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    January 31, 2007

    Is the 'F word' the new 'N word'?

    Posted by: Chris

    KnightwashingtonDoes actor Isaiah Washington deserve the serious heat he's getting for calling "Grey's Anatomy" cast-mate T.R. Knight a "faggot" on set, or even for using the same word later in a Golden Globes press conference?

    After all, since the initial flap Washington has issued two written apologies, admitted himself into counseling, and even met with leading gay activists with a promise to make things right. Yet still the fallout continues, as rumors swirl that he'll be yanked from the popular program.

    Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, chose rather dramatic language to condemn Washington, particularly considering the actor used the "F-word" the second time only in denying that he'd used it the first.

    "When Isaiah Washington uses this kind of anti-gay slur," Giuliano said, "whether on set or in front of the press, it does more than create a hostile environment for his cast-mates and the crew of 'Grey's Anatomy.' It also feeds a climate of hatred and intolerance that contributes to putting our community in harm's way."

    GLAAD ratcheted down the rhetoric once Washington took a meeting/self-flagellation session with Giuliano and with Kevin Jennings of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, but the issue has dominated GLAAD's public activity for weeks.  Does it deserve the attention?

    At first blush, the whole thing struck me as more political correctness than protecting "our community." It's not as if Washington launched into the kind of expletive-laden racist tirade as Michael Richards (a.k.a. Kramer from "Seinfeld"), much less the anti-Semitic diatribe that exposed Mel Gibson (again) as a bigot we knew him to be. And that's even assuming (and I do) that Washington actually used the "F-bomb" against Knight, who came out as a result of the original on-set flap back in October.

    To make matters more prickly, Washington is a prominent African-American with a history of taking on challenging roles, including gay and even drag queen characters, with an uncharacteristic sensitivity. (Will Smith, are you listening?)

    Washington Post columnist Jabari Asim even uncovered an Essence magazine essay by the actor from a decade ago, in which a thoughtful Washington writes about his first amateur acting gig, playing a "flaming drag queen" named Sweetie Pie, which offered him "a firsthand look at gay-bashing."

    "I was the target of angry expletives, jeers and nervous laughter and was even spat upon by a junior-high-school student who took my performance just a little too seriously," Washington wrote back then. Not exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to hear from a heartless homophobe.

    In fact, Jasmyne Cannick, a respected black lesbian activist and columnist, has leapt to Washington's defense, accusing "white gay America" of hypocrisy and the "gay mafia" of "smelling meat, dark meat."

    Cannick's beef isn't just that the gay press and activists overreacted. To her, "the whole thing reeks of white privilege" and hypocrisy because, she claims, white gay America hasn't protested a peep against Charles Knipp, the white gay drag performer (somewhat) better known as Shirley Q. Liquor, a self-described "inarticulate black woman on welfare with 19 kids."

    Of course, even mentioning a huge star like Washington in the same breath as a two-bit drag act like Knipp is a bit like comparing apples and watermelons; their respective cultural influences aren't in the same time zone. And to suggest white gay activists relished frying up "dark meat" is nonsensical to anyone remotely familiar with the racial politics of the gay rights movement.

    What's more, Cannick is flat-out wrong on the facts, since I know for a fact that many gay publications (including those I've edited) have covered Knipp and the protests that follow his performances in many cities. When he was invited to appear at a gay benefit in Atlanta two years ago, negative publicity from articles in Southern Voice resulted in his being uninvited. And while I agree completely that Knipp goes way way over the line, he has been defended by legendary black drag queens like Washington, D.C.'s  Ella Fitzgerald and RuPaul herself.

    More importantly, Cannick misses the same point I did in chalking up the whole mess as P.C. run amuck. It isn't about Isaiah Washington or his race or his TV show. It's actually about taking a page out of the playbook used so effectively by African American activists. Nothing focuses the public on an issue like celebrity, and Washington's temper tantrum offers a unique opportunity to consign the "F-word" (in its short and long form) to the same dustbin of history as the "N-word."

    Efforts to combat anti-gay bullying will only go so far so long as anti-gay slurs — not to mention the use of "gay" itself to mean "lame" or "stupid" — remain playground de rigueur. Like it or not, Washington's abject apologies, like those of Richards and Gibson (and Jesse Jackson's "hymietown") before him, jump-start social change, getting through to teachers and parents and even the kids in ways that years of earnest press releases couldn't hope for.

    So spare me the sympathy for Washington, who'll no doubt redeem himself and be jumping on Oprah's sofa in no time. I'll keep my eyes on the prize.

    January 30, 2007

    AWOL in São Paulo

    Posted by: Chris

    Saopaulopic_1 My apologies to regular visitors that the blog went dark over the weekend.  I've tried to post consistently ever since I launched the blog in October.  Those of you who've blogged yourselves know how difficult that can be, and it has certainly been a big change from writing every week, or every other week, for the Washington Blade, Southern Voice and their sister publications.

    Speaking of which, Window Media, the gay publishing company I co-founded in 1997 with William Waybourn, announced last week that it was closing the Houston Voice, which the company purchased in 1998.  It was a very sad development for all of us who have worked with the publication over the last eight years, but one that was understandable and certainly not unexpected.  Only those of us who have been on the inside know how much time, effort and money was spent trying to make the publication a financial success.

    The Houston metro area ranks in the Top 5 nationally in population, but the city generally eschews zoning laws and so is sprawled out over an enormous area.  The gay community is sprawled as well, though its soul has always been in the Montrose neighborhood.  Houston's gay leadership was also especially decimated by AIDS in the '80s and '90s.  In my travels, only San Francisco seemed as hard hit emotionally and psychologically.

    The Voice never really found its voice, despite all our efforts.  Houston has a solid, quality gay monthly in Outsmart magazine, but the Voice struggled to find its place amidst an ever-changing roster of competitors, including the beloved weekly bar rag TWT (which folded in the early '00s and then re-emerged last year), the weekly statewide newspaper the Texas Triangle (which also folded around the same time), several publications launched by the Dallas Voice to move into the Houston market, all of which they eventually withdrew, and a half-dozen smaller independent ventures, which also eventually failed.

    With the rise of the Internet, gay Houstonians can get their national and international news online, of course, but the Houston Chronicle does a spotty job of local gay coverage and Outsmart can only do so much on a monthly schedule.  The passing of the Voice leaves a void that hopefully will be filled soon.

    As for the void on this blog, I blame São Paulo.  My good friend Jeff DeKorte is visiting us in Brazil for a few weeks, and we took him to Sampa this weekend to see the sights and meet our many friends there.  An amazing and exhausting time was had by all.  (In the photo above, Jeff is in the orange, I'm in the blue and Ipanema Boy is in the green. In the yellow is João Neto, one of the Brazil's top DJ's.)

    I even met the man behind Made In Brazil, hands-down the best gay Brazilian blog (in English or Portuguese), though unfortunately it was only in passing.  Who knew he was as gostoso (that's "hot," as Paris Hilton would say) as the Brasileiros he so often features in his blog?

    I'm ashamed to say my friend Jeff, who started a travel blog as he left the States, managed to post over the weekend, even as I didn't. Jeff and I have been good friends ever since I moved back to Washington in 2001, and I've had a great time introducing him to Brazil.  He is no stranger to travel, having headed up AOL's travel channel until he left last month. 

    But his style of travel is distinctly different from my own.  Those who know me know that I tend to travel by the seat of my pants, not worrying especially much about planning packed agendas, preparing hours in advance for flights or pondering the wiles of traffic before deciding when to call a taxi.  I go with the flow, and probably enjoy the adrenaline of rushing last-minute more than arriving early at the airport and sitting in the gate.

    I knew, from a few short trips with Jeff in the past, that he was a different sort — the type that begins packing three days before a flight and worries at least 24 hours before about when to leave for the airport.  So it should have come as no surprise when my boyfriend and I returned from the gym about two hours before our flight from Rio to São Paulo that Jeff was already sitting on the sofa in his pressed polo and cargo pants, packed bags sitting beside him.  We were sweating from the gym, with packed bags only a twinkle in our eyes.

    "Why are you so dressed up?" I asked without thinking. 

    "I like traveling in pants," came his reply.

    "Yes you do!" I laughed. "And you ought to call your blog that — 'Traveling in Pants.'  Because I much prefer traveling by the seat of mine."  And so he did.  Check it out when you can.

    Speaking of travel blogs, I've been remiss in not pointing out the remarkable adventures of a former Washington Blade colleague of mine.  Fernando Junco, or Nando as he went by at the office, worked on the sales staff as something of a traffic cop and managed to keep his head and his sense of humor while the rest of us harumphed about on deadline.

    A few months ago, he decided to set out on a budget adventure through Mexico and Central America, and finally down through South America to Brazil.  Reading his travel blog, he's had some incredible experiences, though the loooong road has no doubt taken its toll.  Take a look for some vicarious thrills through a part of the world that gay American travelers so rarely manage to tred.

    January 25, 2007

    Defensive much, Dick?

    Posted by: Chris

    Cheneycnn Vice President Dick Cheney was incredibly defensive on a whole range of topics in an interview yesterday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.  On Iraq, he made all of Bush's bipartisan talk look like the hogwash it no doubt is and refused to acknowledge the quagmire the country is in to due in large part to his own zealotry about Saddam Hussein.

    Even on a lighter topic, like his daughter Mary's pregnancy, Cheney was so gruff and defensive as to be a caricature of himself.  From a WaPo transcript of the exchange:

    Your daughter Mary, she's pregnant. All of us are happy. She's going to have a baby. You're going to have another grandchild. Some of the — some critics, though, are suggesting, for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family:

    "Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father, doesn't mean it's best for the child."

    Do you want to respond to that?

    CHENEY: No, I don't.

    BLITZER: She's obviously a good daughter —

    CHENEY: I'm delighted — I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf, and obviously think the world of both of my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.

    BLITZER: I think all of us appreciate —

    CHENEY: I think you're out of — I think you're out of line with that question.

    BLITZER: — your daughter. We like your daughters. Believe me, I'm very, very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both. That was just a question that's come up and it's a responsible, fair question.

    CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree with your perspective.

    BLITZER: I want to congratulate you on having another grandchild.

    Cheney is so defensive you would think Mary Cheney were the equivalent of Chelsea Clinton, away at college, uninvolved in politics and her privacy violated.  But Mary Cheney has never been Chelsea Clinton.  She worked on her father's campaign to be vice president and ran his re-election effort.  She wrote a book about how her private life as a lesbian intersected with the views of her father and her father's boss on gay marriage and gay rights.

    Blitzer's question didn't even go there, although it would have been fair game to do so. He focused instead on even stronger grounds: asking the vice president about conservative attacks on Mary for living her life. 

    But as with Vietnam, Dick Cheney ducked the fight.  Let someone else defend his daughter and her civil rights.  Just like he's willing to let other Americans fight and die for a cause that only he and a small minority of Americans believe is still worth fighting.

    Hillary chats on gay rights

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillarychatstill As she promised, Hillary Clinton has been hosting video chats via her web site, and on Tuesday night she talked for the first time about gay rights.  As expected, the questions are pre-screened so she got a softball right across the plate, leaving her free to duck specific positions.

    Her answer stuck mostly to safe territory, reaffirming her support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a federal hate crimes act, both of which enjoy support of more than two-thirds of the public.  She did mention her approval of state-issued civil unions, but polls show two-thirds of Americans back either civil unions or marriage for gay couples, so even that stand was comfortably non-controversial.

    Here's the exchange (h/t: Pam's House Blend)

    Eric from Kalamazoo, Michigan, says, although a diehard Democrat, I'm often disappointed by the lack of vocal support from party leaders on issues of gay and lesbian civil equality. I realize this is a divisive topic, but I would like to know, if you were elected President, would you be comfortable in addressing issues and comfortable support plans, policies or initiatives that advance and protect the civil liberties of gays and lesbians?

    SENATOR CLINTON: Yes. And I feel very strongly about that. We have legislation pending in the Congress to do two things, which I support wholeheartedly. One is to end discrimination against gays and lesbians.

    You know, the ENDA bill, it's called, has been pending for some time. I'm hoping that we can bring it up and perhaps pass it in this Democratic Congress because, as you may know, or as you personally have experienced, there is still discrimination in the workplace and in other settings in our society. And no matter how anyone might feel about some of these issues, which you have described, I think, as Americans, we certainly can be against discrimination against anyone.

    Secondly, I'd like to see the hate crimes legislation to be amended to include any kind of hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation, which is what the language in the bill currently says. Well, I hope we can bring that up as well. Again, it's overdue. And, finally, I support civil unions. I think that this is a matter that historically has been left to the states because that's where decisions like these are made.

    But I have been on record supporting civil unions and equality in relationships. You know, there's so many discriminatory effects that people may not realize. You know, you know so well, not being able to inherit, not being able to own property together in some places, not being able to visit your partner in the hospital, and so much else.

    Well, I think that, again, regardless of how some have tried to politicize these issues in what I think of as a quite mean-spirited way, pitting people against their brothers and sisters and neighbors and colleagues, I think that Americans are fair minded, and we'll move forward on an agenda of equality.

    An interesting side note, Hillary assumes in her answer that the questioner is gay, whether she was told that by a screener or assumes no straight person would raise the question is unclear.  I don't doubt that she assumes gay rights are important only to gay people, a small if influential constituency.  That sort of political calculus is, by all indications, far more important to Hillary than the issue at hand.

    Liberal blogger Pam Spaulding rightfully takes "sHillary" (as she calls her) to task for not touching on the obvious: marriage.  At the very least, Spaulding points out, Hillary could express concern about the lack of portability of civil unions from one state to another and the way civil rights are being put to a vote at states across the country.

    I would add to that Hillary's failure to address legal recognition of gay couples at the federal level.  After all, she is in her second term as a U.S. senator and seeks to be president.  Right now, gay marriages and civil unions receive no federal recognition for purposes of taxes, Social Security, immigration and hundreds of other areas. 

    Does she support repealing the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by her husband, that blocks federal recognition of valid, state-issued marriage licenses to gay couples?  And, if the "m-word" is the problem — though it's galling to hear Hillary say anything about the "sanctity" of marriage given her wink-nod approach to Bill's serial philandery — does she support legislation that would extend federal rights to gay couples with state-issued civil unions?

    To date, Hillary's record on legal recognition for gay couples is, like so many other things about her, all talk and no action.  Unlike John Kerry and John Edwards, she has refused to co-sponsor the Uniting American Families Act, which would extend recognition for gay relationships in the very limited area of immigration rights, allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for U.S. citizenship.

    If and when Hillary ever steps from behind the comfortable confines of her scripted web chats, these are the kinds of questions she needs to answer satisfactorily.

    January 24, 2007

    Who's the Howard Dean of '07?

    Posted by: Chris

    Dean_howard The gays made Howard Dean.  In 2003, almost nobody knew anything about the former governor of Vermont or gave him any shot at contending for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. 

    But the gays knew Howard Dean because three years earlier, he signed landmark legislation allowing gay couples to enter into civil unions that were the virtual equivalent of marriage.  Even though civil unions came to Vermont by order of the state supreme court, gays credited Dean with not fighting the ruling and, even more importantly, not running away from the issue on the presidential primary trail.

    So gays became "early adopters" of Dean, just as we do of fashion and music trends, and urban neighborhoods. Dean was rewarded with an overwhelming amount of gay support — in dollars especially.  The Washington Post reported later that fully three-quarters of Dean's early fund-raising events were organized and attended by gays.  The Internet boom that took Dean to the top of the candidate pack came later, and would not have been possible without the early gay backing.

    Now that the field is shaping up for 2008, the question becomes "Who will be the Howard Dean of 2007?"  Will one candidate mobilize early gay support in a way that energizes his (or her) campaign's early days? On the flip side, who deserves that support? How high will we raise the bar in this presidential campaign season?

    Last time around, Dean got our early backing despite opposition to gay marriage.  When he imploded with one fell "whoop!" in Iowa, that support flowed to John Kerry, the eventual nominee, because of his unblemished congressional record on gay rights and AIDS issues. 

    But Kerry, too, opposed gay marriage, even though he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and the federal marriage amendment in 2003.  (He and Edwards both skipped the vote on the marriage amendment in 2004 ostensibly because they were on the campaign trail.)  Kerry was also outspoken in his opposition to the historic Massachusetts supreme court decision in 2003 that required the state to marry gay couples, and he backed efforts to overrule the ruling with a constitutional amendment.

    On the Democratic side, it goes without saying that a candidate expecting the bulk of gay support should vow to enact basic gay rights protections in employment, housing, hate crimes, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and so on. 

    Things get tricky when we turn to legal recognition for same-sex couples.  Last time around, only three minor candidates, including Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who's announced again, backed full marriage equality.  We already know that the leading Democrats once again oppose gay marriage, though one leading Republican — Rudy Giuliani — has hinted in the past that he's open to full-fledged marriage equality.  So where does that leave us?

    Any candidate seeking early gay support should, in my view, support civil unions at the state level, recognized as such at the federal level, in every way similar to marriage except the name.  That means all the rights and responsibilities of marriage — in taxes, immigration, Social Security, etc.  Such federal civil union recognition ought to also include gay couples married in Massachusetts, Canada, or other states as it becomes available. 

    What's more, a candidate seeking early gay support ought to take a cue from our neighbors to the north in Canada and defend our judiciary from unfair attacks from conservatives.  It would be unconscionable for gays to back someone like Kerry who actually advocated using the constitutional amendment process to overturn a civil rights ruling.

    Do you agree with my criteria?  I'd love to see your comments about what we should expect.  Are we better off backing someone like Giuliani, whose influence on the GOP could marginalize social conservatives?  For those of you who aren't regular readers, click here for background info on some of the '08 contenders.  Then cast your vote in this week's survey (to the right) and let's hear what you think.

    January 23, 2007

    Looking beyond London

    Posted by: Chris

    Ipanemabeach Readers of this blog are certainly more adventurous in their choice of overseas destinations that
    the readers of Out Traveler magazine.  The latter named London their top non-U.S. gay hotspot in the magazine's 2006 survey, topping Paris, the previous year's winner.

    Our own little survey yielded a tie at the No. 1 spot.  After staying in the lead the entire time, Rio De Janeiro was finally caught in the poll's closing hours by Barcelona.  I've already expounded at length about Rio's charms, and it has the extra draw of tres-gay New Years and Carnaval celebrations.  Barcelona is another fine choice — a beautiful city with a thriving gay scene, its own gay beach (Sitges, just a 30-minute train trip away) and even the freedom to marry!

    Another city with a celebrated gay Mardi Gras, Sydney, came in close behind our two leaders, tied with another Far East destination, Bangkok.  In addition to Mardi Gras, Sydney hosts the annual Sleaze Ball and a huge Gay Pride celebration.  Sydney is also a former Gay Games host city. 

    Montreal, which won the Gay Games bid for 2006 but then spurned the invitation to host a competitive,  and financially unsuccessful, OutGames, followed next, along with Berlin, well known as one of the world's top leather destinations.

    Trailing in the next pack were Amsterdam, which also hosted a Gay Games and draws its fair share of "sleaze/sex tourists."  Amsterdam has long fancied itself the "gay capital of the world," and the bashing my boyfriend and I took on Queen's Day '05 didn't help that reputation.  To my mind, however, the citizens and political leaders there responded with overwhelming kindness and support, in ways that wouldn't be matched by any other city on this list, including Rio.

    At the tail end of the pack were the two winners of Out Traveler's polls, Paris and London, as well as Cape Town, which from all I hear is an amazing gay tourist destination, but outside the geographic and pocketbook range of many.

    January 21, 2007

    Another Bill better than Hillary?

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardson One day after Hillary Clinton announced she's "in," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson threw his hat in the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.  If nothing else, having Richardson in the race takes the "experience" arrow out of Hillary's would-be arsenal against freshman Sen. Barack Obama. Richardson's deep resume — which includes "doing" as well as talking — makes the rest of the field, including especially Hillary and John Edwards, look like rookies.

    Richardson has 15 years in Congress, served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy in the (Bill) Clinton administration, and was elected in a landslide to a second term as governor of New Mexico.  In addition, Richardson is Latino, bilingual and has proven amazingly adept at difficult international negotiation where others before him failed.

    That negotiation savvy shouldn't be underestimated.  Look what it's done for him on the difficult issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples.  Richardson opposes gay marriage, but when the New Mexico legislature began pushing a "Defense of Marriage Act" in 2005, Richardson said he would veto it unless the DOMA was enacted alongside civil union legislation.  Richardson's position wasn't just expedient, it was fairly principled and would satisfy any but those with a gay marriage litmus test. The DOMA effort failed.

    What's more, you don't get better than Richardson on gay issues, and again he's not just talking the talk; he's walked the walk.  In his first term as governor, he led the state from nowhere to being ranked among the best in the nation on gay rights protections:

    • He signed legislation expanding New Mexico civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. (At the time, only three other states had included transgender protections.)
    • He signed a hate crimes law that included actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
    • He signed an executive order in 2003 extending health insurance and other benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of N.M. state employees.
    • He's on record backing full-fledged civil unions and (unlike John Kerry) opposes state-level constitutional amendments banning gays from marrying.
    • While in Congress, Richardson backed military service for out gay men and lesbians.  That means, unlike Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary and the rest, he was anti-Don't Ask, Don't Tell when it was very uncool to be.

    Richardson's record isn't unblemished.  He voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and I couldn't find any statement since recanting that support.  Even with such an impressive record on other gay issues, Richardson will need to explain his position on DOMA to gay Democrats.  At the very least, he should renounce the portion of DOMA that bans federal recognition of marriage licenses issued to gay couples, and he should back full federal recognition of state-issued civil unions.  Given his support for civil unions, that seems likely.

    Richardson's resume and savvy at negotiation, which requires bringing people together rather than wedging them, makes him an experienced politician who can legitimately claim to being "a uniter and not a divider."  With a bit of massaging on DOMA and federal civil unions, he may well be the best bet for gays in 2008.

    January 20, 2007

    Hillary's in it…to chat

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillarychat Hillary Clinton finally ended all the speculation today and announced she's "in" the race for the White House in 2008.  And the form of her announcement suited her perfectly:  on video via her Web site, her living-room surroundings calibrated to soften her image, with Hillary sitting on the sofa, inviting us into a national "chat."

    There's no rule, of course, that presidential campaigns must be launched at screaming rallies or crowded press conferences, but the point is more what it says about her approach to politics: exceedingly careful.

    Even her name changes based on political expediency; her Web site refers to her only as "Hillary" and the "Rodham" is once again no longer to be found. HillaryClinton.com is "policy-free"; no positions on the issues of the day and, for those of you wondering, the word "gay" does not appear (according to a Google search).

    No doubt the series of live online "chats" she'll be hosting this week will be scripted affairs, with questions pre-screened and little opportunity for actual dialogue.  I know it's early days, but the entire concept strikes a false chord with me.  At this point in her career, Hillary Clinton should know enough about the issues and problems in America that she doesn't need a handful of "chats" to inform herself. If she's running for president, then it's her ideas that need exploration, through real interactions and not the scripted variety. 

    Give John Edwards credit for showing up at a real New Hampshire townhall meeting for Q&A after he announced his candidacy.  It exposed him to some difficult issues like gay marriage, and that's surely what Hillary is avoiding — all while trying to maintain the illusion of openness.

    Putting aside questions of electability, Hillary's overabundance of caution and expedience raise the biggest questions about her candidacy.  Like her husband before her, Hillary is such a political animal that not much can realistically be expected from her in terms of leadership. 

    She has already, in a few short years in the Senate, voted to let George Bush take us to war in Iraq, and she did so because opposing the president so soon after 9/11 was too great a political risk.  Even after it became clear to almost everyone that the war is a failure that has made the region, and the U.S., less safe, she has been achingly slow to respond.  She hasn't even given a speech renouncing her vote on the run-up to the way; admitting only when pressed in a "Today Show" interview that if she knew then what she knew today, she would have voted differently.

    If political expedience prevented her — and continues to prevent her — from doing anything to stop the deaths of young men and women in an unjust war, then only very wishful thinking suggests she would expend political capital on the civil rights of gay men and lesbians.  (And that same criticism, by the way, goes for Edwards, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and any other senatorial presidents-in-waiting.)

    I understand Hillary's appeal for lesbians and gay men both — strong women who have perservered through difficult times have always been our favorites. But Hillary must break out of her carefully scripted shell and show real, risk-taking leadership.  Bill Clinton talked famously of "a place called Hope" and Barack Obama burst on the national stage talking about "The Audacity of Hope."  Hillary will get nowhere with "The Audacity of Being Cautious."

    January 18, 2007

    That giant dripping sound…

    Posted by: Chris

    Maxwell …I've been hearing the last year or so was the value of my Washington, D.C., condo drip, drip, dripping away. 

    I remember being excited and worried at the same time when a whole slew of condo buildings replaced dilapidated storefronts and the like along 14th Street, N.W., between my office at 14th & U and my home just a few blocks up the hill.  Excited because the neighborhood was changing so rapidly — already a complete makeover since my arrival in 2001.  Worried because I'd seen something like this in Midtown Atlanta — the queens moved in, renovated home by home, then came the developers, then came the condo buildings, then came the glut and the condo market crash.

    Last week, my condo hit three months on the market — not unheard of these days but not so great, either.  I found some solace from this New York Times article from Tuesday that I'm not the only one caught in the glut. The story reports how even a savvy businessman like David Franco, the respected founder and owner of Universal Gear clothing stores, has been forced by the market to convert a planned condo building a couple of blocks from me from condo to rental apartments:

    Since the middle of 2006, the frenzied condominium market here and in several other big cities like Las Vegas, Miami and Boston has collapsed. Once roaring sales have slowed to a trickle, sparse inventory has mushroomed into a glut and soaring prices have flattened out and started falling. 

    In hopes of salvaging something from their costly plans, hundreds of developers like Mr. Franco are looking to the strong market for apartments, planning to rent their units for at least a couple of years while waiting for today’s condo surplus to shrink. …

    Industry analysts also point out that rents may start sagging if too many condos are converted into apartments too quickly. While rents were rising at a robust 6.1 percent annual pace in the Washington area late last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some buildings in the suburbs have recently started promoting move-in specials and other incentives to lure renters.

    My place is in The Maxwell, a Wardman building from 1909 that was largely gutted and redone — preserving a beautiful staircase inside and parquet floors — in 2004. The timing was right for me, when I was ready to quit my 30-minute commute to/from my home in Falls Church, Va. That's what I get, I suppose, from being one of those gays who doesn't start trends but tries to be among the first to follow.

    January 17, 2007

    I know you are, but what am I?

    Posted by: Chris

    Donkey Reaction to my post on the Democrat-ization of the Human Rights Campaign has been at times heated, though the light hasn't always matched the temperature.

    The cattier-than-thou bloggers over at Queerty went so far as to call me a "douche bag" — well, "reported douche bag," though no sources were cited.  When they got to the substance, they cast the issue as whether HRC should only back politicians or only fight gay marriage ballot initiatives.  "Can't we just split the force?" Queerty's anonymous blogger asks. Well yes, of course, but it's a matter of priority.  For me, the priority for HRC should be gay issues, not semi-gay-friendly Democrats. 

    Many of my critics have suggested I'm arguing that, rather than back Democrats, HRC should instead back Republicans.  I didn't say that because I have never believed that.  In fact, I said it was glaringly obvious that Democrats in general are much better than the GOP on gay issues.  Any self-respecting gay group other than Log Cabin that didn't back Democrats the vast majority of the time is delusional.

    The only time I referenced choosing between the parties was in congressional races from swing districts, where HRC under Democratic operative Joe Solmonese has abandoned any pretense of sticking with moderate GOP incumbents and backed the Democratic challenger almost every time.  That strategy contributes to a hardened, more conservative GOP and usually results in the election of Dems who are are at best marginally better on gay issues.   

    So long as the parties remain competitive, it's important to have allies on both sides of the aisle, and to work against the influence of social conservatives on the Republican side.  Otherwise, gay rights face an utterly hostile GOP leadership that will block enactment of our legislation so long as they control either house of Congress or the White House — or, for that matter, can at least muster a fillibuster.

    But saving moderate Republicans wasn't the focus of my criticism.  My complaint is that HRC under Solmonese is essentially putting the gay rights movement at the disposal of the Democratic Party.  He has decided the No. 1 priority for winning our equality is to elect Democrats whenever and wherever possible. 

    It's as if HRC's leaders have concluded the gay rights movement is equivalent to, say, the Association of American Plastics Manufacturers or any other trade lobby (though few trade association "suicide" on one party or the other).  So all the focus is on beltway politics and the Democratic Party, and none on winning the hearts and minds of "we the people" who actually do the electing of these politicians — and the voting on these ballot measures.  No doubt because of Solmonese's limited background as a political hack, not a movement leader, he has turned HRC back into the glorified PAC it was before its heyday.

    The effect of that decision would be limited if, as some commenters have suggested, there's "room in the movement" for all sorts of organizations.  But HRC has — since Elizabeth Birch's phenomenal job of growing the organization (while ignoring the mission) through the 1990s — sucked almost all the money out of gay America.  For better or worse, HRC has set itself up as essentially the NAACP-behemoth of the gay rights movement.

    With all those resources comes responsibility.  A glorified-PAC run by a political operative won't effectively lead a civil rights movement, mobilizing people to get out a message that brings about social change.   That's not just to make us "feel good," as another blogger suggested, but to take our equality message straight to the people.  There's no smoke-filled backdoor to equality.

    Under Solmonese, HRC has nothing to say to the people.  They're presumed as bored and uninterested in our issues as they would be in plastics manufacturing.  For Solmonese, the only serious conversations are with politicians, so that's where the serious money goes.  That would be bad enough if it weren't coupled with his stated desire to marginalize our movement into a special interest within the Democratic Party like labor unions.

    January 16, 2007

    Another gay poll gone wrong

    Posted by: Chris

    Londonouttraveler Everyone knows the gays have a reputation for fabulous taste in all sorts of things, including travel destinations.  As with fashion, urban neighborhoods and any given aesthetic trend, as go the gays, so goes everyone — eventually.

    But apparently those of you (er, us) who subscribe to Out Traveler magazine didn't get the memo.  In the magazine's 2006 "Readers' Choice" awards, the selections weren't fashion forward or even mildly creative.  They were, in fact, the same choices the average joe schmo non-homo might make:

    Favorite U.S. destination:  New York City
    Favorite foreign destination:  London
    Favorite island:  Hawaiian Islands
    Favorite gay resort: Key West

    Remember, these aren't your run-of-the-mill 'mos making these choices.  They're gays interested enough in travel to read a gay travel magazine chock full of new and different vacation ideas, along with the old stand-bys.  So c'mon people, we're better than this!

    Key West as "Favorite Gay Resort"?  Maybe 10 years ago (or longer).  It retains a modicum of charm amidst a sea of aging hetero cruise passengers, decked out in fanny packs and matching T-shirts.  These days, Key West doesn't even qualify as the best (or most popular) gay resort in South Florida.  That prize goes to trés-gay Fort Lauderdale.

    The Hawaiian Islands?  What is this — a prize package on "The Newlywed Game"?  Yes, they're gorgeous (OK, I've actually never been.)  But at least go with Ibiza or some place with a little spice.  Mykonos, anyone?  Lesbos?  (The island, not the pejorative.)

    New York as favorite U.S. destination?  Of course the city is amazing, but can't we be a tad more adventurous, Out Traveler readers?  Venture a bit more afield?  At least you didn't pick San Francisco.  (Oh wait a minute, you did — San Francisco Gay Pride as favorite gay event.  At least Gay Days in Orlando came in second, though even it has seen hipper days.)

    Then there's London as favorite foreign destination.  Now don't get me wrong; I love London.  It's the most truly international city I've ever visited.  Give me London over New York any ole day.  But again, can we be a bit more daring?  Next to Tijuana and Toronto, London is probably the most commonly visited foreign city by Americans.  Aren't we gays supposed to lead the crowd, not follow?

    So we come to a new survey question (since Madonna eviscerated all competition — including U.K. fave Kylie Minogue — for greatest gay icon of all time.  Besides, I knew you guys picked well when this weekend I saw, by complete coincidence, a VH-1 special dubbed into Portuguese that named Madonna the "No. 1 gay music icon."  Note to Jimbo: Kylie didn't even make their Top 20.)

    What ought to be the favorite non-U.S. gay travel destination?  I've come up with 10 options, including London and staying with popular places including some that are a bit more off the beaten trail.  Fully half of them are in Europe, and yes, I included my current address.  I offer no apologies for that bit of complete objectivity.

    So cast your vote!  (Doing so won't take you off the site or stick you with spam, I promise.)  And if you don't like my choices, don't hesitate to add a comment with alternatives.

    January 15, 2007

    The mainstreaming of 'Brokeback'

    Posted by: Chris

    Nightatmuseum It seems even a "family movie" these days can include a "Brokeback Mountain" reference, though the one they slipped into Ben Stiller's "A Night at the Museum" flies below the radar of most young-uns. 

    After fighting incessantly for most of the film, miniature cowboy Jebediah (Owen Wilson) is finally bonding with miniature Roman emperor Octavius (Steve Coogan). Facing (silly) adversity, Octavius yells for Jebediah to save himself.  "No way!" Jebediah yells back. "I'm not gonna quit you!" It's a very subtle send-up, of course, of Jake Gyllenhaal's now-classic line in "Brokeback," when he says to Heath Ledger, "I wish I knew how to quit you." 

    Not surprisingly, it was completely lost on the youngish , mostly local crowd who saw the film last night with my boyfriend and me in Leblon, a ritzy beach neighborhood in Rio De Janeiro.  Then again, my guffaw is usually the only one in the cinema down here when the joke depends on American pop culture references.  A trailer before the film for "The Simpsons" new movie finds Homer swinging helplessly on a wrecking ball between a big rock and a building…with a bar…called "The Hard Place." The Brazilian translators, who usually don't miss a detail in the subtitles, didn't even attempt to explain that bit of visual pun.

    I would be curious to hear if the adults back home in the States are catching the "Brokeback" joke from "A Night at the Museum."

    January 14, 2007

    HRC gets Dem-jacked

    Posted by: Chris

    Solmonesejoe_1 The answer arrived this weekend for anyone still wondering whether the Human Rights Campaign would maintain any semblance of nonpartisanship under Democratic operative-turned gay rights activist Joe Solmenese. This comes from a fawning profile in Saturday's Boston Globe about HRC's role in the election campaign last fall:

    Playing down its support for gay marriage, the HRC mobilized its 650,000 members to staff phone banks, raise money, and participate in get-out-the-vote campaigns to elect candidates sympathetic to gay issues, even if they didn't support gay marriage. The group was the single biggest donor to Democratic state Senate races in New Hampshire, helping the party take control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since 1874.

    The group also helped congressional candidates from Arizona to Florida and Ohio, and party activists believe the organization can play an even larger role in the 2008 elections. The idea, leaders say, is to become a steady source of funds and grass-roots support for Democrats — more akin to a labor union than a single-issue activist group.

    I can certainly understanding the decision not to adopt some sort of "suicide" strategy on marriage, refusing HRC support to all but the few candidates willing to back marriage equality.  But HRC's new commitment to partisan politics goes far beyond that bit of political realism.

    (An editor's aside: "Bipartisan" is among the most misused words in politics.  Legislation gets called "bipartisan" if it has even one sponsor from "the other party," which is indicative of nothing more than a single party rebel. Even more often bipartisan, which means "marked by cooperation between two major political parties," gets used when really what is meant is nonpartisan, which means free from party affiliation or bias. HRC has long claimed to be "bipartisan," though you have to click to the jump page of its mission statement to find the word now. In fact, HRC aspires to be nonpartisan, or at least it used to.)

    How has the hijacking of HRC by Democrats worked out so far? For one, HRC took money out of the fight against ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage, even when they would amend state constitutions.  "Solmonese said the group decided after the losses of 2004 that they could be more effective by focusing on candidates instead of ballot initiatives," the Globe reported. 

    So instead, HRC sank money and support in favor of Democratic Party priorities, like winning a majority in the New Hampshire state Senate.  In fact, the Globe reports, HRC was the single largest donor on New Hampshire state Senate races. How exactly does that move gay Americans closer to equality?

    The effect of the new HRC strategy is to put all the gay movement's marbles in the Democratic Party basket, even though from Bill Clinton and John Kerry on down, the party has almost never taken a political risk for its gay constituents. The Globe story compares the new HRC strategy as akin to that of labor unions.  We can all see how powerful they aren't, after sinking themselves into a one-party, no message strategy.

    Ricksantorum What's worse, HRC support for Democrats, especially in the most contested congressional races, often went to beat moderate and even pro-gay Republicans. They weren't targeted as such, but moderate Republicans are by and large from mixed, closely contested districts. So while you'll hear all sorts of gloating about the defeat of Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Democrat successes in most places came at the expense of GOP incumbents like Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, another Pennsylvania Republican. Log Cabin endorsed Fitzpatrick, but HRC dumped him for Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy.

    It's too soon to know whether HRC's blind faith in Democrats will bear fruit, or whether Solmonese will muster the courage to criticize his fellow travelers if they follow previous patterns.  Color me skeptical.  Solmonese came to HRC from Emily's List, a women's rights group that chose to officially align itself with the Democratic Party; clearly, Solmonese envisions something similar for the nation's richest gay rights group. 

    People like Solmonese so committed to partisanship will forgive all sorts of abuses from the party under the guise of buying into the bigger picture.  They will invariably accept excuse after excuse why now isn't the time for Democrats to expend political capital on the civil rights of gay people.

    The HRC "Massachusetts mafia" that hired Solmonese wanted a political operative, not an inspirational leader; and unfortunately, that's what they got. Anyone who's heard Solmonese  speak, or listened to his satellite radio show, knows that his focus is all on the horse race.  He must snooze his way through news articles about civil rights until he can get to the "good stuff" — who's up, who's down, raw politics.  There's no harm in that, per se, but you hire that person to direct your political operations, not lead the whole organization, much less a movement.

    "What makes you political powerful is money and membership," the Globe quotes Solmonese as saying.  Notice that missing from that poli-sci lesson is anything about the message.  In the Solmonese playbook, having a meaningful message just doesn't count. (Neither does Solmonese's claim about membership, since he admitted last year that HRC cooks the numbers, counting as "members" anyone who's ever given even a single dollar to the organization.)

    Hrc_logo The Solmonese partisan allegiance, along with his disregard for winning hearts and minds — as opposed to just votes — is what's really behind his decision to divert money from the ballot measures to backing Democrats. The mixed results from November — which included several close calls and a win in Arizona — prove these ballot measures are, in fact, winnable. And losing has a serious cost, given the difficulty of re-amending a state constitution to once again permit marriage (and in many cases, even civil unions).

    But those aren't the biggest costs to the movement from Solmonese's failure to keep his eyes on the prize, as Martin Luther King, Jr., used to say.  (Can anyone imagine the Civil Rights Movement putting the likes of Solmonese at its helm, much less suborning the dream of equality to one political party?)  Unlike the countless, faceless races in which HRC spent gay rights money on somewhat-pro-gay Democrats, these ballot initiatives are about "our issues."  They represent an important opportunity to engage the public on marriage, something our leaders always say we need to do more of but never seem to get around to doing.

    In fact, HRC has wasted lots of money fighting marriage ballot measures, usually on ads that don't even advocate for marriage but instead invoke bland rhetoric about "not writing discrimination into the constitution" or making the argument that marriage is already banned by legislation. It's the kind of message that tests well with focus groups but (a) doesn't win elections and (b) does nothing to engage on the issue itself, reaching "the mushy middle" that is sympathetic to gay people but hasn't gotten over "the M word."

    Rather than see the money was wasted because it didn't go toward the message, Solmonese has instead diverted crucial funds even further from the actual battleground. That's because the HRC of Joe Solmonese has given up reaching those people, and instead chosen the lobbyist end-run: giving money through the back door to buy politicians who it's hoped will show leadership. It's a big gamble and one that shows little faith in the power of the message.  And it's certainly no way to run a movement.

    January 12, 2007

    A thoughtful 'primal scream' on Iraq

    Posted by: Chris

    Terrymichael A hearty "Amen, brother!" to my friend Terry Michael, for his blistering critique of how Democrats rolled over for the president in the months leading up to the Iraq war. And worse yet, as Terry points out, they're still rolling over — though, I would add, for the opposite reason.

    Even though Terry's "primal scream" is from the left, it found a home in a right-wing newspaper— the Washington Times — that no doubt considers the enemy of its enemy its friend:

    Like millions of other Americans, I can no longer contain the primal scream I want to direct at the members of my party who declined to engage a real debate in the run-up to this completely avoidable misjudgment of old men and women, willing to send boys and girls to die for their ideological hallucinations and political cowardice.

    Non-existent, and certainly non-threatening WMDs. A secularist paper-tiger dictator, despised by the Islamist lunatics who actually had anything to do with Sept. 11. A tribal, theocratic culture with zero indigenous movement for pluralistic democracy.
    All of those things were knowable when congressional Democrats like Mr. Biden had an opportunity to stop this madness before it started. Some of them actually shared the neoconservative pretensions of a new American imperialism. But most just quaked in their permanent campaign boots, fearing being labeled Cold War-style liberal wimps.

    Hillaryclinton Spot-on.  You could see it in their faces during the "debate" over whether to authorize President Bush to use force in Iraq.  Led by White House wannabe's like John Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat after Democrat sent our soldiers to die to protect their own political hides.  To my mind, that makes them much more culpable than the zealous Republicans (and Democrats like Joe Lieberman) who drank the kool-aid and still haven't come to. 

    And it also ought disqualify them from eligibility for the White House, absent a serious mea culpa and a sense that the mistake won't be repeated.  Since Kerry was also wrong on Iraq in '91 (voting against the Persian Gulf War), his judgment on questions of war and peace is beyond redemption.

    But the Democrats — even basking in the glory of newfound power — are writing another chapter in "Profiles Lacking Courage."  More from Terry:

    Trying to finesse their way out of their Faustian bargain, Democrats now engage in a transparent antiwar vamp, with limp proposals to implement the September 11 commission report and half-measures opposing escalation. … Where are the Gordon Smith's in the Democratic Party? Where are the conviction politicians willing to spend political capital to lead a citizenry which has decided overwhelmingly that this war is crazy? …

    Instead, the only place I can find truth speaking to power is on a cable TV comedy channel, not in the chambers of what used to be called the greatest deliberative body in the world. Is anybody out there willing to lead?

    There are lions like Gordon Smith in the Democratic Party, and none roars louder than Ted Kennedy, who has consistently opposed the war and did so again in a stirring call-against-arms this week.  And Kennedy did more than talk, he introduced a bill that would require approval from Congress before additional troops go to fight an unjust  and ill-conceived war. But Kennedy is the exception among Democrats, many of whom are still afraid to engage the GOP on "national security" matters, only proving they are the wimps they are afraid Republicans will make them out to be. 

    But now there's an additional, even more cynical reason that many Democrats will say only so much as to preserve their political options.  At this point, Iraq is not just George Bush's mess, it's the Republicans' mess.  Consider the party's '08 front-runner, John McCain, who until this week could deflect his support for the war by claiming it was carried out ineptly.  This week the president called McCain's bluff, since sending more troops is exactly what McCain has been advocating for months.  If the result isn't successful, then McCain will have to out-maneuver the likes of John Kerry to explain himself to voters.

    Joebiden_1 So for many Democrats, the mess is someone else's, and with no easy solutions it's best to let them face the clean-up.  And the worse the mess, the worse the political fallout for Republicans. On the other hand, responding to Kennedy's leadership and pushing for full-scale withdrawal — even from such an obviously failed effort — carries the "cut and run" risk that "wimp"-fearing Democrats are too averse to take. So like Joe Biden (D-Del.), lampooned in Terry's piece for claiming "there's not much [he] can do" about Iraq, they send stern letters to the White House while more soldiers go to their deaths.

    January 10, 2007

    Take that, Kylie!

    Posted by: Chris

    Madonna Three days into the voting, Madonna and Cher have commanding leads in our little survey question about who's the greatest gay icon of all time.  As I write this post, Madonna has more than a third of all votes (35.7%) and Cher is not far behind with about a quarter of the tally (24.8%).  Judy, Liza and Barbra trail distantly, and the rest don't even register.

    I'm not at all surprised that Kylie Minogue has almost no backing here — though her fans can certainly be vocal.  Our poll confirms that the U.K. survey that named the Aussie pop star the greatest ever was by no means representative of friends of Dorothy stateside. Yeah she's beautiful and been through rough times (cancer) — two of our gay icon criteria. But, sorry, she comes up short on talent; she's had only a small handful of hits stateside and there's not much behind the pretty looks — at least not for me. 

    Madonna and Cher, on the other hand, are obvious choices.  Madonna has maintained peak popularity for almost a quarter century.  And in the 40 years Cher has spent in showbiz, she's had so many comebacks I've lost count.  Both have reinvented themselves to keep up with the times and to do their part to push the envelope.  I would even agree that Madge gets the upper hand, if for no other reason than that she's shown more substance in her art.

    I'll leave the voting open for a few more days to see if Cher can make up the distance, or Kylie can come back from her embarrassing early showing.

    Younger voices in 'values' debate

    Posted by: Chris

    Christopherrice After posting on Monday about a rekindled debate among gay men over "values," I came across a couple of viewpoints from the younger set worth noting. In a recent Advocate magazine column, author Christopher Rice wrote about "the gay divide" between his 20-something crowd and those (including me, just barely!) over 40:

    Conventional gay wisdom says that AIDS in the mid-1980s stole an entire generation of gay men who were on their way to becoming the gay uncles of tomorrow. But my experience suggests that AIDS didn't behead the gay community; it drove a wedge between generations that neither side has done a very good job of bridging. I have met countless gay men over 40 who lived through the first years of the epidemic only to move into a world of inswardly focused domesticity and lose their taste for communal gathering places fueled by sex and alcohol. On the other side of this divide, my generation rose up, convinced that it could return to the escapist delights of the 1980s as long as it remembered to put on a condom. …

    A true bridge between gay generations will require non-sexual mentoring between older and younger gay men. This isn't easy, since the bar, with its social hierarchies rooted in sexual attraction, remains our central gathering place. But that doesn't mean we need to tear them all down, or throw up more community centers where sex and flirtation are banned. Rather, we need to approach the world as out gay men in all areas of our lives. The freedom to be gay around the clock is what allows gay men to engage as full-fledged human beings, not just sexual ones.

    I couldn't agree more with Rice, though I think AIDS both beheaded and wedged gay men largely along generational lines.  There's no question that there are fewer gay Baby Boomers in their 40s and 50s to mentor younger Gen-X and Gen-Y gays and (just as importantly) serve as role models, especially in maintaining long-term relationships.

    I'm more optimisic than Rice about whether sexual attraction operates as a barrier between generations.  We're all accustomed to having other gay men as friends without sex interfering in the relationship.

    In fact, we're much more experienced and adept at keeping things platonic than our hetero brethren.  Remember the classic debate between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally" about whether men and women could ever be "just friends"?  I'm always surprised when I hear a straight person — whether a friend or in TV or the movies — become angry with a boyfriend-girlfriend-spouse for having a friendship with someone of the opposite sex.  Are they really so sexually undisciplined?  Could you imagine a gay man complaining that his boyfriend has other gay male friends?

    Rice does point out how difficult it can be to bring the different age groups together, though every extended friendship network — whether real or virtual via Friendster, MySpace or the like — offers plenty of opportunities to interact. And there's so much to be gained!

    Rice writes quite complimentarily of the wisdom his elders have imparted, but I hope he does not sell short what he and his generation have to teach us.  There are tremendous advantages to coming of age in a society that is more accepting of homosexuality.  In fact, I think that developmental time spent in the closet — dividing feelings of love and sex and associating sex with guilt — causes more relationship problems for gay men over 30 than anything else.

    Along those same lines, Lovetastic co-founder Ryan Norbauer commented in response to some of the criticisms of his site in my Monday post:

    You seem to imply that our site somehow positions itself against sex. To the contrary, we want to help gay men find better sex through deeper romantic connections. In my experience, the best love-making comes when you have a deep spiritual connection with your partner, based on something more than simply an appreciation of his body (although that's obviously an important component of a good relationship too.)

    It's nice to see that level of understanding from someone in their 20s.  I know plenty of folks in their 40s who separate sex from deeper emotion as if they were still in the closet.  It's no doubt in the eye of the beholder whether Lovetastic is truly a better venue for "deeper connections" or whether it's a site for those less comfortable with their physical appearance.  There's certainly a place in the gay world for it, whatever the case.

    Norbauer adds that he shares my "discomfort with the term 'values.'" "Lovetastic isn't about promulgating some system of values," he writes, "it's about providing an aesthetic and philosophical alternative to most of the other self-proclaimed gay dating sites."

    Haggardpoints_4 Actually, I'm very comfortable with a discussion about values, and I think it's long overdue.  We are so used to being on the receiving end of a wagging finger ever time we hear the word, that "values" has become not-so-coded for "judgmental" or, even worse, "prejudiced."  In fact, we all live by values, whether consciously or subconsciously, even if our primary value is to live a life free of all conduct rules.

    I still remember when I was in my mid-20s, struggling with the closet, and an Episcopal minister challenged me to list my "sexual values."  What bar must be reached to be sexually intimate with someone?  It was an invaluable exercise then and one I've repeated many times over the years since. 

    Is physical attraction all we require?  Physical attraction + the absence of other offending qualities?  I remember discovering way back when that my sexual interest was inversely proportional to my romantic/relationship interest.  That is; the less likely I thought the prospects of a relationship, the more interested I was in having sex right away (assuming the mutual attraction piece was there, of course).  If a relationship did seem a real possibilty, on the other hand, I would push to wait, hoping we could get to know each other better and, as Ryan suggests, sex would be an expression of something other than "we're hot for each other."

    What are your sexual values?

    January 09, 2007

    A Blade with an edge

    Posted by: Chris

    Adrianfenty_dc A friend forwarded me a short but very sweet piece by Kevin Naff, my successor as editor at the Washington Blade, who wrote an open note in the Washington Post before the New Year to newly-sworn-in D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty not to forget his promises to gay District residents.

    Kevin reminded Fenty of two campaign pledges: First, to release a memo written ages ago by former Mayor Anthony Williams' (gay) attorney general, advising whether the District should recognize marriage licenses issued to gay couples in places like Massachusetts and Canada. It's long been rumored that the memo says D.C. should give full recognition to such couples, but Williams reneged on repeated promises to release it. Fenty has said he would.

    Second, Fenty came out strongly during the campaign in favor of gay marriage itself in the nation's capital. As I pointed out in a recent blog post, Kevin reminds the mayor that political stars are now aligned for such a move:

    The fight for same-sex-marriage rights has been delayed in the District because politicians and activists have feared a backlash from the GOP-controlled Congress. But as Heidi Klum would say, "The Republicans are out!" So that excuse is gone. The City Council has the votes to approve a same-sex-marriage bill. The council should pass it and you should sign it. It's the right thing to do for the city's gay and lesbian families that lack basic protections and benefits that are taken for granted by our straight counterparts.

    Here, here! Not to mention the lie it would put to the idea that only "judicial activists" can bring about marriage for gay couples.

    Finally, Kevin asks Fenty to use his "bully pulpit to denounce homophobic rants" delivered by bullies in the pulpits of some prominent African-American churches in D.C. For a city with black political leadership that is incredibly supportive of gay rights, there are a surprising number of prominent ministers playing an active role in city politics who deliver jaw-dropping sermons about the sexual practices of gay men and lesbians.

    I'm not sure it's necessarily the mayor's role to respond to Sunday sermons, but if they come from any of his own political allies, or those he has appointed to District commissions (as was the case with Fenty's predecessor), then absolutely he should find his voice. Fortunately, there's every indication that Adrian Fenty will do exactly that.

    January 08, 2007

    A new kind of 'values' debate

    Posted by: Chris

    Ericrofes Eric Rofes would be proud. I only met him once, but we corresponded from time to time after I read his fantastic book, "Reviving the Tribe." I identified with how Rofes saw the need for gay men to look below the surface for meaning in our lives. The first step for many of us was to free ourselves from the shackles of self-loathing and judgmentalism, but what value system would take their place?

    Not that Rofes was the first or the only gay male voice to recognize the need for us to attain greater spiritual depth, but he was fairly unique in his ability to explore that need without trashing "gay life" the way so many "mainstream" gay men are wont to do.

    I call them the "happen to be gay" men. They trash "the bars" as if they were uniformly meat markets, "the scene" as if it were all drugs, endless clubbing and unsafe sex, "the activism" as if supporting gay rights means screaming at ACT UP protests, and "the attitude" by which they generally mean that men more attractive than them don't return their interest.

    Eric knew better. He knew that finding spiritual depth didn't require trashing the bars, the scene, activism or attitude. It meant finding common ground on which gay men can connect at a level other than superficial. It was a huge loss to "the movement" when Rofes passed away of an apparent heart attack last summer at the age of 51.

    But now it seems a new round of folks is giving it a try, if a story from today's San Francisco Chronicle is any indication.  The article focuses on three gay men — Ryan Norbauer, 25, founder of Lovetastic.com; Doug Sebesta, 50, co-founder of the San Francisco Gay Men's Community Initiative; and Christopher Lee Nutter, 36, author of "The Way Out," a self-help book:

    They and others across the country are engaging gay men in conversations about their goals and values — both personal and collective — and challenging the sense of who gay men are and what makes their community. This introspection is happening as gay men are able to move away from the AIDS crisis, which had demanded their full attention for two decades, and now have the time and energy to look inward, these leaders say.

    Unfortunately, of the three, only Sebasta seems able to engage in the type of search envisioned by Rofes, a fellow San Franciscan, without denigrating those of us who don't "happen to be gay" but actually are. The Chronicle reports:

    Norbauer, who lives in Massachusetts, said his experience seeking a lover led him to Web sites and personal ads that were more about sex than personality. "That's not what being gay is about," he said. "Being gay is about loving men, and love is not the most pervasive thing on those publications or Web sites."

    Unsatisfied, he created his own dating Web site, Lovetastic.com, where he requires that men be fully clothed in their posted pictures. The site is more MySpace than Manhunt, an Internet hookup site.

    Actually, being gay is about loving men and having sex with them. What Rofes understood is that you don't have to trash the sex to celebrate the love. He founded PerfectUnion.net to fight for marriage rights, as well as Sex Panic!, the short-lived but influential group that fought the sex-negative safe-sex efforts of the late '90s.

    Ryannorbauer If you take a look at Norbauer's Lovetastic, the first thing you notice is that almost half the "happen to be gay" men looking for "love not sex" on the site are too closeted to include any photo at all.  As for the others, well, it's clear why they seek a safe space to remain clothed. What's more, their profiles are no more or less depthful that what you'd find on, say, Gay.com, the afore-mentioned MySpace, Google's Orkut or Friendster, or (gasp!) even BigMuscle, BigMuscleBears and Gaydar, for that matter. 

    The profile questionaire promises you won't be judged by your "stats," but it hastens to judge you by your "taste": "Taste is not only a part and index of morality," it announces, "it is the only morality." So much for spirituality — what's your favorite movie?! I had expected more of a personality questionnaire, like the kind used on eHarmony (which refuses on religious grounds to match up same-sex couples).

    Instead, Lovetastic profiles are full of dismissiveness of the non-statistcal variety: "I have more important things to do with my time than go to the gym" is a typical refrain.  Well I guess I haven't, and after using urban gyms in three major U.S. cities, I can tell you that without exception, the gay men there are a cross-section: from braniacs, type-A achievers and type-B creative types, to true athletes, muscleheads and retail queens.

    Gay men in Washington, D.C., love to trash my gym (Results-Dupont) as a bastion of Muscle Marys with attitude, but among its members are Andrew Sullivan, HRC prez Joe Solmonese, Barney Frank and countless politicos, foundation heads, authors and the like. But my point is a bigger one: is counting resume inches truly more depthful than measuring "nether regions," as Lovetastic calls them?

    Chrisnutter Christopher Lee Nutter, another of those featured in Chronicle story, makes the Lovetastic profiles look downright tolerant. Nutter's own story is one of lurching from extreme depression in the closet, to "a state of bliss" as a "reborn" gay male, to "high as a kite" as a bartender at a New York City gay bar, posing nude for a photo book, to "spending weeks getting control" of himself if a guy didn't return his phone call.

    Then he bought a book by the Dalai Lama and after two years of "isolation tank" soul-searching, had a conversion experience walking down the street when he became "suddenly awash in… extreme clarity and awareness." Would you buy a used self-help book from this man? As one reader, reacting to an excerpt of Nutter's book on Advocate.com, put it:

    I recognize that we're now in the Age of Oprah and that anyone who lacks the sensitivity of Dr. Phil is considered a neanderthal, but one gets the impression that Mr. Nutter has taken things to a new level. By recycling every touchy-feely, new agey self-help adage that's ever been written, he's created a book whose insights sound astonishingly trite.

    Dougsebesta Then there's Doug Sebasta, the 50-year-old San Franciscan who helped launch a group aimed at making life in that city more meaningful, and more fun:

    Sebesta said that as the community emerges from the AIDS epidemic, some gay men in San Francisco have found broken pieces of what used to be. But many have told him it is difficult to meet other gay men outside of sexual encounters or to connect on an emotional or friendship level.

    "Over and above, people were saying they really have this longing for a sense of community (and) that they feel everything is fractured, that everybody is paranoid, and nobody is having fun," he said.

    His group takes an unusual approach to healing the "fractured," clique-ish nature of gay male life in the big city: creating separate community groups specifically for blacks, Latinos, Asians, young men under 25 and older men over 50. The counter-intuitive idea, according to the group's website is that, "most people believed that before we could begin building something unified, each respective group of gay men had to deal with their own 'stuff.'"

    I don't quite get that logic, but maybe as a white gay guy between 25 and 50, I'm not supposed to. And to their credit, their umbrella group ForEveryMan is by far the most active, so they put their organizing where their mouth is. Of course, not everyone is a "joiner," but here's hoping that groups like Sebasta's might contribute to a bigger dialogue about how gay men can live more meaningful — and fun — lives.

    January 07, 2007

    Why do we want to marry?

    Posted by: Chris

    Gaycaketopper A reader takes me to task for supposedly buying into conservative  arguments against gay marriage when I questioned the idea of replacing the Social Security spousal survivor benefit with a system that allows an individual to designate survivor benefits to whomever he wants:

    In reading your blog from Jan. 4, regarding designating a beneficiary of one's Social Security benefits, I was struck by the odd use of the same arguments advanced by those who oppose gay marriage.  Perhaps I misunderstood the position you were advocating but it looked surprisingly like the "dangerous social experimentation" hogwash that is used to deny our right to marry.  People married for millenia without government sanction or subsidy.  Marriage, no doubt, would continue whether the government is in the business of handing out licenses and subsidies or not.   It seems to me the real argument here is over personal freedom, the rights of individuals to live their lives as they see fit, marry, or not, and  designate to whom their property should go when they die.  …

    I am confused as to why you think the government has some right to deny individuals who have paid into Social Security, based on their income, the ability to designate the recipient of those funds upon death.  If Social Security was designed purely as a welfare program to subsidize the elderly below a certain income threshold I would agree with you, but it is not set up that way. 

    That's just it. I don't think the "dangerous social experimentation" argument, among all those made by conservatives, is "hogwash." I harbor no ounce of doubt about a gay Americans' legal right under our constitutions (federal and state) to marry. But I do not dismiss as "hogwash" the idea that opening up marriage to gay couples may have a profound social impact. In fact, I hope it does. Count me among those who believe that allowing gay couples to marry will introduce greater stability and happiness in the lives of many of us — and not simply because of the laundry list of legal rights and responsibilities that our activists tick off.

    But it's naive to think allowing gays to marry won't have impacts on the instution of marriage as well, and we do ourselves no favor when we dismiss as "hogwash" or, worse, bigoted, any suggestion to that effect, or when we blithely suggest that "marriage, no doubt, would continue whether the government is in the business of handing out licenses and subsidies or not." Yes, but in what form?

    I certainly don't believe that allowing a gay couple to marry will endanger the straight marriages on their neighborhood block, but we all know that's not what conservatives are really saying.  If we really do agree with conservatives that marriage is a fundamental human institution, then let's show it the respect of considering in a more serious way the impact on it that our clear legal entitlement will have.

    Back to Social Security — it's not a 401(k) plan managed by the government. It is an entitlement program, designed to create a safety net for older Americans and their immediate household. It's in enough trouble financially without saddling it with the notion that "personal freedom" says it's "my money" that can go wherever I choose.  In that case, I have no kids and want to stop subsidizing public schools; and about that war I disagree with…

    I would agree with the reader that almost no one marries as a way to direct their Social Security benefits. But every step we take that diminishes the special legal status for civil marriage, the less attractive an option it becomes for couples.  The totality of those lessened advantages could very well decrease the number of couples who marry — and if you believe in the positive societal effects of marriage, then you should worry, too.

    If you don't believe in the benefits of marriage, then fine — don't get married. But don't rewrite the law to undermine it for the rest of us out of some sense of "personal freedom." Many of us fighting for gay marriage do buy into the notion of marriage and family as the bedrock of our society. And we aim to do our part to keep it that way.

    January 06, 2007

    My gay icon lies over the ocean

    Posted by: Chris

    Kylieminogue A headline in the Belfast Telegraph caught my eye this morning: "Kylie in queen sweep as gay icon of all time." According to a survey by U.K.-based OnePoll, the Australian pop singer was the biggest gay icon ever.

    Huh? What were those blokes smoking?

    Sexy songstress Kylie Minogue hit top of the gay pops yesterday after she nailed the greatest gay icon of all time accolade. The Aussie pop princess, who fought a difficult battle with breast cancer last year, pipped Country and Western legend Dolly Parton to the post for the esteemed title.

    A lot of people took a chance on pop supergroup ABBA, who came third. In fourth place was Wizard of Oz star Judy Garland, whose lifelong battles with drink, drugs and men, have assured her a permanent place in gay iconography.

    Dolly Holy Madonna, what a difference an ocean makes! I would venture to say that Kylie wouldn't show up in the Top 10, or maybe even the Top 100, gay icons of all time for us Yanks. I was pleased to see Dolly so high on the OnePoll list since she's a personal fave of this Southern boy. But gay icon Dolly? Maybe, though not No. 2 of all time.

    So let's put this to the test. Take a minute and vote in the thoroughly un-scientific survey I've added (via Vizu) just below my glamour shot to the right of the blog posts, and let's see how it turns out. Don't worry — voting won't navigate you off the site or register you with anything. And as soon as you vote, you can see the results so far.

    And maybe with your comments to this post, we can discuss what qualities make a great gay icon. Here are my top 5 characteristics:

    1.  Strong/independent female

    2.  Just the right level of bitchiness/attitude.

    3.  Overcame adversity with grace and strength.

    4.  Beautiful but not necessarily in a classic way; more in the way she carries herself.

    5.  Entertaining in a general sense, but with a level of camp that flies a bit under the mainstream radar.

    Oh — and of course — and immediately recognizable by only her first name…

    January 05, 2007

    Edwards can't cross marriage 'bridge'

    Posted by: Chris

    Johnedwards I am of two minds about John Edwards' recent inability to explain his position on gay marriage.  At the former North Carolina senator's very first New Hampshire town hall meeting after announcing another run for the White House, he got hit with the question from a gay man from Boston:

    QUESTION: Given that there's so much dissension in the country about gay marriage, what is your view, or what would you tell your gay supporters in the country what your view is on -- not gay marriage in a religious sense, but gay marriage as a civil right and as being able to get a civil license to marry your same sex partner?

    EDWARDS: Single hardest social issue for me, personally — and there are lots of them — but most of the others, I don't have a lot of personal struggle with. I have a lot of personal struggle with this one. … Because the issue is, from my perspective, I think it is right and fair and just in America that men and women who want to live with their partner should be treated with dignity and respect and should have civil rights, as you refer to them. And the question becomes, 'Can you accomplish that through civil unions or partnership recognition and support of partnership benefits? Does that provide the level of dignity and respect that gay Americans are entitled to? Or do you have to cross the bridge into the issue of gay marriage?' I personally feel great conflict about that. I don't know the answer. Wish I did.

    Given Edwards' slick, focus-group-tested responses to most other policy issues, the public stammering surprised me. Especially at the presidential level, candidates usually get away with rhetorical murder on gay issues because the focus changes so quickly. Using warm and fuzzy words can convey opposition to discrimination, even when the actual position isn't.

    George W. Bush mastered the art in 2000, talking in terms of tolerance while opposing every basic gay rights initiative.  John McCain is already using the same playbook.

    Democrats play the game pretty well also. In 2004, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry portrayed himself as a champion for gay rights even as he not only opposed gay marriage but even backed a constitutional amendment to overturn the court decision in his home state that resulted in this country's first officially married gay couples.

    Edwards, his running mate, did little better. At a Democratic primary debate in '04, Edwards said he admired Kerry's 1996 vote against the Defense of Marriage Act. On national television days later, Edwards spoke approvingly of the same law. Later, Edwards split the baby, saying he would have voted against DOMA because it deprived federal recognition from gay married couples, but he backed the provision in DOMA that lets one state ignore marriage licenses issued to gay couples in another.  Does that mean he would have voted for it, after he voted against it?

    Back in 2004, Edwards refused to take a position on civil unions, saying the issue should be left to the states. At the Dec. 29 appearance in Portsmouth, he showed that in a few years, he's taken a few steps across the gay marriage bridge, even if he's not ready to cross:

    It's very easy for me to say, 'Civil unions? Yes. Partnership benefits? Yes. Obviously all the other anti-discrimination stuff? Yes.' It's a jump for me to get to gay marriage, and I haven't yet gotten across that bridge. But it is something I struggle with, and that's just the truth.

    Among the "anti-discrimination stuff," Edwards probably includes repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," even though he largely dodged the issue last time around. When pressed by a 2003 National Gay & Lesbian Task Force survey, he said "the current policy does not serve our national interests and needs to be changed … so that it treats people fairly and protects our society."  Again, nice language, but not a clear-cut yes for DADT repeal.

    Not surprisingly given these semantic catwalks, Edwards was one of two Democratic presidential candidates to skip a 2003 debate sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign that focused solely on gay issues. (Edwards still managed to ingratiate himself to the group by headlining HRC's Atlanta black-tie dinner.)

    Still, there is a side of Edwards that looks quite prepared to demagogue, including on gay issues. In June 2000, when he was more worried about his North Carolina constituents, Edwards actually voted for an amendment by anti-gay Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah that would have stripped "sexual orientation" from the federal hate crimes bill. Three years later, when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, he co-sponsored a gay-inclusive hate crimes bill. 

    Later that year, Howard Dean was leading the primary pack and famously suggested that Democrats should not allow themselves to get tripped up in the South by "God, guns and gays," as they had in the past. Edwards pounced, saying in a speech, "Some in my party want to duck the values debate. They want to say to America, 'We're  not interested in your values; we want to change the subject to anything else.' That's wrong," he added. 

    Edwards hinted that those Southern "values" remain the primary stumbling block for him on gay marriage. In an appearance last week on ABC's "This Week," host George Stephanopoulos asked  Edwards why gay marriage is so hard for him.

    Elizabethedwards "Because I’m 53 years old, and I grew up in a small town in the rural South," replied Edwards. "I was raised in a the Southern Baptist church, and so I have a belief system that arises from that. It’s part of who I am. I can’t make it disappear. … I’m just not there yet." The same can't be said for Elizabeth Edwards, the candidate's wife, who said on the same program that she "comes from a more eclectic background," so the issue is "less problematic" for her.

    I can't help but believe that there's really less light between the Edwards than he lets on. It's hard to believe Edwards really struggles with his Southern Baptist beliefs given his vocal pro-choice position on abortion. Why isn't that equally hard?

    I began by saying I was of two minds about Edwards' position on gay marriage. Here's what I can't decide. I can't tell whether for him, like for so many others, gay marriage presents a conflict between what he knows is right and what is politically feasible. 

    Or maybe, in the alternative, Edwards struggles so much with the issue because it cuts in so many difficult ways politically — not just between liberal primary voters and centrist general election voters, but between pro-gay early primary states (New Hampshire and Iowa) and newly emergent South Carolina. Playing the ever-important expectations game, favorite son Edwards can't afford to do anything other than spectacular in neighboring South Carolina in such an early contest, but voters there could be turned off by talk in support of gay marriage in places like New Hampshire.

    Either way, all the babbling rhetoric leaves me grumbling, "Where's the beef?" — his actual policy positions. It's time gay voters and lobbying groups decide in concrete terms what we can reasonably expect from those seeking money, support and votes from gays and our allies.

    January 04, 2007

    Marriage, death and taxes

    Posted by: Chris

    Lesbianmoney An interesting post from North Dallas Thirty in response to my criticism of Jim Kolbe, the openly gay Arizona congressman retiring this month. I took Kolbe, a Republican, to task for faulting the Human Rights Campaign for not doing more about extending Social Security survivor benefits to gay couples.

    My point was that to accomplish that goal, Congress would first need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which Kolbe supported, a vote he took until this month to recant. I should point out that North Dallas Thirty, a gay Republican who works in the human resources field, easily eclipses my knowledge of Social Security and pension regulations. He points out in response that extending the Social Security survivor benefit to gay couples can be accomplished in ways other than repealing DOMA and recognizing marriage licenses issued to gay couples.

    In the alternative, he suggests a broader pension reform that allows Americans to elect a Social Security beneficiary, much as they do on their 401(k)-type plans, without regard to whether the beneficiary is a spouse, partner, friend, or what have you. The beneficiary would still only become eligible upon reaching retirement age, though Social Security could be reformed so that the beneficiary doesn't have to choose between his own benefits or those he receives as a beneficiary.

    I will plead ignorant about the budgetary consequences of that sort of Social Security reform, but it does appeal to me by leveling the playing field among not just gay and straight couples, but those in long-term relationships and those who are single — we all pay taxes into the system after all.

    Conversely, NDT's reform gives me pause for the same reason.  Simply because we've been at the receiving end of discrimination, the idea of moving government out of the marrying business can sound attractive. But there are good reasons why government subsidizes marriages, as a way to promote stable lives, protect children and the interests of spouses whose household contribution can't be measured simply in financial terms. 

    These same interests aren't necessarily at play if people can simply elect a beneficiary based upon whatever criteria they want. While that sort of freedom makes sense for their own private retirement accounts, requiring our tax dollars to subsidize these other relationships is another story.

    For the same reasons, I'm troubled by how domestic partner laws are being used to help senior citizens evade Social Security regulations, keeping their survivor benefits even though they have merged households with someone already receiving benefits. I'm not questioning their need, but in a system that is already facing monetary crisis, I do question the subsidy justification — even as I welcome their support, in places like Arizona, for preserving domestic partnerships for gay couples who cannot marry.

    For the same reason, extending Social Security benefits to unmarried "domestic partners" is, to me, an intermediate measure that should be offered only to those couples who cannot marry (i.e., same sex couples). Otherwise, we risk following the path of European countries that have offered so many attractive "marriage-lite" alternatives that far fewer couples are marrying and the birthrate has dramatically declined.

    We should be careful about promoting well-intentioned social policies that can have unintended and disruptive impact down the road.

    January 03, 2007

    Marry me in D.C. in 2007

    Posted by: Chris

    Washingtonmonument_1 My top New Year's resolution is to marry my partner in Washington, D.C., in 2007. I know, people say you should pick resolutions that are reasonably within reach. But marriage for gay couples in our nation's capital this year is, like so many other New Year's resolutions, mostly a matter of will power.

    When it comes to legal recognition for gay couples, the District of Columbia already ranks very high. Washington's "domestic partnerships" offer many of the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, including child support, alimony, inheritance, legal standing to sue for wrongful death, immunity from testimony against a partner, automatic power of attorney for financial, medical and legal matters, and more.

    Only marriage in Massachusetts; civil unions in Vermont, Connecticut and (now) New Jersey; and civil union-like domestic partnerships in California rank higher.

    Much of the focus on the next states that might ramp up to marriage has been on places like Maryland, D.C.'s next door neighbor, and California, which have high profile marriage lawsuits pending before their state supreme courts, as well as New York, where the new Democratic governor supports full marriage equality.

    Adrianfentydc But the political support in Washington is far more solid. Adrian Fenty, a Democrat sworn in as mayor on Jan. 2, is on record supporting full marriage, as did his predecessor.  So does a clear majority of the D.C. Council, which includes one openly gay Democrat and one openly gay Republican who turned independent in 2004 after President Bush pushed for a federal marriage amendment.

    Believe it or not, in Washington, D.C., of all places, the politicians aren't the problem. It's the gays — or more accurately, the local gay activists. Or to put it even more accurately, the few local and very vocal gay activists who make up the D.C. Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance.

    For the most part, GLAA's leaders (since it has almost no active membership, per se) are old-old school. They have a long track record of lobbying local politicians, and they do it very well. They are smart and effective, at least on the battles they choose to fight.

    But when it comes to marriage, GLAA's leaders have long suffered a failure of imagination and of courage. Their excuse has been the District's unique status in between that of a city and a state. Unlike other jurisdictions, the laws passed by the D.C. Council and signed by the mayor are subject to review by the Congress, which can effectively veto any law with which it disagrees.

    Up till now, GLAA has argued that a D.C. marriage law would be subject to a near-certain veto by the District's Republican overseers in Congress — or worse, Congress could pass legislation blocking D.C. from passing a marriage law, which means it would require another act of Congress down the road to reopen the door.

    But then came November, and the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress. So surely now is the time, right? Not according to the final paragraphs of this Dec. 22 Washington Blade report:

    GLAA spokesperson Rick Rosendall said the group — which supports same-sex marriage in principle — wants local and national gay leaders to carefully assess when it would be prudent to bring up a gay marriage bill for D.C., even under the new, Democratic control of Congress.

    "It makes no sense strategically for us to dump on the Democrats' laps a marriage bill in the first year they came back after 12 years," Rosendall said. "The point is the numbers have not changed much."

    Instead, the "activists" in GL"A"A seem far more interested in finding new homes for the seedy strip clubs displaced by the city's new baseball stadium than they are in marriage. In fact, therein may lie the problem. GLAA's silver-haired leadership probably relates more to those who ventured in to the now defunct Glorious Health & Amusement Club (a.k.a. the Glory Hole) than young D.C. gay couples aching to marry.

    The arguments offered by Rosendall, the most intransigent of the GLAA bunch, make absolutely no sense. He counsels against any action this year, but next year is a presidential election year, which would be the worst possible time to try and push marriage legislation through.

    What's more, "the numbers" have in fact changed quite dramatically because in Congress, having the majority means everything. The Democrats now control the committees that oversee D.C. and can block any effort to veto a District marriage law. They don't have to support gay marriage to do so; they only have to support states' rights and D.C. home rule — longstanding planks in the Democratic Party platform.

    The Republicans have sucked all the air out of the gay marriage debate for three years now, claiming unelected "judicial activists" have decided the marriage question instead of "the people." In the District of Columbia, the people's elected representatives are ready to open up marriage for gay couples, a move that would be the first of its kind nationwide and enormously symbolic in our nation's capital — not to mention to those of us who are D.C. residents.

    If only the "elders" in GL"A"A would step out of the strip clubs long enough to stop giving the politicians the cover to do nothing.

    January 02, 2007

    Próspero Ano Novo!

    Posted by: Chris

    Rionewyears A very Happy New Year to all of you visiting my blog.  This weekend has been truly incredible for me — my first in Rio De Janeiro, known for its massive Réveillon New Year's celebration. 

    While short on the pageantry that makes Carnaval in Rio so special, Reveillon was an incredible experience I was able to share with not only my partner (who despite being Brazilian had never spent New Year's in Rio) but also friends from Atlanta and Washington, D.C., down for the occasion.  And of course new friends from São Paulo and Rio as well.

    Fergieblackeyedpeasrio We dressed in white, watched the fireworks in Copacabana beach, and joined those throwing flowers into the ocean in hopes for a happy and prosperous new year.  Sound crazy?  Then explain to me the American tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.  Never did understand that one.  Speaking of the Black Eyed Peas, they played a concert on Ipanema beach after midnight, and a good time was had by all.

    We also enjoyed a few of the many gay dance parties over the weekend, though the highlights were without a doubt the Revolution party on New Year's Eve and the Revolution pool party on Jan. 1. In a very short time, Rosane Amaral has come up with a perfect formula for a successful dance party: good music, great atmospherics, and a bit of glitz thrown in for good measure. 

    The pool party on New Year's Day was truly unforgettable, set in the Clube Internacional de Regatas in downtown Rio with a view of Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Azucar) and the water.  Even though the weather didn't cooperate, the light rain was the perfect way to cool things off — something that the Alegria party on Dec. 29 desperately needed.  Parabens to Rosane for pulling off such successes!

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