Signorile Demolishes Sponsor of NC SuperDOMA Amendment

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday September 30, 2011

In another demonstration of the anti-gay myths and stereotypes that define the thinking of the people who govern the nation, the North Carolina politician who shepherded the upcoming ballot initiative against gay families in that state appeared on Michelangelo Signorile's Sirius XM radio program armed with "information" about GLBTs that turned out to be utterly false--and, Signorile suggested, dangerous in the hands of a lawmaker.

GLBT news site Unicorn Booty posted a Sept. 28 article on Signorile's interview with NC State Sen. James Forrester. Along with the article, Unicorn Booty also posted a video of the 15-minute exchange between Signorile and Forrester, in which, the article said, "We've never before seen such a complete and total collapse of a Republican's homophobic argument against equality in the face of simple, poignant questioning."

The article also featured a comment from Signorile, who wrote, "This interview has to be heard to be believed: Forrester not only could not back up his claims with any evidence--after first trying to source the Centers for Disease Control, only to be debunked by me--but he actually acknowledged that he could be wrong."

Forrester repeated the oft-touted claim that gay men die at significantly younger ages than heterosexual men. That claim has been refuted many times. Even so, anti-gay groups attempting to smear gays as a menace to public health routinely repeat the claim.

But Forrester's source was not Cameron; rather, the bogus stats came to the lawmaker via another anti-gay activist, noted Signorile.

"He eventually credited a Christian activist named Frank Turek (who is associated with Maggie Gallagher and the National Organization for Marriage) as his source of this bogus public health information," Signorile wrote.

Frank Turek is one of the so-called "victims" of what NOM has long attempted to depict as gay thugs who intimidate and harass Christians for their religiously based biases against the GLBT community. Turek appears in a video produced by NOM offshoot the Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance.

Turek, who is author of several books including one that declares that marriage equality "harms everyone," says on his MADA video that he was targeted for his "traditional" views on marriage and that gay pressure cost him jobs with major companies where he'd been employed as a motivational speaker.

"Turek makes himself sound like a pitiful victim," a Sept. 26 Pam's House Blend article on the MADA video noted. "He makes it seem that his dismissals and inability to get gigs is due to his stance on gay marriage."

But what Turek did not mention in his video testimonial for NOM, Pam's House Blend noted, was how he had expressed a belief that gays were in league with "radical Muslims" to "destroy Western Civilization."

Nor did Turek mention that he also has other "viewpoints" that gays, as well as straights, might find offensive, the article said--such as his comparison of gays to pedophiles, violent street criminals, and the violently insane, opinions he expressed in videos made well before his NOM appearance.

The information that Forrester obtained came from reading a book Turek had written. But the information the lawmaker cited was deeply biased--and entirely false, Signorile reported.

"Forrester had said in his town hall some of his patients were gay men who died early deaths, yet didn't seem to know anything about public health, including that, on a global level, AIDS drastically affects heterosexuals more than gay men," noted the radio host.

In the video record of Signorile's interview with the anti-gay NC lawmaker, the radio host notes that Forrester addressed a town hall meeting in which he made the claim that marriage equality should be constitutionally outlawed "because gay men die 20 years earlier than other men. You were basing this on your medical opinion as a doctor... Can you explain this?" Signorile asked Forrester.

After initially claiming that the data came from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and saying that "gay men get AIDS, they het hepatitis," Forrester cited Turek's book "Correct, Not Politically Correct," which contains arguments against marriage equality for gay and lesbian families and claims that marriage for same-sex couples is "harmful" for society at large.

Signorile pointed out that no such claims appear on the CDC website, and then asked Forrester, "You're a legislator; you should have the facts, shouldn't you?"

"These are some of the facts," Forrester responded.

"Is he a medical authority? Who is he?" Signorile pressed.

Forrester acknowledged that Turek was not a doctor, but rather an author and television host.

"You're a legislator. You're claiming as a doctor, as well, that gay men die twenty years earlier than anybody else based on some... you said a radio host? Author? A Christian advocate?"

Invited by Forrester to "talk with some infectious disease specialists," Signorile replied, "I've talked to many infectious disease specialists, and I know all of the facts, and that is simply not true. In fact, it has been debunked," Signorile said.

Signorile then noted, "AIDS is a global pandemic, right?--that is affecting heterosexuals around the world [in] much greater numbers than homosexuals, right?"

When Forrester responded, "I don't know that to be a fact," Signorile pressed the point.

"You don't know that to be a fact?" Signorile demanded. "You are a fellow of the Aerospace Association, a fellow of the American College of Preventative Medicine, and you don't know that AIDS worldwide is killing heterosexuals [in' greater numbers...?"

In fact, AIDS cases among heterosexuals in a number of African countries are prevalent among heterosexuals. Signorile noted this, and also cited India as a nation where heterosexuals suffer a high rate of HIV infection.

In Western nations, however, gays, bisexuals, and men who have sex with men suffer HIV infections at a much higher rate than heterosexual men.

But even so, Signorile pointed out, the claim that gay men in general were dying decades younger than their heterosexual counterparts was overstated. Signorile made reference to the fact that with modern pharmaceuticals, people living with HIV--whether gay or not--could expect to live a near-normal lifespan.

Gays, Obesity, and Health Crises

Signorile then noted that America is in the grip of an obesity epidemic that threatens life spans of heterosexual Americans.

"Should laws be put up against [obese people] because they are dying earlier?" Signorile asked. "They are certainly dying at earlier ages because they eat too much."

Forrester then changed his tack, telling Signorile that he had not sponsored the bill due to mortality rates associated with AIDS, but rather, "to preserve marriage between a man and a woman."

Signorile wondered why, in that case, Forrester's argument in the town hall address made a point to mention diseases and life spans of gays. Signorile then played an audio clip in which Forrester accused gays of "practic[ing] an unhealthy lifestyle."

Forrester then told Signorile that he was "too biased" in his viewpoint.

When Signorile addressed Forrester's revised argument--the preservation of marriage--by asking Forrester why he didn't propose a law against divorce, and noted that the state with the nation's lowest divorce rate was Massachusetts--the first state to allow same-sex marriage--the lawmaker made reference to activist federal judges and asked Signorile, "Why are you opposing to let the people vote?"

"Because we have in this country, we have a system that doesn't allow the majority vote on the rights of the minority," Signorile said, "and that is something that we certainly should preserve."

Signorile went on to ask the lawmaker how marriage between people of the same sex harmed heterosexual couples, Forrester said, "I can't answer all these questions you have..."

"Why not?" Signorile demanded. "Why not? Why can't you answer my questions? You are a legislator and a doctor. And you cannot answer simple questions about the law and about health in this country?"

"I'm not an expert on everything there," Forrester replied.

"Then why do you take the responsibility of voting on people's lives?" asked the radio host. "And you admit that you don't even have the facts. Do you know how irresponsible that is?"

As Signorile continued to hammer on the lawmaker's positions, Forrester once again suggested that he read Turek's book.

"Don't tell me to read a book by somebody who is unknown and doesn't have the authority, I'm asking you," Signorile said. "Why don't you ban divorce?.... Is divorce a good thing?"

Forrester eventually agreed that divorce was "very important. I think that the breakdown in the family structure in our country is very critical."

"Well then, why aren't you leading the cause against divorce?" Signorile demanded. "You should be passing a law against divorce."

"Well, why don't you come down here and run for office and put in a law and pass it yourself?" rejoined Forrester.

When it comes to gays and lesbians, America's lawmakers routinely demonstrate a profound and even shocking lack of factual knowledge. In some cases, the anti-gay claims put forward by the people in charge of formulating the nation's laws rely on stereotype and myth; in others, the opinions of lawmakers seem to have been formed according to shallow conceptions of the people whose lives are targeted by discriminatory laws.

Legislators such as Sally Kern, a Republican state representative from Oklahoma, or Chris Buttars, the notoriously anti-gay former Utah state senator, have made headlines with sweeping--albeit erroneous--claims that gays will be the downfall of America because, they assert, gays destroyed ancient civilizations.

Others, whether through rhetorical strategy or because they cannot conceive of gays as fully rounded human beings with deep and meaningful personal relationships, reduce same-sex male unions to a single sexual act. (The fact that many heterosexuals indulge in the same conduct is routinely glossed over.) New Hampshire State Rep. Nancy Elliott infamously described male-male relationships as little more than a matter of anal sex--which Elliott characterized as "taking the penis of one man and putting it into the rectum of another man and wiggling it around in excrement" during debate on a bill that would have rescinded marriage rights for gay and lesbian families in that state.

Then there are those lawmakers who base their perspectives on gays in pseudo-science and wild rumor. Iowa Republican State Rep. Dwayne Alons told ThinkProgress in an interview published on Feb. 9 that gays had "brought a lot of problems to society." Alons pointed to the same discredited statistics that suggest that gay men live significantly shorter lives.

The problem with that argument, as newspaper the Iowa Independent noted in a Feb. 9 article, is that "The claim that being a homosexual reduces an individual's life span has been widely discredited." The so-called studies purporting to show that gay men generally die younger "have been overwhelmingly rejected," an earlier Iowa Independent article reported, "and as critics have repeatedly pointed out, the methods used were extremely flawed. They relied on obituaries published in gay newspapers over a 12-month period and compared them to obituaries from general circulation newspapers.

"Many of the group's studies were originally published in the journal Psychological Reports, which unlike many scientific journals, charges a fee to authors for publication and does not reject an article on the basis of a negative peer review," the newspaper article continued. Despite the plainly fictitious nature of those statistics, anti-gay groups cite them continually in arguing against social and legal equality for gays and their families.

If voters in North Carolina approve the ballot initiative sponsored by State Sen. Forrester, gay and lesbian families in that state will be denied any form legal recognition, including civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.