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A federal judge has ruled that three supporters of “ex-gay” therapy may not be sanctioned by the state of California under a new law against the use of so-called conversion therapy on gays, lesbians, and bisexuals under the age of 18.

The law, SB 1172, passed earlier this year and is set to go into effect on January 1. Declaring that “being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming,” and that “sexual orientation change efforts can pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people,” the law bars mental health professionals from attempting to change the sexual orientation of gay minors.

Judge William B. Shubb, a George HW Bush appointee, ruled that three men challenging the law — psychiatrist Anthony Duk, therapist Donald Welch, and prospective counseling student Aaron Bitzer — may not be sanctioned under its provisions until the resolution of a pending court case on their claim that it violates their free speech rights.

In his ruling Judge Shubb declared that SB 1172 is “unlikely” to survive constitutional scrutiny because its underlying premise — that conversion therapy is harmful to minors — is based on “questionable and scientifically incomplete studies.”

Judge Shubb’s ruling currently applies only to the three named plaintiffs, but their lawyer says that they would be willing to add any other mental health practitioner facing sanctions under the law to their suit.

When the student union at the University of Florida was built in 1967, students requested that it be named in honor of outgoing university president J. Wayne Reitz. Today, students are fighting over whether that name should stand.

As UF president, Reitz participated in a purge of gay faculty and students that involved the firing and expulsion of dozens of people. During his administration, the university also failed to integrate until placed under court order, and then only haltingly, and in 1967 a popular professor was denied tenure  because of his political views.

Student activists at UF want the union building renamed for Virgil Hawkins, a local black scholar who fought a ten-year battle to integrate the UF school of law in the 1940s and 50s, but the attempt has run into resistance from the campus student government.

Student of color and LGBT groups on campus have held several demonstrations around the issue, with tensions rising after a popular law professor’s car was vandalized with the word “faggot” in mid-September.

Activists collected five hundred signatures in recent months in favor of a non-binding campus referendum on the name change, but student government officials have attempted to block it twice — first by claiming that the signatures were improperly obtained, and then, when that challenge was rejected, by objecting to the wording of the referendum question. Critics of the student government say the body is being improperly influenced by the Reitz family, who remain major donors to the university.

In a late September ruling the student government court stripped the contested language from the question, but allowed the referendum to be placed before the students, with the referendum expected later this month.

After astronaut Sally Ride died earlier this week, Andrew Sullivan put up a column criticizing her for remaining closeted as a lesbian until her death. Though her achievements would “vastly outshine” her “flaws,” he wrote, “the truth remains: she had a chance to expand people’s horizons and young lesbians’ hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to.”

When a lesbian wrote to him to say that it was precisely because Ride wasn’t openly gay that she was available (in the writer’s conservative family and community) as a strong, independent, feminist role model growing up, and that “her closet is part of the reason I escaped mine,” Sullivan sneered:

“Which makes Sally Ride what? A role model for staying silent so as not to disturb the status quo? Once you accept the logic of prejudice, even as a tool for other laudable goals, you’ve given the game away.”

And that makes his most recent post on the subject really really weird.

This morning Sullivan returned to the subject of Sally Ride (for I believe the sixth time) to apologize for the tone of some of his earlier comments but to affirm his basic perspective.

“Perhaps a better way of putting this is to point to another American icon, Bayard Rustin. Rustin was both black and gay and was integral to the organization behind the civil rights movement. But because he was gay, and had been arrested for public sex, he chose to be in the background of the movement and not be a spokesman, in case it would do more harm than good. But in his later life, he became a towering figure for many of us looking for role models as out gay men. He was a pragmatist but also deeply principled, like the late Frank Kameny. He faced, like Ride, several layers of discrimination, but he found the strength to break through all of them. …

“No one is required to be a hero. But no one either should be judged too weak or oppressed for heroism. Sally Ride had a choice, as did Bayard Rustin. They are both heroes to my mind in many ways – and far more distinguished human beings than I could ever be. But Rustin’s shoulders are higher and broader. You can see the future from them.”

This is completely wrongheaded.

Bayard Rustin didn’t simply “choose to be in the background of the movement … because he was gay, and had been arrested for public sex.” He was pushed to the background of the movement after his conviction revealed his sexuality to the public.

As a closeted gay man, Rustin had been a prominent organizer within the nascent civil rights movement. As a known homosexual, he was fired from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, shunned by former allies, forced to contribute anonymously or surreptitiously or not at all. His involuntary ejection from one closet, in other words, had the effect of forcing him into another.

This is “the logic of prejudice,” and it’s a logic that Rustin well understood. Rustin didn’t choose, and wouldn’t have chosen, to go public as a gay man in the fifties. That choice was made for him, and it had exactly the negative effect on his life’s work that Ride must have feared disclosure would have had on hers. Bayard Rustin’s life stands as a refutation of Sullivan’s stance, not an affirmation of it.

And Sullivan compounds his error with his use of a fragmentary Rustin quote, apparently lifted from Wikipedia:

“Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “niggers” are gays. . . . It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. . . . The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people. “

The first thing that needs to be said about this quote is that it’s taken from a speech which Rustin gave when he was seventy-four years old, while Sally Ride died at sixty-one. So to present his words as an attack on Ride’s silence is shoddy and ugly.

But beyond that, Sullivan’s version of the speech is so chopped down as to render its true meaning unrecognizable. Rustin wasn’t arguing, as the excerpt seems to suggest, that the fight against racism had been won. Rather, he was saying that it was because overt racism had been largely driven underground — because “nobody would dare to say any number of things about blacks that they are perfectly prepared to say about gay people” — attitudes toward gays had become the “barometer” of public opinion on social justice issues.

And Rustin went on to identify this position as leaving gays with an obligation to other social justice movements, in an analysis that rebukes Sullivan’s. “Because we stand in the center of progress toward democracy,” he declared, “we have a terrifying responsibility to the whole society.” The gay community, he said, “cannot work for justice for itself alone,” cannot tolerate prejudice in its ranks, and must “recognize that we cannot fight for the rights of gays unless … we are ready to fight for a radicalization of this society.”

A society that leaves young children and the elderly in poverty, Rustin said, is a society that will never grant justice to gays. And so “these economic concerns must go hand-in-hand and, to a degree, precede the possibility of dealing with the most grievous problem — which is sexual prejudice.”

This, like all of Rustin’s life work, is an eloquent statement of the interconnectedness of struggles for change. Where Sullivan claims that marshaling your energy for your chosen battles is “giving the game away,” Rustin understood that any movement to uplift the oppressed must operate strategically, consciously, mindfully. Where Sullivan excoriates Sally Ride for her apparent calculation that she could do more to change society for the better from within the closet than outside, Bayard Rustin would have nodded. He would have understood.

He would have embraced her as a friend, a comrade, a hero.

Three days after causing a huge uproar by calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut,” a “prostitute,” and a “feminazi,” Rush Limbaugh has apologized. But his statement makes clear that he has absolutely no clue what Fluke said in her testimony to Democratic members of Congress, or what her arguments on the subject of contraceptive coverage actually were. Either that, or he’s intentionally smearing her again by misrepresenting her position.

Here. Take a look. Judge for yourself:

Limbaugh: “I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress.”

Fluke made no reference to her own sexual history in her congressional testimony. She spoke not on the basis of her own personal experience of birth control use, but in her position as past president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice.

Limbaugh: “I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities.”

Fluke was not advocating for public financing of contraceptives, but for a policy mandating “contraception coverage in [the Georgetown] student health plan.” There was no contemplation of a government contraceptive entitlement program in Fluke’s testimony, or in the Obama administration proposal she spoke in favor of.

Limbaugh: “What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line?”

As Fluke made abundantly clear, coverage of contraceptive services is a matter that affects students who do not use the prescriptions for birth control. She spoke movingly and at length of a friend at Georgetown who “has polycystic ovarian syndrome and has to take prescription birth control to stop cysts from growing on her ovaries.” Her insurance claim “was denied repeatedly on the assumption that she really wanted the birth control to prevent pregnancy,” despite the fact that she is a lesbian.

Limbaugh: “If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?”

Again, the question at hand is not what “taxpayers should pay” for, but what services will be covered under insurance plans established by institutions for employees, students, and other beneficiaries. There’s no issue of taxpayer funding on the table at all.

Limbaugh: “In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom…”

Actually, Mr. Limbaugh, you not only discussed Ms. Fluke’s sex life — a subject which she had made literally no reference to in her testimony — at length and in graphic detail, you also demanded that she “post the videos online so we can all watch.”

This is worth underscoring. Sandra Fluke made no reference to her own sexual behavior in her congressional testimony. She said nothing to indicate that she has ever had heterosexual sex in her thirty years on the planet. Mr. Limbaugh’s extensive, repeated, prurient allegations and speculations as to her history and her proclivities had literally no basis in anything she had said to the members of Congress she addressed.

Limbaugh: “…nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.”

The president’s February 10 announcement of his contraceptive coverage policy made no reference to anyone’s sexual behavior. In fact it, like Ms. Fluke’s testimony, emphasized the importance of contraception “as a way to reduce the risks of ovarian and other cancers, and treat a variety of different ailments.”

The president also recognized the significance of prescription contraceptives as a method of birth control, of course, but given that — as he noted — “nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives” — the prudent course for those who are uninterested in public discussion of “what is going on in anyone’s bedroom” is to make contraception universally available to those who need it.

Limbaugh: “My choice of words was not the best…”

“She must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception … she’s having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk.”

Limbaugh: “…and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

Cool story, bro.

The New Yorker has published a major new article by Ian Parker on the September 2010 death of Rutgers first-year Tyler Clementi. Clementi, targeted by his roommate in a campaign of webcam spying and harassment, killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, will face trial next month on a long list of charges arising from the incident.

The article provides the fullest and clearest account to date of the circumstances that led to Clementi’s suicide, and it’s well worth reading. But it bungles some important elements of the story, and bungles them in ways that serve to obscure important questions.

Here’s a crucial passage debunking the received wisdom about the incident:

“It became widely understood that a closeted student at Rutgers had committed suicide after video of him having sex with a man was secretly shot and posted online. In fact, there was no posting, no observed sex, and no closet.”

Well, sort of.

I wrote about the Clementi suicide on the day it broke, and on a number of occasions afterward, and I don’t particularly recognize this “widely understood” narrative. In fact, each of the three supposed debunkings muddies the waters on complex issues.

First there is the question of whether Clementi was “closeted.” Clearly he was openly gay in some circles. But as Parker himself reports, he had come out to his parents less than a month before he died, just three days before he started school at Rutgers. He had not been out in high school, and Ravi only learned he was gay by uncovering anonymous message board posts associated with Clementi’s email address. “Out” is not a binary concept, and it’s not at all unreasonable to describe Davi’s actions — telling his friends Clementi was gay and posting the news on a public Twitter account — as “outing.”

Second, there’s the question of whether Ravi saw Clementi having sex while he was spying via webcam. Ravi says he didn’t, and there’s no evidence to refute his claim. At the time Ravi boasted on Twitter of having seen Clementi “making out,” and from Parker’s account that does seem like the most accurate description. But to say there was “no observed sex” remains problematic. Setting aside the possibility that Ravi saw more than he claims, the fact is he attempted to spy on Clementi having sex and tweeted that he had caught him in the act.

Immediately after the first incident, Ravi’s friend Molly Wei, who had spied on Clementi with him, IM’ed a friend “OH MY FKING GOD … he’s kissing a guy right now … like THEY WERE GROPING EACH OTHER EWW.” Given that context, the question of how much skin the two saw, and in what exact configuration, seems somewhat beside the point.

Finally, there is the issue of whether the video was “posted online.” Here Parker is on stronger ground, as initial reporting did suggest that the webcam footage was broadcast, when in fact it was not. On the one occasion in which Ravi was successful in spying on Clementi, the stream only went as far as Wei’s dorm room, and was neither distributed nor archived.

But — again, as Parker himself reports — when Clementi asked for the dorm room again days later, Ravi announced on Twitter that he would share the stream with “anyone with iChat” who was reading his feed. Ravi described the event as “a viewing party,” and solicited friends to watch both in person and online. It’s only because Clementi was surreptitiously monitoring Ravi’s Twitter account that he knew to turn off Ravi’s computer before anything could be broadcast that night.

So no, Ravi didn’t share the stream. But he did try to, and he tried to share it widely.

Parker isn’t wrong about any of these things, not exactly. But in each case his rush to correct the record winds up understating Ravi’s bad acts. Even if Clementi wasn’t “closeted,” Ravi still outed him inappropriately, multiple times. Even if Ravi didn’t spy on Clementi having sex, he still violated his privacy by snooping on intimate sexual acts. And if he didn’t broadcast those acts to a wide audience, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

And Parker’s habit of obscuring through nitpicking extends to the more basic issue of what the hell Ravi was up to in the first place. Parker returns again and again to the question of whether Ravi’s act rises to the level of the bias crime of anti-gay intimidation with which he has been charged, at one point suggesting that the charge represents an “attempt to criminalize teen-age odiousness by using statutes aimed at people more easily recognizable as hate-mongers and perverts.”

But this is a false dichotomy, and a bizarre one. There is no question as to whether Ravi was anti-gay — he expressed his revulsion at Clementi’s orientation repeatedly and gleefully. That this wasn’t the vicious bigotry of the “hate-monger” is hardly a defense of his actions.

What’s obvious from Parker’s reporting, but which seems to have escaped Parker himself, is the particular kind of asshole Ravi is. No, he’s not a hate-fueled homophobe. He’s not a basher or a zealot. He’s just a garden-variety douchebag. He’s the kind of guy who, on learning that his assigned college roommate is gay, posts about it on Twitter along with a link to that roommate’s postings on a gay message board. He’s the kind of guy who tries to trick his friends into installing monitoring software so he can turn their bedroom computers into spycams. He’s the kind of guy who texts his friends to say that he hates poor people and that January is “a gay month.”

Parker thinks his portrayal of Ravi raises hard questions about the government’s prosecution, but I have to admit that I fail to see what those questions are. The qualified defenses he offers for Ravi’s character are ones I addressed in a blogpost the day after this story first broke in 2010, and the lessons I gleaned then are the ones I glean now:

Dharun Ravi acted like a jackass in the first month of his first year of college. He behaved with casual cruelty and lack of concern for Clementi’s well-being. He gave no thought to the consequences of his actions for himself or others. And now Clementi is dead and Ravi’s life is ruined, and there’s no question at all that Ravi set those two calamities in motion.

Dharun Ravi acted like a jackass in the first month of his first year in college, and it ruined his life.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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