protest sign was carried saying – “Will your rights be next?” – with a Nazi swastika drawn in place of the “x” – no spray painting.

I do know of at least one instance of spray painting on a church. In the days following the vote, a Mormon Church in Utah was tagged with “Nobody is born a bigot”. This was likely related to Proposition 8, but no swastikas were used.

So as for “churches painted with swastikas” by protesters over Proposition 8: Hasson’s count: ten; my count: zero.

Burning Books of Mormon:

So as for “instances of burning Books of Mormon on the church steps” by protesters over Proposition 8: Hasson’s count: six; my count: one.

I found no instances of churches being threatened to “close down or else”. None. And by “small-bore rifle fire”, Hasson means a bb gun (as in “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid“).

Which leaves me with the following conclusion: Either

  • There are an abundance of painted swastikas on churches and burning Books of Mormon that did not make it into the news;
  • Hasson can’t count to ten; or
  • Hasson is deliberately lying about vandalism that he claims is coming from the supporters of Proposition 8.

I’ll let you decide.

PPIC Prop 8 Poll: It’s Only Informative If You Provide Information

Timothy Kincaid

December 4th, 2008

The Public Policy Institute of California has released a new survey (pdf) which purports to tell us about how various demographics in the state voted in November. Among their observations:

Differences in support for Proposition 8 are evident across party lines, with three in four Republicans (77%) voting yes and two in three Democrats (65%) voting no, while independents were more divided (52% yes, 48% no). The measure was supported by a majority of those without a college education (62%), while a majority of those with a college degree voted no (57%). Evangelical or born-again Christians (85%) are far more likely than others (42%) to have voted yes. Whites (50%) are less likely than Latinos (61%) to have voted yes; 57 percent of Latinos, Asians and blacks combined voted yes (sample sizes are too small to report Asians and blacks separately). Voters who supported Obama (30%) were far less likely than those who supported McCain (85%) to vote yes. Support for Proposition 8 increases with age (43% for ages 18–34; 50% for ages 35–54, yes; 56% for ages 55 and older) and declines with income.

But demographic information is only useful if the sample is representative. And in the case of a vote that has already occured, we can check to see how closely the sample aligns with the actual vote.

Before the election, I gave credence to the polling of PPIC. I monitored and tracked the movement of their results. And they were just flat wrong.

So I immediately looked in this new PPIC survey to see if the respondants indicated a vote that correlated with the Secretary of State’s tally. I’m a reasonable guy and I know that both recollection and voter reluctance can cause a variation from the actual vote so I was ready to allow for a measure of difference.

But the information provided by PPIC was:

23. Proposition 8 was called the “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Initiative Constitutional Amendment.”

Did you vote yes or no on this measure?

[actual vote]

52% voted yes
48 voted no

PPIC replaced the response of their sample with the actual vote. But that is nonsense statistics.

They go on to tell us the opinion of those who reported to them that they voted “yes”, but they don’t tell us how many that was. And without some way to measure how closely their survey is to the actual vote, we have no idea whether the sample is skewed.

And the answer for Proposition 8 was not alone. They provided the [actual vote] response for all “how did you vote” questions, so I can’t even compare to see if respondants are “changing their vote” based on their emotional response to the subsequent social activism.

Frankly, without providing real answers, this PPIC survey has little value.

GLAAD Harris Interactive Survey: More Public Support

Timothy Kincaid

December 3rd, 2008

GLAAD has released a new survey by Harris Interactive that shows increased support for a number of the gay community’s goals:

  • 49% of adults favor marriage equality; 49% oppose when presented with an up or down decision.
  • When given options, 38% favor marriage; 38% favor civil unions while disallowing marriage; and 22% wish for no legal recognition at all.
  • 69% oppose adoption discrimination.
  • 64% favor overturning DADT.
  • 63% favor trans-inclusive Hate Crimes Legislation
  • 51% support trans-inclusive ENDA, 45% do not. They didn’t inquire about non-discrimination laws that did not include transgender persons.
  • 47% support immigration rights; 48% do not. This one surprises me and may be a result of the phrasing of the question: Do you favor or oppose… allowing gay Americans to sponsor their non-American life partners to become residents of the United States.

One thing that I found fascinating is that issues of homosexuality are sharply dividing Mainline Christians from Evangelical Christians. In all questions, Mainline Christians were gay-favorable and Evangelicals were among the least favorable.

This was particularly evident on issues that were in traditional areas of Christian activism (pre-Religious Right). For example, on the ENDA question, Mainline was the most supportive of all demographics while Evangelical was the least.

As the issues surrounding sexual orientation become more instilled in the war over religious dominance in the culture, a possible positive side effect could be that the non-religious come to see this as a sectarian battle and opt out of anti-gay efforts.

Some Concerns About Study Refuting Fraternal Birth Order Effect

Timothy Kincaid

December 1st, 2008

In January of 2008, Andrew Francis, an assistant economics professor at Emory University, released a paper in which he sought to apply analysis to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (“Add Health”). His results are published in the October 2008 Journal of Sex Research and have gotten some attention from those who follow the nature / nurture debate.

His abstract includes the following:

For men, I find that having one older brother does not raise the likelihood of homosexuality. Although having multiple older brothers has a positive coefficient, it is not significant. Moreover, having any older sisters lowers the likelihood of homosexual or bisexual identity.

Unfortunately, I am neither a statistician nor am I able to fully comprehend his methodology or make heads or tails of his charts. I will leave that to those better skilled than I.

But I do have some observations that cause me to be reluctant to quickly accept Francis’ assertions.

Bias: I do have concern about Francis’ motivations. In August 2007 he released a paper in which he applied economic theory to sexual behavior and HIV and declared:

I present evidence that AIDS causes some men to shift from homosexual to heterosexual behavior, whereas AIDS causes some women to shift from heterosexual to homosexual behavior. Thus, sexual behavior may respond to incentives. I consider alternative hypotheses, including biological theories of sexual orientation and stigma-related survey bias, and argue that they are unlikely to explain the results.

In a paper written in March of this year, he proposed that a 1 to 2 year incarceration be the penalty for intentionally or unknowingly transmitting HIV. And while I find that paper to be troubling, he also released a paper in October that suggested that increased social tolerance towards homosexuality causes a statistical decrease in HIV infection rates.

So please note that I am not accusing Mr. Francis of bigotry; he’s not Paul Cameron.

But behind all of Mr. Francis’ work is the assumption that sexual behavior is malleable – at least on the edges – and it’s strongly implied that orientation (what Francis calls “desire”) is as well. So it should be greeted with caution that he has released a study that confirms what he has been presuming to be true for at least a year.

Contradictory: The most important question to ask of any study is, “Does this make sense”.

While it is entirely possible for ‘common knowledge’ to be completely wrong and for research to be a tool that overthrows myth and supposition, it doesn’t overthrow mathematics or logic. And Francis’ results reveal ‘findings’ that are hard to fathom.

Francis measures sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and two measures of sexual identity: not entirely heterosexual and not even close to heterosexual. But in Francis’ model these are often contradictory and in ways that are difficult to rationalize.

For example, being raised by a single dad has no material effect on sexual desire or sexual behavior but it is a positive indicator on identity. Say huh?

Yep. Boys raised by a single father are more likely to identify as gay but they aren’t attracted to the same sex or doing anything about it.

And a few other things he found… discoveries that will certainly delight some folks who have notions about classes and races.

Young black men are more attracted to guys and are having more sex, but (except for the nelly ones) they deny being anything but 100% straight. And if a boy is more educated, he’s more likely you are to declare himself gay (while remaining virginal), while blue-collar “straight” studs are out there humping like rabbits.

Frankly, that’s a worldview that is best left to porn.

Where it all falls apart for me is in the comparison of desire and identity.

I can get that there might be some demographic that expresses desire and romantic attraction to other men but cannot or will not identify as other than heterosexual. But it makes no sense whatsoever for a study to claim that there are four demographic subgroups that are more likely to identify as gay but aren’t attracted to the same sex.

Conclusion: You can measure the credibility of a research by whether their declarations of discovery are well supported by the data.

But consider this doozy:

Given the complexity of the empirical relationship between sexual orientation and the biodemographic and other correlates, it is likely that both biological and social mechanisms may play a role.

Wait. Social mechanisms? When, oh when, did the data address social mechanisms? The closest he gets is looking at college education.

But in Francis’ assumptions, if there’s no older brother effect then it’s likely that social mechanisms may play a role. Yikes.

I don’t know whether there is adequate evidence to conclusively prove whether there is a fraternal birth order effect in male sexual orientation. And I’ll let those who are more knowledgeable tell us if this model is conducted properly.

But I think I’ve seen enough to know that I’ll not place much reliance on this paper.

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