Published in: March-April 2006 issue.


“Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” The Ford Motor Company just can’t catch a PR break. Last year the religious Right launched a boycott after Ford earmarked some funds for gay arts groups in Michigan, only to call off the boycott when many car dealers protested. But the American Family Association (AFA) doesn’t forget a grudge and soon started badgering Ford for advertising in gay magazines like OUT. When Ford finally relented and announced that it would pull the ads, gay groups put up such a hue and cry that the company gave in and vowed to advertise more of its line in gay publications (i.e., in addition to Jaguar and Land Rover). The AFA reacted with predictable venom and promised new efforts to punish Ford.

This from the AP:  “The Reverend Lonnie Latham, sixty, was charged with a single misdemeanor count of offering to engage in an act of lewdness. If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. As he was leaving jail he said, ‘I was set up. I was in the area pastoring to police.’” Needless to say, Latham has been an “outspoken opponent” of gay rights—the usual story. Indeed, it’s a story we’ve often told on this page, a tale of poetic justice pure and simple. But this time there’s a twist: the ACLU has gotten involved, on Latham’s side, arguing that he did nothing illegal. “Reverend Latham appears to have done nothing more than to invite someone to a hotel with him for consensual sex. That’s not a crime,” said Joann Bell, head of the Oklahoma ACLU. Point taken: there’s nothing illegal about a little hypocrisy (or a lot). Now, as for Latham’s alibi, the arrest took place at the Habana Inn in Oklahoma City, which bills itself as “the Southwest’s largest gay resort,” where he was caught propositioning—er, pastoring to—another man.

We Fear, Ergo We Spy  Among the groups targeted by the Bush administration for secret, illegal surveillance were a number of domestic organizations with no conceivable link to Al Qaeda. As reported by The New York Times, the organizations identified as being under FBI or military scrutiny include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Greenpeace, the Catholic Workers, and at least four student groups protesting the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and its recruitment activities on campus. The administration claimed, of course, that all these groups were thought to pose a “terrorist threat”—a phrase that’s beginning to sound more and more like “witches” or “the devil.” Indeed the whole notion of a “War on Terror” turns out to be deeply tautological. The Terror is anything you’re afraid of, which can be most anything at all, depending on how paranoid you are. Some people find the idea of GLBT equality, for example, very frightening indeed; can wiretaps be far behind?

It’s Official  From time to time this journal has delved into the question of what proportion of the human population is gay or lesbian. Most everyone agrees that the figure is not as high as Kinsey’s “ten percent” but not as low as the religious Right would like, probably settling in the range of four or five percent. Now the British government has applied rigorous actuarial techniques to analyze the financial implications of the UK’s new Civil Partnerships Act, which extends the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. And the winner is: some 3.6 million Britons are gay or lesbian, or about six percent of the population.

Annals of Etiquette  Same-sex marriage has raised serious moral questions, but what about the problems it creates for the rules of protocol? Two stories surfaced recently:
1. In South Africa, where an eleven-judge panel has legalized same-sex marriage, the question on everyone’s lips was, who will pay the “lobola,” an obligatory transfer of bride wealth, when there’s no bride? Given the absence of lobola, Chief Holomisa doubted the legitimacy of such a union.
2. In the UK, the marriage of Sir Elton John to his longtime companion David Furnish provoked the question of how to address the husband of a knight. Clearly, calling him “Lady Furnish” wouldn’t do. The editor of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage offered “Laddy” as a jokey alternative, admitting that there was no provision on the books for this eventuality.

E-naming Names  Massachusetts is still the only state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but the Right is using every legal strategy to overturn it. They’ve now collected enough signatures to force the question onto the 2008 ballot, barring other legal developments. Some 140,000 people signed the petition—more than double the number needed—but one thing many signers didn’t anticipate was that their names would all be made public and listed on the Internet! Many were surprised to learn that such petitions are a matter of public record, but it took a gay activist group called to create a website that lists all the names in a convenient, user-friendly format. It’s a tactic that might not work in Utah, but in liberal old Massachusetts, having your neighbors see your name on an anti-gay petition can put you on the spot, and lots of people are squirming. What’s more, many people who saw their own names are claiming they were duped into signing or did so unwittingly. Critics have charged the website with intimidation, but the site’s co-founder, Tom Lang, points out that it shines sunlight onto a hitherto dark process—and forces people to own up to their civic actions.

A Tale from the Crypt  Scholars are taking a new look at a 4,000-year-old Egyptian tomb that’s been billed as “the first depiction of a gay kiss” (Independent, UK, 1/2/06). The tomb was found in the necropolis at Saqqara, south of Cairo, in 1964, one of the largest and most beautiful of its kind. “Their arms entwined, their torsos and noses touching, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were painted together for eternity in an embrace usually associated with heterosexual couples of the 5th Dynasty.” Interestingly, the two men are shown to be of equal status. The official explanation is that the two were twins or Siamese twins (but wouldn’t being joined at the nose make it hard to breathe?). Yet now scholars are admitting that these are scenes of genuine intimacy between two non-identical men. What seems to throw modern scholars off is that they’re presented so matter-of-factly, without shock or comment, as if what the subjects were doing was the most natural thing in the world. Fancy that.