Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
As you know part of my contribution as a guest blogger has been the fact that I write much from personal experience. This particular blog is one that I’ve thought about for awhile and have had some trepidation in writing because as you will see it touches on a very sensitive topic for most males. As a boy coming of age in the 1950’s one of the unvoiced, but omnipresent topics was male homosexuality. For a male growing up in that period, among the most upsetting epithets you could be called was queer. This was especially disturbing for those entering puberty, which in the 50’s context was coming into the macho essence of your own self worth. If you were queer you were deemed to be less of a male, a wimp, a fag and most essentially a loathsome pervert who did disgusting things with other males. People were bullied and beaten at school while being called degrading names. Even though I was always big for my age, I was a gentle and sensitive boy and while when attacked I would always fight back, I would be throwing punches through tears of frustration and rage at the injustice of it all. As I cried and fought, all those demeaning epithets would be hurled at me by the jeering bystanders. If I had the temerity to be winning, then other boys would attack me from behind. Finally, a teacher or Administrator would break it up, many times though my rescuer would sneer at the fact that my crying was “unmanly”.
At the same time in the 50’s, stories would occasionally appear in the papers and TV, of police raiding homosexual nightclubs and arresting the participants for engaging in lewd acts. These stories were always couched in vague terminology since homosexuality was such a sensitive topic, indeed most discussions of sexuality in general were not considered decent topics for open discussion in the media. Even though my parents were very open about sexuality for the time and I was told the “facts of life” at a young age, they never discussed homosexuality with me. To be honest I never asked because my father was what you would call a “Man’s Man”, or “hale fellow well met”. He was large and had a history as a brawler in his youth. I wanted to be like him have his respect, so although I could ask him anything about sex, I never asked him about homosexuality. Taboo subjects interested me. The mystique surrounding homosexuality perked my interest. Through reading and from Freud, I tried to get a handle on what this strange “perversion” was and why it was considered so bad that it needed the intervention of law enforcement. My attraction was always towards women, but I wanted to understand why some men (and some women) were attracted to the same sex. There simply wasn’t enough information at the time to give me any sort of understanding and Freud’s position was among the least helpful. What I did know is that having been called queer and fag, knowing how it hurt, my empathy for those who were homosexual and how they were treated increased. It is the question of do you side with the oppressors, or the oppressed? What moved me to finally write this piece was a story out of Louisiana in the Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/louisiana-police-sting-gay-men-anti-sodomy-law_n_3668116.html It is about the Sheriff’s Office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that has arrested at least a dozen men since 2011 for agreeing to have consensual sex with undercover police officers. What makes this case so bizarre for these times, yet so familiar when its law enforcement dealing with homosexuality, is that they were arrested under a law that had been declared unconstitutional?
“In all of the cases, the men were arrested under the state’s anti-sodomy law, which was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.
“Technically invalid yet still on the books, the state’s “Crime Against Nature” law prohibits “unnatural carnal copulation by a human being with another of the same-sex or opposite-sex or with an animal” along with “solicitation by a human being of another with the intent to engage in any unnatural carnal copulation for compensation,” according to Louisiana legislature.
“This is a law that is currently on the Louisiana books, and the sheriff is charged with enforcing the laws passed by our Louisiana Legislature,” Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “Whether the law is valid is something for the courts to determine, but the sheriff will enforce the laws that are enacted.”
However, the Advocate also revealed that none of these cases had been prosecuted by District Attorney Hillar Moore III, whose office could find no evidence of any crime being committed by any of the arrested men.”
Obviously, District Attorney Moore had more common sense than the Sheriff’s Office that formulated the “sting”. The statement by Mr. Hicks is thoroughly disingenuous to say the least. Knowing the “law on the books” was unconstitutional they did it anyway as their way of harassing gay men and most probably because of their own distaste for homosexuality. Before SCOTUS rulings such as Lawrence v. Texas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_v._Texas , all over this country the police were harassing members of the LGBT community. Some of this harassment was done because of the predominant religious mores of the particular community and some was done because by nature many police officers and District Attorneys in the U.S. see themselves as macho defenders of justice and more importantly public morals.
Even today when being Gay has been favorably portrayed in the media, when there are beloved Gay celebrities and when SCOTUS has ruled in favor of Gay Marriage, there are many who are horrified by the notion of homosexuality and consider it evil. Many of these people are in positions of power today and the vileness, to me at least; of their statements railing against the notion of Gay Rights proliferate even though those rights are now being recognized as Constitutional guarantees. Below are some links that will give you an idea of the amount of anti-gay bigotry that is hysterically increasing in the face of this country becoming far more accepting of people’s inherent right to their sexual preference.
There are many more quotations available, but let me point out that two of those links refer to people who were contenders for the GOP Presidential nomination and other was from a sitting Supreme Court Justice. Clearly the battle for the human rights of the LBGT community is far from over, even though much progress has been made. The fact is there are many in the United States that for religious reasons, personal prejudice and preference will keep battling against what seems to be a rising tide. I write this to emphasize that it is not time to rest in this issue which to me has an importance far beyond just the issue of who consenting adults have sex with. I have written before about the threat that religion of the extreme fundamentalist stripe creates towards the idea of democracy. http://jonathanturley.org/2013/07/05/morsi-democracy-and-problem-with-fundamentalist-politics/ . This blowback by religionists is taking place in many regions of the world.
“MOSCOW — A new law banning “homosexual propaganda” in Russia is raising concerns about the state of human rights in a country already notorious for silencing dissent.
The legislation is vague but its intent is clear: It is now “illegal to spread information about non-traditional sexual behavior” to minors (under 18), and there are hefty fines for those who disobey. Foreigners are also subject to fines and can be deported.” http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/07/27/19699629-homosexual-propaganda-law-signals-latest-russian-crackdown?lite
This crackdown in Russia is now being pushed to further extremes and affects visitors there:
“In an even wider crackdown in Russia over expressions of homosexuality, gay athletes and fans will be prohibited from displays of affection and the wearing of pro-homosexual rainbow pins and badges during the 2014 Olympics. Violators face steep fines and jail time, foreigners will face similar penalties plus deportation.” http://www.catholic.org/sports/story.php?id=51935
Much of this Russian zeal to crackdown on homosexuals stems from pressure coming from the Russian Orthodox Church upon Putin and other Russian officialdom. In post Communist Russia the Orthodox Church has been a major player and has undergone a tremendous resurgence. It has definitely been an important political player and Putin et. al. have courted their support. The Russian Orthodox Church probably outdoes the Catholic Church in its opposition to homosexuality. However, homophobia in Russia has a long history and in 1933 Stalin also came down hard on homosexuals and led one of his characteristic purges.
“In 1933, Joseph Stalin added Article 121 to the entire Soviet Union criminal code, which made male homosexuality a crime punishable by up to five years in prison with hard labor. The precise reason for Article 121 is in some dispute among historians. The few official government statements made about the law tended to confuse homosexuality with pedophilia and was tied up with a belief that homosexuality was only practiced among fascists or the aristocracy. The law remained intact until after the dissolution of the Soviet Union; it was repealed in 1993.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communism_and_homosexuality
On Friday Professor Turley even posted a blog about the situation in Russia. http://jonathanturley.org/2013/08/02/russian-gays-forced-to-drink-urine-and-beaten-as-part-of-cure-by-nationalist-thugs/
Another example of “legal” homophobia around the world are the attacks on homosexuals by various African Governments and the draconian penalties for being homosexual that are being imposed:
“More than two-thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing homosexual acts, and despite accounting for a significant percentage of new infections in many countries, men who have sex with men tend to be left out of the HIV response.” http://www.irinnews.org/report/87793
As we can see there is still significant oppression of homosexuals around the world and I haven’t even gotten into the dangerous situations in many other countries for those who don’t meet the standard heterosexual criteria. In the U.S. Russia’s anti-homosexual laws have drawn praise from a source that seems a surprise, but then again maybe not a surprise at all:
“As the hub of the Soviet Union, Russia was reviled for rights abuses by many U.S. conservatives during the Cold War. Now some are voicing support and admiration as Russian authorities crack down on gay-rights activism. The latest step drawing praise from social conservatives is a bill signed into law Sunday by President Vladimir Putin that would impose hefty fines for holding gay pride rallies or providing information about the gay community to minors.
“You admire some of the things they’re doing in Russia against propaganda,” said Austin Ruse, president of the U.S.-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. “On the other hand, you know it would be impossible to do that here.” Ruse, whose institute is seeking accreditation at the United Nations, plans to travel to Russia this summer to meet with government officials and civic leaders. “We want to let them know they do in fact have support among American NGOs (non-governmental organizations) on social issues,” he said.
Among others commending Russia’s anti-gay efforts was Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.”Russians do not want to follow America’s reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth,” LaBarbera said on his website.
In a sign of Russia’s evolving stature among some U.S. social conservatives, the Illinois-based World Congress of Families plans to hold its eighth international conference at the Kremlin’s Palace of Congresses in Moscow next year. Past conferences in Europe, Mexico and Australia have brought together opponents of abortion and same-sex marriage from dozens of countries.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/01/russia-anti-gay-bill_n_3530050.html
My premise is that the battle for the right to be of different sexual orientation is a subset of the battle to impose a religious based morality on people under the color of law. The issue of Gay rights is just one aspect of this threat. It has assumed almost a center stage in the battle to theocratize governments because for males all over the world, the idea of not being “man enough” hits at the core of their being. I reject the whole concept that a male’s self worth should be tied up in his sexual preferences and experiences. Many who have known me view me in macho terms. As the son of a “man’s man” I learned how to interact with other males and can talk sports, cars and women with the best of them. There is a swagger to my walk and with my height and large head many friends called and call me “Big Mike”. I played many sports and while never a good athlete I was competent as a player. Those who really know me best though see my more sensitive, feminine and in many ways better side. I’m a bit of a gossip; I love Broadway Musicals; loved Judy Garland and Peter Allen and I cry copiously in both joy and sorrow. Yes those are clichés used regarding Gay men, but these clichés apply to me as well.
I believe that for the human race finally to learn to live together peacefully and harmoniously we need to learn to stop making these distinctions about what is the natural state for perhaps ten percent of all of humans and indeed animals. Our sexual drives are complex and the need to satisfy our sexual urges is what drives us to interact with others. Sexuality needs to be viewed in its true sense as a spectrum of responses humans make in the search for pleasure and fulfillment. A good part of sexuality is curiosity and indeed one of the reasons humans have progressed so far is that we have an insatiable curiosity. This leads me to my own confession which I alluded to in the title and in my opening of this blog. In the 60’s and in the early 70’s I was an active participant in what was known as the sexual revolution. For the homosexual community the opening battle for their rights could be said to have occurred in the Stonewall Riots. I had many gay friends and acquaintances when those protests began on June 28th 1969. I even knew some who directly participated. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots
When news of the protests reached the media I cried in joy at the unity in fighting back against police repression and the corruption it engendered. In the following days I shared the sense of triumph coming from those protests with my Gay friends. To me looking back this was the opening shot of the fight for Gay freedom. Since I was so openly a supporter of freedom from oppression for the Gay community it was inevitable that a few years later one of my Gay male friends would proposition me. That this occurred was well known in my social group and there was good natured pressure on me to at least give it a try. This pressure arose partly because at the time I was involved in a ménage with two women and they playfully taunted me that what was good for the goose, was good for the gander. It was with much fear and trepidation that I took my male friend up on his offer. My experience was a good one and there was pleasure to be had, but it also confirmed for me that my sexual preference was for the female body. So it goes and it matters not if it had led me on a different relationship path. It was said back in the day that one could be a married man for years, but if a man had even one homosexual experience he was a queer. That is frankly nonsense and is believed by ignorant people. Admittedly I gave into peer pressure and in a sense I can’t claim that my experiment was one of courage, but I would also be lying if I denied that I was curious about the difference between gay and straight sex. The truth is that there is really very little difference except body structure and the limits that imposes. The underlying reality though is that normal human interaction between individuals doesn’t differ to any great degree and depends primarily on the personality of the participants. I look back upon my experiments in sexuality with warmth and a certain amount of pride that I was able to satisfy my curiosity along with the pleasure it brought.
However, that is not my point. What one does with their sexuality, provided it is consensual and among peers, is nobody’s business but that of the participants. One’s sexuality neither defines ones character, nor does it define one’s self worth. Those “paragons” of morality, who would call those whose sexual practices don’t conform to their own “evil,” are to my mind somewhat crazy. Why should any of us care how people get their pleasure as long as it harms no one?
In many places of the world, in many eras of civilization’s long history, religion has made sexuality a target of hatred. Some, but certainly not all religions target sexuality as a means of gaining political power. In many eras through history religion and government have had a symbiotic relationship, with religious belief being used to assist the powers that be in retaining their power and their positions atop a society’s hierarchy. We see in the Gospels of Christianity for instance a Jesus who disdains wealth, abjures the rich and would even break bread with those looked down upon by society. Jesus never once deals with homosexuality. Yet the Roman Catholic Church began under the control of the Roman Emperor and so the emphasis of Jesus strictures to “turn the other cheek” or the difficulties of a rich man getting into Heaven were downplayed and the Pentateuch’s sexual rigidity was brought to the forefront. I don’t mean to single out Christianity in this respect, because we see the same pattern existing in all great religions. Economic disparity and oppression are hard to justify morally and certainly would put any religion on a collision course with the elite’s power that they seek to share, so sexuality becomes an easy focus. Those with political power and wealth don’t mind sexual repression since it never interferes with their own pleasures and it certainly helps to keep the common folk down. Since most places throughout human history have been dominated by Alpha Males repression of homosexuality has found approval, but no more so than repression of women’s rights. The irony is that some of the most “Alpha” of males like the Spartan Army and Alexander The Great were probably gay, or at the least “Bi”. Then of course they were pagans and in many of those religions sexuality was of little import.
The prejudice against the LBGT community is a real evil that we face simply because it is a prejudice against the reality of human nature. To demonize people for their sexuality, their sex, the color of their skin or for their ethnicity is the real evil in this world. I support, nay demand, full citizenship rights for the LBGT community and if in your opposition to that natural state you want to call me queer, go right ahead, I’ll wear the mantle proudly.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger