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Force Wins Out

On March 23 of this year, two notable things happened.

The first was that I celebrated the anniversary of my birth. My sweetie zaiah and I have been working very hard on the project to remodel our home into a dungeon to host play parties; to help celebrate the occasion of my birth, a lot of friends came over and did a bang-up awesome job of helping us paint the soon-to-be dungeon. It's still not finished, but we made a lot of progress.

The second thing that happened is that Apple Computer, in apparent response to a petition by a GBLT group, pulled an app by a group called Exodus International from the App Store. And in all honesty, I'm a bit disappointed in the activists who demanded its withdrawal.

Exodus International, in case you have been fortunate enough to avoid these lunkheads so far, is a right-wing Christian organization founded on the premise that through prayer and "spiritual healing" (whatever that is), they can cure people of homosexuality and turn them into nice, normal, inoffensive heterosexuals.

Leaving aside for a moment that there are many people who can shag members of the same sex and then end up in heterosexual relationships--a better term for such folks than "ex-gay" might be "bisexual" or "pansexual," if one wants to get all semantic about it--the notion that homosexuality is a condition or that it can (or should!) be "cured" is absurd on the face of it.

I don't much cotton to Exodus International, nor for that matter to any other group that thinks there's an invisible dude who lives up in the sky who has rules about who you're supposed to shag or how to do it, and that they have the direct skinny on what those invisible dude's rules are and how they should be implemented.

But here's the thing. As odious, offensive, and just plain stupid as Exodus International (the "Exodus" is an exodus from gayhood--get it? Get it? Aren't they just so clever?) might be--and believe me, if you look at these folks' Web site, the stupid, it burns--I think the GBLT shot itself in the foot, and in the process showed that some of its members can match the Christian right intolerance for intolerance and deception for deception--by petitioning for its removal.

But first, before I go into why, let me explain something about how the app got approved in the first place. Some noisy but uninformed folks have spouted a lot of nonsense about how Bad And Wrong Apple was to have approved the app in the first place, pointing to how its "unoffensive" rating within Apple's system showed that Apple is an anti-gay, right-wing establishment.

It's rubbish. Apple's second in command, Tim Cook, is arguably the most powerful gay man in all of Silicon Valley. Apple has a long history as a gay-friendly place to work. Apple's App Store submissions are not, and have not for quite some time, screened by a human being; Apple uses a suite of automated tools to check that apps conform to Apple's programming guidelines. The Exodus International app was not hand-built; it was built using a pre-existing application framework, one that is used for many other App Store apps. The framework draws its content from a Web site (in this case, the Exodus International Web site); its content was not populated until after the app was approved.

So, no, Apple does not habitually go around approving anti-gay apps. The notion that some person at Apple saw the app and said "Cool! An app by an anti-gay organization; well, let me just put this up on the App Store straightaway, then!" is simply factually wrong.

While we're on the subject, let's talk about what the app itself is not.

Shortly after the app came out, a GLBT group calling itself Truth Wins Out put up a petition on change.org calling on Apple to remove the app. The campaign that supported the petition described the app as containing information that was scientifically unsound and potentially dangerous about "reparative therapy," the notion that homosexuality can be "cured," and described the app as an "ex-gay app."

To be sure, reparative therapy is dangerous and scientifically unsound. It's about as scientifically valid as homeopathy or faith healing, and works about as well.

But that's not really what the app was. The app was, essentially, a calendar of events and a bunch of Web links.

As such, the content of the app was quite a lot different from what it was claimed to be.

Now, this country has a long, storied tradition of dealing with upsetting, inflammatory, objectionable, or uncomfortable content by banning it. For a society of folks quick to shout "free speech!" whenever someone suggests we ought not say something we want to say, we're just as quick to shout "ban it!" whenever someone else says something we think they ought not say. It's a sort of national cognitive dissonance, a hypocrisy that's woven into the American social fabric.

The gay community has been the target of that "ban it!" impulse for longer than this country was a country. It's no accident that homosexuality has been described as "the love that dare not speak its name." So it's a bit disappointing to me to see the folks who've been harmed by the notion that certain ideas should not be discussed being so quick to turn that particular weapon back onto others.

And the fact is, by doing so they committed two wrongs. First, they used tactics that are disingenuous at best. Second, they played right into the hands of Exodus International, a group which the cynic in me suspects wanted to have their app banned.

When I first became aware of the Exodus app, I had read about it on Web sites run by pro-GLBT activists and bloggers. I came away with the notion that the app was a how-to guide for "curing" gays. It wasn't until I started looking at screen shots and app descriptions--by the time I found out about it, the app had already been removed from the App Store--that I learned its content was considerably different from what I'd been lead to believe.

Whenever I hear someone misstate or overstate an argument against something, that leads me to the conclusion that the person who's making the argument doesn't really believe his case to be terribly persuasive. Exaggeration is the tool of first resort for someone who really, really, really doesn't like something, but who doesn't think that other folks will share his opinion if it's stated factually.

And the fact that these arguments were picked up by so many folks suggests to me that a lot of bloggers fell into the same trap that the religious right often falls into--condemning something without actually seeing it. We (and by "we" I mean progressive bloggers, activists, and writers) tend to snigger and laugh at Christians who call for banning a book or a movie and then, when asked if they've actually seen it, say "No! Of course I haven't!" as if their ignorance somehow enhances their moral superiority.

Yet this is precisely what a lot of folks who condemned the Exodus app did. I'd be willing to wager that less than one half of one percent of the folks who condemn it bothered to look at it, and barely more than that even bothered to look at screenshots of it.

That's pretty dumb. Fact-checking is (or at least ought to be) a basic, basic part of informed activism of ANY sort.

On another forum I read, a lot of folks were hailing the removal of the app from the App Store as a triumph of Libertarianism. I found that notion pretty weird; Apple acts as an absolute regulator of the App Store, with the ability to enforce any rules it chooses about what may and may not be found there.

Now, I am not a Libertarian by any stretch of the imagination. But it seems to me that appealing to an absolute regulator to pass a rule banning a product that you don't like, for the purpose of ensuring that the product is not available to anyone, is precisely the reverse of Libertarian belief. A more reasonable interpretation of Libertarianism, as I understand it, is that the market itself determines what has value; if folks don't think the Exodus app has value, they don't download it. If they do think it has value, they do download it. And in that way, individuals, rather than overarching regulatory authorities, make up their own minds about what has value and what doesn't.

Which brings up a point that I think is absolutely vital in any pluralistic society: the solution to bad speech is more speech, not less speech.

The fact is, there are people who think that Exodus' ideas have merit. And those folks don't go away because the app does! The solution is not to try to control the dissemination of the ideas; that's a fool's quest. The solution to bad speech is more speech. Hatred and misinformation thrive in dark places.

I wish--I really, really wish--I had been aware of the Exodus app before pple pulled it down. Do you want to know what I would have done? I'll tell you.

I would have made an app of my own. My app would have parodied and mocked the Exodus app. It would have lampooned the notions in it. It would have made fun of Exodus International--its ideas, its philosophy, even its lame-ass logo. And it would have provided links to better information about homosexuality.

And you know what I would have done then? I would have sold my app for 99 cents, and I would have donated the proceeds from each sale to a pro-GLBT charity.

If there is one thing that right-wing religious wingnuts can not abide, it's mockery. Humor is a far more powerful weapon than the banhammer. And frankly, I think that providing funds--as in, actual, real money--to GLBT groups would do a lot more to protect at-risk people, particularly the most vulnerable people targeted by Exodus International--than just removing an app from the App Store would have.

It might've gotten more positive press, too.

As it stands now, the GLBT activists have scored a stunning own-goal by playing right into the hands of Exodus International. I really do believe that they expected their app to be banned; c'mon, Apple already has policies against this sort of thing, so it was really just a question of time.

But by creating the petition and making so much noise, the activists have turned themselves into an Exodus photo op. They have allowed Exodus to crank up the press release machinery saying "See? See? Look at these hypocritical gays! They accuse us of intolerance, and then they use distortion and misinformation to advance the Gay Agenda by silencing our voices!" (The fundraising appeal along those lines is already up and running on the Exodus Web site.) And, y'know, it's kinda hard to argue the point.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2011 01:46 am (UTC)
Regarding the whole thing with apple..... there's only one real way of handling this corporation; to quote Steve Jobs "Buy an Android".

I see a very simple argument you're overlooking; even when mentioning free speech; the fact that regardless of it's feelings towards homosexuals generally, Apple does not endorse free speech and free expression.
A corporation more fascist than the republican party.

Let the app stand... and let other apps stand as well. BDSM apps... pr0n apps. whatever. The internet and the new world is supposed to be free; yet when corporations are attempting to regulate it, they need to be held accountable for it.

As somebody who still owns a few limping old macs, it makes me sorry to say that I'll not support that company again; especially since the first Apple I had was an Apple IIc. There's more to Florida than Disneyworld and more to the internet than Apple wants you to see.

Apr. 6th, 2011 04:05 am (UTC)
Yeah, I was less than happy when I saw friends making posts asking me to join them in signing a petition against that App. I'm disappointed that Apple removed it. I hate bigotry, but something I hate more than bigotry is censorship. I think that the things the Exodus folks believe in are offensive and stupid. But I'd fight tooth and nail to protect their right to express those beliefs. As long as the App doesn't break any laws and doesn't encourage violence against gay people, let them have their apps.
Apr. 6th, 2011 04:45 am (UTC)
Exodus and groups like them love to feel persecuted. It makes them feel righteous and let's them tell each other how they must be doing God's Work because look how the unwashed heathens are trying to attack them. Calling for a ban like this just feeds their fire and reassures them.
Apr. 6th, 2011 05:04 am (UTC)
"For a society of folks quick to shout "free speech!" whenever someone suggests we ought not say something we want to say, we're just as quick to shout "ban it!" whenever someone else says something we think they ought not say. It's a sort of national cognitive dissonance, a hypocrisy that's woven into the American social fabric."

You just made total sense out of what I have been experiencing since arriving in America. The dissonance is mind boggling to this Cannuck.
Apr. 6th, 2011 12:19 pm (UTC)
I can see your point and I don't know what blogs you've been reading but that isn't the story I got out of this.

The app was a money making scheme, as well as an official validation that what Exodus say and do is suitable for public consumption by Everyone, including children and adults desperate to validate their homophobia. A lot of people put a lot of trust in Apple and probably think much much more goes into authorising an app than the reality and seeing a "gay cure" available for the iPhone can be a real weapon for any homophobe. "Oh look, Billy, there's an app so you can get better!"

I was one of the ones who signed the petition and I stand by it. As savageron said, if this should be allowed then all apps regardless of content should be. But Apple validate other apps based on ideals and if BDSM is inappropriate for the App Store, then "gay cures" should be too.
Apr. 6th, 2011 05:48 pm (UTC)
I came here to say this.

Once a company starts sorting things into "approved" and "unapproved" lists, they become responsible for what they approve. Period.
Apr. 6th, 2011 07:48 pm (UTC)
As I understand it, the app was free, so I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you say that it was a money-making scheme.

The fact that Apple already has rules prohibiting anti-gay material is precisely the point. This app was a goner. There was no need for a petition; as soon as Apple became aware of its content, it was already certain to be pulled. It didn't take 100,000 people signing a digital campaign to make that happen.

But those 100,000 people played right into Exodus International's hands. Had the app simply been left alone until Apple inevitably rejected it, then Exodus would not be able to use the rejection as the centerpiece of a "look at the intolerant, hypocritical gays" advertising campaign.

That, I think, is the real purpose of the app. It was not a money maker when it got into the App Store, but it is now--Exodus is using the reaction to it to spearhead a "stop the gay agenda!" moneymaking campaign. (You can see it on their Web site, if you can stomach going there.)

That's the own-goal. Sometimes, the best solution is not to allow one's self to be goaded into doing things that suits one's opponents.
Apr. 6th, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
It wasn't - the reason for the petition was that you needed to purchase the app to leave a negative review/highlight the app as inappropriate. This wasn't an own goal as much as the only solution...
Apr. 6th, 2011 10:05 pm (UTC)
It's always true that you have to download an app from the App Store in order to rate it.

Many online sources, including the Exodus Web site, this magazine article from The Atlantic, the PC World article, and even the old App Store listing (which currently ives a "not available" message), all say that the app was free. Do you have any specific sources that claim it was not, and if not, how much money was being charged for it?
Apr. 6th, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC)
When I checked the App Store myself it said 0.99p and numerous comments complaining you had to purchase to leave a review.
Apr. 6th, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC)
Ah, are you in the UK? The price might have been different in the US.
Apr. 7th, 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
Thanks for this entry. This is more information than I'd gotten elsewhere.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )