Thursday, July 30, 2009

Who would Jesus handcuff? - part two

The Salt Lake Tribune used a public records act to obtain the LDS Church's security videotape that was provided to Salt Lake City prosecutors handling the Plaza Kiss incident.

In the video LDS Security comes across as bullies or worse.

The couple's body language in the video is telling. You can see the posture of people being physically intimidated.

What I found striking about this video was that the physical aggression on the part of LDS Security occurs only 40 seconds into the clip. After watching the video, I find the Church's claim that Aune and Jones were treated "just as any other couple" not credible. There is no way that a straight couple in a similar situation would have received this level of force. Can you even imagine?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

WWJH? (Who would Jesus handcuff?)

When Mormons use the phrase "enemy of the Church" they mean someone who attacks the Church. What phrase do we use when the Church attacks, when it's the Church that does the destroying and the defaming? What do we call those the Church wishes to harm? Can we also call them enemies of the Church, that is, enemies the Church itself has chosen?

I promise I'm going to let my outrage over the Main Street Plaza kiss fade, but in the meantime I feel as if this incident shows that the Church has set its sights on gay people and calmly pulled the trigger. They made the kill, but who wins? Certainly not the Church-- the PR fallout was definitely not worth whatever they gained by establishing the former Main Street sidewalk, the sidewalk they promised to keep open to the public, as a straights-only zone.

I love the 11th Article of Faith. I see the right to free exercise of religion as fundamental. I mean the Church and its members no harm, and I understand that religious views differ. I'm pretty sure, however, of the Church's contempt and ill will toward me. I guess that does make me their enemy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Dreyfus affair

The Plaza Kiss incident and the passions that surround it remind me of the Dreyfus Affair that tore apart French society in the 1890s and early 1900s. The divisiveness then was fueled by the issue of anti-semitism. Strong opinions over the guilt or innocence of the accused Jewish soldier split families and ended friendships. It's hard for us to fathom the magnitude of this social divide these many years later, but it was seismic.

Was the guilt or innocence of Alfred Dreyfus really a pressing issue that affected daily life? No, but it was the flash point for a deeper social conflict, namely the place of Jews in Belle Époque French society.

Similarly, what exactly happened that night on Main Street Plaza isn't really all that important, but it reignites a controversy that is already simmering. Two controversies, actually.

Personally, I don't find the Church's version of events especially credible, but then I guess you already knew that I was a Jew-loving Dreyfusard. Sacré bleu!

P.S. History tells us that Dreyfus was indeed framed for a crime he did not commit. The Dreyfusards were right all along. This is often the case when a despised minority is accused by a dominant, conservative institution with a powerful media presence and plenty to hide. We should exercise caution when the charges against a member of an unpopular minority (cf. Emmett Till) seem to grow over time as the story spreads. Just sayin'.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

With a big grain of salt

The LDS Church put out a statement laying blame for the Main Street Plaza incident on the guys who were trying to walk home. The statement includes new accusations of lascivious behavior. According to the Church, it wasn't just a peck on the cheek and a hug, it was "groping"!

The Church's statement lacks credibility. Here's why:

1) Timing. One side (Jones and Aune) issued a detailed statement less than 24 hours after the incident in question. Jones and Aune put themselves on record well before the media hoopla. In contrast, the Church waited more than a week to construct its version of events. Do I believe a detailed statement issued less than 24 hours after the event by the parties actually present, or do I believe a statement issued by nameless bureaucrats more than a week later?

2) Balance. Jones and Aune admitted fault in their statement. Jones and Aune said that were mistaken on two counts: 1) they thought there was an easement on the property that gives the public free access and 2) they thought that LDS Security did not have the right to physically restrain them or ask them to leave the property. These two mistakes make it much easier to understand why they started a discussion instead of just leaving immediately. It's easy to see, with this information, how the situation escalated. In contrast, the LDS Church's statement was purely an attack on the other side. It contained no apology or admission of fault of any kind. All things being equal, balanced statements that admit fault are more credible than statements that avoid any responsibility. The Church loses this one. (Hat tip to Marvelous Blunder.)

3) Specifics. The Church's statement lacks detail. This makes it less credible than the detailed statement by Jones and Aune, which is full of detail. Where is the written, unedited report written at the time by LDS Security? There has to be an incident report. Why didn't the Church release it?

4) Eyewitnesses. The account by Jones and Aune is the statement of eyewitnesses. The Church's press release does not quote eye witnesses. The testimony of eyewitnesses is more credible.

5) Motive to lie. Jones and Aune had very little motivation to lie. Something had happened to them, and they reported it. (Remember, their statement was issued before the PR storm that came later.) The Church's statement was entirely motivated by public relations. It was issued by a professional PR department. The Church's statement was communication with a goal, that goal being to repair the image of the Church. When two parties disagree, it's useful to consider which would have a motivation to bend the truth. Here, it's clearly the Church that has such a motive.

6) Tone. The Church's press release describes the location of the incident as "Church Plaza, which is an extension of the Salt Lake City temple grounds and Church headquarters." Everybody else seems to say "Main Street Plaza". This choice of wording reflects the Church's desire to obliterate all memory of the 150-year history of traditional use of that sidewalk as a public thoroughfare. The tone of the Church's statement is kind of creepy. It reads as if the Church wants to be seen as the victim. It's a familiar style from the Prop 8 press releases.

7) Corroboration. Jones's and Aune's statement is consistent with details in the police report. The Church's accusations of public indecency are not supported by the police report.

It grieves me to see this kind of public slander go unchallenged. I would really like to see the original, unedited incident report by Church security. (However, if it follows the tradition of missionary reports and home teaching statistics, even that would have to be taken with a grain of salt.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What it means to be seriously gay

This is a modified version of a comment that I left on this thread on an LDS blog.

There is a trend for kids to come out much earlier than in the past. This is increasingly happening between the ages of 13 to 17. See here for a New York Times article about a family whose teenage son came out to them at age 13. I think the parents in the article show a sane, compassionate and shrewd response. Most telling, the boy’s grades improved after he came out, and he became happier and much better adjusted socially. Read the article.

I think early disclosure of sexual orientation is a positive trend because it gives parents the opportunity to be a stabilizing influence as the child goes through adolescence. (Adolescence is a turbulent time and for a gay teen even more so.) It does not result in a higher rate of homosexuality than in the bad old days of the endless closet.

If your 14 year old son makes a tearful confession, you’d be wise not to just pass it off as a phase. The best parental strategy is to listen reassuringly and to occasionally remind the child that, even though they may be gay, they still have to do their math homework. :-)

A conservative LDS reader left the following comment:

For me, I don’t know how homosexual stigma would fall. ...

I tend to think that the successes many people have spoken of are reflections of them being good people and associating with good people who have seen such success. I have seen that success as well.

I have also seen failure in homosexual circles where the stigma is not an influence as much as hedonism and the lack of moral or relational commitment- things I would reflect small-scale community behavior than general community behavior.

I don’t think anyone can really tell how it would go for society as a whole. We just don’t know.

This is an interesting point. To state it another way, what can be done to make gay life more wholesome and goal oriented? How do we curb the excesses?

I know of no gay person who didn’t suffer to some extent from the social stigma of being gay. I think the social stigma contributes to the excesses the commenter mentions. It’s not as if the stigma just melts away once you find a circle of like-minded friends. If anything, the gay ghetto exists because of wider social disapproval. I’m no fan of ghettos, gay or otherwise. They are not a crucible of social integration. Instead, they tend to develop their own mores, for good and ill.

I think the way to encourage a serious-minded ethic in the gay population is to normalize homosexuality in society. If gay people know that they are fully and openly integrated into society they will also know that they have the same responsibilities as everyone else. This is why gay marriage is actually a conservative social policy. It reins in and civilizes gay sexuality just as it has straight male sexuality for millenia.

A good example of this approach is The Netherlands. Being gay is completely accepted, but you are cut no slack because of it, and nobody really wants to hear you talk about it. Dutch society, despite its reputation as permissive, is anything but. Community standards for educational achievement and civic participation are strict. “Slacking” is not acceptable in Dutch society. The Dutch have a self image as being tough, disciplined and resilient, and no whining is allowed. The result is that gay people blend into society in Holland and their social outcomes are good. In other words, in Holland you can be gay, but you still have to do your math homework.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Diversity training at the COB

This is an actual partial transcript from a recent diversity training class held by LDS Church Human Resources for Temple Square security personnel.

FACILITATOR: Okay, now that Bruce and Hyrum have shared their perspectives, you officers have some idea of what it's like to walk in their moccasins. Man, what an eye opener! Thanks so much for sharing your stories, guys; that was really moving. You guys are great, and I'm definitely going to check out Will and Grace.

(to the class) Let's put what we just learned into practice. Suppose you are on duty at Main Street Plaza, and Bruce and Hyrum here need to use the sidewalk to get home. You see them enter on South Temple and walk up the sidewalk laughing and talking about the production of Wicked they just saw. You overhear Bruce telling Hyrum that the costumes and lighting were fabulous. Bruce opens his arms wide to indicate just how unbelievably fabul--

SECURITY PROFESSIONAL 1 (interrupting): That's gross. Disgusting. Totally inappropriate. President Packer said something about this in general conference one time, that it was OK to beat the crap out of gay guys. Right? We don't carry baseball bats, so I guess I'd just taser them. Definitely. I'd get out my Taser and ....

FACILITATOR: Now, now, not so fast. Remember, these guys are just walking along what for 150 years was a public sidewalk. They've walked up that sidewalk all their lives. There really is no alternate route, and after all, the Church did promise the city as part of the controversial privatization of a vital urban thoroughfare that the public would always be given free passage through the property. The transfer of title was supposed to be a mere technicality that let the plaza landscaping hook into the Temple Square sprinkler system. And besides, the boys are minding their own business, just trying to get home from the show.

SECURITY PROFESSIONAL 2 (agitated): Men can't talk about musicals like that! That offends me. You can't tell me that any real man would use the word "fabulous." Words like that have eternal consequences. "Fabulous" is just the tip of the iceberg. Wicked is the gayest show ever. Something really inappropriate is going on here. I bet these guys' apartment has accent lighting and a mid-century sofa. That orange and ocher sofa limits my freedom of religion and demeans the sanctity of my marriage! There's no doubt; I'd definitely confront them and tell them how disgusting I thought they were. Then, I'd demand that they immediately leave the property.

FACILITATOR: Aren't they already "leaving the property"? I mean, they're halfway to North Temple by the time they comment on the choreography and the touring company's nontraditional but truly inspired casting of Elphalba. Twenty more seconds and they'll be crossing the street.

SECURITY PROFESSIONAL 3: That doesn't matter. We need to engage them in a demeaning argument about how disgusting they are and then, when they react, claim that they became "confrontational." If we can bait them into using profanity, then we can tackle them to the ground and restrain them in handcuffs so roughly as to cause bruising. We call the city cops and ban the perps from walking down Main Street for six months. After they cool their heels in handcuffs for a half hour they get cited for trespassing. The best part is that we start the argument that stops them from leaving and then they can't leave because of the handcuffs! Sweet! Man, I can't flippin' wait. The adrenaline would be such a total rush that I'd go home after my shift all charged up and ready to sweep my gal off her pretty feet. (SP3 does the universal "touchdown" dance.) You know, I used to be a real cop. Want to see my old badge?

FACILITATOR: Now we're talking, gentleman! Was that so hard? (dreamily) Do you mind if we end a few minutes early today? Brother Christiansen, can I borrow those shiny handcuffs of yours? I have a team-building exercise with Bruce and Hyrum after class.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Main Street easement

LDS Church security harrassed and detained a gay couple walking down Main Street in Salt Lake yesterday. The offense? A kiss on the cheek. The men were forced to the ground and roughly handcuffed. Etc.

You can read the whole episode here, here and here.

I remember the public dispute over selling part of Main Street to the Church. Apparently, there is an easement that guarantees public access but gives the Church an unusual amount of power over the terms of that access.The Church promised during that debate that all would be welcome on the newly privatized street.

This is a PR disaster, BTW. The LDS Church's brand strategy seems to be increasingly tied to its disdain for gays. This doesn't play well in the America I live in.

Update: Apparently, there's no easement. The city sold it to the Church in 2003. It's unclear to me what rights if any the public now has to walk down this section of Main Street. A timeline of events can be found here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Coming out story

This is a nice LDS coming out story with a happy ending.

Mormon families seem to take one of two paths when they learn that they have a gay child. I love it when things turn out as they did in this video.

Via: Chino Blanco

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Web site story (funny)

You have to check out this parody of West Side Story.

A very funny send up of the hetero-only dating site eHarmony begins at 2:40. The whole thing is worth watching.

Friday, July 3, 2009