Alex Blaze

Why is uber-homophobe Tom Coburn writing for the Advocate?

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 20, 2009 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: HIV/AIDS, Ryan White CARE Act

Sen. Tom Coburn has a column up in The Advocate about health care. His argument is asinine (the private health care system is great for people with HIV, particularly the individual market, that we should further empower it), but that's not really the point.

Tom Coburn had a 0% rating from HRC in 2008 and 2006. Yeah, I know there are problems with that scorecard, but you don't get a 0% just for voting against ENDA to force trans-inclusion or for having serious objections to a specific bill HRC supports. You get that sort of score because you're an unserious homophobe.

Tom Coburn has lovely thoughts about lesbians:

In the tape released by the campaign of Brad Carson, the Democratic candidate, Coburn says a campaign worker from Coalgate told him that "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us?"

And Tom Coburn wants us to worry about "the greatest threat to our freedom," which is the "gay agenda":

The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power ... That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That's a gay agenda.

Tom Coburn employs a chief of staff who has some of the wingnuttiest ideas about what turns people gay:

I had a very good friend who was in the homosexual lifestyle for a long time and then he had a religious conversion in the eighties. And he bought a old motel and turned it into a hospice for some of his former associates who were dying of AIDS. He helped, he helped almost 300 men die. This man was a real hero. But he knew that he wasn't as healed as he thought he was. He was able to resist temptation. He was able to resist sin. But he wasn't healed enough to take on the responsibilities of marriage. And he was a brilliant man in the sense that he knew himself. And he knew his limits. And he and I had good conversations about, about the malady that he suffered. And one of the things that he said to me, that I think is an astonishingly insightful remark. He said, "all pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards. Now think about that. And if you, if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he's going to want to go out and get a copy of Playboy? I'm pretty sure he'll lose interest. That's the last thing he wants." You know, that's a, that's a good comment. It's a good point and it's a good thing to teach young people.

His name is Jim Johnson. He's a friend of mine. He ran an organization called Beyond Rejection Ministries. And I consider him one of the most heroic men I've ever met. But all pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards. And that in fact is what it does. I know couples now who are struggling with the husband's addiction to pornography. It's a terrible thing. And that's what happens. And, you know, if it doesn't turn you homosexual, it at least renders you less capable of loving your wife. And it's something you need to be healed of.

In 1997, Tom Coburn introduced a law, which thankfully went nowhere, that would have nationalized the way Medicaid is run related to HIV/AIDS. You know, the exact opposite of what he's arguing in The Advocate. That's just one of the smaller problems, since he also wanted to ban anonymous HIV testing:

A federal mandate requiring states to report the identities of everyone testing positive for HIV would eliminate anonymous testing options, including newly-approved HIV home sample collection kits. States and local communities have adopted a broad range of testing options to encourage people to come forward to be tested without fear of loss of privacy. A 1996 study of 2000 individuals tested at anonymous test sites in California found that 80% said they would not have consented to be tested if their names were to be "confidentially" reported to the state health department. And when Oregon state switched from "confidential" names reporting to anonymous testing, the number of individuals seeking testing increased significantly. Studies have documented higher rates of testing and higher rates of positive test results at anonymous testing sites.

He also wanted to make it legal for health care workers and funeral homes to refuse to serve HIV-positive people:

The HIV Prevention Act allows medical professionals to refuse treatment to a patient unless the patient is tested for HIV.[...] Testing does not establish the current HIV status of the patient because of the window period between infection and development of antibodies. The best approach to preventing HIV transmission from patient to health care worker or vice versa is through adherence to universal precautions. The American Hospital Association and the American Nurse's Association both oppose blanket screening because it does not provide meaningful protection for health care workers.

His bill would have also significantly increased the amount of testing Ryan White CARE Act money had to go to without increasing overall funding, thus driving money away from meds for poor people (which contradicts, again, his entire complaint in The Advocate):

It provides no new money to finance any of these initiatives. It has only a nonbinding resolution to protect the confidentiality of test results. It provides no non-punitive HIV prevention measures, such as prevention campaigns directed to gay men. It makes no provision for following testing and notification with health care. It provides no money, for example, to make protease inhibitors available to those who test positive. (Protease inhibitors are still unaffordable and inaccessible for the majority of those with HIV.)

Tom Coburn receives huge amounts of money from health care and health care related industries, providing him hundreds of thousands of great reasons to lie to prevent health care reform:

coburn donations.png

Tom Coburn lied in Congress in order to disparage condoms:

During his 40-minute slideshow, Coburn avoided any spiritual overtones and spoke in his usual brisk clinical way. Still, Smith detected bias, taking issue, for example, with Coburn's contention that condoms are only 69 percent effective in preventing HIV; Smith says the latest studies show condoms to be 99 percent effective.

But Smith did give Coburn credit for saying during the question-and-answer portion, "Condoms do reduce the risk of transmission, and they work very well against HIV. If you decide to do any risky sexual behavior, use a condom." Being a family doctor adds a dose of realism to his view; Coburn mentioned that he recently delivered a baby to a 12-year-old.

He is, more generally, an anti-sex nut:

During his time in the House during the late 1990s, and then as co-chairman of President George W. Bush's Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, Coburn (who is an antiabortion obstetrician from Muskogee) spearheaded a campaign to undermine public confidence in condom use. The campaign culminated with a press release he headlined, "Condoms Do Not Prevent Most STDs." When Coburn ran for the Senate in 2004, he campaigned on a hardcore antiabortion platform, declaring in a debate against his Democratic opponent, Brad Carson, that he favored the death penalty for "abortionists."

Unrelated to LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues, Tom Coburn is a known liar (this Rachel Maddow clip has a lot more about his fundamentalist wingnuttiness):

Finally, Tom Coburn is a breath-takingly immature human being:

As a congressman in 1997, Coburn protested NBC's plan to air the R-rated Academy Award-winning Holocaust drama Schindler's List during prime time. Coburn stated that, in airing the movie without editing it for television, TV had been taken "to an all-time low, with full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity." He also said the TV broadcast should outrage parents and decent-minded individuals everywhere. Coburn described the airing of Schindler's List on television as "...irresponsible sexual behavior...I cringe when I realize that there were children all across this nation watching this program."

So why does The Advocate represent him as some kind of honest expert on the subjects of HIV/AIDS, health care policy, and LGBT health care issues? We know that he doesn't much like us, that he sees HIV as an ideological playground, and that he lies when he wants to push his agenda forward. Here's all that The Advocate says about him:

Tom Coburn, M.D., is the Republican junior U.S. senator from Oklahoma.

My argument here isn't that The Advocate should only allow people who toe the LGBT ally-line to publish columns in their magazine. But since there's already plenty of homophobia in the mainstream media, they shouldn't give that sort of rhetoric a bigger platform. Especially when it's coming from someone particularly dishonest with plenty of reasons to lie to the LGBT community about health care. Many people in the community might not be following the health care debate, and might not know who Tom Coburn is, and The Advocate did a disservice to those readers who rely on LGBT media to at least present fair, knowledgeable, and generally pro-LGBT analysis.

More to the point, while he doesn't have to be an "ally" to have something interesting to say to us, when we get to the point where a person is fantasizing about schools being afraid of lesbian orgies and secret networks of homosexuals being the biggest threat to "our freedom," that person has lost the privilege of addressing the LGBT community as anything but an enemy.

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Awesome post, Alex!!! I read the column and even without knowing his history (forgive me, I'm Canadian!) I thought the argument was specious and it's being in The Advocate bizarre! There didn't seem to be a scrap of evidence to support their touting the virtues of private health care for people living with HIV. If it had to be published at all, where was the rebuttal? Honestly, The Advocate should run your piece verbatim!

Great post. But, really, who cares? LGBTIQ print media is so irrelevant to our community I honestly don't know anyone who reads any. Both OUT Magazine, and The Advocate, need to close up shop and sell their assets to a company that can make use of them.

Remember, this is the same magazine that ran a headline "Is Gay the new Black?", which not only demonstrated a profound insensitivity but a breathtaking ignorance of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement. You'd almost think that these magazines are TRYING to be irrelevant.

I disagree. The Advocate does a lot of great work to highlight some stories that otherwise wouldn't get much coverage, especially in the area of national politics. They've been the original source of quite a few stories that swept the blogosphere regarding Obama and legislative moves.

Agreed. We've allowed folks like Congressmen Brad Ellsworth and Joe Donnelly to explain their votes against hate crimes legislation, but never someone like Santorum to guest blog about gun control. This reeks of "Well, he's famous and he came to us..."

Yeah... If Coburn wanted to write about why he's against ENDA, for example, that might at least be of interest. But I think this has more to do with The Advocate's need to include not just conservatives, but far-right wingnuts so that they can then say that they aren't liberally biased. I don't really know why they feel that way, though.

Tom Coburn was a young lad when I grew up in Altus, Oklahoma. His father had a small optical shop next door to my father's cafeteria. He was a smart-alec jerk at that time, he hasn't changed one bit. He always acted as he knew more than anyone else, would never listen to any other opinions - and was a constant pain-in-the-ass.
I'm not at all surprised that he acts and speaks now as he does -- he has done it all his life, and he learned it from his father.
He hasn't really convinced all Oklahomans that this is the way to be, but he is a republican, which, in Oklahoma, is the route to political success, no matter how excessive the speech.
It is sad, but we (the few democrats left in the state) have to put up with him. At least for now!

Right on, Alex. Coburn has been around HIV/AIDS for a long time in Congress -- it shouldn't be news to anybody that he has made himself a point man on conservative AIDS policy.

First of all, Coburn is a doctor (obstetrics, family practice), so he has had the personal issue of whether or not to treat AIDS patients in his private life.

Once elected to Congress, Dr. Coburn got himself highly positioned in health issues. In 2000, as a Representative, Coburn authored the Ryan White CARE Act reauthorization, including some restructuring of how Ryan White funding was spent. In 2002 he was appointed by President Bush to be co-chair of the President's advisory council on HIV/AIDS. Now he's a co-author of the 2009 Patients' Choice Act, a conservative Republication bill which supposedly achieves "reform" by getting the government out of relationships between patient and doctor.

Coburn's distaste for homosexuals is also no news, which leads me to question The Advocate's judgment in printing Coburn's op-ed. On the face of it, Coburn is simply looking to capitalize on a growing LGBT disappointment with Obama. So his Advocate op-ed is supposedly aimed at recruiting some LGBT votes to the Republican side. Maybe the Advocate has been feeling the anti-Obama unhappiness, so they fell for Coburn's approach.

It's pretty hypocritical of Coburn to be criticizing the "inefficiency" of government AIDS programs right now, when in the past he has written so much legislation for these very government AIDS programs. In 2007 Coburn was responsible for a new Ryan White clause that was so "inefficient" that it caused $30 million to be unspent from the CDC's HIV prevention budget. So on the surface, his Advocate op-ed looks like just another example of ultraconservative double-talk.

However, another, bigger motive may be lurking behind Coburn's position that private healthcare systems are better for PWAs than government programs.

Since evangelical ultraconservatives find LGBT people to be "morally repugnant," many of them have always felt that taxpayer money shouldn't be spent on treating the ones with AIDS. In these people's view, Ryan White funding has amounted to "endorsing the homosexual lifestyle." Indeed, many of these folks feel that even HIV+ heterosexuals shouldn't get taxpayer help with healthcare because it's through their own "moral fault" that they contracted the disease through sex outside of heterosexual marriage. They make an exception for babies who are infected through perinatal exposure, "through no moral fault of their own." Coburn himself has been very proactive on treatment programs of HIV+ babies.

The big healthcare-reform fight has already given these religious-minded Republicans some golden opportunities to try getting government out of funding "morally reprehensible" things like condom use and abortion. The White House has already pandered to religious righters by agreeing to a reform-bill clause that strips federal funding from abortion.

So I think the ultraconservatives are now looking for their next target. Coburn's statements in The Advocate may signal a move to try and strip federal funding from AIDS treatment and care (except possibly treatment for "innocent" babies). They want the private sector, not the taxpayer, to foot the bill for HIV prevention and AIDS treatment in the U.S. And they're hoping to soften up "the gays" so that hopefully we won't protest too much when the ax finally falls.

This piece is amazing, outstanding and very well researched! Good Lord!

psssssst! This is why the Bilerico Project, Joe.My.God., Towleroad, and Pam's House Blend EXIST. Because the Advocate is, well, the Advocate!

Don't get me wrong, I won't give up my subscription. I fucking love that magazine. I've been a subscriber for the better part of a decade. But it can be a mixed bag. Their covers have gotten stupider and stupider over the past year. The rough thing about Capitalism is that it saps a little dignity away from institutions like The Advocate, and forces them to make decisions... well, decisions like this.

...The lovely thing about Capitalism (in a democracy like this) is that we HAVE the Advocate in the first place, and HAVE had it for well over 30 years.

I've questioned more than a few things in the Advocate over the years, but ultimately its a solid institution.

PATRICIA--You make a good point. I think the anger at Obama in our community is being... 'mismanaged...' I can't think of a better word. First of all, we have a right to insist that Obama advocate harder for us, but our leaders (and our bloggers) have to do a better job of reminding folk how our system works--We just got rid of a dictator who legislated from the Executive Office. As much as I want my Equality, I don't want another dictator. Second, our leaders and bloggers are doing a shitty job of telling people how to use their righteous anger to do good and channel it in positive ways. We need to educate people about the political process better (Dr. Weiss has done an outstanding job on this site for ENDA, but there is so much more we ALL could be doing and talking about to encourage positive political action).

Being mad at Obama (for whatever reason) SHOULD NOT EQUAL voting Republican. This is a dangerous dichotomy. Its not either/or. Nor is it neither/nor. Americans always like an easy choice--that's why we've had a two-party system for as long as we've had America. In our culture, we like having rich lives, but that means spending as little time on ONE thing as possible--that includes researching our political system and contests. Americans want to pull the big (R) or (D) lever and be done with it. When you tell them that the (D) is fucking up, they say "ok, then I'm Republican again today."

We can do a better job of showing folks its not that simple. We can help steer folks to the knowledge they need to make smarter decisions about individual candidates, rather than one-size-fits all parties. Coburn is very smart for latching onto this--he understands that LGBT Americans are Americans and follow these same behavior patterns. Let's bring the conversation back to the issues at hand: Not what party is pissing us off the most, but who will be the leaders of tomorrow that help bring Equality once and for all?