Friday, December 22, 2006

LGBT leaders need to look at filial responsibility issues

LGBT leaders should pay more attention to a rapidly growing problem for middle-aged gay, childless, and/or single adults: eldercare. Obviously, this will be an issue for gay seniors themselves, but many people are discovering “family responsibility” in the needs of their parents, something that they do not escape by not having children.

Of course, the idea of marriage, child custody, or military service – any of these things have to do with contributing to the “collective” responsibilities of a free society—all of these have become the focus of specific political debates in the past fifteen years. Many older gays have experienced living in urban “exile” away from these things, separated by a society with very circular reasoning when it comes to these “duties.” For me, it has been like living on another planet sometimes. As Clive Barker demonstrates in his novel “Imajica” these cultural value differences finally must be “reconciled.”

One specific issue that gay leaders have not paid much attention to is filial responsibility laws. About thirty states have them. Typically they come into play when a parent gives away assets to get Medicaid funding for nursing home stays. However, they could be enforced even when the parents have no assets if adult children do. There have been a few papers written already on this in the “conservative” community. For the past ten years or so, the insurance industry has been developing long term care insurance products to meet this kind of threat, but this is expensive and takes a long time to become an accepted practice. Childless adults would seem like “sitting ducks” for this kind of exposure. The debate would be complicated by the fact that some gay people were rejected by their families as teens or young adults.

The emotional paradigm matters, too. LGBT people have often lived in separate urban and technological cultures that offer their own emotional rewards outside of the more traditional ties offered by given family blood relationships. Childless people, and professional people often tend to look to areas outside of biological relationships for personal satisfaction. However, many people in religious cultures centered around extended families place enormous emotional importance on blood and kinship (and religious) relationships, and feel that adults who leave their culture are cheating them. This problem was well illustrated by some climactic scenes in the film Latter Days, about a young Mormon missionary who comes out as gay. People from older blood-centered cultures tend to pick up on the idea that modern urban individualism, by centering morality on individual performance rather than relationships within the family, tends to target everyone for “measurement” and tends to threaten the spontaneity of all families. The level of “moral thinking” goes into layers, and attracts the kind of edicts pronounced by the Vatican.

Picture: MCC Nova, Fairfax, VA.

See: Discussion of filial responsibility laws
Editorial on Vatican positions on homosexuality

Thursday, December 21, 2006

CA same-sex marriage ban in state supreme court

On Dec 20 2006 major wire reports indicated that the California Supreme Court has agreed, unamimously, to take a case challenging California's law banning same-sex marriage, as a violation of state equal protection provisions. A ruling is expected in late 2007. Being challenged are a 1977 law and 2000 ballot measure.

Only Massachusetts recognizes same-sex marriage. Vermont and Connecticut recognized civil unions, and New Jersey, under state supreme court mandate, just passed a civil union law (being signed by the governor about now) giving benefits and responsibilities similar to marriage, a measure that Virginia just banned Nov 7 with the Marhsall-Newman amendment.

Despite the activism of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in adopting poor children around the world, they have refused to marry “legally” until California recognizes same-sex marriage. Story

However Matt Damon married Lucianna Barosso, and told media reports that being from Massachusetts, he comes from a state that recognizes equal rights of everyone to marry.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Time runs Dobson viewpoint on Mary Cheney and her intended family

The December 18, 2006 issue of Time (p. 123) ran a Viewpoint by Dr. James C. Dobson, “Two Mommies Is One Too Many: Mary Cheney is starting a family. Let’s hope she doesn’t start a trend.” The title of the piece refers to two “gay” children’s books from the early 1990s: Leslea Newman and Diana Souza, Heather Has Two Mommies (Boston: Alyson, 1989).; Michael Willhoite, Daddy’ s Roommate, (Los Angeles: Alyson, 1990).

First, let’s hope that Time will run a contrasting viewpoint on the gay parenting issue soon. Dr. Dobson is head of Focus on the Family, a conservative advocacy group in Colorado Springs, CO, a city which I visited in 1994, when I visited a friend and also corresponded with a gay paper from the 1990s, Ground Zero News, which published some of my pieces. I even recall driving Pike’s Peak, and being glad that my rental car was a stickshift when I descended. Maybe the fictitious Everwood is not too far away.

But let's look at this. Dr. Dobson, after introducing the controversy caused when Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter announced that she was pregnant but would raise the child with her lesbian partner, writes “That’s why public policy as it relates to families must be based not solely on the desires of adults but rather on the needs of children and what is best for society at large.” Dobson talks about gender-specific roles-models for children that parents fill, and then compares gay parenting to no-fault divorce as a reckless social experiment.

True, the supposed “birthright” of every child for a legally married mother and father is a societal good. But so is the availability of adoptive or foster parents at all. There are other goods to consider. These include equality of all citizens, and the idea that people will marry out of love rather than out of a need for social approbation. Finally, a vital good is that everyone share the “duties” of securing freedom by sharing some of the risks and “burdens” (I don’t like to use the word here, but it is somewhat apt) of caring for those of other generations who are not on their own, including both children and some of the elderly. This is that “pay your dues” idea. Oh yes! But a little analytical thought shows that satisfying all of these goals perfectly, even out of “what is best for society,” is a mathematical and logical impossibility. Something has to give.

That is why the political fight over military service for gays and gay marriage and gay parenting is so important. Gays need to participate in meeting these common needs. Without the ability to do so, we are sitting ducks to be chosen to sacrifice to meet the needs of others. It happens, believe me. We become the second class citizens. (Someone has to in this zero-sum thinking.) I can think of some derogatory terms (based on the days of slavery and segregation) but won’t list them here.

You could say that modern society has called undue attention to "equality" with its hyper-individualism, which came about partly because previously "The Family" had provided a convenient shield for preserving unearned disparaties of wealth, and for evils like segregation. Openness about sexuality arguably puts some individually more "marginal" people on the spot. If you keep sexuality confined to the socialization of the family (through the abstinence outside of legal marriage paradigm) and especially if you don't let people talk about it too openly, you may let some people feel that they can function in the family, have and raise children, and be taken care of themselves, whereas in an open, individualistic and globalized society they will be told that they must "compete" before having children. That comports with Vatican ideas about marriage and the priesthood which, as we know, have broken down. Of course, you can try to extend Vatican-style arguments with large scale social programs to address poverty and disparity among classes and races.

Of course, some of you will say, that is why we turn to scripture and faith. Man, it is said, cannot solve all of his problems perfectly with the “knowledge of good and evil” alone. Even God can't change the theorems of mathematics, only the axioms.

Monday, December 18, 2006

8 Episcopal Parishes in No Va defect

Widespread Washington DC area media reports indicate that at least eight Episcopal parishes in northern Virginia have split off to the more conservative Episcopal Church of Nigeria, over concerns about ordination of a gay bishop and of same-sex union ceremonies. One of the churches is the historic Falls Church, in the city by that name, Falls Church VA. I visited the church with a workplace friend on an All Saints Day in the early 1990s.

Many more progressive denominations have conservative splits and churches with a separate reporting structure, and gay issues have caused major splits in these churches, as they seem to lead to intolerable theological controversies.

Bill Turque and Michelle Boorstein have The Washington Post story Dec 18, 2006. This story says seven parishes.

Julia Duin has The Washington Times story on "8 flocks."

Update: The Falls Church Responds

Rev. John Yates and Os Guinness have an op-ed about the Falls Church, "Why We Left the Episcopal Church," and it maintains that the issue is more about the authority of scripture, not gay priests or gay marriage. It appeared in The Washington Post Jan. 8, 2007, p A15, link here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Evangelicals Concerned

Neela Banerjee, “Gay and Evangelical, Seeking Paths of Acceptance,” The New York Times, Dec. 12, 2006, p A1, discusses Evangelicals Concerned, and mentions some personalities, such as Justin Lee. It also mentions (and shows a photograph of) a stable male couple, Martin Fowler and Clyde Zuber, who lead a Bible study group in the North Carolina home. I knew them when I lived in Dallas and attended some of their Evangelicals Concerned sessions in their mid-Cities home in the mid 1980s. There was a teacher in the group who would have to be satisfied with “I have gay friends,” a kind of “don’t ask don’t tell” idea for teachers. (My blogspot article is Is there a don’t ask don’t tell de facto policy for teachers?). For one session Ralph Blair actually attended and mentioned Paul Rosenfels and the Ninth Street Center in New York, which he credited for keeping gay men in monogamous relationships and in a safer situation with respect to potential HIV exposure.

Andrew Sullivan, in his book The Conservative Soul, characterizes much of evangelical christianity in terms of fundamentalim, and the need to have an external reassuring truth. It's instructive to go back and recontruct the "zero tolerance" idea in "christian" opposition to homosexuality of past generations. The concept can be understood as a kind of existential argument that comes from man, not scripture. Christian morality is concerned with taking care of and saving every member of the group. Early Christianity was socialistic. With the family, the idea of a kind of individualism and self-promotion in terms of providing for and "protecting" other blood family members in one's domain was introduced. The "morality" comes from maintaining an obligation to provide for others. The male homosexual, in particular, is seen as the purveyor of the perception of "the knowledge of good in evil" in labeling some men as more desirable than others. The upward affliation, paradoxically, reflects the value of another person as a potential father of a family, and (to anti-homosexuals) looks like a deliberate repudiation of one's own blood and lineage (because of a lack of interest in giving the family children). The homosexual is still seen as promoting the idea that power and merit "matter", but spurs resentment in straight men who feel belittled and feel like they are being told that they would be undesirable fathers. The "homophobic" community will retaliate by taking away the homosexual's freedom, or by trying to challenge the gay man to "act like a man" in the terms of the straight world. I call this the "father role model paradox."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Same-sex estate financial planning is big business

On the way back from New Orleans after a long weekend in February, 2006 I picked up a copy of Robb Report Worth. On page 100 there is a detailed article by Frederick P. Gabriel-Deveau, "The Puzzling Problem of Same-Sex Estates: Gay couples confront a host of unique challenges when crafting their estate plans." The summary reads "There are also legal ambiguities that family members of the deceased can exploit to challenge the distribution of assets to the other partner. Careful planning, using iron-clad wills and, where appropriate, trusts, can ensure same-sex couples achieve their estate planning goals."

The article discusses DOMA (the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act) and how it prevents the extension of benefits and protections to gay couples. This seems to niche present business opportunities for lawyers and financial planners, to duplicate the 1200 marriage rights granted under federal law. A surviving gay partner can face federal taxes of up to 48% on estates over $1.5 million. The trust attorney discussed in the article is Richard C. Milstein, from Miami.

In June 2005 I considered the possibility of becoming an agent for New York Life. The application form emphatically stressed that the company does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in placing agents and financial planners. However, a new agent is not allowed to have any outside income for three years (at least if he or she takes the training bonus). That was a show-stopper. The business also requires heavy personal (not web based!) social networking to get new clients, something that I do not do, and a lifestyle paradigm that fits those raising families more than singles (although it would fit same-sex families). So I did not go on with it. In 2003, I had looked at a post-retirement business opportunity with Primevest. Again, the twelve years as a computer person in life insurance applications had interested them. The paradigm started with converting families from whole life to term, and then could move onto other kinds of financial planning. Primevest did show up at a LGBT job fair in Minneapolis about that time. One financial planning issue that would interest me in all of this is long-term care insurance. But you can see where this is heading. Financial planning and agenting appeals to people with heavy social networks that they can manipulate through their positions in the "community", not for bookish introverts like me. But, they could work in the gay community if the mass of gay couples, especially those raising children, were large enough in a geographical area. But gay marriage and gay adoption then become pertinent issues again, and the political fight continues.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Adolescent pruning and sexual orientation

The recent research into the growth and biological maturation of the brains of teenagers might be interesting in considering sexual orientation. The November 2006 issue of The Walrus (a Canadian magazine) has an article “Your Teenager’s Mind” by Nora Underwood, and it bears reading. The maturation process goes beyond the legal ages, to about 25.

I was aware of being “different” at around age 8, when I suddenly had conformity problems in elementary school. A somewhat moralistic third grade teacher kept pushing me to behave like a boy, and learn to play sports and stand up for myself at “recess.” About the same time I became quite aware of my musical talent. The music would provide a world of emotion and feeling but would abstract it in such a way that ongoing and complementary social contacts were not as necessary. So, while neurons in my brain grew (and before much pruning and “tuneup” could start), certain skills and processes became more important internally than others, and the physical competitiveness expected of young boys did not develop. I was becoming what some people would see as a “sissy” or “chicken.” Peter Wyden, in his infamous 1968 book "Growing Up Straight" would have later characterized me as the stereotyped "pre-homosexual child," needing special pressures to return to the path of growing up "sexually normal." Understandly, there were many efforts to "train" (or "socialize") me to perform physical and manual chores to please the expectations of others, even when these "tareas" served no logical purpose.

What caused this differentiation? I could say that it is a random occurrence, producing psychological diversity that any society needs. I had the measles around my seventh birthday, and measles is known to produce lasting and subtle neurological or developmental damage or at least changes. There could be a genetic influence. Maybe there is a congenital. My feet were in braces when I was very young and I did not run as early. We really don’t know. But the process of being “different” – for better or for worse – got started early and could not really be prevented. There was no abuse as people normally understand that kind of problem today.

I became more aware of erotic interests in “attractive young men” by about age 12. The details of fantasy don’t matter here, but the timeline does. That is about when the pruning starts. Boys start the neural pruning process about age 12 or 13, roughly as puberty starts to be reached. From my point of view, normal social interaction, responsiveness and ordinary everyday empathy and the competitiveness that could later be expressed in heterosexuality – girl friends, dating, wife, children, lineage, “pedigree” – all of this was superfluous. I had what I needed, but others did not what from me what they felt they needed or were entitled to in return, reciprocally.

The pruning process makes the personality focused and efficient on its “core business” – it is very much analogous to a company’s shedding workers when it downsizes and focuses more narrowly on its strengths. This sort of thing is always morally controversial, whenever done by either individuals or institutions. It is indeed ruthless. Perhaps this is related to what we recognize in medical and development circles as Asperger Syndrome, and what in more extreme forms becomes outright autism, especially in boys. Even so, my own experience with sexual orientation suggests that orientation starts during the brain growth process, when the initial wires are growing, and even before pruning.

By early adulthood, the seats of passion were well established. There was no real emotional tie to women or to the idea of being a parent. (I did try dating women for a while briefly around 1971, and if anyone who remembers this about me stumbles upon this blog, she will probably agree that it was better for me not to try something that would end up in consumatory failure and divorce or even annulment.) The heterosexual world then did seem to include a lot of superficial manipulation, doting and pampering that put me off. I had plenty of feeling in music, ideas, and persons who could be idealized (“upward affiliation”) to take its place. I remember a girl friend saying that one time in my apartment as an inexpensive recording of Beethoven’s Pastorale symphony (not my favorite) played.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had pursued my piano abilities even more vigorously. When I entered William and Mary in that forlorn Fall Semester of 1961 (details here), I was a chemistry major and had earned advanced placement, starting with qualitative analysis. It would have taken even more practice, intensity, and teenage recital performance than I did, but it could have happened. One reason that I didn’t was the Cold War, and the feeling that a science career could protect me from becoming cannon fodder. This takes on a moral dimension (of playing chicken) and that makes it painful. (It’s easy, of course, to blame History for moral choices.) I wonder if I had negotiated a music career (and I recall admonitions at age nine or so from my private piano teacher that I grow up as a “normal boy”), if I would have developed different emotions about women, family, and parentage. Maybe, but that assertion seems to contradict the “pruning” theory. An interesting comparison occurs with the program “Everwood” where the prodigy Ephram blows away his chance to get into Julliard by trying to prove himself a “man” at sixteen and getting a college-age girl (Madison) pregnant.

Christianity (especially in its Catholic forms – even as I was raised Baptist) seems to be trying to address this by saying, neglect of the everyday needs of others, even through one’s own intrinsic nature, is sin (the actual sin of “Sodom and Gomorrah”) and some people are less inclined to respond socially than others, and are thus victims of an “objective disorder” (however offensive this sounds). That is why they need God, why they need Jesus, and why there is salvation by Grace. But then, because of his own demons, whatever they are, anyone needs God. Is this the message of someone like Mel Gibson?

I’m struck by the fact that some of us need a “moral” interpretation of all of this, and that is probably because these differentiations of ability and performance do have downstream consequences for others, sometimes for other family members -- but that in turn is partly because of long-standing external prejudicial thinking of others about family and bloodline matters.

When the William and Mary debacle occurred in 1961 (mentioned above), I was struck by how my presence in a dormitory could be perceived as "contagious" to other less than fully mature men, and now the same concept undergirds the "don't ask don't tell" policy for gays in the military.

I have a related posting about pruning and COPA here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

National Enquirer does some outing of celebrities

A December 2006 issue of The National Enquirer reads "Who's Gay ... and Who's Not: The ultilmate Hollywood tell-all".

I don't know if this would be libel if the information were untrue about a particular celebrity, but supermarket tabloids have been sued over false outing in the past (especially in Europe). Again, there is an "invasion of privacy" issue, but I don't know if it would apply to celebrities. We've also seen other forced outings, as recently on ABC's The View.

The problem with this is that kids will see these tabloids in supermarkets and convenience stores, and believe that "outing" people is a cool thing to do on Myspace. This has already been an issue for school systems (as on a Dec 6 2006 episode of NBC's Dr. Phil). It's not cool.

Younger celebrities (and even older ones) are often more comfortable being seen in gay surroundings today than in past decades. Nevertheless, I don't publish names associated with specific "glances" or "sightings" unless the particular individual has decided to announce his situation or sexual orientation himself or herself.

There is an blog discussion teachers and this issue here.

The National Enquirer is a publication of American Media, a company (in Florida) that was a target of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Other publications include the black-and-white rag World Weekly News (with all the alien abduction stories that truly are made up), to more upscale publications like Men's Fitness.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Frank Kameny archives at Library of Congress create controversy

Dr. Franklin E. Kameny is one of the most famous fighters for gay rights. He was an astronomer working for the government in 1957 when investigators approached him and said, "We have information that you are homosexual. Do you have any comment?" He was fired and lived in poverty for some years, but would found the Mattachine Society in the 1960s, well before Stonewall.

In those days, civilian government employees were discharged more vehemently than were members of the armed forces who (in comparison to the later controvery over the military gay ban and "don't ask don't tell") often feared that recruits would try to use homosexuality to get out of the draft for war. In 1965 or so, Dean Rusk said in the State Deparment, "when we find homosexuals in our ranks, we discharge them." In 1966 the Civil Service Commission would publish reasons why homosexuals were unfit for civil service, but in 1973 would overturn the policy and allow gays in federal employment (how condescending!) "Sexual perversion" had been listed as one of the reasons you could be fired from the government when I had my first job with the National Bureau of Standards (at what is now the University of the District of Columbia campus) in 1963, and I had to explain my own "psychiatric history" with the William and Mary explusion to the medical officer. They let it go.

His papers have been donated to the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. They are not yet visible to the public. However, Peter LaBarbera of "Americans for Truth" wants a caution sign next to the collection.

The story is Yusef Najafi "Historic Controversy: Anti-gay activist launches campaign against Kameny's acceptance at Library of Congress," Metro Weekly, Nov 30, 2006, at this link.

In 1993, Kameny was a guest on Scott Peck's radio talk show (Mr. Peck was the son of the Marine Colonel who was outed in Sam Nunn's hearings on President Clinton's attempt to lift the ban on gays in the military), and he discussed civilian security clearances for gays, which he said had gotten much easier since about 1990 (the time of the first Persian Gulf War against Saddam Hussein).

Kameny was honored at the HRC National Dinner Oct 7, 2006, and a short film about his life was showm.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

MN: Fire department foreshadowed military issue

Bob Von Sternberg, “No simple solution in fire chief case” Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dec 2, 2006, link here relates the story of openly lesbian Minneapolis fire department chief Bonnie Bleskachek, who has generated at least four lawsuits because of allegedly favoristic personnel practices, bringing back old stereotypes of gays from McCarthy days. Kari Lydersen has a story in The Washington Post Dec 5, 2006, here. Females started to appear in uniformed fire department services in the 1980s.

But walk back in time. In the mid 1970s gay firemen was a controversial topic in New York City (Daily News or Post editorials), with arguments made about the intimacy of firehouses (ironically, GAA was in the "Firehouse" at 99 Wooster St.), ideas that would foreshadow the debates about lifting the ban on gays in the military in the 1990s.

Monday, December 04, 2006

MD: same-sex marriage law (anti) before state Court of Appeals

An article in The Washington Post by Mary Otto, "As Md. Court Weighs Same-Sex Marriage, Plaintiffs Hear Echoes of Previous Fight," Dec 4, 2006, in the Metro section (link here)
continues a debate that we have heard, and that has indirect ramifications in other areas. We have already covered the passage of the Marshall-Newman Amendment in Virginia.

The case is before the Court of Appeals in Annapolis, and according to the story, this is the state supreme court.

In Januaray a Baltimore judge ruled that tradition alone cannot create a state interest that counters equal protection. (It's interesting; I remember a sermon at the Crystal Cathedral in California about the importance of "tradition".) However Donald H. Dwyer, Jr. (R) wants to introduce a constitutional amendment in Maryland, and fears that same sex marriage will cause homosexuality to be taught in public schools as a normal lifestyle. So the basic existential debate continues.

Also, there is a story about homosexuality in the Muslim world. Negar Azimi, "Prisoners of Sex: In Egypt and across the Arab world, homosexuality is becoming a political issue. But as gay people become more visible, they could wind up even less free." The New York Times Magazine, Dec 4, 2006, p. 63. The article maintains that the Koran is ambiguous on homosexuality when read literally. However, there have been many busts in Egypt, with the police encouraging antigay violence, and in Saudi Arabia the government wanted to give hormone treatments to people arrested at a "gay wedding."