Subscribe via RSS Feed

Tag: "gay and lesbian rights"

Leadership

[ 11 ] March 24, 2013 |

If you haven’t read Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita’s Times editorial in support of gay marriage, do so. It’s another of the growing examples of professional athletes pushing back against the homophobia that marks American sports culture. This kind of leadership does a lot to open doors for gay athletes.

This Day in Labor History: March 4, 1998

[ 33 ] March 4, 2013 |

On March 4, 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the plaintiff in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, deciding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to same-sex sexual harassment, and creating a landmark expansion of judicial oversight into the workplace.

In 1991, Joseph Oncale got a job working as a roustabout on an oil rig for $7 an hour. Employed by Sundowner Offshore Services, Oncale was assigned to a Chevron USA rig in the Gulf of Mexico. While on board, Oncale was subjected to severe sexual harassment by his supervisor, John Lyons, and his fellow workers Danny Pippen and Brandon Johnson. Lyons placed his penis on Oncale’s neck and arm. On October 25, 1991, Lyons also publicly sodomized Oncale with a bar of soap in the rig showers as Pippen held him down. Lyons also threatened to rape him. Today, most of us would no doubt consider the soap incident rape, but throughout the case, there seems to have been a steady distinction between the two incidents.

Oncale stood up for himself through this entire process. He complained to his employer, who basically said he was gay (in fact, Oncale was heterosexual) and did nothing. Oncale quit, requesting that his pink slip state that he left because of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. In his deposition, Oncale said, ““I felt that if I didn’t leave my job, that I would be raped or forced to have sex.”

With support from the American Civil Liberties Union, Oncale then filed a suit against Sundowner in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, saying his rights were violated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But there was no precedent to applying Title VII to same-sex harassment. Title VII forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin by all employers with more than fifteen employees (indeed, if your workplace has less than 15 employees, Title VII does not apply. I don’t know anything about the history of this. If anyone does, let me know). Title VII does not explicitly cover same-sex issues, as one would expect in 1964. The District Court ruled in favor of Sundowner. Oncale then appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which also ruled for the defendant.

The Supreme Court overruled the Fifth Circuit with unanimity based on a previous decision that held Title VII “evinces a congressional intent to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women in employment.” It decided that Title VII’s protections against workplace harassment applied to same-sex relationships, even if those relationships were not explicitly sexual. Sundowner argued that applying Title VII to this case would create government interference into the workplace in an unprecedented manner that would serve “as a general civility code for the American workplace.” Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the opinion, rejected this, drawing a limited application to the decision: “the prohibition of harassment on the basis of sex requires neither asexuality nor androgyny in the workplace; it forbids only behavior so objectively offensive as to alter the ‘conditions’ of the victim’s employment.”

Not only did Oncale set a precedent for same-sex sexual harassment, but it also expanded the legal definition of sexual harassment to include something broader than sexual desire, so long as it makes a worker uncomfortable on the job. The implications of this did not make many commenters comfortable. Here’s a Jeffrey Rosen piece from The New Republic expressing his concern that the courts were equating sexual expression at the workplace with sexual harassment and urging the Court to stay out regulating workplace behavior. I’m guessing Rosen now really wishes he hadn’t written that. Reading Rosen’s piece sixteen years later shows how long the road has been in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace. The late 20th century workplace was a space where power was used for sexual advantage and intimidation. Many men thought of making sexual advances on women almost as a right. Today, we slightly laugh about that while we watch the ridiculously lewd office behavior in Mad Men, but of course those sorts of things happened in any number of ways in any number of workplace settings. Creating and enforcing protections for women was controversial and contested in the 1990s. Extending such protections for men at a time when the anti-gay movement was as its peak seemed even more unlikely.

This is the 53rd post in this series. The series is archived here.

Today in the Coming Republican Coalition

[ 34 ] January 24, 2013 |

I can see why Republicans are trying to rig the 2016 elections. Their politicians are utterly hopeless in appealing to the mainstream of this nation. A couple of fresh examples from today’s news.

Here’s James Lankford, Republican congressman from Oklahoma and #5 in the House leadership.

SALLY: I want to know if you’re aware of the Substances and Mental Health Services Administration that has a book called the Provider’s Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Individuals.

LANKFORD: Wow.

SALLY: They are going around the nation, they just did this here in Oklahoma, December 7th, and having conferences that are educational…. About 2 percent of the conference is dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues. 98 percent is doing indoctrination or pushing the homosexual agenda. This is what our president is doing. He has a federal agency doing it. Our state, the Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse Department, put this conference on and is indoctrinating our citizens who are totally against this. Is there any way you can look into this?

LANKFORD: Oh yes, sure. You know I can absolutely get a chance to take a look at it. We’ll start the process, try to see what we can do to identify it. Some of those things you have the power of humiliation where you can raise it and put in sunlight. They love functioning in the dark. You put some sunlight on it, that does help. But, we’ll see. I’m glad to take that on.

The Power of Humiliation. I think we have the 2016 Republican presidential campaign slogan already picked out.

And then there’s the state-level insanity. Let’s go to my former home of New Mexico. State Rep. Cathrynn Brown has introduced a bill that would criminalize abortion in cases of rape. Why? Tampering with evidence.

Yes, you read that right.

Criminalizing abortion in the case of rape because of evidence tampering.

“Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime,” the bill says.

Of course, we all know that legitimate rape means you don’t get pregnant. So these sluts deserve it. Or something. Anyway, doesn’t the election rigging make so much more sense now?

Two Stonewalls, Two Americas

[ 123 ] January 22, 2013 |

Barack Obama’s second inaugural address:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” Obama said.

The Virginia state Senate, at the exact same time:

Democrats in Virginia are accusing state Republicans of taking advantage of a prominent civil rights leader’s trip to Washington for the presidential inauguration to pull a “dirty trick” in order to take control of the state Senate in the 2015 elections.

The state Senate is split 20-20 between Republicans and Democrats. On Monday, while state Sen. Henry Marsh (D) — a 79-year-old civil rights veteran — was reportedly in Washington to attend President Obama’s second inaugural, GOP senators forced through a mid-term redistricting plan that Democrats say will make it easier for Republicans to gain a majority.

Politically, the move coud derail McDonnell’s ambitious agenda for his last year in office ahead of a rumored run for higher office. Optics-wise, the state Senate GOP’s move could reverberate far beyond the Commonwealth: after using the absence of civil rights leader Marsh to push through the legislative changes, the Senate adjourned in honor of a well-known Confederate general.

“On motion of Senator Stosch, the Senate adjourned in memory or [sic] General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson at 4:10 p.m. to convene Tuesday, January 22, 2013,” read the official minutes of the legislative day.

According to the progressive blog Blue Virginia, Deeds also took to the state Senate floor to speak about Jackson after the new district lines were approved.

More Inaugural Sermons From Anti-Gay Preachers

[ 120 ] January 10, 2013 |

Why, Obama, why?

The Presidential Inauguration Committee announced Tuesday that the President Obama has selected Pastor Louie Giglio of the Georgia-based Passion City Church to deliver the benediction for his second inauguration. In a mid-1990s sermon identified as Giglio’s, available online on a Christian training website, he preached rabidly anti-LGBT views. The 54-minute sermon, entitled “In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality,” advocates for dangerous “ex-gay” therapy for gay and lesbian people, references a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed, and impels Christians to “firmly respond to the aggressive agenda” and prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from becoming accepted in society. Below are some of the most disturbing views in the sermon.

First, it’d be nice to have one of these sermons be by a non-Christian. Everyone who would be outraged by that didn’t vote for Obama anyway. Second, is it really that hard to find a minister to give a sermon who isn’t a gay-basher? First Rick Warren and now this guy. How about a nice Unitarian? Or a progressive-minded Lutheran? Or just someone who is nice and non-controversial on the matter?

Really unacceptable.

There Are Blue States and Then There Are Blue States

[ 46 ] January 9, 2013 |

Rhode Island and Oregon are two of the most reliable states for Democrats each election cycle. If anything, Rhode Island is even more a sure thing than Oregon. But the reality of public policy in the two states shows some pretty large differences. Admittedly, the following is anecdotal, but it also provides more evidence for my thoughts after a lifetime of following Oregon and the last 18 months in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is the last state in New England to have no form of marriage equality. A bill will be proposed in the next legislative section. Hopefully it passes. I suspect it will be pretty close, despite gigantic Democratic majorities in the legislature. One big reason why is the influence of the Catholic Church over public policy in the state. So when the Bishop of Providence rails against same-sex marriage in offensive ways that deny that gays and lesbians actually exist, it actually matters. Although I probably shouldn’t overstate his influence, it’s arguably a greater influence over state policy than any other bishop in the country.

Meanwhile, Oregon has now outlawed insurance company discrimination against transgender people.

Heroes

[ 9 ] December 21, 2012 |

The word hero is used way too often in our society for any number of reasons. But actual heroes exist. One of them was the AIDS activist Spencer Cox, who died this week at the age of 44. He helped save thousands of lives through his actions, even if he couldn’t conquer his own demons in the end. Such is the way of life.

Free Speech

[ 23 ] December 4, 2012 |

I assume that conservatives’ spirited defense of free speech in fighting the California law banning the use of gay conversion therapies for minors means that they will provide equally full-throated arguments in favor of other sorts of speech that would expose children to ideas about sexuality that could potentially damage them, such as the display of pornography in convenience stores next to schools.

Another Myth Begins to Die

[ 53 ] October 19, 2012 |

The idea that Latinos are like a ripe mango ready for Republicans to pick (no doubt they would hire people to pick those mangoes–Republicans don’t pick fruit) as soon as the party stopped being the open party of white supremacy was always a stereotype. The argument is that these Latinos are socially conservative Catholics who agree with Republicans on social issues. Well some do, some don’t. But that’s too much complexity for most people. The reality is that Latinos are changing like the rest of the country on social issues like gay marriage:

For the first time since the Pew Hispanic Center began asking the question in its National Survey of Latinos, more Hispanics favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally than oppose same-sex marriage, by 52 percent to 34 percent. As recently as 2006, those figures were reversed, with 56 percent of Latinos opposing same-sex marriage while 31 percent supported it.

Despite increased activism against same-sex marriage by some U.S. Roman Catholic bishops this election season, Latino Catholics are more supportive of same-sex marriage than Latino evangelical Protestants, the Pew survey found, by 54 percent compared with 25 percent. Latinos who are religiously unaffiliated favor same-sex marriage by 71 percent.

Sally Ride

[ 9 ] July 24, 2012 |

Sally Ride indeed blasted through the space ceiling for women.

Her death is a sad day.

It’s made even sadder by the fact that despite her pioneering past, she couldn’t crack another ceiling–the one allowing same-sex partners to receive the same death benefits from the government that partners in heterosexual marriages receive.

Here’s a bit about her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy. Although they didn’t become partners until 1985, they were friends from the age of 12.

They’re Crazy Over There

[ 33 ] March 19, 2012 |

Meeting a political leader who supports bans on sodomy must indeed be awkward. Fortunately, here in the United States of America nobody who held such barbaric positions would be allowed anywhere near a position of power and influence.

To be clear, the Liberia law is barbaric. Sirleaf’s position should be strongly criticized (whether or not is was appropriate to do so in that particular context.) But let us recall that Tony Blair’s good friend and fellow Iraq War mastermind George W. Bush was also a supporter of sodomy laws.

Lawrence, Gideon, and Legal Storytelling

[ 4 ] March 6, 2012 |

I’m still waiting for my copy of Dale Carpenter’s book, but Dahlia Lithwick’s review is a beautifully written and important piece in its own right.    Lithwick’s piece focuses on a central irony of the case.  Kennedy’s opinion famously focused on the importance of relationships and intimacy, but Lawrence and Garner — the two men who were arrested for violating Texas’s sodomy laws, leading to the legal landmark — were not in a relationship and never had sex.   (Of the two of four policemen who claimed to see Lawrence and Garner engaged in sexual relations, one suggested that they were engaged in oral sex and one said they engaged in anal sex.   Were it not for the broader issues involved, it seems safe to say that the charge would have had trouble holding up even in a Texas court.)    Lawrence and Garner were not plaintiffs with the kind of story who get movies made about them, a necessity created by the fact that a couple in a same-sex relationship with children would have had too much to lose:

That’s the punch line: the case that affirmed the right of gay couples to have consensual sex in private spaces seems to have involved two men who were neither a couple nor having sex. In order to appeal to the conservative Justices on the high court, the story of a booze-soaked quarrel was repackaged as a love story. Nobody had to know that the gay-rights case of the century was actually about three or four men getting drunk in front of a television in a Harris County apartment decorated with bad James Dean erotica.

Although this wasn’t the case LBGT rights litigators would have chosen, it worked — because the Supreme Court wanted to act and had a story it wanted to tell.

Another example of this phenomenon, which worked from the other direction, is Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 case that held that the 6th Amendment’s right to counsel was applicable to the states. Clarence Earl Gideon was also living on the economic margins, but his basic story — a very possibly innocent man, denied a fair trial, who scrawled an in forma pauperis petition in longhand from his jail cell and got his rights vindicated by the Supreme Court of the United States — is different. Unlike the tale of Lawrence and Garner, this is an inherently compelling legal story. Gideon was literally portrayed by Henry Fonda in a movie based on the excellent bestselling book about his case that remains in print.

And yet, as Scot Powe’s classic history of the Warren Court makes clear Gideon v. Wainwright was in its own way a Court-created story as much as Lawrence. (For that matter, in its details, the Anthony Lewis book does as well.) As Powe says, Gideon isn’t exactly the story of a lone defendant triumphing against insurmountable odds, as the fact that his case was argued at the Supreme Court by LBJ’s personal legal fixer and future two-time Supreme Court nominee would make readily apparent:

Somewhat less well-known are the facts that twenty-two states filed amicus briefs on Gideon’s side and that Florida could gain the amicus support of only Alabama and North Carolina for its claim that an accused could be validly convicted without the aid of counsel; Mississippi and South Carolina were the only other states not offering counsel — hardly, especially in 1963, a stellar lineup. Moreover, hitherto unmined files in the Clark and Douglas Papers reveal that five of the eight justices had already joined an opinion in another case holding that a defendant was entitled to counsel on appeal even if he could not afford a lawyer. If there is a right to counsel after trial, there is surely a right to counsel at trial. That opinion, however, was not published at the time because the case was put over to the next term so that Fortas could win Gideon. (pp.179-80.)

Lewis didn’t have access to the information about the case Powe discusses at the time, but as Powe says the conference vote ironically meant that Gideon himself could have argued his case in front of the Supreme Court and won. In addition to that case, the Court could easily have used the 1962 case Carnley v. Cochran to incorporate the right to counsel. But the Court decided that case on narrow procedural grounds because Warren’s clerks had already found Gideon and the Court preferred to announce the overruling of a major precedent in a case involving someone who was possibly innocent of a minor burglary rather than in a case involving someone who was probably guilty of incest and child molestation.

I don’t mean to suggest that this means that the selection of plaintiffs and case facts isn’t important; it certainly is. But courts can often find a way to tell the story they want to tell.

By the way, the sad conclusion to the Lithwick review:

At a press conference after the decision was announced, Lawrence read a brief prepared statement and Garner said nothing. Some advocates hoped that Garner might have a career as a gay-rights spokesman. After he gave a drunken speech at a black-tie dinner in the plaintiffs’ honor, that idea was scratched. The case is called Lawrence v. Texas. John Lawrence died last November. Almost no one took note. Garner died five years earlier, at the age of thirty-nine. When Lambda Legal proved unable to raise funds for a proper memorial or burial, Harris County cremated him and sent his ashes home to his family in a plastic bag. There was no funeral.

I’m glad Carpenter has chosen to tell their story, and I’m looking forward to his book.

Page 2 of 111234510...Last »
  • Switch to our mobile site