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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

On Larry Craig

One of the advantages of being associate dean is that I don't have a lot of time to browse through the blogosphere.  So today I missed what must have been quite the feeding frenzy about Larry Craig and his not so excellent adventure in a bathroom at the Minneapolis airport.  But with Wolf Blitzer screaming at me at the gym today I had no choice, as a gay man, to think about this sad episode.

In particular, this event has forced me to think about my attitude toward outing.  Now of course Larry Craig outed himself -- assuming he is gay, which apparently has been whispered around Washington for 25 years now.  But either way he was still outed, which got me to thinking.  Is that unwilling disclosure just something something I should snicker at, with a "gotcha" attitude?  Or does that suggest some kind of deep-seated self-loathing (that, ironically, Craig may suffer from himself), along the lines of "I'm laughing at him getting caught because fundamentally there is something nasty about being gay?"

I think ultimately I'm glad he got caught/outed, for the reasons a number of gay activists sought to out gay conservatives in the 1990's.  This man apparently opposes every major piece of gay rights legislation -- at least according to the one blog I did read today, Andrew Sullivan's --  and the third goal of his "Mission Statement" on his Senate website is to "defend and strengthen the traditional values of the American family."  Now all of that is his right, and I can respect decisions to oppose any or all of the gay-rights agenda on principled grounds that don't effectively cut gay Americans out from equal citizenship (although opposition on some of these issues seems inconceivable to me on any grounds other than basic dislike).  But the combination of that opposition, his use of what have become gay-baiting code words, and his apparent unwillingness to come out is really too much.   If Senator Craig is gay, and if he's going to oppose employment non-discrimination and the rest of the gay rights agenda, then he really needs to do so from a position of honesty.  He was apparently unwilling to do that, and for that reason I think it was ultimately good that he's been called on it.

I don't buy the "protect the wife and children" defense, either.  As any gay man who's been married and/or fathered a child can attest, it doesn't help the wife and kids to live a lie -- let alone to live whatever level of double life he apparently lived in Washington.  Indeed, now that his lie has blown up in all their faces, we can all see the damage his dishonesty has done.

What it boils down to is either a sad story -- a man trapped into living a lie as a married, traditional family-values defending conservative -- or a bad story --  a man who willingly entered into that lie in exchange for whatever power he may enjoy as Senator and local muckety-muck.  If it's the latter then he will deserve whatever political comeuppance he will suffer, and I'm glad it will happen.  If it's the former, then at the very least he could have had the decency to keep his homophobia to himself, and, to my mind, that indecency disqualifies him for any sympathy.  And of course none of this speaks to his post-arrest activitions, which range from the literally unbelievable ("I guess I should have thought to get a lawyer") to the bizarre (blaming his guilty plea on the Idaho Statesman's investigative reporting) to the  morally indefensible (snapping his Senate business card on the investigator's table and saying "What do you think about that?"). 

As I go to dinner tonight and wonder whether pecking my partner's cheek as we're walking out will buy me or him a cracked skull, I'll think about you, Senator Craig, and I'll say a little prayer.

Posted by Bill Araiza on August 28, 2007 at 11:48 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on Aug 30, 2007 10:18:58 PM



Although Prof. (or is it Dean) Araiza may have used "gay rights agenda" in his original post, he used homosexual agenda in response to your request for gay-baiting code words. Your switch of terms, if nothing else, this evinces the lack of care you put into understanding his position.

Long ago cognitive scientists discovered that the human mind categorizes areas of thought into frames. When a frame is invoked in ones mind it brings to the fore of that persons mind a host of attitudes, ideas, and positions. Frames are so powerful that once they are ingrained and invoked people refuse to even consider facts that are contrary to the frame. This is brain science and has been studied rather extensively.

So when people co-opt terms like traditional family values like say, Dr. Dobson has (and surely you have heard of him), it invokes a frame which includes that antigay sentiments that Prof. Araiza alludes to. It does not invoke the frames in everyones mind because we don't all have the same frames but their is a significant number of people with this frame that are unable to overcome their prejudices.

It takes time to create these frames in peoples minds. In fact, it has to start early in life for it to have the desired effect. People opposed to homosexuality in general and gay rights in particular have spent decades cultivating frames that are invoked by language that promotes their viewpoint without explicitly exposing themselves as biggots.

So I don't think Prof. Araiza is off base with his comments.

Posted by: Jim Green | Sep 14, 2007 9:37:02 AM


Posted by: dy | Sep 13, 2007 12:36:02 AM

I won't engage Adam's points any more, as I said I was done, but I do want to make sure nobody takes the last sentence of my last comment as something other than what was intended -- as an illustration (maybe a little silly) of my point that words do have meanings beyond those necessarily intended by the speaker. I hope that was clear from the context of the remark; if it wasn't, I apologize sincerely for any offense taken or hurt caused.

Posted by: billaraiza | Sep 1, 2007 6:52:34 PM

Whoops. Make that a correction to the second-last paragraph, not sentence.

Posted by: Adam | Sep 1, 2007 4:44:31 PM

A minor correction: In the first line of the secondlast sentence, I meant to say, "... well all have a second responsibility." I intended no secret meaning by the inadvertant omission!

Posted by: Adam | Sep 1, 2007 4:43:19 PM

Honestly, I think you make the point for me when your comment substitutes "gay rights agenda" for the term I originally used, "homosexual agenda."

Actually, you used the term "gay rights agenda" twice in your original post:

-- "I can respect decisions to oppose any or all of the gay-rights agenda on principled grounds that don't effectively cut gay Americans out from equal citizenship"

-- "If Senator Craig is gay, and if he's going to oppose employment non-discrimination and the rest of the gay rights agenda"

You didn't use the term "homosexual agenda" until your 6:11 comment. (Then again, I confess that the difference between the two "agendas" isn't self-evident to me, at least not to the extent that you used the terms in your post and comment.)

[S]ince words only have meaning in a social context the fact is that loudmouths can in fact appropriate words so that it's generally understood what those words mean.

I agree. I also suggest that, here, you're begging the question. My point has been that the mere fact that Lou Sheldon or others use the term "traditional family values" to mean something does not mean that their definition is, in fact, that which the term is "generally understood [to] mean." You've posited that Lou Sheldon's definition is the generally-accepted definition; I think that you're wrong. But our dispute has nothing to do with whether definitions are rooted in social use.

That's why all of us have responsibility in our public lives to understand what we're really saying and doing.

No doubt. But I suggest that we all have a responsibility: We have responsibility in our public lives to understand what others are saying, and what we are hearing. I respectfully suggest that you abdicate that responsibility when you disparage as "code words" (and thereby excise from civil discourse) terms such as "traditional family values." Good-faith debate of policies and law is less likely to occur when some people accuse others of unwittingly using "gay-baiting code words."

One thing that we certainly have in common is a lack of time to engage in this debate. As a working attorney spending his Saturday (not to mention the rest of my three-day weekend) at the office, I certainly could be putting my time to more pressing concerns. Consider that fact to be evidence of the importance I attach to my point here.

Posted by: Adam | Sep 1, 2007 4:26:21 PM

Adam: As for your not having heard of Lou Sheldon or his Traditional Values Coalition, that's your business, of course, but he is a well-known participant in political discourse (you can google him for yourself and see the number and prominence of the references to him).

Now you make a good point about who has the right to appropriate words, but since words only have meaning in a social context the fact is that loudmouths can in fact appropriate words so that it's generally understood what those words mean. Indeed, the whole point about certain movements' attempts to take back or reclaim certain words -- think the bumper stickers that say "Hate is not a Family Value." I'm not passing judgment on any particular use of a word or term (except for the ones in my original comment, which I stand by); I'm just noting that the whole reason those bumper stickers say what they say is because there is a perception among people displaying them think that the term "family values" has been hijacked and needs to be reclaimed. Honestly, I think you make the point for me when your comment substitutes "gay rights agenda" for the term I originally used, "homosexual agenda."

In closing (because I don't have the time to keep doing this, as interesting as the conversation is), I have no intention of tagging average Americans with any label, including bigotry. Growing up in Texas I knew lots of really wonderful people who simply have not experienced out gays and lesbians and frankly didn't know what to think about them or the issues involving them. However, it is a problem if someone, even with no intended bigotry, associates herself with language that has come to mean something more than good-faith favoring or opposing any particular initiative. That's why all of us have responsibility in our public lives to understand what we're really saying and doing. And why we certainly should not just assume or pretend that words mean whatever the speaker chooses them to mean, no more and no less. And on that I'm sure I'd have full agreement from my partner -- a wealthy Jew who works in Hollywood. D'oh!

Posted by: billaraiza | Sep 1, 2007 3:52:19 PM

Better still, let's use a term you employ above: "gay rights agenda". I don't doubt that you have a fairly specific set of policy issues in your mind when you use that term. I also don't doubt that it's fairly mainstread with respect to those who push for certain rights for gay people.

Nor do I doubt, however, that if I googled around for "gay rights agenda," I would find advocates whose own version of a "gay rights agenda" (or, to use another of your terms, "equal citizenship") includes policies far more extreme than yours are. In that situation, is "gay rights agenda" a code word for the extremists' policy preferences? Should you refrain from using that code word until the more extreme elements disclaim their definition of "gay rights agenda"?

It's not at all clear to me what the point of such "code words," under your theory, would be. "Code words" are used to allow the speaker to leave unspoken his actual meaning. Lou Sheldon's web site, however, expressly states his position on homosexuality. Are you suggesting that there are others out there who use the term "traditional family values" to include Sheldon's position, but who never expressly embrace that position? I would say that those who share Sheldon's take on "traditional family values" will not hesitate to express their position on homosexuality, and that those who don't make express reference to such positions simply don't share Sheldon's definition of "traditional family values."

By describing utterly benign terms like "traditional family values" and calling them "gay-baiting code words," you take a large segment of mainstream Americans and suggest that they are bigots (or at least the unwitting users of bigoted "code words"). I find that to be anti-intellectual, if not outright offensive.

Posted by: Adam | Sep 1, 2007 2:39:59 PM

I must say that I'm a fairly active reader and follower of conservative politics, and I've *never* heard of Lou Sheldon. I certainly didn't know that his use (or, better still, misuse) of a term renders that term a "code word." (Lou Sheldon has the power to "appropriate" terms and redefine them? What power he has!)

I must ask: If I could find a group whose promotion of legal rights for "nontraditional families" included among the definition of "nontraditional families" practitioners of "polyamory," would we then say that anyone who promotes rights for "nontraditional families" is, in fact, promoting polyamory under cover of code words? I should think not.

Posted by: Adam | Sep 1, 2007 2:19:43 PM

Adam: I think there's some misunderstanding here. I'm not condemning what terms like "traditional family values" could mean in the abstract, and indeed how some people may use those words. But unfortunately terms like that have in fact been appropriated for use in opposition to gay rights initiatives. They have in fact become code. That's the really unfortunate thing -- that families (straight and gay) trying to bring their kids up in a safe and loving environment can't use such terms to describe their goals because others have usurped them. If Lou Sheldon stops using the term to include opposition to gay rights, see http://www.traditionalvalues.org/defined.php then I'd be happy to amend my list.

Posted by: billaraiza | Sep 1, 2007 1:34:19 PM

Yikes! You think that "traditional family values" is a "gay-baiting code word"? To me, that encompasses such issues as promoting two-parent households against a tide of single-parenthood; maintaining the moral development of children in the face of a popular media onslaught; promoting responsible decisionmaking by high-school and college students in terms of lifestyle, education, careers, and so forth.

You may suggest that "traditional family values" is an "anti-gay code word," but I think you may have it backwards: your "anti-gay code words" may be, itself, an "anti-tradition-family-values code word." Let's not rush to condemn proponents of such values, deeply rooted in the American tradition, as a bunch of anti-gay bigots. And let's not use this week's judicial decision (from my home state, I'd note) as an excuse to call mainstream Americans bigots. OK, professor?

Posted by: Adam | Sep 1, 2007 12:45:31 PM

I'll just respond quickly to Adam's query: traditional family values, the homosexual agenda, defending marriage, so-called alternative lifestyles, for starters. Yesterday's court decision in Iowa should lead to a fair amount of these terms being thrown around over the next few weeks.

Posted by: Bill Araiza | Aug 31, 2007 6:11:10 PM

Nice post.

Posted by: Snark | Aug 29, 2007 12:38:37 PM

Oh come on folks, I don't like homophobic people either, but he was convicted of something that is illegal no matter who does it. (Though maybe someone could argue that prosecuting gay men for "cruising for sex" in gay bathrooms is a little discriminatory, because straight people "cruise for sex" in classrooms, bars, and the floor of the NYSE.)

But, let’s assume that his guilty plea wasn’t knowing and voluntary (which he seems to be arguing). And, based on the complaint, most public defenders I know could dispose of it (pre guilty plea) in as much time as it takes to say “Protect the Sanctity of the Family.” There was barely probable cause in some jurisdictions. No confession. No actual communicated offers. No actual sex, etc. etc.

With that assumption that he mistakenly plead guilty, I still would not conclude that he is a closeted homosexual with a “fake” family life.

Instead, I think we should draw something positive from this:
1) That the public might begin to think it is wrong to have cops patrolling the bathroom and arresting people for improper foot-tapping;
2) That lack of access to counsel is resulting in “improvident” (to use the military term) guilty pleas by innocent people.

From my perspective, the tide of public is turning drastically in favor of homosexuals. I don’t think that aggressive outing are going to do much good. Instead, showing that 1) gay marriage doesn’t hurt; and 2) that gay people can be positive role models and are just like you and me (except they like people of the same sex) is a far more productive way then exploiting a the sick politics of homophobia and defects in our system of criminal justice.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 29, 2007 10:39:01 AM

Craig's family is an interesting story in itself. He accquired them, kids and all, after his first gay sex scandal back when he was the jr. member of the house from Idaho, more than 20 years ago. It was pretty clear then that they were primarily a cover for him.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 29, 2007 9:49:43 AM

"his use of what have become gay-baiting code words"

I must confess that, while I'm a fairly regular observer of the political scene, I don't have the slightest clue what sort of "code words" you have in mind. Could you specify a few?

Posted by: Adam | Aug 29, 2007 9:38:21 AM

>>>I don't have a lot of time to browse through the blogosphere.

I have heard that so many times from people that read many, many, blogs.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 29, 2007 7:52:13 AM

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