Why President Obama Must Bar LGBT Discrimination by Federal Contractors
Yesterday in Outward, Vanessa Vitiello wrote that President Barack Obama should not use his authority to bar LGBT discrimination among businesses that contract with the federal government. Reading her piece, I found myself scratching my head in disbelief. Here’s why.
First, she writes that an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is little more than “feel-good symbolism,” the practical benefits to workers being “pretty minor.” In reality, this executive order would protect roughly one-fifth of the entire labor force from LGBT discrimination and ensure that at least some workplaces in all 50 states have these protections in place. Considering that there are currently only 17 states with fully inclusive LGBT nondiscrimination laws, this certainly doesn’t sound like feel-good symbolism to me.
Pro-Gay Companies Stop Being Pro-Gay in Russia. Here's How to Fix That.
Pity the multinational corporation. It operates in many nations, and those nations are all so different!
Take, for example, a company like AIG or Ford. Or Coca-Cola. At home, in the United States, they have to be good for the gays, because that's good for business. In Russia, the opposite is true. The level of corruption in the Russian government is rivaled only by its level of homophobia, and failing to toe the Kremlin's anti-gay line can bring the ire of its entire extortionist, business-killing machine upon the corporation.
But even as the human-rights gap between countries widens, communication continues to improve. So when a company does something in Russia, its customers in America hear about it. Like when IKEA edited an interview with a British lesbian couple out of the Russian edition of its in-house magazine. (It ran in other editions around the world.) Or when a Hilton hotel in Moscow canceled its contract with the Russian LGBT Network a day before its conference was to convene there. Or when it turns out that companies on the Human Rights Campaign’s list of “best places to work” have entirely different personnel policies in the United States and in Russia, where their LGBTQ employees have a much greater need for protection.
This Beautiful Ad, Featuring a Gay Couple and Their Children, Is Stunningly Moving
For years, advertisers had no idea how to incorporate sexual orientation into commercials, usually swinging too far toward either gay panic humor or excessive ambiguity. Coca-Cola did manage to include a blink-and-you-miss-it gay clip into its recent Super Bowl ad, but it was too fleeting to make much of an impact. Now, however, a new commercial for Honey Maid graham crackers has ushered in a new era of gay-friendly advertising, capturing the affection and support shared by two loving gay fathers, their adorable son, and their newborn baby.
The ad, part of Honey Maid’s new “This is Wholesome” campaign, walks a precarious line between sincere and saccharine. But by adding just a tinge of the political—“having a mortgage together is what marriage used to be for gay people,” one husband wryly notes—the ad avoids mawkishness and succeeds as a simple, moving portrait of a family at once quite ordinary and decidedly exceptional. Nor does Honey Maid push too hard to get its product in the frame; you might not even notice those graham crackers on the table until the second viewing.
President Obama Could Order Federal Contractors to Outlaw Anti-LGBT Workplace Discrimination Tomorrow. Here’s Why He Shouldn’t.
Every so often, mainstream LGBTQ-rights group Human Rights Campaign repeats its call for President Barack Obama to sign an executive order banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals employed by federal contractors. Seems like a great idea, right? Not so fast. At best, an executive order could help only a small number of LGBTQ workers in the short time remaining for the Obama administration, and in the long run it might end up hurting the same federal contractors it was designed to protect.
Before I go any further, let me stipulate to a personal dislike of executive orders as a method of achieving political goals. Our system of government was designed to resist the tyranny of kings by placing the power to make new laws in the hands of Congress. Relying on executive orders to create change on important issues undermines the legislative process and further concentrates power in the executive branch. And when it comes to ending workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, an excellent bill that would do just that in companies with more than 15 employees has already been approved by the Senate. While ENDA may be stalled in the House, supporters of LGBTQ rights agree that the ultimate goal is to pass legislation designed to end workplace discrimination for everyone, not just those on the federal payroll.
Catholic Schools Should Be Able to Fire Some Gay Teachers for Being Gay
Mark Zmuda, the popular former vice principal of the Seattle area’s Eastside Catholic High School, brought suit against his erstwhile employer last Friday, alleging that his discriminatory dismissal from the school violated numerous state laws. I’m fairly certain Zmuda will lose his lawsuit, and his defeat will represent the unhappy conclusion to an already dispiriting and regrettable incident. But it’s worth noting that Zmuda probably should lose his case—and that, counterintuitive as it may seem, his loss will be a win for the separation of church and state.
Although Zmuda frames his case as a fairly straightforward contractual dispute, it in fact turns on a fascinating question of First Amendment law. Over the last four decades, courts have developed the doctrine of a “ministerial exception,” which allows religious organizations a freer hand in employment discrimination than secular employers. According to this legal theory, churches have a First Amendment right to exercise their religion however they please, a right that encompasses hiring and firing decisions of religious employees. If an employee ministers to a congregation, that congregation can fire him even if the reason (say, physical disability) would normally be encompassed by employment discrimination statutes.
LGBTQ Microaggressions: Are We Making Mountains out of Molehills?
Social-science researchers and social-media activists are currently obsessed with so-called “microaggressions”: the many small ways in which minorities are reminded of their inferiority by the dominant culture. Crucially, microaggressors are often entirely unaware that they have displayed bias or negativity—unlike more traditional forms of bigotry, microaggressions are unconscious, baked into dominant cultural assumptions. Introduced by researchers of racial bias in a 2007 paper, the concept has migrated into work on sexual-minority populations. Studies have described common LGBTQ microaggressions, created scales to measure them, and suggested connections to problems like depression or poorer health outcomes for those on the receiving end.
In order to more widely publicize the concept, Kevin Nadal, a researcher and author of That’s So Gay!: Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community helpfully compiled a list of “19 LGBT Microaggressions You Hear on a Daily Basis” for BuzzFeed. The offenses run the gamut from the overtly rude (for example, asking a lesbian “Have you ever had REAL sex?”), to innocent mistakes (like addressing an androgynous-looking person with the “wrong” pronoun), or questions that casually assume heterosexuality (such as, “Where are your wife and kids?”). That’s where the concept starts to get a little problematic. By placing so many different behaviors into the same category, researchers like Nadal intentionally attempt to blur the lines between overt homophobia, unintentional awkwardness, and even well-meaning but misguided attempts to be supportive. All these behaviors may occasionally make some LGBTQ people a little uncomfortable, and all of them may reinforce the dominant assumption that straightness and gender conformity is “normal” and being queer is “abnormal,” but some come from our enemies and others from our allies or potential allies. (Or perhaps even from curious or closeted LGBTQ people. Both times I’ve been asked “How do lesbians have sex?” the answer has eventually led to a personal demonstration of some of the key concepts.)
Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart Teaser Premieres
“To win a war, you have to start one.”
It’s an apt tagline for The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s highly autobiographical, unsparingly confrontational agitprop play from 1985 about the beginnings of the HIV-AIDS crisis and the squabbles within activist groups like Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP about the merits of diplomacy vs. direct action in combating bureaucratic indifference. Ryan Murphy has adapted the play for HBO, and over the weekend, the network released a teaser that suggests Murphy has translated the play’s trademark self-righteous bluster—Mark Ruffalo’s Ned Weeks declares, “I have to do something; nobody else will!”—successfully from stage to screen.
Could Gay Issues Save the French Left From an Embarrassing Electoral Defeat?
On March 23, French voters will head to the polls for municipal elections, and gay issues will likely play a key role. In fact, the conflict over gay marriage, which dominated French domestic politics in 2013, may well save President François Hollande’s Socialist Party from electoral embarrassment ... at least in Paris.
Since 2001, Paris has had an openly gay mayor, the Socialist Party’s Bertrand Delanoë. At the time of his election, Delanoë was not a star, but, rather, a hard-working political insider who had come out as gay only in 1998. Delanoë's administration has been LGBTQ-friendly, but not excessively so. It has given financial support to an expanded LGBTQ community center, but it refused requests for municipal funding for a national LGBTQ archive. Municipal support for the 2018 Gay Games bid was outstanding, but the first Paris bid for the 2010 Gay Games received much more discreet backing, with little public engagement from the mayor, who at the time was bidding for the 2012 Olympics.
Denis Leary’s New Sitcom, Sirens, and the Five Stages of Gay TV Watching
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In the second decade of the 21st century, we can now say that gay viewers have responded to television with those same emotions. We just experienced them in a different order.
First came bargaining, when we would look at an unmarried career woman—say, The Beverly Hillbillies’ Miss Hathaway—and talk ourselves into seeing her as a stealth lesbian. Then we moved on to denial, a painful stage in which we were so desperate for representation that we told ourselves that mediocre sitcoms like Ellen or Will & Grace were good, and that ground-breaking (which they were) was more important than funny (which they often weren’t). A few years later, we drifted into acceptance: The L Word was a nightmare, but at least its presence on the TV schedule proved that the straight world knew we existed. (Though judging from the show’s sex scenes, it didn’t have a clue what we do in bed.) When The L Word morphed into The Real L Word, we tasted anger. Like straight consumers of reality television before us, we looked at the tortured souls chosen to represent us to the world at large and cried out: I’m not like that! Now, we seem finally to have reached depression: There are quite a few homosexuals on television, but we find them boring.
A Polite Homophobe Is Still a Homophobe
On Wednesday, the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf penned a lively response to my recent piece explaining Ross Douthat’s canny and dishonest defense of homophobia. In my original post, I casually noted that when a business owner denies gay people service because they’re gay, he qualifies as a bigot. Friedersdorf takes issue with this claim, which he believes “is itself prejudice rooted in ignorance.” I beg to differ.
At the heart of Friedersdorf’s article is an insistence that there are reasons other than homophobia that explain why a business owner might refuse service to gay people. But he doesn’t actually name any; instead, he justifies his assertion by pointing out that Elaine Huguenin, the now-infamous photographer who refused to shoot a lesbian wedding, is exceedingly polite over email. Friedersdorf excerpts an exchange between Huguenin and the would-be lesbian client, Vanessa Willock, highlighting how courteously Huguenin phrased her rejection of Willock’s request for service. As Friedersdorf puts it:
Willock was wrong to perceive “hatred,” which doesn't come across in the exchange, or even “blatant” opposition to same-sex marriage—it was so subtle that a followup email was required to clarify—this all happened in a state, New Mexico, that didn't permit gay weddings. (The event was technically a commitment ceremony for the lesbian couple.)