The late French philosopher Michel Foucault provides a larger frame to help understand the Sally Kern media frenzy, which began when an audio recording of the Republican legislator’s confused and archaic ideas about gay people began circulating on the Internet.
By now, everyone knows Kern, pictured right, a state Representative in Oklahoma City, was recorded at a Republican gathering in which she equated gay people with terrorists and essentially blamed a mythical homosexual agenda for destroying the nation. Her comments were met with protest and outrage by people in Oklahoma and across the world, and this is where Foucault ideas about sexuality are so important.
Foucault would surely argue the “reverse” discourse to Kern’s predictable, religious-laced comments represents the vital component of the sexual orientation “dialogue” that commenced soon after the recording was made public by Victory, a gay rights organization. Sally Kern’s speech, if given in 1950 or maybe even in 1980, would not have even registered. Yet the reverse discourse, as defined by Foucault, shows the deepening social and cultural transformation of our twenty-first century culture, which, despite Sally Kern and her petty speeches, is becoming exceedingly more tolerant of gay people.
In his work, The History of Sexuality, Foucault argues that official aspects of nineteenth-century culture categorized homosexuality in mostly negative terms, as “perversity,” but this new discourse also opened the way for homosexuality to “speak for itself.”
Foucault writes, “The appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion, pederasty, and ‘psychic hermaphroditism’ made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of "perversity"; but it also made possible the formation of a "reverse" discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or ‘naturality’ be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified.”
Kern gave her speech equating gay people to terrorists to about 50 Republicans, according to media reports. She claims she did not know someone was recording her, and she has said she does not care. The legislator, who is married to a Baptist minister, also will not apologize for her comments, and she continues to insist her comments were somehow taken out of context. She has received support from fellow Republican legislators and conservative political groups. She appeared on a local television show to argue her points. A conservative group plans a rally today on her behalf.
But those who spoke out against Kern’s comments surely can sense the power behind their unified response. Local television stations covered the Kern protests. Progressive bloggers spoke out here and across the country in unison, and their blogs were filled with outraged comments. The Daily Oklahoman, the most conservative newspaper in the country, even called Kern’s comments “wrong” in an editorial. Later, the newspaper called Kern a “one-trick pony.” The Oklahoma Democratic Party announced a candidate, Ron Marlett, would run against Kern in the upcoming November elections. A local political group, Equal Rights Project, was formed in response to her comments.
Meanwhile, response on the national level was simply staggering. The initial audio recording was later turned into a video. It appeared on the Victory site and YouTube and was heard by more than a million people. (Compare this to the 50 people or so at the gathering where Kern spoke.) On her show one day, television star and comedian Ellen Degeneres actually called Kern’s legislative office trying to speak to her. Web sites across the country relentlessly pounced on Kern’s comments.
The signs are everywhere that tolerance for gay people is increasing in this country. A growing number of television shows and movies routinely contain sympathetic depictions of gay people. Many companies now offer insurance benefits to same sex partners of their employees. Increasingly, gay couples adopt children. Massachusetts recognized same sex marriages in 2004, and several states have civil union laws that offer marriage rights and responsibilities to gay couples. Local leaders, such as state Rep. Al McAffrey and Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth, break stereotypes and help forge a new tolerant reality.
Sally Kern’s petty comments cannot stop this cultural and social transformation.
Here's the link to the above video.
We can only hope state Rep. Sally Kern’s latest documented rant means the end of the political vitriol aimed at gay people in this state.
Unfortunately, corporate media outlets here—led by the right-wing The Daily Oklahoman—continue to support politicians who use gay people as scapegoats to win the radical, right-wing religious vote in this state. As long as this dynamic continues, as long as the newspaper’s top editors support these politicians, the Kerns, Coburns and Inhofes will dominate the public dialogue about gay rights.
Kern, a Republican representative from Oklahoma City, was taped recently giving a speech in which she compares gay people to terrorists. She said gay people represent the biggest threat to America these days. Here is the audio file. Listen for yourself. The tape has sparked a national outcry from gay and lesbian groups and rational people throughout the world.
Kern, who is married to a Baptist minister, validates the Oklahoma radical right-wing religious folks. Even as her tape became public, she was pushing to pass legislation that would allow students to express religious views at schools even if not applicable to coursework and assignments. The bill she pushes is another attempt some say to bring creationism into schools and challenge established scientific principles. (Read my recent article in the Oklahoma Gazette.)
But do not ask The Oklahoman for any real help on the issue. This is the newspaper’s lame editorial response to the Kern debacle. Here is the telling paragraph in the editorial: "Kern has been bombarded with e-mails and phone messages, many of them hateful and ugly. But she's offered no apology, saying she was talking about gay activists who target conservative Republicans. (Those activists, it should be noted, often resort to similarly extreme and incendiary arguments, usually without recrimination.)" See, according to the newspaper, we should "note" all those terrible gay activists fighting discrimination and bigotry, people like television star Ellen DeGeneres, who tried to call Kern to talk to her about about the issue.
Sadly, Kern’s crusade—turning public schools into theocratic fortresses and inciting hatred against gay people—continues to win support throughout the state. Gov. Brad Henry, the most popular governor in the state’s history, says Oklahomans are tolerant, but how can they be tolerant when only the ultra-conservative view of reality is given space on the editorial page of the state’s largest newspaper?
Oklahoma, without a doubt, is in a time warp, NBA team or not.
Think back at Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett’s positions on gay people as he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress, or what about U.S. Senators Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe? These are the little darlings of The Oklahoman. Certainly, The Oklahoman in recent years has supported openly gay politicians, such as Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth, and has opposed religious intrusion in schools, but it is simply not enough.
What about supporting an ouster movement against Kern? What about refusing to support the candidacy of Inhofe, 73, the gay-bashing curmudgeon running for re-election against a progressive Democrat, state Sen. Andrew Rice?
As true as red dirt, Oklahomans will continue to vote ugly, hateful politicians into office as long as corporate media outlets here explicitly and implicitly sanction their actions.