Monday, June 27, 2005

From pride to disgust: Hillsborough County (Florida) shuts out gays and lesbians

It's now official. Florida is certifiably insane. (If there are any Floridians reading this, I urge you to explain just what's going on down there. Please. Add your comments. I (we) need to know.)

Yesterday afternoon, I wrote what one commenter called an "intimate and positive" post on Toronto's extraordinary Pride festivities, a fantastic week-long celebration that culminated in Saturday's Dyke March and Sunday's Pride Parade. If I may put it this way, Toronto Pride makes me proud to be a Torontonian. And proud to be a Canadian -- a same-sex marriage bill will soon be passed in the House of Commons.

But now, thanks to that same commenter, I've learned of the utterly stupid actions of the Hillsborough County Commission in Florida (the Tampa area):
The Hillsborough County Commission has enacted a policy banning county agencies from acknowledging gay pride events, despite several impassioned pleas from gay rights advocates.

Civil rights groups threatened to sue and called for a town hall meeting on the ban, which requires the Hillsborough County government "to abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events." The board passed the proposal 5-1 on Wednesday.

Hillsborough Commissioner Ronda Storms, who recommended the policy, followed up with a second proposal, that commissioners can only repeal the policy on a 5-2 super majority vote that follows a public hearing.

Angry yet? Here's more:

The vote comes a week after a book display recognizing Gay and Lesbian Pride Month was taken down at West Gate Regional Library after some library patrons complained. Library officials have said the exhibit at West Gate was removed due to a misunderstanding and was later moved to a less prominent area in the fiction part of the library.

Details of the ban, such as whether any display about gay issues would be banned at libraries, were unclear. After the vote, Storms would only say that she feels the language is clear.

But when asked about whether gay student groups would be allowed to meet at a county library or another meeting space, Storms said they would.

"We're not saying that because of your sexual orientation you can't come into the library," she said.

Thanks for the clarification, Ms. Storms. But let me ask you a few questions: Do you just hate gays and lesbians in theory, or is it personal? What is it about them that worries you so? What's so wrong with "gay pride" that your government -- you know, the one that allegedly represents the people (all the people) of Hillsborough County -- shouldn't be allowed to have anything to do with it? And would you be happier if they had their own libraries? You know, separate but equal, or something like that? Is that next?

I'd like some answers, because, try as I might, I just can't figure out where the hell you're coming from -- unless it's just a simple matter of bigotry.

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  • I'm angry, Nate, but I don't necessarily disagree with your rhetorical questions. And I agree that we should try to understand Ms. Storms (which was the purpose of my own questions) rather than to fall into some sort of self-righteous "frenzy".

    And (social) liberals and libertarians do have a lot to think about: religion (including the freedom of), toleration (is illiberalism tolerated?), etc.

    They don't do the necessary thinking because many of them are stuck in the same shallow pool of intellectualism and philosophical reflection that houses much of today's conservative movement.

    You may remember this post from June 10:

    It's the culture, stupid! But what to do about it?

    There I said the following:

    "But, let's face it, even my cultural libertarianism has its limits. This is the problem that plagues all liberals. We want liberty, not licence, but where is the line between the two? Liberty at its limits, after all, resembles licence, and the two ultimately become one and the same. For example, I support the legality of pornography for adults, but clearly I don't support all pornography: some crosses the line, the moral line that I set somewhere out on the fringes, but my line might not be your line and I may find myself in disagreement even with accepted communal standards, which are themselves constantly in flux. So what to do? Perhaps the answer is not the draw some firm legal line between acceptable and unacceptable 'culture,' but rather simply to acknowledge that the issue is complex and that absolutism will get us nowhere.

    "Ultimately, the rule of law must prevail, and that means the usual interplay between different branches of government, with different interests balanced against one another and transient public opinion set against constitutional safeguards. And this means that different communities will have somewhat different standards of what constitutes appropriate culture. As long as individual liberty is protected, and as long as public policy does not descend into the quagmire of censorship, I'm not sure that's such a bad thing."

    That was the one where you said that you agreed with me and Marc. I still think that the centrality of individual liberty needs to be weighed against legitimate social concerns. Obviously, as a teacher, you must be thinking about this a lot.

    But I was talking more about issues like censorship and the "culture" generally. To me, the issue of same-sex marriage -- well, of homosexuality generally -- is one of basic human/civil rights. I agree that liberals need to think more clearly about what it means to be truly free in a free society and about what legitimate social concerns could place restrictions on such freedom, as well as about the place of religion in a liberal society. But the Hillsborough case isn't about religion or about "unbounded tolerance". It's about a local government shutting out gays and lesbians precisely because they're gays and lesbians. Government should promote diversity (or, to be consistent, promote nothing value-laden at all), not single certain citizens just because they're different.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 1:09 PM  

  • I'm glad that you are so outraged by this as I was - I kinda thought you would be... I'm wondering if they'll outlaw Walt Whitman.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:40 PM  

  • Seems like an opportune time for all the gay people this side of the Mississippi to conglomerate in the town of Hillsborough -- sort of like flocks of monarch butterflies migrating to a single tree -- and just sit on every piece of public property available.

    You can't argue gay rights to someone who thinks that being gay = devil. The belief systems of the fervent and the majority are ever a pox on politics.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:09 PM  

  • Nate,

    I understand what you are saying about isolated incidents, but Hillsborough County isn't some hole in the wall. It's a major metropolitan area. What is the rationale for the policy other than the fact that the Commission doesn't approve of gays and lesbians? It's not as if they are being asked to approve gay marriage.

    I have said before here and I still believe that discomfort with gay marriage and the like is not necessarily an indication of bigotry or hatred. But when you start singling out groups (and I assume that the Commission isn't going to remove funding from, eg., the Boy Scouts) essentially because they exist, then I think you are moving in a dangerous direction.

    I'm also sort of taken aback by your comment that Michael's response to this shows hatred for religious conservatives. I can't speak for him, but i don't hate religious conservatives and I understand to some extent where they are coming from with respect to gays (ie, it's a biblical taboo). But I can't respect a position that I find reprehensible and I can't respect their willingness to use the political process to essentially impose their religious values on the community and punish a group of which they disapprove.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:35 AM  

  • As someone who is generally a "social liberal" but not where homosexuality is concerned,I encounter more frustration than just about anyone.To me,homosexual orientation is no more an excuse for homosexual orientation than alcoholism is an excuse for getting drunk,and treating a homosexual relationship as if it could be worthy of being called a marriage is no more sensible than treating a zygote as if it were a citizen with full rights and privileges.
    It is not,nor can it ever be,"bigotry" to have standards of conduct that affect certain people's pursuit of happiness disproportionately.I have a restriction on my driver's license that says I can't drive without corrective lenses...I am nearsighted.It is not an invasion of my "equal rights" to deny me special roads with large type signs to accomodate my "natural" vision,but rather condition my permission to drive on the correction of my deficiency.Heterosexual relationships have a worth to society that homosexual ones can not,and are exclusively capable of being worthy of the corresponding recognition.
    What is "certifiably insane" in this area is the notion of "gay pride",the blinkered insistence that a flaw is not a flaw,the whiny self-centered plaint that if one calls a flaw a flaw one is declaring the person who has the flaw to be subhuman.The egotism involved in this mindset is demands that people be treated as perfect and declares any kind of fault-finding to be a social evil.
    Not all differences are value-neutral!My left ear does not hear "differently" than my right ear,it hears WORSE,and my distance vision is WORSE than a normal person's should be.This doesn't make me an unperson,it doesn't make it bigotry that my incapacities deny me things that others can do.I accept my limitations,and those whose sexuality is directed toward members of their own sex should accept theirs.To have something particular wrong with you does not negate all the other talents and virtues you may have,and only you are to blame if you choose your flaws as something by which to define yourself,and revel in your refusal to admit their being deficiencies.
    I would no more condone hate crimes against someone for harboring same-sex attractions than I would for being tone-deaf or colorblins...but those who demand that no opinion of homosexuality other than unconditional acceptance be permitted to inform public policy see no distinction between someone in 5% disagreement with them and someone in 100% disagreement."Homophobophobia" is alive and well in discourse.And it jeopardizes countless other liberal causes if we can't wash our hands of it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:31 PM  

  • WHOOPS!!...the problem with these short lines is you can hardly see what you're writing.What I meant above was,"Homosexual orientation is no more an excuse for homosexual ACTIVITY than alcoholism is an excuse for getting drunk",what I wrote made no sense at all.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:32 PM  

  • Heterosexual relationships have a worth to society that homosexual ones can not,and are exclusively capable of being worthy of the corresponding recognition.

    And what exactly is the nature of this worth to society that heterosexual relationships have that homosexual ones do not?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:29 PM  

  • Louis,

    A few questions:

    (1) Why is homosexuality a "flaw?" Simply because it's not the norm. Being left-handed is not the norm; does that make it a flaw to be left-handed?

    2) Even assuming that homosexuality is a flaw, why do we care? We have lots of institutions that cater to "flaws", eg. bars that serve alcohol, closed captioning for the hearing impaired (why are we catering to those damn hearing impaired people), pornography for that matter. How does it effect you one iota if people are gay? (Remember, I'm not talking about legalizing gay marriage).

    (3)What "limitations" should homosexuals accept? Not having sex? You say that you accept that your left ear doesn't hear as well as your right. Don't you think that's a little different than saying someone should entirely suppress their sexual urges?

    (4) How do homosexual relationships adversely effect the value to society of heterosexual relationships? How is my relationship with my wife and child affected by the fact that people are sleeping with others of the same sex.

    Look, if you are uncomfortable with homosexuality, that's your own business. But don't try to raise it to a societal principle that should be celebrated. Society has changed and, like it or not, homosexuality is largely tolerated. Many of us can't figure out why the hell you care if there is a parade about gay pride.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:09 PM  

  • This is a very interesting discussion. Please feel free to keep it going. I'll refrain from adding any specific comments here, but I'll likely chime in later...

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 4:27 PM  

  • Could it be that we hate them? Could it be that we actually aren't all that tolerant of diverging views? Could it be that in opposing that which we detest we start to embody the very qualities we so despise?

    What we refer to and despise as "intolerance" should actually be referred to as "prejudice".

    Ms. Storm is prejudiced against gay people. She thinks that because people are gay, they are lower-quality people. This leads to her intolerance for them. However, it's perfectly acceptable to be intolerant of certain acts. I'm intolerant of people who lie and manipulate in order to get their way. I'm intolerant of murderers and rapists.

    The whole "Why is intolerance so bad?" thing is a red herring, that right-wingers can use to say "They call me intolerant! They call me intolerant! Well, there are some issues on which we should be intolerant!" I don't think they would use rhetoric like that using the word "prejudiced" instead of "intolerant".

    By Blogger Orlando C. Harn, at 6:55 PM  

  • What is the purpose of marriage? In the past, it was often an economic or political arrangement. Then it was seen as a way to produce and legitimize children (or to ensure a father raised his own and not some other man's). Then it was seen as an institution of companionship, companionship being valued as contributing to a stable and productive society.

    So which is it today? If it's to raise children, then science and state adoption allow anyone to be parents regardless of age, sexual orientation or fertility. And if it's to raise children, it stands to reason that marriage should only take place between a couple that already has at least one child.

    If it's companionship, then any couple, regardless of sexual orientation, should be permitted to marry. The United Church of Canada evidently sees marriage as an institution of companionship, which is why they have less issues with gay marriage than, say, the Catholic Church, who see marriage primarily for procreation.

    My personal stance is that the state should recognize only civil unions, and let individual churches decide what they will recognize as a marriage. Some will want to marry gays, and some won't. But it strikes me as hypocritical that churches opposed to gay marriage claim it is a violation of their freedom of religion, when they don't recognize that banning gay marriage violates the religious freedom of others. Including atheists like myself, who don't think churches have any business imposing their morality on us, thank you very much.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:00 PM  

  • Marc and Rachel...
    we all owe our existence to the conjugation of male and female,and are all harmed by the questioning of that form of relationship being exclusively normative.Homosexual relationships do nothing for those who are not in them;the future of the species depends on heterosexual releationships.It's not reasonable to treat them as of equal worth.
    As far as what "marriage" is,I see procreation as too restrictive a definition and "companionship" as too is promoting the basic template of male+female that is the "civil" usefulness of the institution.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:46 PM  

  • Louis,

    By your standard, people who are unable to have children should not be allowed to marry because their relationship doesn nothing for society.

    For god's sake, how can you say we should ONLY allow relationships that benefit society? There are lots of relationships or activities that don't benefit society--e.g., there are people who choose not to have children.

    You seem to be implying that having gay relationships somehow reduces the pool of couples that will procreate. I suppose that's true to some extent--gay people in the past have gotten married and had children. But the numbers you are talking about are so small that it makes no sense. Are you seriously arguing that having gay relationships will make it significantly more difficult for the human race to reproduce itself? Do you seriously think that the existence of homosexual relationships calls the worth of heterosexual relationships into question?

    You seem to assume that sexual orientation is simply a matter of choice. For myself, I didn't make a choice to be attracted to women, I just was. Similarly, while I suppose you can conceive of situations where people choose their orientation (eg., gay people in straight relationships for social acceptance), it's hard for me to believe that heterosexuals will be influenced to become gay by the presence of gay couples (accept to the extent, as I noted, that gays might adopt heterosexual lifestyles in order to avoid social ostracization). If you want to argue that marriage is in trouble because of a variety of societal issues, I might agree with you. But to say it's in trouble because some people are in gay relationships seems patently ridiculous.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:03 AM  

  • Two things:

    1) Anti-gay activists seem to think that legalized same-sex marriage would weaken the institution of marriage. Given that the divorce rate is already so high, and given that we should be encouraging precisely the kinds of monogomous, healthy unions that gays and lesbians want legalized, what's the problem here?

    2) Anti-gay activists seem to suggest that marriage should be tied to procreation. In other words: marriage is for the sake of procreation. This rules out same-sex marriage, but obviously all other marriages where procreation isn't either the intention or even possible. Should marriage between a man and a woman who have no intention of procreating be illegal? Should marriage either the man or the woman (or both) is infertile be illegal? Obviously not.

    In my view, these two objections raised by anti-gay activists, neither of which holds up to even the most casual scrutiny, mask what is really going on: an anti-gay agenda based on little more than prejudice. It's called hate, no matter how dressed up it is in the fineries of argumentation.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 4:34 PM  

  • Nate,

    I agree with a lot of what you said. I'm against hate crime laws and I definitely agree that the left fetishizes differences in ways that divide society rather than uniting it. I'm against those separate graduation ceremonies. I agree with you too that everyone has prejudice against something and it doesn't make that hate. (Lots of liberals, for example, wouldn't be caught dead conversing with a religious conservative.)

    The only problem I have with your argument is that, in fact, government does encourage and support different groups, for example, the St. Patrick's Day parade for Irish, Black History Month, etc. If you want to eliminate all such government support, then that's one thing, but as long as government is going to promote such activities, then I have a hard time seeing why gays should be singled out for lesser treatment.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:39 AM  

  • I don't think that marriage needs to be closely tied to procreation...just bear sufficient connection to it to forbid it to persons of the same sex.You don't have to demand that your children never leave the house if you're against their straying completely out of sight of the house.
    I am vexed by some people's failure to tell a logical extension from a reductio ad absurdum."Tolerance" is something that is good up to a point,but thinking same-sex relationships are capable of being as much worth to society as opposite-sex ones are is a sign of "having a mind so empty your brains fall out".
    I am not saying that sexual orientation is a matter of choice,but that abandoning celibacy is necessarily something that one does by choice,and while doing so for an opposite-sex relationship may be a wrong choice,doing so for a same-sex relationship is automatically a wrong choice.
    People have a right to make mistakes,but government has a responsibility not to encourage and accept their mistakes,"tolerance" must only go up to the limits of reason,and pretending this matter is value-neutral is to go beyond those limits.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:29 AM  

  • OOOOPS again.Thinking that the maximum value to society of same-sex relationships is not less than that of opposite-sex relationships is a sign of "having a mind so open your brains fall out".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:32 AM  

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