Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gays Losing Ground to God

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

In Pakistan, the government dumped democracy in the violent Shat region, agreeing Monday to institute homo-cidal Sharia law in exchange for the Taliban there laying down their arms, or at least not killing the local cops.

In the U.S., meanwhile, Obama's pushing ahead with his faith-based funding dumping money in social service programs run by religious groups that (to less deadly effect) also encourage the hatred of queers, the subjugation of women, as well as the extraordinary misconception that science is nothing more than a whacky belief system on the same plain of reality as flying carpets and time machines. Nevertheless, some dead guy on a cross coming back to life is the "gospel" truth and if we don't accept him as our personal savior we're more or less banned from running for public office, not to mention on a one-way ticket to hell.

And Gallup celebrated the birth of Darwin last week by asking citizens if they believed in evolution, and by the very shape of their question giving credence to the "No" thirty-nine percent of my glorious confreres answered with. Perhaps next time around they'll ask if we believe that the earth is round. I'll stick to the obvious and give it a definite "No."

The numbers of nonbelievers (in evolution) will only climb higher with Obama's paid-to-pray programs which contrary to campaign promises, offer no firewall between church and state, no safeguard to prevent uppity women or queers from being discriminated against either within the organization or as people served.

Neither is there an effective mechanism in these faith-based programs to prevent the faithful from proselytizing and disseminating such debatable claptrap as the seven day creation of the 4.5 billion year old earth, the sinfulness of homosexual sex, or the resurrection. I guess the government just has to take their discretion on faith.

Not that it matters. Even if they keep their holy traps shut, which they don't, the religious have plenty of opportunity for product placement, crosses on the wall, dinner in church basements with jingles (hymns) banging out from the speakers in less than subliminal advertising.

Apparently, the business of American democracy is not providing equality under the law, but bolstering higher laws and a random series of differentiated moralities that leaves a hell of a lot of us out in the cold.

Here's to four (eight?) more years of Rick Warren and the likes of the delightful Catholic Bishop Richard Williamson. Yeah, here's to good old Dick who plied his holocaust-denying patter at the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Minnesota before he did it on Swedish television announcing, "There was not one Jew killed by the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies."

According to Williamson, Jews actually made up the gas chambers so they could play the victim and blackmail those gullible goys with perpetual underdog status.

Are these really the people we want to hand our tax dollars to? Before you get all mushy about how he's an isolated incident, let me tell you that like Rick Warren he's just the icicle at the tip of the burg.

Pope John Paul II purged whatever leftist tendencies lingered in the Church after Vatican Two. Now Williamson's no exception, but the rule, a guiding member of the actively proselytizing Catholic Society St. Pius X, which is quite overt in its efforts to erase Vatican Two, and return to the anti-ecumenical days in which people of other religions were not in any way God's children, Jews were still Christ-killers, women had an entirely subservient role, and queers weren't even targeted because they didn't exist.

The Catholic Society St. Pius X was founded by conservative French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a priest that battled change and explicitly rejected the Vatican declaration, Nostra Aetate, which absolved Jews of killing Christ and gave them the status, the "older brothers" of Christians.

While Lefebvre was excommunicated in 1988 along with the four Bishops he consecrated -- including Williamson-- the St. Pius X Society has continued to consolidate power. In France, they occupy several churches, including Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet, openly celebrating mass and conducting services in the center of Paris. Regis de Cacquerey, the district superior is received like any other religious leader, by the minister of the interior, Michele Alliot-Marie.

I dropped by Saint Nicolas the other day. It's as vibrant as any church I've seen in Paris. A bulletin board full of activities. Networks of jobs and housing. Young men came in and out in jeans, while plenty of old ladies knelt in prayer, their grey heads covered.

I'm here to say beware. Pope Benedict's decision to reinstate ontological fossils is less the bureaucratic mistake asserted by the Vatican, than a troubling sign of their growing influence. In all religions, all sects, it seems the future belongs to fundamentalists. Tear down the sea wall between church and state, we all drown.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Imagining Equality for Women and Queers

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I thought I could imagine equality, but not really. As an activist, I just push forward in the dark with no idea towards what. I got a glimpse Sunday when I tuned in to one of France's CNN-like channels just in time to catch a Latin American map and a voice talking about which country gave which rights to queers. Colombia's High Court had just ruled that same-sex couples had to be given the same rights as heterosexual ones in common-law relationships.

After answering a couple questions from the anchor about Argentina and Brazil, the commentator said, "But that's yesterday's news. Today, Iceland just got a lesbian prime minister. Granted, they're a small country of just 300,000 people. But still. The first openly gay head of state in the world."

I was pleasantly shocked. A whole gay segment on TV. And a gay commentator to boot smiling away as they flashed the photo of Johanna Sigurdardottir, the most popular politician in Iceland, and described how she was supposed to save the place from financial ruin. I punched my girlfriend in the arm. "They're doing a gay segment of the news. Are you listening? And the commentator's a fag."

Even after the anchor moved on to something else, I kept muttering, "A gay segment. Imagine that. A gay segment." Including background and context as naturally as they would for a report on developments in Malaysia or Taiwan. Or for that matter the auto industry.

Usually, if LGBT people make the news, it's as protestors, or victims. We're always the fringe, always the beggars on the outside looking in, no matter how "mainstream" our spokespeople look. In the U.S., especially, news producers (like organizers of inaugurations) then give air time to bigots so they can indulge in a false sense of balanced coverage and remind us just how much we're hated.

Which was why it was so particularly moving to hear the matter-of-fact description of Johanna Sigurdardottir's rise from union activist at IcelandAir to regular politics. No apologia for her queerness. No pats on the bottom for the white-haired dame.

It made me happy for a while, then depressed. God, I'm tired of homophobia. I'm tired of misogyny. I'm tired of promises of change then more of the same, even in Obama's stimulus package. When it isn't giving bankers free dough, it's all about rewards for dickholders. Even though women make up almost half of the workforce, Obama's projects primarily create jobs in extremely male fields like "green" industries, technology, construction, and mining where the few women that manage to survive have to fight for equal pay.

The programs to bring women into traditionally male jobs have had little success though their rate might improve now that it's easier for female employees to sue (thanks to Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.)

Trying to justify the disparity, the January release from the Obama administration used old data indicating women suffered less from unemployment during downturns. Unfortunately, August numbers showed women hitting unemployment as often men.

In fact, the National Women's Law Center crunched the numbers and found adult women's unemployment rising almost three times as fast as men's. "While the unemployment rate for men rose from 5.3 percent to 5.6 percent between July and August (a 5.7% increase), the unemployment rate for women jumped from 4.6 percent to 5.3 percent – a 15 percent increase in one month." Subcategories of black women and women supporting families were much harder hit.

Adding insult to injury to poor women, Obama and the Democrats dumped a measure from the stimulus package that would have allowed Medicaid coverage of family planning services, which includes birth control, but also a lot of basic gynecological services, like pap smears.

A New York Times editorial reports that the measure would have provided coverage to 2.3 million women by 2014 and saved $200 million over five years. Also, "the Medicaid family planning provision would reduce the number of abortions by helping an estimated half-million women avoid unplanned pregnancy, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute."

The editorial blamed the GOP for their obstructionist politics and lack of commitment to women's rights and health. I blame Obama and the Democrats who already signaled in the presidential campaign that women's rights were a commitment of convenience. If it is convenient, they're committed. If not, not.

For instance, when all Obama had to do was sign a paper to revoke the gag rule forbidding U.S. funding of international programs that included family planning services -- he did. But when the similar Medicaid provision in the stimulus plan required a vote, traded favors and a backbone, women's interests were summarily dumped.

I'd likewise be surprised to see even a partial repeal of DOMA before an Angeln Saddleback pig takes to the sky.