Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Is age segregation in the GLBT likely; is it a good or bad thing?

While gay clubs have to watch minimum ages and even fake id’s carefully these days, I sometimes wonder about issues on the other end of the spectrum in the GLBT community: ageism. It is something that cuts both ways.

In the movie “54” (Miramax, 1998, directed by Mark Christopher) there is a scene at “Studio 54” where the proprietor scans the people in line as to whom he will let in. He asks “Jersey” character Shane O’Shea (played by Ryan Phillippe, then 23) to remove his shirt to judge him before letting him in. I don’t know whether this really happens at many clubs (maybe some visitors do) and I have never tried to go to that particular club, but it makes a point. Is age segregation good or bad? Could such a trend develop in the future, or would it violate age discrimination laws in public accommodations?

In Minneapolis, where I lived from 1997-2003, there is a group called “Pride Alive” associated with the Minnesota AIDS Project, link here. Pride Alive would arrange talk groups and in-person chats, and in 2000 the organization started the practice of limiting about half of the talk groups to persons 18-30. Yes, there was an upper age limit. There was a belief that men should be encouraged to socialize more with persons their own age. To some extent, this comports with a notion that emotional maturity means "empathy" and the ability to maintain some of of intimacy within one's own age group (as with a committed lifetime partner -- "marriage").

Gay institutions do practice other kinds of "segregation." Leather bars, for example, often have "dress codes" (at least on Saturday nights), to keep away the starers and gawkers. I've always wondered why some mixed or straight discos don't allow "tennis shoes." I also recall that in the 90s the Washington Blade advertised a weekly private party in the Dupont Circle area (unpublished location) that was age limited and that one had to call for the address. I don't know if this is the case today (a visitor might know).

I remember back in the 1980s, when AIDS (first called GRID) was the encroaching monster, some people gave the advice that gay men should segregate themselves by age so as not to “infect” younger men just coming into the community. This idea was promoted before there was a test for HIV (or HTLV-III as it was first called) and before there was a clear understanding with many people that a single new virus could be the cause, and before there was wide discussion in information forums of safer sex practices

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

GLBT equality, childlessness, and eldercare

Life isn’t fair, Donald Trump once said, and we can certainly run around in circles over the equality paradigm.

Equality is one thing, and “right and wrong” is another. Sometimes I feel that we all need to sit through freshman Philosophy 101 again. Because in our culture these days, in talking about marriage and parents (straight or gay) we mix a lot of things up.

The commonly accepted standard of behavior has been “personal responsibility.” Most of all, if you create a baby (or adopt one) then you raise it and make him or her your top priority, hopefully within the support structure of a lifetime monogamous “marriage.”

It’s the “If…” part that matters. (That was the title of a 1969 British film on a boarding school rebellion.) Because in practice, family responsibility comes about for a lot of people without their ever having intercourse. In our culture, and even more so in third world cultures, people wind up with responsibility for raising siblings or OPC (“other people’s children”) all the time. Responsibility for blood relatives pre-exists and sometimes it’s actually easier to carry out once you have your own children. This is the chicken-v-egg problem. Maybe family responsibility generates babies. There are plenty of movies about this experience (“Raising Helen”, “Saving Sarah Cain”). The latest chapter of this problem is the explosion of need for eldercare from adult children, many of whom do not have their own children.

Furthermore, during the past few years, there has been a continuous concert of calls for adoptive and foster parents – even singles (maybe GLBT people in many states) – and for people to act as mentors and become teachers, even in retirement. Other people’s children, again.

When I was substitute teaching, I was criticized severely a couple of times for not taking charge as an “authority figure.” Now, there were situations where I don’t believe that authoritarian command and control was the right thing for the kids (I think they serve school administrators instead). Once, I was asked to get into swimming trunks and into a pool in front of disabled kids. I declined. It seemed to me that they had a model of “equality” in mind – an elderly man that they suspected was gay. They would “encourage” me to pretend that I was equal so other people could feel good about themselves. That includes the administrators, and maybe some of the kids. A couple of other job interviews with various marketing schemes raised the same issue. Pretend the feel-good stuff. Deny what is going on. Always be politically correct. No thank you.

The federal government, as do most states, declare in their laws that I am less than an equal citizen. The federal government says, in a 1993 statute, that if I were serving in the military and “told” anyone, I would threaten the sense of dignity of other people in a situation of mandatory forced intimacy. I know that the law is worded to apply to the Armed Forces only, but the reasoning is malignant. It got me thrown out of William and Mary in 1961 before I even served in the military myself. As a teacher, how could I expect underprivileged kids to respect me as an “authority figure” when the federal government baldly says I am less than equal to others? More mature kids don’t really need that kind of a figure and do better without one.

But sometimes people come back with a retort like this: if I say publicly that I savor the “submission” in my sexuality (I don’t want to be graphic here), that is a way of saying publicly that I am not worthy of respect. We see this kind of thinking as a reaction to self-defaming postings on the Internet common as social protests by teenagers. If I respected myself, so they saying goes, I would want to continue myself with children and lineage.

That sounds a lot like old-fashioned religious thinking, both in fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. Vatican pronouncements about abstinence, marriage, openness to procreation, and homosexuality as an "objective disorder" all relate to this kind of thinking. Another aspect of this view is "purification": the idea that, in a world of inequality and deprivation, resources can be expropriated and given to those who will take the responsibility to continue the family in socially approved marriage, with all the emotional trappings. I certainly benefited from the emotional empathy of parents and others as I grew up, so I owe this back to other people. One way to “pay this back” is to continue the chain of responsibility and marry and have children. Many parents assume that their children owe them this “proof of love” and empathy by giving them grandchildren, and part of that "proof" is the willingness to "fight" preferentially for one's own family members. That belief, of automatically generated loyalty, actually may contribute to the stability of their marriage, as well as a belief that their adult children will remain loyal to family and do their fair share of caring for needy family members. This follows the model known in the animal world (some birds, wolves) where some members do not reproduce but remain subordinate in meeting the needs of those pack or “family” members that do. Never mind, though, that human beings have an artistic or expressive culture that lives on for generations regardless of individual biological reproduction. For someone like me, that's a good thing, being driven away into "urban exile" almost four decades ago by a culture that said someone like me wasn't welcome around real families with children -- and now the tables seem to be turning because of the degree of need.

That gets to be the paradigm of proper moral behavior in many cultures. It gets perceived as “public morality.” Modern individualism (“personal autonomy” or “individual sovereignty”) respects the rights of individuals to make their own reproductive decisions without being shoved into second class status, as long as they take responsibility for the children that they have. There is a bit of a cultural conflict here.

The needs for eldercare, and the likelihood that some states will feel financial pressure to start enforcing filial responsibility laws on adult children, can challenge the thinking that has enabled reproductive freedom. That thinking is based on “personal responsibility” and does not clearly recognize a moral obligation to prioritize support for the needy within families, a responsibility that may exist for everyone regardless of personal choices. This responsibility is often more naturally taken by people who did have children. So we have a bit of a conundrum. The idea that families could generate their own "morality driven" demands for biological loyalty has, partly because of the offense it creates to many "different" people, gradually been replaced by debates on how global resources and hardships should be shared, and sometimes as to how wealth should be redistributed -- or even a reflection back to the more communal kind of self-perception that families imagine themselves to represent in the first place.

A good book to look at, almost forgotten now, is Elinor Burkett's "The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless," The Free Press, 2000. I recall back in the 90s that radio talk show host Victoria Jones ("The British Lady") expressed incredulity when conservatives came on to her program and expressed more concerns about childlessness.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

MD - civil marriage

The Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis is considering a bill to remove reference to biological gender from it's marriage law, making marriage a strictly "civil contract." The bill would contain a clear statement that no religious group has to recognize a marriage against its beliefs. The idea was expressed that religious groups already can refuse to marry "unbelievers" from outside the faith, or refuse inter-faith marriages. The comment was also made that civil marriage is an institution designed by man and governments, not by "God."

The Washington Post story by "Annapolis Notebook" comes from page B04 Metro of the Saturday Jan. 26 paper. The title is "In a Nod to Britt, Democrats Push Same-Sex Marriage as Civil Rights Issue," link here. The reference is to State Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George's County, directly east of Washington DC).

Update: Feb. 5, 2008

There is a bill before the Maryland General Assembly that would end "civil marriage" and replace it with "domestic partnership" with the same rights and responsibilities for all adult couples, of the same or opposite sex. The story is by Lisa Rein, is titled, "Bill Would End Civil Marriage, Create Domestic Partnerships," p B04, link here.
The sponsor is state senator Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery County). I know, all the conservatives will say, "this destroys marriage." If I can't marry, then you can't -- share the burdens, it seems to say. In a few other states, civil unions provide some but not all of the responsibilities and rights of full marriage.

Feb. 28, 2008

The Maryland General Assembly continues to consider the issue, and must consider a counter proposal, a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman, common in many states now. The NBC4 story today is here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

VA: several more favorable bills can come up in General Assembly

A number of more favorable bills related to gays and lesbians may come up in the Virginia General Assembly in the 2008 session. One of the most important is developing a database to store in a secured fashion advanced medical directives that could allow "powers of attorney" to named adults (including same sex partners not legally married), in accordance with the wishes of the stricken person. Another would allow employers to offer self-insured local government funds to include same-sex partner coverage. This is to deal with an arcane provision in Virginia law called the Dillon Rule. There is another bill to allow employers to extend (by salary deduction) group life insurance benefits (as beneficiaries) to same sex partners. It shocks people in other states that Virginia law would interfere with this. Still another bill would prohibit housing discrimination. It's not clear how this would affect individual homes that are rented. Generally, large complexes are much less likely to create a "problem" than small ones. (I never experienced any issues with getting leases or renewals in the 90s.)

The Washington Blade story (Jan. 18) is on the Local News page, is by Chris Johnson, is titled "Virginia gays on offense as lawmakers return: Gay Medical decision-making rights bill introduced," link here.

The main organization in Virginia is Equality Virginia, which has a dinner in Richmond in early April and many other events. The URL is this.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

MD, OR: domestic partner issues

The Maryland General Assembly was due today to debate the meaning of “domestic partner.” This is was to fill in a gap in a new state law on health insurance, which would require health insurance companies writing business in Maryland to offer domestic partner coverage when requested to do so by employers.

The latest entry so far is a “Maryland Moment” blog in The Washington Post by Lisa Rein, “Debate on Domestic Partnership Expected in January, link here.

But a federal judge (Michael W. Mosman) placed a hold Dec. 28 on a law in Oregon that would have granted most spousal rights to same-sex couples. The AP story is by Sarah Skidmore, and the Post link is here.

The problem was that there had been a referendum in October trying to block the law. Supposedly there were not enough signatures collected by anti-gay opponents. (Many concerns were voiced concerning raising of children.) However the vote was very close, and opponents claim that the procedures for counting votes should be audited, a common issue now with elections. It was not immediately apparent if there was a paper ballot count.

Oregon had a horrific anti-gay referendum in 1992, and it was voted down. Oregon also had a little known effort to ban gays from teaching in 1986, but it was also defeated (as had happened in California in 1978).

In another continuing story, Idaho Senator Larry Craig was trying to raise "first amendment" issues and quibbling over terminology in the Minnesota disorderly conduct law, as he tries to get his embarrassing guilty plea reversed. Politics does make good bedfellows. The Logo channel now says that "wide stance" has become a new GLBT buzzword.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Clubs must be careful about undeage admissions and drinking

When I substitute taught in northern Virginia high schools for a couple of stretches, I sometimes saw attendance rosters with birthdates printed.

In the Spring of 2007, a student who had been in a class happened to be at one of the gay clubs in the District and spotted me as I entered alone, and made a wisecrack. I was surprised. I believe that the student was very likely to be only 16, because I could recall the roster. At school, he had made an earlier inappropriate wisecrack, recognizing me in class, when I had been there a month before, which I had simply ignored. When he flagged me in the bar, I simply left the premises immediately (and alone) for the evening. I took no other action. (I most definitely did not take a photograph; we all know that pictures of underage drinking tend to wind up on the Internet.) However, I decided not to return to substitute teaching this fall, although there were other considerations.

The next time I visited the bar I told the management about the incident, as well as one other club. (I believe I had seen one other such student in a club earlier.) The management said, by all means, point the person out if it happens again. I did notice shortly thereafter tighter scrutiny of ID’s and more visible signs of age verification laws.

I will not name the clubs, schools or students involved, but I am writing this entry to underscore the importance of a potentially serious problem, for clubs, their employees, and particularly teachers who visit clubs. I am not sure what the legal requirement on teachers would be when they observe underage drinking off school property, especially for subs. (I welcome comments on that.)

Most clubs require age 21 to enter, with many having one night a week allowing age 18 with no-alcohol wristbands. Generally, in most communities (I presume this is true of the District of Columbia), unaccompanied persons under 18 may not enter an establishment where alcohol is served unless some other “legitimate” major product or service is offered (like full meals, shows, movies, etc). Business owners say that they do admit under 21 often because of the legal risk of shutdown, fines, or loss of license. Some clubs will admit well known “celebrities” over 18 and under 21 with good personal “reputations” if they trust the individuals not to drink.

It is not clear what the liability of a club is if a minor gets in and drinks because of a fake ID and the club used good-faith efforts to check it. What happens if the minor drives home and gets into an accident while DWI? (Bartenders are not supposed to serve intoxicated people, and security is supposed to remove people who are visibly incapacitated. But that applies to everyone, including legal adults.)

Most illegal underage entries occur because of fake ID cards. An episode of Everwood in Season 2 had the character Ephram getting a fake card from a back room shop and then getting into trouble. Many websites discuss the problem. There was a sting in the Washington that netted an arrest later in 2007. Fake ID cards are a major security threat, and fake DL’s have been involved with identity theft.

Except for the religious right, most employers may not care about persons showing up in the web in gay discos (as was the case a couple of generations ago with the police raids and newspaper arrest lists), but they do care about underage drinking, from all of the media reports about “reputation defender” and the Internet.

The media in the Washington area has reported many instances of straight bars losing licenses because of violence on or near their premises. Some of the problems have been in particular areas of the city, even as these areas experience real estate development. One particularly horrific incident resulted in a bar employee being severly burned. I’ve always felt that business establishments should not be punished for the behavior of a few patrons, especially when the behavior happens outside the premises. Violent incidents in gay clubs have been very rare. There were one or two incidents at Tracks in the 1990s. Near the Velvet Nation, now closed because of stadium-related real estate development, aggressive panhandling was common, and I once called the police when witnessing weapons trafficking a few blocs away (in 2004). But none of this was related to the patrons or employees of the club.

Update: Jan. 10, 2008

Clubs may find the fake ID card easier to prevent after new security rules associated with the "Real ID" law go into effect. Americans born after 1964 will have to get secure driver's licenses within the next six years. The detailed AP story is by Devlin Barrett, and is available here. The rules are meant to deter illegal immigrants, but they probably will help reduce the underage drinking problems, too.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Disco in Berlin, Germany caters to gays from Muslim countries

The New York Times, on January 1 2008, ran an article by Nicholas Kulish about homosexuals and Islam in Europe, specifically “Gay Muslims Pack a Dance Floor of their Own,” here. (may require registration or subscription). The article described monthly club night known as “Gayhane” at a disco called SO36 in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin, Germany. The article has a spectacular color picture from the dance floor. The men were said to be of Turkish or Arab background.

I had written about a news story on closeted gay life in Saudi Arabia in April, here.
Of course, this story about gay life among Muslims in Europe stands in stark relief to multiple accounts about despair and disaffection among male Muslims in Europe (particularly reported by Bruce Bawer, author of “A Place at the Table,” in his more recent book “While Europe Slept”). Muslim immigrants in Europe (and Britain) face considerable social pressure to honor ties to their home countries and to send money back home. That is less true in the United States. Christiane Amanpour has reported a lot on this issue on CNN.

I visited Berlin in May 1999 and visited several bars, which resembled bars and discos in the U.S. The largest one was the Connection, which I don’t believe is open now. I met a graduate student from the University of Birmingham in Britain who had been born in Leipzig and “escaped” to Britain while East Germany was still under Communism, and grown up essentially as a “Brit.” I’ve also met people born as Muslims who grew up in the West away from Islam, sometimes raised in other faiths (like Catholic). The Connection Disco had a “basement” in which an “museum” replication of the concentration camps was presented, a concept that might offend many visitors.

In Amsterdam, the bar that I remember well is the Soho (I also visited it in 1999), much like a US disco, with a lounge area visited by a most friendly cat who would sit in people’s laps. (I remember that the Ninth Circle in New York City used to have a “bar cat”). There is a Homomonument at Westermarkt in Amsterdam. This link describes memorials to gay victims of the Holocaust.

Picture: Atlanta Pride Parade from 2004.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Conservative columnist hints that military should go back to "asking": facing "second class citizenship"

Today, Jan. 2, 2008, The Washington Times carried an op-ed by Elaine Donnelly, p A13, “Gays and the military: Where do GOP candidates stand?” The link is here. Ms. Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness. The links for her survey are a bit convoluted, but the starting point seems to be here. The paper survey questions are here.

In general, the Democratic candidates have supported the idea of both repealing "don’t ask don’t tell" and lifting the ban completely, allowing gays to serve “openly” with some set of conduct regulations (like those proposed in Rand Corporations 700 page study in 1993, still available from Amazon, though expensive. It’s called “Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment." (link. ) It’s noteworthy at the outset that in 1993, President Clinton viewed “don’t ask don’t tell” as an advance. Now, it has become perceived as synonymous with the military gay ban itself (especially by the presidential candidates) but it really is not. Donnelly is correct in picking up this fumbled football, but I am concerned that she wants to put the pigskin in the air and head for the endzone.

Now, this op-ed today is the first of a two-part series, and I may have to add more tomorrow. But I want to zero in on one part of the survey, her comments that suggest or imply that we should return to “asking.”

She writes: “We also have Mr. Clinton’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ enforcement regulations, inconsistent with the law, which invite homosexuals to serve if they do not say they are homosexual. Presidents are obliged to enforce laws, but not their predecessors’ administrative policies. If the next president faithfully enforces the law, while dropping the convoluted ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, homosexuals would be deterred from enlisting in the military. They could still serve America in many ways (emphasis added), but the number of homosexual discharges would plummet.”

Actually, there is a bit of nitpicky semantics here. Stanford Law School has a good link on text of the 1993 law here. Bill Clinton’s July 19, 1993 speech text (from Fort McNair) is here.
The DOD administrative policies were, in large part, implemented in Feb. 1994 and may be found on the Stanford site here.
(also visit the Stanford index to all the policy material here.
The bottom line is technically, the services don’t “ask” (they may present a fact sheet making sure that enlistees understand the regulations) but many commands, as SLDN has documented repeatedly, tend to interpret any statement to anyone (even a family member in private) as “homosexual conduct.” Presumably Donnelly would get away from the wiggle room allowed supposedly by the 1994 regulations (allowing servicemembers to go to gay bars or parades). In practice, she probably would go back to “asking”. I recall a bit of a flareup when Newt Gingrich suggested this sometime in the mid 1990s. One fact that is little known is that the Armed forces stopped asking inductees about homosexual orientation during the Vietnam era draft (they had stopped by 1966) but resumed later after abolition of the draft.

I return to Ms. Donnelly’s piece, having digressed. She says that homosexuals “could still serve America in many ways.” That’s my bone to pick. First, what happens if we did go back to a draft? Apparently she discounts that, but discussion on it stays alive (what we have now is effectively a “backdoor draft” – it’s ironic that this piece appears on the same day that Tom Brokaw told Ellen DeGeneres on her show that Americans have not been asked to “sacrifice” for the 9/11-driven war. Second, the military ban was predicated in large part over concerns about “forced intimacy.” But, even though defenders of the ban insist that the military is “different” (and it is in many ways), these sorts of concerns can become malignant: what about firemen, civilians serving in primitive areas (especially Muslim areas) overseas, or teachers who must provide intimate care for disabled students. Isn’t that “forced intimacy”? Would these concerns spill over into some sort of future national service?

I did come of age in a world where freedom was not to be taken for granted, and where everyone understood there was a presumption of individual obligation to participate in defending it. There were many unfair things about this (such as student deferments, or simply the fact that a draft – even Bush’s "backdoor draft" -- enforces “reverse Darwinism”) and there are serious philosophical questions (about involuntary servitude when we consider the draft).

I also realize that when Clinton and others imagined DADT as a benign policy, no one anticipated the effect of the Internet, making private lives “public” and interconnected because of the lure (indirectly at least) of social networking sites, profiles, search engines, blogs, videos, and the like – all of which create issues for the military even outside of the gay ban. Even so, other NATO allies (and even Israel, which views the military as an fundamental part of socialization for both men and women, a point that Rand discusses in detail) are finding that they can devise conduct rules that allow gays and lesbians to serve with some reasonable “discretionary openness.”

Since 9/11, we’ve had reasons to ruminate about what our notions of morality used to be, and the rest of the world watches us. I still remember the legacy of the 50s and 60s: if you did not do your part and serve in the military when called upon to do so, you were less than other people. Freedom could be taken from you, or, if need be, your needs could take a back seat to meeting the needs of others. You were a second-class citizen. Of course, we all know that concept now from the gay marriage debate, but the military issue also helps drive it.

They could still serve America in many ways.” Could they indeed. That’s just not good enough.

Update: Jan. 3

The second part of Ms. Donnelly's piece appeared this morning, Washington Times link here. She talks about what she sees as the deceptiveness of a gender-neutral society where there are no gender-related responsibilities, leading to more women dying in combat.

Conservatives say that they want "equal responsibilities to go with equal rights," and then suddenly they don't want the "equal responsibilities." What was one of the parts of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" (which I read while in the Army in 1969): "Non contradiction." Consistency.

Update: Jan. 20, 2008

Rowan Scarborough has a front-page story in The Washington Times, "Military ouster of gays plunges: 'Don't Ask' still Pentagon Rule, link here.

Update: Feb. 4, 2008

SLDN will have its annual dinner in Washington DC on March 8, 2008. The link with the necessary information for venue and tickets is here.