Community Watchdogs in Frenzy Over Mildly Offensive Commercial
I didnât watch the Snickers Super Bowl commercial, and as a matter of fact, I didnât watch the Super Bowl. But I gather that the controversial ad showed two guys so desperate to eat a Snickers that they chewed a bar from either end until they almost kissed. At that point, they reacted in a crazed homophobic fashion.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) wasted no time in condemning the spot as a damnable assault on the GLBT community, a celebration of the same instinct that propels gay bashing and worse. The Mars Company Web site apparently had a few other versions of the ad up for review, including one that showed Bears and Colts players snickering, shall we say, at the menâs predicament.
âThe makers of Snickers and its parent company at Mars should know better,â thundered HRCâs Joe Solmonese in a statement. ââIf they have any questions about why the ad isnât funny, we can help put them in touch with any number of GLBT Americans who have suffered hate crimes.â
Some right wing blogs, in turn, decried the spot as repellent and inappropriate for children. Well, at least one of them did, and it serves my purposes here to assume that the piece irritated those on both sides of the gay divide.
So hereâs my first observation. Surely the corporate honchos at Mars though long and hard about their Super Bowl ad. Surely someone suggested that the spot might be taken the wrong way, either by conservative Christians or gay activists. And just as surely, the candy makers decided that a little publicity would be just fine with them. This ad was well thought out, deliberate, and the implications were certainly evaluated in advance. In the end, however, the company killed the main ad and took the other examples off line.
More interestingly, the commercial brings up the question of when and under what circumstances should the community pounce en masse on a perceived slight. Is there really a connection between the Snickers commercial and increased hate crimes? Are the dynamics of our place in society untouchable and beyond satire? Was the ad making fun of gay men, or ridiculing macho gay phobic straight men? I have the feeling that no one would have thought twice about the Snickers commercial if our own champions had not instantly pricked up their sensitive ears and sounded the alarm.
At the same time, I donât want to be complacent. I just donât like it when we sound like humorless prigs. And you know what? As we become an integral part of the life of the country, we will see ourselves reflected more often in American culture in a more complex way. Some of those images will demand immediate rebuttal. Others will not. Iâm not sure where this particular image ranked, but my impression is that it was sort of in a gray zone.
While weâre on the subject of communal outrage, GLAAD issued two other finger wags this week. One was aimed at Paris Hilton who apparently used bad words at a party several years ago that recently made its way onto the Internet via an amateur video. Paris and her sister Nicky called one person a âfaggot,â and referred to themselves as âniggers.â The GLAAD release quotes Paris as saying she and her sister are âlike two [N-words]â although the context for this self-evaluation is not clear.
The GLBT watchdogs called for Hilton to apologize to the gay and black communities for her use of the slurs.
Hello, GLAAD! Paris Hilton can say whatever she wants in the assumed privacy of a party and she doesnât owe anyone an apology. She was not speaking to the press. She was not in public, and she has every right to be as racist and homophobic as she likes. All of us have the right to our own attitudes and, in turn, we can all form our own opinions of les seures Hilton. As a matter of fact, I just read that the investors in Nicky Hiltonâs South Beach hotel might drop out of the project in disgust over the video, which is far better justice than any forced apology in my book.
GLAADâs other scold was reserved for an ABC affiliate in Tucson, which aired an expose on a public sex in a local park. The news spot, GLAAD said, âdoes nothing to illuminate the problem it purports to be tackling, fails to provide any documentation to back its claims, and proposes no solutions.â
Letâs be clear. The subject of public sex is not automatically anti-gay, and towns have every right to patrol a park where cruising has gotten out of hand and is no longer relegated to the back bushes and the dark of night. And please: No comments about how no one pursues heterosexual public sex, which is virtually nonexistent.
(As a personal aside, since when do we expect âKGUN On Your Sideâ and its ilk to deliver a thoughtful piece on any subject, let alone suggest solutions or illuminate the problem it purports to be tackling? This is local news weâre talking about.
âNext up. Is your housecat deadly? Seven on your side tells you why you should think twice before getting too close to your pet.â
âItâs a scary story Jim! And Angela Morales has the latest on the threat to your identity. Find out how a simple trip to the convenience store could cost you thousands of dollars. Coming up after these messages.â)
According to the Tucson-area GLBT rights organization, however, this particular piece was characterized by lurid scenes of shadowy men in bushes, and gratuitous warnings about protecting children from the dangers of the Internet. The entire presentation was reportedly laced with the implication that gay men in general are predisposed to frolic around in the foliage within a stoneâs throw of the playground.
Here, GLAAD has evidently lodged a worthwhile complaint against a sensationalist and irresponsible piece of ersatz journalism. But like a hound that barks equally at squirrels and prowlers, the watchdogs would have more credibility if they picked their targets.
Mitten State Mischief
The most astonishing court ruling came down last week, dropping under the headlines after a few days, but definitely worthy of leading the news. It was outrageous, unexpected, and as far as the future is concerned, somewhat frightening. The travesty in question was the handiwork of the Michigan Court of Appeals, which ruled that the stateâs constitutional ban on same-sex marriage also extended to public domestic partner rights.
I hardly know where to begin.
First of all, Michiganâs anti-gay amendment, which passed in 2004, was one of the few such measures that limited itself to one sentence. âTo secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children,â it read, âthe union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.â
Contrast that with the lengthy verbiage ratified in various other states, where amendments of one or two sentences or even paragraphs spiral into explicit bans on âa legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals,â or some such blather.
Second, even the more explicit state amendments were theoretically trying to block, not domestic partner benefits, but civil unions that carry all the state benefits of marriage under another name.
And invariably, the anti-gay groups campaigning for passage of these amendments told voters that the objective was to âprotect marriageâ and had nothing to do with insurance or hospital visits. When gay activists raised the specter of a threat to domestic partner rights, they were accused of creating red herrings.
(For the record, I was just distracted by the origin of the expression âred herring,â and learned that a herring turns red and pungent when smoked. Hunters used to teach their hounds to follow a trail using these treated fish. Alternatively, some say British fugitives threw red herrings behind them to confuse the dogs. Whatever. Makes me hungry. I love herring. Particularly so-called ânew herringâ eaten raw on a North Sea beach in May.)
As I was saying, during the run up to the 2004 election the anti-gay gang in Michigan swore up and down that the amendment was simply about marriage. After its passage, however, the city of Kalamazoo asked Attorney General Michael Cox to confirm that its domestic partner benefits for city staff were still legal. Shockingly, the conservative Cox drafted a non-binding memo stating that the amendment effectively prohibited public employers from recognizing same-sex relationships in any manner. The American Civil Liberties Union promptly sued the state on behalf of gay union workers and the litigation began.
Not surprisingly, a lower court judge eventually ruled that domestic partner insurance was a work benefit, and reflected the relationships, not between same-sex couples, but between employers and staff. Offering perks to the partners of gay staff bore no resemblance to state creation of a new marital status.
Attorney General Cox appealed to the intermediate court in late 2005, and the result was the jaw-dropping 15-page opinion that hit our communal desk with a thud last Friday. Led by Judge Kurtis T. Wilder, the appellate panel determined that the âplain languageâ of the amendment was crystal clear, and obviously meant that no arm of the state could recognize a same-sex couple under any circumstances.
Courts are supposed to examine the context of the passage of an ambiguous statute or amendment in order to figure out what the lawmakers, or in this case the voters, had in mind. But this court wrote that such an investigation was unnecessary because the wording of the amendment was so obvious! Feel free to go back a few paragraphs and reread the sentence in question to see if you agree that the language âis unambiguous andÂ plainly precludes the recognition of same-sex domestic partnerships or similar unions for any purpose.â
The unanimous panel also quibbled with the notion that the amendment basically barred the state from creating a marriage-like status for same-sex couples.Â Not at all, said the court. The amendment bars the state from recognizing any kind of âsimilar union,â in any way, under any circumstances. Employers, said the court enigmatically, are free to offer benefits to unmarried couples as long as said benefits are not granted on the basis of said couplesâ âagreed upon relationships.â
In a final slap, the court made its ruling effective immediately, a gesture that would theoretically stop existing public domestic partner programs in their tracks. Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the Michigan ACLUâs Lesbian and Gay Rights Project said he and his colleagues were very surprised by that decision, one that not even the Attorney General had requested or favored. Kaplan says the ACLU has asked for immediate reconsideration of this issue from the court. And of course, they will appeal the entire ruling up to the Michigan Supreme Court.
According to Kaplan, the Michigan high court is not by any means guaranteed to reverse the appellate ruling. In fact, Kaplan says, the four-three conservative majority on the supreme bench has not been historically kind to gay and lesbian petitioners. In the event that the civil libertarians suffer another defeat at the hands of the justices, Kaplan says his group will consider a federal challenge to the state amendment.
The most horrifying thing about this opinion is the implications for other courts and other states. You recall that 27 states now have anti-gay marriage amendments on the books, most of them as I mentioned are written in even stronger terms than the Michigan version. The Michigan case is the first state suit to examine the scope of these amendments since the most recent amendment trend began in 2004. Can you imagine the catastrophe for domestic partner rights if other states follow Michiganâs lead?
Already, weâve suffered a federal court defeat in our communityâs challenge to Nebraskaâs unique anti-gay amendment. And over the next few years we can expect litigation around the country as state agencies and universities struggle with the interpretation of these vague new laws. But now I have a problem. For various reasons I took an unwise mid-sentence break from this analysis and spent a good 20 minutes on the âSparkle Ponyâ blog perusing amusing commentary about the Secretary of State. I advise all of you to stop reading this instant and indulge yourselves.
Meanwhile, I find it impossible to return to my previous level of outraged zeal, so I must ruefully move on to a completely new topic.
Did you hear that Ted Haggard is now officially 100 percent heterosexual following a few weeks of intervention by his evangelical Christian colleagues? Yes, itâs true. Ted and his wife are now planning to move to Iowa or someplace like that where they will get their masters degrees in psychology.
Haggardâs quick ârecoveryâ was due to the fact that he was not very very very homosexual to begin with. The former head of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs only indulged in man-on-man sex with one individual, so it didnât really count as homosexuality per se. Instead, as one associate described it, Haggard succumbed to â âacting out situations,â rather than a âconstant thing.â
Do you have a nagging feeling that we might be seeing Pastor Ted back in the scandal pages one of these days?
NCLR Settles Penn State Case
The National Center for Lesbian Rights has settled that suit against Penn State, where womenâs basketball coach Rene Portland was accused of habitual discrimination against lesbian players, or in this case, women that she thought might be lesbians. One of her latter category victims, Jennifer Harris, sued the school and the coach with the help of the SF-based legal eagles, and the trial was to have begun this spring. The settlement terms are confidential, which I hate. Donât you? Câmon NCLR! Tell us the dirt. Maybe they forced Rene Portland to watch all three seasons of the L Word, listen to the Indigo Girls, read Desert Hearts and attend a potluck. Even better, perhaps she had to pull out her checkbook.
Eye on the Prize
Stop the presses! I have just received a promotional email from Bob Lott, the author of a book called Donât Be Afraid to Ask! How to Date a Beautiful Woman. According to Mr. Lott, even unattractive and unsuccessful men can get it on with gorgeous gals if they know the secret strategy.
âHow does Mr. Average compete with Mr. Perfect for equal time?â asks Lott. âMost of the time, we donât even compete for fear of rejection. No one likes to lose. Most of us donât try in order to avoid the disgrace. We settle for what we think we deserve rather than what weâre entitled to. You are entitled to the woman you want. Donât love what you have! Have what you love!â
âAmazingly,â our seduction expert continues, âdating a beautiful woman is more of a mental feat than a physical one. Lack of confidence, fear of rejection, low self esteem and the belief that you are unworthy have been your real disabilities in the endeavor to capture your prize.â Lottâs book, he insists, has all the answers, and also provides important information on subjects including âhow to recover from a failed relationship,â no doubt a topic that will become increasingly relevant to his hard-luck readers as they struggle to learn the ropes.
I can see one of Lottâs acolytes lying on the beach, a copy of Donât Be Afraid to Ask perched on the dome of his protruding belly, one eye scanning the surf line for possible targets of his new skills, the other monitoring his dowdy girlfriend on the next lounge chair.
âHarold! What are you reading!â
âWell will you take a look at that hussy! Not much left to the imagination there!â
âUh, Iâll be right back.â
Harold grabs his terrycloth beach jacket and hurries towards the hotelâs outdoor bar, the blonde in his sights. He catches up to her under the Tiki hut.
âSay, good looking. How âbout you and me have a Mohito for two?â
âNo thanks,â she says with a polite laugh.
âBaby, Iâm serious. You donât know what youâre missing here. I may not look like much, but I have some, um, hidden qualities. if you catch my driftâŠâ
âLook mister. Donât make me call security, OK?â
Back on the beach, Harold flips to Chapter Two. âWhat To Do When She Threatens To Call Security.â But wait a second! Whereâs Dorothy? Is that her over by that cabana laughing with that Tom Cruise lookalike? Canât be! Harold glances over at the book lying face down on Dorothyâs beach chair.
Donât Be Afraid to Ask! How to Date a Hunky Man by Sally Lott.
Taking On New Mexico
Letâs see now. Iâm skipping the legislative news this week. But I do want to tell you about an interesting lawsuit filed by the ACLU in New Mexico. I waited to bring up this topic until you forgot about the 1000-word diatribe on the Michigan case, because I didnât want to exhaust your capacity to digest important GLBT civil rights legal news.Â Â Â Â
Now, I assume youâre refreshed and ready for an update onâŠ. domestic partner rights in the Land of Enchantment! Our friend Bill Richardson issued an executive order in 2003 that gave partner benefits to public workers. But as is often the case, our partner benefits arenât quite as good as their spousal benefits. In New Mexico, if you retire from a public job, your husband or wife keeps state health insurance. But if you have a domestic partner, he or she is out in the cold. The ACLUâs suit, lodged on behalf of three lesbian couples, asks a state court to equalize the status of these unmarried couples on state constitutional grounds.
And with that, I see our time and space are up! I must say that cutting out the news of a dozen state legislatures lightens the load, both for writer and readers. But I pledge to return to the subject next week, when we can spend hundreds of words lingering over the ins and outs of both loathsome and encouraging proposals from politicians of every stripe. Personally, I canât wait!