New Haven Advocate

Those Kids Today

In case you didn't know: Getting old is a slow, ongoing multiple pain in the ... uhh ... butt. And, dammit, I'm getting there (or am there, depending how I feel and what my shrink or MD says).

I am a black baby boomer, official "old school." I prefer the sweet swinging of African-American voices and musical rhythms to the rhyming and rhythmic recital of bad poetry, even African-American mostly-would-be poetry/rap, loudly in my ears, over and over. And I don't need recordings of cuss; I know cuss. Very well. Cuss don't bother or impress me. S'ahlrite now and agin. And I do remember being 17 and on the other side of the black generational cultural divide. But I'd read fully a third of Donnell Alexander's "Ghetto Celebrity" (Crown Publishers/Random House) before I realized this celebrated book had a story to tell. It even manages at times to bubble to the surface.

What initially upset me, as a thinking black boomer, was Alexander's style, his self-consciously "hip hop" approach, which, like so much of the art form, is steeped in vanity.

Plus, I don't like the term "ghetto" as applied to American black communities. Except internally -- among members of that community -- I believe the use of the "n-word" is incorrect and demeaning. Even if you don't feel thus, many black folks do; so using that term publicly, whatever your intent or race, amounts to cussin' at somebody's mother. (I know: old school.)

So here's this some kind of new Negro, a would-be new school writer, launched as a lonely black star of the white-dominated alternative press -- he did a stint at the LA Weekly -- with a tale about his search for his missing black daddy. And, of course, about himself. And the new school.

Raised during the '70s in the largely black section of Sandusky, Ohio, Donnell Alexander learned about his father from family accounts, neighborhood tales, and later, interviews. His father was a kind of ghetto legend. (Black boomers woulda called him a street niggah/bad dude.) Alexander reconstructs his parents' lives -- how they met, dated, screwed, their relations with their own parents.

At Sacramento City College out west in Cali, Alexander discovers talents for both music and, at the local college rag, writing. He moves on up to Fresno State University. Along the way he develops an attraction to a substantial variety of illegal drugs. The reader gets lots of sex 'n' drugs 'n' rock & roll 'n' 'specially hip-hop.

I gotta wonder: If I were hypothetical Suzanne Former College Student's Daddy/Mommy, would I want to read that: "Suzanne sucked my dick. And as this hadn't been something that had happened with any real consistency in my life ... I fixated on her expert slurping." Or maybe Suzanne's name isn't real. Still, the episode doesn't advance the story. It's "ME" (Alexander) who's important. Who's really hip. Who learned to be hipper than hip. Who, you know, finally grew up with writing talent to be so cool that you'd want to read about him -- no matter what the supposed main plot.

That's the tamest of all the Suzanne sex descriptions and accounting.

On the other hand, Alexander can write, although he badly needs an editor. Once in a while, "Ghetto Celebrity" casts a political/social eye on something other than Alexander or his last/next white female. These tidbits can be both interesting and informative: "Even the most academically slack white kids at SCC regarded writing as a right and so dominated print studies, and suddenly, there were all of these Caucasians in my face ... in my [previous] life overall the melanin-deprived just didn't have the numbers. ... Now ... I was in the trenches with the journalism kids, slack ones and strivers, going all out for the Express newspaper. And they had game. ...

"Still, I'd found a college just obscure enough to work. ... Fresno State University was known for agribusiness, football and a j-school past its prime. For my first day of classes at FSU, I wore a T-shirt from the Run-DMC/Beastie Boys show in Sactown that summer. The message on my back distilled my worldview: 'Get Off My Dick!'"

Writing about both music and sports gives brother Alexander a series of steps up into various alternative press outlets. They really don't have a clue, apparently, how to deal with him. But he's successful. And the white girls -- uh, women -- love him, as do the customers. Finally he gets a chance (now having married, with apparent true love, one of his Caucasian pick-ups) to move up into the Really Big Time with your favorite sports cable channel based back East. Some of Alexander's most insightful sections have to do with his raggedy relations with alternative press publications, which provided him entry to larger fame and recognition. I'll be the first to co-attest that it takes a certain ego strength to be an African-American writer/ reporter. Especially, perhaps, coming out of the alternative press.

But remember? This story was about finding Daddy. Besides being a basic hustler and occasional gangster -- or, rather, as part of those identities -- Daddy has been a pseudo-Muslim imam and combo Muslim/Christian preacher. Along the way, Alexander tracks down Daddy both in stories and in person. He relates, doesn't relate, helps support, doesn't help support, and shares with us far more details of both his own and Daddy's sexual escapades than this daddy, at least, found interesting or relevant.

"Ghetto Celebrity" reeks of a kind of "n-word" nationalism, in which wildness, irresponsibility, cursing and fucking are all good and shiny things to be publicly displayed and commented on. The book may add a chapter to our larger cultural history. If there is such a thing as hip-hop culture (as opposed to fast hip-hop music); if there's something literate to hip-hop and punk ... well, you're reading, so ... if you have a serious interest in contemporary black history or American contemporary cultural history in general, you may very well enjoy Alexander's book. After all, there is probably nothing more American or African-American than "Me!"

As an old head, old school dude, I'm just glad most of the generations behind me haven't gone this way. Ghetto celebrity, ghetto rat. All new material. Bush's next army.

The Bulldog Bites Back

    Rule #1:

    Planning to run an underhanded hardball political campaign? Start by accusing your opponent of running an underhanded hardball political campaign, something you're above doing.

    -- The Insider's Guide to Cut-Throat Campaigning, as interpreted by Yale University.


Alumni of Yale University have received some alarming mail lately. One letter came from the chair of the Association of Yale Alumni, or AYA. It warned fellow Elis about a scary man who has inserted himself into an election that begins next week for a seat on the Yale Corporation, its governing body.

Every year, alumni elect a representative to the board. It's usually a sleepy, genteel affair. The AYA picks a few unthreatening alums to choose from. But this year, the letter warned, a New Haven pastor named W. David Lee has bucked the rules.

"Contrary to tradition," the letter said, "Rev. Lee has undertaken a very active campaign for the position ... We therefore wanted to alert you that you may be contacted" by Lee's supporters. Lee petitioned his way onto the ballot.

The letter mentioned that the AYA had nominated someone to run against Lee: "Maya Lin, a nationally renowned artist and architect who has designed the Vietnam Memorial, the Civil Rights Memorial and the Women's Table at Yale."

The AYA followed a few weeks later with a flier called "Seven things you should know" about the upcoming election. It included a reminder that "Rev. Lee has chosen to mount an aggressive campaign soliciting political endorsements and using mass mailings [and] e-mail." His opponent, the flier misleadingly claimed, "has followed the customary practice of not conducting a campaign."

Attached to this flier was a reproduction of the AYA's supposedly neutral election Web site. It showed photos of Lin and Lee. It included flattering quotes from Lin. It included out-of-context quoted snippets from Lee that made him look like a hypocritical, dangerous enemy of all things Old Blue.

Worst of all, according to this scare mail, Lee has received $30,000 for his campaign -- from Yale's unions.

Now, now. Has the Yale bulldog turned just a bit catty?

Or, more likely, senselessly desperate?

The letters, like the rest of a well-orchestrated campaign by Yale, were transparent and downright dishonest. Yale is campaigning just as aggressively on behalf of Lin as Lee's backers are. It's spending more money, sending more mail and e-mail. And Yale, not Lee, is breaking tradition: Others have petitioned their way onto the alumni ballot (including the first Jew to win a seat on the Corporation, William Horowitz in 1965). But never before has Yale nominated just one candidate on its own, so that its hand-picked celebrity could have a clear shot at stopping someone with whom it feels uncomfortable.

Yale's fliers, part of a slick, $145,000-plus campaign, used the oldest trick in the campaign handbook, a variation on "the best defense is a good offense": Hide your own distasteful tactics (aggressive campaigning, character assassination) by blaming your opponent for using these tactics, all the while denying you're doing the same thing.

Two separate groups have bombarded alumni with anti-Lee, pro-Lin messages, including full-page attack ads in the Yale Alumni Magazine.

One group, of old-school Old Blues, calls itself Yale Graduates for Responsible Trusteeship.

"The issue is this," says the group's founder, former Yale Secretary Henry Chauncey. "If an individual candidate accepts funds from any group (labor, or football or music) he or she is inevitably obligated to that group."

"To the best of my knowledge, Ms. Lin has accepted no funds of any kind," says Chauncey -- whose group has raised and spent $80,000 in soft money for attack ads on her behalf.

Chauncey says he fears a trend of "special interests," from museums to different eras of alumni, demanding their own trustee seats, leading to a corporation full of members looking out for narrow interests rather than Yale's broader good. (Lee denies he'll be beholden to unions. He has publicly advocated their organizing drives and serves on the board of a union-funded think tank critical of Yale's administration.)

The second anti-Lee group, working alongside Chauncey's outfit, includes the AYA and Yale administrators themselves, salaried officials who are simultaneously overseeing the election and fighting to stop Lee as part of their jobs. The AYA and Yale officials are working in tandem to bash Lee's campaign. According to AYA Executive Director Jeffrey Brenzel, the alumni association spent $65,000 on its own two mailings to alumni -- which trashed Lee's campaign.

Combined, Lin's backers have outspent Lee's supposedly "aggressive" campaign by more than 2-1. Backing Lee are Yale's unions, some undergraduates and socially conscious alums, all volunteers. Lee says the unions and alumni have so far raised $60,000 for his campaign, which have paid for mailings, a Web site and phone banking.

Just the mention of Lee's campaign makes Yale officials froth about "special interest" meddling.

"Why is labor different from Enron?" demands Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky. "If this were Enron" giving Lee's campaign money, she insists, the Advocate would splash an exposé across its pages.

Klasky has a point. That's because Enron is a multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise that bribed the federal government and destroyed thousands of workers' livelihoods and pensions. The media doesn't see Yale's unions, or their influence, the same way.

The fact that Yale can see its unions that way helps to explain why more is clearly at stake here than the bid by a pro-labor minister from New Haven's oldest black church to sit in the board meetings of a $10.7 billion university. In fact, one trustee out of 17 clubby members probably won't change the outcomes of any votes.

But Yale's overreaction has endangered two of university President Rick Levin's major initiatives: promoting "partnerships" with New Haven and with Yale's unions. Levin convinced unions to enter a comprehensive form of marriage counseling as part of the latest wave of contract negotiations, to examine the roots of their contentious relationship. And under Levin Yale has helped workers buy homes in New Haven, rebuilt the Broadway shopping district, and spawned local biotechnology companies to help create jobs, part of a bigger campaign that has convinced many townies Yale can help tackle urban problems rather than make them worse.

But faced with the possibility of allowing a labor- or New Haven-backed alum to enter the sanctum of monthly corporation meetings (a "partnership" tool in some American corporate boardrooms), Yale revealed the limits of its definition of "partner."

So, as 115,000 alumni fill out the ballots they received last week, they'll be technically voting between Maya Lin and W. David Lee. But they'll really be voting on Yale's relationship with New Haven and with its workers, on the wisdom of opening up corporate boards to labor-sympathetic trustees, on Yale's conduct in this campaign.

No one knows that better, or mentions it more often, than the 37-year-old Dixwell Avenue minister, Yale Divinity School class of 1993, son of Ansonia's Olsen Drive projects, who had the temerity to knock on the door of Connecticut's most exclusive corporate club.



    Rule #2:

    Wherever you are, God means for you to be there.

    -- The Red Sea Rules, adapted by Pastor W. David Lee, from a book by Robert J. Morgan.


This is not about Pastor Lee versus Maya Lin. It's really between Yale University and the city of New Haven ... It is not about the power of the individual. It's about the power of the idea: Partnership."

David Lee, robed, stands by the lectern facing the Sunday morning crowd at Varick Memorial AME Zion church, New Haven's oldest black church, a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad, a rallying point for civil rights and social justice campaigns up to modern times (including a community campaign on behalf of unionizing Yale-New Haven Hospital workers).

But Lee's not preaching. He saves that for later. His voice is hoarse, but it's always hoarse, whether he's shouting praises to the Lord or calmly delineating a philosophical argument, which he's doing now.

This is a new feature in the 11 a.m. Sunday service at Varick, when Lee updates his congregation of schoolteachers, doctors, welfare recipients, lawyers, nurses, Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital blue-collar workers about this curious adventure in which their pastor has landed.

As he speaks, Lee's not sure the crowd's following him. No one's shouting "Hallelujah!" -- or even murmuring "uh huh."

He reminds them that Yale President Levin has repeatedly promised a new partnership with the city and the unions. He says he applauds Yale's progress under Levin.

"We're just saying we want to bring the partnership to a new level. If it's a true partnership, you are part of the decision-making process. Is that right?"

A few "uh huhs" emerge from the pews.

"I have a 'relationship' with my children. I have a partnership with my wife."

For emphasis, he reads from a column by E.R. Shipp in that morning's New York Daily News, the latest out-of-town paper to write about this campaign: "The ferocity of this battle confirms how resistant institutions are to that which is unorthodox ... The issues being fought out -- the struggle of marginalized people to be heard, the conflict between a powerful institution and the community around it -- are repeated throughout the nation."

That's it. The program returns to worship. As Varick explodes once more with clapping and amens, with searing solos from the two youth choirs, with teenage liturgical dancers racing up and down the aisles in a gospel hip-hop number, Michelle King, vice president of human resources at a North Haven company, sits in a back pew feeding a bottle to the 15-month-old godson on her lap. She says she heard Lee's message. Lee mentioned how Yale, which already spends princely sums on PR touting its generosity to New Haven, has recently been placing New Haven-friendly ads on black radio stations.

She's heard the ads. She, like Lee, believes Yale should contribute more to New Haven. Like Lee, she believes the alumni campaign has put the university on the defensive. She's proud of his candidacy, she says. And she's proud of the new members (he says about 400 to 500) and new energy Lee has brought to the 1,800-member congregation since the bishop installed him here three and a half years ago. The institution she loves, she says, was ready for modest change, and Lee brought it.

Meanwhile, the wattage inside the vast hall builds even higher as Lee launches into his real sermon. Not the one about Yale. One about the Israelites finding themselves stuck at the Red Sea. Pharaoh has changed his mind. He has sent his army after the fleeing slaves. The Israelites are trapped.

Lee puts himself in the mind of the Israelites: "It sounds like a set-up, y'all!" Uh-huh. He puts himself in the minds of the congregation -- of people who inevitably find themselves trapped at some point in their lives.

"When you're doing right," he thunders, "trouble will seek you out! When you're in so much pain, you ask, 'Lord, how did I get here, and why?'"

Lee bounces across the stage. He thrusts his hands out, grabs a white towel to wipe his forehead, claps his hands above his head. The crowd's following him. He has them laughing, clapping back, shouting their assent.

He's been devoting a series of these Sunday sermons to 10 "rules" of "the Red Sea," based on a Christian book published last year about how to face a challenge. Lee found himself reading the book during what he considers his current "moment in history."

If powerful forces descend on you, Lee tells his congregation, "Don't sit there and have a pity party. No pain, no gain. Don't you understand that God gets joy when he delivers his children?"

By now a pulsating beat shoots from the organ, and Lee is marching, hollering. "Sometimes God puts us through something to get his enemies' attention!" Varick is on its feet, cheering.

Watching Lee, you wonder: Is this what scares Yale? Does it see a bomb-thrower, fueled by enemy unions, readying to storm the campus and trample the ivy?

Having done its opposition research, that's the caricature Yale is presenting to more than 100,000 alumni in its stop-David Lee campaign. Lee, with a proclivity for over-the-top rhetorical outbursts, has helped their cause.


    #3: Rules for Attacking Your Opponent


  • If possible, have stand-ins do it.
  • If he's black, find black fronts to do it.
  • If he's black and liberal, put up another liberal minority against him.
  • Comb through his public statements, remove snippets, then broadcast them out of context to make him look like a raving, dangerous nut.


In its non-"campaign" against Lee's campaign, Yale's alumni association has created a Web site.

Lee has one, too. It lists his endorsements. It links to articles about the campaign. It describes his reasons for running.

The alumni association's Web site links to articles, too. Even pro-Lee articles. It pretends to present straightforward information about the campaigns. It shows a picture of Maya Lin. It includes uplifting, high-minded quotes she made in statements about her campaign to the Yale Daily News and in an open letter to alumni (even though she's supposedly not campaigning).

"I would consider it an honor and privilege to serve the University as a member of the Yale Corporation. It would be thrilling to come home to Yale and help with the unfolding design of our alma mater," Lin says.

"In the past, Yale alumni have always relied on the record of the proven accomplishments and prior service of candidates in determining who would be the best stewards for the entire University," she says. "I hope my record is the best indication of the kind of trustee I would be for Yale."

Translation: I'm world-famous. (The site links to a detailed description of her awards and feats.) The other guy's not.

Fair enough. That's campaigning. Pick your strength and make your case.

Next to her statement, the Web site features Lee's picture and three quotes. The first quote is innocuous, like hers: "If the alumni elect me as their trustee, I will act solely to serve the long-term best interests of Yale University."

Then, from the student paper: "There is a blind spot at Yale -- no one is responsible for the community interests ... [President] Levin is probably laughing now but he won't laugh after we get there."

Sounds like he's looking to storm Woodbridge Hall and behead the monarch. The next quote continues the theme: "Yale has met its Waterloo in the Federation of Hospital and University Employees" -- the group trying to unionize Yale hospital workers, some of whom have found they're paid so little they default on their medical bills, only to see the hospital go after their homes ("The Predator on the Hill," The New Haven Advocate, May 31, 2001). "It is indeed our time!"

Yale's campaigners have pressed this theme in media interviews and published letters and op-eds: Lee claims to be a responsible Yale man, but is really just a reckless shill for the unions. These quotes prove it.

I ask Lee about the quotes as we sit in his office, below a Yale wall hanging and his Divinity School diploma. Yale's leaving out a crucial part of that Levin quote, Lee claims. He said it in response to a call from a Yale Daily News reporter the night his campaign succeeded in getting a spot on the ballot by collecting 4,000 alumni signatures. The reporter said she'd just asked Levin about it and Levin laughed, according to Lee. (Levin, through his secretary, says he has "nothing to say" about Lee or the campaign. In other papers, he has joined in the criticism of Lee for "campaigning.")

"It hurt," a somber Lee recalls of hearing of Levin's laughter. "My gut reaction was, 'Wow. That stings. Fine. He won't laugh when I come in the room.' It was like calling me a joke. I had to deal with that all my life, growing up in the projects, not having money, people laughing at you.

"I went to Syracuse on a football scholarship. I went to Yale Divinity School. To still be laughed at by the president of the institution I love -- it was disheartening."

So was the role of Kurt Schmoke. Lee says he called Schmoke when he decided to run. Schmoke is black. As a Yale undergraduate in the Black Panther days, Schmoke protested on behalf of pro-union Yale workers. He pressed Yale to do more for New Haven. He eventually became mayor of Baltimore, a national figure. Yale asked him to join the Yale Corporation. But he told Lee he couldn't help with the campaign, Lee says. (Schmoke failed to return more than a half-dozen Advocate calls for comment.)

Fine. But Lee didn't expect what followed -- a barrage of pro-Lin campaigning by Schmoke in the local and national media. In fact, Schmoke was leading the charge by attacking Lee personally, a black man standing in front of the white Yale old guard to more credibly cut down another black man.

And he used transparent arguments. Schmoke attacked Lee in interviews with the Yale Daily and The New York Times for representing special interests -- which is how Schmoke now characterizes the unions and the city on whose behalf he once protested. He didn't mention that some of his fellow Corporation trustees lead development and investment and corporate consulting firms. One chairs the board of Procter and Gamble. Another is married to one of Yale's top administrators, University Secretary Linda Lorimer. Those, apparently, don't count as special interests, or bring a bias to the table.

Schmoke complained Lee carries too much bias because Lee supports efforts by graduate-student teachers to organize. Yet Schmoke freely told the Yale Daily that he opposes that effort -- as though that opinion was somehow less biased.

Yale's Corporation, like any corporate board, seeks out people with impressive resumes and, in cases like these, politically liberal reputations. That makes them all the more useful once they join the club and acquiesce in the corporate decision-making. They offer progressive cred.

Deborah Rhode found herself in a similar position in the early '80s. The Stanford law prof served on the Corporation at a time when Yale battled pink-collar office workers seeking to unionize. Rhode is a leading scholar and proponent of pay equity -- the feminist issue at the heart of that union campaign. Union activists picketed her class at Harvard, where she was a visiting professor. They called on her to publicly denounce Yale's heavy-handed tactics or else resign from the corporation. She declined.

Rhode says in an interview that she and a fellow prominent civil rights advocate on the board, Eleanor Holmes Norton, concluded they "could do more by pressing our views from within ... [M]aking a public statement would have compromised those efforts."

Were they right? Rhode says yes. Her scholarly reputation "made the people take the [gender] issues more seriously," she argues. "It affected their perception of whether this was just special pleading."

Yale still fought the union, before and after it won an election. The union still had to brave a strike and humiliate Yale in the national media before obtaining a first contract.

In this campaign, Lin has released a public [campaigning] letter in which she trumpeted her credentials and denounced the notion of campaigning. She failed, and continues to fail, to distance herself from the more expensive and nastier campaigning being done on her behalf.

By agreeing to be used by Yale to stop Lee's campaign, Lin has already proved her major qualification for the seat -- reliability. She won't press Yale to take more than baby steps to help rebuild New Haven or to abide by labor law in confronting union drives. (She declined to answer the Advocate's telephone and e-mail inquiries. Yale spokeswoman Klasky calls it a "jump" to suggest that Lin tacitly approves the massive campaigning on her behalf by not openly disavowing it.)

"I don't care where you go -- the church, the corporate world. Some people don't like change," reflects Lee. "But change is good. It's progress." Amid its rhetoric of seeking new partnerships, is Yale ready for that kind of progress?

    A Rhetoric Sampler


Like any high-powered political campaign, the David Lee-Maya Lin contest for a seat on the Yale Corporation has drawn a flurry of political endorsements -- with rhetoric from the sweeping and lofty to the purely posturing.

Take what Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had to say in his letter endorsing Lee.

"I have come to know and admire your courageous work as a civic, religious and civil rights leader," Blumenthal wrote.

What "courageous" work has Blumenthal actually witnessed by Lee?

"His work in his church, in his congregation, on behalf of education," he said in a conversation last week.

And what work was that?

"He's been supportive of students who have come to him."

No doubt. When did Blumenthal see that?

"I've seen him speak. I'm not sure I can be more specific. I believe he supported the mayor for reconstructing the schools."

Actually, while Lee has endorsed the city school rebuilding program, he recently drew New Haven's mayor's ire by proclaiming before his congregation that in the end, the program may inadvertently serve wealthier white people rather than black families.

"Was that recent?" Blumenthal wanted to know.

Then there's Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky's response to Blumenthal's endorsement (and that of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman).

"This is an election for Yale alumni," she says. "It's not an election for politicians to decide who's on the Yale Corporation."

Actually, Blumenthal went to Yale. He can vote in this election. Same with Lieberman.

"I understand that," Klasky says. "But the main reason they were approached" to offer endorsements was because of their political positions.

What about the prominent alumni endorsing Lin? Klasky denies Lin "approached" them.

Lieberman stuck to what he knows in his endorsement, capturing the big picture. He recalled, in 1964 and 1965, supporting the candidacy of William Horowitz, who won a petition campaign to become the Yale Corporation's first Jewish member.

"Yale and New Haven have been building a strong partnership together for many years, and your willingness to serve as a trustee of Yale University is further evidence that this partnership is strong," Lieberman wrote in his Lee endorsement.

    The Brochure Version vs. the Real Version


Yale's sudden return to a publicized fight with labor and New Haven in the alumni trustee campaign comes at an inopportune moment: Behind the scenes, its relationship with New Haven City Hall has stagnated.

For eight years, Yale President Rick Levin and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano have built a close working relationship after a bumpy beginning. Both administrations have worked together to promote home-ownership by Yale employees, to develop downtown and to build the local biotechnology sector.

Publicly, the relationship remains all roses. Yale continues to buy full-page ads in the New Haven Register and (in the heat of the alumni trustee battle) to send alumni glossy brochures touting its loving partnership with New Haven.

Privately, the two sides have been sniping. No single explanation has emerged. And officials on either side will publicly acknowledge the growing tensions.

According to sources familiar with the behind-the-scenes conversations, the tensions stem from several recent developments:

  • DeStefano unnerved the Yale Corporation when he addressed a recent meeting. He told the trustees he considers their fight against the Rev. David Lee's campaign a mistake. According to the unwritten rules of Yale etiquette, such blunt talk doesn't belong in a boardroom. And city leaders have no business getting involved in how Yale runs itself -- "partnership" or no partnership. (DeStefano stopped visibly backing Lee's campaign after Lee made public remarks that DeStefano understood as shots at City Hall.)
  • Both sides, frustrated with New Haven's continued inability to shake state dollars from Gov. John Rowland's administration, have taken to blaming the other. Is it the fault of Democrat DeStefano's dysfunctional relationship with the Republican guv? Or the fault of globally connected Yale bigshots unwilling to expend capital at the Capitol?
  • A feeling is growing in some corners of City Hall that Yale should and could do more to help build and rebuild housing, to create summer jobs, and to expand its vaunted program helping employees buy city homes.
  • Levin has refused to use his influence with Yale-New Haven Hospital to stop its often illegal tactics aimed at stomping a unionizing drive. City Hall's own relationship with the Yale unions is somewhat frayed these days, but all New Haven Democrats, including DeStefano, have no political choice but to side with them in organizing drives.


Paul Bass is the managing editor of the New Haven Advocate. He can be reached at pbass@newhavenadvocate.com.

The War Comes Home

As the War on Terrorism comes home, it trains its sights on an ironically familiar target: those who promote peace.

Case in point: Mark Colville, a pacifist jailed for trespassing at Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, CT, protesting the U.S.-backed war on innocent Colombians. As the Colombian military and right-wing paramilitaries—trained and equipped by our government—murder, rape and mutilate their way across the countryside, we Americans hit the snooze button. Colville wants to wake us up. The New Haven activist wants it so much that he willingly got arrested at Sikorsky last December. So much that he turned down a lenient plea bargain, went to trial, attempted to persuade a judge that international law had compelled Colville to trespass in an effort to stop the slaughter. So much that he’s now doing time at Bergin Correctional Institution in Storrs, CT.

If the prosecutor had his way, Colville would spend a year in the clink. For nonviolent trespassing. In the name of peace.

Why?

Evidently because Colville had the gall to suggest, at his trial early this month, a connection and an equivalency between U.S.-sponsored violence in Colombia and Islamic fundamentalist violence here on Sept. 11.

That, and because the prosecutor worried that Colville’s organization, the Catholic Worker Movement—committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty and hospitality for the homeless—might let itself be infiltrated by terrorists who could use anti-war demonstrations as a chance to attack U.S. targets. "I thought he was trouble. Saying that we deserved the bombing," says the prosecutor, Assistant State’s Attorney Donal Collimore, in an interview. "He could violate the law again."

Think Globally, Profit Locally

It didn’t take Sept. 11 to push America’s other war off the front pages. "Plan Colombia" was never in the headlines to begin with.

The U.S. last year agreed to spend $1.3 billion on "Plan Colombia," in the guise of the War on Drugs. Mainly, the U.S. support serves to prop up a corrupt and repressive Colombian government that’s been fighting a civil war for decades. The rebel troops commit plenty of their own brutality. But international human rights organizations say the worst violations are committed by right-wing paramilitaries, doing the work that’s too dirty even for the Colombian army and police.

Thinking globally and profiting locally, Sikorsky Aircraft has a $238 million contract to supply Black Hawk attack helicopters to the Colombian government, financed by us the taxpayers. Connecticut politicians from U.S. Sens. Christopher Dodd and Joe Lieberman to U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro back the contract, and Plan Colombia generally, as sound policy that just happens to mean jobs for voters and profits for a major campaign contributor (Sikorsky’s parent company, Hartford, CT-based United Technologies Corp.).

Colombia Action-Connecticut, of which Mark Colville is a member, holds regular antiwar demonstrations outside Sikorsky’s Stratford plant, hoping to win the attention of employees and drivers on the Merritt Parkway.

On Dec. 6, 2000, Colville and five others tried to hand-deliver a letter to Sikorsky President Dean Borgman. The letter outlined Colombia’s history of human rights abuses and asked how Borgman could justify profiting from them. "Must jobs in Connecticut be purchased with the blood of the poor?" the letter asked. (See box.)

When the six refused to leave Sikorsky property, they were arrested. Five of them accepted a deal that consisted of pleading guilty to an infraction—equivalent to a traffic ticket—and doing six hours’ community service, according to Kevin Wyer, one of the other defendants. But Colville wanted to "confront the issue," Wyer says. So he went to trial.

Small Crimes vs. War Crimes

That was the last chance Colville had to speak for himself until he gets out of prison: Department of Correction officials decline to make him available for an interview. (Not because of his politics; prison bureaucrats routinely make it hard for reporters to get access to inmates.) So this account of the trial, held Nov. 1-2 in state Superior Court in Bridgeport, CT, comes from interviews with three people who were there: Mark Colville’s wife, Luz, Kevin Wyer and prosecutor Donal Collimore.

Mark Colville, charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct, represented himself. Judge Thomas Upson heard the case without a jury. Colville tried to present two legal arguments: the necessity defense—a doctrine used mainly in civil disobedience cases, under which it’s permitted to commit a crime in order to prevent a greater crime—and the contention that the Geneva Conventions require citizens to intervene to stop war crimes. Colville’s supporters say the judge refused to allow those defenses and threatened him with contempt the first day. On the second day, they say, he was able to present evidence and arguments about the war in Colombia, including his own recent experiences there.

Prosecutor Collimore objected to those lines of argument as "irrelevant."
"This was a basic criminal trespass case," the prosecutor says. "He was on the property, he was asked to leave, he didn’t leave. An open-and-shut case."

Without criticizing the judge, Collimore suggests that Colville got too much leeway to make his case. The trial "probably lasted a lot longer than it needed to," he says.

Is there ever a place for those defenses?

"Sure," Collimore responds. Asked for an example of when the necessity defense is appropriate, he answers, "the civil rights movement." He won’t explain what distinguishes civil disobedience in protest of racist laws from civil disobedience in protest of U.S.-sponsored brutality abroad. "It’s irrelevant" to the question of criminal trespass, he repeats.

Whose Suffering Counts?

But it was the end of the trial that really bugged the prosecutor.

During his closing statement, Colville read out loud the letter he’d tried to deliver to Borgman at Sikorsky. He also read a letter from a 17-year-old Colombian girl whom he’d met on a recent trip to the country.

In that letter, addressed to "people of the court," Abrizne Gamboa wrote: "I have suffered the effects of war, and it makes me indignant to see what you are wanting to do with an innocent person who only wants to let people know the truth about the Black Hawk helicopters that you build daily in a factory in your country," according to Colville’s translation. She wrote of "the harm these machines cause to human life," mostly to "the poor and the civilian population. ... You don’t suffer hunger, cold and sickness, or the terrorism of the state that we have suffered."

Then came the part that incensed Collimore.

"What you are doing to us, some of your friends and fellow countrymen felt in their own bodies on Sept. 11," Gamboa wrote. "This is a small demonstration of your inventions and your modern technology and the like. ... Can it be that you never considered that by your [weapons-building] economy you were going about knocking things down [in the same way that] the Twin Towers [were knocked down]?"

After hearing that, the prosecutor doubled his recommended sentence, previously six months, to a year.

"I assume [Colville] was adopting her views," Collimore says of Gamboa’s letter. "It was my impression that she was endorsing the bombing of the World Trade Center. Quite frankly, the letter made me sick."

He asked for the longer sentence, he says, because "I thought he was trouble. He had no remorse for what he did at Sikorsky."

Does "saying that we deserved the bombing"—as Collimore interprets Colville’s decision to read the letter—mean that Colville might himself carry out a bombing? "I don’t know," the prosecutor replies.

During the trial, he questioned Colville about what it takes to join the Catholic Worker Movement. The organization, founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, operates 175 communities around the country. Volunteers run soup kitchens, homeless shelters, sober houses, immigrant hospitality.

After learning that Catholic Worker doesn’t do background checks, Collimore asked what would stop a terrorist from infiltrating the movement and then bombing the helicopter factory during a demonstration.

"It’s a possibility," he contends in an interview. "People that are part of this organization, they have criminal records"—like trespassing.

Is he really worried about violence by an anti-war group? "I don’t know if they have a rite of passage," Collimore says. "Anybody who wanted to bomb Sikorsky, if they really wanted to do it, they could just say they adopted the views."

But, he adds, he’s not saying Catholic Worker "as it’s presently constituted" has terrorist leanings.

Judge Upson found Colville guilty of criminal trespass and not guilty of disorderly conduct. The judge ignored Collimore’s recommendation, sentencing Colville instead to 45 days. Luz Colville calls it "a drop in the bucket." She and Wyer say the judge was fair; they don’t think the trial itself was politically motivated.

Nonetheless, the man who would bring peace sits behind bars, silenced for the time being. The man who would make it a crime to question U.S. policy remains free to do his job, prosecuting alleged criminals.

Carole Bass writes for the New Haven Advocate and can be reached at cbass@newhavenadvocate.com.

Intersexuals Fight Back

Carl* looks like a man. He's compact and strong, with unshaven stubble on his cheeks and construction boots on his feet. His West Haven home is filled with man stuff: military paraphernalia, sporting equipment, hardwood furniture that could take a pummeling. He works with his hands for a living, has a steady girlfriend and lifts weights. To all appearances, he is 100 percent red-blooded Man.

Appearances are deceiving.

"Don't be fooled by all of this," Carl says, giggling like a nervous schoolgirl, a shrill, uneasy giggle that repeats itself every time he reveals something new about his past. "I'm overcompensating. This isn't me. But this is what I have to do." Carl behaves like a stereotypical man, he says, because that's what society expects of him. But he's pretty sure that man is not what nature intended for him. From an early age, he felt more like a girl than a boy. He preferred the company of girls, their games, hairstyles and clothing. He began cross-dressing as a child, and continued through high school, later risking discharge from the military for the sake of women's underwear.

Unlike with most transgendered individuals, Carl's psychological gender ambiguity is matched by a physical ambiguity. Carl is intersexed.

Like many thousands of other people across the country, he was born neither clearly male nor clearly female. In the words of Greek mythology, he was a hermaphrodite. (Because of the monsterlike mythical creature this term refers to, the intersexed movement has rejected it.) Although he now functions as a male, his external genitalia were ambiguous enough at birth that doctors initially labeled him female.

"'When you were born, the doctor thought you were a girl. It was on the birth certificate and everything,'" Carl recalls his mother telling him when he was a child. But somewhere along the line, Carl became a boy. He doesn't know when or how this happened, and, though Carl is now in his 30s, his parents still won't discuss it with him. "My mother said, 'Everything was done to make sure that you were a boy.' What she meant by this, I didn't really understand. But I believe that things were done to me," he says.

Despite his anger, Carl is too burdened by the shame and deception surrounding his birth to seek out medical records on his own. He knows that something terrible was done to his body that determined that he would be male-a decision made without his consent and, he believes, without his own best interests in mind. He knows that later, at puberty, he was subjected to countless hospital visits in New Haven, where he was given pills and injections that he believes contained testosterone. He also knows that he is infertile. But his knowledge stops there. Carl's mother has taken care to hide any evidence of his life as a girl. After he caught sight (as an adult) of his birth announcement in a family photo album-and saw that it was an announcement for the birth of a daughter, not of a son-Carl's mother hid the announcement and later denied that it was ever there.

"My parents have their own brand of ethics," he says. "Families first, individuals second."

Carl's story is repeated hundreds of times each year with babies born everywhere in the United States and in most European countries. Doctors regularly use surgery and hormones to make a child look male or female when nature will not make up its mind-which happens in an estimated 1 of every 2,000 births. Like Carl, many become angry as teenagers and adults when they learn what their doctors and parents did. Now the intersexed are fighting back. They have enlisted the help of doctors who have had second thoughts about the practice they took for granted and of intellectuals who believe the system should be changed. In the process, they are challenging all of society to rethink the strict notions of what makes us male or female. Standard medical practice dictates that intersex births like Carl's are emergencies that must be "assigned" male or female and "corrected" immediately to spare the parents the anguish of uncertainty, with no thought as to what the children would want. The primary obligation, as in Carl's case, is to the family.

"It is irrelevant if the sex assignment is male or female, as long as there is an early sex assignment and the parents understand what they have: either a boy or a girl," says Dr. Aydin Arici, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital who specializes in reproductive endocrinology and has dealt with many intersex births.

Arici and many other physicians regularly recommend drastic cosmetic surgeries on intersexed infants, usually within the first year and often within the first months of life. The initial procedures are usually followed with hormone treatment and often with further surgeries. The goal is to create an appearance of normality, so that relatives and later sexual partners who see or touch the genitals will not be surprised or upset, and will not transfer their own distress onto the child.

"The assumption is that the kid won't grow up feeling normal if her genitals look bad, because she will be treated like a freak," says Dr. Charlotte Boney, a pediatric endocrinologist at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. "There is little medical evidence to support the assumptions. But there is circumstantial evidence that babies operated on are unhappy."

Carl's misery-and his resentment toward his parents and doctors-are not circumstantial but very real. "My father said, 'We did a lot of things for you when you were born. You should be thankful,'" Carl says. He giggles and then becomes deadly serious. "I don't know if I can thank him for it now."

If Cheryl Chase has her way, Carl will no longer be expected to thank anyone. Born a "true hermaphrodite" (see accompanying story, "The Science of Intersexuality") and labeled a boy at birth, Cheryl was reassigned female 18 months later. At that time, surgeons performed a complete clitorectomy, removing her entire phallus, which they reinterpreted as a large clitoris, and destroying her potential for sexual pleasure later in life. At age 8, the testicular portions of her gonads were removed, and Cheryl eventually began menstruating. Doctors considered her lucky: Cheryl, unlike many intersexed people, was fertile. "They said that the clitoris was something that might have been a penis if I were a boy, but that since I was a girl I didn't need a clitoris because I had a vagina," Cheryl says of her parents' first attempts to explain what had happened to her. "Female sexual function was worth nothing."

By adolescence, Cheryl knew enough about sexuality to disagree with her parents' assessment. But she still did not know why she didn't have a clitoris. Her parents told her nothing. Like Carl's parents, they took pains to hide her brief life as a boy from her, and Cheryl did not discover her complete history until she was in her 30s.

The secrecy and shame associated with her intersexuality, Cheryl says, destroyed her family and, at least temporarily, her own sanity as well.

"The humiliation for my parents and the way that doctors dealt with it made me feel its impact from an early age. My parents were always mad at me and filled with anxiety," says Cheryl, who currently lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. "I felt betrayed by the people who are supposed to take care of me."

Unlike Carl, Cheryl isn't just getting angry. She's getting organized. In 1993, she formed the Intersex Society of North America, or ISNA, from her home in San Francisco's gender-twisting community, with the primary goal of healing intersexed people, particularly those maimed by childhood surgeries and other unwanted treatments. At first she was mostly concerned with simply reaching out to people who thought no one else in the world understood their plight. But in the years that followed, the ISNA rapidly politicized, developing goals that were strict and unforgiving: destigmatize intersex births and stop genital surgery on infants. End the shame and the secrecy. Fight back.

But exactly who-or what-were they fighting?

"I knew I was different from the moment I was capable of thought."

Max Beck, now a married father in his mid-30s who lives in Atlanta, is recalling his uneasy childhood as a girl as he balances his own baby daughter-an unambiguously female infant-on his knee. She gurgles and he coos at her. "I knew that something was weird and off. There were dark, secret, clandestine appointments once a year in New York where they looked between my legs. I knew there was something horrible there that wasn't talked about."

Max was 24 before he found out what that something was. At birth, doctors thought he was a boy. Then they changed their minds. "I was assigned a female because they didn't think I had a viable penis. At 17 months, the small phallus was a clitoris. It hadn't changed but their perceptions had."

The clitoris was mostly removed, along with his underdeveloped testes, and Max was raised as Judy. He was always an uneasy girl. "I thought I was a freak, a monster-but it never occurred to me that stuff I was feeling and ways I was acting had to do with a masculine gender identity."

Judy dropped out of college, attempted suicide and was briefly married to a man before meeting her current wife, Tamara, and making contact with the ISNA. The group, Max says, saved his life.

"I felt like I'd never meet another like me in my life," he says.

Soon after that, he began taking testosterone and transitioned into a male. But he remained sterile and without a functioning penis. That was taken away from him as a child. This act, over which he had no control, is what makes him angry now. "If you take something out, you can't put it back," he says. For all the suffering he has endured, however, he does not blame his parents for what they did. "They were both incredibly ignorant and helpless. They were going to do anything the doctors told them."

Angela Lippert, of Peoria, Ill., blames no one for what happened to her-she just hopes that it can be prevented from happening to anyone else. When she was 12 years old, Angela, who had been born unambiguously female, began to change. Her clitoris grew dramatically, but she was not concerned. "It was just an observation," she says.

Her mother was not as easygoing. After glimpsing her daughter's body as she emerged from a bath, she rushed Angela to several doctors, who diagnosed her (without Angela's knowledge) with partial androgen insensitivity syndrome. (See "The Science of Intersexuality.") She was sent into surgery, and her internal testes and clitoris were both removed. Like Max, Cheryl and Carl, Angela was given almost no explanation for her condition, nor for what was done to her.

"They told me that my ovaries hadn't developed properly and if left would become cancerous," she says. When she awoke and found her clitoris gone as well, she was too embarrassed to ask questions.

Angela suffered from bulimia for years afterward before finally seeking out the truth about her past. Soon after that, she made contact with the ISNA. That's when she allowed herself to become angry. "[The ISNA] helped me to conceive of this issue as a matter of human rights," Angela says.

She now likens her clitorectomy to female genital mutilation performed in Africa, a practice that the United States has publicly denounced. "I had read Alice Walker's Possessing the Secret of Joy, and I remember identifying with the protagonist-the story of her ritual circumcision. Over the years I came back to that novel and I began to believe in my sense of it that our experiences were similar," she says.

The ISNA endorses this comparison. But most physicians resist it, even those who make up the small yet growing group of doctors sympathetic to the ISNA's cause. "This is a complex issue that is often oversimplified," says Dr. Patrick McKenna, a pediatric urologist who until very recently worked at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford and who supports a reassessment of protocol in the care of intersexed children.

McKenna says physicians are just trying to do what's best for the patients. Surprisingly, most intersex activists and their sympathizers agree with him.

"Physicians are not bad people, they are just using a system that is flawed," says Alice Dreger, a leading medical historian and ethicist in the intersex field and a firm backer of the ISNA. "The parents are not bad people either-they were just listening to what they were told."

But more and more, what they were told seems tragically misinformed. McKenna and Yale-New Haven's Arici insist that modern techniques of clitoral recession-a procedure that trims the clitoris rather than totally removing it (see accompanying story, "Snipping and Building")-preserves sensation in the clitoris. The ISNA calls that fiction. Several doctors agree. "Most of the procedures routinely done over the last several decades run the risk of terrible outcomes-loss of sensitivity, pain on intercourse, unacceptable appearance, etc.," says Dr. Philip Gruppuso, a Rhode Island Hospital pediatric endocrinologist.

According to Cheryl, it's more than just a risk. The very procedure that doctors claim is saving clitoral sensation, she says, virtually guarantees that sensation will be sacrificed. Modern surgical techniques remove the shaft of the clitoris and preserve the head, or glans. But it is not the glans that most women stimulate when they experience an orgasm. Parents and doctors may be satisfied that the child's clitoris is now small and "normal"-looking, but its later functioning has little relation to its appearance.

Even with all the risks, Arici and most of his colleagues view the clitoral procedure as essential, simply because the psychological effects of not doing it are too grave. Arici makes vague allusions to studies that he claims show a correlation between delayed sex assignment and serious psychological effects, ranging from depression to anxiety to suicide. Yet others believe that current medical literature is incomplete. "No one has any good long-term studies on this. There is little medical evidence to support one way or the other," says Rhode Island Hospital's Boney.

Part of the reason for this lack of information is that pent-up rage prevents many intersexed teenagers and adults from taking part in follow-up studies. Their lack of participation has helped to bolster the myth that children of surgery grow up healthy and happy.

The myth is wrong.

Carl's eyes still tear up when he recalls his tortured childhood. Small and frail, carried like a doll to class on the shoulders of bigger kids and teased for playing with girls and studying ballet, Carl struggled constantly with his desire to dress and act like a girl and his family's pressure to do the opposite. "My father tried to get me to play baseball and basketball and all that. But I was not into it at all. I couldn't even catch a softball. And as much as I tried, I was continually having problems in school," Carl says. His parents argued constantly. When Carl asked what was wrong with him, they always had the same answer: "It all goes back to when you were born."

"The message was conveyed to me in many ways: Take the pill, your questions are irrelevant, do not ask them. It became quite clear over time that my body was a frightening and dangerous thing," says Kristi Bruce, an intersexed adult living in Oakland who uses masculine pronouns when talking about her girlhood. "It also became clear that something was not being discussed and that this little tomboy, who just wanted to play soccer and read, was the source of heartbreaking despair for his doctors and parents."

Intersexuality and the treatment that accompanies it are the sort of dark family secret that many parents hope to carry to the grave. But the more parents try to keep it a secret, the more their kids suffer from the shame.

"Our experience is that intersex genital mutilation and other medical management of intersexed children result in post-traumatic responses similar to other forms of childhood sexual abuse," Emi Koyama says. Koyama, is an intersex activist and board member of Survivor Project, an organization based in Portland, Ore., that addresses the needs of intersexed and transgendered survivors of domestic and sexual violence. She compares the physical violation of children's bodies, the fact that trusted adults perform this violation, and the secrecy and shamefulness to traditional definitions of sexual abuse.

Indeed, many of the later procedures performed on children, particularly those necessary for keeping artificial vaginas open (see "Snipping and Building"), would under any other circumstances be considered a form of sexual child abuse.

Vernon Rosario, a sexologist and child psychiatrist at the University of California at Los Angeles, treats intersexed children and teenagers. Rosario once considered a position at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, but decided in favor of UCLA. He sensed that Yale's program, like most of its kind in the Northeast, pays little heed to issues of gender and sexuality.

Rosario has observed in his patients much of what Koyama describes, including symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. But he insists that there is simply not enough information on intersexuality to make any sweeping generalizations about the psychology of intersexed youths.

"Some kids are probably perfectly well-adapted, but those are not the ones referred to me," he says.

Among those who do come through his office, Rosario notes pervasive anger toward parents and uneasiness involving sexuality and gender identity. He is quick to add, however, that some of these symptoms could also be construed as normal teen angst. But for the intersexed adults who have lived through it, their uneasiness did not seem like teen angst. Most teenage boys worry about whether they will ever have a girlfriend. An intersexed teenage boy might worry about whether he will ever be a girl.

As an adult, Carl became so certain that he should have been raised a girl that he sought a sex change operation three times. He was three times refused because he failed to get psychiatric approval for the surgery.

"It became so frustrating," he says. "I started taking out medical books, and I came very close to doing the operation on myself."

While many intersexed children are genetically male, almost all of them are raised female. (See "The Science of Intersexuality." Carl was an exception to the rule.) This means that many children who have XY chromosomes or who were exposed to high levels of male hormones in utero are being coaxed into female gender roles that nature may not have intended for them. The results have been dubious at best.

Establishing a gender identity is a process that most people take for granted, but that no one completely understands. Scientists and sociologists agree that traditional gender roles are in many ways socially constructed-girls learn to wear dresses and boys learn to wear pants. But no one seems to understand what makes a child raised in a female gender role embrace the male role as her own and vice versa. And no one can even begin to explain why so many intersexed children raised as one sex eventually migrate back to the gender that their genetics or their prenatal hormonal environment would have predicted.

"You have to learn somehow what it means to be a boy or a girl. You don't come born with this idea. But enough people say, 'I always knew I was a boy but I was raised as a girl' that I can't doubt they have these feelings," says Bill Summers, a professor of medical history at Yale who has studied the science behind gender and sexuality.

Summers points to the work of John Money, a physician at Johns Hopkins University who became famous in the 1960s for turning a boy with a botched circumcision into a girl. Money initially declared victory, but his work was later undermined when the girl grew up with a masculine gender identity anyway.

"The whole idea that given hormone treatment and the right social environment, you can determine gender identity. It's not really quite so simple," Summers says.

Gruppuso cites the example of one of his patients, an XY intersexed child raised as a female, who decided at adolescence to transition to a male. "The traditional approach assumed that assigned gender would be accepted by the patient when he or she grew up, as long as the assignment was accepted by the parents in an unambiguous way. We now have reason to suspect that assigned gender may not be accepted by the patient later on," he says.

But if gender roles such as wearing makeup are socially constructed, as almost everyone believes, why would an intersexed child like Carl have such an urge to embrace this female gender role despite discouragement from his family?

Some scientists claim that subtle cues from parents contribute to divergent gender identities in intersexed children. But studies of intersexed siblings who are both genetically female, are both raised as girls in similar environments and both unexpectedly masculinize at puberty show that one sibling might embrace a new masculine identity while the other one rejects it. While social cues were undoubtedly important, the children's identity must have at least partially come from something inside of them. Since both children were genetically female, this identity could not have been entirely genetic.

Some scientists believe that sex hormones acting upon the brain during development play a big role. This seems to be true for establishing both gender identity and future sexual orientation. People interviewed for this article say that babies born with male characteristics but raised female are apparently more likely than other female children to grow up to live as lesbians-Cheryl, for example, lives with a woman; Max was a lesbian before he became a man-while genetic males who look and feel female are almost always attracted to men. But scientists still cannot explain how hormones could make someone feel like a member of a particular sex, as so many intersexed people say they do.

The bottom line: We just don't know where gender identity comes from. But it is unlikely that either biology or society operates independently from the other. Given this mix, the danger inherent in operating on a non-consenting intersexed infant increases manifold. If surgeons turn a genetically male child with testes and an "inadequate" penis into a girl, they not only destroy his future fertility and sexuality, but may compromise his chosen gender identity as well.

"How does [intersexuality] affect the brain? I don't know," Boney admits. "But we shouldn't change the genitals because we just don't know if the child will want them later."

Cheryl, Max, Angela and Kristi did want their genitals later. And while Carl is too shy and uncertain to reveal in an interview whether he lost any physical parts, he says that the changes his treatment did to his body have made it very difficult for him to ever be the woman he wants to be. "It would be very, very hard for me to change now," he says. "I would have to get a new job. I would have to move."

All five of these intersexed people can see how life might have been better for them had their parents and doctors made the choice not to choose at all. That is what makes it so hard for them to accept the consequences now.

"I would have preferred to stay in between or to be a girl until I was old enough to determine what I wanted in life. I would have avoided a lot of problems that way," Carl says.

Although intersexuality will always be painful, Cheryl hopes to make it less devastating. In short, Cheryl wants to shift from Carl's parents' mantra of "families first" to a new slogan of "individuals first." She has no mercy for anyone who is not willing to abide by that new rule.

"Parents often want doctors to make it go away with surgery. But this option shouldn't be offered," she declares. "Parents who can't love their child without plastic surgery should be encouraged to give the child to someone else."

Cheryl believes that soon, genital surgery on infants will be considered despicable and cruel rather than routine. If an intersexed person decides later to have genital surgery, she can make an informed decision herself, Cheryl says. Meanwhile, doctors can assign a temporary gender without surgery, based on medical tests and physical appearance, with the understanding that the child may wish to transition to the opposite gender later in life. (Interestingly, the ISNA does not support any attempt to break down the binary system of gender and allow for a "third sex." It calls such a designation impractical and arbitrary.)

But not everyone-even those who work with intersexed people-believes that surgery is necessarily inherently evil. "The ISNA is particularly unhappy about the surgeries. But this is a skewed population. That's why those people join the ISNA, because they are upset," says Rosario, the UCLA sexologist and child psychiatrist. While some ISNA members hope that intersexed children will be allowed to make their own decisions about genital surgery once they reach adolescence, Rosario is unsure that intersexed teenagers can make decisions any better than their parents can.

"Teenagers are freaking out about pimples-how can they even begin to think about correcting their genitalia?" he says. Still, the ISNA's propositions are gradually gathering support. Last year Dreger, Boney, Gruppuso, McKenna and others joined with Cheryl in forming NATFI: the North American Task Force on Intersexuality. This organization hopes to put some of the ISNA's ideas into practice through education and medical reform.

The process is slow. Many physicians have never even considered that what they are doing could be wrong. And many parents feel desperate to "fix" their children. Gruppuso no longer recommends surgery for intersex births, but he is still in a minority. "[Parents] will always be able to find a surgeon who will be willing to operate," he says.

In light of these obstacles, Yale historical bioethicist Susan Lederer advocates a more conservative approach to reform. She would emphasize parental education with the support of intersex patient advocacy groups, but would stop short of banning parental consent to surgery. "Parents should not be making decisions in a vacuum," she says.

Rosario would encourage children and their parents to make decisions together sometime before adolescence. But even that is a hard demand to meet. Not every family is secure enough in its own relationships to make such a difficult decision together.

Take Carl's family. When he was an adolescent, his parents were still making decisions for him-and he didn't know how to object. "They said, 'It's medicine, take my word for it, it's good for you,'" he says of the mystery pills that he took for years. He shrugs and giggles again, a shrill giggle of pure helplessness. "What could I do? I took it."

The ISNA dreams of the day that the pain of being intersexed will subside. But that day could be very far off. Even if infant genital surgery were ended, the perceptions not only of doctors, but of parents, other children and the world would have to change before most intersexed children could feel comfortable looking the way they do and being who they are. It's nice to believe in the dream that children whom nature refused to fit into our binary categories of male and female can be welcomed in our binary world. The dream may never come true.

Carl does not even dare to dream. His world is far away from the academic and political debate. It is a world of tough guys and feminine women, a world where he believes that being "normal" is not just desirable; it is a necessity.

"Sometimes the world is just not an understanding place," Carl says, explaining his intense fear of speaking openly about his condition. Still, his eyes glow with hope when he learns of the ISNA.

"You mean this isn't uncommon? These people can help me?" he asks. His face breaks into a smile and he does not giggle.

"Maybe it's not too late to be female," he says.

Snipping and Building

Doctors have a list of standards according to which they determine the "normality" of a newborn's genitalia. To pass inspection as a normal boy, for example, a baby must have a phallus longer than 2 centimeters (about 1 inch), with a urethra opening at the tip (rather than on the side or base of the penis) that releases urine, and a scrotum that contains testes. If the penis is significantly smaller than 2 centimeters-at which point it is termed a "micropenis"-the baby may be reassigned a female, even if he has testes.

This is especially the case if the urethra does not open at the tip of the phallus, a condition known as hypospadias.

"If a baby has hypospadias, the urinary function will not be the same as other males," says Dr. Aydin Arici, a Yale-New Haven Hospital obstretrician and gynecologist who specializes in reproductive endocrinology, explaining why male babies with such a condition might be reassigned. "For example, that individual will not be able to urinate standing up." If the penis is much smaller than 2 centimeters, doctors claim that later sexual performance will be compromised.

A clitoris longer than 1 centimeter, on the other hand, is considered unacceptably enlarged, and is shaved down purely for purposes of looking normal, even though many intersexed individuals find that the large size enhances sexual performance and sensation.

"There is a huge element of sexism here: Sexual function is important to be a male; reproductive function is important to be a female," says Dr. Charlotte Boney, a pediatric endocrinologist at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

Appearance is not the only factor used in sex assignment-many laboratory tests are also done to determine the child's genetics and potential for fertility. But once an assignment is made, the parents are usually informed that the child was "meant to be" that sex and that surgery must be performed to ensure that nature's supposed wish is fulfilled.

In the vast majority of cases of significant ambiguity, however, a female assignment is made-mostly for the sake of medical expediency. "It's easier to dig a hole than to build a pole," one activist quotes some doctors as saying.

When doctors make a female sex assignment, they remove testes, if present, and cut the phallus down to a "normal-sized" clitoris by a technique called clitoral recession, which attempts to preserve sensation by saving certain nerves and blood vessels. Pure clitorectomies, though common 30 years ago, are rarely performed today. It is uncertain whether the change really preserves later sexual function; activists with the Intersex Society of North American claim that it does not.

A vaginoplasty may be performed later in the child's life. Tissue from the child's colon is transplanted and fashioned into an artificial vagina that is capable of acting as a receptacle for a penis. The vagina must be dilated either through regular intercourse or with an artificial dilator up to several times a day, sometimes for years, to ensure that it remains open.

Doctors usually don't perform vaginoplasties until the child reaches adolescence, but they are sometimes performed at young ages, requiring parents to perform the dilations on their children-an act that would normally be considered sexual abuse.

If doctors make a male assignment, they surgically repair hypospadias conditions and may remove the testes if they are undescended (i.e., inside the body instead of in the scrotum), sentencing the child to a lifetime of hormone treatments. They may repair the scrotum to make it look more normal as well.

The Science of Intersexuality

The terms "intersexuality" or "hermaphroditism" refer to a wide variety of different medical conditions, all of which can lead to anomalies in external genitalia. When an intersexed child is born, doctors' first priority is to discover the underlying medical condition. While intersexed genitalia themselves are rarely dangerous, some of the disorders that cause them can be fatal. Intersexed activists agree with physicians that these conditions must be immediately treated, even if surgery is involved.

An important principle in understanding intersexuality is that male and female genitalia form from the same primary structures during the development of the fetus. The hormones in our bodies, released by our gonads (ovaries or testes), cause those structures to develop differently. This holds for both our internal genitalia (the uterus, Fallopian tubes and cervix in the female and the semen-producing and semen-carrying structures in the male) and our external genitalia. The clitoris and the phallus develop from the same initial structure, as do the labia and scrotum.

The gonads also start out the same, but in males are differentiated into testes by a signal from the Y chromosome. A female developmental pattern, including the development of ovaries and then internal and external genitalia, is a developmental default: Femaleness occurs because of a lack of maleness.

When hormone levels or signals are altered, mixed development can occur, resulting in an intersexed condition. These are among the most common:

* Female pseudohermaphroditism: A genetically female (XX) child is exposed to excess androgens in utero. This results is an otherwise normal, fertile female whose clitoris is large enough that it could be interpreted as a phallus, and whose labia may resemble an empty scrotum. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, or CAH, is the most common F.P. condition and also the most dangerous. It involves a salt imbalance that can be fatal. Medication can control the CAH while leaving the genitals intact.

* Male pseudohermaphroditism: A genetically male (XY) child is deprived of androgens in utero. This results in a child who may appear entirely female or may look male but have a small penis and some genital ambiguity. Adult M.P.s are sterile. Based on what Carl (see main story) knows about his symptoms and treatment, it seems likely that he has this condition, although he also could have CAH. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS-also called Testicular Feminization Syndrome-is an acute form in which the infant appears unambiguously female, with the potential for masculinization at puberty. Angela (see main story) has this condition. Women with AIS have internal testes and no uterus and are infertile, but can otherwise appear and feel like normal females for their entire lives. Internal testes impose a high risk of cancer and are usually removed, but the enlarged clitoris that Angela developed poses no health risk. Five-alpha reductase deficiency is another M.P. condition with a similar physical condition but a higher rate of masculinizing at puberty.

* True hermaphroditism: This child usually has a mixture of XY and XX or XO cells (XO means a cell has only one sex chromosome instead of the usual two). Cheryl and Max (see main story) have this condition. These individuals' gonads often (but not always) have both ovarian and testicular tissue, and external genitalia are mixed to different degrees depending on the case. -K.A.M.

Raising an Intersexed Child

"It was emotionally as if I had twins."

When doctors told Debbie Hartman that her son was actually a daughter, she was devastated. After giving birth two months earlier, she had already bonded with a son, whom she named Kyle. But when two sets of experts agreed that her child would be "better off raised as a girl," she felt she had to agree. Doctors convinced her to consent to genital surgery, and, terrified, Debbie signed the papers. At seven weeks she sent Kyle into the operating room for his transition into Kelli.

"They both went into surgery and only one came out. It was as if Kyle had died, but thank God I had Kelli," she says. Seven years later, Debbie is angry. She has joined forces with the Intersex Society of North America to add a fresh perspective to their fight: the parent's view. "I don't know if I'm comfortable that the doctors made the right decision," she says.

While most parents of intersexed children hide from their children's condition, Debbie is eager to talk about it. "I want to be honest with Kelli. If enough people do that, maybe it won't be a big secret anymore."

When Kelli was born, Debbie says, doctors told her that no one else was experiencing what she was experiencing. She wants to make sure that parents no longer feel that way when they give birth to an intersexed child. With community support, Debbie also hopes that parents won't be pressured into surgery the way she was.

Kelli is not an unhappy child, but the traumas associated with her surgical interventions have had a lasting effect, despite her mother's best efforts. Debbie notes that Kelli often expresses a wish that she were a boy. "I know that there's a chance that Kelli would say, 'Why did you let them cut it off,'" she says. "I think there's a big chance she might end up identifying as male." Kelli has also suffered from the treatment associated with the vaginoplasty that was performed, at doctors' urgings, at the age of only 2 1/2. Debbie had to dilate her daughter with a long tube three times a day, causing trauma both to herself and to Kelli. "She was not verbal yet, but she hated it. My mom would have to lie across her torso while I was doing it," Debbie says. Doctors had told her that doing the vaginoplasty early would actually save Kelli from remembering any of the trauma associated with it. But just a few weeks ago, Kelli asked Debbie the question she had been dreading.

"She asked me, 'Why did you stick that thing down there?'" Debbie says. "It was the first time that I could see her bothered emotionally by what had happened."

Katherine A. Mason writes for the New Haven Advocate, where this article first appeared.

Separation of Church and Scouts

Dave Trull is a man on the brink. After 18 years as scoutmaster of the Boy Scout troop he grew up in, the troop in which he earned his Eagle badge, Trull sees a longstanding Scouting relationship on the verge of a very unhappy ending. It's tearing him up. And it's all because of the Boy Scouts' national ban on gay Scouts and leaders.

"I'm trying not to take it personally," he says. But "of course you do. I'm hoping that ... they'll measure their disapproval with some temperance and tolerance, and say, 'Some things we're gonna do because it's good for the youth.'"

Trull isn't gay. It's not the Boy Scouts of America that will soon decide whether to sever ties with him. It's the Unitarian Society of Fairhaven, Mass. -- the church that has sponsored Trull's Troop 55 for nearly 60 years.

Across the country, congregations and families are wrestling with the clash between their egalitarian religious values and their attachment to the Boy Scouts. The clash became clearer in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it's OK for the Scouts to discriminate. But how to resolve the moral conflict is not so clear to many who are wrestling with it. So while the Fairhaven congregation and another Boston-area Unitarian church will probably kick their Scouts out unless the local Scout leaders sign nondiscrimination pledges, other congregations have decided to let their troops stay, at least for now.

Church leaders praise Trull's hard work and integrity. "He's a wonderful person," says past president Debbie Mitchell, who has spent two years trying to salvage the relationship. "I'm very certain he would never discriminate against anyone. However, he doesn't really have the backing of the Boy Scouts."

So, after years of soul-searching and intense negotiations, Mitchell has decided she can no longer abide BSA's discrimination. She believes her 200-member congregation will agree when it comes to a vote in January -- although she's not sure.

"I think because there's tremendous history and tradition, people feel somehow there'll be a miracle resolution," Mitchell says.

"There are people in the church who say, 'Why are we pushing this? This isn't what the church is about,'" adds the interim minister, Judith Downing. "It is what the church is about. We're not living our faith."

Hate-mongers like "Dr." Laura cite Bible verses to prop up their claim that homosexuality is sinful. But there's another view on homosexuality -- another religious view, another Judeo-Christian view. In that view, we are all created in God's image. We all have equal intrinsic value, a gift from our creator. Sexual orientation -- which, according to most current scientific thinking, is largely influenced by genetics -- has no bearing on our worth as human beings or as religious people. Or as Boy Scouts or scoutmasters.

For Mitchell and Downing, the Scouts' ban on gays isn't simply a matter of civil rights -- accent on civil. It's also a matter of deeply held religious conviction. Theirs is a Welcoming Congregation -- one that has formally declared itself open to all, regardless of sexual orientation. The civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s was rooted in Judeo-Christian ideals of universal love, respect and freedom. For some people, so are gay rights.

Which Side Are You On?

The fledgling churches-vs.-Scouts struggle raises many of the same questions as have the struggles for gay rights within mainstream Protestant denominations themselves.

Does anti-gay discrimination outweigh the overall good of an institution that means so much to so many -- including gay people?

Which is more important: an autocratic but distant national body, or the good work of a local organization that tacitly ignores the offending national policy (as many Scout troops do)?

Does principle require breaking with a discriminatory organization, or is it equally principled to fight for change from within?

Then there's the tactical question: Which is more effective, pressure from within or pressure from outside?

People don't always answer these questions the way you might expect. At this point, even in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the majority opinion -- even among some gay Scouts and ex-Scouts -- seems to be to stick with it and work for change.

Unitarians are in the forefront of this brewing battle, spurred by a years-old dispute between their national organization and the Texas-based Boy Scouts of America. But they're not alone.

The national Episcopal Church this summer passed a resolution urging congregations to "dialogue" with local Scout leaders on the issue. The United Church of Christ asked BSA years ago to drop its ban, and now some UCC churches are re-examining their Scouting ties. The United Methodist Church, which sponsors more Scouts than any other religious denomination, is split right down the middle: Its men's group backed BSA in the Supreme Court case. Its board of church and society supported the ex-assistant Scoutmaster who was kicked out for being gay and sued to be reinstated. So did Judaism's Reform and Reconstructionist movements and a national Quaker organization. Just last month in Minnesota, an Episcopal school dropped its Boy Scout troop sponsorship and a rabbi preached against the Scout policy in his Rosh Hashanah sermon. Scouting for All, a national organization dedicated to ending the Boy Scouts' discrimination, has the support of a number of religious organizations.

The number of UU-sponsored Boy Scout troops is tiny -- no more than 30 across the country, by most estimates. Even Episcopal and UCC congregations account for only about 1,400 Scout units and some 50,000 Scouts per denomination, according to 1998 statistics on an unofficial but comprehensive gays-and-Scouting Web site (www.sir.home.texas.net). And BSA has some heavy-hitting religious denominations on its side -- especially the Mormon and Catholic churches, which between them sponsored more than 760,000 Scouts in about 41,000 units in 1998. The Mormon church has said it will pull out of Scouting if BSA changes its policy.

Still, because Scouting is so intertwined with churches -- religious organizations sponsored 55 percent of Scouts and 61 percent of units in '98 -- the pressure of liberal and moderate denominations could start to add up.

Jef Reilly, a Dallas public relations professional hired as a BSA spokesman, sounds unconcerned about losing liberal church sponsors. "We'd love to have an amiable situation with all churches," he says. "But we respect the churches' right to associate or disassociate with whichever organizations they choose. We're seeing a lot of the traditional families supporting us."

While the national leaders spar, individual congregations and families across the country are trying to figure out what to do. Here are some of their stories.

"Time for a Change"

The scout troop is not just another building user; it is part and parcel of the church organization. The Supreme Court has ruled that the BSA may discriminate as it is a 'private religious organization.' This is just appearing more and more as an irreconciliable difference in the values of two private religious organizations. Isn't it time for a change?

It wasn't someone from the Unitarian Society of Fairhaven who wrote that message. But it might have been. The message was posted on UU-Scouting, an e-mail listserve devoted to discussion of the fit and discomfiture between Unitarian Universalism -- UUism, as its practitioners call it -- and the Boy Scouts. Much of the discussion revolves around the Scouts' ban on gays.

It's no surprise that UUs are the first mainstream religious group to come into open conflict with the Boy Scouts of America. A self-described "liberal religion" with "historical roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions," Unitarian Universalism has no creed, or statement of required belief, and each of its 1,050 congregations is self-governing. "We believe that ... religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves," says the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Boston-based national organization. North America's 217,000 UUs include not only Christians but Jews and Buddhists, agnostics and atheists.

As in many other religions, Unitarian Universalist Scouts can earn an emblem, similar to a merit badge, awarded by the church. In 1998, BSA decided to stop recognizing the Religion in Life emblem. The reason: The manual that accompanies the emblem criticizes Scouting's anti-gay policy as well as the requirement for Scouts to pledge loyalty to God.

The author of the "time for a change" message belongs to a UU church outside Boston that has chartered a Cub Scout pack for 20 years. But probably not much longer, says this person, who asks that he and his church not be named because, for now, "we consider this a private matter that we're trying to resolve internally."

The Cub pack's charter, a standard BSA document, says that the pack and the chartering organization -- the church -- agree to follow each other's policies. "It's a dead conflict," says the church member in an interview. He sits on a church committee working on the issue.

His is a Welcoming Congregation with an active gay and lesbian presence, including an openly gay assistant minister whose duties would include interacting with the Cub Scout pack. Some congregation members moved there specifically because they heard about the church's welcoming stance. The congregation also includes "many lifelong Scouters," he says.

"This isn't just a theoretical issue. It hits people in the gut." A meeting early this month, at which the whole congregation considered the conflict, "was like sitting shiva," he says. "People were grieving."

"The tragedy here," he says, "is that there is no evidence of discrimination in the local organization. But we're not chartering with the local organization. We have to charter with the Boy Scouts of America."

The committee's recommendation -- on which the congregation will vote Nov. 5 -- is to return the unsigned charter to the Cub Scout leaders along with a copy of the church's Welcoming Congregation statement. If the Scout leaders are willing to sign that document, the church would continue to support the pack.

Even that position is a compromise. Four of the nine committee members, including him, "want nothing further to do with the Scouts," he says. And there's no sentiment for signing the charter: "It would be like signing a contract you plan to violate." The pack leaders are already making alternative plans, he says. And the church is in the "preliminary stages" of exploring a relationship with the Campfire Association, a coed youth organization that doesn't discriminate.

That doesn't mean the pain will end now, the committee member says. "We need to do some pastoral work with some of our members who feel hurt by" dissolving the Scouting relationship. "And with some of our gay and lesbian members who feel we shouldn't even be discussing this -- that we've moved beyond it."

The Iron Fist

The Scout Oath and Law is ostensibly the basis for BSA's ban on gay Scouts and leaders. Among other things, a Scout who pledges the oath and law promises to keep himself "morally straight" and "clean." BSA argued in the Supreme Court case Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale that those terms preclude homosexuality. BSA also contends that "avowed homosexuals" are not "good role models for the traditional family values that [are] part of our program," in the words of Reilly, the BSA spokesman.

Obviously, the definitions of "clean" and "morally straight" are open to interpretation. A handful of local Scout organizations around the country have publicly rejected BSA's interpretation. So far, they -- unlike the openly gay Scouts and leaders who've been kicked out -- have apparently suffered no consequences.

For example:

Troop 260 of San Jose, Calif., adopted an inclusiveness policy in 1991: "We do not agree that sexual orientation such as male or female homosexuality is immoral. Sexual preference is a private issue. We don't believe it to be relevant in the selection of adult leaders or in the awarding of the Eagle Scout rank." Although BSA initially threatened ("I'd call it a promise") to revoke the troop's charter, nothing has happened, says Troop Committee Chairman Michael Cahn.

The troop is chartered by a Lutheran church, which "very strongly supported our position," Cahn says. In fact, before the troop adopted the inclusiveness statement, "A lot of people at the church would have liked to make us go away because of the Scouts' homophobic position." That's not what prompted the statement, though -- the troop addressed the issue on its own.

BSA spokesman Reilly says he's not familiar with the situation.

In Berkeley, parent leaders of Cub Scout Pack 30 have also declared their disagreement with BSA policy. In a September parade, they marched with a banner reading "Berkeley Scout Parents Say NO to Homophobia." The pack is chartered by Epworth United Methodist Church, "a Reconciling Congregation with an inclusive, non-discriminatory ministry," says Cubmaster and church lay leader Karl Georgi.

The parade was "the most open statement we've made" opposing BSA policy, Georgi says. "We're basically escalating it along with the national organization." He's heard nothing in the way of disapproval or reprisal from BSA.

In Piedmont, Calif., the nation's smallest Boy Scout council this month became the first to announce its opposition to the national policy. The Oakland Tribune quoted a BSA spokesman as saying national leaders would have to study the Piedmont Council's position before deciding how to respond.

In general, Reilly tries to downplay the growing opposition from Boy Scout ranks. Asked about what happens to troops or councils that openly disagree, he says only: "That issue will be discussed between the local executives and the area directors for the councils. And since this isn't a widespread thing, there really isn't any precedent."

That's not to say dissent is consequence-free. A United Church of Christ congregation in Petaluma, Calif., applied for a charter for a new Boy Scout troop. The proposed scoutmaster: Scott Cozza, co-founder of Scouting for All. BSA denied the charter application.

On a quieter level, many Scout troops and councils basically ignore the national discrimination policy, and just don't talk about it. For some liberal churches, that's good enough -- at least for now.

Guerrilla Tactics

First, we should work hard to get them cut off from United Way, which is a huge funding source. ... Second, is to work from the international fora. ... Many countries with Scouting are much more liberal and accepting of homosexuality than the U.S.

We are planning a little guerrilla warfare. ... This year, for example, we will give money only to the local pack. None of my money -- or cash from our sons' fundraising -- will leave town. If the council asks why, I will he happy to tell them. I have told them that I will not be doing any more recruiting in the schools. And my oldest son -- who "graduates" to Boy Scouts next spring -- has already told me ... he doesn't want to go to a group that discriminates.

I believe that the best course of action is to work towards the revocation of the BSA's Congressional Charter which grants them in the United States, a monopoly on terms such as "Scouting."


As these posts from the UU-Scouting list illustrate, there's no consensus on how best to pressure BSA for change -- or even whether that's better than creating an alternative scouting organization that wouldn't discriminate. Many people seem to agree, though, on an interim solution: Let each troop or local council decide for itself whether it wants to discriminate. In fact, many people believe that's already the de facto policy, as long as nobody makes too much noise about bucking the national decree.

In the longer term, the Boy Scouts face a choice: Catch up with what's becoming mainstream public opinion and learn to live with gays in their midst, or drop out of the mainstream. The Girl Scouts of America don't officially discriminate against lesbians (or gay men, for that matter). Nor do the Boy Scouts of Canada, which recently chartered an explicitly gay troop.

The Supreme Court decision permitting BSA to discriminate has sparked a backlash among churches, United Way agencies, public schools and local governments. That, in turn, is prompting a counter-backlash among conservative and homophobic groups.

"Conservative individuals and groups are rallying around BSA in support of their discriminatory practices," wrote one UU-Scouting correspondent. "Does continued participation in scouting indicate to the community at large at least tacit support of BSA's intolerant policies?"

To which another responded: "Let the religious zealots form their own Youth Program of Hate and Intolerance and leave the BSA to the rest of us."

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