Saturday, July 28, 2012

Never let the facts get in the way of a good argument.

Of course, I don't believe that, but it sure seems a lot of people do.

A while back, this popped up on Facebook:
Something about this didn't sound right to me, so I decided to hunt down the source.  Doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that ThinkProgress merely regurgitates talking points which are then further puked onto the Internet at large, but I was curious as to what the real story was.

Unsurprisingly, a Google search brought me mostly to repeats of this line with no attribution, but I did finally find a blog post that gave the name of the study the info was taken from and then found a PDF of the study itself: Durso-Gates LGBT Homeless Youth Study.

I must admit, I read through this sucker two or three times trying to figure it out.  There's a lot of talk and very little access to actual figures.  However, the part of it that puts a lie to the cool little graphic above is actually in the executive summary:

Among both homeless and non-homeless clients, 30% identified as gay or lesbian and 9% identified as bisexual.
Emphasis mine, though if you need to be told that, you probably should quit reading now and go back to eating the finger paint.

Thirty plus nine...That's almost forty!  But wait, what's that? Among both homeless and non-homeless clients?  So an unknown number of those homeless LGBT children aren't actually homelessNowhere in the study does it actually break out the proportion of homeless vs. "at risk" youth.  (It might also be worth noting that, while the graphic up there clearly wants you to be thinking of teenagers, "youth" is defined as "up to age 24.")

However, given the caveat that the study actually lumps homeless and non-homeless together, the top reason for running away (or thinking about it, I guess?) thing really is accurate:

Given that the top reason for straight youth to be homeless is physical or sexual abuse, I've gotta say that it makes the gay kids seem kinda wimpy in comparison.

Anyway, I was digging through this study and discussing it on Facebook with a friend of mine who was a math major and expressed frustration that the actual proportion of homeless vs. not-homeless isn't actually broken out anywhere (though I can infer a few things from what is there, I don't like jumping to conclusions).  Another friend said, "Well, what does it matter?"


It matters to me, and should matter to anyone else actually concerned with the issue, for one simple reason:

When you lead your argument off with a lie, especially one so easily proven false, everything else you say immediately becomes questionable.

And you can make the same point without lying.  Look at these two statements:
  •  LGBTQ youth make up 40% of the homeless under age 24.
  • The percentage of LGBTQ youth who are homeless is disproportionate to their percentage in society as a whole.
Same argument.  Difference?  One of those statements is actually true.  (I can't quantify it exactly, because it's hard to get a good count on the proportion of gay people as a whole; most sources I have seen put the figure at 10%.  Looking at figures of actual homelessness among the group in question pegs it as between 20% and 40% depending on geographic area.  That it is disproportionate is obvious.)
Of course, it can't end there, right?

Sally Ride died last week.  She did what a lot of people can't do: she was with the same person for 27 years.  It just so happens that this person was a woman.  (And an Irishwoman; I mean, if we're manufacturing outrage, let's go full derp!)  Although her sexuality was undoubtedly not a secret to people who actually knew her, she never bothered to tell the world at large, rather living her life as we heterosexuals take for granted: as though who you fuck isn't really that big a deal.

Nevertheless, her posthumous revelation made the world shit itself.  To wit:

Now, I'll admit I have two problems with this.  First and foremost: No one has any business using this woman to make their point.  She was an historic figure and a public one.  She recently served on President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.  If she had wanted to campaign for gay rights, she would have done so.

Look, not all gay people are political activists.  Most aren't.  Just the same as most heterosexual people are apathetic about politics.  Sally Ride had her passions and worked toward them.  No one right now is talking about Ms. Ride's efforts at encouraging females in the STEM fields; it's all ZOMG, SALLY RIDE WAS A LESBO!  I'm sure that's what she wanted her legacy to be.

Now, set that aside for a moment.  Let's examine the claim that's being made.  "Her partner of 27 years will not receive any survivor benefits to which she is entitled because of the Defense of Marriage Act." Right away, we can tell this is a lie, 'cause if anything, DOMA would have prevented her from being entitled to said benefits, not from receiving benefits to which she was entitled.

Moreover, I can't find any indication that there are benefits to which Ms. O'Shaughnessy would be entitled if DOMA didn't exist and the two were allowed to be married.  Ride was employed by NASA, according to her astronaut bio, for about eleven years (I see no indication of further federal employment; though I know she was on the committee investigating the Columbia disaster, NASA does not credit her as an employee at that time, which leads me to believe a consultancy was much more likely).  While she apparently could have let retirement benefits she accrued during that time sit until retirement, and while those federal benefits would grant survivorship only to a spouse, I see no reason to believe a woman smart enough to be an astronaut would have been stupid enough to not take the lump-sum payment and reinvest in something her partner would be able to inherit.  Both IRAs and 401(k)s can fairly simply be left to a "nonspouse beneficiary" (the negative tax ramifications to doing this with a 401(k) ended in 2007, apparently).  Life insurance, including FEGLI, can be left to whomever you damn well please.  I don't know if she qualified for any sort of pension during her years on faculty at UC San Diego, but if she did and for some reason could not move the benefits and her partner was unable to inherit...Well, that's not a federal matter, and would have nothing to do with DOMA.

Again, I am not a supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act.  I think it's a blatant violation of the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution.  (And probably far from the only one out there right now: witness the argument in favor of concealed carry reciprocity.)  But I cannot see how the claim made in the graphic above (and in quite a few recent editorials) can possibly be true.  Yet again: if you start off your argument with a lie, you weaken your position.

(For the record, I do realize I could be wrong on the Sally Ride question.  But I don't think I am.  It would take a rather large series of coincidences and financial illiteracy on the part of an apparently quite intelligent woman.  And it still wouldn't make the statement on the graphic true, for the reason already explained.)


Mattexian said...

Thanks for the mental kick-start, now I'm wondering if who I like to sleep with really defines who I am as an individual. I usually just joke that I must be black, since I went to a majority-black high school, I've lived in two parts of town that are majority black, and I like sleeping with fat white women. Perhaps I can get a gubmint grant to study this phenomena (and enrich my gun collection at the same time!) It really does boil down to a self-inflicted violation of privacy, as nobody cares who or what you do in your own bedroom but you, and if you *make* it an issue by being so open about it, then you shouldn't be surprised when others get offended and offer their own opinions, which you then get offended by in turn.

I think a better rebuttal to the posted graphic would be to share one of the ones floating around that opine "You can't trust everything you read on the internet" attributed to Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, whoever. Tho you might have to explain it to them, and that takes all the fun out of it.

John A said...

Good job tracking down that study. I note also it is a survey of clients of LGBT groups. I.e., mostly LBGT.

As to the "post-mortem" benefits thing, the obig problem for her [non-]spouse would be if [unlikely] Ms. Ride died intestate - relatives would be able to grab off much of any estate. This, as I mention fairly often, is actually what started the "marriage license" of the government. An unsung genius bureaucrat (not always an oxymoron) got fed up with the number of court cases, and with the all-too-common-result of "marriage legally unproveable - estate awarded to third cousin" verdicts, and arrived at a solution. The government would license priests to in turn sign a "license" which the government would store, and which would be available to prove marriage: it was (and remaons) lots cheaper than a will, with the added advantage that people are far from as reluctant to take advantage of it: and in the absence of a will, it determines the distribution of the estate.

When? Not sure, but it was City of Rome, pre-Empire. And spread rapidly.