These five modest heroes — hailing from the disparate worlds of health, research, law, journalism, and religion — deserve some recognition. Each makes unique contributions to LGBT equality that matter more than most people realize. Who are these messengers in soft moccasins, and why is their work important now?
(1) Who: Wayne Besen
Title: Founding Executive Director
Where: Truth Wins Out
Activist author Wayne Besen launched a petition this month that within hours forced a homophobic high school principal in Brownsville, Tennessee to resign after she told LGBT students they were doomed to spend all eternity in Hell. His petition also got the county school board to formally commit – on the same day – to free speech, tolerance, and diversity.
When not writing, Besen operates TWO (Truth Wins Out), the non-profit organization most dedicated to exposing the fraudulent “ex-gay therapy” that is sold by anti-LGBT hate groups, and promoted and endorsed by the Catholic and Mormon churches. This so-called “reparative” therapy purports to cure whatever sexual orientation the patient was born with, yet consists only of hope and prayer wrapped in a new, non-gay wardrobe. This faux treatment was long ago discredited by every major professional mental/medical health organization because it’s expensive, never succeeds, harms its patients, and leads to suicide.
Besen’s educational efforts help potential patients, relatives, and friends realize before it’s too late that ex-gay therapy is junk science, that selling it constitutes consumer fraud, and that treatment with it constitutes medical malpractice. For more info, check out: WayneBesen.com, TruthWinsOut.org, and follow him on Twitter @WayneBesen.
(2) Who: Carlos Maza
Where: Equality Matters
Carlos Maza caught and exposed the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) for claiming that LGBT marriage equality would reduce marriage rates for everyone else, raise divorce rates, expand polygamy, increase promiscuity, and fill elementary schools with sexual propaganda. Carlos’ report about NOM’s planned testimony helped equality advocates in Maryland to prepare factual counter-arguments, and then get a state-level marriage equality law passed last month.
Carlos Maza spends all his time tracking anti-LGBT hate groups, attending their events, devouring their literature, and patiently researching their unsubstantiated claims. His work environment is grueling and demoralizing, but each week he broadcasts his exceptional, infuriating, and frightening results on-line. For anyone working to achieve equality, it’s vital to know exactly what opponents say, when they say it, who they say it to, and especially how they say it.
Carlos doesn’t miss a beat. His work is invaluable.
(3) Who: Jon Davidson
Title: Legal Director
Where: Lambda Legal
Lambda Legal’s Jon Davidson, along with Staff Attorney Tara Borelli and outside attorneys James McGuire, Gregory Dresser, Rita Lin, and Aaron Jones at Morrison & Foerster, last month won a federal court ruling that the 1996 DOMA (Defense-of-Marriage Act) is unconstitutional. The federal government has 1,138 rights and responsibilities for married couples, but DOMA denies all of them to all legally married same-gender couples, so this ruling is historic and far-reaching.
Lawsuits take years, and the public doesn’t hear much in between the final outcomes. But over the last 18 years, Davidson’s staff regularly won cases for LGBT rights related to marriage, domestic partnership, students, immigrants, and HIV-related discrimination.
Every day, Jon and his team continue plugging away toward the next round of victories. At Lambda Legal, the largest and oldest national legal organization for LGBT rights, he provides strategic guidance on all cases, and supervises the 30-member national legal staff. For more information, see LambdaLegal.org.
(4) Who: David Pakman
Where: The David Pakman Show
David Pakman is an independent, multi-platform (TV / radio / Web / podcast / YouTube) journalist who gets anti-LGBT guests to disclose more about their ideas, their activities, and themselves than any other news show host.
He doesn’t work for LGBT rights per se (he and his two producers are all straight), nor is he a typical straight ally helping friends and relatives. He’s just an informed, intelligent current affairs show host who recognizes that homophobia is highly newsworthy.
He fires the best possible questions at some of the world’s worst possible guests.
Commercial hosts often fight with their guests on purpose, but Pakman never needs to sink so low; he skillfully and quickly gets guests to expose themselves — willingly, unwittingly, and comically.
For LGBT topics, commercial news shows often have one activist and one opponent, with both introduced as people who merely hold different — and equally valid — views. But, Pakman avoids that trite, pointless format. He usually invites opponents of equality to appear alone, and then asks refreshingly pointed questions. The random neural firings from his psychopathic guests reveal not only what they think, but how they became opposed to equality for others, why they refuse to change, and what they’re going to do next. Pakman makes sure that all his guests live or die by their own swords, never his. And his audiences are richer for it.
After witnessing a Pakman interview with any anti-LGBT evangelist, Obama birther, Ku Klux Klan member, or Holocaust denier, it's not necessary to tune in anywhere else. Get more info from latest show here (www.DavidPakman.com), video archives here (http://www.youtube.com/midweekpolitics), and podcast archives here (http://www.davidpakman.com/program-archive/).
(5) Who: Brent Childers
Title: Executive Director
Where: Faith in America
As a straight, evangelical Christian, Brent Childers has written the best free guide for responding to faith-based stances against LGBT equality.
His Faith in America organization educates public hearts and minds about the ways in which straight, evangelical, misguided people use religion to inflict bigotry. Having once inflicted such bigotry himself, Childers has all the credentials he needs to win over such audiences.
His guide, “Addressing Religious Arguments to Achieve LGBT Equality,” succeeds because it takes scripture-based logic that people of faith already accept, and then shows how that logic also requires equality and fairness toward LGBT people. Anyone paying attention is then left with only one choice: Either embrace traditional Christian scriptures and also embrace LGBT people, or else reject LGBT people and reject scripture, too. Consequently, baby and bath water both have to be kept (per scripture), or both have to be tossed (against scripture), because if scripture is followed for one, it has to be followed for the other.
By exposing and reducing religiously-fueled anti-LGBT violence, Childers and his team are winning early battles inside territories that most activists don’t dare enter. More here: FaithInAmerica.org.
Photo Credit: jerekeys