At Ms. magazine's thirtieth birthday party in early December, Gloria Steinem--in leopard print and we've-come-a-long-way-baby leather pants--delivered some big news: Cash-starved Ms. is moving to Los Angeles and merging with the LA-based Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), helmed by Second Wave icon and former NOW leader Eleanor Smeal.
With the smoke still rising from the fallen twin towers of the World Trade Center, it seemed like an opportune time to throw some faggots on the fire. Or so thought Jerry Falwell, when, on Pat Robertson's 700 Club program, he proclaimed that God permitted the terrorist attacks because He was pissed off at those who have "tried to secularize America"-- civil libertarians, abortionists, pagans and, his favorite bêtes noires, gays and lesbians.
Falwell's demagoguery, though disgusting, was predictable. But then something surprising happened. The rabid reverend was immediately engulfed by a tidal wave of denunciation, from virtually every segment of society outside the insular world of American fundamentalism. Not only mainstream and liberal voices weighed in; even fellow conservative Rush Limbaugh and the National Review and Weekly Standard added their reproaches.
Falwell wasn't the only right-winger to use the WTC catastrophe to bash gays. Groups like the Traditional Values Coalition and The Family Research Council have deplored as "antifamily" efforts to provide benefits to gay partners of people killed in the towers on September 11. The Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition commented that "this is just another example of how the gay agenda is seeking to overturn the one man, one woman relationship from center stage in America." But their meanspiritedness was rejected by public officials such as New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer and the state's Republican governor, George Pataki, all of whom have supported such assistance.
You could say that the distaste for Falwell's rant was one sign of a post-September 11 truce--at least momentarily--in the culture wars that had raged until the Islamist faith-based initiative brought us all together in one big patriotic group hug. I prefer to think that three decades of struggle since the Stonewall uprising have given gays and lesbians social visibility and, to a lesser degree, political clout, such that brazen appeals to bigotry don't go down as smoothly as they used to.
The homophobic rhetoric from America's Taliban and the general repudiation of same make a neat metaphor for the current status of gays and lesbians, and they illustrate one of the key arguments of Suzanna Danuta Walters in All the Rage. So many years after Stonewall, homophobes still attack homosexuals, often scapegoating them for the purported decadence of society. But the greater public profile of gay people has changed in the interim, along with the context in which such attacks are made. Not so long ago, few outside the gay community or liberal activist circles would have denounced Falwell, and certainly not his comrades on the right.
Walters, a sociologist and member of the Research Advisory Board of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), sees both opportunities and dangers in the new, heightened visibility of gay people. "Visibility is, of course, necessary for equality. It is part of the trajectory of any movement for inclusion and social change.... There is nothing worse than to live in a society in which the traces of your own existence have been erased or squeezed into a narrow and humiliating set of stereotypes." But, she cautions, "visibility does not erase stereotypes nor guarantee liberation."
Walters asks, "If the problem once was perceived as invisibility itself, then how is the problem defined in an era of increased visibility? If the closet was the defining metaphor for gay life in earlier eras, then what do we make of the swinging door that is gay life in the nineties and beyond?"
Today's is a best of times/worst of times situation: "Never have we had so many openly gay elected officials, or so many antigay initiatives." Pop culture may be replete with images of gay life, but hate crimes are increasing, discharges of gays and lesbians from the military have risen precipitately since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was enacted and state legislatures all over the country are rushing to pass laws banning same-sex marriage.
Walters's argument is similar to that advanced by cultural critic Michael Bronski, who, in his excellent 1998 book, The Pleasure Principle, described a tension between "heterosexual fear of homosexuality (and the pleasure it represents) and the equally strong envy of and desire to enjoy that freedom and pleasure." In Bronski's analysis, heterosexuals try to mitigate their own conflicts over their desire for freedom and pleasure versus their longing for an ordered world built on "traditional values" by refusing to grant homosexuals full citizenship, basic civil liberties or minimal respect for their person and sexual integrity. Says Walters: "The paradoxes we are witnessing now (the simultaneous embrace and rejection) are reflections, if you will, of a culture terrified of the potential disruption that full inclusion and integration would provoke."
Although some commentators have described a paradoxical situation in which gay cultural progress unfolds in a retrogressive political environment, Walters claims that both politics and culture abound in contradictions. "The cultural moment is not wholly embracing, nor the political moment wholly rejecting: both realms coexist and interact in an uneasy mix of opportunity and opposition, inclusion and exclusion."
Walters, attentive to confusing contradictions and to the possibilities for progressive change they present, offers a dialectical reading of the current situation. Cultural visibility, she notes, can be "synonymous with commercial exploitation." But sometimes it "can really push the envelope, bringing complicated and substantive gay identities into public view," with the effect that intolerance, if not eradicated, is at least undermined. She sets out to identify "these disparate moves of visibility so we are better able to understand which forms...are the ones that shake up the world and which ones just shake us down."
Walters focuses her pop culture criticism on the "Gay Nineties," a decade in which depictions of homosexuality flourished on television and in the movies, theater, pop music and advertising. She emphasizes the tube because it "has become our national cultural meeting place, a site of profound social meaning and effect," and because the "story of gays on TV is a more complicated, fractured, and ultimately interesting one than its filmic counterpart."
Perhaps it's just as well that Walters develops this TV-centric approach, for her film criticism tends toward the obvious. Hollywood produces compromised representations that offer a safe, liberal view of gay life, in which homosexuals (usually white males) are either just like straight people or are colorful but harmless eccentrics. In these films--Philadelphia, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything!, Julie Newmar, In & Out and numerous others--homophobia is easily overcome because it is, after all, just a matter of mistaken attitudes, not a deeply entrenched social prejudice. Independent and foreign films, not under the same commercial constraints of having to reach the largest possible audience, are more realistic and challenging. The late Vito Russo made the same observation two decades ago in his landmark The Celluloid Closet.
Walters notes that it was not until the 1970s that "any substantive depiction of gays occurred on entertainment, 'fiction' TV...." The subsequent decade saw some timid efforts, mostly "one-shots," in which a sitcom or drama presented a discrete gay episode. The 1980s, however, began to open the doors for what became, in her view, "the boom in gay representations of the nineties."
Sometimes Walters's TV criticism leaves the impression that it's propaganda she really wants. She scolds The West Wing for an episode in which a gay Republican rationalizes his support for an antigay bill by claiming that the GOP's agenda is more important to him than sexual politics. But gay Republicans really do say such things! Presenting a member of this strange species accurately doesn't legitimize his views, which is what Walters charges. And given the thoroughgoing liberalism of The West Wing, it's evident (though not to Walters) that the show doesn't endorse those views, either.
But she can also be right on target. The most successful gay-themed show, NBC's Will & Grace, is "a puzzle. Dabbling in double standards [Grace gets to have a sex life; Will doesn't] yet indubitably gay. Apolitical yet surreptitiously aware. Familial yet hedonistic. Gay male centered yet with two of the strongest female characters on TV. Devoid of larger community yet assuredly not tokenized."
She singles out for particular scrutiny--and commendation--the 1994 "lesbian kiss" episode of Roseanne and the very funny and subversive episode of The Simpsons directed by gay filmmaker John Waters. Both are notable because they "are not out to make homosexuality accessible and assimilable, they are not designed to make heterosexuals feel less threatened and to make gays feel more 'accepted.'" Both shows "deal hilariously with the strange mix of fear and fascination, desire and disgust that marks heterosexual engagement with the vision of the homosexual." "The gay characters are not the problems to be solved here, nor is homophobia the vaguely vile emotions of outside agitators. Heterosexual leads are here the problems: it is their discomfort, homophobia, bigotry that must be confronted."
Walters sees this more radical approach as both the strength of the canceled sitcom Ellen and its undoing. Ellen DeGeneres's character, Ellen Morgan, "was not solely seen and understood through the eyes of heterosexuals eager to counter their own fears. The series implicated Ellen in a larger world of gay people, with other gay characters, lovers, gay spaces, and even gay in-jokes. In other words, the series decentered heterosexuality and centered homosexuality, now no longer satisfied with being the object of heterosexual curiosity."
Walters is adamant that ABC canceled the show because it was "too gay." Ellen DeGeneres was "an acceptable homo when she promised tearfully (in interview after interview) that she just wanted to be the girl next door, and that the series would never foreground her gayness, quite to the contrary she repeatedly stated. But the show did become a gay sitcom and that was clearly unacceptable." Walters says although homophobia was the culprit, it was a "quite specific form" of bias. DeGeneres's show "was not cancelled simply because she depicted homosexuality, but because she refused to be then re-closeted, to relegate her gayness to the 'been there, done that' realm." (Walters's book was completed before DeGeneres's recovery at CBS in The Ellen Show, which has her playing a small-town dyke. The network has so far been a big booster, ordering additional episodes and changing her time slot to put the series in the vicinity of the megahit Everybody Loves Raymond.)
Walters detects a new kind of liberal homophobia underlying ostensibly sympathetic programs. A 1993 NBC documentary hosted by Maria Shriver "constructs a very particular narrative" about gays and AIDS in which gay men, under the threat of disease and death, abandoned their wanton, reckless behavior to become sober citizens. "The implication here is not that gay people rallied around each other to deal with AIDS, but rather that gays themselves needed saving as gays, and that it was the disease that made us 'clean up our act.'" Other well-meaning journalistic attempts include a Bill Moyers documentary that exemplified the mainstream media tendency to distinguish good gays--in committed relationships, churchgoing, wanting to parent, craving acceptance--from bad queers who wear leather, have sex with more than one person and otherwise don't want to be normalized or assimilated. Noting that both the Shriver and Moyers shows presented gay and lesbian couples doing wholesome domestic things, Walters exasperatedly wonders, "How many scenes of cooking and gardening do we need to see to prove the point that gays are human too?" Such depictions, she aptly notes, represent "a failure of imagination...where equality can only be posited as sameness."
It is refreshing, Walters observes, to see gay characters as "decent, loving human beings who are not homicidal serial killers, suicidal losers, or angst-ridden closet cases." Yet she contends that the introduction of the "good gay" often depends on a desexualization and loss of community. Heterosexual characters, after all, "can be valorous, brave, noble, without being stripped of passion and desire." In other words, "the emergence of the new good gay reveals to us both how far we have come...and how steadfastly double standards still prevail."
But breaking down sexual double standards doesn't necessarily result in verisimilitude. Turning to the Showtime cable series Queer as Folk, Walters recognizes "the breakthrough quality of its depiction of sexuality" while indicting the show for "substitut[ing] sexuality for community" and for implying "that gay sexual expression means an absolute erasure of everything else," including work and friendship. Moreover, as she astutely observes, the "Queer" sex doesn't even seem all that pleasurable.
Walters's attenuated discussion of cable TV, limited to Queer as Folk and the woman-centric If These Walls Could Talk films on HBO, overlooks the most in-your-face depiction of homosexuality on the small screen--the prison melodrama Oz, also on HBO. In the pressure-cooker, hyperviolent world of the Oswald maximum-security prison, virtually all inmates except Muslims engage in gay sex--some because women aren't available, or to exert power over other men, or because they discover, to their surprise, that they like the sex. Some inmates, including previously straight men, even fall in love with each other. OK, so they're mostly convicted killers. But this show at its best leaps right into Genet territory, with powerful images of passion and betrayal. (Not to mention that it features the most male nudity you're likely to encounter outside of a porn film or an off-Broadway show.) I'd rather spend time with the anguished, violent, complex same-sexers of Oz than with boring über-guppie Will Truman and his buddy, the shrill stereotype "Just Jack."
The latter chapters of All the Rage largely leave pop-culture criticism behind to focus on the social and political realities that media images often distort. Walters wades into the controversies over gay marriage and parenting, saying that these issues "will, I am convinced, be the last holdout in the battle for gay and lesbian rights." As a leftist, she unsurprisingly urges gays and lesbians not to mimic heterosexual patterns, instead endorsing "a utopian construction of 'families of choice' that is not bound by definitions of blood, of law, of sex, of gender." In other words, she wants homosexuals not only to challenge "traditional values" but also to replace them with more fluid and creative constructs. Walters makes a persuasive argument, but it's also a familiar and predictable one.
More interesting are her observations about one of the most notable aspects of the new visibility--the constitution of gays and lesbians as a "niche market" catered to by both straight and gay commercial interests. Walters acknowledges that gays and lesbians "can no more be outside the commodity machine than any other group: to turn difference into an object of barter is perhaps the quintessentially American experience." If all social movements and subcultures eventually become commodified, then the fundamental question facing gays and lesbians isn't assimilation into "mainstream" heterosexual, capitalist society versus subcultural identity and resistance. Such formulations, argues Walters, fail to capture the complexity of the moment, in which assimilationist and radical impulses both clash and coexist. Yes, "the rainbow world is a food court and shopping mall"; but it is also "filled with righteous young queers, whose insistence on the absolute right to visibility has spawned a tidal wave of teen trouble for heterosexual business-as-usual."
Walters views the story of gay visibility as one of "simultaneous containment and display, progress and regress, shattering of old ways and their reassertion." Refusing prognostication, she says we can't see how the still unfolding narrative will play out. "The space beyond visibility may be filled with commodified queens and buttoned-down wannabes, but it is also filled with possibilities unimaginable in previous eras. As the gaying of American culture continues on its uneven path, heterosexuals will--I am convinced--come to know themselves differently, to see their sexuality in less finite and tandem ways, opening up their sense of family, of place, of intimacy." This is essentially the same point historian John D'Emilio made in his 1983 book Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: "As the life cycle of heterosexuals exhibits greater variety and less predictability, they have come to face many of the choices and experiences that gay men and women confront."
But in the almost twenty years since D'Emilio's book was published, antigay sentiment has not only endured but, as Michael Bronski has argued, in some ways seems even more entrenched. (One of the consequences of being visible is that it makes it easier to be stigmatized.) So what will it take to move beyond this contradictory and confusing moment and achieve what Walters wants--"a kind of conscious, conscientious integration, where lesbians and gays are full citizens in a society that is fundamentally altered by their inclusion"? She doesn't say, exactly. But it's hard to argue with her insistence that a critical consciousness of both the pitfalls and possibilities presented by today's increased visibility is essential to advancing the gay agenda in the new millennium.
Debating Afghanistan's future.
Transgender activists may force us to rethink basic assumptions about sex.
What if Hillary Clinton, not Laura Bush, had taken to the airwaves during her husband's first year in office and become the first First Lady to deliver the entire weekly presidential radio address--about women's rights, no less? Dragon lady! Castrating feminist man-hating bitch! All together now: Who Elected Her? The Republicans would have started impeachment proceedings that very day. In fact, the down-to-earth and nonthreatening Laura Bush spoke so eloquently in support of Afghan women's rights I actually found myself not wanting to believe the Democratic Party accusation that this was a cynical attempt to appeal to women and narrow the eleven-point gender gap that bedeviled Bush in the 2000 election--not that a shortage of votes turned out to matter, but that's another story. Perhaps Mrs. Bush--and Cherie Blair, who gave a similar speech on November 19--was sending a message to the sorry collection of warlords and criminals, power-grabbers and back-stabbers vying for power in the new Afghanistan: This time around, women must have a seat at the table. As I write, Afghan women are swinging into action, with a major conference planned for early December in Brussels to insist on equality and political power in their post-Taliban nation.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the defeat of the Taliban also marked the end of the cultural-relativist pooh-poohing of women's rights? Only a few weeks ago, a Bush Administration spokesperson was refusing to promise that women would play a role in a new Afghan government: "We have to be careful not to look like we are imposing our values on them." A week before it began, no women had been mentioned as participants in the UN-sponsored Bonn conference to plan for a postwar Afghanistan. As it turned out, there are three among the twenty-eight delegates: two in the delegation of the former King and one in that of the Northern Alliance, plus at least two more attending as advisers. Whether it means anything, who knows--of the four factions gathered in Bonn, only the Northern Alliance controls any actual territory, and its record with regard to women's rights and dignity is nothing to cheer about. While some alliance leaders speak encouragingly of girls' education and women's right to work, early signs are mixed: In Kabul, women can once more freely walk the streets, but the newly reopened movie theater is off-limits and a women's rights march was halted by authorities; in late November, according to the Los Angeles Times, women were banned from voting for mayor in Herat, whose de facto ruler, Ismail Khan, has presented himself as sympathetic to women's rights.
Still, whatever government takes shape in Afghanistan will probably be better for women than the Taliban--how could it be worse?--as long as the country does not degenerate into civil war, as happened the last time the Northern Alliance was in power. But let's not kid ourselves: This war is not about freeing women from government-mandated burqas, or teaching girls to read, or improving Afghan women's ghastly maternal mortality rate of 17 in 1,000 births--the second highest in the world. Those things may happen as a byproduct of realpolitik, or they may not. But if women's rights and well-being were aims of US Afghan policy, the Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations would never have financed the mujahedeen, whose neanderthal treatment of women, including throwing acid at unveiled women, was well documented from the start; the Clinton Administration would not have initially accepted the Taliban even after they closed the girls' schools in Herat; and the current Bush Administration would have inundated the millions of Afghan women and girls in Pakistan's refugee camps with teachers, nurses, doctors and food.
As other commentators have pointed out, if Laura Bush wants to make women's rights a US foreign policy goal, she's got her work cut out for her. Saudi Arabia, our best friend, is positively Talibanesque: Women are rigidly segregated by law, cannot drive, cannot travel without written permission from a male relative; top-to-toe veiling is mandated by law and enforced by a brutal religious police force. In a particularly insulting twist, US women soldiers stationed there are compelled to wear the veil and refrain from driving when off base; so far the Bush Administration has refused to act on soldiers' objections to these conditions.
One can go on and on about the situation of women in Muslim countries--unable to vote in Kuwait; genitally mutilated in Egypt and Sudan; flogged, jailed, murdered with impunity and even stoned to death for sexual infractions in a number of countries--and Muslim women everywhere are fighting back (for a serious, nonsensationalist approach, check out the website of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, www.wluml.org). But the Islamic world is hardly the only place where women are denied their human rights: How would you like to have to get a divorce in an Israeli rabbinical court or need an abortion in Chile, where it's illegal even to save your life? The United States makes no bones about using its economic and political might against illegal drugs--in fact, the Administration rewarded the Taliban for banning opium production by making a $43 million donation to the World Food Program and humanitarian NGOs (not, as is usually reported, to the Taliban proper). If it cared to do so, the United States could back the global women's movement with the same zeal.
Instead, it does the opposite. In order to curry favor with conservative Catholics at home, Laura Bush's husband has shown callous disregard for women's rights and health abroad: He reinstated the Mexico City policy, which bars family-planning groups receiving US funds from discussing abortion; he sent anti-choice delegations to wreck the consensus at international conferences on children's rights and public health; he tried to nominate John Klink, former adviser to the Holy See, to head the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, which would have thrown the United States behind the Pope's call to deny emergency contraception to raped women in refugee camps.
That the Taliban are gone is cause for joy. A world that cared about women's rights would never have let them come to power in the first place.
United Nations resolutions don't usually warrant birthday commemorations, but on October 30, women from three war-torn regions--Afghanistan, Kosovo and East Timor--honored the first anniversary of
Are there any people
on earth more wretched than the women of Afghanistan? As if poverty,
hunger, disease, drought, ruined cities and a huge refugee crisis
weren't bad enough, under Taliban rule they can't work, they can't go
to school, they have virtually no healthcare, they can't leave their
houses without a male escort, they are beaten in the streets if they
lift the mandatory burqa even to relieve a coughing fit. The
Taliban's crazier requirements have some of the obsessive
particularity of the Nazis' statutes against the Jews: no high heels
(that lust-inducing click-click!), no white socks (white is the color
of the flag), windows must be painted over so that no male passerby
can see the dreaded female form lurking in the house. (This
particular stricture, combined with the burqa, has led to an outbreak
of osteomalacia, a bone disease caused by malnutrition and lack of
Until September 11, this situation received only
modest attention in the West--much less than the destruction of the
giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan. The "left" is often accused of
"moral relativism" and a "postmodern" unwillingness to judge, but the
notion that the plight of Afghan women is a matter of culture and
tradition, and not for Westerners to judge, was widespread across the
Now, finally, the world is paying
attention to the Taliban, whose days may indeed be numbered now that
their foreign supporters--Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates,
Pakistan--are backing off. The connections between religious
fanaticism and the suppression of women are plain to see (and not
just applicable to Islam--show me a major religion in which the
inferiority of women, and God's wish to place them and their
dangerous polluting sexuality under male control, is not a central
original theme). So is the connection of both with terrorism, war and
atrocity. It's no accident that so many of the young men who are foot
soldiers of Islamic fundamentalism are reared in womanless religious
schools, or that Osama bin Laden's recruiting video features bikinied
Western women as symbols of the enemy.
fundamentalism requires the suppression of women, offering desperate,
futureless men the psychological and practical satisfaction of
instant superiority to half the human race, the emancipation of women
could be the key to overcoming it. Where women have education,
healthcare and personal rights, where they have social and political
and economic power--where they can choose what to wear, whom to
marry, how to live--there's a powerful constituency for secularism,
democracy and human rights: What educated mother engaged in public
life would want her daughter to be an illiterate baby machine
confined to the four walls of her husband's house with no one to talk
to but his other wives?
Women's rights are crucial for
everything the West supposedly cares about: infant mortality (one in
four Afghan children dies before age 5), political democracy,
personal freedom, equality under the law--not to mention its own
security. But where are the women in the discussion of Afghanistan,
the Middle East, the rest of the Muslim world? We don't hear much
about how policy decisions will affect women, or what they want. Men
have the guns and the governments. Who asks the women of Saudi
Arabia, our ally, how they feel about the Taliban-like restrictions
on their freedom? In the case of Afghanistan, the Northern
Alliance presents itself now to the West as women's friend. A story
in the New York Times marveled at the very limited permission
given to women in NA-held territory to study and work and wear a less
restrictive covering than the burqa. Brushed aside was the fact that
many warlords of the Northern Alliance are themselves religious
fighters who not only restricted women considerably when they held
power from 1992 to '96 but plunged the country into civil war,
compiling a record of ethnically motivated mass murder, rape and
other atrocities and leaving the population so exhausted that the
Taliban's promise of law and order came as a relief. It's all
documented on the Human Rights Watch website
Now more than ever, the Revolutionary
Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which opposes both
the Taliban and the Northern Alliance as violent, lawless,
misogynistic and antidemocratic, deserves attention and support.
"What Afghanistan needs is not more war," Tahmeena Faryel, a RAWA
representative currently visiting the United States, told me, but
massive amounts of humanitarian aid and the disarming of both the
Taliban and the Northern Alliance, followed by democratic elections.
"We don't need another religious government," she said. "We've had
that!" The women of RAWA are a different model of heroism than a
warlord with a Kalashnikov: In Afghanistan, they risk their lives by
running secret schools for girls, delivering medical aid, documenting
and filming Taliban atrocities. In Pakistan, they demonstrate against
fundamentalism in the "Talibanized" cities of Peshawar and Quetta.
Much as the victims of the WTC attack need our support, so too do
Afghans who are trying to bring reason and peace to their miserable
country. To make a donation to RAWA, see www.rawa.org.
* * *
I got more negative comment on my
last column, in which I described a discussion with my daughter about
whether to fly an American flag in the wake of the WTC attack, than
on anything I've ever written. Many people pitied my commonsensical,
public-spirited child for being raised by an antisocial naysayer like
me. And if The Weekly Standard has its way--it's urging
readers to send young "Miss Pollitt" flags c/o The Nation--she
will soon have enough flags to redecorate her entire bedroom in red,
white and blue, without having to forgo a single Green Day CD to buy
one for herself. (See this issue's Letters column for some of the
mail on the flag question.)
Fortunately, for those who want
to hang something a bit more global out their window, there are
alternatives. The peace flag (www.peaceflags.org) reshapes Old
Glory's stars into the peace sign; the Earth flag (www.earthflag.net)
displays the Apollo photo of the Earth on a blue background.
If they connect well with voters in 2002, they'll have an edge in a weak economy.
Most Americans are probably
unaware that "the Dark Ages were not all bad and the Enlightenment
not all good." Or that "homosexuality [is] a sin worthy of death." Or
that one of the greatest threats to the country is "the Feminization
of American Life." Or that we should still be debating the question:
"Who Was Right in the War Between the States: the Union or the
If you are active with the Christian
fundamentalist organization American Vision, however, this is
mainstream thinking--or, more precisely, the thinking you hope to
force down the throat of the mainstream. The Georgia-based group's
president, Gary DeMar, preaches about "the necessity of storming the
gates of hell" and cleansing public institutions of "secularism,
atheism, humanism, and just plain anti-Christian sentiment." He may
soon be dispatching a prominent foot soldier to do just that. J.
Robert Brame III, American Vision's board secretary, reportedly tops
President Bush's list of likely appointees to the National Labor
Relations Board, the five-member agency that determines the fate of
workers seeking union recognition and helps define how federal law
protects women, gays and lesbians, and others seeking representation
in the workplace.
Brame, a management lawyer, previously
served on the board from 1997 to 2000. Technically appointed by Bill
Clinton, he was actually a choice forced upon the former President by
Senate Republicans who refused to act on Clinton's appointments
unless he gave Brame the job. During those three years, Brame was the
most frequent dissenter from the board's pro-labor decisions. He
opposed moves to make it easier for temporary workers, graduate
students and medical interns and residents to unionize. He was a
lonely advocate of steps to limit the ability of unions to use dues
money to pay for organizing. Brame even complained about NLRB rulings
that "facilitate union organizing in the modern work
Brame's record, his association with American
Vision and the very real prospect that he could end up chairing a
Bush-appointed NLRB majority by the end of the year have energized
opponents. Taking the lead is the gay and lesbian labor group Pride
at Work, which aims, says interim executive director Marta Ames, "to
make enough noise so that Bush decides it's not worth it to appoint
someone who is associated with the viewpoint that LGBT people are
'monsters' who should be stoned."
"Gays and lesbians,
women, people of color and young people are harassed on the job all
the time, and that harassment becomes vicious when we're trying to
organize into unions," says Sarah Luthens, a Seattle union organizer
active with the Out Front Labor Coalition. "To think that someone
like Brame would be in a position to decide whether that harassment
represents a violation of labor laws that are already too weak is
In July, during the first US Senate hearing to examine the impact of the global gag rule on family planning services abroad, the Foreign Relations Committee heard the story of Min Min Lama, a teen