TV & Radio
Gay youth become movement's ambassadors
By LISA LEFF, Associated Press Writer
Monday, April 2, 2007
The half-dozen lobbyists who crowded into a lawmaker's office here recently didn't come bearing campaign cash or votes to swap.
Instead, they recounted tales of high school torment as fresh as their faces. Ignacio Pitalua, 19, spoke about having a trash can dumped on him by other boys who suspected he was gay.
"It's a big obstacle to learning," Pitalua said, pressing Assemblyman Curren Price to co-sponsor a bill that sets specific requirements for schools to stem anti-gay discrimination.
Young people, some barely in their teens, are becoming the gay rights movement's newest ambassadors at statehouses from Olympia, Wash. to Montpelier, Vt.
Their advocacy, unheard of as recently as a decade ago, reflects the slowly growing acceptance that is emboldening gays and lesbians to come out of the closet while they are coming of age.
Veteran activists credit the political participation of gay youth, their straight friends and children of same-sex parents with a string of recent legislative victories, including last month's passage of an anti-bullying bill that provides specific protections gay and lesbian students in Iowa.
The law's adoption came after the Iowa Pride Network issued a report saying more than 83 percent of the state's gay, lesbian and transgender students said they had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation.
"We kept getting comments from legislators of 'There aren't gay kids in Iowa, this is an East and West coast problem,'" said Ryan Roemerman, the network's director.
The group also arranged a news conference attended by Iowa's lieutenant governor and three students who provided firsthand accounts of discrimination. They included a girl who was kicked out of her Roman Catholic high school after she came out as a lesbian and another who said she wasn't allowed into the locker room to change with other girls.
Brad Anderson, spokesman for Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, said the organized lobbying effort, which also included a 1,000-person rally at Drake University, was "absolutely critical" in getting the legislation approved.
"They added a loud voice, just physically being in the Capitol, and you saw them working all hours of the day lobbying to get this stuff passed," Anderson said.
Lluvia Mulvaney-Stanak, director of Outright Vermont, thinks young people have an advantage when it comes to persuading lawmakers, especially hostile ones, to hear them out. Painful stories of isolation may remind hardened politicians of their own children or awkward adolescence, she said.
"Young people no matter who they are, command this really tangible sense of empathy with adults. We've all been there," Mulvaney-Stanak said. "Maybe we were geeks or the athletes, but when it comes to victims of bullying and harassment, everyone has had a role in that cycle."
Yet the most effective spokespeople are not necessarily gay youth, but the straight students who joined with them to form more than 2,500 high school gay-straight alliance clubs across the country since the early 1990s.
Carolyn Lamb, director of California's Gay-Straight Alliance Network, estimates that up to 40 percent of the 400 high school and college students recently bused to Sacramento for Queer Youth Advocacy Day were not gay, lesbian or transgender.
"Most of the adult-driven (gay) civil rights work doesn't have such large numbers of straight allies who see it as a civil rights cause," she observed.
Children with gay or lesbian parents also have been instrumental in building support for same-sex marriage, said Meredith Fenton, national program director with Children of Lesbian and Gays Everywhere.
"For someone who isn't sure how they feel about gay people, when they are hearing a message about supporting a LGBT family from someone who is really impacted by homophobia even though they are not gay themselves, they can really hear and receive that message in a different way," Fenton said.
While previous generations waited well into adulthood before identifying themselves as gay, the average age at which gay children came out to friends and families in 2005 was 13 years and four months, according to Caitlin Ryan, a San Francisco State University researcher who studies the social and psychological development of gay youth.
"There were never historically any positive role models for LGBT young people," Ryan said. "Now, of course, we see more and more young people coming out because there are ways for them to be who they are, to socialize and live their lives as adolescents instead of coming out as an adult and then going back to live your adolescence."
On the Net:
California's Gay-Straight Alliance Network: http://www.gsanetwork.org
The Christian Science Monitor
from the April 02, 2007 edition -
Beyond apology, moral clarity
Urging Japan to apologize for war crimes is not enough. The US must confront its own role in ignoring Asians' suffering.
By Gi-Wook Shin
The House of Representatives is considering a resolution to urge Japan to acknowledge and apologize for the Imperial Army's forced organization of brothels during the war, staffed by so-called comfort women. It is an overdue but encouraging step, and Congress should pass it.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drawing of distinctions about the degree of coercion used to bring Korean, Chinese, and even Japanese women to these brothels is an unfortunate response to the proposed resolution. There are certainly areas of ambiguity in the historical record about this and other Japanese war crimes. But the direct involvement of the Japanese authorities, including the military, in the forcible recruitment of comfort women has been well documented, including by Japanese scholars.
Furthermore, the issue is not the degree of criminality but rather the willingness to take clear moral responsibility for a past that continues to cloud the present. Faced with the international criticism of his remarks, Mr. Abe became more "apologetic" recently, but he still has not clearly confronted the issue. It is vital that the Japanese take seriously the pain that still burdens Chinese, Koreans, and other victims of past Japanese aggression.
The reckoning with the past, however, is not simply a matter of passing judgment on Japan's misdeeds. The United States, too, bears responsibility for the failure to fully account for and confront Japanese war crimes. The US is not an outsider to the problems of history arising out of the wars in Asia, and America must confront its role in mishandling Japanese war-crime issues after 1945.
First, the US played a crucial role, whether intended or not, in shaping the process of historical reconciliation (or lack thereof) after the war. Unlike the Nuremberg trials, the Tokyo war-crimes tribunal focused on the actions that most directly affected the Western allies – the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war.
The proceedings paid only cursory attention to crimes committed against Asians, such as Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the use of forced Korean labor in Japanese mines and factories. The US largely failed to appreciate the massive suffering of Chinese and Koreans at the hands of Japanese invaders and victims' need to dry up the deep well of anger left behind.
Second, and perhaps most significant, was the US decision to preserve the Showa Emperor in the belief that this would facilitate the occupation and reconstruction of Japan. There is still no consensus about the extent of the emperor's responsibility for Japanese militarism and war crimes, although the Japanese people fought in his name. The failure to confront this issue meant, as a recent report by the International Crisis Group put it, "the absolution of the emperor left the country without anyone to blame."
Third, as Japan's importance as a bulwark against communism in the region increased, the US sought to quickly put issues of its historical responsibility aside. The San Francisco treaty of 1951 formally ended the war, settling Japan's obligations to pay reparations for its wartime acts. But China and Korea were not signatories to the treaty, and Japan's responsibility toward those nations was never settled.
The US pushed South Korea to normalize relations with Japan to solidify its cold-war security alliance system. That finally took place in 1965, but historical issues such as disputed territories and Japan's colonial rule were largely swept under the rug.
These unresolved questions now fuel the fires of nationalism in northeast Asia. Anti-Japanese sentiments seem undiminished in China and Korea, particularly among the younger generation. The Japanese suffer from "apology fatigue," questioning why they must continue to repent for events that took place six or seven decades ago.
It is now time for Americans to take issues of historical injustice in northeast Asia seriously. The US has a clear interest in ensuring that the peace and prosperity of a region so vital to its future is not undermined by the past. So it is appropriate that Congress is taking a role in trying to heal the wounds of history. But simply demanding Japan's apology will not be enough. America must also confront its own responsibility in ignoring Asians' suffering. By fully acknowledging what war-crimes victims went through, the US can help bring Japan and its neighbors closer together.
• Gi-Wook Shin is director of Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and a professor of sociology. He has written extensively on issues of war responsibility and reconciliation in Asia.