Bernadette Barton Talks About “Pray the Gay Away”

Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists For Choice. Today we have the pleasure of talking to Bernadette Barton, author of Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (2006) and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays (2012). Today we are focusing on Pray the Gay Away and homosexuality in the Bible Belt area.

1. What inspired you to write Pray the Gay Away?
I write about what I call the “abomination incident” in the introduction to Pray the Gay Away. A neighbor told me being gay was an abomination after I came out to him. Although this kind of testifying is relatively commonplace in the Bible Belt, I had never before encountered a stranger who felt entitled to judge me as sinful, and tell me so, based on my sexual orientation. I grew up in Massachusetts in a politically progressive family and was unaccustomed to this kind of interaction. So, even though I had lived in Kentucky for 11 years by this point, I had not experienced much homophobia. My experience as a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, surrounded largely by lesbians, led me to believe that this sort of homophobia had ended.

I was both surprised and troubled by this encounter – the abomination incident – in 2003. Shortly thereafter began the 2004 presidential election season with an anti-gay marriage amendment on the Kentucky ballot. At this point, the homophobic discourse in the public sphere amped up considerably. Marrying a same-sex partner was compared to marrying a dog, horse, child and cousin. Homosexuality was constructed as polluting and contagious. And yard sign and bumper stickers displayed people’s public attitudes about gay people, many of which were in opposition to gay rights.

It became forcefully clear to me that homophobic attitudes and actions were alive, and integral to many people’s understanding of their social worlds. Since I had found my relatively small encounters with stranger homophobia so disturbing, I began to wonder how such attitudes affected gay people who grew up in the region. I was relatively lucky not to negotiate bigoted beliefs directed against my person-ness until I was in my mid-20s. What would it be like, I imagined, to process this kind of condemnation while one’s identity was still forming? Thus, Pray the Gay Away was conceived, and I formally interviewed 59 people from the Bible Belt and have had informal conversations with over 200 others. [Read more...]

Feminist Book List

Now that we are celebrating women’s history month we wanted to acknowledge and share some great books on different feminist related topics.

The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation (Updated Edition) Doris Zames Fleischer and Frieda Zames

This is a great book that discusses disability rights activism over the last few decades and describes the struggles of disabled individuals and their fights to gain access to a number of institutes and buildings. The Disability Rights Movement is at times truly disturbing and effectively highlights discrimination and prejudice.

Pray The Gay Away – The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays – Bernadette Barton

Pray The Gay Away is an amazing book which critically discusses the impact of homophobia on the lives of homosexual individuals. Bernadette Barton has interviewed gay men and women across the Bible Belt and shows how devastating homophobia is on the well being of homosexual individuals. Pray The Gay Away is very critical of homophobia and the role that religious beliefs and Christianity play in the treatment of homosexual people.

Let’s Talk About Sex: Histories of Sexuality in Australia from Federation to the Pill – Lisa Featherstone

Featherstone traces the history of Australian sexuality from the “start of the new Australian nation in 1901” to when the pill came out  in Australia (in 1961). As such, Featherstone touches on the issues of gender, ethnicity, marriage, women’s reproductive rights, and just about everything surrounding sexuality in Australia. The book can at times be rather sexually graphic and detailed, but it is a very interesting read.

The Richer Sex: How the new majority of female breadwinners is transforming sex, love, and family – Liza Mundy

According to Mundy, the percentage of female breadwinners and stay at home dads is on the rise. Therefore, the changing nature of breadwinning brings about fundamental changes in the gender structure, with “role”switching occurring more often than before. Mundy uses research from the past decades to discuss female breadwinning. Even though we do not necessarily agree with everything Mundy says, the book is an interesting account of women’s changing roles.

When Mars Women Date – Paulette Kouffman Sherman

Even though we are not big into dating books, When Mars Women Date is quite different. It questions and takes a critical look at gender stereotypes and dating tips that are often aimed at women. Paulette Kouffman Sherman writes that: “These dating rules proposed by female authors include things like telling women not to talk too much, not to return a man’s calls or ask him out, only to see him twice a week, not to have sex too early, not to go dutch on dates, to ignore your dates and seem disinterested, never to be overweight, to always wear makeup”. (p. 36). The book is refreshing because it tells women that they do not need to “act” in order to find a good partner and that men do like strong, independent and successful women.

Roe v. Wade is More Than a Decision: Life has Recovered its Rights

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

Abortion has existed for centuries, but the right to choose abortion, and therefore enter motherhood voluntarily, has existed for less than a century. In the United States, this right is protected by Roe v. Wade. But followers of certain religious faiths argue that abortion is murder. Nobody is pro-abortion, certainly not feminists who fight for the right to choose and the dignity of women as human beings. To make a choice, we must be able to act knowingly. Freedom is a blessing which builds when reflection and awareness are used as guides. To make the best possible choice, we need to know as much as possible.

Is teaching creationism, negationism, and climate skepticism, and not teaching biology the best way to prepare youth to grow up in this world, enter the workforce, and start a family? Is any effort to make people believe from an early age that they will never be autonomous to make decisions, but at the same time that they are the only rightful people in the world, the proper way to establish a partnership between God and humanity?

[Read more...]

Sweden – An abomination, or a place where women’s reproductive rights are valued?

Overall, Swedes have a very liberal view when it comes to women’s right to abortion, which is most often mentioned in relation to Sweden being a very secular country. Most Swedes are however happy with this arrangement and believe that everything is a-okay. Well, maybe not everyone, as Edward Pentin has a few chosen words to share (Edward who?). And what better than a quick educational spiel by someone who is not Swedish and seems to know very little about Sweden overall. And why not throw in some biased people to further support your own preconceived notions. Interestingly, Edward Pentin (again, Edward who?), a writer for the Catholic “ZENIT – the world seen from Rome” basically believes that Swedes are an abomination. In his article “Secularism in Sweden: Where Irreligious Trends Leads After Decades”, he points out that Swedes not only support abortion, but that their marriage rates are down, and that they are very accepting of…HOMOSEXUALITY…can you believe it?  [Read more...]

Jo Ann Dale of KRCRC Talks Faith and a Pro-Choice Attitude

Feminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice. Today we are talking to Jo Ann Dale, board member of the Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (KRCRC) about the organization, faith, and a pro-choice attitude.

Tell our readers a little bit about Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (KRCRC).

KRCRC, in existence for three decades, is an affiliate of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). The backbone of RCRC was a network of religious leaders who had been quietly helping women locate abortion services in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They formed RCRC following decriminalization (Roe v. Wade) because they believed it would take several years for the right to become firmly established. As time went on, RCRC broadened from a specific focus on the legal right to abortion to address larger matters of reproductive justice, including contraception and structural impediments to women’s access to reproductive rights.

KRCRC carries on this work in Kentucky. Our primary focus is on abortion, contraception, and sexuality education. We maintain contacts with faith leaders from many traditions, and we provide speakers and materials for community and congregational programs. We attempt to reassure and educate those women who have been confused by the misleading or outright inaccurate statements of so-called “crisis pregnancy clinics,” whose goals are actually to eliminate abortion from the options facing a pregnant woman. We provide spiritual and emotional support for escorts and abortion provider staff, who are faced with scorn and ridicule from the protestors who gather at the clinic. We partner with other groups, such as Planned Parenthood of Kentucky and the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, to further shared goals. We maintain a list of pastoral counselors who can provide true “all options” counseling to the woman who is confused or conflicted about an unwelcome pregnancy or about perinatal loss. We monitor activity in the state legislature, and we talk with legislators to make it clear that the religious voice does not speak only from the far right, but from the middle and the left as well.

[Read more...]

“October Baby,” and the Insidious Propaganda Which Forgets the Quiet Awe of God

Image courtesy of

The anti-choice film “October Baby” was inspired by the true story of a young woman who, in late adolescence, discovers that her health issues are related to a late and failed abortion. (The woman whose story is credited with inspiring the film,  Gianna Jessen, is now an anti-choice activist.) And like all individual true stories, this represents a slice of reality.

One can be moved by the tears of the heroine who fights against health problems and does not know where she is in her own life. When the heroine says “life is a lie,” that could affect anyone. Of course, this story can also touch people because anyone going through difficult times, whatever they may be, in life may enter into an identification process with the heroine. This could even be a catharsis for some. But pay very close attention to the intentions of the filmmakers.

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A Faithful Feminist

Inspired by Merle Hoffman’s new book Intimate Wars, we’re sharing some of our own most memorable pro-choice/social justice personal actions this month. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

I am a believer. If I had to name my religion, it would be “Judaism-Islam.” As the believers of both religions believe in One God, my heart stays indivisible. It is a paradox. I cannot choose between these two religions, the two principals of my family (in which there are also devout but very tolerant Catholics). In recent months I have attended evangelical churches in France, not to convert myself, but to study the Gospel and Scriptures that I know very little about. I accompany my best friend, who is an evangelist.

Hold a Dialogue With Believers
Thus, in recent months my feminist “action” has taken place with people I meet in evangelical churches. I have learned a lot from them; they are very warm people. I listen and ask them what they think about the low status of women. Women find it normal: “woman is a help for man,” “with gentleness and patience, a woman can get everything from her husband.” But I cannot talk openly about feminism – if I do, my friend may be removed. So I ask questions, I ask them their opinions. And that makes us think together. [Read more...]

Where Do Romney & Huntsman Stand on Abortion?

Yesterday Jon Huntsman announced his bid for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Huntsman is the former governor of the state of Utah, and he recently resigned as the US Ambassador to China.  So far the media has focused primarily on Huntsman’s positions on foreign policy and economic issues, as has Huntsman himself.  Huntsman has often been called a moderate on social policy issues, such as immigration and same sex marriage.  Nevertheless, he did sign three anti-abortion bills his last year as governor of Utah.  The overwhelming lack of information about Huntsman’s stance on abortion on his campaign website makes me wonder: where does Jon Huntsman actually stand on abortion?

Mitt Romney came under fire last week for his refusal to sign a pledge from the Susan B. Anthony List. Ever the moderate, Romney argued that the pledge, which rejects federal funding for health care facilities that provide abortion, would be very costly to hospitals who rely on federal Medicaid dollars. The anti-choice group took Romney’s refusal as a sign that he’s a “flip-flopper” on abortion, especially given the mudslinging Romney received in the 2008 election for his perceived support of Planned Parenthood. Romney is currently the GOP frontrunner (which means next to nothing this far out from the election), but his stance on abortion could hurt his campaign much more than people’s questions surrounding his Mormonism. [Read more...]

Abortion on TV: Friday Night Lights

To quote Gloria Feldt, “Media portrayals, real or fictional, don’t merely inform us — they form us.” In this series, I will be examining five films – classic, mainstream, independent, foreign, and pre-Roe – and five television shows – daytime soap, pre-Roe, drama, critically lauded, and teen-oriented – that address unexpected pregnancy, to examine how past portrayals can influence and reflect society’s view of abortion.

The NBC drama “Friday Night Lights” has been drawing critical acclaim ever since it premiered in 2006, but it has struggled to find the wide audience that this show deserves. Set in a small West Texas town where life revolves around high school football, “FNL” follows the lives of a high school coach, his family, and several of the players on the team. The first season alone dealt with infidelity, teenage sex, steroid use, and bipolar disorder – so really, the only surprise around the most recent season’s abortion storyline is that the show hadn’t explored the issue before.

The storyline played out over a number of episodes, and realistically portrayed 16-year-old Becky’s struggle.  Pregnant by a classmate that she liked but hardly knew, and keenly aware of the difficulties her own mother, who had Becky when she was a teenager, had gone through in her own life, Becky had a number of conversations with her mother, the boy involved, a close friend, and her school principal before deciding that having an abortion was the best decision.  Delicately written and extremely well-acted, the storyline served as an important corrective to the glossy, simplified way that teenage pregnancy has long been represented not just in film and television, but in the larger media as well.

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Operation Rescue: Randall Terry

Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, grew up outside of Rochester, New York. According to Marian Faux’s profile of Terry in Crusaders: Voices from the Abortion Front, three of Terry’s aunts became pregnant as teenagers and had abortions; all three later worked in the women’s rights movement. Terry, however, left home before graduating high school and became a born-again Christian in his late teens. After getting his GED, Terry enrolled in Bible college in the late 1970s, and learned about fundamentalist teachings and beliefs. Terry was particularly influence by Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical writer who advocated civil disobedience and view Ronald Regan’s election as a chance for fundamentalists to enjoy a greater influence and visibility in American life.

According to Faux, Terry was inspired to start Operation Rescue after attending an anti-Roe rally in Washington, D.C. in early 1984. After the march, Terry claimed that he had a vision to start a new anti-choice organization that would “rescue” women at clinics around the country, with the goal of closing clinics down. The rescuers’ tactics included trying to talk women out of having abortions; invading clinic waiting rooms; and blocking clinic doors and driveways with cars. While the rescues were ostensibly non-violent, Terry’s instructions to the rescuers included the directive to be “run to” conflict and be “prepared to die.” Terry also ignored the official sanctions against his group; when explaining why he continued to blockade clinics in the face of injunctions against such activities, Terry said, “The bottom line is that these injunctions are meaningless, and I give them no more attention than a stray piece of paper laying in the street. … [No federal judge] can tell us not to save babies.” [Read more...]