Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Churches need to take drastic steps to prevent child sex abuse; SNAP assists victims worldwide



The seemingly never-ending reports of lawsuits and criminal complaints being filed by people alleging they were sexually molested by members of the clergy might make one wonder if directing worship is, or ever was, the main objective of those seeking ordainment.

Since my youth I’ve heard people grumble that the pastors, priests, rabbis and others calling the faithful to their churches on Sunday morning were interested primarily in personal glory and how much cash they could raise from their flocks, but I never heard anything about them expecting a donation of flesh as well. That is, I never heard about it until the mid-1980s when the scandals involving Catholic priests sexually abusing male youths began surfacing.

When the media first began covering the scandal I imagine the reaction of most people was that a few cases would surface, and that would be the end of it. Who would have ever dreamed that 25 years later the scandal would have grown to epidemic proportions and spread worldwide to other religions and institutions as well?

Just recently after reporting about a pastor who was the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a church member, I heard from the executive director of an organization of which I knew nothing. The organization, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or SNAP (snapnetwork.org), was founded 23 years ago, and it now boasts 10,000 members around the globe.

David Clohessy, who has led the St. Louis, MO-based group for more than two decades, said the group has expanded far beyond its original mission of providing support to people who were sexually abused by Catholic priests.

“Despite the word priest in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers,” Clohessy said in his e-mail to me. “And in recent years, we’ve heard from and helped many who were hurt in other institutional settings such as athletic programs, schools, camps, day care centers, etc.”

The scope of what he is talking about is mind-boggling, but a quick review of the news headlines covering only the past year or so confirms what he is saying. There is an epidemic of sexual abuse of young people underway in almost every walk of life they might encounter.

Male-on-male sexual abuse seems to stand out more in my mind in connection with the problem, but another scan of the headlines reminds me of the many cases of female high school teachers accused of seducing male students and male teachers seducing female students.

Obviously, the problem is universal. SNAP notes on its website that half of its members are women.
The SNAP literature maintains that “homosexuals are no more likely to be pedophiles than are heterosexuals.” 

It explains that reports of boys being molested are more prevalent because men tend to express their anger outwardly as in litigation, whereas women are more likely to direct it inward. It adds that women are more likely to resolve their pain through therapy and support groups, and that male-on-male sex is more salacious and more likely to attract attention.

Whatever the nature of the revelations, it is clear that all young people are at risk of being sexually abused in some area of their lives. Unfortunately, their relationships with members of the clergy, school teachers, caregivers and all other people with whom they come into contact must be closely monitored by parents.

It’s a world of worry that is hard to fathom based on my own childhood experiences. I never had a teacher, a Sunday School instructor or anyone else charged with my care ever make any sort of inappropriate move on me, but it’s been 50 years since I was a child. A friend of mine with whom I grew up assures me that neither he nor his brother ever experienced anything inappropriate at his Catholic Church. It was just unheard of at the time, but that could be attributed to a reluctance of victims to come forward.

A pastor I spoke with recently told me that his church had already taken steps to ensure that no employee or volunteer of the church has private access to children or other church members. All of the offices will have windows in the future, he said. Other steps will also be taken to make sure everyone behaves as they should, he said.

Those are pretty drastic steps, but it would probably be a good idea for all organizations to implement such precautions in light of what we now know about sexual abuse and harassment. It appears that unfortunately is the way all organizations need to be run today.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Watch what you tweet and post on other social media sites; it can have disastrous effects on your life




It’s about time for the highfliers of the world to start giving things a little more thought before they open their mouths and let everyone know about the ugliness festering in their minds – it could jeopardize their livelihood.

The latest big voice to stick his tongue in the fire is CNN contributor Roland Martin who unfortunately tweeted what was on his mind while watching soccer star David Beckham’s Super Bowl underwear commercial. Martin tweeted that if a “dude” at a Super Bowl party gets “hyped” about the underwear ad someone should “smack the ish out of him.”

The inference in that statement is pretty clear. If a guy reveals he likes guys by showing appreciation for the nearly naked, muscular Beckham featured in the ad, then someone should punish him – with violence.

It’s unclear why Martin’s mind would react in such a fashion to the commercial, but it should come as no surprise to the commentator or any other high-profile person that perceived anti-gay remarks will result in an immediate, unpleasant reaction from GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.  And that’s exactly what has happened in the case of Martin, whom the media monitoring organization has accused of habitual verbal gay bashing.

Earlier the same day, Martin, a native of Houston, reportedly posted on his Facebook page that someone featured at the game in a “head-to-toe pink suit” needed a “visit from teamwhipdatass.”  Everything considered, it clearly was not one of Martin’s better days image-wise.

For his part, Martin immediately began trying to explain away his statements as harmless and not at all what the people from GLAAD perceived it to be upon hearing they wanted CNN to fire him. He claimed it was intended as a “crack” against soccer fans and not intended to be homophobic at all.

After that failed to convince anyone that he didn’t really say what everyone knows full well he did say, Martin decided the following day to apologize, saying he could “certainly understand how someone could come to a different conclusion than the one” he meant.

And that apparently turned out to be the case with CNN, which announced Martin’s suspension on Wednesday, saying “Roland Martin’s tweets were regrettable and offensive. Language that demeans is inconsistent with the values and culture of our organization, and it is not tolerated. We have been giving careful consideration to this matter, and Roland will not be appearing on our air for the time being.”

In his defense, although it failed to spare him, Martin noted that he had spoken out on national television in the past against bullying by urging parents and schools to take an “active role in ending this epidemic that afflicts kids nationwide, gay or not.”

GLAAD accepted Martin’s apology as a “start,” but it suggested that the commentator should take the extra step of meeting with the organization’s leaders and using his big voice in the future to speak out against homophobic violence as reparation for his offensive and potentially harmful remarks.

That wasn’t a bad idea at all because violence can be incited in impressionable people – especially the young -- who view powerful people’s hateful words as justification for violence. Hate crime researchers have long warned that politicians, clergy people and celebrities carry a great responsibility in terms of how their rhetoric might influence others.

In Martin’s case it seems odd that someone who is an African-American television news personality and familiar with the issues of discrimination and bias-related violence would wind up being chided for perceived anti-gay rhetoric, but that is reflective of the insidiousness of bias. Nasty thoughts sometimes lurk in nice people’s minds, surfacing only during extraordinary moments.

Often, the expression of those thoughts probably comes as big of a surprise to the deliverer as it does the audience, and the result can be harrowing. That in itself is a good reason for everyone to realize that bias against law-abiding groups is harmful to society, no matter whether it is race, religion, sex, age or whatever, and a constant vigilance to fight against it in one’s own head should be undertaken if it resides there.

That’s likely a bigger problem for people who harbor anti-gay bias because of the LGBT community’s relative youth in terms of a legitimate society of people. Anti-gay bias was considered not only acceptable, but preferable for too long for some people to change their thoughts on the subject swiftly.

In regard to gay rights, some people changed their minds long before the laws changed, but for other people the process has been delayed long after the repeal of the sodomy law and the passage of other affirmative measures. Those people continue to struggle to balance their thoughts with their speech.

Usually, people accustomed to speaking in public can keep their inappropriate thoughts in check when they are talking or writing, but social media forums such as Twitter and Facebook are presenting new hazards in communication. The immediacy of the communication and its worldwide reach can create big headaches for people, as Martin has learned.

Every purposeless, derogatory statement issued about another person or group has the potential of reaching and offending someone.

Because of that, it might be a good idea for everyone to take a lesson from Martin’s disastrous faux pas and watch carefully what they post on the social media. Once it is out there, it’s spreading furiously and it’s not so easy to explain away.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Size, diversity of LGBT population complicate debate about origin of sexuality; 'choices' possible



After four decades of watching people struggle to keep up with the politically correct standard of the day in discussing LGBT life, I’m beginning to think it’s time for everyone to relax a little.

I reached that decision this week when I read about activists getting in an uproar over Cynthia Nixon, an actress who starred in “Sex and the City,” telling the New York Times Magazine she preferred being gay to being straight because she had lived both types of lives. Her remarks created a furor among those who demand we frame all of our speech in a way they think best advances the LGBT rights movement. A few days later Nixon softened her stance in a Daily Beast interview by saying she was a bisexual by no choice of her own, presumably in an effort to quell the controversy.

Frankly, Nixon’s first remarks in the New York Times Magazine article made sense to me, and so did her later remarks about believing she never made a conscious decision to be a bisexual. It’s just that I regretted she felt compelled to revise what she had said earlier to appease her critics. I got what she meant the first time without her follow up explanation, and I imagine most other enlightened people did as well.

Nixon, who gave birth to two children with a male partner, probably did make a choice to live a gay life when she became sexually involved with a woman, Christine Marinoni (pictured above with Nixon). If someone is attracted to both the opposite and the same sex, there probably does come a point when the individual might need to make a choice in terms of permanent or semi-permanent partnership.

Certainly Nixon ought to be the best judge of what happened in her own life so what’s wrong with her telling the truth as she sees it?

Nixon noted correctly that many LGBT activists shudder every time they hear the word “choice,” “preference” or “lifestyle” because they fear it supports conservative religious arguments that homosexuality is a perversion practiced by degenerates who get their kicks out of being wicked. As the theory goes, that gives credence to the evangelists’ claims that bisexuality, homosexuality and gender variance can be cured by the administration of a good dose of Bible verse in quantities sufficient enough to scare the holy bejesus out of the sinner.

As we all know, that doesn’t work. Actually, even most straight people realize that won’t work because most of them have also suffered the wrath of the evangelical community in condemnation of some aspect of their lives, such as the urge to masturbate or engage in sexual activity before marriage. In reality, the only ones who truly believe a pack of Bible thumpers can transform a person’s sexual orientation are people who are either lying about it, have been brainwashed into believing it or are just too ignorant to understand scientific research.

Decades of scientific evidence make it clear that every aspect of a person’s physical and mental makeup -- which certainly includes sexual orientation -- comes about as a result of heritable genes and the impact of sex hormones on the brain and other body parts of the developing fetus.

In his book, “Gay, Straight and the Reason Why,” published by Oxford University Press in 2011, neuroscientist Simon LeVay, outlines decades of scientific studies that all point to the same conclusion. In essence, people are what nature made them, as LeVay, who served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, has pointed out in various articles and books he has authored over the years.

The results of a scientific study LeVay published in Science in 1991 showing marked differences in the brain structures of gay and straight men is credited with helping spur the two-decade wave of scientific research aimed at determining a biological basis for sexual orientation.

What the body of scientific evidence does for most reasonable people is confirm what common sense had already told them. There’s just no way certain people with obvious mental and physical characteristics could have been anything other than what they became -- namely gay, lesbian or transgender.

With others in the LGBT community it’s a little trickier because they display either few or none of the obvious characteristics identifying them as anything other than straight. Environment might have played some role in their development, but again the scientific evidence points to biological factors. What’s more the individuals usually report experiencing feelings since their earliest recollections that set them apart from heterosexual people.

Still, the unpredictability of humans makes it impossible to categorize all people. Some members of the community undoubtedly did feel an attraction to the LGBT lifestyle and chose to embrace it for that reason. The very size and the diversity of the world’s LGBT community is so staggering that if we come across some people who are merely practicing free will it shouldn’t be so surprising.

That’s why I liked Nixon’s earlier remarks that it didn’t matter how people came to be a part of the LGBT community. As she said, it doesn’t matter how each and every person got here, and words will never sway the opinions of bigots and opportunists. It will require life experiences – such as coming to realize they have a child or grandchild who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender -- to hopefully educate them about the realities of life.