Friday, February 28, 2014

Why Gay Rights Victories in Arizona are Small but Important Steps to Greater Equality

by Nomad

Arizona has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The state legislature under the thrall of the Tea Party Republicans attracted a lot of negative attention from the whole country.
But those events should be balanced by the good news from Tempe, Arizona. 
Altogether it highlights a larger question: Isn't it time that the federal government put a stop to this state-by-state nonsense once and for all? 

The Other Side of Arizona
After a couple of weeks of really bad press coming out of Arizona, it looks as though the cloud is lifting. After the GOP-led State Legislature drafted a controversial "religious freedom" law which allowed gay discrimination based on "sincerely-held beliefs," the eyes of the nation were focused on Arizona. Would the governor would actually approve of the law?

Human Rights and gay rights groups led calls for a veto, and later they were joined by corporations like tech giant Apple joined in calls to walk away from the bill. On the other side were various religious organizations, right wing pundits and of course, the Tea party.
With all that pressure, Governor Brewer wisely decided against the law.
Now there's a little more good news to report.

Reporter Dianna Nanez  from the Arizona Republic reports that Tempe City Council unanimously approved an anti-discrimination ordinance that will secure broad civil-rights protections for gay and transgender residents.
Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell and other council members agree that the State legislature is "out of touch" with voters.
With a vote of 7 to O in support of the measure, Mitchell said that this approval represents just “another action that shows we don’t discriminate in our community. We’re moving in the right direction in terms of equality.”
The city ordinance bans discrimination in housing, employment and accommodations at restaurants and hotels, but includes exceptions for religious organizations and social clubs.
Businesses or individuals that discriminate in Tempe on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, gender, religion, national origin, familial status, age, disability and U.S. military veteran status face a civil sanction with a fine up to $2,500.
With a population at around 170,000, Tempe is home of Arizona State University and is the headquarters and executive office of two Fortune 500 companies US Airways (formerly America West Airlines) and Insight Enterprises.
Tempe also has a reputation as being a gay- friendly town.
It was among the first U.S. municipalities to have an openly gay mayor, Neil Giuliano, who left office a decade ago after four terms as mayor.
Said Mayor Mitchell after the vote:
“We were one of the first cities in the state that provided domestic benefits (for same-sex couples),” We want to make sure that businesses and people coming to Arizona know that we are working together for equality. ... I don’t tolerate discrimination ... and I’m really proud to work with a council that feels the same way.”
 It just goes to show you, I suppose, that you can't judge a whole state by its legislators. Nevertheless, like 29 other states, it is still legal in Arizona to fire someone because of sexual orientation. So there's still a lot of work to do to improve the state's image.  

Chasm between the Psychologists and the Law
If state laws regarding homosexuality are, at best, a mixed back, the article also points out that gays and lesbians are not protected under federal anti-discrimination laws.
This begs the question is why not? Especially, since psychologist have now classified homosexuality as an inherent condition and "a variation of the sexual function."
According to studies, it is a choice only insofar as self-acceptance is a choice. You see, there is no proof that anybody can choose their sexual preferences like shoes and they certainly don't choose to be gay to offend religious sensibilities. Moreover, despite what people like Marcus Bachmann would have you believe, homosexuals can be- or should be- "cured" any more than blacks could- if they really wanted- change into whites. (The best the gays  can do is hide by wearing masks and accept second-class status. But then that's perfectly ok by conservatives and Russians.)

In light of the hard science on homosexuality,  there seems to be no justification for allowing the discrimination of the gay minority.
And yet, without a federal anti-discrimination law protecting gay citizens, state laws like Senate Bill 1062 in Arizona will continue to be drafted on behalf of religious conservative pressure groups. Tea Party Republicans will go on promoting ignorance, prejudice, fear and social discord for their political gain.

As Adam Winkler Professor of Law, at  UCLA writes:
That's why we need national legislation barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It's time for Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.

This year will be the twentieth anniversary of the first proposal to revise federal anti-discrimination law to protect gays and lesbians in the same way federal law protects racial groups and the different sexes from discrimination in hiring and promotion. Introduced in every Congress since 1994, ENDA has never been able to make it through both houses of Congress.
Similar legislation has been introduced without passage since 1974.
With the incredible changes in public support for same-sex marriage, it would seem as though the time couldn't be better for a renewed effort.  If not, we will see even more insidious attempts to legalize discrimination. This is not an impossible goal but it may require some drastic house-cleaning in Congress. 

Where Self-Acceptance Mean Promotion
With its backward majority rights approach to its gay population, Russia has shown itself to be a rather backward place to live.
However, there are eight states with nearly exactly the same laws. 
Eight U.S. states, and several cities and counties, have some version of what we call “no promo homo” provisions.
That's right, the same laws that the US has been criticizing Russia for.
It is Utah that prohibits “the advocacy of homosexuality.” Arizona prohibits portrayals of homosexuality as a “positive alternative life-style” and has legislatively determined that it is inappropriate to even suggest to children that there are “safe methods of homosexual sex.” Alabama and Texas mandate that sex-education classes emphasize that homosexuality is “not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.” Moreover, the Alabama and Texas statutes mandate that children be taught that “homosexual conduct is a criminal offense” even though criminalizing private, consensual homosexual conduct has been unconstitutional since 2003.
The Washington Post traces the origin of the  discriminatory laws back to a time when homosexuality was considered a illness, if not physically then morally.
The underlying ideology of these statutes is the same: Everybody should be heterosexual, and homosexuality is per se bad. This ideology has never rested on any kind of evidence that homosexuality is a bad “choice” that the state ought to discourage. The ideology is a prejudice-laden legacy of a fading era.
Perhaps that's true but it's taking an awful long time for legislators in these eight states to follow the rest of society into the modern age. After all, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) labeled discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation as irrational... in 1988

When Acceptance is a Matter of Life and Death
That era might be fading, not fast enough to safe the lives of gay teenagers who kill themselves every year. 
A study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that the gay, lesbian and bisexual young adults and teens at the highest risk of attempting suicide and having some other health problems are ones who reported a high level of rejection by their families as a result of their sexual orientation.

The researchers discovered that young people who experienced high levels of rejection were nearly 8.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide. In addition, Compared with adolescents whose families may have felt uncomfortable with a gay kid, but were neutral or only mildly rejecting, they also found that the same group were nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression and almost 3.5 times more likely to use illegal drugs or engage in unprotected sex. The one deciding factor was tolerance and acceptance by family and society as a whole.
Caitlin Ryan, director of Adolescent Health Initiatives at the Cesar Chavez Institute at San Francisco State University, says:
"Parents thought that by trying to change them, that would make them happy. But actually it put their children at great risk When we shared that with parents, they were shocked."
It is sadly ironic that the psychology stress that gay teens endure are too often cited as proof that homosexuality is a pathology condition, something the APA discounted long ago. What legitimate excuse can any parent, brother or sister use to justify turning their back on their own child?  This is the other side of family values that conservatives don't like to consider.
*   *   *
In the last fifty years, gay culture has gone from invisibility, to a rebellious (often considered subversive) subculture.  As Karla Jay wrote back in the 70s, the implied social contract was fairly basic:  If you want to exist, or survive, then you must never live and love openly. You must always understand that you are being tolerated but not accepted.
"As long as we hid in the darkness of bars, private clubs or discreet saloons,... as long as we didn't get so bold as to show our faces in the light of day, heterosexuals permitted our subculture to exist.
With the threat of ostracism or worse, heterosexuals forced us to hide our identities, to wear masks.
In the past, if any gay citizen dared to live without the emotional burden of that mask, the threat of punishment by mainstream culture was always just below the surface. 
But something else new happened that has taken many people by surprise.  

The gay subculture of this generation has desired/requested/demanded to become a genuine part of mainstream culture and on an equal level. (Nothing could, after all, be more mainstream as joining the army, being a football player and an over-the-top wedding.)
The ironic part is that, whether anybody was aware of it or not, gays have always been a part of mainstream culture. It has reflected it and it has added to it. That was true even when there was a definite sense that that mainstream culture was anti-gay at its core. 
However, today it is becoming more and more clear that those core mainstream values have changed in some extraordinary and  impressive ways. Many countries, including Russia, seem incapable of adapting in such a way. Gay pride is therefore a pride in America too. 
As we saw last week, as far as gay equality and gay culture being absorbed into mainstream culture, it is still a work in progress.


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