Tag Archives: Queerty

Clothes Make The Man, So They Say

Judy Berman at Salon:

Looking back on some of things I thought were a good idea to wear in college, I have to cringe. Culled mostly from thrift stores, my wardrobe involved everything from layered slips worn as skirts to a garish pair of faux snakeskin boots with four-inch platform heels. For a while, my personal motto was, “Every day is Halloween.” But now that the slips have disintegrated and I only keep the shoes around for costume parties, I wouldn’t trade my memories (or photos!) of the fun I had in them for the world. College is a time — and, for some, the only time, between the parental regime of childhood and the repressive dictates of the working world — to figure out who we are and will be, to push our self-images to their logical extreme, just to see what sticks. Clothing is a small but essential part of that process.

That’s why it’s so disheartening to hear that Morehouse College, an all-male, historically African-American school in Atlanta, has instituted a dress code banning this kind of experimentation. The “Appropriate Attire Policy” dictates that students refrain from wearing caps, do-rags, sagging pants, “clothing with derogatory or lewd messages either in words or pictures” and sunglasses (“in class or at formal programs”). Most controversial is the college’s decision to outlaw “clothing usually worn by women (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at college-sponsored events.”

Now, a few of these guidelines make sense: It’s disrespectful to wear sunglasses in the classroom, where you’re expected to be paying attention to the professor and participating in a discussion with classmates. And depending on how “clothing with derogatory or lewd messages” is defined (and who defines it), that may also be a wise call. But what about the do-rags, sagging pants and ladies’ clothing? Who is that hurting?

Well, for one thing, the drag ban isn’t aimed at what you might assume: preventing frat bros from their typical, occasionally minorly offensive, Homecoming-season cross-dressing hijinks. CNN quotes Dr. William Bynum, Morehouse’s vice president for student services, as saying, “We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men.” Bynum also claims that, when he discussed the new policy with Safe Space, the college’s gay group, “Of the 27 people in the room, only three were against it.” It’s interesting, then, that Safe Space’s co-president, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, calls the drag ban discriminatory. In fact, he says, “Some believe that this restriction is what the entire policy is correlated around.” It’s notable that while most items on the list are banned solely in academic or public buildings, it is now impermissable for Morehouse students to dress in women’s clothing anywhere on campus — even in the privacy of their own dorm rooms.


Morehouse, the HBCU (historically black college/university) in Atlanta, is cracking down on those silly gays who think a college campus is the appropriate place to express themselves. “We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men,” says Dr. William Bynum, vice president for Student Services. And what happens if you do show up to class wearing a cute Marni number? You’ll be asked to leave. Keep doing it, and Morehouse will suspend you. The change comes “from the vision of the college’s president” Robert Michael Franklin, Bynum tells CNN, “who wants the institution to create leaders like notable graduates Martin Luther King Jr., actor Samuel Jackson and film director Spike Lee.”

Couple this knee-jerk response with Morehouse’s recent firing of an employee who made fun of that fabulous gay wedding, and we’re not sure what to think of the school’s feelings towards the gays. (Morehouse’s Bynum insists the policy change came after he met with Morehouse Safe Space, the campus’ gay organization, which voted to OK the policy change. “Of the 27 people in the room, only three were against it.”)

It’s all part of President Franklin’s “five wells” campaign. He wants students to be “well read, well spoken, well traveled, well dressed and well balanced.” That’s reasonable. And admirable! But if the trade off is a policy that’s so strict it clamps down on a student’s ability to express his gender identity, we can’t get behind it.

Is wearing pumps in class really going to distract from academia? Only if Morehouse contributes to a campus that ostracizes those individuals. Or they could teach tolerance and acceptance. You know, like that Martin Luther King Jr. fella.

Scott Jaschnik at Inside Higher Ed:

The only vocal opposition to the new rules has come from some gay students on campus. Kevin Webb, co-president of Safe Space @ Morehouse, a gay-straight student alliance, said that under Franklin’s leadership, the college has been more committed to equity for gay students than ever before, and that “as an openly gay student, I feel privileged to have matriculated now.”

Webb said that gay students are divided about the dress code. But although he will not have to change his style, he said he was bothered by the new rules.

For many gay students, fashion is an important part of self-definition, he said. “Once you try to stop people’s expression, everything that is unique about people is going to start to crumble, and you will produce robots, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?”

A few gay Morehouse students do dress in women’s clothing sometimes, and Webb said that should be allowed. While all Morehouse students are covered by the new clothing policy, Webb said he was bothered that a specific rule singled out a style popular only with some gay students. “I think this borders on discrimination,” he said. “While someone can say that it applies the heteronormativity of other students in terms of do-rags and sagging of pants, I can also say that there are gay people who sag their pants and wear their do-rags, but you don’t find people here who identify themselves as straight walking around in feminine garb.”

If male students wear feminine clothing, he asked, “what impact does it have on how intelligent they are, their grade point average and how much community service they do?”

He also questioned the idea that someone who wears more formal clothing is necessarily a better person. “We are focusing too much on the exterior,” he said. “If you put a clown in a suit, he’s still a clown.”

Bynum, the Morehouse vice president, said that he met with Safe Space before the policy went into effect, and he noted that many of the students there supported the change. He said that the policy isn’t about gay students, but about standards for all students. “Morehouse is completely supportive of our gay students. This isn’t about them, but about all students.”

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason:

So while I’ll fight like hell for all-male Morehouse College’s right to enforce its “Appropriate Attire Policy,” I’m skeptical that this is something any institution can control. According to this CNN story, courtesy of Drudge, the school’s new dress code includes some restrictions I wholly applaud, including a ban on wearing hats indoors and pajamas in public. It also prohibits cross dressing.

According to a school official, of the school’s 2,700 students, only a handful — all of them homer-sexuals — are going drag. “We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men,” says vice president for Student Services William Bynum.

Morehouse is a private school, and it goes without saying that there are countless other colleges for men with a real commitment to fabulousness. Bynum says the campus gay organization voiced no objection to the policy, and presumably living with 2,700 young hunks is enough of a schmaltz barrel that giving up black taffeta is a small price to pay.

Still, it must be noted that the policy is against nature. Men want to dress up like women. You can pass all the rules you want, but men will find a way.

James Joyner:

One can be intelligent and dress like a slob — or someone of the opposite gender.  Conversely, one can dress like an executive and still be a fool.

But Franklin is carrying on a longstanding tradition at places like Morehouse.  Because it was harder for a black man to be considered intelligent or worthy of respect, a culture developed where black men of a certain station tended to dress much better and pay more attention to his manner of speaking than white men of similar status. It’s not as true as it was even twenty years ago — it’s been half a century since Brown and a generation since the Civil Rights Act of 1965 — but vestiges of that tradition remain.  Most black professionals in their 50s or older still tend to pay more attention to their clothing and public image than their white counterparts.

Franklin, Cosby, and Obama clearly want to keep this culture alive.  They realize that young black men running around with their underdrawers showing not only hinder their own chances for advancement but reinforce negative stereotypes.

Beyond that, Morehouse sees itself as something unique.  Being a “Morehouse Man” is more akin to being a graduate of the Citadel or VMI than of, say, one of the Ivies.  It’s a brand, not just an institution of higher education. And they want Morehouse men to project an image of success and professionalism.  And, it would seem, manliness.

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Do The Pivot On DOMA Dance

A few months can change everything. Steve Benen:

In June, the Justice Department filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act against a legal challenge, despite the president’s stated opposition against the law itself. Whether the administration was required to defend the law became the subject of some debate, as was the content of the brief itself, which was considered controversial among supporters of gay rights.

Today, the administration shifted gears on the matter.

President Obama hasn’t changed his policy, but he is softening his tone. Today, the Department of Justice filed a response to a legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act for the second time since Obama took office.

When DOJ first did this, its brief was full of rhetoric that appeared to supporters to be over-the-top and anti-gay. The White House — and the Justice Department — seemed to have taken the criticisms to heart. Their challenge in this case defends the idea that the government must defend constitutional laws — even wrong-headed ones, but notes that the Obama administration opposes the substance of the policy.

In an unusual and encouraging gesture, the White House issued a statement making the president’s position on the larger issue clear. The statement, distributed to groups supporting gay rights and appearing above the president’s name, said, “This brief makes clear, however, that my Administration believes that the Act is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress. I have long held that DOMA prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits. While we work with Congress to repeal DOMA, my Administration will continue to examine and implement measures that will help extend rights and benefits to LGBT couples under existing law.”

Chris Geidner at Law Dork:

Those who assert that the Obama Administration did not even need to file a brief will be dissatisfied with the brief because it essentially incorporates the earlier arguments into this reply brief and continues to defend DOMA as a legal matter.  But, for those many people who believe that the government, in a situation such as this, does have a responsibility to defend the law, this brief makes clear the distinction between opposing a policy and defending a law.

From the brief itself to Obama’s statement and in light of the other changes being advanced by the Administration, I continue to believe that the original DOJ Smelt filing was made without the full appreciation (or knowledge) by higher-ups.  I do think that the uproar following its filing has changed the approach of the Administration, and, for that, the debate was worthwhile.  This filing and statement show a keen awareness of and sensitivity to that impact, while maintaining a clear principle to defend a law that repeatedly has been found to be constitutional.

Dale Carpenter:

While the DOJ hasn’t retracted its earlier arguments, its new brief is much more friendly to gay families in tone and in substance. It also emphasizes the plaintiffs’ lack of standing and suggests that a ruling on the merits would be unnecessarily broad. The original motion could have been this narrow and done the job.

Consider this almost apologetic, but also uncontroversial, passage:

With respect to the merits, this Administration does not support DOMA as a matter of policy, believes that it is discriminatory, and supports its repeal. Consistent with the rule of law, however, the Department of Justice has long followed the practice of defending federal statutes as long as reasonable arguments can be made in support of their constitutionality, even if the Department disagrees with a particular statute as a policy matter, as it does here.

There was nothing like this anti-DOMA language in the June brief. There was no mention of the administration’s anti-DOMA policy views. The DOJ labels DOMA a form of discrimination, although it doesn’t say what kind. Back in June, the DOJ went out of its way to argue that DOMA does not discriminate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. In fact, the new brief makes no new argument for DOMA, and only vaguely says it supports the value of “federalism.”

Much more significantly, and to me surprisingly, it now appears to be the view of the executive branch that the social interests in child-rearing and procreation do not even rationally justify the exclusion of gay couples from marriage:

Unlike the intervenors here, the government does not contend that there are legitimate government interests in “creating a legal structure that promotes the raising of children by both of their biological parents” or that the government’s interest in “responsible procreation” justifies Congress’s decision to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

This new position is a gift to the gay-marriage movement, since it was not necessary to support the government’s position. It will be cited by litigants in state and federal litigation, and will no doubt make its way into judicial opinions. Indeed, some state court decisions have relied very heavily on procreation and child-rearing rationales to reject SSM claims. The DOJ is helping knock out a leg from under the opposition to gay marriage.

Next comes this passage, suggesting that empirical learning has bolstered the case for gay and lesbian parenting:

Since DOMA was enacted, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Medical Association, and the Child Welfare League of America have issued policies opposing restrictions on lesbian and gay parenting because they concluded, based on numerous studies, that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as likely to be well-adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents.

The idea that same-sex parents are inadequate or at least sub-optimal has been a major point in the public-policy opposition to SSM, and was used to support passage of DOMA. The DOJ now implies that DOMA is anachronistic, a holdover from a benighted time when we didn’t know so much about the quality of gay parenting. The parenting concern has also been a reason for deference by state courts: as long as there was still a legitimate debate over the quality of same-sex parenting, courts ought to defer to states’ judgments that traditional families are best. While the DOJ hasn’t exactly endorsed the view that the parenting debate is over, this passage certainly points us in that direction.

William C. Duncan at The Corner:

In other news, the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to express its disapproval of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in a brief in federal court. The case is a challenge to DOMA, and the Department of Justice is charged with defending the law, but it has chosen to repudiate the arguments in its favor embraced by the highest courts of New York, Washington, and Maryland. A straightforward legislative repeal would be the more honest approach, but the Obama administration seems to have decided that the easier route is to try to undercut the law with legal arguments, perhaps in the hope that they will be spared the effort of going through Congress if they can just get a court decision invalidating DOMA.


The case (read it here), you’ll recall, involves Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, who want to get married but for that 1996 law President Bill Clinton joined Congress in passing. (Of course, the ex-prez no longer supports it.) It was filed in California court in December, bumped up to federal court in March, and has been lingering there between motions ever since.

And as the president has been quizzed on his stance on DOMA, and his promises to kill it, his mouthpieces have repeatedly said Obama stands by DoJ’s defense of the law.

So where does this leave us? Not to far from where we began: The White House’s lawyers are still going to defend DOMA, even while actively admitting it’s discriminatory. We don’t want to create analogies out of thin air here, but understand the nuance: If America had somehow managed to pass a federal law saying Latinos could not have children, the DoJ would defend it; if Congress and the president OK’d a law saying blind folks could not adopt, the DoJ would defend it; if we had a law on the books saying blacks could not get married, the DoJ could defend it.

Have we put the Justice Department in an impossible position, where they are required to defend laws at all costs, even those that blatantly violate equal protections statutes? Do we demand the federal government not pick and choose which laws to uphold and which to ignore — to our own detriment?

Carlos Santoscoy:

Lawyers for the Christian-based Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) said Monday that President Obama’s defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was not “optimal.”

As intervenor in Smelt v. United States, the ADF is promoting the argument that there is a government interest in “responsible procreation.”

In a Monday filing, the Department of Justice took a swipe at that argument, saying: “… the United States does not believe that DOMA is rationally related to any legitimate government interests in procreation and child-rearing and is therefore not relying upon any such interests to defend DOMA’s constitutionality.”

“It is very disappointing that the [Justice Department] has rejected the idea that kids do best in homes with a married mother and father,” ADF attorney Brian Raum told Baptist Press.

John Aravosis:

I guess this is a step in the right direction. I don’t want to fail to praise the administration for doing better, but to some degree the only reason this is “good” is because of how “bad” they did on the previous brief. In the end, they’re still defending a discriminatory law that the president himself has called “abhorrent.” The fact that they’re doing it more tactfully is, I suppose, nice – and they are no longer using language that undercuts us on a variety of other civil rights, so that’s good – but again, we’re praising them for no longer doing things that they shouldn’t have done in the first place. And in the end, they’re still defending discrimination.

Patrick Appel at Sully’s place

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It Happened One Night On Christopher Street

Stonewall_Inn_1969On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Riots occurred and gave birth to the gay rights movement.

Frank Rich in the NYT:

LIKE all students caught up in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, I was riveted by the violent confrontations between the police and protestors in Selma, 1965, and Chicago, 1968. But I never heard about the several days of riots that rocked Greenwich Village after the police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in the wee hours of June 28, 1969 — 40 years ago today.

Then again, I didn’t know a single person, student or teacher, male or female, in my entire Ivy League university who was openly identified as gay. And though my friends and I were obsessed with every iteration of the era’s political tumult, we somehow missed the Stonewall story. Not hard to do, really. The Times — which would not even permit the use of the word gay until 1987 — covered the riots in tiny, bowdlerized articles, one of them but three paragraphs long, buried successively on pages 33, 22 and 19.

But if we had read them, would we have cared? It was typical of my generation, like others before and after, that the issue of gay civil rights wasn’t on our radar screen. Not least because gay people, fearful of harassment, violence and arrest, were often forced into the shadows. As David Carter writes in his book “Stonewall,” at the end of the 1960s homosexual sex was still illegal in every state but Illinois. It was a crime punishable by castration in seven states. No laws — federal, state or local — protected gay people from being denied jobs or housing. If a homosexual character appeared in a movie, his life ended with either murder or suicide.

The younger gay men — and scattered women — who acted up at the Stonewall on those early summer nights in 1969 had little in common with their contemporaries in the front-page political movements of the time. They often lived on the streets, having been thrown out of their blue-collar homes by their families before they finished high school. They migrated to the Village because they’d heard it was one American neighborhood where it was safe to be who they were.

Stonewall “wasn’t a 1960s student riot,” wrote one of them, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, in a poignant handwritten flier on display at the New York Public Library in the exhibition “1969: The Year of Gay Liberation.” They had “no nice dorms for sleeping,” “no school cafeteria for certain food” and “no affluent parents” to send checks. They had no powerful allies of any kind, no rights, no future. But they were brave. They risked their necks to prove, as Lanigan-Schmidt put it, that “the mystery of history” could happen “in the least likely of places.”

Video from Salon

Round-up of posts and articles Towleroad

Tjlabs at Daily Kos:

I was ordained a deacon in 1972 and served in two different parishes until the Church and I came to a mutual parting of the ways. During that time, I baptized dozens of babies, preached dozens of homilies and distributed hundreds of communions. But deep down I knew the real reason for becoming a priest. The Church was the safest place for a gay man to hide undetected by cloaking himself in the mantle of holiness and celibacy. I had gay classmates and knew gay priests but the straight clergy vastly outnumbered the gay clergy contrary to recent events and scandals within the Church. And the gay clergy were gay, not pedophiles. That was a whole other issue. And those we knew about were widely shunned by the rest of us.

It wasn’t until some years later after I had left the Church that I realized that the gay revolution which began 40 years ago tonight in a Mafia-run bar for gays and transvestites was also the catalyst for my personal revolution. I knew that I didn’t want to live a lie and that I didn’t want to live alone, surviving on one night stands and furtive trysts. So when I got out in 1973, I came out. But it was still early days for the gay movement for equality, rights and acceptance. You could still get fired from your job for being gay. You could still be refused an apartment for rent for being gay. And you still had to endure the verbal taunts and sometimes the threats of actual physical violence.

Teacherken at Daily Kos

Detroit Mark at Daily Kos:

But I just thought there would be something terribly wrong to let June 28th, the Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, to go by without at least trying to pin my own personal celebratory card on the wall for my sisters and brothers to remember and celebrate.

So here’s to my Forequeers.  Thank you girls, some of you adults with a full head of political activism who fought with years of preparation, and some innocent young kids left homeless on the benches of Christopher Park who stood up just out of the innate sense that something wrong needed to stop, all of whom made that night the night gay people would never go back into the closet without a fight.


But what if the cops never came? We’ll never know how that scenario would’ve gone down, but when you quiz an 89-year-old former cop who was part of the raid that night, it’s clear the Stonewall riots were destined to happen. And Seymour Pine, then the NYPD’s deputy inspector, has no regrets: “Yes, of course” the police did the right thing, Pine said in an interview with The Brian Lehrer Show. “When we took the action that we took that night, we were on the side of right. We never would have done something without supervision from the federal authorities and the state authorities. They were involved with this just as well as we were.” Insists Pine: “I don’t think not liking gay people had anything to do with it.”

James Ford

The Colbert Report

Jaclyn Friedman in The American Prospect

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