Category Archives: sexual rights

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).

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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.

US makes historic move to recognize human rights of sex workers

Great news for advocates of sexual health, human rights, and social justice! See my story below (first posted March 15, 2011 at Ms Magazine Blog):

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Recently I blogged about how the United Nations’ Human Rights Council flagged sex worker rights in its periodic review of the United States’ human-rights record. Member state Uruguay recommended that the U.S. “ensure access to public services paying attention to the special vulnerability of sexual workers [sex workers] to violence and human rights abuses.”

Within four months of Uruguay’s recommendation to the U.S., and after a subsequent flurry of advocacy efforts by sex worker activists, researchers, and allies (including me), the State Department has released its response. To each of the 228 Universal Periodic Reviewrecommendations, the State Department replied in one of three ways: “fully support,” “partially support” or “do not support.”

In what is being heralded as a victory for sex workers’ rights, the State Department chose to “fully support” Uruguay’s recommendation, stating: “No one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitution.”

This simple statement marks a potential monumental shift in U.S. policy: a new recognition that anti-trafficking policy alone is not an adequate response to the human rights violations of all sex workers. There is mounting evidence that current anti-trafficking policy ignores (and even exacerbates)  human rights violations of adult, consensual sex workers and of people working under coercive or trafficked conditions.

Members of my group, Human Rights For All: Concerned Advocates for the Rights of Sex Workers and People in the Sex Trade (HRA) were ecstatic. “People in the sex trade have been marginalized and stigmatized when seeking public services, including through law enforcement. This is a big step forward to acknowledging sex workers’ human rights,” says Kelli Dorsey, Executive Director of Different Avenues, a group dedicated to reproductive justice by and for girls and women of color.

“We were long overdue for the United States to take the needs of sex workers seriously, particularly the need to stem violence and discrimination,” says attorney Sienna Baskin, Co -Director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York.

On Friday, March 18, sex workers will stage demonstrations in cities across the country to celebrate the adoption of Recommendation #86. For further information on the demonstrations, as well as supporting documents, see the HRA website.

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Links:

 

Human Rights for U.S. Sex Workers now on Global Stage

For the past few months, I have been honored to be part of a team of activists and researchers responding to developments involving the United Nations Human Rights Council, the US State Department, and matters concerning human rights abuses against sex workers. The team of which I am a part is one of many civil society groups invited to engage in dialogue with the State Department in response to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of the human rights record of the United States. For this blog post, submitted on March 3 – International Sex Workers’ Rights Day – I will briefly share highlights of this unprecedented historic process.

The Universal Periodic Review is a relatively new procedure created by the United Nations Human Rights Council (which itself was only created in 2006). Over the past three years (beginning in 2008 and ending in 2011) the human rights record of all member states of the global community have been and/or will be reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. This past November (2010), it was the turn for the current human rights record of the United States (as well as 15 other UN member states) to be reviewed. Upon review of the US record, more than 200 recommendations were made to the Obama administration, including the following by member state Uruguay[i]: “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.”

Since its review in November, the US State Department has engaged in meetings with civil society representatives to help inform its response to the 228 UN recommendations. (The entire list of recommendations to the US can be found here).

Uruguay’s recommendation has generated an exciting and productive dialogue among people concerned with the welfare of sex workers and people in the sex trade. This historic moment has also created a refreshing opportunity to discuss sex work BOTH as a human rights issue AND as an issue that cannot be adequately addressed by responses to sex trafficking alone.

Will the US administration recognize this UPR recommendation, and make concrete steps to improving human rights for all, including sex workers (meaning ALL sex workers, including adult consensual sex workers AND those who are exploited or trafficked)? We are hopeful that it will. Judging by the outpouring of support we have received from leading researchers and organizations — representing sexual and reproductive health, law, and criminal justice — we are far from alone in this hope. Several formal letters of support have been received, including from former Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), and Change.org. Dozens of other researchers, experts, and organizations have given signatures of support including Human Rights Watch, Sexuality Information and Education Council (SIECUS), and Amnesty for Women.

These letters and signatures, along with other documents including a policy brief discussing violence against sex workers, have been submitted to the State Department for review. Below are segments of this policy brief (see end of post for list of authors and collaborators).

“In November 2010, the current human rights record of the United States was reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. As part of this process, members of the U.N. made a series of recommendations toward improving human rights in the U.S. In recommendation #92.86, member state Uruguay called on the Obama Administration to “undertake awareness-raising campaigns for combating stereotypes and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and [transgender people],[ii] and ensure access to public services paying attention to the special vulnerability of [sex] workers[iii] to violence and human rights abuses.”[iv]

“This recommendation from the global community highlights human rights issues that have gone unnoticed for too long. Sex workers—that is people who engage in sexual commerce for income and subsistence needs—are members of families and communities in all parts of the United States. Because of stigma and criminalization sex workers—and those profiled as such—are subjected to violence and discrimination, and are impeded from accessing critical services, such as healthcare, 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 poor and working class, urban, majority African-American and immigrant communities and also greatly affect lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Globally, the U.S. federal anti-prostitution policies, such as the “anti-prostitution pledge,” have had dire consequences for international HIV/AIDS efforts.

Our policy brief discusses and critiques three policy areas in need of improvement: 1) Federal policies that conflate sex work and trafficking, 2) Federal approaches to HIV/AIDS, and 3) Criminalization (including state level laws) and Policing. Below is our language on Federal policies that conflate sex work and trafficking:

“Some current federal policies are rooted in the misconception that sex work and human trafficking (a serious human rights abuse acknowledged by the U.S. Government under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and subsequent re-authorizations) are the same issue. This misconception, combined with pressure from some advocates seeking to use concern about human trafficking as a way of diverting resources into anti-prostitution campaigns, has had significant impact on efforts to provide the services and support needed by sex workers both within the United States and globally.

“Globally, the U.S. imposes the Anti-prostitution Loyalty Oath or the “anti-prostitution pledge” on groups funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to provide services internationally to address HIV/AIDS.[v] In order to receive funds organizations must adopt a policy indicating that they oppose prostitution and “sex trafficking.” This policy runs counter to documented best practices for HIV/AIDS interventions[vi] and have lead some groups to avoid offering any health and safety services for sex workers.[vii] [viii] As a result, the global and public health community has been virtually unanimous in its calls for revoking the anti-prostitution pledge. [ix] [x] [xi] [xii] [xiii] Two lawsuits against the U.S. government were filed on behalf of three U.S.-based NGOs engaged in HIV-prevention, leading to U.S. Court Judgments concluding that the “anti-prostitution pledge” is unconstitutional on the basis of violating the first amendment right to freedom of speech.[xiv] The Department of Justice has appealed both cases; the second case is still in court.[xv]

“Federal policies that conflate sex work and trafficking also impact sex workers’ human rights domestically. Federal funding and other resources intended to protect victims of trafficking have instead been used to arrest and incarcerate adult sex workers based on state laws. For example, ongoing federal taskforces aligned with regional and municipal law enforcement agencies, such as “Operation Cross Country,” use funds that are allocated for services for trafficking victims.[xvi] There is mounting evidence that anti-trafficking brothel raids of this kind place migrant sex workers and trafficked persons at greater risk of incarceration, deportation, and trauma.[xvii]

After careful consultation with organizations run by and serving sex workers, as well as human rights activists and members of the State Department, we have made a number of recommendations to the US government. These recommendations, in their shortened version are the following:

The U.S. Federal Government can show progress in addressing human rights abuses against sex workers by a) accepting recommendation #92.86, and b) engaging in concrete, politically-feasible steps that can minimize human rights abuses including at a minimum:

  1. Building capacity for states to address human rights violations through research and dialogue.
  2. Modifying or eliminating existing federal policies that conflate sex work and human trafficking and prevent sex workers from accessing services such as healthcare, HIV prevention and support.
  3. Investigating and preventing human rights abuses perpetrated by state agents, such as law enforcement officers.
  4. Investigating the impact of criminalization, including state level criminal laws, on sex workers and other groups.

These recommendations, if approved and implemented, will address the needs of a population that disproportionately impacts low-income women, but will also serve a population that is extremely diverse in terms of sex, gender presentation, sexual orientation, race, class, and nation of origin. In the midst of numerous and devastating political assaults on women’s health care in the US, the movement for a human rights policy approach for sex workers and people engaged in sex trade work in the United States is a breath of hope. Stay tuned: the State Department is scheduled to release its response the the UPR recommendations soon.


[i] Uruguay has already shown clear leadership in sexual rights and social justice; Uruguay was the first South American country to recognize civil unions for both same sex and different sex partners in 2007 and legalize same sex adoption in 2009; it has low levels of income inequality, and is ranked at the top of  South America countries for a range of quality of life and prosperity measures. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguay

[ii] The translation of member state Uruguay recommendation uses the term “transsexuals.” We have inserted the term “transgender people” which is a translation that more accurately reflects terms used in the United States.

[iii] The translation of member state Uruguay recommendation uses the term “sexual workers.” We have inserted the term “sex workers” which is a translation that more accurately reflects terms used in the United States.

[iv] Human Rights Council, United Nations General Assembly. Geneva, 1-12 November, 2010. Draft Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/session9/US/A_HRC_WG.6_9_L.9_USA.pdf

[v] Organizations within the U.S. were also subject to the pledge under Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act but recent policy changes now allows groups to say that they have no policy on prostitution and will remain neutral during the term of the grant.

[vi] UNAIDS. 2002. Sex Work and HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS Best Practice Collection. http://data.unaids.org/publications/IRC-pub02/jc705-sexwork-tu_en.pdf

[vii] Sexual Health and Rights Program (SHARP), Open Society Institute. 2007 (June). Anti-Prostitution Pledge Materials. http://www.soros.org/initiatives/health/focus/sharp/articles_publications/publications/pledge_20070612

[viii] Human Trafficking, HIV/AIDS, and the Sex Sector: Human Rights for All. (October 2010). Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law. (See P. 22). http://www.genderhealth.org/files/uploads/change/publications/Human_Trafficking_HIVAIDS_and_the_Sex_Sector_12_3_2010_FINAL.pdf

[ix] In 2005, Brazil turned down 40 million dollars of USAID funds due to its ethical opposition to the “anti-prostitution” pledge. See: http://www.thenation.com/article/just-say-não

[x] Middleberg, M.L. 2006. “The Anti-Prostitution Policy in the US HIV/AIDS Program.” Health and Human Rights 9, 1: 3-15.

[xi] Roehr, B. 2005. “Charity Challenges US ‘Anti-Prostitution’ Restriction.” BMJ 331(7514): 420.

[xii] Schleifer, R. 2005. “United States: Funding Restrictions Threaten Sex Workers’ Rights.” HIV/AIDS Policy Law Review 10, 2: 26-7.

[xiii] Center for Health and Gender Equity. 2008 (August). “Policy Brief: Implications of U.S. Policy Restrictions for HIV Programs Aimed at Commercial Sex Workers.” http://www.genderhealth.org/loyaltyoath.php

[xiv] Bristol, N. 2006. “US Anti-Prostitution Pledge decreed “Unconstitutional.” Lancet 1, 368 (9529): 17-8. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(06)68948-4/fulltext

[xv] For an in-depth discussion of the anti-prostitution pledge and its current legal status, see Pp. 18-26 of Human Trafficking, HIV/AIDS, and the Sex Sector: Human Rights for All. (October 2010). Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law. http://www.genderhealth.org/files/uploads/change/publications/Human_Trafficking_HIVAIDS_and_the_Sex_Sector_12_3_2010_FINAL.pdf

[xvi] More information available at: http://www.examiner.com/sex-trafficking-in-national/fbi-arrests-885-suspects-nationwide-child-sex-trafficking-sting-operation

[xvii] See: Sex Workers Project. 2009. Use of Raids to Fight Trafficking in Persons.” Sex Workers Project. http://www.urbanjustice.org/pdf/publications/Kicking_Down_The_Door_Exec_Sum.pdf. Based on interviews with self-identified trafficking victims, this report recommends a rights-based (rather than a law-enforcement based) approach to identifying and assisting trafficking victims.

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*Policy Brief Authors and collaborators:

  • Kari Lerum, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington, Bothell
  • Penelope Saunders, Ph.D., Director, Best Practices Policy Project
  • Dara Barlin, Board of Directors, Sex Worker Outreach Project USA
  • Stephanie Wahab, PhD., Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, Portland State University
  • Jayne Swift, M.A. Cultural Studies & Doctoral Candidate

In consultation with representatives from the following organizations:

  • Best Practices Policy Project
  • Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network
  • Desiree Alliance
  • Different Avenues
  • Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS)
  • Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP)
  • Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center
  • St. James Infirmary
  • Woodhull Freedom Foundation

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

American anti-gay extremist finds an audience at Ugandan 50th anniversary of Pentacostalism

The following update on the Uganda anti-gay movement comes from the Box Turtle Bulletin:

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American Evangelist To Rally Against Gays In Uganda

Jim Burroway

April 21st, 2010

The month of May will be a very dangerous time to be gay in Uganda, as Pentecostal churches there gear up for a series of crusades, marches and rallies commemorating the 50th Jubilee of the Pentecostal movement there. An anonymous BTB reader in Uganda reports that television is already carrying commercials advertising at least one event, a three-day conference to be held at the sports grounds at Makerere University (Uganda’s largest institution of higher learning) with a march and rally to be held the following Friday, May 7.

In the midst of that expected furor steps yet another American anti-gay extremist, Lou Engle of The Call, who has announced plans to hold a rally in Kampala on May 2, also at the Makerere University Sports Field. The Call Uganda’s web site gives these reasons for holding the rally:

It is intended to awaken and revive the young and the old, men and women, church and family, government and the public and to fight vices eating away at our society. We shall all join our hearts across tribal, political, denominational, and generational boundaries, to cry to God to help us with the challenges in our country such as:

  • The heightened political tensions and wrangles in the country, especially as we go towards the 2011 general elections
  • The increasing level of social evils in our society, some which are threatening our values and lifestyles e.g.
    • Witchcraft and human sacrifice
    • Homosexuality and increased immorality
    • Disasters and the resultant suffering of the people
    • The decay of morals and infrastructure of our city Kampala

Engle’s emotionally-charged extremism and violence-laden rhetoric has become quite familiar here in the U.S. Engle believes that gays are possessed by demons, and was part of a major rally for Prop 8 in San Diego where he called for Christian martyrs. Casey Sanchez, of the Southern Poverty Law Center describes one talk that Engle gave this way:

“I believe we’re headed to an Elijah/Jezebel showdown on the Earth, not just in America but all over the globe, and the main warriors will be the prophets of Baal versus the prophets of God, and there will be no middle ground,” said Engle. He was referring to the Baal of the Old Testament, a pagan idol whose followers were slaughtered under orders from the prophet Elijah.

“There’s an Elijah generation that’s going to be the forerunners for the coming of Jesus, a generation marked not by their niceness but by the intensity of their passion,” Engle continued. “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Such force demands an equal response, and Jesus is going to make war on everything that hinders love, with his eyes blazing fire.”

Engle has also said, “The most ‘dangerous terrorist’ is not Islam but God. One of God’s names is the avenger of blood. Have you worshiped that God yet?”

Last year, a BTB reader shared with me his experience of attending a Call rally in Nashville in 2007.  Tyler (his last name is being withheld) remembers that day vividly — July 7, 2007 (07/07/07 was their “Holy Date”):

I went to Nashville and the day was a whole day of fasting and prayer to “turn the nation back to God.”  Their tactics include, in my opinion, a lot of manipulation using emotionally-driven songs, yelling, dancing, and the like to get individuals charged up.

The Call Uganda’s web site lists the following endorsements by Ugandan Christian leaders:

  • Bishop Simon Peter Emiau – Chairman Evangelical Fellowship of Uganda;
  • Archbishop Luke Henry Orombi – Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda;
  • Pastor Jotham Mutebi – Chairman Full Gospel Churches of Uganda;
  • Pastor Titus Oundo – Chairman Deliverance Churches of Uganda;
  • Apostle John Mulinde – World Trumpet Mission, which also has extensive staff in Orlando, Florida under International Director Mark Daniel.
  • Apostle Jackson Ssenyonga – Christian Life Ministries;
  • Pastor Gary Skinner – Watoto (formerly Kampala Pentecostal) Church. An elder of that church is Stephen Langa, who helped to organize last year’s anti-gay conference featuring three American anti-gay activists. That conference delivered the “nuclear bomb” that served as a precursor and catalyst to the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is now before Uganda’s Parliament.
  • Apostle Joseph Ssewadda – General Overseer of Born Again Federation;
  • Peter Asiimwe – Uganda Evangelical Mission Agency;
  • Pastor Fred Wantaate – Coordinator for Pentecostal Golden Jubilee – Full Gospel Church.

The next several weeks will prove to be exceedingly dangerous for LGBT Ugandans. Last year’s conference led to a massive public anti-gay pogrom that included a public vigilante campaign in a major Ugandan tabloid and various FM stations in Kampala in which gay people were forcibly outed. We have reports that several people lost their jobs and were abandoned by their families as a result. Several were arrested, and there are reports of at least one death in the eastern city of Mbale.

Frank Mugisha, president Sexual Minorities of Uganda, said, “Gay people are already fleeing their homes and have to move from house to house because of threats to their lives. Americans need to stop Lou Engle from coming to Uganda.”

When we first reported on the anti-gay conference last March in Uganda, we warned that it was a very dangerous move. But even knowing and warning of those dangers, we had no idea that it would ultimately lead to a proposal to put gay people to death under certain circumstances.

After that experience, there now can be no excuse. We know what can happen following rallies like this one. And whatever happens as an aftermath of this rally, no one can say they could not predict what would happen next. Given the virulent hatred openly expressed by ordinary Ugandans and their religious leaders toward the gay community, Engle’s rally is a dangerous and reckless escalation.

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I’d like to know this: at what point will other countries began offering political refuge for gay Ugandans? At what point will there will be airlift evacuations? When will American people of faith intervene with these extremist religious leaders?

Related Sexuality & Society posts:

A legacy of White Supremacy: Why Ugandans embrace U.S. Christian right’s anti-gay-agenda (Jan. 13, 2010).

Growing Global Opposition to Ugandan “kill the gays bill” (Dec. 14, 2009).

Homo hatred in Uganda: A gift from US conservative evangelicals (Dec. 9 2009).

International Sex Worker Rights Day

It seems appropriate that our follow up to the Facebook “Kill your hooker” story is a post on Sex Worker Rights.

Today, March 3, has been named by sex worker rights activists as a day to recognize sex worker rights as human rights. The following article comes to us via the St. James Infirmary, a free medical and social services clinic in San Francisco run by and for sex workers:

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International Sex Worker Rights Day

The 3rd of March is International Sex Worker Rights Day. The day originated in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival. The organizers, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group whose membership consists of somewhere upwards of 50,000 sex workers and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3 March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (2002): “We felt strongly that we should have a day what need to be observed by the sex workers community globally. Keeping in view the large mobilization of all types of global sex workers [Female,Male, Transgender] , we proposed to observe 3rd March as THE SEX WORKERS RIGHTS DAY.”

This year, we celebrate March 3, International Day for Sex Worker Rights with a lobbying day in Sacramento. Our issues include criminalization of out communities, targeting of transgendered workers, migrants and sex workers of color, lack of police protection and recourse in cases of abuse, and targeting sex workers in lieu of addressing the real issues of trafficking.

This March 3rd Sex Workers Outreach Project NorCal members are bringing forth a specific and urgent issue for which we seek you support. Among the numerous hardships which effect our communities, it is surprising that our insistence on condoms for protection is actually used as evidence in prostitution cases by police and District Attorneys in this state. Although sex workers use condoms, it is clear that condom use is inhibited when the mention or use of condoms can be employed against them. This practice is rampant. In fact, two SWOP members are challenging cases which use this type of evidence. The legislation we bring to Sacramento will halt this practice.

As the late Senator Milton Marks wrote in a 1994 letter condemning this practice, “The result of this has been a fear among prostitutes to use condoms. This is alarming to me and should be alarming to all public health officials, as it runs directly counter to the work we have done in the AIDS pandemic.”

We believe ONLY RIGHTS CAN STOP THE WRONGS.  If you would like to join us please call SWOP 877-776-2004

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Other resources on US-based and international sex worker rights movements include:

Making Hate Fun: Facebook users continue to joke en masse about killing “hookers”

Last Tuesday, Feb. 9, I learned of a Facebook fan page dedicated to “Killing your hooker so you don’t have to pay her.” As a sex worker ally, sexuality scholar, and someone invested in the humane treatment of all people, I became dedicated over the next 24 hours to shut that page down. I immediately reported the page to Facebook administrators, and encouraged all of my Facebook friends to do the same. On Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 1:26 pm (PST) when the site was still up, I posted the following to my Facebook friends:

This was the image for the Facebook page, "Killing your hooker so you don't have to pay her." The group Sexinpower.com inserted the word "Fail" on it to illustrate the failure of this fan page.

 

“In less than 24 hours, I have seen the FB site dedicated to “killing your hooker” increase from 17,500 fans to now more than 22,000. Please join me in kicking this FB group out of our community; report it to the FB directors. This group is in clear violation of FB rules, including: 6. You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.7. You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, … etc”

Many other sex worker activists and humanitarians across the globe were simultaneously doing the same work. By Wednesday at 5 pm (PST), just over 24 hours after I learned of the site, and just days after its creation, Facebook administrators deleted the site. For Facebook, this was not a matter of “free speech”; it was a matter of a clear violation of their community rules. (Hate groups and bullies all of kinds are free to proliferate on the internet, but are not welcome on specific community membership cites such as Facebook).

Unfortunately, I fear and see that this is just the beginning of hate-speech pages on Facebook. Because Facebook allows anyone to set up an account, and because (at least for now) it seems that Facebook administrators are not pro-active in monitoring hate groups, everyday Facebook users (people like me who would otherwise be taking breaks from work to post about their kids or their cats) have found that they have an ethical obligation to also watch out for and report Facebook hategroups.

The group Feministing.com is one such group that this week has found itself to be one of these reporting the abusive, hate-filled page. As might be expected, those behind the “killing your hooker” fanpage are not happy about the critique. Here’s one quote from the “killing your hooker” folks:

“The worthless CUNTS over at Feministing are reporting you because they think they are the policemen (oops policePERSONS) of the internet. Let Feminist cunts know what you think about their crusade to silence all free speech they deem “inappropriate.” (see article in Carnalnation.com)

These slurs against women and feminists are as old as misogyny and a common tactic for diverting attention away from serious, grownup critique and dialogue. The issue of “free speech” is one that is incredibly important, but it is a principle that is always constituted and negotiated within particular parameters. “The internet” is a broad space that allows all (and hence not a true “community”), but Facebook is a smaller space with particular rules.

Carnalnation.com (the group reporting on this story above) is a community that is very much dedicated to freedom of speech and expression, but it too is absolutely opposed to the inclusion of hategroups in the Facebook community. In their mission statement Carnalnation states that:

In our view, fear and disdain of all things sexual have led to a society that too often vacillates between impulsive titillation and compulsive repression. Such extremes can only have a negative impact on our physical, psychological, and social well being.”

Carnalnation.com is encouraging its readers to report hategroups such as “killing your hooker,” and has found that there are “232 (Facebook) groups that currently have the words “dead hooker” in them.  (Dead Hooker Storage, Accidentally Pissing On A Dead Hooker, and A Dead Hooker A Day Keeps The Doctor Away are just three of them.)” Feministing.com is also reporting that “killing your hooker” now has simply morphed into a new Facebook fan page (still live as of this writing), entitled “GTA taught me that if you kill a hooker, you get your money back.” (note: GTA here stands for Grand Theft Auto, a video game.)

According to today’s Sydney Morning Herald the creator of “killing your hooker” has been identified. Who was the creator of this page, Gary Ridgeway?

(Gary Ridgeway, AKA “The Green River Killer,” is serving a life sentence for the murders of 48 women, most of whom he picked up on the streets of Seattle/Tacoma as prostitutes. After his sentencing Ridgeway admitted to a “career” of murdering 71 women.)

No, the source of “killing your hooker” is an Australian boy described as a “Catholic school student”:

A Catholic school student has been “dealt with” after he set up a Facebook page that appeared to advocate killing prostitutes. … The principal of St Laurence’s College in Queensland, Ian McDonald, confirmed a student from the school had been disciplined over the creation of the page.

“It has been sorted out and the boy has been dealt with,” Mr McDonald told AAP on Friday.

Ian McDonald, the principal of the private Catholic school (which at least one Australian newspaper describes as “elite”) went on to underscore that:

“This didn’t happen at the school, but does highlight the fact that we really need to educate the students about the dangers on the internet.” (emphasis mine).

In this logic, the magical, uncontrollable “internet” is the problem, as opposed to cultures that support (or do not directly challenge) the violent degradation of entire groups of people.

Case in point: In one of the several online groups discussing this case today, “Middie” complains about people taking this issue too seriously:

There are so many sites going against this. Jesus people, take a fucking joke. Do you realize this is based on the game GTA? I know the guy that did it, and i’m pretty sure he didn’t make it for real life hookers. By the way, hookers are illegal, so they have no fucking rights in my eyes. (emphasis mine).

Dear Principal McDonald: please note that that “Middie” is probably one of your students. These attitudes do not come to exist in a cultural vacuum. The culture of your school is what you need to be concerned with, not the “internet.”

Dear “Middie“: your point brings us precisely to the larger problem of a lack of support for the human rights of all, including sex workers. And although prostitution is actually LEGAL in parts of Australia (where you apparently currently reside), your point illustrates the need for clearly articulated and enforced sex workers rights in Australia and elsewhere.

Principal McDonald, parents, internet and sexuality scholars and activists, please do not blame “the internet” for sites like this; we must investigate how our own assumptions promote (or stay silent on) everyday acts of cruelty.

_______

Postscript:

In addition the obvious humanitarian need to oppose the degradation of any group of people, many public health scholars emphasize the importance of reducing stigma for sex workers. Here is a link to a recent blog post by Dr. Petra Boynton, on Sex workers, Stigma, and Barriers to Health.


A legacy of white supremacy: Why Ugandans Embrace U.S. Christian Right’s Anti-Gay Agenda

This post by Edwin Okong’o comes via Rh Reality Check. Okong’o is a contributing blogger at RhReality check and an editor at New American Media (where the story was originally posted). Okong’o explains the cultural context under which the Ugandan “kill the gays” legislation could occur (Why Uganda? Why not Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, or Wyoming — where plenty of people hate gays?). Okong’o’s answer points in part to deep seated white supremacist beliefs — both by the religious proselytizers/colonizers and the religious proselytized/colonized:

“Having gone through schools reading mostly textbooks written by white men, Africans are programmed to accept any Western literature. Add the word of God to that and the white man’s message becomes gospel truth. That’s why when a white religious fanatic like Scott Lively writes in his book, “The Pink Swastika,” that Nazis committed the Holocaust because they were gay, without hesitation Africans promise ‘to stand firm to fight homosexuality.’”

Please read on below:

By Edwin Okong’o, New America Media

picture-3161January 13, 2010 – 7:00am

There is a joke among Africans about how colonialism began. A Christian missionary came with a Bible in hand, told our ancestors to bow their heads for a prayer, and when they opened their eyes their land was gone. Today, the same can be said about African constitutions.

American religious right-wingers are flocking to Africa and are having more success in passing new legislation criminalizing homosexuality there than they are having in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.

The most vicious of those laws is in Uganda, where Parliament is now considering a bill that would make some homosexual acts punishable by death. Although they have denied it, evidence suggests that American right-wingers are in the forefront of this war on homosexuality.

Among them is the Fellowship Foundation, better known as the Family, a secretive but powerful evangelical club that includes U.S. senators and congressmen. Republican senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, Jim DeMint and Sam Brownback belong to the group. The group includes members like Mike McIntyre, a conservative Democratic congressman, who believes that the Ten Commandments are “the fundamental legal code for the laws of the United States.”

Publicly, the Family’s most prominent event is a National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington, D.C., which has been attended by congressmen, senators, and even presidents. In his book, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” New York University scholar Jeff Sharlet writes that of the Family’s $14 million budget, “the bulk of it, $12 million, goes to ‘mentoring, counseling, and partnering with friends around the world.’”

In other words, having failed to turn the United States into a true “Nation under God,” American evangelicals are going to Africa to satisfy that calling. Is there a better place to create Christian nations than in a continent with nearly 500 million impoverished believers, and easily corruptible governments? Similar laws have been proposed, or exist, in Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda and Malawi.

“You develop a relationship with the [African] presidents in the spirit of Jesus,” Sen. Inhofe said in a February 2009 interview posted on the website of Faith and Action, an evangelical Christian group, whose “mission is to awaken the conscience of our nation by proclaiming Truth to those in positions of power.”

In his book, Sharlet writes that Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni is the organization’s “key man” in Africa. Museveni’s relationship with the Family goes as far back as 1986, when he came to power following a bloody civil war. David Bahati, the Ugandan lawmaker who introduced the anti-gay bill, is also a member of the Family.

U.S. evangelical groups have gotten so close to African religious and political leaders that they openly conduct their hateful crusades. In early March 2009, for example, U.S. religious extremists played a central role in the “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda” held in Kampala, Uganda. Among speakers was Scott Lively, a California evangelical pastor who heads Abiding Truth Ministry.

Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian priest who went undercover to the “viciously homophobic” conference, quoted one Ugandan attendee as saying, “The man of God (Scott Lively) told us about…a movement behind the promotion of homosexuality. … I got to know that there is a force behind homosexuality, which we need to tackle with force. He also told us that these people who are behind this…evil, they have all resources that they need…to spread this evil. We need to stand firm to fight homosexuality.”

Evangelicals have managed to succeed in promoting homophobia by taking advantage of Africans’ lack of adequate information. They have presented homosexuality as a new “culture,” rather than something that has existed all along.

Kaoma quotes yet another Ugandan from the anti-gay conference: “Dr. Scott told us about Brazil where, 10 years ago, homosexuality was unheard of. Today, it is the capital. There are people that have been against homosexuality that are having to leave because of the pressure and the threats that they are putting on them. That is how serious it is.”

Africans take such filth without questions because they suffer from a severe case of inferiority complex. Even worse, they staunchly believe in the supremacy of the white man. Ill-informed Christians like the ones Rev. Kaoma quotes above, place the white man immediately below the Holy Trinity, a belief with its roots in the colonial era.

Growing up in Kenya, I heard stories about how supernatural the white man was. When we did well in school, our parents and teachers said we were as intelligent as white men. When you went to take a bath, Ma told you to come out as clean as a white man. If the white doctor at the hospital failed to diagnose your disease, death was imminent.

Even among the “educated,” this plague runs deep. In 2006, I mentioned to my younger brother — a graduate of a Kenyan university — that I had co-taught a writing class at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was studying journalism.

“Come on! Stop playing,” he brushed me off and laughed.

When he was finally convinced that I was telling the truth, he asked, “Were there white students in the class?”

Having gone through schools reading mostly textbooks written by white men, Africans are programmed to accept any Western literature. Add the word of God to that and the white man’s message becomes gospel truth. That’s why when a white religious fanatic like Scott Lively writes in his book, “The Pink Swastika,” that Nazis committed the Holocaust because they were gay, without hesitation Africans promise “to stand firm to fight homosexuality.”

As I ponder over this issue I’m reminded of the 1980s, when Reinhard Bonnke, a German evangelist who claimed to have healing powers, visited Kenya. Business came to a halt, as people with all kinds of ailments traveled to Nairobi to seek his miracles. Kenyans flocked Bonnke’s sermons because they believed that as a white man, he was closer to Jesus Christ than were black evangelists.

If Archbishop Manassas Kuria, who at the time was the Anglican primate of the Church of Kenya, had called a press conference to announce that he had healing powers, they would have laughed at him, and perhaps accuse him of blasphemy. Black clergymen do not perform miracles.

The belief that black people can only speak to God through white men is illustrated in the same interview Sen. Inhofe gave to Faith and Action. Inhofe describes the Family’s work in a “miserable” village in Benin. The hamlet’s name translates to “Village of Darkness,” he says, and children “drink mud and die of dysentery.” The evangelicals rescue the village by providing sanitary water.

When residents ask why the evangelicals have decided to shine light on the village, the Americans say, “Because we love you.” And when they ask, “Why do you love us?” they answer, “Because Jesus loves us.”

No one asks why Jesus didn’t send love directly to Africa without going through middlemen. Inhofe says today the village has changed its name to “The Village of Jesus”, thanks to the Savior’s “miracles.”

Now imagine telling such people that the “force behind homosexuality” threatens to corrupt their children and anger Jesus. They will “stand firm to fight” this “evil.” Enacting laws allows them to hide the blood in their hands.

 

 

 


Top Ten Sexual Stories of 2009

In his book, Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds (1995, Routledge), Ken Plummer explains that when individuals narrate seemingly internal and personal stories about their sexuality, these aren’t very individual or internal at all. Rather, such narratives emerge in themes that are made possible due to specific cultural and political conditions; sexual stories are thus part of larger sexual storytelling culture, and can be understood and made meaningful and visible only via existing cultural frames.

In 1995 Plummer documented three kinds of emerging sexual stories: rape stories, coming out stories, and recovery stories. The year of 2009 brought several unique opportunities of its own to tell sexual stories. Some of these stories reaffirmed and revisited familiar plots to “old” sexual stories, while some forged new territory. We have decided to group this year’s stories (which we have selected with a highly subjective and US based lens) into themes; each theme is a compilation of several individual stories, forming what we see as a larger set of cultural stories being told about the pleasures and dangers of sexuality, and the roles of social institutions in regulating and redefining normative sexual boundaries. Thanks to Phil Cohen, Holly Lewandowski, and Amanda Hess for story leads. Also, thanks to RhReality Check’s Amy Newman for her list of top stories from 2009 (from which we borrowed a few).

#10. “Squeaky-clean”-men-who-cheat stories, starring Tiger Woods!Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren

In her recent article on Tiger Woods, Shari Dworkin debunks widespread psychological and “sex addiction” explanations for Tiger Woods’ affairs:

“Recent media coverage of Tiger Woods’ marital “transgressions” is overflowing. Some argue that Tiger is sex obsessed and has a “sex addiction” given his high sex drive and desire for sex with many women over time. Others argue that any sports star who is on the road and away from home so much has a huge chance of being unfaithful to their wife. (Some media reports argue that it is “rare” to find a faithful male sports star). Still others argue that Tiger Woods’ late father pressed him down under his thumb too much as a youngster and upon his death, Tiger unleashed his “wild side.”  Finally, some news reporters offer that Tiger was “traumatized” as a child when his father cheated on his mother, and that he must just be paradoxically following in dad’s footsteps. But very little media coverage attempts to press beyond an individual level and not many articles offered a much needed broader analysis of masculinity, race, sport, sexuality, and media.”

  • images-3Similar structural and cultural analyses incorporating masculinity and institutional/political power could and should also be applied to the other stars of this story, including: Mark SanfordJohn Ensign, & John Edwards.
  • Additionally, a cross-cultural perspective is needed here as well (e.g. why are these stories so powerful and shaming in the US, but not in European countries?)

#9. Gay-marriage-success stories, starring: Argentina!

Argentina Gay Marriage -- first in Latin America

Latin America's first gay marriage, in Argentina

 

According to The Guardian: “In Latin America policies and attitudes have mellowed over the past two decades and in most countries it is now illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Buenos Aires, Bogota and Mexico City boast gay pride parades and gay-friendly districts where same-sex couples can kiss and hold hands in public. Yesterday Di Bello, 41, and Freyre, 39, became the continent’s first gay married couple. The pair sidestepped a court ruling blocking their wedding in Buenos Aires by holding the ceremony in Ushuaia, capital of Tierra del Fuego province and the world’s southernmost city. They exchanged rings at a civil ceremony witnessed by state and federal officials, prompting jubilation by gay rights activists and consternation from the Catholic church. “My knees didn’t stop shaking,” said Di Bello. “We are the first gay couple in Latin America to marry” (Guardian.co.uk — Dec. 29, 2009).

Gay-marriage- success stories from 2009 also starred: Mexico City, Washington DC, New Hampshire, Sweden, Iowa, Vermont, and Norway. These are just the states, countries, and cities adopting gay marriage in 2009 and doesn’t include the longer list of locales which legalized domestic partnership in 2009. [The appendix to this is the Gay-Marriage-doom-&-gloom story: starring the Catholic Church (Maine) & the Mormon Church (California, from 2008)]

#8. Multiple-birth stories, starring: Angela Suleman (aka Octo-mom!)

octo-mom

While more women are having multiple-baby births (thanks to IVF technology), not all multiple-birth mothers are viewed the same. Kathryn Joyce from RhReality Check offers an insightful comparison between the highly demonized Angela Suleman (“octo-mom”) and a “Reality TV” family with 18 children:

“Suleman’s newborns were delivered, as it were, into a pop cultural moment of preoccupation with large families. Reality TV shows about families with many children abound on TV’s TLC channel, most notably with the chronicles of the 18-child Duggar family. That the Duggars are grounded in and motivated by the pro-patriarchy Quiverfull movement, with its emphasis on female submission and male headship, is breezily dispensed with in favor of dwelling on the sentimental and zany experiences of life in a 20-person family. “Jon and Kate Plus Eight,” another reality TV show about a large family – this one the result of sextuplets born to a mother who, like Suleman, chose not to selectively reduce the number of embryos that “took” during an IVF treatment – is less burdened by the extremist ideology that undergirds the Duggars’ convictions, but still presents a traditional picture of large family life, with married heterosexual parents and a stay-at-home mother. …. While many observers are concerned with her apparent inability to support such a large family, the fact that she is unmarried has alone been cause enough for others to declare her family a situation of de facto child abuse” (for Joyce’s full article click here).

#7. Homo-hater stories, starring: conservative religious anti-gay activists in Uganda and the US!

Doug Coe, leader of the arch conservative U.S. group, "The Family"

Doug Coe (center), leader of "The Family"

 

In a recent post on Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, Kari Lerum wrote that:

“…there is an increasing amount of scrutiny and disgust from many regarding the direct connection between the Ugandan anti-homosexual campaign and a conservative U.S. religious group called “The Family” — which some, including The Observer have called a ” cult” due to the requirement for core members to remain secret about their activities. Regardless of what the group is labeled, it is clear that it has been successful in recruiting high level political leaders including some US congressmen and Uganda’s president Museveni to its core values:  “fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they once termed ‘totalitarianism for Christ’ ”

#6. Catholic-priest-cover-up stories, starring: the Irish Catholic Church!

Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern

Irish Justice Minister Ahern at press conference about decades of Priest abuse

 

As quoted in the LA Times: “Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin engaged in a widespread cover-up of abuses by clergy members for decades, a “scandal on an astonishing scale” that even saw officials taking out insurance policies to protect dioceses against future claims by the victims, a commission reported Thursday after a three-year investigation” (see full article here)

Ross Douthat, a conservative writer for the New York Times and the National Review, describes how a culture of fear around sexuality is precisely the kind of culture that produces sexual abuse — and especially cover-ups of sexual abuse. Douthat concludes that:

“…you can see how it could all go bad — how a culture so intensely clerical, so politically high-handed, and so embarrassed (beyond the requirements of Christian doctrine) by human sexuality could magnify the horror of priestly pedophilia, and expand the pool of victims, by producing bishops inclined to strong-arm the problem out of public sight instead of dealing with it as Christian leaders should. (In The Faithful Departed, his account of the scandal, Philip Lawler claims that while less than five percent of priests were involved in actual abuse, over two-thirds of bishops were involved in covering it up.) I suspect it isn’t a coincidence that the worst of the priest-abuse scandals have been concentrated in Ireland and America — and indeed, in Boston, the most Irish of American cities — rather than, say, in Italy or Poland or Latin America or Asia” (see Douthat’s article here).

# 5. Panic-over-sex/gender/sexuality-fluidity stories, starring: Caster Semenya!

Castor Semenya

18 year old Caster Semenya got a makeover

 

Mississippi girl fighting for her right to wear a tux for her Senior Class photo

Ceara Sturgis, fighting for her right to wear a tux for her Senior Class photo

 

articleLarge-150x150

Click here for Adina Nack's post on "cross-dress" codes

 

In her post in Sexuality & Society, Shari Dworkin writes, “While Caster Semenya’s recent “news” seems to have shocked the world, the concern about “gender verification” in sport has taken place for quite some time. The tests have changed over time…but the point has not (e.g. when women are “too good,” they must not be women). …” (see also sociologist Philip Cohen’s story about Semenya, and an update on Caster’s status in the NYT). Note that in these stories there are never any calls for parallel sex verification tests to see if men they are “too much of a man,”—a man that no other “normal” man can hope to “fairly” compete with. This is because of the specific role that sport has historically played in terms of making boys into men (when women compete, there have been numerous fears that they are masculinized and are not “normal” women).

This year’s sex/gender/sexuality-panic stories also starred: Morehouse College‘s dress code, a high school girl wearing a tux, & a 4 yr. old boy kicked out of preschool for having “long” hair.

# 4. Harsher punishments for-sex-with-minors stories, starring: Roman Polanski!

Roman Polanski

Filmmaker Roman Polanski was arrested in 1977 for the sexual assault of a 13 year old girl. He spent 42 days in a California prison and was released. Upon hearing of  a judge’s plan to have him serve more time and possibly deport him, Polanski fled to France. In 1988 Polanski was sued by the girl he assaulted and in 1993 settled with a payment reported at around $500,000. In the  years that have passed Polanski also married (in 1989), had two children, and continued on as a prolific and well regarded film maker.  For reasons that are still murky in terms of timing, Polanski was arrested on Sept. 26, 2009 (32 years after the crime) at the Zurich, Switzerland airport at the request of US authorities. Polanski’s case, spanning decades and continents, offers an insight into how laws and attitudes about sex with minors has changed in the US:

The LA Times reports that “(s)tatutory rape convictions similar to Roman Polanski’s typically result in sentences at least four times longer today than the 90-day punishment a judge favored before the director fled the United States in 1978, a Times analysis of Los Angeles County court records shows. Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland on an international fugitive warrant — and his pending extradition proceedings — have sparked transatlantic debate about whether the 76-year-old Academy Award winner should serve additional time behind bars for having sex with a 13-year-old girl….The Times analyzed sentencing data to determine how L.A. County courts today handle cases in which men admit to statutory rape — also known as unlawful sex with a minor — in exchange for the dismissal of more serious rape charges, as Polanski did. The findings show that those defendants get more time than Polanski has served — even factoring in his 70-day stint in Swiss detention — but less than his critics may expect. … “Thirty years ago, sexual assault — rape and sex crimes — were treated differently,” said Robin Sax, a former sex crimes prosecutor for the L.A. County district attorney’s office. “Time and education haven’t worked for Polanski’s benefit.”

Sociologist Barry Dank, founding editor of the Journal Sexuality & Culture, has blogged extensively about the Polanski case. Dank writes:

“There is no question that what Roman Polanski did to a 13 year old girl in the 1977 was wrong, and illegal. But it is also wrong to drag Polanski back to the US 31 years after the crime and have him spend an unspecified amount of time in prison. What possible good would come about by Polanski doing time for the crime? Obviously, it would not function to rehabilitate him or change him in some way. The fact that Polanski has had a stellar film career and apparently lived a law abiding life for 32 years after the crime is indicative that the case for changing Polanski is simply irrelevant.”

The details of Roman Polanski’s case lies in stark contrast to the case of Phillip Garrido, a registered repeat sex offender who was arrested earlier this year for kidnapping 11 yr old Jacee Dugard, and holding her captive and sexually abusing her for 18 years (from 1991-2009). The young Dugard bore two children out of Garrido’s abuse (now ages 11 and 15).

Despite today’s more stringent punishments for statutory rape, we hope that US jurors and judges will be able to distinguish the vast differences between the sexual crimes of Polanski and Garrido.

# 3. No-condoms-for-those-who-need-it-most stories, starring: Pope Benedict XVI!

pope_benedict_gambia

While HIV/AIDS rates in sub-saharan Africa continue to soar, and condoms are very effective in fighting HIV/AIDS (when used correctly and consistently) Pope Benedict told Africans that it was wrong to use condoms.

The Pope’s message was also heard in the US, at least among some US Catholic college students. Amanda Hess, writer for the Washington City Paper highlights how all 3,000 students at Catholic University are now prohibited from having sex that is “disruptive”  (defined as “ANY” sexual expression inconsistent with the Catholic Church including premarital sex and same sex sexuality). These rules are written into the code of student conduct. Hess states that:

Deference to the catechism spares Catholic administrators from the awkward enterprise of referring to masturbation, condoms, or any other specific of a typical undergraduate’s sex life” … “violations to the student code can’t be absolved in typically Catholic fashion, with forgiveness administered privately after confession to a priest. At the Catholic University of America, your sins are subject to judicial review” (click here for full article).

Clearly, if the Catholic church cannot discuss sex outside of sex within marriage, they cannot discuss condoms very effectively.

#2. Backlash-against-sexual-&-reproductive-justice stories, starring: the murderer of  Dr. George Tiller!

Gosh, this story is soooo last century (the 80s and 90s were full of anti-abortion terrorism stories), but unfortunately it’s still a story in 2009.

George Tiller

Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who provided late term abortions in Wichita, Kansas, was shot dead while attending Sunday Church services. Jodi Jacobson, Editor of Rh Reality Check explains the importance of Dr. Tiller’s work, as well as the cultural context for how perceptions of his work are widely inaccurate:

“In all the extensive coverage of the assassination in his church of Dr. George Tiller by a murderer affiliated with extremist right-wing groups, little has been said to shed light on what late-term abortions are, who has them and why. Instead, much of the media and talking heads pontificating on this subject have constantly focused on Tiller’s being “one of the very few doctors who perform late-term abortions,” without providing any context as to why he did so and under what circumstances. As a result, the dominant narrative is one which perpetuates an assumption that people are electing to have late-term abortions for the sake of convenience.”   (To read Jacobson’s entire analysis, click here).

And finally, we’d like to end on a positive note, with a list of sexual and reproductive justice stories from 2009:

1. Sexual-&-reproductive-justice stories, starring Barack Obama!

Obama signed and/or was involved in the following sexual health and justice developments:

images-7

And although this last bill still needs to be signed, we are expecting Obama to:

  • fulfill his promise to fund evidence-based, scientifically based sex education.

As Kari Lerum noted in a recent post, the movement toward more abstinence-only approaches is driven almost entirely by conservative religious ideology, not scientifically reliable evidence.” Because of the lack of scientific credibility for Abstinence-only sex education, we are hopeful that all funding for abstinence-only sex education will finally be eliminated from the US Federal budget.

We are intrigued by many of this year’s sexual stories, saddened by some, and encouraged by others. May 2010 be filled with opportunities to reframe old (sexist, racist, homophobic, and sex-negative) stories into sexual stories that involve measured discussion of sexual health, sexual justice, and sexual rights.

 

Kari Lerum & Shari L. Dworkin, Eds. Sexuality & Society.

Growing global opposition to Ugandan “kill the gays bill”

In the past several days there has been growing global dismay and disapproval over Uganda’s “kill the gays bill” (to use Rachel Maddow’s term). As well there is an increasing amount of scrutiny and disgust from many regarding the direct connection between the Ugandan anti-homosexual campaign and a conservative U.S. religious group called “The Family” — which some, including The Observer have called a ” cult” due to the requirement for core members to remain secret about their activities. Regardless of what the group is labeled, it is clear that it has been successful in recruiting high level political leaders including some US congressmen and Uganda’s president Museveni to its core values:  “fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they once termed “totalitarianism for Christ’ ” (as quoted by Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, 2008). This post is a follow up on my last post on this issue and a compilation of several news stories for the purpose of updating concerned readers on the Uganda situation. I start with snippets of a Nov. 25, 2009 article from The Observer which describes the history and ideology of “The Family” (I have put some words in bold for emphasis; also note that the article below mispells Sharlet as “Sharlett”). I end with a very preliminary list of groups lining up in opposition to this bill.

Museveni, Bahati, named in US ‘cult’ (click here for the full article in The Observer) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 20:45
NEW YORK: “President Museveni, Ethics Minister Nsaba Buturo and MP David Bahati have been linked to a shadowy religious fundamentalist group in the United States known as the ‘The Family’.  …According to journalist, academic and author Jeff Sharlett, who has spent years researching on The Family, its core agenda includes fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they once termed ‘totalitarianism for Christ’. “  

“It recruits people in positions of power and influence to promote its agenda and, according to Sharlett, the group has had its sights on Uganda for over 20 years. He also says the group is behind the anti-gay legislation recently tabled in Parliament by Ndorwa West MP, David Bahati, which proposes the death penalty for men who have gay sex with disabled people, under-18s, or when the accused is HIV-positive.”

“In an extensive interview with National Public Radio (NPR), a privately and publicly funded non-profit radio network in the United States, Jeff Sharlett said that The Family identified President Museveni as their “key man in Africa” in 1986.  …”

“Describing Museveni as a “core” member of the group, Jeff Sharlett alleged that President Museveni visits, spends time and “sits down for counsel” with Doug Coe, the leader of The Family, at the group’s headquarters at a place called The Cedars in Arlington, Virginia.

The Observer reporter continues:

“One of The Family’s central ideas, according to Jeff Sharlett, is that Jesus Christ’s message was not about love, mercy, justice or forgiveness. Rather, it was about power. The group says that Jesus didn’t come to take sides, he came to take over. Doug Coe, the leader of the group, tries to illustrate this, for instance, by saying, sort of posing a puzzle: name three men in the 20th Century who best understood that message of The New Testament. And most people are going to say someone like Martin Luther King, or Bonhoeffer; or maybe the more conservative, they can say, [evangelist] Billy Graham.  And Coe likes to give an answer – Hitler, Stalin and Mao, which just makes your jaw drop. And he will say – he’s quick to say these are evil men, but they understood power. And that message recurs again, and again, and again in The Family,’ Sharlett said.”

“Sharlett, who spent time within The Family as an undercover researcher, given access to its leaders and archives, said that the group actively promotes dictators in pursuit of its economic and other interests. Because of its influence in Washington, the seat of the American government, foreign leaders find it in their interest to associate with the group.”

“Senator Tom Coburn, who also sits on the Senate Arms Forces Committee, is quoted to have said he has been on a mission to Uganda to “promote the political philosophy of Jesus as taught to him by Doug Coe.” … Jeff Sharlett says he has established in recent investigations that the group has been channeling money to Uganda to promote its activities, including the anti-gay Bill. … “The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda,” he said. According to Jeff Sharlett, in Uganda, Museveni, Buturo and Bahati are not merely under the influence of The Family but they are, in effect, The Family.

“The Family, also known as The Fellowship, was founded in the United States in 1935. According to its founder, Abraham Verene, God came to him one night in April, 1935, and told him that Christianity has been focusing on the wrong people, the poor and the suffering, “the down and out”. He commanded him to be a missionary to and for the powerful, the “up and out”, who could then pass off the blessings to everybody else.”

Doug Coe the head (or perhaps more aptly titled, “the godfather”) of The Family does not have the name or face recognition of other conservative evangelical Christian leaders such Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, or Rick Warren (in fact, it is very difficult to find ANY good or current photos of the man online). Nevertheless he is well known in Washington DC amongst politicians and has considerable political influence domestically and globally. In 2005, Time Magazine named him one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. As reported by Time:

Several members of Congress live in rooms rented in a town house owned by a foundation affiliated with the group. Coe and his associates sometimes travel (on their own dime) with congressional members abroad and—according to investigations by the Los Angeles Times and Harper’s—have played backstage roles in such diplomatic coups as the 1976 Camp David accords…

While Time Magazine named Coe and described his organization over four years ago, only in the past several months has The Family began receiving serious, and critical, media attention. This attention began after Jeff Sharlet published his book on the Family in 2008, and escalated after the summer of 2009 political sex scandals of Senator John Ensign and S. Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, both of whom are connected to the group. With the introduction of the Uganda anti-homosexual bill in October 2009, The Family and other US based evangelical Christians such as Rick Warren became subjects of widespread academic and human rights critique.

In the past few days scores of politicians, global public health workers, human rights groups, and religious leaders have denounced this bill as a fascist, even genocidal, act. Below is a sample of those making public oppositional statements:

Politicians: Senator Russ Feingold “has warned that relations between Uganda and the United States would suffer because of a proposed Bill against homosexuality. Mr Russ Feingold, who chairs the Senate’s Committee on Africa, said he was outraged by the Anti-homosexuality Bill proposed by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati.” (US Senator joins critics of Anti-homosexuality Bill (Dec 14) Daily Monitor)

Public health officials: According to Stephen Lewis, the former United Nations envoy on AIDS in Africa, “This intended anti-homosexual statute has the taste of fascism.”.. “The proposed law would “demonize homosexuality” and “intensify stigma,” driving gays underground and making it much more difficult to prevent the spread of AIDS…”. (http://www.stephenlewisfoundation.org/)

Human rights groups: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both released statements in absolute opposition to this bill.

Religious leaders: Several moderate US Christian leaders have expressed opposition to this bill. Some Conservative evangelical Christian religious leaders  in the US are also now coming out against it. After several calls by human rights activists and reporters, US evangelical pastor Rick Warren released a video statement to Ugandan Christian leaders asking them to not support the bill (while maintaining that God does not support homosexuality). Warren has been identified as closely tied to Ugandan anti-gay activist Martin Ssempa. Click here to view Warren’s video address and read Amie Newman’s analysis.

The growing multi-sector, and increasingly multi-national, opposition to Uganda’s anti-homosexual bill is heartening. The bill itself has been temporarily “tabled.” However the hatred and fear stirred up by US-based anti-gay activists in Uganda and surrounding African countries is enormous, and will take much work to reverse. Building coalitions between Ugandan and African-based human rights activists, moderate religious leaders, and HIV/AIDS workers is an obvious step. But another, perhaps more crucial step in the US is for the politicians to finally uphold their commitment to a separation of Church and State. It may be time for the White House and Congress to officially sever its ties with The Family.

See also: