As the latest YouTube-sparked skirmish heats up in the ongoing culture war over homosexuality, both sides of the debate have deployed their share of emotionally charged rhetoric. Through the din of impassioned protests and outraged rending of garments, though, a few nuggets of objective data might have actually seeped through as a potential basis for reasoned dialogue, depending on the truth or falsehood of the information in question.
"Help Stop Sally Kern's Right-Wing Machine!" read the headline of a press release/donation solicitation recently sent out by Laura Belmonte, president of the Tulsa-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) political activist group, Oklahomans for Equality (OkEq).
Her statement went out via e-mail two days before the "Freedom of Speech Rally for Sally" last week at the state Capitol, in which the aforementioned "right-wing machine!" amassed in the thousands to show their support for state Rep. Kern.
This came a few weeks after a D.C.-based gay activist group posted an excerpt from one of her recent speeches before an Oklahoma City Republican group on YouTube, drawing international media attention and condemnation as "hate speech" by various groups like Belmonte's for Kern's statement that "the homosexual agenda is a greater threat than terrorism," among other controversial remarks (for full details, see "Redefining 'Hate' and "A Thunderstorm of Biblical Proportions" in the March 20-26 issue of UTW at www.urbantulsa.com).
After an introduction by her husband, the Rev. Steve Kern, a pastor of a Baptist church in Oklahoma City, Kern drew applause when she told the multitude at the Capitol, which had been drawn from local church congregations, "I believe God's word. When God calls something a sin, then that settles it. It is a sin. God never changes. He says he's the same yesterday, today and forever. And his word never changes."
"In the aftermath of the international furor generated by . . . Kern's revolting YouTube tirade, she and the far right are now pulling out all the stops to defend her indefensible remarks," Belmonte's statement continued, after explaining the "great urgency" with which her group and the Oklahoma City-based Cimarron Alliance Foundation (CAF), "united with fierce determination and truth," are requesting donations from supporters to continue "working round-the-clock on media strategy, press conferences, vigils, rallies and political advocacy," which are "severely taxing our limited resources."
She assured that "if every American who has been outraged by Sally Kern's divisive comments made a contribution to OkEq and CAF, we could change forever the challenging political landscape of Oklahoma."
Belmonte also said, "Witness only two examples of the junk science and untruths that Rep. Kern and her radical extremist supporters are using to continue their attacks on LGBT Oklahomans and those who love them."
The sentence included two internet links.
The first was to the website of the Bethany Tribune, a newspaper in Kern's district, which had posted an op-ed piece she'd written providing "some facts for (her) recent comments about the homosexual agenda."
The other went to a press release/advertisement from the American Family Association (AFA) announcing the aforementioned "Freedom of Speech Rally for Sally," which itself contained a link to www.OneNewsNow.com, where one could "read more about the 'gay hate campaign' against Rep. Sally Kern," among numerous other subjects related to the ongoing culture war.
In her op-ed piece, Kern cited information attributed to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to defend her comments about the health issues related to homosexuality.
"According to the CDC, men who have sex with men (MSM) have an HIV prevalence 60 times higher than the general population," she wrote.
Kern also stated that MSM comprise only 2 percent of the population at most, yet account for 64 percent of all syphilis cases.
Citing the International Journal of Epidemiology, she said the average life expectancy of those engaging in homosexual relations before the age of 20 is reduced by as much as 30 years.
(Kern didn't cite which particular study or which issue of the Journal from which she drew the figure in her op-ed piece, but when questioned about the same figure in a previous interview with UTW, she said it was "Modeling the Impact of HIV and Disease on Gay and Bisexual Men," by Robert E. Hogg, in a 1997 issue.)
Also, she said, the CDC found that both Hepatitis A and B disproportionately affect MSM.
Lastly, she cited a study entitled "The Longevity of Homosexuals," which Kern said found that the average lifespan for lesbians is only slightly higher than that of homosexual men.
Concerning her moral and social concerns, Kern wrote, "Homosexuals insist they are born gay, yet a study by Dr. Neil Whitehead and Briar Whitehead on various cultures states: 'If homosexuality were influenced by genes, it would appear in every culture, but in 29 of 79 cultures surveyed in 1952, homosexuality was rare or absent.'"
She also said a recent study by the Canadian government found that domestic violence among homosexual couples is twice as common as among heterosexual couples, and that the American College of Pediatricians has cited studies reporting that violence is sometimes as much as three times more common among homosexual couples than married heterosexual couples.
While Belmonte directed recipients of her message to Kern's piece as an example of "junk science and untruths," she didn't elaborate on why readers should dismiss it as such, nor the information at the other link, so UTW asked her.
Her initial response was to e-mail another website link-- http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_cameron_obit.html, which is a faculty page of the Psychology department of the University of California's Davis campus, which showed some work by Dr. Greg Herek, "who has done a great deal of research on many of the studies cited by groups like AFA," Belmonte said.
"See, for example, his dissection of the work of Paul Cameron, who is widely used as an expert by the far right, but who has been expelled from several professional organizations and is unable to get his work published in legitimate medical journals," she elaborated.
Are You A Good Scientist or A Bad Scientist?
The example of Herek's work to which she referred examined and refuted a 1994 study by Cameron and some colleagues, which counted obituaries in various gay community publications and claimed to be able to use them to calculate the average life expectancy of homosexuals.
As far as this reporter could tell, Herek's work seemed convincing in refuting that particular study, but neither that study nor any of Cameron's other work was cited in Kern's op-ed piece, nor in any of the literature to which Belmonte directed readers as examples of "junk science and untruths."
In explanation of her reference to Herek's work as an elaboration on her statement, she told UTW, "Paul Cameron is just one of the more well-known people that appears in studies of this nature."
"You know, I don't do academic research of this type. I'm not a doctor or a psychologist," Belmonte added before referring UTW to the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law.
"They really are the receptacle of the fullest knowledge of studies of this nature," she said.
However, since the Williams Institute did not, to this reporter's best knowledge, issue a press release calling the aforementioned works by Kern and her supporters "junk science and untruths," Belmonte was asked why she, personally, characterizes them as such, and why UTW readers should do so as well.
"What some of these groups use is highly selective evidence," she answered, pointing specifically to Kern's reference to the 1952 study by the Whiteheads.
"There are all sorts of problems with the use of a data set that old. A tremendous amount has changed in the United States and in many other countries since 1952, and that's sort of indicative of the nature of some this," Belmonte explained.
What's changed since 1952 to invalidate the data?
She answered that, in the 29 of 79 cultures surveyed in 1952 in which homosexuality was reportedly rare or absent, "there were very compelling reasons for people to not disclose that information which simply don't exist now."
Specifically, Belmonte said, "There's an openness about sexuality in general that simply would have been undreamed of in 1952, compared to 2008 America."
However, included in the "junk science" at the other website to which Belmonte directed readers, that very "openness about sexuality" was explored as an environmental factor potentially causing homosexuality.
Particularly, at One News Now, there is a piece criticizing the alleged media bias in favor of the homosexual activist movement, entitled "ABC follows 'born gay' script to a T," by columnist Robert Knight.
Knight referenced Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, a psychiatrist whom he said "has written extensively about problems with genetic research on homosexuality, and also about professional organizations' refusal to consider opposing evidence."
Citing Satinover's book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, he argued that genetic factors might contribute "not to homosexuality per se, but rather to some other trait that makes the homosexual 'option' more readily available."
For instance, he said there isn't a "basketball gene," but basketball players tend to be tall, which is a genetic trait that lends itself to a predisposition toward the sport.
Similarly, Knight wrote, "a young boy might be more sensitive than other boys, be less athletic, be rejected by his father and peers, and hence be starved for male approval. An early sexual experience could then take him down a path he might not necessarily have taken."
Knight's piece overlapped with the conclusions rejected by Belmonte from the Whitehead study when he said, "Satinover notes that cultures worldwide historically have varied greatly in terms of homosexual practice and that his indicates that 'environmental' factors are at work. Given that such cultures have existed where the incidence of homosexuality is far greater than at present, the incidence of homosexuality is clearly influenced by mores."
To that, Belmonte said, "That's an argument that I, of course, reject emphatically. And I certainly understand that that's a component of what they say, but, again, I think, it would easily be explained by numerous factors."
She added, though, "I am not an expert on this. We are just highlighting some of the discourse--how our community is being portrayed in the face of this, and our intention is not to engage in a long, kind of . . . peripheral conversation about the components of that. Our emphasis here is to really focus on our call for equality and justice."
Since the validity of the scientific data cited by Kern and her supporters is, in Belmonte's view, not important to OkEq's stated purpose of focusing attention on injustices inflicted on her community, its status as "junk science" would be more appropriate "perhaps in another context: an extensive, long, and I would imagine, somewhat dull discussion on the medical and scientific aspects of this very complex and long-standing debate," she said.
But, in light of all the heated rhetoric and emotion-filled rallying cries that have characterized much of the conversation so far, wouldn't the issue be better served if the discussion focused instead on the science behind each side's position?
"I understand that and, of course, meeting white hot with white hot is not an effective strategy for anything, really, and we have really tried to, whenever possible, engage in a civil conversation and not respond with inflammatory rhetoric of the nature being thrown at us," Belmonte answered.
"I think, to many Oklahomans, this episode is really probably the first time that they've been exposed to the level and the contours of this, and we realize that's part of an ongoing educational process that will have to transpire," she added.
But, also in the op-ed piece by Kern to which Belmonte drew supporters' attention, the lawmaker contended that the "educational process" on this issue begins much earlier for many Oklahomans.
"The homosexual agenda's influence on education is evident from their own organization's literature," wrote Kern, emphasizing the curricula and assessments in the Head Start program that include gender issues and diversity.
She also highlighted the book "Tackling Gay Issues in Schools," which advises K-12 teachers on reasons for instruction related to homosexual, bisexual and transsexual lifestyles, as well as similar literature from the Gay Straight Alliance, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the National Education Association.
Since Belmonte directed supporters' attention to the op-ed piece, she was asked if Kern's comments about "the homosexual agenda's influence on education" qualify as some of those "untruths."
"We're certainly not disputing that some of those programs exist. They absolutely do. We're disputing her interpretation of their motives," she answered.
"She clearly is putting out some sort of insinuation that there's something really pernicious about these kinds of programs," Belmonte elaborated.
Rather than anything sinister, she said the various programs mentioned by Kern are "just designed to embed messages of respect and honor for difference, of all sorts."
"And she (Kern) clearly objects to that, which is her right as an American citizen, but I think it does real injustice to some programs that are really designed to create a country where we have almost 280 million people who are very different in many different ways, and raising children to appreciate and not be frightened of those differences," Belmonte added.
But, Kern and her supporters object because they "embed those messages" by presenting to children only one side of what most parents see as a very complex, controversial social issue.
"Certainly. And I absolutely understand why a parent would want to monitor what their children read and learn. That's a position I support wholeheartedly. As parents, you want to instill your values in your children. That's not anything I would disagree with in any way, shape or form. But, when you start inscribing in law one particular view of what the appropriate values to instill in everyone is, then it creates problems where it creates injustice for other people," Belmonte responded.
But, aren't those programs doing just that? Aren't they teaching a certain set of values on this issue--a certain set of contested values--to everyone's children?
"I think, with those programs, you have to have parental notification. Again, I'm not an expert on Head Start . . . I myself don't have children, so this is not something I've been confronted with in my own life," she answered.
"But of course, we have people who choose to school their children at home in order to control completely what they're exposed to. I understand entirely why, if you really want to have that kind of ability to shape your children's mindset in a context you wish to control, you should have that right. Parents are given the option of not having their children in these programs if they choose not to," Belmonte continued.
"But what some of this rhetoric is undergirded with is the assertion that these programs shouldn't exist at all, for anybody, because they object to one component of them, and that's really pretty dangerous ground to be on," she said.
Kern did not answer repeated telephone calls from UTW.
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