Author Archives: gaylepitman

About gaylepitman

I am a professor of psychology and women's studies at Sacramento City College. I teach courses on psychological disorders and on gender issues, and I'm currently teaching an exciting class called "The Psychology of Sexual Orientation." Backdrop is my first published book.

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman


“When I saw the images of bare chested men, bikini-top wearing marchers and adults kissing, I had a strong oppositional reaction to the idea of showing this to a child however reading the discussion guide in the back of the book helped me to see that a child looking at these illustrations would not read the same sexual context that I see, into these images.”

It’s hard to see the world truly through a child’s eyes. Children don’t impose the same assumptions onto the world that adults do. But they do watch us, observe our reactions to things, and then copy those reactions. That’s one way prejudice is learned.

Great review!

Originally posted on Mixed Diversity Reads Children's Book REviews:

cover for This Day in JuneThis Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman is an easy way to introduce a child to the joy motivating people to celebrate in Pride Parades every year. Easy to follow, simple, two line rhymes in inconspicuous locations on the pages, which seem to overflow with vibrant illustrations, describe the many sights common in a Gay Pride Parade. Not a part of the sparse text, but present in the illustrations are many of the political messages that are commonly seen at a Gay Pride Parade. While the illustrations are fun, this isn’t like the books we normally review, which represent LGBT-parents leading a family. There are children in a few of the illustrations but most of the illustrations feature adults having parade fun, which means that in addition to images of people with rainbow colored hair, parade floats, flags and Carnivalesque costumes, there are illustrations of men without shirts and…

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Stuff your sorries in a sack

Whenever I read my children’s book, This Day in June, different pages evoke different feelings for me. So much so that I’ve given each page a name. (Seriously. I know it’s weird.) There’s the “Dykes on Bikes” page, where motors are roaring and spirits are soaring. There’s the “leather” page, which allows me to talk to my daughter about dress-up and role-playing (in kid-friendly language, of course). There’s the “pink page,” which is totally saturated in that color. There’s the “Sisters” page, which always makes adults laugh. And there’s the HRC page, which is covered with the blue and yellow equals sign. You know, the one that looks like this:

This page makes me feel angry. And sad. And conflicted. What’s funny is that in Kristyna Litten’s initial sketches for This Day in June, there were no images of people holding up signs or banners, and there weren’t any indicators of specific groups marching. “Make it more political,” I said. “Otherwise it’s just a garden-variety parade.”

Whether she knew it or not, by adding the Human Rights Campaign and its associated logo, the book became more political. HRC is a huge presence in the LGBT community (and at Pride parades). But its presence has been massively contentious within these communities.

First, a little background: HRC is the largest LGBT advocacy organization in the United States. They oversee the largest political action committee (PAC) focusing on LGBT issues. They employ an impressive staff, and they have field offices throughout the country. They have three different boards and five advisory councils, focusing on issues such as diversity, religion, schools, and the workplace. They are a juggernaut in the LGBT political landscape. And they have committed a lengthy list of transgressions, mostly involving the transgender community, undocumented LGBT immigrants, and people of color. Here are just a few examples:

In 2008, after HRC supported a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that failed to include gender identity protections, executive director Joe Solomonese offered an apology to transgender activists. Specifically, he apologized for “misspeaking” – that previous year, he had given a speech at a transgender conference where he stated that he would only support an inclusive ENDA. He apologized for the inconsistency in his statements, but he didn’t apologize for supporting a non-inclusive version of the bill.

In 2013, at a marriage equality event at the Supreme Court, an HRC staffer asked a trans activist to remove the trans pride flag that had been raised behind the podium. Another staffer asked a queer undocumented speaker not to refer to his immigration status in his speech. The HRC issued a formal apology.

Now we’re in 2014. Several days ago, HRC president Chad Griffin issued a broad-based formal apology to the transgender community.  “I want to cut right to the chase here today,” he said. “There’s an elephant in this room, and, well, it’s me.” His apology was lengthy, specific, and heartfelt. But still, it was merely an apology.

Apology after apology after apology. Remember the phrase George Costanza used in that famous Seinfeld episode? “You can stuff your sorries in a sack, mister!” That’s how many people feel about HRC. At some point, the words “I’m sorry” hurt more than they help. There’s a next step, which involves making amends.

In the addiction recovery world, the idea of making amends is not a new one. Step Eight of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous states: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” (The HRC would have a lengthy list.) Step Nine states: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Merely saying “I’m sorry” is not an amends – an article from the Hazelden Foundation, aptly titled “Making amends is more than an apology,” makes this abundantly clear.  “An amend has to do with restoring justice as much as possible,” the article states. “The idea is to restore in a direct way that which we have broken or damaged–or to make restoration in a symbolic way if we can’t do it directly.”

Making amends, restoring justice – this is what “restorative justice” is about. In The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Howard Zehr, one of the founders of the restorative justice movement, describes it as “a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible.” It involves, for lack of better terminology, both the victims and the offenders. Victims have an opportunity to say how they’ve been affected by the injustice, and they also have a say in what should be done to repair the harm. Offenders, in turn, are expected to take responsibility for their actions, and take steps to repair the harm they’ve done.

Chad Griffin, in his speech, addressed many of the harms that HRC has either willfully or unwittingly committed. But according to restorative justice practices, that’s just a first step. What else needs to happen?

  • They need to change their practices – and it needs to happen quickly, broadly, and as close to perfectly as possible. (One social media commenter said, “There’s no room for error on this” – and I think they’re right.)
  • They need to listen . . . and listen . . . and listen some more – without interrupting, or making excuses, or hijacking the conversation to talk about all the good things HRC has done for various communities. Because this isn’t about saving face. They need to be willing to hear some really ugly stuff without trying to wiggle out of the discomfort. And they need to be willing to repair the harm in a way that’s best for the victim, not necessarily for the offender.
  • They need to accept the very real possibility that, for some people, irreparable damage may have been done. Some people in the LGBT community may never support or trust HRC, despite all of their best efforts. Part of making amends involves accepting the fact that your amends just might not be accepted, and being willing to live with those consequences. (That’s happened to me; years ago, I reached out to someone I’d hurt to try to make amends, and that person made very clear that he wanted none of it. No matter how much it sucks, I accept that I don’t get to try to make it better in order to make myself feel better.)

Even though I feel sadness, anger, and a mixture of other complicated feelings when I get to “the HRC page,” I also feel hopeful. I know that’s not true for everyone. One reviewer described This Day in June as “Pride as I would love Pride to be,” and that’s exactly how I felt as I was writing the book. Pride isn’t perfect, and our community isn’t perfect either. But I can envision what it could look like – amd reality always starts with a vision.

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Review of the Week – This Day In June

Originally posted on :

this-day-in-junePitman, Gayle E. This Day in June. Kristyna Litten, Illus. Picture Book.
Magination, 2014. 32p. $14.95. 978-1-4338-1658-1.

     With vibrant color, simple phrases, and beautifully diverse characters, This Day in June is a first of its kind: a cheerful, exuberant read-aloud about a gay pride parade. This parade has Dykes on Bikes, Leather Daddies, drag queens, a cameo by San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and above all, lots of love. Women hold hands with women, men dance with men, and children are hugged and kissed by same-sex and heterosexual parents as the parade rolls down a city street (San Francisco is hinted at, but not specified). The signs held by parade participants are an extra joy, “Born This Way,” “I [Heart] My Dads,” “Equal Love, Equal Law,” and others float alongside the book’s minimal narration: “Loving kisses/ so delicious/ All invited/ all excited.” Litten’s bright digital…

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When I drive through the Central Valley on I-5 or Highway 99, there’s a stretch of freeway where I can’t get clear reception from either the Sacramento or the Fresno NPR stations. In fact, on my way back from Fresno this weekend, the clearest signal I could get on the dial was a conservative talk radio station. So I tuned in – just out of curiosity. (This isn’t the first time my curiosity has led me to conservative talk radio stations. Regular readers of The Active Voice probably know this.) This particular station was airing an interview with Chelsen Vicari, a young millennial who was talking about her new book, Distortion: How the New Christian Left Is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith. Her argument, in a nutshell, is that Christianity is being hijacked by leftist apologists and homosexual sympathizers, and that Christians need to reclaim their faith and take back the Gospel. Here are some examples of what Vicari had to say:

On the issue of the “evangelical left”: When I say “the evangelical left,” I’m really talking about those within the church who are pushing a political, leftist agenda cloaked in Christianity. And when I say “cloaked in Christianity,” I mean using the Bible and twisting it to justify a leftist political agenda that actually goes against what Scripture talks about in many ways, for example, marriage, and life, and liberty.

On the issue of homosexuality: It is arguably the biggest, most hostile issue millennial Christians are faced with. Whenever we talk about same-sex relationships, we are either labeled as bigoted or uncompassionate, or we’re dismissed if we hold a view of marriage that is between one man and one woman.

On challenging the evangelical left: I absolutely believe that we can have revival, not just in the evangelical community but the church at large. But to do that, it’s going to start within our homes. It’s going to start by teaching our children exactly what Scripture says and how to defend it. Oftentimes the millennials are willing to compromise because, honestly, they don’t know enough about their faith to speak up about it.

So I’m listening to this, and the hair on the back of my neck is standing up. I wasn’t at all surprised by Vicari’s beliefs – listening to conservative talk radio is an exercise in redundancy. No, the thing that was getting me weirded out was that her arguments sound exactly the same as what you’d hear from an LGBTQ social justice activist. Except just a little different. Consider what Vicari was essentially saying in her interview:

1. People are taking our Scripture and twisting it around to satisfy a political agenda. (Just like people who fight for social justice argue that the religious right twists the Bible to fit their beliefs.)

2. If we “come out” as Christian, we face intense discrimination, especially if we state our true beliefs about marriage, homosexuality, and abortion. (Coming out and discrimination? Those terms have their roots in the LGBTQ community.)

3. If things are going to change, we have to stand up for what we believe in, and teach our children how to do the same. (We are a community of experts when it comes to teaching our LGBTQ children – or children growing up in LGBTQ families – to accept themselves unconditionally and to stand up for who they are.)

You listen to this stuff long enough, and you almost start to believe it.

This is an old manipulative tactic. A defense mechanism, really, if you want to use psychological language. Melanie Klein, a neo-Freudian whose work dates back to the early 1900s through the 1940s, described a complicated phenomenon called “projective identification.” Here’s how it works: First, a person (Person #1) engages in projection, which is the unconscious act of attributing a negative, distressing part of ourselves onto someone else (Person #2). In other words, we see in other people what we can’t see in ourselves. But then, it goes a step further – Person #1 manages to manipulate the situation so Person #2 actually feels what’s been projected onto them. They’re stuck holding the bag of feelings that wasn’t even theirs in the first place.

Here’s how Vicari does this in her book (and in her interview). Instead of seeing how she and other evangelicals are twisting the Bible for their own purposes, she attributes this behavior to the “evangelical left.” Instead of acknowledging how the religious right has engaged in systematic institutionalized oppression, she turns it around and frames the religious right as the oppressed and the “evangelical left” as the oppressors. And instead of making amends and practicing restitution, Vicari says that true evangelicals need to stand up and fight back against this appropriation of the Bible.

Crazy stuff. But believable, if you listen to it long enough. And that’s why projective identification is such a powerfully effective defense mechanism. You can get rid of your shadow self, throw it onto another person, and make that person believe that the shadow self was theirs all along. It’s ironic, really, that Vicari chose the word “distortion” for her title. While her readers may begin to believe that liberals, leftists, and social justice activists are distorting the truth, the truth is that Vicari is the one who’s the master distortionist.

For those of you who are college students taking an introductory psychology class (or thinking about taking it in the future), I have some advice for you. When you get to the Freudian stuff, listen up – even if you think he and his followers were complete whack jobs, snorting cocaine and talking about sex all day. (There’s some truth to that.) It will give you powerful tools to understand the dynamics of the oppressor. What I just described above is a perfect example.



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Does football have a gay glass ceiling?

Last May, when Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, lots of people asked me, “Are you going to write a blog post about Michael Sam?”

Later, over the summer, I ran into a colleague at work. We chatted, and he asked, “When are you going to write about Michael Sam?”

Last week, when I returned to work for the fall semester, another colleague said, “I love your blog. I read it every week. But when are you going to write about Michael Sam?”

Why haven’t I written about Michael Sam? Because I don’t care much about football. It’s as simple as that. Baseball is much more my thing, and lately I’ve been focused on Derek Jeter’s upcoming retirement. Because I’m woefully ignorant about football, I didn’t feel especially qualified to comment on Sam.

I will say this, though. Years ago, I was talking with a friend about the lack of out LGBTQ people in professional sports, and I said, “When someone does finally come out, it’ll need to be someone like Peyton Manning or Mariano Rivera. They’ll need to be so invaluable to the team that being gay won’t matter.”

Now that Michael Sam has been cut by the Rams, I still stand by that comment. And I’ll explain why, drawing from research focusing on the broad spectrum of minority groups.

Michael Sam’s situation is a perfect example of a phenomenon called access discrimination, which takes place during the hiring or promotions process. Federal legislation prohibits many forms of access discrimination – per the Civil Rights Act, an employer can’t say that an applicant didn’t get the job because of race, or sex, or religion, or a number of other factors. (Sexual orientation and transgender status, by the way, aren’t currently included in that list. Stay tuned to see if that changes anytime soon with the passage of an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.) Because overt employment discrimination is illegal (not to say it never happens), access discrimination often occurs in more subtle forms. And when discrimination occurs in subtle ways, it’s hard to know whether it REALLY was discrimination, or if it’s a figment of your imagination.

Michael Sam could have been the victim of access discrimination based on sexual orientation. Or he just might not have cut it in the highly competitive world of professional sports. Researchers who study marginalized groups are aware of the challenge of identifying access discrimination when it occurs subtly. As a result, a wide range of studies have zeroed in on some “clues” that can tell you whether or not access discrimination may have taken place.

Clue #1: Your employer holds stereotypical beliefs. This is probably one of the more robust research findings. For example, several studies indicate that employers are significantly less likely to hire someone who has a very African American-sounding name (like Lakisha or Jamal) compared to a White-sounding name. Older workers are likely to face access discrimination if the person who is hiring holds ageist beliefs. And gay and lesbian applicants, according to research conducted by organizational psychologist Belle Rose Ragins, are more likely to face discrimination if the workplace culture is predominantly heterosexual. If the gatekeeper to a new job opportunity has strong beliefs about who should and shouldn’t be hired, you better believe it’s going to be challenging for the shouldn’t-be-hireds to gain entry.

Clue #2: You are applying for a prestigious position. A perfect example of this is the U.S. Presidency. Only one person of color has been able to break through into that position. As of yet, no woman has been successful in securing that job. Yet women and people of color have served in lower levels of government for quite some time. This “glass ceiling,” if you will, probably occurs for a number of reasons. For one thing, researchers have noted that members of marginalized groups are likely to be “tokens” on the job – single representatives of their minority group. As a result, they may be less likely to be mentored by senior employees and groomed for more prestigious positions. If you’re not an “old boy,” so they say, it’s nearly impossible to break into the “old boys’ club.” And that club, like it or not, can make an enormous difference in whether or not a person breaks into a high-level position.

Clue #3: You are applying for a job that is considered “inappropriate” for your minority group. A study published in Sex Roles a number of years ago indicated that males and females who were applying for “sex-incongruent” jobs faced a steeper hill to climb in getting the job – and being favorably evaluated later on if they were actually hired. This is a factor that is also highly likely to intersect with Clue #1 – if an employer has stereotyped beliefs, and the applicant in question challenges the gender/race/sexual orientation/age/etc. norms of the position, it’s highly likely that access discrimination will result.

Clue #4: Your qualifications are ambiguous. Both classic and current studies indicate that ambiguous qualifications are an easy scapegoat when access discrimination is happening. For example, in a research article aptly titled “Hard Won and Easily Lost,” researchers note that, for minorities in the workplace, making small mistakes on the job can be an employment deal-breaker. Drawing from Alice Eagly’s many studies of gender discrimination in the workplace, the article states:  “Although minorities with unambiguously strong qualifications are often evaluated fairly, when qualifications are ambiguous, stereotypes strongly influence judgments . . . . Thus, a Black job candidate with a stellar record will receive high evaluations, but a Black candidate with a mixed record will face discrimination when compared with a White candidate.” If you’re a minority, and you’re not The Perfect Candidate, then you’re much less likely to get hired for the job.

Let’s bring all this back to Michael Sam. Without commenting specifically on the decision-makers within the St. Louis Rams organization, I think it’s fair to say that many people in professional sports hold “stereotypical beliefs” about gay men – and that those stereotypical beliefs might be strengthened by the fact that Michael Sam is a gay Black man. (There’s Clue #1.) I think it’s also fair to say that getting a spot on the team is a “prestigious position” (Clue #2.) Some would say that it’s “inappropriate” for a gay man to play football in a world of heterosexual teammates. (That’s Clue #3). And Michael Sam was the 249th out of 256 draft picks, making him a good player but maybe not a Great Player (Clue #4).

So was Michael Sam a victim of discrimination, or was the cut fair? Even with all those clues, I really couldn’t tell you, because there’s no way to know for sure. I hope that another team picks him up. I hope that lots of other gay professional athletes come out of the closet, so the spotlight won’t be so brightly focused on one person. And I really hope that a miracle happens and that the Yankees clinch a spot in the playoffs, so that Derek Jeter will get one more shot at a World Series ring.


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