by Rob Callahan
I don’t take much interest in the affectional orientations of strangers. It’s a matter that hasn’t had any real bearing on my day to day life since the days when Heather Hunter was still on the squiggly channel. That’s probably why I don’t understand the hetero fixation on same sex marriage. It doesn’t really affect you. At least not unless you go out of your way to hide behind the bushes and spy on it.
Anthropomorphically speaking, homosexuality isn’t going to infect you. It doesn’t want to convert you or your family. It has lived alongside you its entire life and it’s never made a fuss. It could care less whether or not you approve. Homosexuality is completely neutral toward you… and some reciprocity is in order.
Yet everywhere you look, people are failing to be neutral. Some people are standing on one side or the other. Many more are refusing to take a side (which, in context, is actually taking a side) under the guise of neutrality, but that’s not really how neutrality works. To be neutral on the topic of same sex marriage is to view it as you would view the legal union of any other couple and ask if they should be banned. Would you ban marriage for bald people, for example? How about short people? Albinos? The French? If you can’t come up with a good reason to criminalize any other perfectly good wedding, you’ve no reason to go after the gays.
But that’s just the opinion of one local writer, namely me. I could go on for ages about my opinion, but I’m not likely to sway anyone and that’s not what l’étoile hired me to do. L’étoile recruited me to review the arts. Things like theater, spoken word, writing and the occasional bit of motorcycle maintenance. So rather than go on and on about how refined, evolved, open, insightful and correct I am, I’m backing off and reviewing the works of some other local writers who have recently touched on the topic. They may not be the local writers you’re expecting, but they are some great examples of both the best and the worst of what Minnesotans are putting into print on the topic.
Christopher Baker: Letter to the Boy Scouts of America
Eagle scouts are people who we can reasonably assume spent the entirety of their respective youths doing good deeds. Deeds like helping little old ladies across busy streets, volunteering for community centers, reading stories to hospitalized orphans and so on. The discipline and philanthropy they learn as teens prepares them for bright and shining futures as activists, community leaders and… well, apparently homophobes.
As it turns out, homophobia is just one of many long-standing prejudices enshrined and encouraged by the BSA. As it also turns out, a lot of the fine upstanding citizens produced by the BSA refuse to become homophobes later in life. Last week, local Eagle Scout Christopher Baker put that very refusal into writing as he packed up his Eagle Scout medal and shipped it back from whence it came, citing his refusal to “be associated with the bigotry for which it now stands.” His letter wasn’t the first of its kind but it has probably achieved the highest profile, and that’s really invigorated the movement.
It’s anyone’s guess just how many medals have come back to the BSA. An official representative told Salon.com that it was “less than 10″ as of late last week. I count Martin Cizmar, Rob Breymaier, Jeff Hess, thirteen or so here, and nine more here. Plus a bunch more in links I haven’t the time to follow. That’s more than ten. Do the BSA not have a merit badge in arithmetic?
I’m glad to see so many Boy Scouts becoming Man Scouts and taking this stand. The BSA have a long history of using public funds and services to discriminate against the children of the very taxpayers who support them. The group prohibits gays, ousts atheists and kicks Native Americans while they’re down. And all in the name of free speech. They’re the nonprofit organization equivalent of a raging playground bully who runs and hides behind the First Amendment when he accidentally picks on that one quiet kid who it turns out can fight back. More people should be that one quiet kid.
And this all ties into same sex marriage because… um… Alright, you caught me. This letter doesn’t address marriage specifically. It addresses the idea that we can arbitrarily exclude, marginalize or otherwise pigeonhole anyone we want, and that idea is at the foundation of the marriage ban on which we now dwell. That’s why this Eagle Scout medal letter gets a mention. That and it made the best list.
Christopher Baker = Best
Target Corporation PR Department: Be Yourself, Together
On that note, Target have gone through their share of pigeonholing over the years. In just two years they’ve been caught being anti-gay, apologized for it, were afraid to look pro-gay, went anti-gay again and now are quietly presenting themselves as pro-gay. Recently, they sold Pride t-shirts and ran wedding registry ads with two grooms. They’re hard at work to improve their image. At least in certain circles. All of which turn out to be relatively small and relegated to the internet.
The Pride t-shirts raised $120,000 for the Family Equality Council, but were only sold online and only in a limited edition. Call me a skeptic, but that’s a little like quietly standing aside and watching a bully smash some kid’s glasses, then secretly offering the kid some tape to let him know you’re on his side after the bully has finished up and moved on.
I’m not alone in my skepticism. MPR’s Marketplace asked about the online-only decision. Target told them the internet is “the best way to reach all of its consumers.” Which it isn’t. Maybe if they were Etsy, but they’re not. They were the third-largest retail store chain in the United States in 2010. They spent 2011 aggressively expanding into Canada by buying up 220 new store locations. I’ll repeat that word again: store. As in the one sales tool Etsy can’t offer. A place to buy things and a place to walk around looking at other things for sale. A place where everyone could’ve seen the shirts and bought them on impulse rather than a place where you only knew about the shirts if you’re the type to read those FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: RE: emails.
The registry ad sends a nice message, albeit a highly targeted message in a cheap medium that people aren’t generally likely to see unless they were already searching for it or a friend referred them. If they really wanted this out there, they could have put it in the Sunday paper insert. Not only do more people see the insert, but lots of people who wouldn’t otherwise know this is an issue see the insert. This ad in the Sunday insert could have prompted otherwise uninvolved people to engage their neighbors in a thoughtful discussion about gay marriage, one that they wouldn’t have thought to have before. All the wall posts in the world can’t accomplish that level of awareness.
And as far as statements go, allocating ink makes a statement. Photoshopping together a banner ad that will only be seen by people with the right cookies in their cache does not. It just relegates real people to niche market status while the rest of the world spins on, unaware.
Also, Target is not blazing a trail. They’re doing what JC Penney already did twice, better and in print. And JC Penney actually showed some commitment and sincerity. (On a side note, JC Penney also sold Converse sneakers first, and with the correct number of stars on them.) Doing a poor imitation of another business is just a step above defending your company under the pretense that you’re a teenage girl on Facebook. This doesn’t make Target a better company. It just makes them a company with fewer yokels in the marketing department.
Target is a pretty lackluster ally. They fund anti-gay political action committees. When they get caught, they promise to stop. Then they don’t stop. Then they ban gay rights canvassers because “guests have told us they are offended [and] they assume Target promotes the same view.” They sell T-shirts to raise money for a gay rights organization, but raise $60k less than they gave to anti-gay PACs. They advertise a same sex wedding registry in a state where they’ve funded a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. They don’t advertise it much, though. They only want certain people to notice.
Target PR Department = Worst
Thomson Reuters: Our Perspective on the Amendment is a Business Position
Thomson Reuters released an official statement regarding their company’s stance on the marriage ban. In essence, they said we’re not taking sides but this is bad for business and seriously dumb.**
Company spokesman John Shaughnessy noted that the less dumb businesses of the world like to attract top talent to their ranks, and that telling people their kind isn’t welcome here is an epic FAIL in this endeavor. The Associated Press circulated the story with a line that read like a preemptive retort to a likely criticism: “If they’d come out and said, we’re against this amendment and that’s the way we’re going to edit the news – that would be different… But that’s not what they said.”
This is where the neutrality argument comes up. You might argue that Thomson Reuters, a news organization, should not take a stance on a current event of this magnitude. They might argue back that they’re not so much taking a stance as trying not to lose the next great Pulitzer Prize winner to the Des Moines Register on the basis of some insubstantial physical characteristic. See above, re: banning bald people and short people.***
Thomson Reuters handled the issue like a competent version of Target. They paid attention to it, saw how it could impact them and responded to it. They said exactly what stance they were taking, exactly why, and they said it to everyone.
Thomson Reuters = Best
I know the Bible wasn’t technically written by a Minnesotan. It isn’t exactly local writing. But if Seth Grahame-Smith is going to get credit for “writing” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, consistency demands that we give credit for “writing” their own Bible to every Minnesotan who makes up their own Jesus quotes in an effort to win this argument.
The Bible doesn’t actually take a firm stance. In all fairness, it goes back and forth on a lot of topics. Homosexuality is just one of many.
Some of that Old Testament stuff is pretty anti-gay, but the anti-gay stuff also tells us it’s cool to turn your daughter over to gang rapists (Genesis 19:8) or to murder someone for breeding puggles. (Leviticus 19:19) This is hardly the stuff of a solid moral code. Also, as long as we’re banning things, remember that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:13-16) so we should ban that as well. Also, God hates any dish made with pickles. I don’t know exactly where in the Bible it says that, but pickles are disgusting so it’s probably in there somewhere. Can we ban pickles?
The New Testament is a different story. Jesus didn’t talk about gay marriage. I looked. I tried to find a time when he did. The closest I came was this: “While Jesus did not specifically teach on homosexuality, His establishment of the Genesis passages as the fundamental passages on marriage (even more fundamental than the Law) leaves no doubt as to the outcome.” So he didn’t personally address the issue of same sex marriage, but he talked about this one story that mentioned marriage and that story didn’t mention gay marriage, which means the story must have opposed it.
Which is a bit like saying the Pope is an atheist because he once mentioned Stephen Hawking in a speech.
The Bible = Goes Both Ways, So Should Oppose the Amendment
The 2012 Ballot Question
It doesn’t get to the point, does it? It almost reads as if they wanted you to get bored and stop paying attention. Like they hope you might think you’re just casting a vote that’ll annoy those weird polyamorous neighbors down the hall. And boy, do you like annoying them!
This could’ve been 1/3 the length: “Should same sex couples have the right to marry?” It could have been so simple. Instead, its sentence structure is intentionally obtuse. It is about as effective a use of grammar as Bill S. Preston, Esquire declaring something “non-non-non-non-NON-Heinous!”****
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is trying to copy edit it into a clear, concise and sensible question, but that’s held up in the courts now. As it currently stands, this ballot question is barely better than random letters pulled out of a Scrabble bag. It couldn’t be worse if Palm Beach County designed the ballots.
Also, Thomas Jefferson called. He wants back into the history books.
The Ballot Question: Worst
* I tried to get exact numbers for Target, but they don’t seem to release detailed sales figures. New York Times; Online Appeals to the Male of the Species; Robb Young; June 2012
** That’s paraphrased, by the way.
*** In the interest of full disclosure, I’m shorter than Sanden Totten but taller than Jeff Horwich.
**** Apparently, in some archaic uses, a double negative was not so much a negation as it was an account of just how negative something was. So Bill might have been saying that it was five times as non-heinous as its standard non-heinous counterpart.