Archive for category Homophobia

Mythical Religious Persecution Narrative and a New Jim Crow

Earlier this week, a story spread like wildfire about two pastors threatened with jail time and massive fines for not performing gay weddings. Attorneys from the right wing ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the pastors. The story was breathless, controversial and inaccurate.

The pastors in question run a for profit business that as recently as two weeks ago was very clear that they offered both religious and civil ceremonies. They run a marriage mill, performing something like 1400 weddings per year. Oh, and the big error? The city of Coeur d’Alene had not threatened them with fines or jail time, there have been no complaints filed against them. The couple in question asked the city attorney what would happen if they failed to comply with the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance and refused to marry a same-sex couple; the city attorney spelled out the possible legal consequences. End of story. Not really. I’ll let Jeremy Hooper explain:

When I first learned about the story of Idaho’s Hitching Post, which was suddenly the far-right’s latest marriage “victim” for supposedly being threatened by the city of Coeur d’Alene for not marrying a same-sex couple, I thought the whole thing was too coincidental to be true. I didn’t focus on it in my last post on the subject since I had the much more newsworthy discovery that the business had changed its website so that they could seem much more faith-driven than they had been operating in the past. But a part of me was wondering how the same business that went to the press back in May with its preemptive marriage fears, well before Idaho had marriage equality, could now be in the spotlight in such a major way. it just seemed too perfectly orchestrated.

To wit (Gridley is the city attorney):

“Their lawsuit was something of a surprise because we have had cordial conversations with them in the past and they have never disclosed that they have recently become a religious corporation,” Gridley wrote.

Gridley wrote that the city will not prosecute legitimate nonprofit religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies or other exempt organizations or anyone else as a result of their lawful exercise of their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion.

In addition to exempting those groups, Gridley wrote that the anti-discrimination ordinance states that it “shall be construed and applied in a manner consistent with First Amendment jurisprudence regarding the freedom of speech and exercise of religion.”

When contacted by The Press for comment, Don Knapp said the Hitching Post is not operating as a not-for-profit religious corporation. He also said he does not know ADF Attorney David Cortman.

Let’s be clear – almost everything you’ve heard about the case is wrong. No complaint has been filed against The Hitching Post. If they are a legitimate religious organization, they are exempt from the city’s ordinance. (It’s worth noting that they have been an ordinary, for profit business up to this point and have a history of performing both religious and civil ceremonies; they have not been, up to this point, a church or religious organization.)

The facts haven’t stopped hosts of religious people sanctimoniously declaring that “no one should be forced to do something that violates their conscience” and “no one should be forced to participate in a same sex wedding.” Utah legislators have obviously seen the story and are alreayd discussing a bill that would allow people to declare they have a religious objection and exempt themselves from participating in same-sex weddings (if history is any guide, the bill will pass, but will be so overly broad it will fail constitutional muster and be struck down, leading to all sorts of public hysterics over activists judges and repeated sharing of bathetic overhyped tales of bakers and florists and photographers and poor picked on pastors). It’s clear that a great many religious persons oppose same-sex marriage, and believe their opposition is entirely based on theological reasons and fear that at some point, some legal change will force them to “accept” same-sex marriage.

I don’t want to minimize the difficulty marriage equality presents for many religious persons. People do not lightly give up tradition or traditional teachings about sexuality and relationships.

Until very recently, most people casually accepted the idea that something was “wrong” with gay and lesbian persons. The idea that sexual minority persons are not inherently sick, immoral or incapable of forming long-lasting, stable relationships is relatively new in our society. The idea of same-sex marriage is also relatively new (although the Boston Marriage is a fascinating bit of history). Many socially and religiously conservative persons continue to embrace the belief that gay persons can become straight through therapy and prayer, that being gay is a choice and a bad one.

For some persons, the idea of a same sex couple marrying seems absurd at best. These individuals define marriage as a man and a woman and exclude anything else (one suspects Utah State Rep. Kraig Powell is such a person). It’s not uncommon in discussions to hear someone declare that marriage is between a man and a woman and anything is fake and the law can’t make “real” what isn’t real. The “love the sinner hate the sin” motto employed by religious persons reveals more than most people think – for many religious persons, gay people are less than straight people and same-sex couples are less than heterosexual couples.

With the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the various cases coming to them, the number of states in which same sex marriage is legal increased dramatically in one week (at JoeMyGod, Joe observed that there had been 9 separate marriage equality maps in the week of October 6).

Religious conservatives have very visibly and vocally expressed their dismay. We’ve heard all the usual buzzwords about out of control judges, judicial activism, and the usual predictions of coming tyranny. Religious conservatives are asking “What next?” with a combination of weariness and trepidation.

There is a challenge for religious conservatives. They’re being asked to acknowledge and live with the reality that same sex marriage is legal and to recognize that means some changes on how they conduct their business. I am certain there will be some lawsuits when religious business owners try to refuse family insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. We will, no doubt, hear paeans to the free market and dreamy invocations that gays can just go elsewhere for jobs and services. Thus far, the courts have not be amenable to such arguments. From a legal standpoint, a marriage is a marriage. Treating married couples differently will not be acceptable.

Religious conservatives are also going to have to face activism within their churches. Although legally there’s no reason to fear that churches will be forced to recognize same-sex marriage, gay persons can be incredibly effective activists. Churches will feel pressure to perform marriages for same-sex couples.

The Hobby Lobby case was probably the most high profile but it is one of many in which the religious right is trying to carve out a separate public and legal sphere for itself in which the devout serve solely the devout and can refuse to serve the sinful masses – a modern Jim Crow – using religious freedom as the rationale. I get this – I’ve read Martha Nussbaum’s Hiding from Humanity: Disgust Shame and the Law – it’s about fear of moral contagion. Although it’s emotional appeal is undeniable, I think it will ultimately fail of its own weight.

This afternoon, I read that The Hitching Post has re-incorporated itself as a religious corporation. The ACLU and the city of Coeur d’Alene agree that in keeping with their newly filed corporate status, The Hitching Post is a “religious corporation” and exempt from the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. IOW, the whole brouhaha has basically evaporated.

The public spaces from which religious conservatives can exclude gay people are going to become increasingly constrained. The option of declaring one’s self a religious corporation isn’t going to be available to a great many religious conservatives. If, however, claims of religious freedom and religious conscience become publicly linked with discrimination – against women, gays and lesbians, “immoral people” – then very quickly the mythical “war on Christianity” will become a very real public disgust for anyone claiming to be Christian and for Christianity itself.

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The Godly Oppressors

Amidst the troubling and problematic trends in recent years has been the tendency of Christian conservatives to self-righteously declare themselves the victims and then support insanely discriminatory laws targeting gay people.

Witness, Kansas’ unfortunate drive to implement Jim Crow:

To put this simply, the Kansas House has just endorsed a comprehensive system of anti-gay discrimination. If it becomes law—which isn’t unlikely, given Republican control of the statehouse and governorship—it will yield a segregated world for gays and their allies, as they are forced to use businesses and other services that aren’t hostile to them.

When asked about the bill, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback toldThe Topeka Capital-Journal that “Americans have constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs and the right for every human life to be treated with respect and dignity.” The question is whether he thinks this applies to gays.

Looking at this bill, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call it a close cousin—if not sibling—of Jim Crow (natch, for black gays and lesbians in the state, there’s little difference). Like its Southern predecessors, this proposal is meant to isolate and stigmatize a despised minority, under of the guise of some higher priority (“religious liberty”).

Scott Lemieux at The American Prospect has this to say about it:

“The sovereign,” as John Paul Stevens observed, “must govern impartially.” This bill is a direct shot at this basic principle of democratic governance. It is bad enough to permit private businesses to discriminate; to allow public officials to discriminate is even worse. As the Daily Beast‘s Jamelle Bouie puts it, “[a]mbulances can refuse to come to the home of a gay couple, park managers can deny them entry, state hospitals can turn them away, and public welfare agencies can decline to work with them.” Allowing state officials to deny services to same-sex couples is about as stark a designation of second-class citizenship as one can imagine short of bringing back George Wallace to deny gays and lesbians access to the University of Kansas.[snip]

The pretext for this rollback of civil rights is the protection of religious freedom. But the Kansas law makes clear how hollow and dangerous such arguments are. It’s worth noting here that we’re talking about secular businesses and state officials. Acting as individuals, people are free for religious (or any other reason) not to associate with same-sex couples or support same-sex marriage. But—whether motivated by religious belief or not—homophobic beliefs cannot trump the rights of people to use public accommodations on equal terms. These arguments were bad when they were used to oppose civil-rights legislation to protect African-Americans and women, and they’re no better in this context. For state officials to be permitted to deny services to citizens based on private religious beliefs is simply unconscionable.

Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly:

You don’t have to completely buy the Jim Crow analogy to understand that this legislation—a logical extension from the claims made for blanket exemptions for religious-based objections to laws in the Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby case on which the Supreme Court will hear arguments next month—is designed to carve out a separatist zone of immunity for people who are willing to say their hostility to homosexuality or to same-sex marriage is religiously motivated.  The fact that even public employees would share this immunity shows that it isn’t designed to protect a tiny group of wedding planners or cake-bakers from the horror of being expected to peddle their services to same-sex couples—the hypothetical on which much of the “religious liberty” argument is being pegged—but to sanction discrimination generally.

The bottom line – despite all the hue and cry about religious freedom – is that these laws exist for the sole purpose of humiliating, shaming, harming, and stigmatizing gay and lesbian persons.  The people supporting and passing them are emotional and moral infants, squawling at a world that terrifies them.

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Are conservative Christians harmed by compliance with nondiscrimination laws?

Are conservative Christians harmed by compliance with nondiscrimination laws?   It’s a more complex question than it appears at first blush.

I’m glad I don’t have to adjudicate any of these cases.  Like people who want to ban books, conservative Christians who raise objections to non-discrimination laws as they apply to glbt persons are acting from a place of good intent, even if I disagree with their conclusions.  Book banners want to protect children from ideas they believe children aren’t ready to deal with; conservative Christians who object to complying with nondiscrimination laws on the basis of religious freedom perceive themselves as the aggrieved party being asked to violate their conscience.

US law has long recognized the right of individuals to request exemptions from certain laws and practices based on questions of conscience and religious faith.  As I understand it, Quakers are not exempt military service, they are however exempt from participating as combatants.  A number of years ago, I helped a friend draft a statment requesting status as a conscientious objector and be granted exemption from combat duty (he was a veteran and member of the reserves at the time).  His statement was lengthy, thoughtful and carefully written; he was granted conscientious objector status and ultimately was not recalled to active duty.

US law has, also, long recognzied the right of individuals to be free from discrimination in the public square, which includes small businesses which are public accommodations.  Businesses are public accommodations, which means they are subject to generally applicable laws and those signs that many small businesses post that read “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” should have a huge asterisk that qualifies that statement.  You can’t legally refuse to serve someone because of their race, gender, religion, national origin and so on.  Increasingly, that list includes real or perceived sexual orientation.  To put it in simple terms, business owners have to make business decisions for business reasons not from animus toward a group of persons.

As more US cities, counties and states adopt nondiscrimination laws covering sexual and gender minorities, and as more states legalize same-sex marriage, I believe there are going to be more cases like that of Elane Photography and Masterpiece Cakeshop, in which small business owners seek exemption from nondiscrimination laws on the basis of religious objections.

What happened in these cases is instructive. Read the rest of this entry »

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Court Rules Colorado Bakery Broke the Law by Refusing to Serve Gay Customers

The case of the Masterpiece Bakery in Colorado is one of a number of cases in which small business owners refuse to do business with gay couples on the basis of the owner’s religious objections to gay people doing things like getting married and forming long term commitments to one another.

Friday’s order from administrative law judge Robert N. Spencer says Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver will face fines if it continues to turn away gay couples who want to buy cakes for their wedding celebrations.

It started out simply enough:

In July of 2012, the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple who were planning to celebrate with friends and family the marriage they had received in Massachusetts. The couple, Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig, filed a complaint, and the Colorado Attorney General proceeded to do the same, and Friday, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Robert Spencer ruled against Jack Phillips, the owner of the bakery.

The ACLU’s argument is very straightforward:

“While we all agree that religious freedom is important, no one’s religious beliefs make it acceptable to break the law by discriminating against prospective customers,” said Amanda C. Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “No one is asking Masterpiece’s owner to change his beliefs, but treating gay people differently because of who they are is discrimination plain and simple.”

In these cases, the courts, businesses and individuals are struggling to distinguish between religious and commercial activity.

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The American Religious Right is Aiding and Abetting Spread of Anti-gay Attitudes

At Americablog, Becca Morn documents the ways in which the American religious right is aiding and abetting the spread of anti-gay attitudes around the world.  The strategy is one with which American activists are familiar – create and publish a scientifically questionable study, but market it as scientifically valid (or just distort legitimate research), spread it far and wide and sit back and wait. Read the rest of this entry »

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Harvey Fierstein Has the Last Word on Orson Scott Card and His Homophobia

With Ender’s Game coming to a movie theatre near you, there’s been controversy about author Orson Scott Card’s homophobia in the past.  Card issued a pathetic plea for “tolerance” of his views.

Harvey Fierstein’s response may be the last word:

 I think that you can have any opinion you want, but at least be willing to take the consequences of your opinion. It’s like, “Well, I hope that people will be more understanding,” or what did he say? “More tolerant of my views.” The quotes that got me about him weren’t against gay marriage — he wanted homosexuality criminalized in the United States. That’s what he called for. You want me to be tolerant of you wanting to criminalize homosexuality? Fuck you on your grave, you piece of shit.

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Enough with the crybaby christians

A professor in Tennesee gave her class an optional, extra credit assignment:

 Students claim they were required to wear a rainbow ribbon and make public statements in support of gay rights. They were then assigned to write a paper about the reactions they got from other people.[snip]

But Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project, a friend of the professor, said the lawyer’s claims are untrue. He said the assignment was voluntary and is commonly used in psychology classes.

It’s designed to help students gain empathy for gays and lesbians, according to a teaching guide for the assignment, called “Promoting Increased Understanding of Sexual Diversity through Experience Learning.” That guide says that the assignment should be voluntary.

How do we know the assignment was voluntary?  A student who took the class a few years ago said so:

But wearing the ribbon was a voluntary, extra-credit assignment, Vernon said. He did not participate and suffered no consequences.

“It did not affect my grade,” he said. “It did make for an uncomfortable situation.”

Of course this relatively ordinary and optional assignment has got a bunch of conservative Christian panties in a twist.  Conservative Christians are convinced the professor’s assignment is an attack on their faith and they’re claiming to be victims of religious discrimination.

I am so tired of these crybaby Christians who think not getting their way in absolutely everything is the same as being discriminated against.

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Idaho Still Making Utah Look Good by Comparison

I’d like to thank Sheriff Ben Wolfinger for his role in making Utah look much smarter and much less nutty than Idaho.  Sheriff Wolfinger is unhappy with the decision by BSA to permit openly gay scouts.

The Kootenai County Sheriff said Friday that he is compelled to drop the department’s Boy Scouts of America charter because the organization is promoting a lifestyle that is against state law.

“It would be inappropriate for the sheriff’s office to sponsor an organization that is promoting a lifestyle that is in violation of state law,” Sheriff Ben Wolfinger said.

Sodomy is against the law in Idaho, he added.

Except it’s not:

Idaho’s sodomy law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2003, as a result of the Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, No. 02-102 (U.S. June 26, 2003). Idaho sodomy law applied to both heterosexual and same-sex partners as a “crime against nature,” punishable by imprisonment in state prison for not less than five years.Idaho Code §§ 18-6605 (2001); 18-6606 (2001). The sodomy law did not apply to married heterosexual couples. The Idaho Court of Appeals in Idaho v. Holden, 890 P.2d 341 (Idaho Ct. App. 1995), held that “Idaho’s statute prohibiting the infamous crime against nature may not be constitutionally enforced to prohibit private consensual marital conduct.”

So the Sheriff doesn’t know the law he’s supposed to enforce.  And we also need to have a discussion with him about his bigotry.  (Thanks to John at Americablog for catching this one.)

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Pushing Back Against Right Wing Lies and Distortions

Recently, the glbt employee organization at the Department of Justice, put together and distributed a pamphlet entitled “LGBT Inclusion at Work: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Managers.”  The trifold pamphlet included such commonsense advice as “Assume LGBT employees and their allies are listening to what you say (whether in a meeting or around the proverbial water cooler)  and will read what you’re writing (whether in a casual email or a formal document) and make sure the language you use is inclusive and respectful.”  It also included a section on how to respond when an employee comes out to you as a manager and pointed out that “Don’t judge or remain silent.  Silence will be interpreted as disapproval.” Read the rest of this entry »

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The Boy Scouts Delicate Balancing Act

I was an enthusiastic Cub Scout but at best a indifferent Boy Scout.  I lost interest in scouting after a campout that was a well-intentioned mismanaged fiasco from beginning to end.

BSA have been living in a difficult place for years.  They clearly sees themselves as a mainstream organization, modernizing and responding to contemporary society while transmitting time honored values and experiences.  They strive to achieve racial and ethnic diversity.  The organization updates and adds to its list of possible merit badges to represent changing societal awareness and standards, as for example badges in environmental science, disabilities awareness and game design.  At the same time, many of the most fervent supporters of scouting are religious conservatives who perceive the organization as a bulwark of traditional values defending against a rising tide of valueless modernity.  The organization’s struggle exemplifies the struggle in American culture. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Right Wing Invents A Scandal: It’s not true but it doesn’t matter

A middle school in Red Hook, NY, conducted an anti-bullying workshop, working on questions of gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.  The workshop was co-led by students from Bard College who are peer counselors at Bard.

So far, so non controversial. 

What happened is that a student went home and complained to her mother – the story is now that the school forced girls to engage in lesbian kissing.  A massive controversial discussion ensues on Facebook.  Right wing media picks up the story that the school forced female students to kiss one another, that male students were taught how to identify which girls were sluts and were told to carry condoms at all times.   Hysteria – not hysteria as in laughter but more in the nature of a moral panic – ensues. 

Of course, none of those things actually happened and most parents are happy with the outcomes as well as the actual workshop.  A few conservative parents are upset and the story with all its wrong details is being distributed around the right wing echo chamber. 

The right wing picked up the mother’s complaint and ran with it – it appeared on Fox News.  The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage has picked it up and used it in fundraising appeals.  The false stories have made the rounds on the right (including a sensationalized account on WorldNetDaily).  Expect to hear/read comments from conservatives about “that school in New York that forced girls to engage in “lesbian kisses” on comment boards and in discussion.  What’s going on here is the right wing noise machine in full bore, blowing an entirely non-controversial incident out of proportion, creating a scandal where there is no scandal, feeding it into the right wing culture war community where it will become accepted as fact, and repeated ad nauseum. 

The story in right wing media is not credible.  Think about the details – does anyone seriuosly believe that an anti-bullying workshop would involve middle schools girls kissing each other?  That an anti-bullying workshop would teach boys how to determine which of their classmates are sluts?  It doesn’t pass the straight face test.  Conservatives seem to have accepted accounts of the workshop without question at face value. 

The dynamic at work here is deeper than simple gullibility or extremely credulity.  Conservatives accepted the story on face value because it confirmed their existing biases about the general gone to hellness of the world.  To put it another way, it’s not that the people believing this story are unusually gullible or credulous, it’s that they embrace a view of the world that tells them that school teachers and diversity programs and anti-bullying training are forms of indoctrination; these conservative parents expect to be outraged by what they hear about public schools, so they are primed to see scandal and depravity where none exists.  The outraged conservatives hearing and sharing the story, expect public schools to try to indoctrinate their children in homosexuality, they’ve been told for years now that anti-bullying and diversity initiatives in public schools are nothing more than codewords for indoctrination.  It’s a tiny step from believing that to believing students are being forced to kiss each other.  Even if it didn’t happen in this case, conservatives will tell themselves it’s surely happening someplace else because that’s the sort of depraved thing that liberals will do if they think they can get away with it.  To take one example, look at this comment from the WingNutDaily article:

If the liberals have it their way the law will destroy the meaning of family and the authority of parents completely. Remember what certain people were promoting on MSNBC? Your kids are not going to be your kids anymore so the government can brainwash them all they want and there won’t be a thing that you or anyone can do about it. Yeah, this is the culture that the lunatic liberals are creating. In certain European countries the kids are basically property of the state and not children of the parents. The kids in those countries are indoctrinated into anything and everything so long as it has nothing to do with God. This is powerful evidence of the type of utopian society and world that the lunatic liberals in the world are dreaming up and working towards making come true. The truth of the matter is that their dreams will, in fact, become nightmares. Their efforts will lead to catastrophe. No person should put up with the liberal lunatic agenda. It’s time for the anger of good citizens to be on full display and put the lunatic liberals in their place.

For this person it’s all part of a grand conspiracy.  The breathless recounting of the event on right wing blogs and websites comes complete with denunciations of the evils of liberalism and public schools and gay people and fervid theorizing about the nefarious machinations of homosekshuls intent on destroying the family.  The CBN (that is Christian Broadcasting Network) report ends with the warning that “school officials are planning more of these workshops!”  The report – word for word – crops up on dozens of websites, propagated throughout a network of right wing blogs, bloggers, opinionators and semi-real news websites, to be forwarded, linked and discussed on other sites. 

The story of the lesbian kisses is admittedly a minor one, but it’s a valuable case study in how the right wing works to spread misinformation throughout its network of activists, voters, bloggers and communities.  Even if Fox were to retract the story today, it has spread far and wide, believed by who knows how many people.  Like other right wing atrocity narratives, it will be reported again and again and no matter how many times its refuted, it will keep coming back.  It will become the justification for right wing groups attempting to hold their own workshops at which people witness for Jesus and talk about becoming “ex-gay” and spread misinformation about gay people.  When pushed on it, they’ll defend themselves with the story about the forced lesbian kisses in middle school. 

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Maybe if your arguments weren’t bigoted we wouldn’t call you bigots

Over the weekend, the D-News linked to yet another article opposed to gay marriage (this one published in Provo Daily Herald).  Written by Jenet Erickson, of BYU’s School of Family Life, the article begins:

One of the most painful parts of the same-sex marriage debate is the accusation that those who oppose same-sex marriage must be blinded by bigotry . . .  marriage involves more than just the adults who marry. Because marriage involves children, society has a deep and abiding interest in how it affects them.

You’ve had all of recorded history to come up with arguments against gay marriage and the best you’ve got is “Oh, won’t someone think of the children?!”  You wonder why people think you’re a bigot?

Snark free: I get that it must be difficult to be accused of bigotry when the person being accused truly believes they are without bias.  At the same time, Erickson’s entire argument hinges on the notion that gay people marrying is a threat to children; infertile couples, couples who cheat on each other, couples who never plan to have children, none of these couples seem to bother her, only gay couples.  That’s why she and other people who oppose marriage equality get accused of bigotry.

Read the rest of this entry »

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