Monthly Archives: June 2012

Respecting our elders

Several days ago, a Huffington Post blogger posted an article titled “Sitting Out Pride This Year,” which lamented the hijacking of Pride celebrations by major corporations – particularly those that make their profits from sales of alcoholic beverages. Hundreds of people commented on this post, and these comments ranged from this:

Amen! I did not go to Pride this year for exactly the same reasons. Thanks for saying it so clearly.

to this:

Our community is under attack . . . Sit out pride? I think not.

But it was this statement that really got me thinking:

Our first Pride March was held in 1985. At night, downtown. There were 60 of us. People threw bricks and bottles at us. This year attendance is expected to be over 4,000. It is being advertised on TV, even. Perhaps the author is too young and spoiled to understand how these things began. How hard it was at the beginning, the price those of us who are over 50 paid so he can gripe about “corporate sponsorship.”

The same day I read the Huffington Post article (and comments), Routledge LGBT Studies (which you can “like” on Facebook) posted a free-access article on their page from the Journal of Gerontological Social Work titled, “Lesbian and Gay Elders and Long-Term Care: Identifying the Unique Psychosocial Perspectives and Challenges,” authored by Gary Stein and Nancy Beckerman of Yeshiva University and Patricia Sherman of Kean University. I don’t know about you, but when I read a comment about the “young and spoiled,” and then later I come across an article about the “unique challenges” of lesbian and gay elders, I take it as a sign and pay attention. So I read the article, and I wanted to share some thoughts about it – and about how times, and people, have changed.

First, let’s take stock of the social, political, and cultural landscape for LGBTQ people who are currently 65 or older:

  • They were born in 1947 or earlier. Some were very young children during World War II.
  • Their formative elementary school years spanned the McCarthy Era, during which time anyone remotely associated with the Communist party or with leftist politics (including lesbians and gay men) were persecuted by the U.S. government.
  • They were at least 10 years old in 1957, when Evelyn Hooker published her groundbreaking study demonstrating that gay men are just as psychologically well-adjusted as heterosexual men.
  • They were at least 22 years old in 1969 when the Stonewall Riots took place – and it’s highly likely that members of this age cohort participated in that event.
  • They were at least 26 years old when, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Associaton removed the diagnosis of “homosexuality” from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
  • They were at least 35 years old in 1981, when AIDS was discovered in the United States.
  • And, in 1985, when the above commenter participated in his first Pride march they were, well, the age I am now, in 2012.

If you think about it, these are the people who lived through the worst kinds of homophobia. But they are also pioneers of the LGBTQ rights movement. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, both in their early 30s at the time, formed the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization, at the height of the McCarthy era in 1955. Frank Kameny, who was born in 1925 and died last October, co-founded the Mattachine Society in 1961. ACT UP was founded in 1987 by LGBT activist Larry Kramer, who was 52 years old at the time. And if it wasn’t for Craig Rodwell, who, at 29 years old, organized the first Gay Pride march in New York City in 1969, we wouldn’t have the privilege of discussing whether or not to “sit out Pride.”

You know what’s really sad? Our elders clearly did the heavy lifting of political activism so that life would be easier for the next generations of LGBTQ people. But by the same token, our elders are now caught in the ugly confluence of homophobia and aging. Although many LGBTQ elders were pioneers and activists, many were not – they had internalized the cultural attitudes of the time period in which they grew up. And, sadly, these internalized attitudes, coupled with ageism and homophobia in our culture, appear to contribute to some troubling outcomes for LGBTQ elders. According to the Journal of Gerontological Social Work article, which qualitatively assessed their comfort level with being open about their sexual identites in retirement communities, in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, and to health care staff and other service providers:

  • LGBTQ elders feared being rejected or neglected by health care providers. This fear was particularly strong with regard to personal care aides, who have one-on-one contact with elders and would be more likely to perpetrate discrimination and abuse.
  • LGBTQ elders feared not being accepted and respected by other residents. More than 80% of participants reported experiencing discrimination and stigma from their neighbors.
  • LGBTQ elders feared having to go back into the closet if placed in a mainstream long-term care facility (and more than half indicated that they would stay in the closet).

Although we’ve come a long way, we’ve still got a long way to go. How ironic that our LGBTQ elders who planted the seeds of Pride for us seem to be so marginalized from the very community they created. I’m reminded that I have good reason to be grateful for all the strides our community has made, and that Pride is a call for me to “give back what we have so generously been given” (to plagiarize an oft-quoted phrase from Alcoholics Anonymous). Today, on the day of the 42nd annual San Francisco Pride celebration (which, by the way, is the largest LGBT event in the United States), this is a good mantra to hold in my heart.

You can access the Journal of Gerontological Social Work article by clicking this link:

“Sitting Out Pride This Year” can be accessed by clicking this link:


Filed under coming out, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, human rights, LGBTQ, mental health, psychological research, San Francisco

Comparing apples to oranges

 If same-sex marriage is legalized, then tolerance for it will be taught in schools.

If same-sex marriage is legalized, then it will be easier for gays and lesbians to parent children.

If same-sex marriage is legalized, then gay and lesbian parents will pass down their homosexual agenda to their children.

Same-sex marriage is dangerous to children.

The “dangerous to children” argument has been the most effective – and the most fear-based – ammunition against marriage equality rights, in my opinion. So how do you counter these attitudes, especially when they’re so pervasive? To start with, you can gather the facts, and then present the facts as, well, factually as possible. That’s what social science research is all about. And, for the last twenty years, that’s what many social science researchers have been doing with respect to same-sex marriage and parenting.

Charlotte Patterson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, is one of these researchers. One of the early pioneers of same-sex parenting research, her first studies of same-sex parenting were published back in 1996. Not surprisingly, her findings indicate overwhelmingly that children raised in same-sex parenting households are as well-adjusted and healthy as children raised by heterosexual parents. In the National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study, which has been running for almost 20 years, Nanette Gartrell of UCSF has not only consistently found similarities between children raised by lesbians and those raised by heterosexual parents, but she has also identified various strengths that develop in children raised by same-sex parents. And, using 140 studies to back up his arguments Gregory Herek of UC Davis wrote an article for the American Psychologist that presented an empirically supported argument for same-sex marriage that included this statement: 

“Having same-sex parents isn’t at all harmful to children. Studies of gay and lesbian families consistently show that they are just as healthy as heterosexual families. The research also shows that having two parents is better than one, whether parents are heterosexual or homosexual” (Herek, 2006).  

Pretty ironclad statement, don’t you think? Well, here’s a truism about psychological research. Research findings are almost never consistent. It’s very rare to study a phenomenon and get the same result every single time. This is especially true in the social sciences, where we’re studying the complexities of our humanness. So it’s not outside the realm of possibility, even after 20 years, for someone to do a study on same-sex parenting and find something entirely different.

Guess what? This past week, in “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” published in Social Science Research, sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin  identified some notable differences between children raised by lesbian parents, compared to children raised by married heterosexual parents. These “notable differences,” mind you, are not trivial or positive – for example, adult children raised by non-heterosexual parents reported higher reliance on public assistance, higher unemployment, a higher rate of smoking and marijuana use, higher likelihood of being arrested and pleading guilty to a crime, higher rates of being touched sexually by a parent – the list of negative outcomes identified in this study goes on.

Social scientists, journalists, and political activists have been reacting strongly to this study since its publication.  A joint statement was released by the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Family Equality Council, and Freedom to Marry, titled “Flawed Paper Claims to Overturn 30 Years of Credible Research that Shows Gay and Lesbian Parents are Good Parents: Conservative Author Behind New Paper Marked by Poor Methodology, Faulty Conclusions.” Some of the claims in the title are valid. For one thing, one egregious methodological error is that Regnerus compared apples to oranges. Instead of studying same-sex parents in committed relationships, he lumped together anyone who was raised by a parent who participated a same-sex romantic relationship at some point in their lives, and he compared them to children raised by married and committed heterosexual parents. Moreover, the “conservative author” label probably references the fact that Regnerus graduated from a Christian college, studies the intersection between sexuality and religion, and – most notably – received funding for his same-sex parenting study through two conservative-leaning foundations. All of this poses significant challenges to objectivity.

However, I do think a potential opportunity exists with this study. Instead of viewing this study as a setback for the marriage equality fight, what if the findings from this study were used to argue in favor of same-sex marriage? In “A Liberal War on Science?” William Saletan of Slate magazine says this: “Trust science. Don’t bury this study. Embrace it.”

I love that statement.

What we need to embrace, Saletan argues, is the stability factor. If we take the focus off of “gay and lesbian,” and instead consider the findings from a “family stability” perspective, the data speak loudly and clearly: Stable families yield healthy, well-adjusted children. And, in fact, that’s what Charlotte Patterson and Nanette Gartrell have found in their studies. Children who are raised by committed, financially secure lesbian couples grow up to be just fine. But when we look at the “family stability” literature (not just considering gay and lesbian parents, but all kinds of families), we find that family instability results in all sorts of problems.

Sounds like a powerful argument in favor of same-sex marriage, doesn’t it? If marriage promotes stability, and stability promotes health and well-being in children, well, that speaks volumes to me.

To read Mark Regnerus’ study, go to

To read William Saletan’s article in Slate magazine, go to




Filed under LGBT families, LGBTQ, LGBTQ youth, psychological research, same-sex marriage

Blowing up the boxes: Intersectionality, revisited

School is out for the summer. For most people, that means, Time to kick back and relax. Time for that much-needed vacation. Time for barbecues, pool parties, trips to the beach.  

For me, it means, Time to get cracking on my next book.

Now that I have room to breathe from my very busy teaching schedule, the ideas have been flowing like crazy. And I truly believe that writing this blog every week has allowed these ideas to take hold and percolate, even without me being consciously aware of it. As I look back over the last several months of blogging, I see that some common themes keep coming up again and again. I’ve written about the importance of framing homophobia (not homosexuality) as the problem. I’ve written about the critical importance of LGBTQ visibility, both in affirming our own personal truths as well as in the service of influencing public policy. And I’ve written about the incredible complexity of the LGBTQ community – which is what I plan to focus on in my next book.

Several weeks ago, in a post titled “Going outside the box,” I wrote about the concept of intersectionality – the idea that our identities can’t easily be categorized into nice, neat, simple categories. Unfortunately, the field of psychology has been a little behind the eight ball when it comes to incorporating intersectionality into research. Because traditional research and statistical methods favor clear-cut, discrete categories, psychological research tends to focus on one identity category at a time. And that becomes highly problematic when we begin to consider real, flesh-and-blood people. We just can’t be reduced to one simple isolated category. Yet instead of developing more complex models to accommodate the complexities of LGBTQ people, researchers often try to fit LGBTQ people into simple, research-friendly models.  

And yet, as annoyed as I can get with my chosen academic field for being so slow on the uptake, I do think the beginnings of a paradigm shift are rumbling. Recently, I came across an article in the Journal of Bisexuality titled, “The Bisexual Youth of Color Intersecting Identities Development Model: A Contextual Approach to Understanding Multiple Marginalization Experiences,” which embodies exactly the kind of shift I’m envisioning. First of all, the authors, Kirstyn Yuk Kim Chun of California State University, Long Beach, and Annelise Singh of the University of Georgia, aren’t trying to make things easier on themselves by just studying bisexuality, or just studying youth, or just studying race. In fact, they’re not even restricting themselves to those three categories – their model invites inclusion of other facets of identity. However, it’s abundantly clear that an intersecting identities development model can’t plagiarize from existing identity development models and just plug in new terminology (which, in my opinion, is what usually happens). They have to start from the ground up and create an entirely new paradigm.

And they did. 

To describe their model in more depth, we’ll need to shift from left-hemispheric, linear, logical reasoning to right-hemispheric, visual, dimensional reasoning. Most sexual orientation identity development models fall into the former category (linear and logical) and look something like this:


These theories are called “stage models” for a reason. You start off at Stage 1. You eventually step up to Stage 2. Then Stage 3, 4, 5 (depending on how many stages are included in the model). Eventually you “arrive” at the final stage, where you are a fully out, integrated, well-adjusted, self-actualized person. These models are hierarchical, usually unidirectional, and involve only one element of identity development.

Now consider this image:

This is what’s called a Venn diagram, which you don’t see very often in psychological research. A Venn diagram allows a researcher to construct a model that is complex, multidimensional, and fluid. And, utilizing a variation of the model pioneered by developmental psychologist Uri Bronfenbrenner, that’s exactly what Chun and Singh used in their intersecting identities development model (apologies for the fuzzy image, but hopefully you get the idea):

If this isn’t thinking outside the box, I don’t know what is. In many ways, this type of developmental model breaks all kinds of unwritten methodological rules. For example, linear stage models with discrete categories lend themselves very well to quantitative analysis (number-crunching, in simpler language). Step-wise models allow for the development of psychological measures to assess which stage a person might be in (another quantitative methodology). And linear stage models have a beginning, a middle, and an end – and, if we go with what the Gestalt psychologists believe, we love theories that have continuity and closure. Venn-style models have none of that. 

I’ll admit openly that I’m unabashedly a left-brained, categorical thinker. However, I think this next book is going to give the right side of my brain a workout. In fact, that’s probably an understatement – delving into the topic of intersectionality isn’t just going to challenge me intellectually, but also emotionally and spiritually. I’m ready for the ride.















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Filed under bisexuality, homophobia, LGBTQ, psychological research, Uncategorized

Flaunting, recruiting, and destroying: It’s Gay Pride month!

It’s June, and Pride season has begun. Nothing seems to promote LGBTQ visibility more than a Pride celebration – and, predictably, when Pride celebrations are held, all kinds of homophobia starts to come out of the closet. While some of these forms of homophobia are obvious, some are more subtle and covert, harder to put your finger on – and, as a result, maddeningly difficult to counter.

Martin Kantor, psychiatrist and author of the book Homophobia: The State of Sexual Bigotry Today, offers a brilliant analysis of the wide range of motives behind homophobia. Throughout his book, using a psychoanalytic perspective, Kantor provides a typology of various forms of homophobia, essentially cutting them down to size by giving them a name – which I find to be enormously helpful. There are times where I find myself in a situation, and some homophobic act occurs, and I think to myself, “I know that was homophobic, but I don’t know why.” It’s extremely unsettling to not know why, and as a result it’s very difficult to take purposeful action. Kantor, in effect, tells us why. And he uses the power of words to name the homophobia, empowering us to take action against it.   

Here’s a perfect example. Read this excerpt from a recently published letter to the editor of a Bozeman, Montana newspaper:

Why do you have to openly march on the streets of Bozeman? Not all people flaunt their lifestyles before the public. Can’t you quietly live your lifestyles like we do? Just live the lifestyle you’ve chosen and keep quiet. If everyone with grievances to air acted like your group, our news media would be very busy. Why were you unhappy before you came out? Why does it please you that Bozeman officials condone your actions? Can’t you live among us and remain silent and happy?

The word “flaunt” is what catches my eye in this letter. Lots of people say, “I’m okay with gay people – but I hate that they feel the need to flaunt it!” This is what Kantor refers to as projective homophobia. Instead of recognizing and dealing with the discomfort within themselves, people who make these kinds of statements project their discomfort onto the “flaunters,” expecting them to change so that they can feel okay. Essentially, the meta-message behind a statement like “Can’t you live among us and remain silent and happy?” is something like this: “Can’t you be quiet so I can be comfortable?” If only the drag queens, and the men wearing nothing but leather chaps, and the two women kissing each other would just go away, then all would be fundamentally well with the world.

Sometimes the more subtle fear embodied in projection gives way to a more obviously histrionic fear. In response to an article published in an Indiana newspaper titled, “Not all flamboyant: Gay pride festival expands kids events,” a commenter stated the following:

“I’m not sure this is an environment I would expose my kids to.” 

Another commenter simply said this:

“Recruiting the children into their lifestyle.”

These statements reflect what Kantor would refer to as histrionic homophobia – the “Chicken Little” version of homophobia, if you will. This overdramatized fear of the impact of homosexuality on children was used very skillfully by Anita Bryant in her 1970s and 1980s “Save Our Children” campaign, and it continues to be used to erode LGBTQ rights. The power of this form of homophobia lies in the drama and the emotionality of it – when someone engages in histrionics, it’s hard not to get caught up in the drama and resort to emotional reasoning.  And the idea that being gay is catching is definitely dramatic and emotional.

One of the most powerful and primitive forms of homophobia Kantor talks about is paranoid homophobia. To cite an example, in Moscow, Russia this past week, a group of LGBTQ activists staged two demonstrations for the right to have a Pride parade in the city. St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, already has a law that makes it a crime to spread “gay propaganda” among young people, and the Russian parliament is considering extending the measure nationwide. (QUIZ: Does this sound like histrionic homophobia to you?) In this climate, it’s not surprising that former Mayor Yuri Luzhkov described Pride parades as “satanic,” and that one counter-demonstrator held up a sign that said, “MOSOCOW IS NOT SODOM.” When one’s homophobia deteriorates into a fear of “catching the gay” and eventually leading to the downfall of civilization, then we’re definitely in the realm of paranoia. And it’s the paranoiacs that are most likely to act out and engage in hate-motivated violence, because paranoia is one of the most fragile and thinly-veiled defenses. When a person’s fear comes too close to the surface, and they can’t acknowledge or deal with that fear, they will often go to any lengths to keep those feelings at bay.  

On a much lighter note, I thought I’d end with a link to a 2001 article published in The Onion, one of the most hilariously satirical publications on the Internet. I’m sure you’ll see all three of these forms of homophobia embedded in that article.,351/


Filed under biphobia, covert homophobia, hate crimes, homophobia, LGBTQ, overt homophobia, San Francisco, transgender, violence