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Archive for the ‘Gender and Sexuality’ Category



Happy LGBT History Month

Oct2

by: on October 2nd, 2014 | Comments Off

Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity…. It challenges all forms of discrimination in schools and society through the promotion of democratic principles of social justice.

National Association for Multicultural Education, emphasis added

lgbt flag

Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

October is LGBT History Month. It originated when, in 1994, Rodney Wilson, a high school teacher in Missouri, had the idea that a month was needed dedicated to commemorate and teach this history since it has been perennially excluded in the schools. He worked with other teachers and community leaders, and they chose October since public schools are in session, and National Coming Out Day already fell on October 11.

I see this only as a beginning since lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, (LGBTIQ) history is all our history and, therefore, needs to be taught and studied all year every year. Why do I feel this way?


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Homophobia and Anti-Semitism in the Same Breath: The Politics of the Westboro Baptist Church

Sep16

by: on September 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Westboro Baptist Church

Students kiss in front of Westboro Baptist Church protestors at Oberlin College in Ohio. Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

A few years ago toward the end of July when I was serving as Associate Professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, led by their “pastor,” Fred Phelps, mounted protest rallies in three sites in Iowa: Waukee’s Jewish Historical Society, the Iowa State University Campus in Ames, and at the Marshalltown Community Theater, which was performing the play “The Laramie Project” profiling the life and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Phelps (before his recent death) and his followers travel around the country protesting funerals of fallen soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual). They claim that these deaths are God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Phelps is also notorious for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a brutal homophobic assault.

On their websites godhatesfags.com & jewskilledjesus.com, Phelps and company directed their Iowa protests against “…the Jews…[who] arrested, falsely accused, prosecuted and then sentenced [Jesus] to death…” and protested Iowa because “God hates Iowa” for being “the first to begin giving $ to little [homosexual] perverts for no other reason than they brag about being little perverts.”

I wrote an editorial critical of Phelps and his followers in our local newspaper. Apparently, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’s daughter, read my piece, and she wrote me an email message before arriving in our town:

 Hello Professor.

Glad to see we got your attention with our upcoming good fig hunt in Iowa. You approached the issue with a veil on your heart, blind eyes, a hard heart, stopped up ears, and full of guile – because that’s how you – and all the rest of the apostate, reprobate Jews – roll. God did that.  His righteous judgments are wonderful!

PS:  Shall we put you down as one of the naughty figs?  You are definitely not sounding or acting like a good fig. I’m just sayin’.

Shirley Phelps-Roper


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Joan Rivers Was No Gay Icon: An Open Letter to the Gay Community

Sep15

by: Nicholas Boeving on September 15th, 2014 | 12 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons/David Shankbone

Icon. We throw the word around, but do we really know what it means? It found its way into the English language from the original Greek word used for likeness or image (eikṓn). In other words, icons are reflections of what a given group of people hold to be sacred. Given the recent passage of Joan Rivers, and the bewailment of her death as the loss of a great gay icon, I think it’s time to have a frank discussion of just what it is we DO hold sacred in the gay community…and why. We do not ask ourselves this question often enough.

Some have expressed bewilderment as to why Joan Rivers even attained the status of “icon” in the gay community in the first place. To understand this, you must first understand, psychologically speaking, some of the purpose(s) humor serves. Both Plato and Aristotle (yes, they did agree on some things) say that we laugh at the wretched, the fat, the miserable and poor because it asserts our own superiority. Sound familiar? Thought so. Going further, psychiatrist George Eman Vaillant categorized humor as a specialized defense mechanism; in other words, some things are too painful to confront or too terrible to talk about so we just deflect against them.

But let us ask ourselves: just what is it that we’re defending against?


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A New Peer Youth Emerges in Transforming the World

Sep9

by: on September 9th, 2014 | Comments Off

LBGTQ activists protest

Credit: Creative Commons/kaybee07

I’ve often heard of parents abusing and even disowning young people when they suspect or when a young person “comes out” to them as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans*, though except for movies and television episodes, I have never actually witnessed this. That is, until this week when I watched a YouTube video titled “How not to react when your child tells you he is gay.”

The video depicts what looks like an “intervention” by both birth parents and step-mother of twenty-year-old Daniel Pierce who they suspect is gay. When called into the living room, Daniel placed his phone on the “record” mode. After Daniel confirmed his sexuality, his mother stated, “I have known since you were a young boy that you were gay,” But then she accused him of making “a choice” by deciding to be gay.

The two women invoked the name of God and scripture, which soon spun into the three “adults” collectively unloading a verbal tirade and then physically abusing Daniel. They eventually tell him he is no longer welcomed, and demand that he move out of the house as soon as possible.

I became speechless, mouth open with no sounds audible, upset, literally shaking, and tears pooling in my eyes. At the conclusion of the video, images of other youth appeared on the YouTube screen. The youth had apparently filmed their reactions. I clicked on one after the other, and as I watched, my depression and outrage softened by the remarkable peer community that immediately and passionately came to Daniel’s defense.

What I witnessed when Daniel’s family of chance failed him was his new peer family of choice stepped in to lift him over their shoulders high above the din and the cruelty. All responders showed true and honest empathy and imagined themselves walking in Daniel’s tattered shoes.


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Letter to Pope Francis on Obliterating the Gender Scripts

Sep3

by: on September 3rd, 2014 | Comments Off

Pope Francis

Credit: Creative Commons/Aleteia Image Department

Dear Pope Francis, Your Holiness,

Word is out that you are intending to travel to the United States in September 2015 to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where you will speak at that city’s commemoration of World Family Day. Your arrival here has sparked excitement by United States Catholics and non-Catholics alike who have been encouraged by your efforts to reform and to heal the Church from past policies and actions that have had the effort of turning people away from what has been viewed by many as misinterpretations of scripture and as a massive covering over of sexual abuses.

As a non-Catholic myself, I hope during your talk in Philadelphia you will discuss an inclusive concept of “family” by acknowledging diversity in terms of human sexuality, gender expression, and the multidimensional varieties of human relationships. Unfortunately, your predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in my estimation, failed in this regard.

For example, in January 2011, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a New Year’s speech to diplomats from approximately 180 countries, declaring that marriage for same-sex couples “threatens human dignity and the future of humanity itself.” And in 2008, during Benedict’s end-of-the-year Vatican address, he asserted that humanity needs to “listen to the language of creation” to realize the intended roles of man and woman. He warned of the “blurring” of the natural distinctions between males and females, and called for humanity to protect itself from self-destruction. The Pope compared behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work.”


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Non-Negotiable Rights

Aug20

by: on August 20th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

gender roles equality

Are men and women really different? Does it even matter? Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Haabet

Have you noticed how easily people fall into passionate disagreement over points that matter far less than the heat they generate might suggest? I see it all the time. Last week my blog shared ideas and observations en route to speaking at the Women’s International Study Center’s inaugural symposium. The Symposium was excellent. Everyone was so smart, thoughtful, and articulate, I thought the building might levitate. But even with that much brainpower in the room, two points of this kind impressed me.

Are women better? Some speakers suggested that equal rights for women were justified by the differences women would make: that surely, women would bring different values and energies to workplaces, institutions, and the halls of power, and that would be a great improvement for everyone. These differences often turn on conventional gender types: women would be more collaborative, less belligerent. They would bring a softness and kindness. They would value relationships more and competition less.

Maybe. Maybe not.


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Baptist Pastor Inflicts Grief upon the Grieving

Aug18

by: on August 18th, 2014 | Comments Off

“The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

Biblical scholar Matthew Henry interprets this biblical passage as one in which, “The priests were solemnly to bless the people in the name of the Lord…while he mercifully forgives our sins, supplies our wants, consoles the heart, and prepares us by his grace for eternal glory….”

Pastor T. W. Jenkins welcomes guests with these comforting words from Numbers 6:24-26 when contacting his website for the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Tampa, Florida. Jenkins explains his Church as “Christ-centered and biblically-based…[and] offers over 30 ministries, all of which are open to visitors searching for a spirit-filled place to call home.” Well, this may hold true, except if your family wishes to assemble a funeral service when the deceased man happens to have been married in life to another man. In that case, this biblical command no longer applies, and the pastor declares it null and void.

During the wake of Julion Evans who had succumbed to amyloidosis (a rare disease of a certain protein building up in bodily organs), his mother, Julie Atwood, and his husband and life partner for over 17 years, Kendall Capers, found no hope after receiving word from Jenkins that he had cancelled Evans’s funeral after reading a newspaper obituary that Evans was married to another man, that Capers was the “surviving husband.” Jenkins told Atwood that conducting the funeral at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church would be “blasphemous.”

Explaining his decision, Jenkins asserted: “I try not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God and have to stand upon my principles.”

Well, Jenkins, in your refusal to conduct the funeral service, you have, indeed, condemned Evans’s so-called “lifestyle.” Actually, I never really understood why it is that heterosexual people and couples live their lives, while those of us who love and partner with someone of the same sex lead sorted “lifestyles.” Be that as it may, Jenkins has the absolute right “to stand upon [his] principles” as he defines them, though he would do well to take note of an action taken by another branch of Baptists.


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We, Thee & Me

Aug12

by: on August 12th, 2014 | Comments Off

I’ve been researching women in the arts and culture for a presentation next week at the Women’s International Study Center’s inaugural symposium. There’s ample information online, and it all tells an unsurprising story (if you’ve been keeping your eyes open).

Credit: Creative Commons

There’s more arts work by women out in the world, and also more work that depicts women as objects for others’ pleasure or service. Compared to a few decades ago, there are significantly more women in galleries, museums, orchestras, theaters, and so on, but nothing like a proportional representation of women in the population. At the upper levels of prestige institutional culture, women are scarce: one conducts a major orchestra, a handful head large dance companies and museums, fewer than half as many get museum and upscale gallery shows as men, etc. There’s more activism all the time, with organizations in every cultural sector working on inclusion, representation, and education to even the score. (There’s a good selection of links at WomenArts.)

Perusing the numbers, my mind leaps to a black-and-white conclusion that men, the gatekeepers, keep women out. But a report done a few years ago on gender bias in theater keeps nagging at me. Some of the findings illustrate the logic of entrenched bias. There are more male playwrights and they submit more scripts, so ipso facto, more scripts by men will be produced. To change that, you have to tinker with the supply side as well as the decision-making process: how to get more women to write and submit scripts — that isn’t exactly rocket science. In fact (albeit more gradually than the pace of change I would like to see), more women become active in each cultural field every year.

But the finding that nags me is this; in a blind study of scripts (the same script was submitted to comparable theaters, half under a man’s name, half under a woman’s), women’s plays were ranked lower in terms of quality, economic prospects, and audience response. The thing is the lower rankings were delivered by women. That’s right. Female artistic directors and literary managers ranked the script lower when a woman’s name was attached, while their male counterparts ranked the woman’s script the same as the man’s.


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My Research Is My Therapy

Aug2

by: on August 2nd, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons

While contemplating the topic and eventual focus of my doctoral dissertation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I was having difficulty deciding since so many potential directions and questions excited me. Knowing me as well as she did, my major professor offered me some guidance.

The seemingly simple but deeply profound words she uttered placed, for me, the scope of my eventual research into poignant and profound prospective driving my research agenda to this very day.

“Your research is your therapy,” she told me. Though framed as a declarative statement, she was posing in these words what I understood as a number of underlying questions. By implication, what I heard her saying was, “There are many potential directions and research questions for you to investigate. What directions and questions will challenge you to change and to grow, not merely as a researcher, not merely intellectually and academically, but also, and very importantly, personally, spiritually, ethically, emotionally, psychologically?”

I listened to my professor’s words, “Your research is your therapy,” and as I did, the bottlenecks in my mind unclogged and tears welled in my eyes. Visions of my childhood swirled in my memories settling upon a five-year-old self seated upon my maternal grandfather, Simon (Szymon) Mahler’s, lap in our cramped Bronxville, New York apartment.

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“Can We Forgive You?”: A Manifesto

Jul13

by: on July 13th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

Though I have contemplated writing this for many years, I have continually put it off because it represents thoughts and feelings I never really wanted to make visible. I believed that if I relegated them to the recesses of my consciousness, over time, they would simply evaporate sparing me the task of putting pen to paper (or more appropriately, key strokes to computer screen). But no matter how hard I have tried to let go of the pain and hurt, nonetheless, these thoughts and feelings keep resurfacing. Maybe now if I write them down, I can let go.

Credit: Creative Commons

It began for me back in 1987 when I first learned that one of my favorite writers and personalities had died in France at the relatively young age of 63. James Baldwin, essayist, novelist, poet, playwright, activist, hero to many including myself, expatriated to France where he lived much of his later life. He was attracted to the cultural and political progressivism of the Left Bank, where he could escape the pressures of Jim Crow racism and the enormity of heterosexism in the United States, and where his creative energy could soar. His numerous works directly tackled issues of race, sexuality, and socioeconomic class with an unflinching and inescapable honesty, and with a clear indictment of the corrupt systems of power that dominated his native land.

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