The Geography of Love (and Hate)

FT-130404-HRC.png.CROP.original-originalThe Human Rights Campaign (HRC) created an image of a pink equal sign on a red background to signify support for gay marriage as the Supreme Court began meeting to consider the future of same-sex marriage in the U.S. The image was promoted by HRC in a variety of ways, martha-equal-cakeand if your friend group is anything like mine, you probably saw facebook go red around the end of March in 2013. The meme took on a variety fo different forms, but the HRC image was the foundation. Martha Stewart’s iteration was my personal favorite (the red velvet cake to the right).

HRC

Facebook noticed the trend too. But can we measure support for same-sex marriage with facebook profile pictures? Not exactly. Millions of U.S. facebookers change their profile picture on any given day. Heck, I have a few friends overly fond of selfies who change their profile pictures more than once a day. But, on Tuesday, March 26th—one day after HRC started the campaign urging people to change their profile pictures—2.7 million more Americans changed their profile pictures than normal. This is about 120% more than normal. Facebook was able to show that there was a strong correlation between this increase and the specific time that HRC started asking facebook users to change their profile pictures. They also showed that facebook profile picture updates were more likely among younger Americans (under 40 years old).

same-sex marriage supportThis is consistent with demographic data on shifts in American opinions about same-sex marriage and sexual equality more generally. For instance, a recent report released by the Pew Center documented that about 50% of Americans favor the legalization of same-sex marriage. But this conceals generational discrepancies in support like the fact that 70% of individuals born after 1980 favor same-sex marriage compared with less than 40% of baby boomers.

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Exodus International: Are Chambers’ Anti-Gay Politics Changing?

Exodus International is one of the most powerful forces in the ex-gay movement–a movement aimed at “healing” homosexuals through Christian doctrine, prayer, and “therapy.”*  Similar to the ways that certain groups of Christians promoted teaching “intelligent design” in schools alongside the theory of evolution, parts of the Christian Right have used the claim that homosexuality is not innate to contest legal protections for lesbians and gay men.  The ex-gay movement goes a step further, however, and argues that if homosexuality is not innate then what’s stopping people from ridding themselves of “it.”  Through prayer, ex-gay camps, and therapies designed to “help” gay men and lesbian women (through “sexual reorientation”) lead “normal,” “healthy,” heterosexual  lives, Exodus International–and the many movements with similar tactics and tenets–is a group that has long sought the “cure” to homosexuality through “reparative therapy.”  This is significant, as Robinson and Spivey (2007) note, as “Today, nearly every major Christian Right organization uses the existence of ex-gays to argue that homosexuals can change.  This notion is fundamental to their argument that unlike legal protections based on immutable traits such as race or sex, those based on sexual orientation are unnecessary” (here: 651).

The president of Exodus International, Alan Chambers, recently publicly challenged some of Exodus’ core practices, including questioning whether “sexual orientation change” is truly helpful or even possible (see here for the NYT summary of the alleged “rift in the movement”).  Chambers has been spokesperson for the group as well as president and stated that despite leaving a gay life to marry a woman and have children, he still struggles to “avoid sin,” but also believes that he—and others like him—should not be made afraid to admit this.  In earlier interviews, Chambers had been increasingly hesitant to make a claim surrounding the success of conversion therapies.  Part of this has led Chambers to reject the previous Exodus slogan, “Change is Possible!” (see here for a long panel discussion addressing this among other issues).**

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