Monthly Archives: November 2011

Remember the Two-Spirits

This week, on Thanksgiving Day, I’m posting an op-ed piece by the Rev. Irene Monroe called “Remembering Two-Spirits This Thanksgiving.” The original link can be found at http://www.shewired.com/lifestyle/2011/11/23/remembering-two-spirits-thanksgiving-oped?page=0,0.

Every year I submit this piece for Thanksgiving because it captures, in my humble opinion, the best way I can express my outrage of the genocide of Native Americans that is summarily glossed over with a national celebration and an annual holiday of its occupiers.

As I prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I am reminded of the autumnal harvest time’s spiritual significance. As a time of connectedness, I pause to acknowledge what I have to be thankful for. But I also reflect on the holiday as a time of remembrance – historical and familial.

Historically, I am reminded that for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is not a cause of celebration, but rather a National Day of Mourning, remembering the real significance of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 as a symbol of persecution and genocide of Native Americans and the long history of bloodshed with European settlers.

I am also reminded of my Two-Spirit Native American brothers and sisters who struggle with their families and tribes not approving of their sexual identities and gender expressions as many of us do with our families and faith communities.

“Yes, there’s internalized homophobia in every gay community, but as Native Americans we are taught not to like ourselves because we’re not white. In our communities, people don’t like us because we’re gay,” Gabriel Duncan, member of Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS), told the Pacific News Service.

And consequently, many Two-Spirit Native Americans leave their reservations and isolated communities hoping to connect with the larger LGBTQ community in urban cites. However, due to racism and cultural insensitivity, many Two-Spirits feel less understood and more isolated than they did back home.

But homophobia is not indigenous to Native American culture. Rather, it is one of the many devastating effects of colonization and Christian missionaries that today Two-Spirits may be respected within one tribe yet ostracized in another.

“Homophobia was taught to us as a component of Western education and religion,” Navajo anthropologist Wesley Thomas has written. “We were presented with an entirely new set of taboos, which did not correspond to our own models and which focused on sexual behavior rather than the intricate roles Two-Spirit people played. As a result of this misrepresentation, our nations no longer accepted us as they once had.”

Traditionally, Two-Spirits symbolized Native Americans’ acceptance and celebration of diverse gender expressions and sexual identities. They were revered as inherently sacred because they possessed and manifested both feminine and masculine spiritual qualities that were believed to bestow upon them a “universal knowledge” and special spiritual connectedness with the “Great Spirit.” Although the term was coined in the early 1990s, historically Two-Spirits depicted transgender Native Americans. Today, the term has come to also include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and intersex Native Americans.

The Pilgrims, who sought refuge here in America from religious persecution in their homeland, were right in their dogged pursuit of religious liberty. But their actual practice of religious liberty came at the expense of the civil and sexual rights of Native Americans

And the Pilgrims’ animus toward homosexuals not only impacted Native American culture, but it also shaped Puritan law and theology.

Here in the New England states, the anti-sodomy rhetoric had punitive if not deadly consequences for a newly developing and sparsely populated area. The Massachusetts Bay Code of 1641 called for the death of not only heretics, witches and murderers, but also “sodomites,” stating that death would come swiftly to any “man lying with a man as with a woman.” And the renowned Puritan pastor and Harvard tutor, the Rev. Samuel Danforth in his 1674 “fire and brimstone” sermon preached to his congregation that the death sentence for sodomites had to be imposed because it was a biblical mandate.

Because the Pilgrims’ fervor for religious liberty was devoid of an ethic of accountability, their actions did not set up the conditions requisite for moral liability and legal justice. Instead, the actions of the Pilgrims brought about the genocide of a people, a historical amnesia of the event, and an annual national celebration of Thanksgiving for their arrival.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush ironically — if not ignorantly — designated November as “National American Indian Heritage Month” to celebrate the history, art, and traditions of Native American people.

As we get into the holiday spirit, let us remember the whole story of the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers to the New World.

On a trip home to New York City in May 2004, I went to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to view the UNESCO Slave Route Project, “Lest We Forget: the Triumph Over Slavery,” that marks the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution proclaiming 2004 “The International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and Its Abolition.”

In highlighting that African Americans should not be shamed by slavery, but instead defiantly proud of our memory of it, I read the opening billboard to the exhibit that stated, “By institutionalizing memory, resisting the onset of oblivion, recalling the memory of tragedy that for long years remained hidden or unrecognized and by assigning it its proper place in the human conscience, we respond to our duty to remember.”

It is in the spirit of our connected struggles against discrimination that we can all stand on a solid rock that rests on a multicultural foundation for a true and honest Thanksgiving.

And in so doing, it helps us to remember, respect, mourn and give thanks to the struggles not only our LGBTQ foremothers and forefathers endured, but also the ongoing struggle our Native American Two-Spirit brothers and sisters face everyday–and particularly on Thanksgiving Day.

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Save Our Children

In my last couple of blog posts, I’ve been looking at the concept of framing effects – the spin that’s put on research findings, depending on how you want those findings to be interpreted by others. When we frame “the gays” or “the lesbians” or “the queers” as “the problem,” that results in a very different conversation than when we shine the spotlight on homophobia, heterosexism, transphobia, or biphobia.  For decades, anti-gay activists have argued that “homosexuals” are dangerous to children, and that has been a very powerful political tactic, both in the past as well as with current LGBT civil rights initiatives. And yet, a very different conversation results when we address the impact of homophobia – not homosexuals – on children.

Before I continue, let me back up and give a little bit of history.  After the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a groundswell of political activism on behalf of the lesbian and gay community began to take hold, and throughout the 1970s a variety of efforts to grant legal protections to lesbians and gays rippled throughout the country. One of these efforts, an ordinance passed by the Dade County Commission in Florida that outlawed discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, and public services, was, for many anti-gay activists, the straw that broke the camel’s back – and Save Our Children rose out of the embers of that backlash.

The figurehead behind Save Our Children was Anita Bryant, a singer and former beauty queen who made it her mission to overturn the Dade County ordinance. Save Our Children was based on fundamentalist Biblical preachings regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality, although it was their message regarding the influence of homosexuals on children that packed the strongest political punch. Homosexuals teach children immoral behaviors. Homosexuals recruit children into their lifestyle. Homosexuals are sexual predators and child molesters. Bringing children into the mix was a wildly successful tactic – on June 7, 1977, the ordinance was repealed, and Bryant took Save Our Children on the road, leading several other campaigns throughout the country to repeal anti-discrimination ordinances.  The message was sent – homosexuals are dangerous and harmful to children. They shouldn’t be allowed to have any influence on children – not as teachers, not as Scout leaders, and certainly not as parents.

And yet, here in 2011, many same-sex couples have children. In fact, according to the recently-released report titled “All Children Matter,” over 2 million children are currently being raised in LGBT families. And, based on thirty years of social science research, children raised in LGBT families are just as happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as children who are raised by heterosexual parents. Contrary to what the Save Our Children campaign preached, gay and lesbian parents aren’t harmful to children at all. In fact, some studies indicate better outcomes among children raised by same-sex parents – for example, the Bay Area Families Study, led by Charlotte Patterson of the University of Virginia, found that kids who had two moms were more emotionally expressive than kids raised by a mom and a dad. The National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study, led by Nanette Gartrell at UC San Francisco, found that teenagers raised by same-sex parents were more socially and academically competent and exhibited fewer behavioral problems than children raised by heterosexual parents. Clearly, these are children that don’t need to be saved – they’re doing just fine, thank you very much.

But what happens if we put a different twist on the “save our children” message? What if, instead of looking at the impact of homosexuality on children, we examine the effects of homophobia? According to the “All Children Matter” report, even though children raised in LGBT families are incredibly resilient, they are powerfully impacted by the obstacles created by stigma and. In many states, children are denied legal ties to both parents. They may not be protected if their parents split up or if the biological parent dies. Because of the way the U.S., state, and local governments define “family,” children who live in poverty may be denied access to government safety net programs. Children in LGBT families may not have adequate access to health insurance, and they may face unwelcoming health care environments. These are the very real effects of homophobia, which undoubtedly have an extremely negative impact on their well-being. And given that the highest percentages of children raised by LGBT families live in the states that offer the fewest legal protections (Mississippi, Wyoming, Alaska, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, to name a few), we’re talking about a LOT of children who are experiencing loud-and-clear-style homophobia.  

If we’re going to “save our children,” let’s protect them by doing all we can to eliminate homophobia. Let’s make sure that every state offers protections that ensure stable and loving homes, economic security, and quality health care. Let’s ensure that children are protected from bullying and harassment in school.

To read the entire “All Children Matter” report, go to http://www.children-matter.org.

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There goes the neighborhood!

It’s a pretty well-established fact that neighborhoods that are predominantly white tend to enjoy significantly higher property values than communities that are more racially diverse and integrated. Here in Sacramento, for example, properties in Land Park, East Sacramento, and River Park (predominantly white) tend to be valued more highly than those in Oak Park, South Sacramento, and Del Paso Heights, communities with high concentrations of African-American, Southeast Asian, and Latino residents, respectively. Moreover, there seems to be somewhat of a tipping-point effect – some racial and ethnic diversity may enhance a neighborhood’s desirability, but once the percentage of minority residents (particularly African-Americans) reaches 15 to 20 percent, property values take a nose-dive.

In contrast, when we look at same-sex couples (particularly gay male couples), we get an entirely different story. A number of studies have noted that when gay couples move into a neighborhood, property values actually tend to rise, not fall. Sociologist Manuel Castells introduced the concept of gay men as “gentrifiers” in San Francisco, citing the fact that they tend to be financially well-off and unshackled by children. Robert Florida, a professor of urban studies who authored the book The Rise of the Creative Class, utilized “the Gay Index” as a litmus test of a city’s creativity (and potential desirability). If this is the case, then marginalized status itself doesn’t necessarily bring down a neighborhood – it’s a more complicated picture than that. Perhaps the intersection of class status makes a difference – gay men living in the Castro district of San Francisco tend to be more financially privileged than their black heterosexual counterparts living in Bayview-Hunter’s Point or East Oakland. Invisibility may play a role too – a black man’s “blackness” is usually more obvious than a gay man’s “gayness.”  Along with that, white privilege likely plays a role. And perhaps gender privilege makes a difference as well, given that studies of “gay gentrification” don’t typically bring lesbian couples into the mix.

Whatever the case, a new study to be published in the Journal of Urban Economics sheds some new light on this issue. Using a database of over 20,000 home valuations, David Christafore of Konkuk University and Susane Leguizamon of Tulane University compared home values in various neighborhoods in Columbus, Ohio, controlling for other factors like proximity to the city center, education, and crime rates. The factor that made the most significant difference, interestingly, was how people in those neighborhoods voted on the state’s Defense of Marriage Act in 2004. The two researchers found that same-sex couples increase property values in neighborhoods that support marriage equality, and devalue prices in neighborhoods that do not. Clearly, it’s not just the presence of same-sex couples that affects property values – it’s the attitudes of the existing residents that make the difference. 
 
I think this study has the potential to change the tone of the “there goes the neighborhood” conversation. It’s not “the gays” that are the problem – the real problem lies within people’s homophobic attitudes. In some ways, I see some parallels with the U.S. military’s recently-overturned “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – a policy that was implemented based on the idea that the presence of homosexuals would significantly disrupt the cohesion of the military unit. Note that the targeted problem was the presence of visibly gay people, not visibly homophobic people. If we eliminate gay visiblity, unit cohesion will be preserved. If we keep the gays, or the blacks, or whatever marginalized group out of our neighborhood, our property values will be preserved. Focusing on homophobia rather than homosexuality brings the discussion to an entirely different level.   

I wonder, when it comes to racial and ethnic diversity in neighborhoods, what would happen if we shifted the focus from race to racism. Do property values go down because racial and ethnic minorities are moving in, or do neighborhoods devalue because of racist attitudes?

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A world without oppression

What do you think your life would be like without homophobia, racism, or sexism? This might sound like a utopian impossibility, the asking of the question a mere philosophical exercise. But it’s the question that Ilan Meyer and his colleagues posed in their new study, “‘We’d Be Free’: Narratives of Life Without Homophobia, Racism, or Sexism,” which was published this past September in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy. Fifty-seven adult sexual minority women and men responded to this question, and their narratives were examined for common themes – a method of psychological research referred to as a content analysis. The goal of this study, of course, wasn’t just to pose a hypothetical but unrealistic scenario – it was to identify some of the less tangible and difficult-to-measure stressors that sexual minorities experience. By asking about life without oppression, hopefully we can better understand life WITH oppression.

So what would my life be like without homophobia, racism, or sexism? I could be more affectionate with my partner in public. And I’m not talking about inappropriate PDAs – I’d just like to be able to hold her hand, or give her a hug, without it being weird. I wouldn’t have to deal with the crazy-making experience of determining whether an act of homophobia or sexism just occurred, or whether I’m just reading into it too much. I wouldn’t have to deal with the equally crazy-making experience of asking myself whether I hurt someone because my own internalized racism, sexism, or homophobia leaked out in an inappropriate way. I’d have a more diverse array of friends, colleagues, and neighbors. I’d probably have a closer relationship with my partner’s family, and they’d be a bigger part of my daughter’s life. I wouldn’t have to think about whether the space I’m entering is friendly or hostile to LGBTQ people. I wouldn’t have had to go through an internally turbulent coming-out process. I’d probably feel like I could move through the world without having to fear the judgments of others. I wouldn’t have to take so many precautions to prevent being victimized. Going to church (or any place of worship) would be a spiritual experience, rather than an uncomfortable one. I could live authentically and unapologetically – and celebrate the fact that others are living the same way.

And yet, as much as I dream of a world where oppression no longer exists, I feel like these experiences have made me a stronger person. As a woman and as someone who has been in relationships with both men and women, I’ve had so many experiences that have been stressful, upsetting, and in some cases traumatic. But these experiences have tested the limits of my strength and my character, and at this point in my life I feel confident, capable, and resilient most of the time – largely because of those experiences. As heretical as this might sound, I think there’s a part of me that’s actually grateful for what I’ve had to go through, and for the fact that I came out the other side stronger. Adversity builds character, they say. Moreover, adversity builds community – when you’re a member of an oppressed group, you tend to band together for support and to fight back.

So do my experiences match the findings from the study?  Three themes emerged in the narratives of the participants: 

(a) Access to possibilities and opportunities was deprived because of homophobia, racism, and sexism;

(b) Safety and acceptance were challenged because of homophobia, racism, and sexism; and 

(c) Despite this, experiencing homophobia, racism, and sexism created a sense of “positive marginality” – in other words, strength and community were born out of the experience of oppression. 

So here’s the million-dollar question: What do you think YOUR life would be like without homophobia, racism, or sexism?

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