Cowardly HuffPo Gay Blogger Thinks Hillary Should STFU About LGBT Rights At The U.N.

Just a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a historic and rather ballsy speech to the United Nations calling for the humane treatment of LGBT citizens worldwide, Jim Downs, Assistant Professor of History and American Studies at Connecticut College wrote an article at The Huffington Post Gay Voice entitled, “Hillary Clinton Is Not Helping the Gay Civil Rights Movement.” In the article, Downs basically says that because Clinton’s speech has endangered LGBTs around the world because it revved up the anti-gay right; he basically suggests that she never should have made it. As one commenter notes, by that rational, Martin Luther King should never have made the “I Have A Dream” speech, because it angered racists.

Before we pile onto him, let us say this: Downs’ article makes good points about how many same-sex loving cultures don’t identify themselves as “gay” and that Clinton’s speech comes at a time when the U.S. continues to abuse and mistreat its own LGBT citizens. But the good parts of his article basically end there. The history professor’s biggest beef with the speech is that he worries it basically reconfirms the foreign conception that homosexuality is a Western export and that Clinton’s speech suddenly injected gay issues into the 2012 elections (as if):

Actually, being gay is a Western invention. Homosexuality has a long history that begins in the West. Cultures throughout the world may have had people who have over time engaged in same-sex sex but that’s different from the historical categorization of “being gay.” People only started “being gay” about a century ago. Prior to that, men may have had sex with men, and women may have had sex with women, but that was not being gay—that was sex and sometimes love. Gay is an identity that came into fashion at the turn of the twentieth century in the West. Today, there is not a single definition for “being gay” even in the United States, let alone throughout the world. In the United States, what it means to be gay in New York City is very different from what it means to be gay in Pierre, South Dakota. Same-sex sex is different from “being gay.” Take, for example, in the United States the notion of being on the “down low,” refers to men who live “heterosexual lives,” but also have sex with men. They don’t call themselves “gay,” neither do the thousands of men who visit porn and Internet hookup sites, who are looking for sex with “straight jocks.”

This is all to say that while Clinton wants to do the right thing and make a noble statement about people being beaten and tortured for their sexual choices, she invariably and unwittingly propagates many contradictions and posits a familiar strand of American cultural imperialism…

Re-enter Rick Perry. Throughout his attack on the Obama administration, he consistently refers to gay people as a “lifestyle.” What is in a word? Nothing if you are not in that “lifestyle,” but everything if you are. Clinton’s clumsy language enables Perry to get even clumsier. It also allows him to open the door and let the religious right and the Tea Party loose on gay people. Clinton is worried about violence against gays abroad, but how does Perry’s language provoke the religious right to launch a crusade against “gay” Americans at home? Perry exclaims, “Investing tax dollars to promote a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.” In the stroke of a sentence, Perry calls on Tea Party advocates with his references to “tax dollars” and he summons the religious right with his reference to “faith.” All of which ends up with both groups tying gay people to the whipping posts in a symbolic gesture to broaden the Republican base. Put another, gay people once again reenter the election season as a political football in order to rally the right against the left.

So basically, Downs wanted Clinton to spend her time at the U.N. discussing semantics instead of using language that’s pretty much universally accepted to refer to people who experience same-sex attraction. He has also apparently been living under a rock and is under the impression that until yesterday the Republicans, Rick Perry and the religious right had stopped political attacks on LGBTs. Right…

Luckily, John Aravosis quickly responded to call Downs out on his crap:

Gay people have existed in the historical record since possibly as early as 9000 BC. Why in a million years would anyone want to say otherwise, especially knowing that this notion of “being gay is a Western invention” is exactly the kind of argument African legislators and dictators are using to justify the incarceration, torture and murder of their own gay and trans people?…

And I’m not even going to touch the “American cultural imperialism” crap. She was staking out the most pro-gay position ever promoted by an American administration in the most public way ever. And she was trying to help some poor gay kids in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Nigeria not get hanged, or worse, for being gay. Under Downs’ definition, all human rights must be cultural imperialism, since per se one country is telling another how to live. And as I recall, that in fact is the definition the Soviets and the Communist Chinese prefer(red), for obvious reasons…

Any time anyone does anything pro-gay you’d better believe the religious right is going to strike back. But that’s hardly a justification for not doing anything at all. They’re going to hate us, and beat on us, regardless of whether we fight for our rights. So we might as well.

LGBT blogger Alvin McEwen summed up the problem with Downs more succinctly: “Downs is way off base in his piece and whether he realizes it or not, he is causing more harm than Clinton’s speech. She told us that we are human beings. He is telling us that we should be cowards.”


We’re gonna give Professor Downs the benefit of the doubt and simply assume that he was trying to write a counter-intuitive response to Clinton’s laudable speech in an earnest attempt to generate critical discussion about American gay issues and queer identity around the world. But his article ends up nothing more than an academic exercise, deconstructing an idea without offering any alternative—something far worse than actually standing up for the right thing, consequences be damned.

Image via Connecticut College

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  • suzygoo

    Well-behaved Women rarely make history” -Laurel Thatcher. Hillary You Go Girl!

  • Mark

    cute but ignorant.

  • Mike in Asheville

    My grandmother lectured at Columbia, who knew that their standards had fallen to such low levels. Really, this guy “earned” a PhD from Columbia in history, and yet spews such ridiculous statements that living a gay lifestyle is but a century in the making and backs his lesson in history by pointing out the obviousness that being gay in NYC is different from being gay in Pierre.

    From Alexander the Great preceded Christ by 3 centuries and Walt Whitman published “Leaves of Grass” before the American Civil War. Long before the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth, multiple Native American tribes had gay couples living together and raising children and there are several references where the Catholic Church sanctioned gay relationships through the 3rd Century.

    And note to the obvious, its a lot different being Chinese in NYC and being Chinese in Pierre too.


    I’ll take the teachings of Edmund Burke over Prof. Downs: “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men (ie., Secretary Clinton, too) to do nothing.”

    Clinton wants good to prevail over evil; Downs wants us to do nothing, allowing evil to grow and spread. Idiot.

  • Gregorie

    He looks a bit like he has the Syndrome which bears his name.

  • ArtNYC

    How in the world is he a professor? Really. Why even mention Rick Perry? Really. He cannot hold a candle next to Hillary Clinton. She is a class act. He needs to get into classes to learn something.

  • Charity Starts @ Home

    Actually, Downs made an excellent point. Clinton’s speech is just another extension of colonialism. We still want to save the “brown” woman from the “brown” man, but now we also want to save the “brown gay” from the “brown” man.
    Dictating how countries should treat the category Homosexual in their own country assumes a bunch of things: 1) that an identity based on sexuality (and not other things like gender for example) exist there, and 2) erases other types of indigenous identities into the folds of Gay (kind of like the reply by Aravosis.)

    Plus it comes off as hugely hypocritical from the US. Charity starts at home. Hypothetically, if the US were a country that were to receive this aid based on how it treats its non-heternormative citizens, it would fair poorly. How about instead of going out to save the savages, we start with our own backyard?

  • MEJ

    Prior to that, men may have had sex with men, and women may have had sex with women, but that was not being gay—that was sex and sometimes love.

    So in this guys mind, men, just fucked other men, and only “sometimes” loved those men? How is he any different than Rick Perry reducing us to a “lifestyle”, when Downs reduces us to a physical act?

  • Cam

    “”Before we pile onto him, let us say this: Downs’ article makes good points about how many same-sex loving cultures don’t identify themselves as “gay”””

    No, actually that isn’t a good point. It is like saying “Well Gee, Russians don’t use the word “Gay” they use the word “Goluboi” so this speech is meaningless” when actually everybody knows what Clinton is talking about and just because they have their own version of the closet doesn’t make her speech any less relevent.


    “”People only started “being gay” about a century ago. Prior to that, men may have had sex with men, and women may have had sex with women, but that was not being gay—that was sex and sometimes love.””

    Yes, and blacks only started to be considered a full person a bit more than a century ago…does that mean that it was invalid of the U.S. to advocate that South Africa stop Apartheid?

    Of COURSE not, this is just ANOTHER university employee DESPERATE to seem intellectual and trying so hard to find anything to write about that he is throwing crap at a wall and hoping something sticks. This guy needs less mental masturbation and more reality.

  • Cam

    @Charity Starts @ Home: said…

    “Actually, Downs made an excellent point. Clinton’s speech is just another extension of colonialism. We still want to save the “brown” woman from the “brown” man, but now we also want to save the “brown gay” from the “brown” man.”

    Your comment is the sad, pathetic little thoughtless rambling that a freshman sociology student would blurt out.

    Sorry but culture is irrelevant and there IS right and wrong. The way women are treated in Afghanistan is wrong, end of story. The fact that their “Culture” deems it proper is again… irrelevant.

    By your argument rape in Saudi Arabia is “Ok” because the culture there says it’s the woman’s fault.

    How sad you are.

  • chuck

    We had the KKK before and after WWII…therefore we should never had fought the Nazi’s!
    So many people are so far left that they have the same morality as the far-right.
    We don’t have universal health care in the US, so we should allow the poor in the rest of the world to die, because Western Medicine is nothing but Imperialism!
    If Christ was so great and powerful why didn’t he cure every leper and blind person in the world? I have a ‘friend’ who believes that the US started the Second World War because we cut off oil exports to Japan, because they were raping China. That was American Imperialism trying to impose our Western morality on the Japanese. So it was all our fault!

  • Kev C

    HIV/AIDS is more likely to be spread by ignorant “down low” behavior than openly gay and educated behavior. So it’s not a defensible custom. Female circumcision is not a defensible custom. Killing albinos for body parts is not a defensible custom. C’mon.

  • Mike in Asheville

    @Charity Starts @ Home: There is a HUGE fucking difference between African nations’ “Kill the Gays Laws” and DOMA/no national marriage-equity!

    Part of the mission of the State Department is the promotion of cross cultural and political affairs. The department regularly comment on all sorts of social issues differentiating our beliefs and value versus other nations: women’s rights, child labor, freedom of religion, freedom of press, etc.

    Change only happens when someone with the courage champions a good cause. You are as silly as Downs.

  • Mike in Asheville

    @Cam: I like your response to Chairity’s idiocy better than mine. Good job.

  • Scott in NYC

    What a complete masochist. Shut up…you might make them angry! Well, if standing against these anti-gay governments is what produces their violence, then what else you can do but sit back and take it? Complete and total nonsense. Weak and pathetic.

  • AJ

    @Mike in Asheville: Just to be specific, Downs wasn’t saying there weren’t men who have sex with men (and women, with women) before 1900. But “homosexuality” as a social problem is a fairly recent, Victorian-era invention, and “gay” as a political identity is only a few decades-old.

    But yea, it’s just a semantic argument.

    I think we’re all glad Clinton is standing up for the rights of minorities. We should however express skepticism such efforts will succeed if the State Department isn’t fully aware of how complicated “gay” identity is around the world. But I actually think the administration is aware of those complexities; speeches by their very nature oversimplify things. Not recognizing that is where Downs went wrong.

  • gggb

    I feel like a huffington post blogger should not be making historical statements … but I feel like the United States will play an important role in the acceptance and good treatment of homosexuals around the world — by example and influence. just to make an observation of my own

  • Mike in Asheville

    @AJ: Good news is that we agree about the Clinton speech.

    Let me point out, though, that Downs does not say he is talking about the “homosexuality social problem.” He is, erroneously, explaining a history of homosexuality. First, he implies that this is a relatively new (within a century) Western issue. WRONG: the ancient Chinese and Japanese cultures each had extremely similar to marriage rituals for man+man and woman+woman relationships. Also, the ancient Greeks had their man+man relationships as well as the Romans. I remember from my Berkeley rhetoric studies that Cicero commented on two different man+man marriages, using the same words/terms as man+woman marriages.

    And, as I said in my earlier post, there is a long history among Native Americans for both man+man and woman+woman marriages that were deemed equivalent to man+woman marriages. From my tourism of Peru, I know first hand from the ancient Inca artifacts in museums, they too had a long and encompassing homosexual heritage.

    The history of homosexuality is as long as the history of human kind vast abroad time, culture and religion.

  • Nick

    At least he’s hot.

  • BK

    To be honest, both Downs and Charity have a point. The study of queer history brings up the unavoidable fact that before Freud and friends, we didn’t have the term “Homosexual”. Today, some see that term as being pejorative where historically it was a medical term for what many considered to be a mental illness. We’ve (most of us) moved past that idea, and have owned the idea of “Homosexuality” as a positive.

    Downs’ point is that before that quasi-medical mubo-jumbo, “Gay” as an identity didn’t exist. You can certainly apply a queerying lens to history, but you shouldn’t blatantly ignore facts. Being Gay-like, Lesbian-like, Trans-like, Bi-like, and queer-like before those terms existed certainly happened (a point the Mr. Downs fails to point out), but in few ways was similar to what is is to be gay today.

    During her speech, Clinton was a beast. She sold LGBT rights to many people, she challenged cultural ideas methodically, she was tactful, and she wasn’t dogmatic. I’m pretty sure that it was unavoidable to anger people in that room, but she did it with grace. Downs’ response is pretty clumsy in comparison.

  • James UK

    Arguing for gay rights worldwide is not evidence of colonialism at all.

    The suggestion that other countries are entitled to respect for their decisions to criminalise homosexuality and to beat, jail and kill LGBT people for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered is unsupportable nonsense.

    Hillary Clinton made the point with an analogy to womens rights. She said that the so called honour killings of women, widow burning and female genital mutilation are not cultural. They are criminal. She was right and the jailing, beating and killing of LGBT people for being LGBT and all that that entails is criminal,is objectively evil and is a gross breach of fundamental human rights. I am grateful that Mrs Clinton said so and in such a public setting.

    Mr Downs might have acknowledged that certainly in Africa, the anti-gay laws on the books are actually relics of mainly British Imperialism and that the recent fanning of anti-gay prejudice, particularly in East Africa, is a direct result of the recent work of American Evangelical missions. He need only have watched the Rachel Maddow show to learn about it.

    Of course the religious right will criticise Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and anyone else who supports gay rights, however half-heartedly. They will for as long as the sun shines in California. So what? That Rick Perry gets on his hind legs and barks signifies nothing.

    Mr Downs article deserves every ounce of the derision it has attracted.

  • Ted

    Downs is not making a semantic argument, he is situating the politics of identity historically and geographically. The way in which same-sex desires and acts become organized into identities is specific to time, place, and culture, and to attempt to universalize the meaning of ‘gay’ identity – a specific technology of Modernity in the West – across space and time is to nullify or subjugate other ways of understanding and making meaning out of same-sex desires and acts. This is not a cowardly position to take, as clearly it agitates many of us who identify as gay to see a politics of liberation interpreted as imperialism. But given the politics of liberation have been employed as essential strategies for imperial projects for centuries, it is probably wise to question your own assumptions about who you think needs liberation, and who gets to define what that liberation is.

  • Pete

    The time for letting repressive regimes hide behind their borders and their strong arm tactics is over. I commend Secretary Clinton for her eloquent and brave stand. Quivering in the darkness for fear of provoking one’s enemies is a strategy that the world cannot afford any more.

  • Eastwood

    Downs had something of a point to make when he said being gay is a Western invention, but this is only part of the story. Scientific research proves that some people are born with an enduring and persistent attraction to the same sex. I don’t think that Downs would disagree with this, or the implication of it, that the West has only made people conscious of what sexual attractions they already had.

  • MEJ

    Using Downs argument, black people weren’t black before coming to America, therefore they should have never sought equality based on their skin colour, since that was a western ideology that didn’t exist until recently.

  • David Ehrenstein


  • Cam

    @BK: said…

    “To be honest, both Downs and Charity have a point. The study of queer history brings up the unavoidable fact that before Freud and friends, we didn’t have the term “Homosexual”.

    Oh My God, give me a break! The fact that the Bible, written thousands of years ago even mentions men sleeping with men is a pretty fair indication that people were aware of this.

    The fact that it was called something different is irrelevant. This guy is just desperate to sound like he has something to say.

    I never realized how eager people were to wallow around in verbal masturbation. Blah Blah Blah, it was called something else, blah blah blah, western invention, blah blah blah colonialism.

    My god, no wonder other nations are surpassing us in education if this is what a school like Columbia is turning out.

  • Henry

    I have a problem with the concept of “queer history.” I’m not sure that’s actually LGBT history. Queer is a word LGBT allies use when they want to be included in the LGBT umbrella, like Christians call themselves honorary Jews, which is anti-Semitic. You only need to look at Charles Rozier the anti-Semite to see that.

  • FreddyMertz

    Read it over at HuffPo..and wrote “(eye roll) whatever!”..of course it was not an accepted comment. I can’t imagine why?…some of the comments there were quite hostile. I guess it seem juvenile..but who cares, if they wanted an intelligent/intellectual response it should have posted a more intelligent/intellectual piece. lol

  • KMX

    Academic types often make the mistake of thinking something didn’t exist before academic types started recognizing and studying it. “Gay” isn’t precisely 111 years old, but German academics first noticed it as an topic for study in the 1890’s. Coincidence? No, Academic Self-Importance Syndrome.

  • Matthew Rettenmund

    The U.N. is there to be a group that polices and unites the world, so it’s the perfect place to say, “Lookit, this is what WE believe as a country.” For people to compare that to colonialism is incredibly stupid and a major stretch in order to taint the inarguable good that telling the truth and taking a stand do.

  • Carlsbad

    This guy makes me ashamed to have a degree in US History. There was a time when college History departments were shielded from the worst postmodern bullshit that has invaded other Liberal Arts departments like a cancer. My sympathies are with his students.

    Just to be clear, if this guy is so concerned about cultural imperialism, he’s doing a great job undermining it as a concept to be concerned with. He should know better as a “historian”. Let’s use an example from American history, shall we?: forcing Native American children to go to boarding schools run by the American government and giving them “Christian” names is cultural imperialism. Using your bully pulpit to try and save lives is not.

  • Ted

    Nobody is arguing that same-sex desires, acts, and forms of partnership have not existed for millenia – they are inarguably endemic to our (and many other) species’ erotic, social, and reproductive relations. And nobody is simply arguing semantics of how to name or speak about same-sex desire. The historical fact is that the modern gay subject is something specific to the development of liberal democratic states in relation to industrialized capitalism, interacting with various pragmatic and religious moral codes; the desires and acts are not new or specific, but the way in which they are organized around individuals and their identities is in fact a phenomenon specific to a few-centuries-old history. Not all cultures, past or present, conceive of human beings as free rational individuals who have unique markers of identity based around taste, class, race, gender, sexual desires, etc. To engage with difference by demanding that it is legible to our ways of understanding ourselves is the root of discrimination, which is why this is a necessary dialogue/argument to understand our role – even when guided by the best intentions – in sustaining the oppression of subjugated people the world over, especially those with queer desires.

  • John

    Oh God. Ted’s (i.e., Jim’s) comments boil down to nothing. They’re just fancy phrased mad libs. Excruciating. Why do there seem to be so few original thinkers now?

  • Jonathonz

    He’s clearly a douche.

  • CBRad

    @chuck: Yes, the Far Right and the Far Left are equally dreadful. One can be either Hitler or Stalin.

  • Mike in Asheville

    @CBRad: Good point, however, how do you rank the danger that President Eisenhower warned us against, the American military industrial complex? For it is/was the American industrial complex that foisted the Shah of Iran into power, deposed democratically elected governments in South America, installed puppets in Vietnam, backed Saddam Hussien into taking over Iraq, and even armed Osama bin Laden?

    While Hilter and Stalin were monsters accountable for the deaths of several tens of millions, it would be untruthful to not acknowledge the several million deaths resulting from US military interventions. Now, where are all those Iraqi WMDs that our government (whether you voted them in or not, they were our government) knew were there threatening us? Or, just how much of a domino did the fall of Vietnam cause?

  • CBRad

    @Mike in Asheville: Hi. I wasn’t commenting on anything specific, or agreeing or disagreeing with anything else in this thread: just, generally, stating that extremists on both sides can be dangerous.

  • kennydoll

    The Clintons were on the wrong side of DADT and DOMA when it mattered and she still doesn’t support marriage equality. For that reason I find anything she says on LGBT rights a bit hollow no matter how fucking noble she thinks she is.

  • NM

    The above site will show how pathetic and anti-man the entire concept of ‘homosexuality’ is, and how it actually forces men to kill, abandon and disown their desire for men.

    The remarks here are so typical of American gays and it says a lot about western imperialism — and how its still going strong.

    The fact is that all of these gay chauvinists are effeminate, third gender males that like men — and that is what the entire concept of a separate ‘gay’ identity is all about. These people need an identity for their feminine gender and they disguise it as a ‘sexual’ identity and force it upon the real men.

    The concept of ‘gay’ is based on unnatural, anti-man assumptions and its time the non-west got up to confront the powerful western lgbt.

Comments are closed.