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Pen Points
Pen Points Letters to GayToday

David Benkof, Formerly Known as David Bianco

The recent news about David Benkof abstaining from gay sex for religious reasons provides a textbook example of how ex-gay hypocrisy can harm gay rights. (See Christopher Seely, "Gay Jewish writer gives up sex with men," Southern Voice Online, http://www.sovo.com/2003/12-19/news/national/giveup.cfm accessed 12/22/03)

Benkof is quoted in the above article as saying he "identifies as a bisexual who refrains from his desire for men." In addition, "Everybody should be able to have whatever lifestyle feels right for them at any point in their life," Benkof said.
David Bianco founded a gay syndication service, but now he is abstaining from gay sex and calling himself David Benkof

Likewise, a former coworker defended Benkof by saying he "is neither actively working to 'convert' gay people to heterosexuality nor trying to harm the gay movement."

Such magnanimous statements do not impress me given that Benkof is appearing on Ricki Lake to oppose gay marriage. This will harm the gay movement's quest for equality.

Benkof has proffered the quintessential ex-gay complaint of being "unhappy doing" the "urban gay lifestyle" and of having "had no choice." Oh, really?

Hey, this is Earth calling David Benkof. Duh! Nobody forces gay men to live the "urban gay lifestyle." In fact, some male couples have chosen to be monogamous for decades while raising a family of children. Many other gay men peacefully live the "rural gay lifestyle."

Benkof is correct that the "urban gay lifestyle" is merely a "social construct." But his conclusion is wrong that this makes sexual orientation a choice for everybody.

The "heterosexual swinging singles lifestyle" is also a "social construct." But that doesn't mean that a pure heterosexual can choose to live as a homosexual.

Perhaps some self-identified bisexuals like Benkof are happy to be celibate with men and not women. But this is an unreasonable expectation for most truly gay men.

I am amused that Benkof "reserves the right to be gay again." I guess he doesn't want Wayne Besen taking his picture coming out of a gay bar as Besen did with ex-gay poster boy John Paulk. (See "Why Do Ex-Gays Matter?" http://gaytoday.com/viewpoint/120803vp.asp accessed 12/10/03)

Despite any disclaimers Benkof may try to make, virtually everybody will interpret his message as saying that all gay people can choose to live a heterosexual lifestyle. He is only reiterating the tired homophobic argument of whether the origins of sexual orientation are due to "nature versus nurture" or "essentialism versus social constructionism."

Just when I thought that arguments over the origins of sexual orientation had died out, a new CBS/New York Times poll proved the opposite. (See CBS News, "Opposition to Gay Marriage Grows," http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/12/19/opinion/polls/printable589551.shtml accessed 12/22/03)

Incredibly, this CBS poll revealed that an equal number of people believe homosexuality is a choice as people who do not. Furthermore, the half who believe homosexuality is a choice are much more likely to oppose gay marriage or civil unions.

Why do so many people think that homosexuality is a choice? Are 44% of Americans sexually aroused by both sexes? This would mean they had chosen their own sexual orientation and have concluded that everybody can do the same. This latent bisexuality hypothesis should be researched further.

Ominously, the traditionalism of Benkof is shared by almost half of Americans who, according to the CBS poll, believe "the government should do more to promote traditional values." This position eerily echoes current Catholic propaganda and the favorite mantra of Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. "Traditional values" is often used as a codeword to justify discrimination.

Fortunately the poll also provides some hope. Younger and more educated Americans are much less likely to oppose gay marriage. This favorable trend should continue provided that Republican theocrats do not succeed in shifting tax dollars to religious schools after destroying the public schools with a voucher system.

Note that being older, ignorant and against gay marriage is another "social construct." Evidently, Benkof has decided to choose this "social construct" as his new lifestyle.

Thomas Kraemer

Howard Dean is My Choice

Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean As a long-time grassroots activist in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights movement, first in Oregon and then with Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Human Rights Campaign and the Gill Foundation, I have always worked to ensure that politicians listen to the concerns of real people, especially in those communities often forgotten when policy decisions are made.

Rarely have I seen a candidate I can respect as much as Howard Dean. I think that Howard Dean is a refreshing addition to the national political landscape. I am moved by his work for the rights of GLBT people. As Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean put his political life (and more) on the line by signing the first civil union legislation in the nation. At the time, only 35% of his constituency supported the bill. He was targeted by threats of violence and was required to wear a bulletproof vest as he traveled his state, meeting face-to-face with the people who opposed civil unions. He had the courage and the integrity to make sure that civil unions became a reality in Vermont because he believed it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Other candidates talk about gay rights. Howard Dean has fought for and delivered on them.

I care about the safety and welfare of children. So does Howard Dean. As governor, he made sure that virtually every child in Vermont has health-care coverage. Governor Dean also introduced innovative and common sense initiatives such as "Success by Six," under which every new parent has the option of receiving a visit from a member of their community who can connect them with the resources they need to be a more effective parent. Because of this program and others, the rate of child abuse dropped by almost 50 percent, and sexual abuse of kids under six is down 70 percent.

He balanced the budget, preserved natural resources, and guaranteed equal rights to every citizen of Vermont. And most importantly, Howard Dean spoke out forcefully against the Bush Administration's foreign and military policies long before other Democrats found their voice on these fundamental questions. I call that courageous integrity!

Dean's commitment to community is at the center of his policies. Success by Six, for example, is just an application of the principle that neighbors should help each other. This is politics at its most inspiring and unifying.

I see a leader who is disarmingly honest, decent and fair. He is friendly and funny. I see a leader who, because of his authenticity, resonates with Middle America. I see a man who could and should be president - a man who can help us take back and reinvigorate this great country.

More than 500,000 Americans are organizing locally, building the largest and most powerful grassroots and Internet campaign in modern history. The excitement is not only about Howard Dean; it is about his belief in us, and his ability to energize America. It is about lifting us all up, because Howard Dean is a leader who, through his campaign organizing, is building a national community.

Please join me in helping Howard Dean restore this country to a place where who we are, as gay men and lesbians, bisexual and transgender people, are respected, included, and embraced.

Donna Red Wing
GLBT Outreach Coordinator for the Dean for America presidential campaign.

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