That isn’t what discrimination means

One of my math professors began one of our classes with a lament about the loss of the word “discriminate.” She didn’t have a problem with any of the various movements to stop discrimination, of course. Having been a woman pursuing a career in science from the 1940s on, she had experienced her fair share of gender-based discrimination.

Discrimination ultimately means to perceive or distinguish the differences between things. “It’s unfair discrimination that’s the problem,” she said. “Someone’s race or gender has no bearing on how qualified someone is for a particular job. It’s perfectly legitimate to fire someone for incompetence, or for stealing on the job. In those cases you’re distinguishing between good employees and bad.”

While dictionaries still list the “distinguish between” definitions, in most modern discourse, people almost always use it to mean “an unjust or prejudicial distinction.”

When the largest ex-gay organization out there, Exodus International, disbanded recently, several of the smaller groups went into a bit of a panic. The spokesman for on the International Healing Foundation, Christopher Doyle, was right at the forefront. And then he announced that his organization, in concert with groups like the Family Research Council, was going to sponsor Ex-gay Pride in July, as a “balance” against Gay Pride. He even announced a banquet and reception at FRC’s headquarters, and so forth.

Except none of the more generic anti-gay groups he named would confirm they were attending the banquet. FRC wouldn’t even confirm that such an event was happening in their building! Next thing you know, they announced that they were re-scheduling it, claiming that they’re received death threats. Except, of course, they wouldn’t provide proof of the threats, nor could any news organization get any spokesperson from the other groups to confirm that they have planned to participate.

Doyle won’t be deterred, though. In radio interviews he repeated the charge of threats and talked a lot about how oppressed and discriminated ex-gays are.

“We want federal protection just as gays are given. Ex-gays also need to be given protection.” —Christopher Doyle, International Healing Foundation

There are several problems with that. First, at the time of this writing, gay people aren’t explicitly given much in the way of federal protections. The two big Supreme Court rulings that all the anti-gay organizations point to in this regard don’t extend anti-discrimination protection to people based on sexual orientation.

  • Lawrence v. Texas: struck down sodomy laws in 2003. The Court held that intimate consensual sexual conduct between adults was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling invalidated sodomy laws regardless of the gender. Most of the sodomy laws in question in theory could have been applied to opposite sex partners (remember that the original definition of sodomy is any sexual act that can’t result in pregnancy, it doesn’t just refer to anal sex between men, contrary to popular belief), though in practice they were almost never used against straight couples.
  • United States v. Windsor: struck down section three of the Defense of Marriage Act. The court ruled that if a state recognizes a marriage, then the federal government must also recognize the marriage. The ruling skirted around the issue of defining exactly what level of scrutiny should apply to cases of applying rights based on sexual orientation, though it implied a level greater than the lowest level, rational basis.

Neither ruling created any federal protection against discrimination. In fact, the second ruling was written in such a way as to completely sidestep the question of whether gay rights rise to the level of a constitutional right requiring strict judicial scrutiny.

Even their decision that effectively restored marriage equality in California didn’t create any federal protection. The ruling was specifically that the anti-gay groups didn’t have standing to appeal a lower court ruling.

The second problem with Doyle’s plea is what do they need protection from? As several people have pointed out, if what they say about their therapy is true, than an ex-gay is merely a straight person. So who is discriminating against them? No one is beating them or shooting them for holding hands in public with an opposite-sex person. No one is prohibiting them from marrying an opposite-sex person. No one is denying them any legal rights at all.

When confronted with these arguments, Doyle says that ex-gays are harassed by gay people. “There are tens of thousands of ex-gays out there, but they are afraid to go public because they are harassed, and threatened, and called liars.”

Here’s the thing. Every time that an ex-gay therapist or organization has been put under oath in a court of law, they have had to admit that they don’t cure gay people. Ever. For a while they claimed a 15% success rate (which seems dismal by any standard), until they had to defend the methodology in a court of law, at which point it was learned that the one study they pointed to was of 73 patients who enrolled in the same year with one ex-gay organization. They only got the 15% rate by excluding 98 other enrollees who dropped out before completing therapy, and by defining success as “the person reports that they feel their same-sex attraction is less than it used to be.”

More recently, they admitted their success rate was less than 0.1 percent. That means that 99.9% of people who try therapy, or pray-away-the-gay programs, et cetera, are unable to change from being gay. And even then, success is defined as refraining from same-sex sexual activity, not actually ceasing to be attracted to members of the same sex.

One of the former leaders of a couple of these groups published a book chronicling a couple of case studies of young men he treated from adolescence into adulthood. The book concluded by declaring great victory in one case, naming the boy as proof that god and therapy could cure homosexuality. The problem was that the young man in question had committed suicide, six years before the doctor published the book. The young man’s suicide note indicated that all the years of therapy (including aversion therapy, drugs to deaden his libido, et cetera) and praying hadn’t changed how he felt. And he would rather die than face rejection from his family.

Hardly a success.

Just google ex-gay and see how many news stories pop up of “famous” ex-gays who have been caught trying to hook up for sex in gay bars, or using hook-up apps, or hiring young male prostitutes to accompany them on overseas lecture tours. You’ll also find stories of once prominent ex-gays having quietly left the movement and taken up with a same-sex partner.

Even a superficial attempt to research this topic will make it clear that the only living ex-gay they can name are people who now make their living entirely by peddling ex-gay therapy or working for things like anti-gay political action committees.

When you make your living selling a therapy that has been proven not to work, when you prey upon people who fear rejection from their families and communities by promising a cure that has been proven not to work, when you sell people $300+ “introductory kits” and charge them exorbitant fees for therapy sessions that have been proven not to work, you are lying.

That makes you a liar.

Pointing out the fact that you are a liar when it has been demonstrated again and again and again that you are lying is not subjecting you to unjust or prejudicial discrimination. It’s an accurate description.

If we go further and point to people like that one young man who committed suicide (and there are far, far more than just him) as a result of your failed therapy, that isn’t unjust or prejudicial, either. That’s called holding you accountable.

After canceling Ex-gay Pride, Doyle announced an Ex-gay Rights Rally in Washington, D.C. He did the arch-conservative radio circuit confidently predicting that thousands of ex-gays would show up to demand their rights.

Three people with signs, two speakers, and a podium

Speakers at the big Ex-gay Rights Rally earlier this week. (Click to embiggen)

They came up a little short.

And to be clear, this isn’t a picture taken from in front of an enormous crowd of the oppressed masses of ex-gay people. There was no crowd. At all.

Afterwards, Doyle admitted that only nine ex-gays attended, but he declared it a success, because those nine people overcame great fear of discrimination to bravely show their faces. He failed to mention that he was including himself and eight other employees of ex-gay ministries in that count.

Eight people behind the podium, only reporters and camera men in front.

They didn’t just outnumber the crowd, there was no crowd. (Click to embiggen)

In the second picture I’ve included, everyone you see in that wide shot is an employee of one of the ex-gay groups, or someone there covering the “news” event. And please note, the camera crew was hired by one of the ex-gay groups hosting the event. Even Fox News couldn’t bother to send a camera man, they later ran the video shot by the organizers. The Wonkette news blog went so far as to issue an apology for its earlier story about the announcement which had predicted “maybe tens or even dozens” of attendees.

Just as accurately being described isn’t discrimination, trying to appear relevant so donations will keep coming in isn’t fighting discrimination.

It’s just pathetic.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. I used to publish an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

12 responses to “That isn’t what discrimination means”

  1. subject2interpretation says :

    So very true how the accurate meaning of words can be diluted. Not being discriminate — can be a bad thing. Having a discriminating palate can be a good thing. But discriminating against a person because he or she is gay is a bad thing. The word itself has a meaning and isn’t a bad word, it’s all in how it is used. I didn’t know anything about the ex-gay movement except I caught one of those therapy guys on a talk show once. Thanks for the info or info about a non-thing.

    • fontfolly says :

      I sometimes can’t decide which is worse: the lives that they screw up and hurt with their ineffective therapy, or the way other people use these guys’ false claims to justify their own bigotry.

      Obviously, the ones who commit suicide when the therapy doesn’t work are horrifyingly tragic. I just hope these guys get put out of business completely!

  2. Amyclae says :

    I’d like to quietly and quickly point out that there are ‘federal protections’ for gays. Windsor established a heightened level of scrutiny when they, and other federal judges, consider the constitutionality of state and federal laws. The effect will, slowly but surely, reach its way down into state courts and thus–by extention–the legislative branches of state governments as well as Congress.

    I’m honestly not too sure how this goes overlooked.

    • fontfolly says :

      Since Doyle’s claim is that ex-gays need protection from discrimination, and his babbling attempts to explain said discrimination is to talk about threats and harassment and once or twice skirting around the issue of job discrimination, I’ll have to stick with my wording. Windsor does not provide federal protection against threats or harassment or job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

      I will go further and say that the way Windsor was worded, applying due process scrutiny and making the federal benefits contingent upon how the state defines marriage, that this doesn’t constitute a federal protection.

      I am fully aware that people are making the argument in court that states which don’t allow marriage equality are depriving some couples of federal benefits, it’s a very indirect effect. At best, it constitutes a door through which one can see federal protection. I suppose it could be said I’m arguing semantics, but since from the title forward I’m talking about definitions, semantics seems appropriate.

      I’ll see if I can easily re-word it to make it a bit more clear, though.

      • Amyclae says :

        You know I don’t want to come off as too much of a dick but I really think that the heightened scrutiny does constitute a nice safeguard. Sure, there is not present protections against firing based on orientation but that’s a problem for the legislature. I don’t see how it affects the court’s standard.

        And don’t worry about semantics… That’s like all my profession is about. Hah.

        • fontfolly says :

          I disagree that they applied heightened scrutiny. I know Scalia likes to say that they did, but the majority quoted an earlier ruling saying that bare animus against a group is not sufficient cause for Congress to deny rights that a state has decided to extend. All that they did was point out (a bit obliquely) that there isn’t even a rational basis to denying marriage to same sex couples.

          Rational basis is the lowest level of scrutiny.

          I agree that getting a majority of the Supreme Court to say that this sort of ban doesn’t even survive rational basis scrutiny is an important foot in the door. And I think it provides the fulcrum that people will be able to use to make equal protection arguments that should have worked on their own before, finally begin succeeding. I’m not disagreeing that the ruling isn’t a big deal, and that it isn’t going to help.

          I just don’t think it arises yet to the level of being a protection against discrimination on its own.

        • fontfolly says :

          Oh, and you’re not being a dick. If anyone is in this conversation, it’s me. 🙂

        • Amyclae says :

          Here’s a useful quote to understand the issue.

          ” In practice, Kennedy’s standard seems to be “rational basis with teeth” as opposed to the less stringent rational basis review that applies to economic regulations. Repeating his earlier formulation, Kennedy argued that “‘[d]iscriminations of an unusual character especially require careful consideration.” “Careful consideration” is something more than rational basis but something less than heightened scrutiny. This is relevant going forward because state bans on same-sex marriage almost certainly cannot survive heightened scrutiny but might survive rational basis review, so it’s not clear what the DOMA decision means for same-sex marriage bans at the state level.”

          Really, the only thing in contention is whether this will be enough to strike down state bans… And looking at the 5’s opinion, especially the language, I have a hard time seeing how equality will be stymied more.

          I think I’m going to leave at this point. I thought it would help the world a bit to provide a bit of objectivity but… I’m not sure why the feet dragging. Maybe this issue is more near and dear to your heart? Sometimes I forget how emotional my profession can be to the outside.

        • fontfolly says :

          I did cop to being a bit of a dick about this.

          I agreed that the ruling will probably lead to the sort of later rulings you suggest, and revised the text of the post to make it clear that Windsor doesn’t provide protection from harassment and employment issues, so I’m not sure I’d describe my reaction as dragging my feet.

          Anyway, I’m sorry if I came across as angry, or if I said something offensive. I didn’t intend anything hostile or malicious.

          Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. Eva Maria Snyder says :

    I was going to agree with you. I don’t think either of the laws you mentioned qualify as Federal protection for gays. But I think that in order for a law to qualify as protection it should actually protect, not simply grant basic human rights. In that case I think that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, which expanded existing United States federal hate crime law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and dropped the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity qualifies as Federal protection. Interestingly one could argue that ex-guys are also protected under this Act.

    • fontfolly says :

      I know one reason I keep forgetting about this is that I remember the disappointment when they couldn’t get it passed as a stand-alone bill.

      And I had a vague recollection that what did get passed wasn’t funded. So my recollection is all completely wrong.

      Of course ex-gays are covered. Straights are covered. And not just from the highly unlikely event that some gay person attacks a straight person because they are straight. With the previous state hate crimes laws, what matters is the motivation of the person committing the crime. So, for instance, a few years back when a group of guys jumped and beat (killing one) a pair of straight hispanic brothers who were walking home arm in arm because one was too drunk to walk, it was a hate crime under New York law because what motivated the attackers were that they thought it was a couple of queers they were beating, and thats why they were beating them.

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