GAY TIMES July 2005

Terry Sanderson’s new autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

When you put the patients in charge of the asylum – as has happened with the American government – you get an awful lot of irrational actions and decisions.

The man in charge of this mayhem, George W. Bush, made the issue of gay marriage into a central plank of his election strategy. The idea behind this was to bribe the other nutcases who had, hitherto, been kept under control by the rules and regulations, (known as the Constitution of the United States). These rules and regulations, that were originally designed to protect the vulnerable and keep the mighty in check, are now being challenged – particularly the one that separates religion from the state.

You see, many of the American psychos presently running the asylum are suffering from religious mania and its accompanying delusions. They believe in angels, demons, Armageddon – but mostly they believe that gay people are the wilful spawn of the devil and must be punished.

This mental illness is, it seems, infectious and hatred of gay people is growing in America. Discrimination and acts of petty prejudice are becoming commonplace. It seems that the loonies have been freed from any self-restraint in this respect by their great leader, who’s every word and deed suggests that it is OK to make life miserable for gay people, to insult them, take their rights away and generally blame them for all the ills of society.

Looking at the American press, it’s clear that up and down that enormous land, nasty, spiteful, petty discrimination is burgeoning. Every tin pot religious fruitcake now feels empowered to heap abuse on gay people.

One of the larger organisations that it is hyperactive in its homophobia is the American Family Association. The AFA has demanded that the food manufacturer Kraft drop its corporate sponsorship of the Gay Games in Chicago.

Kathryn Hooks, AFA’s “director of media” said: “We believe that many of Kraft’s customers would be offended to know a portion of their finances from Kraft purchases is being used to sponsor something they oppose, and we also believe Kraft Corporation would also want to hear from its customers.” The AFA is calling on all its claimed 500,000 members to make a personal call to Kraft and “tell them to pull their financial support from the 2006 Gay Games.”

The AFA regularly calls for boycotts on companies that show even the slightest bit of gay-friendliness. (The latest is the Ford Motor Company which has spousal benefits for gay employees). It harasses companies that advertise on such shows as Will and Grace and Desperate Housewives.

Fortunately, Kraft are standing firm (at the time of writing) with its sponsorship of the games.

In Buffalo, New York, meanwhile, The Jewish Review newspaper refuses to carry ads for the local Gay Men’s Chorus because “it might influence young people to experiment with a sexual lifestyle that could be harmful to their health.”

Jewish Review editor, Rita Weiss, told The Buffalo News: “On a very practical basis, there is the possibility of influencing some young people whose sexual development is not yet complete. They could get AIDS. They could try out a lifestyle that is life-threatening.”

Meanwhile, in Congress, the right-wingers are busy thinking up ever-new and more outrageous legislation aimed at restricting gay rights and defaming gay people. With echoes of Section 28, The Hill newspaper reported that Republican Representative Walter Jones has launched proposals for a law that would restrict access to children’s books that feature gay characters.

The paper reports: “After reading news articles about a 7-year old girl borrowing a children’s book from her school library about two men marrying, Rep, Jones began to craft legislation that would give parents a significant role in reviewing literature before it can be accessed by young people.”

The book that caused the fuss was called King and King, which starts out with a queen urging her son to marry and ends with the prince tying the knot with another prince. The book, which is advertised as for 4-8 year olds, shows two men kissing, their lips hidden behind a heart.

The book also triggered a fanatical reaction in Oklahoma, where the state Legislature threatened to withhold funding for libraries if they did not remove books about gay people from the children’s shelves. Republican Representative Sally Kern said: “Restricting children’s access to books is common sense. It doesn’t risk unconstitutional infringement of free speech and still respects the rights of parents and families.” (But try restricting access to other dangerous books like, say, The Bible and see what the reaction would be.)

In Massachusetts – the only state to have gay marriage – an outfit called The Article 8 Alliance claimed that “schools have become more active in pushing homosexuality with students”. The group claims that criticism of homosexuals has been made just about impossible by the politically correct authorities, although Brian Camenker, the director of the group, had no problem getting his own opinion into the public arena – including that “Our Legislature and governor continue to support gay clubs in our public schools, which draw young people into this dangerous and destructive lifestyle.”

In Washington, Catholic colleges and universities were under fire from the ultra-right Cardinal Newman Society for “giving honorary degrees to and inviting pro-gay and pro-women’s rights advocates to speak.”

One of those dissenters who upset the Newman gang was a liberal theologian called Sister Margaret Farley, who teaches at Yale University Divinity School. She delivered the commencement address at Saint Xavier University in Illinois. She was immediately denounced by the Cardinal Newman thugs. “Farley has attacked Catholic teaching on sexual ethics, asserting that homosexuality is not disordered, homosexual and heterosexual relations that are not open to procreation can be ethical, and homosexual marriage should be allowed. She has misled Catholics and caused scandal by claiming support for her arguments within Catholic teaching despite her clear dissent from the Vatican and the bishops.”

Also on the Newman hit list was former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “As mayor of New York and later as US Senate candidate, Giuliani was very public about his support for abortion rights and special rights for homosexuals. He endorsed domestic partnerships and took steps to extend special benefits to gay and lesbian couples employed by New York.”

In Kansas (and no, Dorothy doesn’t live there any more – in fact, she wouldn’t be welcome, what with her dubious friends and all), the dreaded religious nutcase Rev Fred Phelps has created a storm by objecting to a local school awarding a prize to a child who wrote an essay about the gay comedienne Ellen DeGeneres. A flier produced by the Rev Fred’s whacky Westboro Baptist Church denounces the school – Englesby Intermediate School – as “a homo-fascist regime”. And that’s one of the less extreme pieces of invective on the leaflet. The school awaits with dread Phelps’s threatened visit. He has also threatened to picket the Lexington High School’s graduation day because, he said, the school recognised such groups as the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Over in Dayton, Ohio, the Gay People’s Chronicle reported on a spate of “pretty police” style agent provocateur arrests of gay people. Gay men are also reportedly “pulled over” if they have rainbow stickers on their cars. The paper says: “A complaint filed with Metro Park police by Dale Rogers says that he and his partner, John Adams, were pulled over by park ranger Erich Witterich and ‘detained for 45 minutes to an hour’ and harassed because of gay pride and anti-Bush stickers on their car.” The police officer told them: “The bumpers stickers have got to come off.”

In Maryland, the Advocate reports that “Christian and conservative activists are pushing to overturn four bills that broaden gay rights”. The first two bills – to establish domestic partnership registration and to grant tax exemption to gay couples who make their partners co-owners of property – have already been vetoed by the right-wing governor, Robert Ehrlich, but the other two – extending hate-crimes legislation to gays and another requiring schools to report bullying incidents – have passed the first stages. The religious opponents now have to gather 51,000 signatures in order to have these laws put to a referendum, effectively putting them into mothballs for a long time. The Republicans made clear that “we cannot and will not let up”, and nor will they until the measures are thrown out.

Then there was the Catholic priest in St Paul, Minnesota who, according to The Billings Gazette, “denied communion to 100 people, saying they could not receive the sacrament because they wore rainbow-coloured sashes to show their support for gay Catholics… Last year, some conservative groups in St Paul kneeled in church aisles to block sash-wearers from receiving communion.”

Mind you, if you ask me, the loonies are doing gay Catholics a favour by kicking them out of the club. Who wants to be a member of an organisation that hates you?

This is just a small sample of recent displays of the pure, unadulterated homophobia that Bush has unleashed with his irresponsible election campaign.

Thankfully this isn’t the whole story. America is a much-divided nation, and there is still a sizeable rump of liberalism in some parts of the country.

But what the American experience illustrates very clearly is that gay rights are fragile. We cannot take them for granted. Our gay brothers and sisters over the water thought that progress to complete equality was inevitable and unstoppable. They have been disabused of that idea in a very unpleasant way.

We should always bear that in mind for ourselves.

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