Thursday, March 13, 2008

This Week's Trophy for Most Homophobic Comments

Sally Kern--wife of a Baptist minister, mother of two, and Oklahoma state representative--was recently recorded saying the following statements during a meeting in her legislative district.
The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation, okay? It’s just a fact. Not everybody’s lifestyle is equal, just like not all religions are... I honestly think it's the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat. (emphasis mine)
That second sentence amazes me. In just a few hyperbolic words, Kern reveals not only her fear of gay people, but Muslims as well. As is often the case, fear like Kern's is rooted in significant misunderstanding. Kern makes her own confusion about gay folks clear in some of her follow-up comments. For instance:
It [homosexuality] has deadly consequences for those people involved in it. They have more suicides, they’re more discouraged, there’s more illness, their lifespans are shorter, you know, it’s not a lifestyle that is good for this nation. As a matter of fact, studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades.
Hmm. I think most of this is a total off, but there may be a few kernels of misunderstood, misinterpreted truth in there. I've read a ton of studies on gay folks (which I'd wager is exactly one ton more studies on the subject than Kern has read herself). I think I can say that her generalization about rates of depression and suicidal ideation being higher among the gay community folks is, in fact, backed up by the academic literature. Perversely, however, the cause of the higher-than-normal depression among gay people is... fearful, poorly informed folks like Kern. The anti-gay commentary given by Kern in her public statements is ironically one of the abundant sources of the ambient fear, misunderstanding, and persecution of gay folks in American society--an environment that gives rise to the disproportionate depression among gays that Kern points out.

But any "truth" in Kern's comments ends there. Her illness claim is flatly unsubstantiated by science. Her lifespan claim is hilarious (although my guess is she believes it to be true because it is a widely-held urban legend among social conservatives. This rumor that gays live shorter lives has circulated for decades among a staggering number of individuals and organizations on the far-right who have never questioned its source or legitimacy. The rumor source is, in fact, the laughable "research" of a single man: repeatedly discredited researcher Paul Cameron).

As for Kern's assertion that gay-affirming societies crumble after a few decades, it difficult to know where to begin. I've never actually heard of a single study on the topic. The only societies I can think of that come close to being gay-affirming are Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain, who recently recognized gay marriages as legally equal to heterosexual marriages. These legal decisions are relatively new (not even a decade old!) so it would be impossible for studies to exist claiming such societies meet their demise "a few decades" after implementing such laws.

Perhaps Kern is conflating endorsement of gay marriage with acceptance of pederasty, which was a feature of ancient Greek and Roman cultures (but a different subject entirely than marriage between consenting adults). However, even if Kern were referencing the Romans, her numbers are way off. It is my understanding that the Roman Empire existed for several hundred years after the state officially sanctioned pederasty.

Oh, but there's more misinformation to come. And I really have no idea what the following claims are based on:
Because what’s happening now, they’re going after, in schools, two year olds! Do you know what they’re trying to get into early childhood education? They want to give our young children into the government schools so they can indoctrinate them. I taught school for close to twenty years. And we’re not teaching facts and knowledge anymore folks. We’re teaching indoctrination, okay? And their going after our young children, as young as two years of age to try to teach them that the homosexual lifestyle is an acceptable lifestyle. (again, emphasis mine)
What in the world? Unsubstantiated claims of government "indoctrination" aside, what public schools educate children at age two? This statement seems a bit beyond simple misunderstanding; this seems to be teetering on the edge of insanity.

Victory Fund released a recording of Kern saying these comments on YouTube last week. As you might imagine, Kern's words have evoked a firestorm of criticism, and Representative Kern's office has been deluged with email and phone calls. Some of these have been personal attacks--responses I consider understandable given the outrageous things Kern has claimed, responses I feel are ultimately unhelpful in this present "culture war."

The enemy here is not Sally Kern. The enemy is misinformation. Kern is bigoted because she's afraid; she's afraid because she believes false information. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, and I'm unsure whether Kern will ever be willing to invest the time it would require to systematically examine each of her outlandish claims, find the underlying misunderstanding, and replace the falsehoods with accurate information.

While I certainly hope Kern would seek to educate herself, I realize the chances of this happening are very slim. I, too, once believed outlandishly incorrect things about gay people--and I am one! I dedicated almost a full year of my free time to studying every scrap of information I could find on gay people, the quality of the lives they lead, and their mental and physical health. I was fortunate at the time to be a graduate student at a large University and have unrestricted access to almost a century of books and scientific journal articles on the topic. I learned time and time again that my anti-gay assumptions were wrong, that statistics I had thought indicated gay folks were miserable monsters of iniquity had been fabricated, manipulated, or taken out of context. I discovered that the truth about gay folks is radically different than what I was taught by my friends and churchmates growing up in rural Texas.

Because of this, I have appreciated the comments sent to Kern by folks who recognize the problem is misunderstanding. Here's a great clip from Ellen DeGeneres' show this week, in which she call's Kern's state office to try to clear up some of the Representative's confusion.

Apparently the representative's voice mailbox isn't the only thing that is full. On Tuesday, the Tulsa World reported that the representative had received more than 5,000 emails since Victory Fund released the recording of her comments.

But wait! The Kern drama isn't over yet. There have been a few more interesting developments in the story this week:

In a turn of events that reflects abysmally on the Oklahoma Republican party, the Tulsa World has also reported that Kern received a standing ovation from a closed-door meeting of the Republican caucus on Monday, praising her for her outrageous anti-gay statements.

Moreover, the blogosphere has been rocked by comments left on the Tulsa World's website that have alleged one of Kern's own sons has a history of illicit homosexual encounters. Claims have been made that young Jesse Kern was disciplined on more than one occasion by his undergraduate school, Oklahoma Baptist University, for cruising campus restrooms in search of gay sex. Oklahoma's online court records indeed show that a Jesse Jacob Kern was formally accused of "attempted oral sodomy" (whatever that is) in March of 1989, although it should also be noted that the charges were subsequently dropped three months later. If Kern's son is in fact a gay man, I hope he's no longer trolling public restrooms. And I hope, for his sake and others, that his mother will reconsider her outrageous claims and learn the truth.

Hat tips: Victory Fund, Box Turtle Bulletin, Queerty, Tulsa World, Ellen DeGeneres, Right-Wing Watch


Peterson Toscano said...

Thanks for the Ellen clip. Wow, I am so surprised and pleased by Ellen speaking out lately through her show. Initially she said nothing about LGBT issues or even about her own sexuality on her show. Perhaps she needed to do that to build her audience, but these days she has been very clear about identifying herself and speaking out thoughtfully about LGBT issues. I love how she uses humor to address injustice.

Allison said...

Hi Joe Moderate,

I saw your comment on Peter Toscano's blog about how your Meeting is all-white and how it felt odd when you workplace is very racially diverse.

Have you seen the blog ? If you are interested in blogging on it, either as a Friend of color or an ally who has a concern, let me know.