Category Archives: glbt

Top ten Sexual Stories of 2013


For the 5th year in a row, Sexuality & Society brings you its (highly subjective and mostly North American/U.S.-centered) list of top ten sexual stories of the year!

One of the satisfying aspects of compiling these stories each year is noticing their connections to past stories. Collectively, these “sexual” stories are critical to the societal narratives that are told and retold and sometimes sold to make sense of our lives. Below are some of the stories which struck us as worth retelling and analyzing…..Check out our lists for 200920102011, and 2012!

Also: We maintain an active Facebook Page — please find us there as well!

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10. Iowa court says it’s ok to fire women who are “irresistible”

This story is so ludicrous that it is difficult to believe that it is not out of The Onion. Nonetheless, it relies on 19th Century Victorian notions of femininity whereby women were viewed as responsible for controlling men’s sexual desires, and thus ensuing calls for modesty were viewed as minimizing the possibility of sexual attention from men. See below for a 2013 version of this Victorian mentality:

irresistible

Melissa Nelson was fired because her boss found himself unable to restrain himself around her “irresistible” charms. An all male jury and judge agreed that the scourge of irrisistible women must be stopped.

(CNN) – Melissa Nelson lost her bid Friday to have Iowa’s top court reverse its ruling that held the former dental assistant did not suffer gender bias when she was fired for being “irresistible.”

The Iowa Supreme Court stood by its December finding that Dr. James Knight was legally able to fire the assistant after his wife became concerned about the relationship between the two.

Knight’s conduct was not sex discrimination in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the court said.

The all-male court had previously ruled against Nelson, finding that employees who are seen as an “irresistible attraction” by their employers can be fired in such circumstances.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/12/us/iowa-irresistible-worker/index.html

 9. Susan B. Komen rejects money donated by exotic dancers 

The Pink foundation has made our list for a second year in a row …. (remember last year, when they cut funding to Planned Parenthood due to anti-abortion politics within the foundation? But then they changed their mind?). This year they kept themselves under the public radar but still received some press when they refused money from a fundraiser held by exotic dancers. Their rationale? “Southern Nevada’s Executive Director Stephanie Kirby said it’s Susan G. Komen’s national policy to not partner with certain businesses, especially ones that may sexualize women.”

“It just doesn’t fall in line with who we are as an organization. There are too many survivors out there who no longer have the body part that is being displayed at a lot of these shows,” Kirby said.”

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One of many T-shirts available for purchase at the Save the Ta-Tas Foundation.

source: http://www.fox5vegas.com/story/23585295/breast-cancer-foundation-denies-donation-help

Meanwhile, the Komen Foundation also appears to be consistent in their distancing from sexualized breasts as they have no official partnership with the Save the Ta-Ta’s Foundation — a breast cancer research and for-profit organization which sells T-shirts like “Save a life; grope your wife.”

8. Teen girls criminalized for their consensual sexual relationships

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Kailyn Hunt (18) was prosecuted and eventually jailed for her relationship with a 14 year old girl.

In the state of Florida the age of sexual consent is 16. The problem is that the age of sexual exploration is much earlier than this. Given increased attention to the issue of child sexual abuse over the past couple of decades (a good thing), there have been many cases of older teenage partners now being defined as sex offenders, even if the relationship with consensual and non-violent (a bad thing). This is what appears to have happened to Kaitlyn Hunt, who was 18 when she entered into a sexual relationship with a girl four years her junior. The younger girl’s parents objected, and found that they could enforce their objections by law. Given the threat of going to prison and being a registered sex offender, Hunt chose a plea bargain, plead guilty to all charges and is now in jail. (Source: http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/02/justice/florida-gay-teen-kaitlyn-hunt-case/)

See also: http://theseattlelesbian.com/fl-teen-faces-felony-charges-for-same-sex-relationship/

 

7.  Russia instigates state-sponsored terrorism against sexual, ethnic, and artistic diversity (e.g.: gay people, labor migrants, and the punk rock band Pussy Riot).

Russia.Putin

Since 2011, thousand of people have gathered for Anti-Putin demonstrations such as this one in Moscow. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011–13_Russian_protests

In June of 2013, Putin signed into law an “anti-gay propaganda bill” which sought to punish individuals for “promoting” homosexuality. The law imposes fines for those members of society who “disseminate information at minors that are directed at forming nontraditional sexual setups” or which cause “distorted understandings” that gay and heterosexual relationships are “equivalent.”  (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130630/eu-russia-gay-rights/)

AmericaBlog reported on these events by stating that “Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law … one of the most draconian anti-gay laws on the planet.” (right up there with Uganda: see # 6 below).

“The new law, coming only seven months before Russia is to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi, would ban anything considered pro-gay, from gay-affirmative speech, to gays holding hands in public, to even wearing rainbow suspenders. The law also contains a provision permitting the government to arrest and detain gay, or pro-gay, foreigners for up to 14 days before they would then be expelled from the country. That provision ought to send chills to anyone gay, lesbians, bisexual or transgender who is planning to attend or participate in the Winter Olympics.” (see: http://americablog.com/2013/07/russia-olympics-sochi-gay-law-putin.html)

The Russian media is also under fire by Putin: One Russian news media outlet is now under investigation for reporting on a gay teacher who was recently fired for being gay (he was said to teach that gay relationships are equivalent to heterosexual relationships). The news coverage did not report negatively (enough) about the gay teacher. (see http://www.advocate.com/news/world-news/2013/11/14/russian-newspaper-accused-violating-gay-propaganda-law)

While the Putin regime is also instigating crackdowns on ethnic minority labor migrants in Moscow, there is an increased movement to oppose Putin’s politics both inside and outside of Russia. The recently released members of the Punk band, Pussy Riot — imprisoned for two years as punishment for their anti-Putin demonstration in an Orthodox Russian Church — have promised to be part of this ongoing movement for greater sexual and social justice in Russia. See: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/927f4516-6f0c-11e3-bc9e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2pBljprat

6. U.S. preacher behind Uganda “kill the gays” efforts will be tried for crimes against humanity

Since 2009 we have been following the story about the connection between US conservative evangelical preachers and the push by some lawmakers in Uganda for strident and violent anti-gay laws. See our first post on this here:  

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Scott Lively, a US based anti-gay evangelical pastor who went to Uganda to preach his hatred, is now being tried for crimes against humanity.

Despite widespread global opposition, a version of this bill passed on Dec. 20, 2013. However, the story continues to evolve with now Ugandan GLBT activists pushing for accountability for the U.S. religious leaders who stirred up this mess. In what is being called a “landmark decision” .. “a federal US judge (has) ruled that the case filed by a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group against American anti-gay evangelist Scott Lively, for his collaboration with religious and government officials in Uganda that lead to the introduction of the African nation’s “Kill the Gays” bill, will be allowed to proceed.”

“As reported in Gay Star News, Michael Ponsor, the US District Judge in Massachusetts, said “Widespread, systematic persecution of LGBTI people constitutes a crime against humanity that unquestionably violates international norms.” This marks the first ruling by a federal U.S. judge calling the persecution of LGBT persons a crime against humanity, possibly setting a precedent for the human rights of sexual minorities will be protected under international law.”

“The case against Lively stems from the evangelist’s 2009 lecture tour of Uganda, the theme of which according to its Ugandan organizer, was “the gay agenda – and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family.”

A 2010 article published in , The New York Times, wrote about on one of Lively’s speaking engagements in Uganda.”[T]housands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians,” reportedly attended the conference. Lively and his colleagues “discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how ’the gay movement is an evil institution’ whose goal is ’to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.’” Lively wrote days later that “someone had likened their campaign to ’a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.’” (Source: http://www.edgeonthenet.com/?148277)

5. Regnerus’ anti-gay “study” condemned by the American Sociological Association 

The past year showed us not just that U.S. based anti-gay pastors have influenced the laws of other countries (see #4 above), but that flawed empirical studies conducted by credentialed researchers can also inflict malicious impacts. The most striking example of this can be seen with the case of Mark Regnerus, who has a Ph.D. in sociology and is an Associate Professor at University of Texas, Austin. In the words of John Becker from The Huffington Post:

“The study was widely discredited for its flawed methodology, its wildly inaccurate conclusions and its alleged partiality. Nonetheless, it has been breathlessly touted by the anti-gay right as evidence justifying their opposition to equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. Many of the Supreme Court briefs filed by equality opponents rely on the Regnerus study, but the American Sociological Association — Regnerus’ own professional organization — has just demolished those arguments.”

Indeed, given its serious flaws combined with the intent by anti-gay activists to use it to justify anti-gay discrimination, leaders of ASAthe American Sociological Association have roundly condemned Regnerus’ study, including but not limited to the 42 page Supreme Court brief in support of overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Fortunately, law makers in the U.S. are also listening to the reasoning of the ASA as well as human rights activists to nip in the bud any ongoing legal influence of the Regnerus study. On November 12, 2013, we saw this news from a Florida judge:

In today’s opinion, Orange County Circuit Judge Donald Grincewicz ruled that emails and documents possessed by University of Central Florida (UCF) related to the flawed study’s peer-review process must be turned over to John Becker, who sought the documents under Florida’s Public Records Act. UCF houses the journal Social Science Research, which published the Regnerus study, and the editor of the journal, UCF Professor James Wright, led the peer-review process for the research. Becker is represented by the Law Office of Andrea Flynn Mogensen, P.A., and Barrett, Chapman & Ruta, P.A; and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation funded the litigation. (Source: Human Rights Campaign press release found at http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2013/11/florida-judge-orders-ucf-to-release.html)

While Regnerus’ study has been discredited by experts and law makers in the United States, other law makers with malicious anti-gay intent have and will continue to grasp at any “evidence” which supports anti-gay messages. For example, in Russia (see #6 above) the Regnerus study was presented to the Russian legislature and may have played a role in supporting Russia’s recent move to outlaw non-heterosexuality. See: http://www.bilerico.com/2013/08/anti-gay_regnerus_study_to_russia_with_love.php

4.  Transgender justice and visibility 

Laverne Cox plays the role of Sophia Burset, a transwoman prisoner in Orange is the New Black.

Laverne Cox plays the role of Sophia Burset, a transwoman prisoner in Orange is the New Black.

In 2013, many tuned into U.S.-based media and saw several stories featuring transgender individuals and issues. Perhaps the most visible faces were Chelsea (formerly: Bradley) Manning — a U.S. solider who was incarcerated for releasing war-related documents to Wikileaks; and Laverne Cox, one of the stars of the Netflix series hit centered in a women’s prison, Orange is the New Black.

The media attention on the real life and fictional stories of Manning and Cox inspired a press release from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project on “the realties for transgender and gender non-conforming people in prison, jails, and detention centers:”

A significant amount of media fascination with transgender people in prison is about accessing surgery and focusing on the criminalized act underlying an individual’s sentence. Not only do transgender people in prison have problems accessing healthcare, but they experience a heightened level of gender policing.  The clothing they wear, their hairstyles and grooming practices, their bodies, mannerisms and identities are scrutinized and controlled by the state.  Any deviance from norms can lead to violence at the hands of corrections officers or other people who are incarcerated.  Legal “protections” are hard to access as there is little accountability on the inside.  If one is brave enough to risk retaliation and file a grievance, they must follow up with that grievance and timely appeal any denials.  It is not until those appeals (usually two) are denied that one can access the court system.  Finding a lawyer or representing one’s self pro se (without a lawyer) is another difficult barrier that one must overcome, as SRLP’s report IT’S WAR IN HERE has documented.”

Beyond high rates of incarceration, trangender individuals also face an alarming rate of violence and harassment in the US and worldwide and this intersects with race, class, and other social locations. According to a recent report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, in the U.S., LGBTQ people of color experience 1.8 times the violence of white LGBTQ individuals. 73% of all LGBTQ homicide victims are people of color. Transgender people are 3 times more likely to experience police violence than non-transgender individuals, with transgender women experiencing the highest rates.

In one legal step toward transgender rights, in August 2013, Jerry Brown signed into law AB1266 that offered the right for individuals “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” (including bathrooms) based on their gender identity rather than by birth sex. Predictably, conservative groups and religious individuals immediately rallied in protest, creating a new “war on privacy rights.”  California Republicans support a referendum that is being prepared to overturn AB1266. While the law goes into effect on January 1, 2014 and the state plans to continue to issue same-sex marriage licenses, there could be enough signatures on Jan 8 against same-sex marriage to push the referendum process forward. We’ll be watching this case unfold in 2014.

3. The Papacy changes its guard

Despite the fact the the majority of the world is not Catholic, the Pope, as leader of the Worldwide Catholic Church, tends to have a lot of influence on sexual politics. (Recent church statistics indicate that 17.5% of the world’s population is Catholic). The Changing of Papal leadership was important in several ways, including the historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of the left-leaning Pope Francis.

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The old (Pope Benedict XVI , left) vs. the new (Pope Francis, right). Source: http://www.tmz.com/2013/03/13/old-pope-vs-new-pope-whod-you-rather/#ixzz2p6HNNQB2

“Pope Francis faulted the Roman Catholic church for focusing too much on gays, abortion and contraception, saying the church has become “obsessed” with those issues to the detriment of its larger mission to be “home for all,” according to an extensive new interview published Thursday.

The church can share its views on homosexuality, abortion and other issues, but should not “interfere spiritually” with the lives of gays and lesbians, the Pope added in the interview, which was published in La Civilta Cattolica, a Rome-based Jesuit journal.

“We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” Francis said in the interview.

“The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” Francis said. “The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.” (source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/19/pope-francis-gay_n_3954776.html)

2. Utah finds itself in a pickle about its marriage politics.

Utah, a state founded by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) church, has long been a bit of an outsider compared to the rest of the nation; indeed it was only after leaders defined marriage as being between one man and one woman that it was accepted into statehood. This was after a long history of plural marriages:

In 1852 church leaders publicized the previously secret practice of plural marriage, a form of polygamy.[52] Over the next 50 years many Mormons (between 20% and 30% of Mormon families)[53] entered into plural marriages as a religious duty, with the number of plural marriages reaching a peak around 1860, and then declining through the rest of the century. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormons)

Given the need for the Mormon church to divorce itself from plural marriages it is likely that for Mormon leaders, the moral mantra of monogamous heterosexual marriage is likely undergirded by an ongoing quest for mainstream assimilation. Indeed the success of Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ballot proposition in the 2008 California elections, can largely be connected to money from the Mormon Church, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City Utah.  (See, for example the documentary 8: the Mormon Proposition.)

Thus, when in December, a federal judge struck down Utah’s anti-polygamy stance on the grounds that one cannot “prohibitsister-wives-season-4 cohabitation” mainstream Mormon religious leaders were not happy. The challenge to the law was brought by the Reality TV star Kody Brown who stars along with his four female partners (and 17 children) in the reality TV show “Sister Wives.” The Brown family successfully argued that the Utah cohabitation law violated their rights to privacy and to religious freedom.

Ironically, during the same month, Federal Officials also shot down Utah’s discrimination against same-sex marriage — thus striking down the original requirement by the Feds a century and a half earlier that Utah define marriage as a dyad between one man and one woman. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby stated that the law to ban same-sex marriage conflicted with the U.S. Constitution which guarantees equal protection and due process. Thus even though 2/3 of the voters voted to ban same-sex marriage on a ballot in 2004, in 2013 Utah became the 18th state in the United States (17 states and the District of Columbia) that allows same-sex couples to be legally married.

utah.gayWhile same-sex couples flooded the county clerk’s office seeking to be married, movements to reverse both legal the Utah polygamy and same sex marriage decisions are underway. We’ll be following both stories as they progress in 2014.

 

 

 

1. Two victories for sex workers’ rights: Decriminalization of Prostitution in Canada, and the repeal of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge

Finally, we end with two major developments in support of global rights and justice for individuals who work in the sex trade.decriminalize-prostitution-men

The movement for decriminalization of prostitution (much like that of moves historically and currently against criminalization of homosexuality) — arises out of the work of a range of global human rights activists. And after years of work by Canadian activists, on December 20, 2013 prostitution was decriminalized in Canada.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the country’s major prostitution laws, saying that bans on street soliciting, brothels and people living off the avails of prostitution create severe dangers for vulnerable women and therefore violate Canadians’ basic values.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, writing for a unanimous court, stressed that the ruling is not about whether prostitution should be legal or not, but about whether Parliament’s means of controlling it infringe the constitutional rights of prostitutes.” (source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/supreme-court-rules-on-prostitution-laws/article16067485/)

This ruling comes on the heels of an important statement stemming from the United Nations in 2012 calling for decriminalization of prostitution in Asia. (See: http://www.voanews.com/content/un-reports-calls-for-decriminalization-of-prostitution-in-asia/1529473.html)

In a similar spirit, in June of 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Anti-Prostituion Pledge, stating that “it is a violation of the First Amendment for the federal government to force groups to endorse the government’s views opposing prostitution in order to receive funding to combat AIDS overseas.” (Source: http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/politics/read-supreme-court-strikes-down-required-anti-prostitution-pledge-for-hiv-and-aids-workers/243/).  Finally! A brief breath of relief from global health workers and sex worker activists across the globe — but more work needs to be done as this ruling still only protects US-based organizations.

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Happy New Year from Sexuality & Society! Thanks to all the activists, scholars, and practitioners working towards sexual and social justice. May 2014 be filled with stories of hope and justice.

Top ten Sexual Stories of 2012


For the fourth New Year’s Eve in a row, Sexuality & Society brings you its (highly subjective and mostly North American/U.S.-centered) list of top ten sexual stories of the year! This year’s stories are full of shreds of hope and resolve for finding allies in the ongoing effort toward sexual justice and a large dose of old-fashioned us vs. them political fights. (Just a heads-up that we won’t be bringing you the story of Princess Kate and her topless photos, but we were amused/bemused at how much press that story received).
For a walk down sexual memory lane we encourage you to (re) check out our lists for 2009, 2010, and 2011 as well!
1. Susan B. Komen foundation defunds breast screenings at Planned Parenthood.
Although we are used to high profile conservatives attempting to put Planned Parenthood out of business, this story of pink-on-pink malignment caught most of us in Sexual and Reproductive Justice circles by surprise. The Komen Foundation’s decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood due to anti-abortion sentiment in Komen leadership resulted in enormous public outrage, lack of subsequent support for the Komen foundation, and eventually a reversal of the decision. It remains to be seen how well the Komen Foundation will be able to recover, especially given the critical documentary about Komen entitled Pink Ribbons – which was coincidentally released just after the Planned Parenthood defunding debacle. In contrast, public support for Planned Parenthood seemed to grow stronger than ever:
“The silver lining is that more people than ever are aware that Planned Parenthood provides breast exams, and we’re seeing more people calling us today to make an appointment,” Tait Sye, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, told HuffPost. “Politics should not get in the way of women’s health, and people respond powerfully when they see politics interfering with women’s health.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/susan-g-komen_n_1247262.html
2. Anita Sarkeesian vs. the (online, sexist, and sexually abusive) trolls.

When Feminist Frequency blogger and media activist Anita Sarkeesian announced that she was going to start a new project to address stereotypes of women in video games, some male gamers responded with vicious online attacks:

Sarkeesian, who runs the video blog Feminist Frequency, became a target of abuse—including rape and death threats—last May after launching a Kickstarter fundraising drive for a project promising to explore sexist gender tropes in video games. 

“I love playing video games but I’m regularly disappointed in the limited and limiting ways women are represented,” Sarkeesian wrote. “This video project will explore, analyze and deconstruct some of the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games.”

In response, Sarkeesian was hit with what she calls a “cyber mob” from angry male gamers. Hundreds of abusive tweets flooded her Twitter feed, threatening violence and sexual assault. Vandals attacked her Wikipedia page, plastering it with explicit sexual images, violent images, sexism and racism. Someone even created a video game where users were invited to “beat the bitch up” and punch a digital version of Sarkeesian’s face until it became battered, bloody and bruised. 

Sarkeesian fought back, chronicling the harassment on her blog and speaking to dozens of news outlets. She’d originally set a humble fundraising goal of $6,000. But after the torrent of abuse received widespread media attention, donors flooded her page. Sarkeesian finished the Kickstarter campaign with nearly $160,000, or about 25 times what she’d asked for.  (http://www.dailydot.com/culture/anita-sarkeesian-ted-talk-misogynist-comments/)

3. Chick fil-A hates Gays, er…”supports ‘Biblical’ families.”

Chick fil-A — an Atlanta based company known for their fried chicken sandwiches– went public with its official disdain for those who live outside of the institution of heterosexuality by donating money to organizations fighting gay marriage. As with the Komen public relations debacle, this story was met with protests and boycotts against Chick fil-A, including critical public statements made by Boston mayor Thomas Menino, Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee, and a decision by the Jim Henson Company (AKA the Muppets!) to cease all business partnerships with Chick fil-A. (Meanwhile they may have gained some new customer loyalty from social conservatives).  

Chick fil-A did eventually announce that it would cease to fund anti-gay organizations, but its president has remained firm in his stance that he still doesn’t like the gays…

… Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy doubled down on his company’s anti-gay stance yet again, re-iterating the restaurant chain’s support of “Biblical” families.

“Families are very important to our country,” Cathy told NBC affiliate 11 Alive. “And they’re very important to those of us who are concerned about being able to hang on to our heritage. We support Biblical families, and they’ve always been a part of that.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/25/chick-fil-a-business-thriving_n_2016864.html)

Given the enormous diversity of family forms in the Bible, it’s surprising that Chick fil-A representatives have not yet
clarified which “Biblical” families they DO support …(don’t forget that traditional Biblical families are full of polygamy and inclusion of concubines). Regardless, it’s clear that Kermit, Miss Piggy, and their fans stopped going to Chick fil-A for their lunch break

 4. Florida A & M drum major hazed to death; push for an end to hazing on college campuses.

Hazing — and subcultures emphasizing violence and conformity to traditional gender roles on U.S. College campuses — hit the news in 2012 with the death of Robert Champion, an African-American out gay male drum major, and who had made his opposition to hazing openly to his peers. While Champion died in 2011, this story makes our top ten stories for 2012 due to its ongoing media attention and its major impact on institutional transformation at Florida A & M and beyond.

Rober Champion died as a result of hazing in Nov. 2011

Robert Champion died on Nov. 19, 2011, after a ritual called “crossing bus C,” in which band members are forced to walk through a line of band members who are each kicking or punching the person walking by. He began vomiting, complained of breathing difficulty, and later died. Initially, his band mates claimed that they had no idea, according to according to the Palm Beach Press. His parents later told reporters that witnesses had come forward and said that their son was hazed for being gay, or ironically, for being against hazing rituals himself. (http://www.advocate.com/crime/2012/05/03/13-charged-hazing-death-gay-florida-am-drum-major )

The tragic incident resulted in several arrests as well as a newfound commitment by Florida A&M administrators to end the practice of hazing in University sponsored programs. Meanwhile, just before posting this story here, on Dec. 30, 2012 a scathing report was released by the Florida Board of Governors inspector general’s office which “concludes that the school lacked internal controls to prevent or detect hazing, citing a lack of communication among top university officials, the police department and the office responsible for disciplining students.” (see http://www.ebony.com/black-listed/news-views/famu-ignored-hazing-rules-before-robert-champion-death-981)

5. Sandusky goes to prison for child sexual abuse; Penn State officials condemned

The Penn State football sexual abuse scandal made our top ten list for the second year in a row. While individual-blaming solutions have prevailed (sending Assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to prison for life; toppling the statue of former head football coach Joe Paterno), the evidence is clear that the sexual abuse that happened must be understood and addressed also within the context of big ten football and Penn State. As part of the effort to cast a wider analysis on the situation, scholars of sport and gender continue their critique of Penn State as an example of masculinist sport cultures [for example, see: Cooky, C. (2012). Success without honor: Cultures of Silence and the Penn State Scandal. Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies, 12, 328-331]. In July of 2012 a blistering report was also released by Louis J. Freeh, former FBI director.

The report is unwavering in its condemnation of the university’s two highest levels of leadership: the president and the Board of Trustees. “By not promptly and fully advising the Board of Trustees about the 1998 and 2001 child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and the subsequent Grand Jury investigation of him, Spanier failed in his duties as President,” the report says. “The Board also failed in its duties to oversee the President and senior University officials in 1998 and 2001 by not inquiring about important University matters and by not creating an environment where senior University officials felt accountable.”

The most powerful leaders in the university concealed facts and failed to protect children, primarily because they hoped to “avoid bad publicity,” the report finds. But other factors contributed as well, according to the committee. Specifically, the report blames “A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community.” (http://chronicle.com/article/A-Guide-to-the-Penn-State/132797/_

6 & 7. RAPE. RAPE. RAPE.

The practice and politics of rape of women continued to lead the headlines in 2012. So much so, that we’re giving it two positions on our top ten list. #6 goes to the ongoing “war on women” (reported also in our 2011 list) being waged by key U.S. conservative politicians. Instigators of this war include the Republican party’s 2012 Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who referred to rape as simply another “form of conception.” (This attempts to legitimize complete opposition to abortion, including for teenage victims of rape and incest. see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-slansky-/paul-ryan-said-something-_b_1832377.html.) GOP Senate Candidate, Todd Akin also attempted to play definitional magic by telling the public what a “legitimate” rape was, and baffled scientists and progressives alike when he claimed that women’s bodies could prevent pregnancy the case of rape. An interesting chronology of such arguments has been put together here for all of us to read given that this type of thinking is certainly not new: (See: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/why-does-todd-akin-think-rape-victims-dont-get-pregnant/)

#7 Goes to the political fury that is currently erupting around harassment and rape of women in India — with most urgent attention being placed on the case of a young woman who was brutally attacked and gang raped for hours and died of assault-related injuries.

The woman, who has not been identified, has become a symbol for the treatment of women in India, where rape is common and conviction rates for the crime are low. She boarded a bus with a male friend after watching a movie at a mall, and was raped and attacked with an iron rod by the men, who the police later said had been drinking and were on a “joy ride.”

She died Saturday morning in Singapore, where she had been flown for treatment for the severe internal injuries caused by the assault. She had an infection in her lungs and abdomen, liver damage and a brain injury, the Singapore hospital said, and died from organ failure. Her body was flown back to India on Saturday.

As news of her death spread Saturday, India’s young, social-network-using population began to organize protests and candlelight vigils in places like the western city of Cochin in Kerala, the outsourcing hub of Bangalore and New Delhi, the capital. Just a tiny sliver of India’s population can afford a computer or has access to the Internet, but the young, educated subset of this group has become increasingly galvanized over the New Delhi rape case.( http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/30/world/asia/india-rape-delhi.html?_r=0)

Less publicized but also on our minds is the case of another young Indian woman who was recently gang raped; she committed suicide after being pressured by police to either drop her criminal charges or marry one of her attackers. We expect to be hearing much more from Indian human rights activists on this matter in the coming year.(see: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/world/asia/rape-victim-commits-suicide-in-india.html)

After all that dire news we will end with three more uplifting stories:

8. Movement to ban “gay conversion” therapy for minors in California.

The move to end the practice of reparative therapy (AKA Gay Conversion therapy) has made some movement in California. Governor Jerry Brown supported a new bill to ban gay conversation therapy for minors; however, the bill is currently blocked. On the Friday before Christmas (Dec. 21) “A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to block the law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, pending a decision on its constitutionality.” (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/12/gay-therapy-ban-placed-on-hold-in-california.html).

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation prohibiting a form of therapy aimed at changing a minor’s sexual orientation from gay to straight, the first law of its kind in the nation, officials said Sunday.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) introduced the measure based on his belief that so-called conversion therapy isn’t based on science and is dangerous.

“This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide,” Brown said in a statement. “These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.” (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/california-politics/2012/09/governor-jerry-brown-gay-therapy-minors.html)

Story to be continued in 2013….

 

9. Same sex marriage continues to win.

Cultural representations of same sex couples also proliferated in 2012, including stories and photos in Here Come the Brides published by Seal Press. (disclaimer: Sexuality & Society co-editor Kari Lerum has an article in this book).

Gay marriage makes our list yet again this year, this time with wins in Washington, Maryland, and Maine. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme court agreed to hear two cases (one from California, one from New York), challenging state and federal marriage laws which exclude same-sex couples, and U.S. President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to finally publicly support gay marriage. (Sexuality and Reproductive justice advocates in the US and abroad also breathed a sigh of relief when Obama was re-elected to serve as US President for another four years).

(see:http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/s/same_sex_marriage/index.html)

10. Free Condom Machines to be installed in Philadelphia high schools 

And our final story for the year involves a new development in Philadelphia: Condom dispensers in high schools! We commend Philadelphia school officials for including this as part of a pragmatic and non-shaming approach toward reducing STI rates for Philadelphia teenagers.

(http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/u-s-world/philadelphia-high-schools-installing-free-condoms-to-combat-epidemic-of-stds).

 

 

 

Happy New Year from Sexuality & Society! Thanks to all the activists, scholars, and practitioners working toward sexual and social justice; may 2013 be filled with your stories!

Warm regards, Kari Lerum and Shari Dworkin

Top 10 Sexual Stories of 2011

As the Gregorian calendar year officially comes to a close, we offer once again a sampling of the year’s top ten sexual stories. While certainly not a complete, in-depth, or globally representative list, we do think that this list contains snippets that have both disturbing and hopeful implications for sexual justice.

10. Rick Perry steals gay, secular icons to create anti-gay Christmas message

Rick Perry in a replica of the jacket worn by Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain."

 “​By now, you’ve probably seen Rick Perry’s “Strong” ad, in which he opines, “There’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Not only are gays in our military, they’re also composing music for our campaign ads. As the Harvard Political Reviewpoints out, the music that plays in the background of Perry’s ad is inspired by or directly taken from Aaron Copland, a gay composer.” (Nick Greene, Dec. 10, 2011, Village Voice).

9. Herman Cain tests Mainstream American Media: What’s worse in a political candidate: Assault or Affair?

Presidential hopeful Herman Cain’s campaign abruptly crashed and burned after news media learned of his long time extra-marital lover. But this was after his multiple cases of sexual harrassment and assault against his former employees were also aired. Most news media, including reputable news outlets like the Washington Post, failed to differentiate between Cain’s alleged criminal and consensual acts, using the language of “accusation” to describe both. See for example this story with a headline of “Ginger White accuses Herman Cain of long affair.”

…”Cain denied the accusations. In an interview that aired before White’s allegations were broadcast, Cain told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he knows White and that the two had been friends but that there had been no sexual contact and no “affair.” He characterized their relationship as “trying to help a friend” because of her “not having a job etcetera and this sort of thing.””

The story then goes on to simply state that:

“This month, Cain was accused of sexually harassing several women.”

Such lack of differentiation between criminal and consensual sexual scandals is common among contemporary American mainstream media. Gratefully, Amanda Marcotte (Alternet, Nov. 30, 2011) provides a helpful guide for assessing the significance different kinds of sex scandals. See Marcotte’s article here: “6 Kinds of Sex Scandals: What Should be exposed? What should be left private?”

8. Wienergate

… AND speaking of the need to have more sophisticated interpretative filters around why and how some Wieners constitute a “scandal” … see article above, again. … See also our post about Anthony Weiner:

“In contrast to the Dutch, Americans love sex scandals. We love them so much that in a good year we produce and consume not just one of these high-profile scandals, but several. For many of us interested in sexual justice, the juiciest stories are those of the hypocrites: the Elliot Spitzers who lead anti-prostitute campaigns while purchasing sex; the George Rekers who champion the anti-gay movement while hiring “rent boys,” and the Newt Gingrichs who lead impeachment hearings while engaging in their own extra-marital affairs.”

7.  Obama’s Secretary of Health & Human Services overrules the FDA, pulls “morning after” pill 

Kathleen Sebelius overrules FDA recommendation

“In what can only be called an astounding move by an Administration that pledged on inauguration day that medical and health decisions would be based on fact not ideology and for which women are a major constituency, today Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) overruled a much-awaited decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make emergency contraception (EC) available over-the-counter (OTC) to women of all ages.

According to the New York Times, “no health secretary has ever [overruled an FDA decision] before.”  See Jodi Jacobsen’s full story in RhReality Check here.

6.  The politics of Rape. Rape committed by men against women was frequently in the news during 2011, not because the dynamics of it have changed (it’s always about maintaining/exerting symbolic power), but because some people and institutions have found new tactics of exerting and/or maintaining heterosexism. Here’s a sampling of three such tactics.

Ms Magazine posted several stories on rape this year. This image comes from: http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/05/02/25-facts-about-rape-in-america/

5. Penn State & masculinist cultures of sexual abuse.  Rape and sexual abuse committed by men against boys was again in the news this year. While the Catholic Church and the Military managed to avoid serious spotlight time in 2011, another site of masculine privileged culture — American college football –wasn’t as lucky.

“With former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky charged with sexually abusing children—and school officials including iconic former football coach Joe Paterno dismissed for purportedly failing to report Sandusky’s alleged crimes to law enforcement—many observers have compared the situation to a series of similar cases that have rocked the Vatican.”

See: What the Catholic Church can teach us about the Penn State Scandal.” (Patrick Hruby, The Atlantic, Nov. 16, 2011.)

After all these dire (and at times ludicrous) sexual stories, we will end with four stories on a slightly more hopeful note …

4.  Mainstreaming of Transgender stories (including both opportunities and misses for gender transformation).

Transgender actress Harmony Santana

While images of Chaz Bono’s new book and his stint with Dancing with the Stars were ubiquitous, the inclusion of transgender individuals in policies and programs were just as, if not more, influential.  Any sort of mainstreaming can bring missed opportunities for radical transformation (in this case for the institution of gender). But Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality details 14 reasons why 2011 was “a game-changing year for transgender rights.” (See full story in The Advocate, Dec. 28, 2011).

3. Sex workers rights recognized by the UN and US State Department

(Meanwhile the conservative sexual politics of mainstream anti-trafficking rhetoric became increasingly exposed. See: for example, social justice activist Emi Koyama’s brilliant investigative article in Bitch Magazine, American University Human Rights professor Ann Jordan’s series of critical papers exposing the “Hype” of the abolitionist/trafficking movement, as well as of course the Village Voice’s mocking of Ashton Kutcher’s “real men” campaign.)

 

2. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers historic gay rights speech to the United Nations

 GENEVA — The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that the United States would use all the tools of American diplomacy, including the potent enticement of foreign aid, to promote gay rights around the world.

In a memorandum issued by President Obama in Washington and in a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton here, the administration vowed to actively combat efforts by other nations that criminalize homosexual conduct, abuse gay men, lesbians, bisexuals or transgendered people, or ignore abuse against them. (Myers and Cooper, New York Times, Dec. 8, 2011).

1.  The Sexual Politics of Egypt’s Arab Spring, featuring:



 

Happy New Year from Sexuality & Society! Thanks to all the activists and scholars working toward sexual and social justice; may 2012 be filled with your stories!

Warm regards, Kari Lerum and Shari Dworkin

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Related Sexuality & Society stories:


Sex worker and GLBT rights take UN platform

I recently wrote a story for Rh Reality Check about the Universal Periodic Review process for the US, specifically highlighting the text of recent speeches delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council;  I’m re-posting the story here for Sexuality & Society readers … the story can also be found here: http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2011/03/21/settingglobal-mandate-towardhuman-rights-approach-work-policy

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Last Friday, March 18, 2011, was a day of celebration for sex worker activists and allies, as well as for global advocates of sexual health, justice, and human rights.  Why the celebration? The United States made public its new position that: “No one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitution.” 

Inside a Human Rights Council session

The first part of this position regarding sexual orientation was not a surprise. (Despite predictable and periodic right-wing backlashes, GLBT justice movements have continued to make gains at all levels of US society, including increased federal recognition by the Obama administration that sexual orientation is not a valid litmus test for full citizenship.)

The second part of this statement, however – a commitment to uphold the human rights of all sex workers — is completely unprecedented at the federal level of the United States.

The occasion for this public statement on the part of the US was the first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UPR is new process where the UN community evaluates the human rights record of each member state. Upon its first UPR review in November 2010, the US received 228 recommendations by its global peers for improving its human rights record, including recommendation #86 from member state Uruguay: “undertake awareness-raising campaigns for combating stereotypes and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and [transgender people], and ensure access to public services paying attention to the special vulnerability of [sex] workers to violence and human rights abuses.[i]

On Friday, March 18, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, the US presented its written response to each of the 228 recommendations (including the one listed at the top of this post). Additionally, Harold Koh, Legal Advisor for the US Department of State, delivered a verbal summary statement of the US commitment to human rights. Invoking the spirit of more recent US history including the civil rights movement, Koh stated that it is now “a fundamental American belief” that “society as a whole is transformed for the better through our work to protect and promote the civil and human rights of its least powerful members.”

Following Koh’s remarks, ten UN member state representatives were allowed to read two-minute prepared response statements, followed by statements read by ten civil society representatives. The process of getting a speaking position in this forum resembles a competitive race, with adversarial member states (such as Cuba and Iran) highly motivated to achieve a speaking slot. As a result of perseverance, luck, and sponsorship by the Sexual Rights Initiative and member group Action Canada for Population and Development, sex worker and transgender rights activist Darby Hickey[ii] was able to secure the 10th and last civil society speaking position. Below are segments from her speech:

Thank you, Mr. President. I am a sex worker and transgender rights activist from the United States. On behalf of hundreds of civil society organizations  that called on the U.S. government to ensure the human rights of people engaged in sex work, I would like to both congratulate and thank the U.S. delegation for accepting recommendation #86. We believe that it is the first instance of affirmation of sex workers‚ rights in this forum.

Due to stigma and criminalization, sex workers — and those profiled as such — are subjected to violence and discrimination, and are often barred from necessary services and the right to equal protection under the law. State agents themselves, specifically police officers, commit physical and sexual violence against sex workers. These abuses are particularly rampant in low income, African-American and immigrant communities and also greatly affect transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay people. Globally, U.S. policies, such as the “anti-prostitution pledge,” have negatively affected international HIV/AIDS efforts.

As part of such implementation, it is critical that the government work to systematically involve sex workers in policy decisions that affect them. Specifically, we hope to see the government eliminate federal policies that conflate sex work with human trafficking, investigate and prevent human rights abuses perpetrated by state agents against sex workers, and examine the impact of criminalization on our communities. Protecting the human rights of sex workers is also connected with broader efforts to ensure sexual and reproductive rights and address the problems of the criminal justice system in the U.S.

We are deeply appreciative of the respect for, openness to, and engagement with civil society that the U.S. government has shown throughout this UPR process. We stand ready to work with the administration to implement this recommendation and others.

This first UPR has brought about an unprecedented opportunity for dialogue between government and civil society around issues of human rights. At the close of the United States’ UPR process we face a unique opportunity – a global mandate – to begin implementing human rights principles into policies around sex work and human trafficking. In his concluding statement to the UN on Friday, Harold Koh stated that “this is an ongoing process leading to concrete policy and self conscious change.” We (A broad coalition of sex work activists and researchers in the fields of sexual and reproductive health, human rights, and justice) are excited and prepared to begin implementing these principles into policy.

Useful Links:

  • Archived video of Darby Hickey’s speech, as well as that of Harold Koh and others available here. http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/archive.asp?go=110318#pm2 (UN Human Rights Council, Sixteenth session, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.  36th Plenary Meeting, Archived video, Friday 18 March 2011. )
  • “Human Rights for All”( http://www.humanrightsforall.info/), is the group of organizations and individuals (including myself) who organized on behalf of recommendation #86. Included on this site are primary documents and evidence including: the original UPR report (written by members of Best Practices Policy Project and Desiree Alliance), a policy brief for the US state department, and a call to action with dozens of stakeholder signatures.

i The translation of Uruguay’s recommendation uses the term “transsexuals.” “sexual workers.” In our advocacy response to this recommendation we inserted the terms “transgender people” and “sex workers” which more accurately reflects terms used in the United States.

ii Darby Hickey is a member of the Best Practices Policy Project.

 

 

 

Top 10 Sexual Stories of 2010

This year’s top ten sexual stories: an incomplete list from our subjective, North American perspective, containing a mixture of disturbing, entertaining, and hopeful developments.

10. Katie Perry got kicked off Sesame Street

“Thursday morning, the PBS children’s show announced that a scheduled appearance by Perry, queen of the most inappropriate whipped-cream bra ever, had been canceled. On Monday, a clip of Perrywearing a sweetheart-cut dress, singing a G-rated version of her hit “Hot N Cold” and begging to “play” with Elmo, was leaked on the Web. Parents, outraged by Perry’s C-cup-accentuating dress,immediately protested. “You’re going to have to rename [Sesame Street] Cleavage Avenue,” wrote one commenter, while another simply joked, “My kid wants milk now.” (LA Times, Sept. 23, 2010).

Anti-gay activist George Rekers and his "rentboy"

9. George Rekers got caught with “rent boy”

“Reached by New Times before a trip to Bermuda, Rekers said he learned Lucien was a prostitute only midway through their vacation. “I had surgery,” Rekers said, “and I can’t lift luggage. That’s why I hired him.” (Medical problems didn’t stop him from pushing the tottering baggage cart through MIA.)” (Bullock, P. and Thorp, B., Miami New Times, May 6, 2010).

8. Constance McMillen barred from her prom, becomes a Glamour Magazine “Women of the Year

“Constance McMillen has been named one of Glamour Magazine’s ‘Women of the Year’ for 2010.  We came to know Constance through her personal ordeal with Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi.  The school board rejected her request to bring her girlfriend to the prom as her date, and even further, didn’t allow Constance to wear a tuxedo as she had planned.” (Sledjeski, J. GLAAD, Nov. 5, 2010).

7. This one is a tie between: a) Republicans got caught at W. Hollywood Strip Club

“The “family values” Republican National Committee spent almost $2,000 last month at an erotic, bondage-themed West Hollywood club, where nearly naked women – and men – simulate sex in nets hung from above.” (Bazinet, K, and Saltonstall, D. Daily News, March 29, 2010).

and b) Strippers protest Ohio church

“For the past four years, Pastor Dunfee and some of his New Beginnings church members have picketed and protested the strip club in their local community; they’ve even videotaped visitors to the club and posted the videos online in an attempt to hold them accountable for their actions. Pastor Dunfee said the regular protests were to avoid “sharing territory with the devil.”

Irritated by the protests, employees of the club have decided to protest the church—they arrived early in the morning Monday wearing swimwear and toting barbeques, picnic food, sunscreen, and lawn chairs, along with signs reading Matthew 7:15: Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing and Revelation 22:11: He that is unjust, let him be unjust still. ” (Aug.16, 2010; ChurchLeaders.com).

6.  European Court of Human Rights Rejects Irish Ban on Abortion

“In December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion violates the rights of pregnant women to receive proper medical care in life-threatening cases. Each year, more than 6,000 women travel abroad from Ireland to obtain abortion services, often at costs of over $1,500 per trip. In a statement on the ruling, the Irish Family Planning Association—the IWHC partner that helped bring about this decision—said the court sent “a very strong message that the State can no longer ignore the imperative to legislate for abortion.” (Top Ten Wins, International Women’s Health Coalition, December 23, 2010).

5. Millions searched for their G-spot

“Asking if the “G-spot” exists can be a bit like asking if God (the other G-spot) exists: It depends on who you ask. And in both cases, science is (thus far) ill equipped to adequately measure either G-spot. ”

(Lerum, K. Sexuality & Society, Jan 6, 2010).

4. The Pope OKs condoms in some circumstances

“In a break with his traditional teaching, Pope Benedict XVI has said the use of condoms is acceptable “in certain cases”, in an extended interview to be published this week.”

“After holding firm during his papacy to the Vatican’s blanket ban on the use of contraceptives, Benedict’s surprise comments will shock conservatives in the Catholic church while finding favour with senior Vatican figures who are pushing for a new line on the issue as HIV ravages Africa.” (Kington, T., and Quinn, B. Guardian UK, Nov. 21, 2010).

3. Microbicide Research offers hope for HIV prevention

“More than 20 years ago, the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) convened 44 women from 20 countries who conceived of a substance, like contraceptive foam or jelly, which could be inserted vaginally to prevent HIV infection. We named it a “microbicide,” and set out to find scientists and money to develop it. Until recently, progress has been slow, but in July, results from a clinical trial in South Africa found a new gel to be nearly 40 percent effective in protecting women against HIV during intercourse.” (Top Ten Wins, International Women’s Health Coalition, December 23, 2010).

2. Gay Teen Suicide & Bullying as a Social Problem

“The recent rash of high profile suicides by boys who were bullied for gender and sexual non-conformity has created a wake up call for parents and school administrators in the U.S. To create a broader base of support from heterosexual allies, as well as to reach out to GLBT youth themselves, a number of new educational and activist initiatives have emerged. Dan Savage created the “It Gets Better”video project, directed at GLBT youth in despair over hostile treatment and at risk of killing themselves. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) declared Oct. 20, 2010 Spirit Day to call attention to and memorialize the recent suicides. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even released her own version of an “It Gets Better” video. ” (Lerum, K. Sexuality & Society, Nov. 18 2010).

1. The Repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

WASHINGTON — “The military’s longstanding ban on service by gays and lesbians came to a historic and symbolic end on Wednesday, asPresident Obama signed legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the contentious 17-year old Clinton-era law that sought to allow gays to serve under the terms of an uneasy compromise that required them to keep their sexuality a secret.” (New York Times, Dec. 22, 2010).

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Related Story:  Top Ten Sexual Stories of 2009

Looking for a happy, gay, holiday film?

I’m happy to say that I’m now also a contributer to Ms. Magazine‘s blog. My first article there is a review of Burlesque, the musical film starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. The original article can be viewed at this link. I’ve also inserted its text below (without the internal links and Ms. Magazine‘s pretty formatting):

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Burlesque Is So Gay. And That’s A Good Thing.

December 2, 2010 by Kari Lerum

When I worked as a strip club waitress, part of my job was to look out for troublemakers: people entering the club with an intention to harm the dancers. OK, it wasn’t officially my job (that was up to the managers and bouncers), but as a feminist, an ally, and also friend to some of the dancers, I felt it was my unquestionable duty. The worst of the troublemakers? Undercover cops–guys who would enjoy a lap dance and then slap their pleasure provider with a ticket for indecency.

Now, more than 10 years later, as a tenured professor, my job has expanded to analyzing sexual-social systems and all forms of sexual policing. This is why I’m interested in not just Burlesque itself, the new musical film starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, but also the film’s sociocultural context, including the chorus of negative reviews.

Even before Burlesque’s Thanksgiving release, reviewers were sharpening their knives, eager for a kill. Not since the mid-90s releases of Showgirls and Striptease–both of which were given Golden Raspberry Awards for the worst in cinema–have reviewers been so eager to tear a movie and its (sexually unapologetic, dancing, woman) protagonist to shreds.

Post-release, most reviewers have followed a standard formula: Compare Burlesque to Showgirls; make fun of Christina Aguilera; declare the film a miserable failure. Below is a sampling:

• The headline for Marshall Fine’s review in Fox News exclaims: ‘Burlesque’ not just Bad, it’s ‘Showgirls’ Bad.’ Fine organizes his review around ridicule of Christina Aguilera:

There’s nary a surprise to be had, except for Aguilera’s apparent misconception that she has acting talent.

• Catherine Shoard’s review in the Guardian concludes “Two divas, one stage – you do the maths,” with the apparent assumption that no stage, or film, is big enough to fit more than ONE larger-than-life female (and unapologetically sexual) protagonist.

• Mary Pols’ review in Time judges Aguilera not against her co-star, but against other women who have played similar roles:

Aguilera, making her dramatic debut, is far from a great actress, but compared to Elizabeth Berkley [Showgirls] or Spears [Crossroads], she is a veritable Nicole Kidman [Moulin Rouge].

(Note that of the three films, only Moulin Rouge, which ends with the death of the prostitute/dancer protagonist, is implied to be “good.”)

• Finally, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune ridicules not just the plot and the acting, but delivers the final cut: “The whole movie amounts to an I-will-survive anthem.” A curious denigration, as Gloria Gaynor’s mega-hit single “I Will Survive” is a recognized anthem for the women’s movement, the gay movement and HIV/AIDS survival.

With these critiques in mind, I took my partner and brother-in-law to see Burlesque on Thanksgiving weekend. Burlesque has a familiar plot for US audiences, full of underdog themes: A sweet, talented small-town protagonist moves to Hollywood to pursue her dreams. She faces initial hardships (can’t get a job as a singer or dancer), but her path is altered when she meets an intriguing character (in this case the character is a place, a magical neo-Burlesque theater). The protagonist meets opposition from the theater’s boss (Cher) and a rival performer, but through her determination and raw talent works her way into a top singing/dancing position.

Our immediate reaction? Pure, easy pleasure. Burlesque is a light, sometimes cheesy, visually gorgeous, sexually tame, feel-good film. A perfect Disneyland-for-Adults distraction for the Holidays. Cher and Aguilera have the kind of voices that make your hair raise, out of not horror but out of delight. Technically, it gets right some elements of both classic burlesque and the neo-burlesque scene, but it’s also a montage of styles borrowed from American Idol, Pussycat Dolls, and Las Vegas showgirls. Worthy of an Oscar? I’ll leave that up to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science–but I won’t be surprised if costume design is in the running.

What then accounts for the cutting reviews of Burlesque and Aguilera? What grand community or artistic standards does this film, or Aguilera, violate? Is there really no place for a fluffy, feel-good, aesthetically pleasing film during the holidays?

Then again, maybe I’m a bad film cop, and Aguilera is just an irredeemable actress, deserving of that ticket for indecency. At least her voice isn’t in question; perhaps her policers would ease up if she simply became the voice of a cartoon character, like the Rapunzel figure in Disney’s new holiday film, Tangled. As it turns out, Burlesque and Tangled have much in common: both were light musical romances released around Thanksgiving, both feature pretty, young, blonde, female protagonists and tall, dark-haired mother figures. Indeed, reviewers like Marshall Fine (who could barely spit out his disdain for Aguilera in Burlesque) seem quite taken by the “tale of the girl in the tower with the long, loooong hair.” According to Fine: “Disney’s new film manages to be romantic, musical, moving–and outstandingly funny. Don’t skip it.”

There is an intriguing similarity between Marshall’s enthusiasm for Tangled and reviews of Burlesque coming from gay or gay-friendly sources. Sara Michelle Fetters from Seattle Gay News writes:

But just because there are no surprises doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of cheesy cornball fun to be had by watching Burlesque. Aguilera is fairly charming as the star-struck ingénue, while Cher and Tucci (playing the requisite Gay best friend with an answer for everything) could do this sort of thing in their sleep and make it somehow worthwhile. Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I never felt terrible about sitting in my theater seat. Heck, most of the time I was reasonably entertained, going along with the flow even if every fiber of my being told me not to.

Mick LaSalle, writing for SF Gate, is unabashedly enthusiastic about the film:

Burlesque is irresistible from its first minutes, and over time it creates a whole atmosphere, not only onscreen but within the audience. It’s big, perfectly cast and entertaining in every way, but more than that it feels like a generous public event. See it with other people. See it with a crowd.

Much more can be said about the film’s web of inside jokes and gay cultural references and the fact that Cher and director Steve Antin were (at different times) long-time lovers with media powerhouse David Geffen.

But ultimately, here is where Burlesque goes “wrong”: While trashed for being too predictable, it is actually not predictable enough. Unlike most other contemporary Hollywood (fictional) films about sexual, dancing women, our protagonist is a “good girl” who is sexually expressive but suffers no negative consequences. She is not forced to choose between innocence and sensuality, good girl and vamp. She, and everyone else at the club, gets to have it all. The club is not a hotbed of despair, corruption, and exploitation. The tall dark mother figure, a sexy burlesque dancer herself, is not a villain. Rather, as a club owner she is fiercely loyal to her employees; her club is their family. Women employees ultimately stick together, survive and thrive. Gay employees are loved and integral to the club. No one dies.

I have a strong suspicion that it is all of this–more than the soft dramatic tension and cheesy lines–that most mainstream film reviewers really can’t stomach.

Interested in Bully-Free Zones? (or Not?)

Yesterday (Nov. 17, 2010) I was a guest on “Voices of Diversity,” a weekly community radio show on KBCS. The topic of this week’s show was Bullying in schools. The audio of the show will soon be available on audio archives at KBCS, but in the post below I follow up on the question of whether or not everyone *really* wants to get rid of bullies. …. See below for my elaboration:

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The recent rash of high profile suicides by boys who were bullied for gender and sexual non-conformity has created a wake up call for parents and school administrators in the U.S. To create a broader base of support from heterosexual allies, as well as to reach out to GLBT youth themselves, a number of new educational and activist initiatives have emerged. Dan Savage created the “It Gets Better” video project, directed at GLBT youth in despair over hostile treatment and at risk of killing themselves. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) declared Oct. 20, 2010 Spirit Day to call attention to and memorialize the recent suicides. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even released her own version of an “It Gets Better” video.

Predictably, given the larger antagonistic climate toward non-heteronormative youth, not all heterosexuals have responded with as much compassion as the current US Secretary of State. Arkansas School Board vice president Clint McCance has made himself the most recent poster child for non-compassion (AKA being a big jerk) after he wrote on his Facebook page a variety of obscenities including:

“Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide. The only way i’m wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide.”

“It pisses me off though that we make special purple fag day for them. I like that fags can’t procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other AIDS and die.”

And perhaps the most cruel of all (at least for me as a parent):

“I would disown my kids if they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off.”

Since Facebook is a semi-public forum, many people outside of McCance’s circle of like-minded friends witnessed his rant. All kinds of people — including people in his own community — started to wonder: Does Clint McCance *really* wish all gay kids would just kill themselves? Even if they were his own children?

After uproarious calls for his resignation (including, unfortunately, similar verbal assaults against McCance and his family), the Arkansas school board vice president agreed to an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN (who, coincidentally, maintains a private identity but is widely reported to be gay, and whose brother committed suicide at the age of 23). Looking like a kid caught for bad behavior, McCance had little to say but claimed to be remorseful. When pressed by Cooper as to whether or not he would resign (for technical reasons he could not be fired), McCance said, yes he was resigning from the School Board.

Now that McCance is now gone (at least for now) from a school administrative position, has anything changed in his surrounding cultural and institutional system? Human behavior never happens in a vacuum – there is always a surrounding cultural and physical infrastructure that creates messages or opportunities for people to act in cruel or inequitable ways. This is more complicated than thinking about pro-social versus anti-social behavior; about “bad” school board members versus “good” ones.” This is because cruel behavior is sometimes completely in line with the social agenda of larger systems of power.

There seems to be an assumption in mainstream media outlets that “everyone” wants to get rid of bullies. But this is actually not the case, since bullying is, at a very basic level, a technique for ensuring and preserving separate and unequal distinctions between people.

In fact, people and institutions interested in preserving their separate and “superior” distinction — whether this is based on race, religion, sex, and/or sexual orientation — meet anti-bullying legislation (or related events such as “spirit day”) with lukewarm or even hostile responses.

For example, in 2001, Christian Right lobbyists stalled the first attempt to bring anti-bullying legislation to Washington State. In 2010, Clint McCance and others balked at the suggestion of a special day for mourning youth suicide connected to anti-gay bullying. In both cases, the resistance is around deep seated beliefs that boys/men and girls/women must conform to traditional gender roles (with men being “masculine”, powerful, and exclusively attracted to women; and women being “feminine”, submissive to men, and exclusively attracted to men). If they fall out of line, the logic goes, they must be corrected. Ridicule, shaming, social exclusion .. these are all forms of maintaining rigid and unequal distinctions between insiders and outsiders; they are also forms of bullying. Hence the resistance to anti-bullying legislation by some who want to maintain rigid and unequal distinctions.

Why is it that bullying tactics work “better” on some kids than others? Why don’t all queer kids commit suicide in the face of severe public ridicule and social excommunication?

One reason may be that the ones who survive — like Constance McMillen (who was subjected to a dramatic network of lies and harassment by students, teachers, and parents alike) – have access to deep resources, support, and identity outside of their world of bullies. If excluded from the bully group, they don’t feel that their entire world will disappear.

After many months of discrimination, harassment, and being lied to by school administrators (who created a secret prom that she wasn't invited to), Constance McMillen continued to fight with the strong support of her parents and the ACLU. Constance won a law suit and international recognition, including most recently being named one of Glamor Magazine's "Women of the Year."

 

But sometimes, even for those kids who carry on in the face of bullies– more drastic forms of violent control occurs. This was the case for Matthew Shepard and Lawrence King — both of whom were murdered by other boys who were angry that they were not sufficiently hiding their feminine or “gay” characteristics.

So to sum up: for those of us truly interested in creating bully-free zones, we must directly speak out against not just individual acts of cruelty, but infrastructures which create and reinforce distinct, segregated, and unequal categories between people. This means directly questioning (not just staying silent or “neutral” to) common beliefs about what constitutes a “superior” and “inferior” person and what justifies differential treatment. It is only then that we can start to dismantle the bully. 

Related Sexuality & Society stories:

Recommended References & Resources:

Minding the gap between teens’ sexual identity and sexual behavior

In societies with strict rules, sanctions, and moral/institutional hierarchies attached to sexuality, we find gaps between people’s reported sexual identity and what they actually do. Because the stakes are high if people fall from esteemed sexual categories, people in these societies are invested in maintaining at least the perception of sitting on sexual high ground. 

Different societies and organizations vary in their strategies for addressing gaps between identity and behavior. In the U.S. there is an entire media/medical/criminal justice industry built around catching, shaming, treating, and punishing (or at least exposing hypocrisy) for those who fall from their esteemed socio-sexual positions (e.g. Cheating Celebrities, Pedophile Priests, Gay Anti-Gay activists).

A newly released study indicates that from a sexual health perspective it may be more important than ever to acknowledge these known gaps in identity and behavior, especially when it comes to young people. This study, lead by Dr. Preeti Pathela of New York Department of Public Health and Mental Hygiene, found that for sexually active teens, nearly 1 in 10 engage in same-sex sexual activity; an increase over previous studies. (It is not clear whether this is a result of an actual increase in same sex behavior, sexual behavior in general, or whether respondents in this study were just more likely to report their same sex activities).

Regardless of the reasons for the reported increase in same sex sexuality, since teens in this often stigmatized group are also less likely to use condoms and other safe sex precautions, some sort of strategy is needed. From a sexual health perspective, creating space and decreasing stigma for same sex attraction in curriculum and school cultures is a basic first step. Below is a summary of the study:

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By Zach Gottlieb

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A new study suggests that nearly one in sexually active ten teens have same-sex partners — almost twice as many as previous research found. According to a 2002 study of Massachusetts and Vermont teens, only 5 percent to 6 percent of teens had same-sex partners.

In the new study, 9.3 percent of teens said they did.

“Clearly there’s a high rate of same-sex partners among teens, and we need to recognize any vulnerabilities that may be associated with these behaviors,” said Dr. Susan Blank, an assistant commissioner at the NYC Health Department. Blank, who was not involved with the study, was referring to a lower rate of condom use and unwanted sex among teens with same-sex partners seen in the study.

The new research, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at more than 17,000 teens in New York City. It found that teens who had sex with only their own gender or with both genders were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, putting themselves at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of the 18 million new cases of STDs that occur each year happen among people aged 15 to 24.

Such risky behaviors included not using a condom during sex and having forced sex. More than half of boys who engaged in bisexual behavior didn’t use a condom, compared to a fifth of those who engaged exclusively in heterosexual behavior. The difference was not quite as large for girls who engaged in bisexual behavior and those who engaged exclusively in heterosexual behavior, but it was similar: About half of the former didn’t use a condom, compared to 30 percent of the latter.

About a third of those teens who engaged in bisexual behavior had forced sex at some point in their lives, much higher than the 6 percent of those boys who engaged exclusively in heterosexual behavior and the 16 percent of the similar group of girls.

Elizabeth Saewyc, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, told Reuters Health that these teens may engage in riskier behavior because sex education programs don’t always acknowledge gay, lesbian, and bisexual relationships.

“Some teens I’ve seen tell me that they completely check out of sex ed because they feel what they were learning didn’t apply to them,” said Saewyc, who was not involved in the new study.

She suggested that educators need to acknowledge gay, lesbian, and bisexual relationships more often in sex education curriculums so that teens are more likely to listen and will feel more comfortable discussing any issues.

Though the authors of the new study report that the rate of same-sex partners is higher than previous studies, Saewyc pointed that this rate is actually similar to what she has seen in her own work and other studies.

In the 2008 British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey, for teens who were sexually active, 8 percent of males and 10 percent of females reported having had a same-sex partner. In a study looking at the 2001 Minnesota Student Survey, 9.4 percent of teens reported having had partners of the same or both sexes.

Dr. Preeti Pathela, lead author of the new study, said the results may have been different this time around because some states do not measure same-sex encounters. Still, Pathela said, it’s clear that some teens are more vulnerable to risky behavior and STDs than others. In discussing sexual relationships and potential risks, she said it is important that parents, educators, and researchers focus on behaviors and not just on sexual identity.

“How teens identify themselves doesn’t always correlate with actual behaviors,” said Pathela, a research scientist in the New York Department of Public Health and Mental Hygiene. “Behavior is a better measure of what’s actually happening because teens are changing rapidly.”

SOURCES: http://link.reuters.com/gas77m Pediatrics, October 25,2010.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_104931.html

Embracing Contradictions: Why Gay Catholics and Religious Academics need leaders like O’Brien now more than ever

Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle University. The design of this chapel is based on the metaphor of "A Gathering of Different Lights," which "describes Seattle University's mission" as well as "St. Ignatius' vision of the spiritual life as comprising many interior lights and darknesses, which he called consolations and desolations." (SU chapel website).

It has been a Wild-kind of month for faculty, staff, and students at Marquette University and Seattle University. After President Wild of Marquette University tore up a signed job contract with a woman who would be their first “out” Lesbian administrator (Jodi O’Brien, of Seattle University) many faculty, staff, and students on both MU and SU campuses have been left in turmoil.

Although Marquette has managed to “resolve” this conflict with a negotiated settlement, President Wild’s actions call into question a number of basic academic assumptions including: 1) the honesty of Marquette University’s statements on commitments to diversity and anti-discrimination, 2) the assumption that GLBTQ people are welcome community members within Jesuit institutions (unlike conservative Catholic and Evangelical Protestant institutions, Jesuits are known for their tolerance, encouragement of fearless intellectual curiosity, and commitment to social justice), and 3) the assumption that University faculty have the rights and responsibilities of sharing the governance of their institution.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, a key player in convincing Marquette President Wild to tear up his job contract with Jodi O'Brien

The recommendation to hire Dr. O’Brien as Dean of Arts & Sciences at Marquette came after two years of committee searches, interviews, and deliberations. The President and Provost of Marquette also met with committee members and all job candidates, and signed on with the decision to offer the job to O’Brien. This extensive vetting process was obliterated after two local conservative Catholic leaders (neither of them faculty or staff members at Marquette) caught wind of O’Brien’s hire. Somehow, unbelievably, these two men (Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki and Father Paul Hartmann, the archdiocese’s judicial vicar) were able to trump the entire academic administrative vetting process at MU. The search committee and was abruptly informed that their input — as well as O’Brien’s administrative leadership skills — was neither needed nor welcome.

Despite the strong suspicion among many that this is a clear case of discrimination based on sexual orientation, President Wild has maintained throughout the aftermath of his rescinded offer that this is simply about a mismatch between O’Brien’s scholarship and Marquette’s mission. Wild has yet to adequately specify how and where O’Brien’s scholarship is anti-Marquette, anti-Jesuit, or anti-Catholic, but Father Paul Hartmann (one of the two local church officials who complained) explains that O’Brien investigates a particular “subject matter” that may create “dichotomies,” “tensions,” and “contradictions.” According to the Milwaukee Sentinel (May 12, 2010):

“Hartmann sent a March 3 letter  to the chair of the search committee that said the gender studies professor “pursues subject matter that seems destined to actually create dichotomies and cause tensions (if not contradictions) with Marquette’s Catholic mission and identity.”

As long-time colleague, mentee, and friend of Jodi O’Brien, and as a former lecturer at Seattle University (a place I still hold near and dear to my heart) I am very familiar with O’Brien’s work, as well as her commitment to Jesuit education. Ironically, what the conservative church leaders fear is actually what makes O’Brien a successful Jesuit scholar and administrator. Namely, O’Brien’s ability to embrace (rather than denounce or deny) contradictions and tensions– may in fact be a pinnacle Jesuit model of intellectual and spiritually complexity.

In her 2009 Presidential address to the Pacific Sociological Association, Professor Jodi O’Brien describes the personal growth that comes with wrestling religious and spiritual contradictions:

My research with queer Christians led me to understand and define the social self as a process of wrestling contradiction. We are in a constant state of becoming. This “becoming” is shaped through processes of interaction and revealed through the internal dialogues in which we observe, feel, comment on, and try to make sense of our own complexity. The process of self-understanding is a dialectical process of definition, a continual interplay between personal experiences and attempts to fit experience into existing conceptual categories and representations. All of us struggle to make sense of ourselves, to find ways of self-expression, and to be heard and understood. Our sense of self undergoes constant revision as it encounters friction, contradiction, and conflict along the various boundaries that constitute meaning (O’Brien 2009, Pp. 15–16).

She continues to describe how the intellectual process of finding connections in the face of conflict provides an opportunity for personal as well as professional transformation:

Isn’t this what we’re doing as sociologists when we strive to practice scholarship that matters: finding connections, revealing patterns, striving to bridge seemingly contradictory perspectives by offering deeper, richer frameworks of understanding? My suggestion is that when we experience fully the contradiction, conflict, and pain of engaging with our own teaching and research, we can’t help but be transformed  …. This produces an epistemology of contradiction that, together with the principles of the “sociological imagination,” enables us to navigate through complex personal and professional terrain in ways that both resonate and inspire (O’Brien 2009, P. 20 )

Rather than embracing the powerful teaching moments of such everday contradictions, Marquette University officials have chosen to rescind them, putting themselves closer to the edges of rigidity, fear, and fundamentalism, rather than intellectual curiosity, creativity and, I would argue, spiritual vitality.

I will leave it to Jodi O’Brien to describe the nuances and evolution of her thinking throughout her illustrious scholarly career. However, for those interested in reading more about how stereotyping and prejudice works, O’Brien’s own social psychology textbook, The Production of Reality is a great resource.  In this text as well as in the dozens of lectures she’s given to churches and universities around the country, including other Jesuit Catholic universities, O’Brien teaches us about  the subject matter of  “permissible prejudice” – in other words, prejudice that is deemed ok if those in positions of authority justify it as such through their actions or non-actions.

And it is this critical perspective on prejudice and power that is the deeper “subject matter” at hand. This is the kind of subject matter that creates critical reflection on all forms of power relations, including but certainly not limited to that pertaining to religious institutions. This is precisely why those invested in maintaining an uncritical stance on particular power relations within the larger Marquette community needed her to leave; this is also precisely why Gay Catholics and religious academics need leaders like O’Brien now more than ever.

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Referenced and recommended sources:

O’Brien, J. (2009) “Sociology as an epistemology of contradiction.” Sociological Perspectives 52, 1, 5-22.

O’Brien, J. (2007).”Queer Tensions: The Cultural Politics of Belonging and exclusion in same gender marriage debates.”” Pp. 125-149 in Interdisciplinary Readings on Sex and Sexuality. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

O’Brien, J. (2005).  The Production of Reality: Essays and Readings in Social Interaction, 4th Edition. Newbury Park, CA: Pine Forge Press (Sage).

O’Brien, J.  (2002).  “Heterosexism and Homophobia.” Article length entry for the International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences.  Oxford: Elsevier Publishing.

Jaschick, S. “Stained Glass Ceiling.” Inside Higher Education. May 11, 2010.

While this case underscores timeless clashes between religion and sexuality—particularly in the form of gay and lesbian “permissible prejudice” within religious institutions — some argue that this discrimination is rising in a backlash movement against the fight for equal rights by gays and lesbians. For example, On March 6, 2010, the Washington Post reported that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative Republican, advised Virginia’s public colleges and universities to revoke policies protecting employees on the basis of sexual orientation.

See also the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force statement on ending job discrimination.


Related posts on Sexuality & Society:

http://thesocietypages.org/sexuality/2010/05/12/in-annuling-contract-with-obrien-marquette-can-assume-its-missionary-position/

http://thesocietypages.org/sexuality/2010/05/10/marquette-rescinds-job-offer-to-sociologist-and-sexuality-scholar-jodi-obrien/

In annuling contract with O’Brien, Marquette can assume its Mission(ary) Position

Administrators at Marquette University have found themselves in an awful mess this week after revoking a job offer to Jodi O’Brien, their top candidate  for the position of Dean of Arts & Sciences. (See our earlier post for details on the case).

The official reason for this radical breach of academic, professional, and legal decorum is still murky, coded in terms like “marriage,” “family,” and “the Catholic mission.” President Wild and Marquette spokesperson Mary Pat Pfeil claim that the reversal had nothing to do with the fact the O’Brien is a lesbian. Indeed, since she was “out” during the entire process, this might be true. Indeed, Marquette’s website includes several specific references to the idea that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not acceptable. Below is one example:

As a Catholic, Jesuit university, Marquette recognizes and cherishes the dignity of each individual regardless of age, culture, faith, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, language, disability or social class … Through our admissions and employment policies and practices, our curricular and co-curricular offerings, and our welcoming and caring campus environment, Marquette seeks to become a more diverse and inclusive academic community dedicated to the promotion of justice. (Marquette University’s statement on Human Dignity and Diversity.)

So if O’Brien wasn’t disqualified because she is gay, per se, what is “really” going on? Maybe it’s just the sort of gay she is, the sort who likes to talk openly about sexuality, and moreover to discuss it critically within the context of social institutions such as religion and family. An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provides a few more clues in this direction:

Officials haven’t provided more detail about what writings might have raised red flags. But Wild told members of the dean search committee last week that there was an article in which “sex positions” and “sex toys” were mentioned, and that the passage could be interpreted as autobiographical, said psychology professor Stephen Franzoi, who served on the committee. O’Brien’s work includes a sociological study of vignettes on lesbian sex. Franzoi said members of the search committee reviewed the work again and did not believe the passages were autobiographical and that the article was a scholarly work.

So let’s get (or make) this story straight:

  1. Jodi O’Brien has worked and lead for 15 years in a Jesuit institution (Seattle University), and is an enthusiastic proponent of the Jesuit mission (e.g. see her cover letter to Marquette).
  2. Marquette’s interpretation of the Jesuit Mission is to NOT discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. 
  3. Marquette and O’Brien agreed that their union would be mutually beneficial.
  4. After Marquette proposed a job offer and O’Brien accepted, leaders in the Marquette extended family became concerned about O’Brien: In particular, her critique of the patriarchal family and her open discussion of non heteronormative sexuality. These previously unnamed members (today named as two Milwaukee archdiocese leaders, judicial vicar Paul Hartmann and Archbishop Jerome Listecki) became suspicious that O’Brien’s writings were not purely intellectual, but could be actual autobiographical and public representations of a sexual life led outside of heteronormative boundaries.

Simply stated, my conclusion is this: This is not a conflict between O’Brien’s lesbian identity and Marquette’s Catholic Jesuit Mission. This is about conservative, Milwaukee-based Church officials needing to divert the attention (of parishioners, as well as of media) away from critical sexuality scholarship and back toward its (silent) missionary position.

O’Brien’s critical sexuality scholarship is threatening to conservative Church leaders because it calls into question the utility of silence around discussing sexual matters. This is much more than just about an Archbishop’s distaste for sex toys: this is about a distaste for discussion of the great sexual variance found within the human species and analysis of how heterosexist family formations are not universal and “natural” but are created, regulated, and enforced by social institutions such as the Catholic Church.

Make no mistake, there are many people living and working within Catholic and Jesuit instituions who live their lives outside of heternormative married couples and families. The very core of Catholicism is based on elevating these non heteronormative models in the form of priests and nuns.

Unlike some religious traditions, Catholicism offers women and men a legitimate option to REFRAIN from marriage and to join vibrant homosocial communities. But the Marquette situation illustrates that this freedom from marriage and heterosexuality may be delicately balanced upon a strict code of silence. Even if a Marquette faculty or staff member has no personal interest in marriage or heterosexuality, the lesson learned here is that they must only discuss these views and practices in distinctly NON-SEXUAL ways. Although invisible on Marquette’s website, the consequence of violating the code of sexual silence is real. O’Brien got dis-invited to lead the Marquette family not because she crossed a line of heteronormativity, but because she discussed these matters publicly.

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Related Sexuality & Society blog posts:

Dworkin, S. and Lerum, K. “Marquette rescinds job offer to sociologist and sexuality scholar Jodi O’Brien.” May 10, 2010. 

Lerum, K. “Catholic Priests, Sexual Abuse, and Learning how to talk about sex in church.” Sexuality & Society March 29, 2010.

Referenced news articles:

Farden, K. “SU Prof. O’Brien was eager to take Dean position at Marquette.” Seattle University Spectator. May 12, 2010 

Johnson, A, Sharif Durhams, S. and Ferral, K.”Listecki raised alarm over Marquette hiring: Comments are first indication Milwaukee archdiocese raised concerns about O’Brien.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. May 12, 2010.