Thursday, April 5, 2012

Long Briefs

Some (relatively) brief items.

Band Of Thebes (who has yet to notice that Adrienne Rich died, though he did have time to slobber on Camille Paglia for her birthday) noted yesterday that voters in Anchorage, Alaska "appear to have rejected Prop 5 which would have added lgbt people to the city's existing nondiscrimination laws."

This would be a nitpick if it didn't affect so many people's perception of antidiscrimination (and "hate crime") laws, but since it does, maybe it deserves more attention. Unless Prop 5 is utterly unique, it will not add LGBT people to the law: it will add sexual orientation to the list of grounds on which it is illegal to discriminate in housing, employment, and other select domains. That means that heterosexuals will also be protected.

Maybe you'll think something like "Yeah, sure, like heterosexuals need protection against discrimination!" Probably not, but they will be protected, and they probably will seek redress in the real world. In the 1990s, for example, a heterosexual couple behaved obnoxiously in a gay bar in San Francisco. The bartender refused to serve them, and when they refused and began kissing ostentatiously, he told them that mixed-sex PDAs were forbidden in the bar. Bam: the bar was hit by an antidiscrimination complaint, which was upheld. I can't find a link for this story now, though it got national press coverage at the time, but there have been similar cases since then: the British Equality and Human Rights Commission announced last year that" it has not received any complaints over gay-only hotels but is looking for evidence of potential discrimination" against heterosexuals.
John Bellamy, who runs the gay-only Hamilton Hall in Bournemouth, said that equality legislation was a “double-edged sword” and claimed that forcing gay bars and hotels to accept straight people was killing gay culture.
I also found this curious thread, in which it's declared that heterosexuals in gay bars are a "recent" development. I can testify from my own experience and observation that it's not a "new phenomena" at all. Comments on the same question here show equal cluelessness. Clearly a lot of gay people have no idea how antidiscrimination law works. White males have successfully filed complaints of being discriminated against for their sex or their race, and the same white males who cry to heaven about their suffering in a reverse-racist society are unaware of this.

I've also participated in several online debates about "hate crime" laws, where some (normally straight male) opponents of such laws argued that if we keep adding kinds of people that you're not allowed to murder, then no one will be able to murder anybody. "How long do you think it will take," asked one person, "before every crime committed against any member of a marginalized group will be prosecuted as a hate crime?" Another complained that "nobody seems to cry out for hate crime legislation whenever the victim is a straight white person. ... why should the punishment for a crime committed against you be any greater than a crime committed against me?"

Several participants tried to explain to them that, as with antidiscrimination laws, hate-crimes laws don't specify that you can't kill gays, left-handed Eskimos, or short-haired Seventh-Day Adventists. The 1964 Federal Civil Rights Law, for example, "permits federal prosecution of anyone who 'willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another person, or attempts to do so, by force because of the other person's race, color, religion or national origin' because of the victim's attempt to engage in one of six types of federally protected activities, such as attending school, patronizing a public place/facility, applying for employment, acting as a juror in a state court or voting." In other words, you can be prosecuted for trying to prevent a white Christian American male from trying to vote. In those same online debates, several people posted FBI statistics showing that hate crimes against whites, males, and heterosexuals are tracked, and prosecuted -- except for those against heterosexuals, because sexual orientation isn't covered by the federal statute. The straight white male critics were unaware of this, as were some gay ones.

So, it may look trivial to criticize speaking of "lgbt rights" and the like, but that terminology clearly leads to (or reflects) a great deal of confusion about antidiscrimination law in the US. Of course, before we can clear up the confusion about the terminology, we need to clear up the prior confusion in people's minds about what racism and other forms of bigotry are, and how they work. Fat chance, I'm afraid.

Oops, that wasn't so brief after all. Separate posts for separate topics, then.