Published in: January-February 2004 issue.


What Would Jesus Fund?  A previous BTW reported on how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have come under increasing scrutiny by right-wing members of Congress, who’ve been challenging grant proposals for AIDS research and other areas related to sexual behavior. Orchestrated by conservative religious organizations, the strategy is to flag proposals in which certain words appear, such as “same-sex” or “anal,” and then throw up roadblocks to their being funded. Now these same groups, led by the “Traditional Values Coalition” (TVC), have come up with a truly chilling tactic in this pursuit: they’ve compiled a list of some 200 scientists engaged in research that they don’t like and submitted their names both to members of Congress and to the NIH, demanding that their grants be revoked. The new wrinkle is that these attacks do not address specific projects or their scientific merits, but instead target particular individuals and attempt to smear their names and discredit their work. This of course is pure McCarthyism, and while Congress might be expected to have learned its lesson by now, the tactic appears to be working. According to Bob Herbert in the New York Times (11/3/03), “The context is that in recent months there have been a series of specific inquiries to the NIH from Congressional committee members, through their staffs in particular, asking about specific grants and specific grantees based apparently on the content of those grants.” Many scientists are reported to be genuinely alarmed. And if Joe McCarthy could be accused of grandiosity, there’s this from a spokeswoman for the TVC: “What makes us unique among all the conservative groups is that I believe we truly represent the body of Christ.” And we all know how much Christ had to say about the funding of scientific research.

Axiom:  The extremism of a preacher’s diatribes against immorality is directly proportional to the perversity of his own sexual longings. The evidence: that such fantasies are so frequently acted upon, even against all sanity given the consequences of getting caught. The latest prophet to fall, as reported by the Yale Daily News, is the Reverend Stephen White, a.k.a. “Brother Stephen,” described as a true fanatic who was “infamous for preaching against homosexuality and sexual promiscuity at Yale and other college campuses.” It seems White was arrested last summer for allegedly offering twenty dollars to a fourteen-year-old boy in a Philadelphia suburb for permission to give the lad a blow job. Now others before White have perhaps seduced a teenage girl or been caught soliciting sex or going into a gay bar. A few, perhaps, have combined two of these sins in a single act. But White managed to do what many thought impossible, to commit all three abominations—homosexuality, corrupting a minor, and criminal solicitation—at once! In doing so he has gone where no preacher has gone before. We assume he will be missed at Yale.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Talk Dirty to Me Chalk another one up to the law of unintended consequences. Reports from the U.S. military suggest that one result of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is that heterosexual soldiers are going to extremes to avoid saying anything that could possibly be read as “gay.” One response is for soldiers to clam up completely about their personal lives, with many reporting a profound sense of isolation from the members of their unit. The other response is for soldiers to talk obsessively about their sexual activities and interests, resulting in what one researcher called “a systematic invasion of heterosexual privacy.” To establish their hetero bona fides—and women apparently been hit hardest by this imperative—soldiers will bring up their sexual exploits at every opportunity. To be sure, it’s all about getting’ it on the heterosexual way. Still, one wonders if the prim architects of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” men such as Senator Orrin Hatch, intended to pass a law that would bring out the booty talk, the raunchier the better, among our men and women in uniform.

Dolls in the Fast Lane  Persistent rumors about Ken of Barbie-and-Ken fame notwithstanding, no one has ever tried to mass-market a doll that actually out as gay. But that’s all changed now that an Australian company has come out with just such a doll—two dolls, in fact (for how else would we know they’re ’mo?): Elton the Biker and his partner Marshall. The pair have racked up over $300,000 in sales in the U.S. and Europe since their release about a year ago—this despite an outcry from family and church groups. Never ones to pass up an opportunity to be offended, these groups have risen up to take umbrage at the dolls’ immoral lifestyle—proving yet again that nothing is too frivolous to escape their notice. Bill Muehlenberg of the Australian Family Association has condemned the dolls, “given what a high-risk lifestyle it is.” And while he didn’t offer details, one can imagine the kinds of risks he had in mind: melting after prolonged exposure to a disco lamp or having one’s paint chipped from too much physical contact. At $21.95 per doll, that could get expensive!

Down in Dixie  About those rumors concerning the sexual orientation of Ken, one college administrator took matters into its own hands when an art professor posted his series of ten large-ish photos of Ken and his pal G.I. Joe embracing and holding hands. The president of Alabama’s Shelton State Community College had the photos summarily removed, claiming he needed the display space to publicize an upcoming production of Arsenic and Old Lace. But the art prof saw through this excuse, suspecting that he and others who complained had “read a homosexual meaning into it.” Well, yes. That they would bother to complain about the photos is yet another case of people’s bottomless capacity for high dudgeon, but one has to wonder what was going through the artist’s mind when he purchased the Ken and G.I. Joe dolls, arranged them in compromising positions, and then took pictures of them. Oh, and then hung them up at a two-year community college in Tuscaloosa. On a bulletin board that might otherwise be occupied by Arsenic and Old Lace posters…

That Was the Marriage Protection Week that Was  Occasionally science can be helpful in proving what we already know, or at least strongly suspect. Last fall a number of conservative religious groups got Congress to sponsor, and President Bush to endorse, something called “marriage protection week.” While the sponsoring organizations claimed that the fête was intended to support the institution of marriage and address a range of issues related to it, few people doubted that its real intent was to strike a blow against same-sex marriage. But lest their be any lingering doubt, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force put them to rest by doing a detailed content analysis of the language used by the nine sponsoring organizations on their websites. What it found is that these groups are positively obsessed with homosexuality but show scant interest in marriage or the family as such. All the topics that you might expect to come up if “protecting marriage” were really the goal—divorce, domestic violence, child abuse—paled in comparison to terms like “homosexual” and “rich and powerful gay lobby” (which appears to be a buzz-word). While Mr. Bush had proclaimed that the week “provides an opportunity to focus our efforts on preserving the sanctity of marriage and on building strong and healthy marriages,” all of the announced activities focused exclusively on same-sex civil unions. For example, participants were urged to contact their congressperson in support of a Constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. The sponsors provided two model sermons, both replete with anti-gay rhetoric but devoid of any reference to building strong marriages. Finally, elected officials were asked to sign a pledge not to support even the most basic forms of partner recognition, such as hospital visitation rights or health insurance coverage. Lest there be any doubt.