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    December 31, 2006

    Kolbe finally finds his voice

    Posted by: Chris

    Kolbe_1 His last session of Congress behind him, retirement from public office only days away, Jim Kolbe has finally found his voice — or at least cleared his throat.  The gay Republican from Arizona granted a few farewell interviews before he steps down after more than two decades in Congress, to be replaced fittingly by a Democrat.

    So with absolutely nothing left at stake, no political capital to lose, Kolbe finally took baby steps toward righting two long-standing wrongs: He admitted he was wrong to vote in favor of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and for the first time I'm aware of, he came out in favor of gay marriage.

    Oddly enough, the admissions didn't come in an interview he gave before Christmas to the Washington Blade. That article mentioned only that Kolbe defended his DOMA vote because the law allows states to make their own decision on whether to marry gay couples. As I wrote for the Blade's blog back in July, that's excuse won't fly:

    Kolbe rationalizes his support for DOMA the way some others have, as "states rights" legislation that really just prevents one state that marries gay couples from "forcing" every other state to legally recognize those marriage licenses. But Kolbe knows better than that. DOMA goes much further, blocking the federal government as well from giving any legal recognition to married gay couples.

    Ironically, Kolbe complains later in the interview that the Human Rights Campaign hasn't devoted more energy to extending Social Security survivor benefits to gay couples — a move that would require repealing the half of DOMA that goes unmentioned in the article.  Instead, Kolbe told the Blade, his only regret was that he was pressured into coming out — by an article about DOMA the Advocate was working on back in 1996 that Kolbe feared would out him.  The article doesn't mention another irony; that years later, Judy Weider, the Advocate editor at the time, admitted she had scrapped the story after her publisher said straight advertisers would bolt if the magazine outed someone.

    It was in another farewell interview, this one with his hometown Arizona Daily Star, that Kolbe owned up on DOMA and spoke approvingly, for the first time I'm aware of, about gay marriage:

    On gay marriage, [Kolbe] said it or civil unions will be pretty widespread in this country in a decade or two because it is a fundamental human right that people should be able to legally celebrate the commitment of relationships. "Friends of mine in New York have been together for 45 to 50 years," Kolbe said. "Shouldn't we celebrate that?"

    But with the exception of one point, Kolbe said he didn't regret his 1996 vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to refuse recognition of gay marriages approved in other states. His vote on that bill prompted a gay-oriented magazine to prepare an article "outing" him as a homosexual, which led Kolbe to publicly declare that he is gay. "I could make a very good argument that marriage belongs in the hands of the state," he said. "I don't think that should be changed."

    His regret on that vote centers on the act's failure to grant participants in gay marriages, in states where they are legal, the right to federal benefits such as Social Security and Medicare earned by one's partner — the same rights that spouses in traditional marriages have. "What I would say now. … I recognize that we have to have some protection at the federal level," Kolbe said.

    It's about time, Congressman Kolbe. Ten years later, you finally own up to a vote cast no doubt from within a fearful closet. Though both the Blade and Daily Star articles portray the DOMA vote as Kolbe's one gay-rights failure, his HRC scorecard before coming out was roughly a 50 on a scale of zero to 100.

    Neither article also mentions Kolbe's unwillingness to aggressively push immigration rights for binational gay couples — those couples where one partner is American and the other is not. Kolbe was a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, which would extend to gay couples the same rights heterosexual married couples have in this regard. But he didn't use the considerable influence he had on the issue this year, given his role as one of the most prominent moderate Republicans in the House pushing the White House version of immigration reform.

    No one is arguing a more vocal push from Kolbe would have made the difference for UAFA, especially since immigration reform died on the vine, but having done nothing, the legislation is still at the starting blocks, instead of being advanced somewhat down the line. Kolbe's relative silence on UAFA is especially disturbing since he knows up close and personal the difficult choices faced by gay binational couples.  For one thing, three top former leaders of the Log Cabin Republicans are in binational relationships with partners from Latin America. For another, so is Kolbe. (For those who don't know, I should disclose that I am as well.)

    Unfortunately, Kolbe's timidity on gay marriage, DOMA and immigration reform aren't the only things tarnishing his two decades in Congress. The Mark Foley scandal stuck to Kolbe as well, since it turns out one of Kolbe's former pages asked the Arizona congressman to help convince Foley to stop contacting him. Both interviews touch on the subject, though he told the Blade only that he was happy the House ethics committee concluded no rules were broken. He doesn't mention that the House report largely lets him off the hook because he is retiring from Congress and thereby escaping the committee's jurisdiction.

    Also lost in the shuffle of the Foley report were the disturbing things the committee did report about Kolbe, including the former page's recollection that Kolbe tried to convince him not to come forward about his problem with Foley after the scandal broke in October, as well as how Jeff Trandahl, the (gay) then-chief clerk of the House, who had oversight of the page program, repeatedly warned Kolbe that he was being too familiar with pages, and that Trandahl considered Foley and Kolbe distractions from the program.

    The Blade article also left out that Kolbe is also under criminal investigation for his own relationship with young male pages, based on complaints that surfaced about a trip he took to the Grand Canyon with a group of them back in 1996. The Daily Star asked him about it, and Kolbe defended it as "completely above board," "a very legitimate trip" and "a terrific experience for 12 people over three days."

    In a final irony, Kolbe's page problem may impact his future work plans. Kolbe, 67, told the Daily Star that in addition to work for the German Marshall Fund, he plans to teach a class next fall at the University of Arizona. No doubt administrators there are already reconsidering that plan, given the allegation that Kolbe abused his power relationship with young people.

    It didn't have to be this way, of course. But as with Foley and other closeted politicians, Kolbe is in many ways a product of his generation. His departure leaves gay Republicans with no out representatives in Congress, and we can only hope that whoever follows in their footsteps will do so with greater integrity.

    December 29, 2006

    2006: The closet's swan song?

    Posted by: Chris

    Bladeyir2006 The Washington Blade and its sister publications came out with their Year in Review issues today, and their choice for the story of the year was, "Swan song from the closet: Politicians, performers made news in 2006 by coming out."  Using the closet to tie together the Mark Foley and Ted Haggard scandals, as well as the celebrities who decided to come out, the story draws some interesting conclusions about the status of the closet as we head into 2007:

    Having confined and defined much, if not most, of modern gay existence, "the closet" showed once again in 2006 that it is still a mighty force, albeit a shadow of its once powerful self. In fact, some believe the closet is steadily inching toward irrelevance, as successive generations of gay and lesbian youth settle into their sexual orientation without first surrounding it with four walls of angst, denial, duplicity and shame.

    Far from being a place that only harbors half-truths and paralyzing secrets, the 2006 version of the closet helped fuel best-selling memoirs and a breathtaking power shift in Congress. The closet opened its doors on the set of America's most popular prime-time television series and inside one of the nation's most influential megachurches. And whereas coming out of the closet was long considered social and professional suicide, in 2006 it proved anything but.

    That somewhat rosy assessment is backed up by examples like Lance Bass, the 'N-Sync alum, who revived his fame by coming out, and embattled politicians Mark Foley and James McGreevey, who tried using the closet as "an escape hatch" in the midst of scandal.  Their stories are contrasted with that of Haggard, who stuck to his anti-gay guns even after being outed by a gay escort.

    So we're left to conclude that the closet remains a problem mainly for conservative Republicans. "Outside of Republicans, [the closet] is going to recede as more and more people are going to be out from day one so it won't be an issue," the story quotes David Ehrenstein, author of "Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998," as saying.

    "I think there were much larger issues than Mark Foley that influenced the elections, but with that said, I think both the Foley and Haggard scandals reinforced the perception of the right wing forces of the Republican Party as being cynical hypocrites," echoed Mark Foreman, of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

    Of course, official Washington is littered with closeted Democrats who defy such nice caricaturization,
    but the razor sharp political divide in the U.S. over the last decade or so makes black-and-white as popular with the left as it does the right.  That's how Ehrenstein can publicly praise the decline of the closet for all except Republicans while at the same time more discreetly cheer on efforts to involuntarily "out" even the most junior gay Republicans who work in the nation's capital.

    When outing activist-blogger Michael Rogers recently published embarrassing personal photos of a young, already-out student who worked as a lowly advance staffer for Vice President Dick Cheney, Ehrenstein cheered on the effort.  "You shouldn't have blacked-out the faces of the other guys," Ehrenstein wrote in a comment to Rogers, referring to the young staffers' friends, even though they had no apparent connection to Cheney. "They're collaborators," claimed Ehrenstein.

    When one commenter using "Sad" as a moniker took issue with the outing, Ehrenstein was quick to reply, with a reference to outed escort-conservative journalist Jeff Gannon (a.k.a. James Guckert).  "Don't be sad, 'Sad,'" wrote Ehrenstein. "Now go suck off Guckert like a good little KAPO."  Kapos, so you don't miss the reference, were concentration camp prisoners who worked for the Nazis in low-level administrative positions. 

    This is the world according to David Ehrenstein, and it's the other side of the closet that re-entered the debate this year, though it's not mentioned in the Blade review.  The Foley story, especially, raised anew questions about when it's justified to "out" someone in government, whether they're holding elective office or not.  For Ehrenstein and Rogers, there are no limits to be observed, no boundaries of personal privacy to be respected, and for Ehrenstein at least, dissent is tantamount to complicity.  The Task Force's Foreman, as well, though not dirtying his own hands with outings, has publicly said he supports them.

    Neilpatrickharris For most of the rest of us, 2006 was indeed a banner year in adjusting to the changing dynamics of the closet.  As each new public figure emerges, there remain fewer "firsts" like Ellen DeGeneres in prime time or Elton John in music or Martina Navratilova in sport, to grab the biggest headlines.  And so both Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D." and "How I Met Your Mother") and T.R. Knight ("Grey's Anatomy") continue to play sexually active heterosexual men in popular TV shows, despite coming out this year in People magazine.  As the Blade story notes, popular culture is once again miles ahead of politics.

    Tammybaldwin Because in politics, despite Ehrenstein's partisan assessment of the closet as a Republican problem, the U.S. Congress is a bipartisan, heteros-only club.  We must search back almost a decade to 1998 for the one and only time someone was elected for the first time to Congress despite being openly gay.  Despite all the pro-gay triumphs of November 2006, not a single openly gay non-incumbent even won a primary for the U.S. House or Senate.  And when the new Congress is sworn in next month, that same solitary member of Congress, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), will serve alongside Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as the only elected gays on the Hill.  So much for the closet's swan song.

    December 28, 2006

    Our pecking order

    Posted by: Chris

    Omidabtahi For those of you keeping track at home, this little nugget from the Dec. 19 issue of the Advocate should confirm where we stand in the Islamic pecking order of things.  Apparently, somewhere below "terrorist":

    In Showtime's second installment of the "Sleeper Cell" miniseries, Iranian-American actor Omid Abtahi plays Salim, a closeted gay terrorist. …

    What reaction do you think Salim — and his gay sex scene — will receive from Muslims?  I can't imagine it being too positive.  In Islam being gay is one of the worst things — it's so bad, it's not even in the Koran. …

    What have you heard from friends and family? 
    When I explained the complexity of the character, a lot of people were supportive.  But my father said, "I'm glad, but don't expect me to watch it.

    That's right, that some people twist the teachings of the Koran such that they engage in the killing of innocents doesn't upset Islamic viewers, including even an actor's father, as much as the idea that one of these terrorists might be gay.

    On the one hand, it's depressing to think the worldview of so many could be so twisted.  On the other there is a weird sense of power — that our lives and our insistence on living as we choose has such a  subversive impact at an obviously fundamental level.

    December 27, 2006

    2006: Marriage movement grows up

    Posted by: Chris

    Gaycouple The lull week between Christmas and New Years always brings a countdown of the biggest personalities, stories, etc. of the year.  It's a tradition I partook of for a decade with gay publications, mainly because there's rarely news that week and it's easier to do a year-in-review issue without spoling the holidays.  Besides, I always enjoyed the exercise as a way to gain perspective on things outside of the non-stop news cycle. 

    Some years, one story would clearly emerge as the big deal, while other years a list of 5 or 10 seemed equally important.  In 2005, the story of the year — at least to me and my colleagues — was the "anti-gay person of the year": Pope Benedict XVI.  In 2006, Benedict unintentionally (I believe) ticked off a much more potent population: Muslims, so his profile since has been decidedly lower.

    I'm curious to see what my former colleagues at the Washington Blade, Southern Voice and the other Window Media publications come up with for 2006.  There were a few big gay stories with big-deal personalities this year, most of which made CBS News on Logo's Top 10 for 2006.  The list was compiled by surverying gay journalists, and the results can be viewed online here (at least for those of you using PCs and not Macs; look for archive stories from Dec. 11):

    10. Gay Games vs. OutGames
    9. Soulforce protests "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
    8.  Gay tourists attacked in St. Maarten
    7.  Gay entertainers in the news: Lance Bass comes out, Rosie joins "The View," Boy George sentenced to clean-up duty, George Michael is messy
    6.  Gay year at the Oscars
    5.  25th anniversary of AIDS
    4.  Pastor Ted Haggard
    3.  Congressman Mark Foley
    2.  Same-sex marriage
    1.  Mid-term elections

    I haven't looked back in any systematic way, but the Logo list looks about right to me.  I might knock out the Soulforce story at No. 9 in exchange for the "big gay book tours": former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey's non-confessional "The Confession" in October and Mary Cheney's "Now It's My Turn," which I would subtitle "Not To Say Much," back in May.

    Looking at the Logo list, I would also question whether the elections were really the No. 1 big gay story of the year.  Gay issues weren't nearly as much in the forefront as they were in 2004, and it's way too early to assume that Democratic control of Congress will have any sort of watershed effect on gay rights legislation.  The No. 2 story — same-sex marriage, as Logo described it — isn't nearly as sexy, but to my mind the marriage movement  grew up in 2006, and the implications may well be longer lasting for gay Americans.

    It wasn't always clear whether 2006 would be for gay marriage the disaster that was the last U.S. election year in 2004.  Back then, almost two dozen states passed ballot measures that amended state constitutions that banned gays from marrying, thereby insulating from "judicial activism" the statutes in those states that already defined marriage as a heterosexual institution.  As bitter icing on the cake, Karl Rove and his sometimes-closeted deputy Ken Mehlman used the ballot measures as wedge issues in several key battleground states, especially Ohio, to usher conservatives to the polls and re-elect the president.

    For much of 2006, it looked like 2004 all over again.  A dozen or more additional states debated putting constitutional amendments on the ballot, the federal marriage amendment was again up for a vote in Congress, and the summer proved especially bleak for those looking for relief from the men and women in black robes.  Within a two-week span in July, the state supreme courts in New York and Washington upheld hetero-only marriage laws against constitutional challenges.

    Both courts have liberal reputations, making their decisions even harder to swallow, and the New York opinion was especially retrograde.  One example of the court's blasé approach — "Intuition and experience suggest that a child benefits from having before his or her eyes, every day, living models of what both a man and a woman are like" — will no doubt have heads shaking in disbelief in law school classrooms for generations to come. 

    Cooler temps brought decidedly better news, however, as the New Jersey Supreme Court justices declined in October to follow the summer trend and instead ruled — like the high courts before them in Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, Massachusetts, as well as in Canada and South Africa — that there is no legitimate justification for treating gay couples differently under the law than straight couples.  But like their counterparts in Vermont, the New Jersey justices left to the legislature the decision of what to call the institution, and whether it would be separate or the same as that entered into by heterosexual couples.  And as in Vermont, the legislature in New Jersey moved quickly to adopt "separate but supposedly equal" civil unions, rather than simply make marriage gender-neutral.

    When the midterm election came around in November, only eight of the marriage amendments had made it to the ballot  and most of the seven that passed did so by decidedly smaller margins than just two years earlier.  And in one state, Arizona, the voters actually rejected a broadly-worded amendment that would have eliminated domestic partnerships, including those entered into by older, heterosexual couples who don't want to lose pensions from earlier marriages. 

    Efforts to revisit gay marriage in the two North American locales where it exists — Canada and Massachusetts — were also beaten back.  Pro-marriage Democratic governors were elected for the first time in Massachusetts and New York, and California legislators are prepared to again pass a marriage law there.

    The first major gay marriage ruling was the Hawaii Supreme Court decision in 1993, later overturned by voters.  Thirteen years later, the marriage movement is leaving behind its impatient, childish ways and entering into a more knowledgeable adolescence.  If we ever thought marriage in the U.S. would be handed down unchallenged by some court somewhere, we've been thoroughly disabused of that notion.  We can see that progress will come incrementally, through a mix of judicial rulings and legislative victories, and by preserving both from a voter veto.

    As we enter the new year, more decisions are expected, in Maryland and California among other locales.  We may even see a surprise from our nation's capital, where the D.C. Council and the new mayor back full marriage, and the congressional overseers are now Democrats committed to letting the District govern itself. 

    There's no telling at this point when gay marriage will fully come of age in the U.S., which would require repeal (legislative or judicial) of the Defense of Marriage Act and some sweeping court victories to overturn anti-marriage amendments in half the states.  But 2006 offered some truly important lessons that the movement's leadership appears finally ready to absorb.

    December 26, 2006

    Cali's topsy turvy marriage debate

    Posted by: Chris

    Arnoldleno The debate over gay marriage in California is about as topsy turvy as you'd expect from a state so big that it contains the fringe from both ends of the ideological spectrum and everything else in between. 

    The official Republican Party line on gay marriage has been to let state legislatures decide the issue.  But in California, the legislature is run by pro-gay Democrats and two years ago passed landmark legislation allowing gays to marry.  That measure was promptly vetoed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said the state supreme court should decide the issue.  Last week, the court agreed to do just that.

    Now Democrats, led by openly gay Assemblyman Mark Leno from San Francisco, plan to reintroduce marriage legislation, with an eye toward convincing the court that a ruling in favor of gay marriage isn't "judicial activism" that defies the popular will.   I've argued before that fear of reversal through ballot measures can't be discounted as a primary reason why high court rulings in New York and Washington state went against gay marriage advocates, and why New Jersey's supreme court split the difference — allowing the state to adopt civil unions to satisfy the constitutional guarantee of equality.

    But the effort by Leno in California has a major strike against it: Proposition 22, approved by 61 percent of voters in 2000, which provides that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or legally recognized in California."  State law doesn't allow the legislature to overturn ballot measures; only another ballot measure can do that.  So Leno has been reduced to making the somewhat silly argument that Prop 22 was intended only to ban marriage licenses issued to gay couples by other states and nations.

    Andrew Pugno, with the anti-gay Proposition 22 Legal Defense Fund, pointed out the obvious to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "What sense would that make to say we aren't going to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, but we are going to license same-sex marriages in our own state?" asked Pugno. "That's totally bizarre."

    Bizarre, indeed, but that adjective could describes the entire process in California.  Leno argues there's popular support for gay marriage but nonetheless opposes putting the issue back on the ballot, preferring the legislative process.  But with Schwarzenegger's opposition, the only way for legislation to succeed would be for the state supreme court to either buy into Leno's bizarre interpretation of Prop 22 or, more likely, rule that Prop 22 and a similarly worded 1977 legislatively adopted law are unconstitutional.  That would throw things back into the realm of ballot measures, where the only way to overrule the court would be a state constitutional amendment.

    Another possibility, increasingly likely given the momentum from New Jersey, would be for the California Supreme Court to similarly rule that the state must provide gay couples with all the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual married couples, but isn't obliged to use the same word (or same institution, for that matter).  As a practical matter, that wouldn't change much for gay couples in California, since the state already offers "domestic partnerships" that are comparable in most ways to civil unions in New Jersey, Vermont and Connecticut. 

    But it would strike a near-fatal blow to gay marriage advocates, since Prop 22 and the 1977 law would presumably stay on the books, only to be overturned by another ballot measure.  And while California voters might well follow their neighbors in Arizona in rejecting a ballot measure against gay marriage, it's highly unlikely that they're ready to adopt gay marriage by ballot measure either.

    Given the complicated legal situation, gay voters were understandably split on whether Schwarzenegger's veto did real harm to the marriage movement there.  Even if he signed a gay marriage law tomorrow, Pugno and his crew would bring a very strong challenge based on Prop 22 — putting the matter right back into the realm of constitutional law, where it will ultimately be decided.

    So Leno's gambit is to give the state supreme court justices all the political cover they need to rule that the state's constitution requres full marriage and nothing less for same-sex couples.  In the political climate of California, as contrasted with New Jersey, a ruling that held anything less would represent defeat for gay couples.

    December 25, 2006

    Feliz Natal do Rio

    Posted by: Chris

    Arvorenatalrio Growing up in the American South, I never was accustomed to a traditional "white Christmas," but there was usually a bite in the air and oftentimes a frost on the lawn.  Years later, in Washington, I enjoyed a few snowy Christmas days, but the weather was always clear and cold, which was just fine by me.  Apparently this year in D.C., the temps have been more like Christmas in October than December.  Thanks, global warming!

    For me this Christmas, in Rio De Janeiro, it's been like sleigh bells in July.  Instead of Christmas Eve spent at the malls after my usual present-purchasing procrastination (say that three times fast), my boyfriend and I passed the day on the beach in Ipanema, with beautiful sun, patchy clouds and a breathtaking sunset.  We were surprised by a visit from some snowbird friends from Vancouver, and enjoyed the company of our Carioca (that means local to Rio) friends as well.

    Once home, I insisted on reading "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," and my rendition was so compelling that my boyfriend was sound asleep by the time I finished.  Today we'll spend making a mix of traditional U.S. and Brazilian Christmas food, and wishing Xmas bests to friends and family.  I hope your day is spent with someone you love — I've spent my share of Christmas's alone as well, and it's by no means the end of the world.

    I also want to take the time to say thank you for visiting my blog.  I've been so gratified by your interest since I launched the blog in October.  Take a look at the special ClustrMap below (click for a larger view), and you'll see just how far-flung we all are!  A special thanks to those of you who've contributed your own comments to the conversation.  If you can judge a blog by the quality of its comments — and I believe you absolutely can — then I am all the prouder.

    So, from my family to yours, wherever you are, Feliz Natal e Próspero Ano Novo — Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!Clustrmap

    December 24, 2006

    Mark Foley from close up

    Posted by: Chris

    WolfechuckBe sure to check out a provocative op-ed about Mark Foley in the Washington Blade this week by my friend Chuck Wolfe, who heads up the Washington, D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.  Chuck brings a doubly unique perspective, first because the Victory Fund encourages gay public officials to come out of the closet.  Second because through Chuck's roles in support of two-term Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles (D), he has known Foley personally and professionally over 20 years the two have spent in and around Florida politics. 

    Chuck notes how Foley began living the gay part of his life more openly the '90s and even lets us in on the advice he offered the Republican congressman when Foley debated whether to come out in the midst of his U.S. Senate bid:

    What I told Mark then and what all closeted politicians should know, is that most Americans appear not to care very much about a candidate’s sexual orientation. In fact, there’s growing evidence that being open and honest about being gay can actually translate into greater trust among the electorate. After all, if a politician can be honest about being gay, doesn’t it follow that he’d be more honest about everything?

    Of course, we all know now that Mark Foley didn't listen to Chuck Wolfe or others offering similar advice.  He instead stayed in the closet until after his predatory behavior with congressional pages came to light and it became more to his advantage to come out (as gay) than to stay in (and be presumed a pedophile).  In this respect, Foley is no different than former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, who only came out when it was more to his advantage to be a gay man cheating on his wife, than to be seen as sexually harassing or worse, sexually assaulting, a male staffer.

    Markfoley_3 Chuck concludes that Foley's inability to "muster the courage to face down his fears" was responsible for "ruin[ing] his career."  No doubt, the twisted lies required by the closet played a role in the predatory behavior that led to Foley's downfall, but reading Chuck's op-ed, another possibility occurred to me.  Perhaps Foley stayed in the closet to protect his predatory behavior.  I don't know why this never occurred to me before. 

    If he would risk everything to keep these teenage males close to him — and his IM chats are sprinkled with professions of "love" as well as sexual interest — then maybe he worried that, in addition to political fallout, the straight or questioning pages might steer clear of an out gay congressman. 

    After all, it's one thing for a (comparitively) hip, single congressman to chat up young male pages and go in for the sexual kill after they've left the Hill.  It's quite another for an openly gay congressman to engage in such flirty behavior, especially if it were known more generally that he had a long-time partner back home in Florida. 

    Chuck asks why Foley would worry so much about coming out when "certainly in a place as sophisticated as South Florida, Mark Foley could have easily weathered any political fallout from finally telling the truth."  Maybe it wasn't his constituents he was worried about so much as the young pages, interns and staffers he was warned by so many to steer clear of.

    December 23, 2006

    GayPatriot: 1,000,000 served

    Posted by: Chris

    Gaypatriot The guys over at GayPatriot, "blogcasting from the worldwide headquarters of the not-so-vast right wing conspiracy," this week celebrated their 1,000,000th visitor since Bruce Carroll first launched the blog back in September 2004. 

    Back then, GayPatriot was Carroll's response to efforts by Mike Rogers at Blogactive to "out" gay Republican staffers working on Capitol Hill.  But since then, Carroll and co-blogger Daniel Platt have established a welcome niche on the Net for gay conservatives.  They deserve congratulations for pressing conservative views within the gay community and gay-rights views among conservatives — a doubly thankless and unpopular task, to be sure.

    I first came into contact with Bruce back in April 2004, when as editor of the Washington Blade I published an op-ed he submitted about the backlash over gay marriage that election year.  I didn't agree with Carroll's view then, and I've often disagreed with him and Platt both, but I've always found their perspectives to be fresh and interesting and thought-provoking.

    I, too, come from a conservative background, but my politics have been more changed by my sexual orientation.  I found the takeover of the Republican Party by social conservatives during the 1990s too much to stomach and ended my affiliation with the GOP in December 1998 — the day the House impeached Bill Clinton.  I actually wrote an editorial about it for Southern Voice, Atlanta's gay and lesbian newspaper, and I'll try to dig it up for old time's sake.

    Conservsoul These days, I feel more independent than ever, free to air my views without worrying about how it will reflect on anyone but me.  But I find it difficult to embrace the "conservative" label, even without attaching it to the Republican Party.  I am reading and enjoying Andrew Sullivan's latest book, "The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How To Get It Back," and I highly recommend it wherever you fall on the political spectrum.  Sullivan does a painstaking and devastating  job of demonstrating how social conservatives, whether Islamists or Christianists, are not really "conservatives" at all. What's unclear to me, as I wind up the book's last section, is whether Sullivan can successfully reclaim the name from the ashes of what was (a question that could be asked about the Republican Party as well). 

    Goodbook_1 In this respect, "The Conservative Soul" reminds me of the classic work by another gay conservative, Harvard University pastor Peter Gomes' classic "The Good Book," which puzzled through the most challenging biblical passages used to justify slavery, repression of women and of gays.  Gomes was an unabashed apologist for the Bible, just as Sullivan is for what he calls true conservativism. Once I've finished "The Conservative Soul," I'll offer my own two cents.  In the meantime, here's to GayPatriots — the blog and gay patriots generally — fighting the good fight to reconcile "traditional values" with non-traditional lives.

    December 22, 2006

    One small step for closeted ministers

    Posted by: Chris

    Haggardpoints_3 Apparently the hot topic among conservative Christian seminary presidents these days is how to avoid the kind of scandals that engulfed Ted Haggard and Paul Barnes, two Colorado evangelicals who resigned after admitting they'd battled all their lives with being gay. Their solution isn't rethinking whether homosexuality is a choice, much less a sin.  But to give struggling ministers an outlet to talk through their problems:

    Seminary professors, Christian counselors and veteran clergy say the best way to help pastors fight temptation is to get them talking — even about their most shameful secrets. They don't want a sordid tell-all from the pulpit each Sunday. But they would like pastors to bare their weaknesses and admit their lapses before a small group of "accountability partners" — friends committed to listen with empathy, then rebuke or advise as needed.

    "Our current environment demands perfection of pastors," said Craig Williford, president of the Denver Seminary. "It doesn't allow leaders to struggle, to be human, to deal with their issues without fear of losing their ministry. We need to help them find safe harbors."

    Because these conservatives buy in to their own theology-as-psychology, they view same-sex attraction as just one sinful temptation among dozens, including pornography, drug addiction, alcoholism and the like.  So the problem in their minds is that these closeted gay pastors are struggling in silence and need some counseling to stay on a moral path.

    Still, bringing homosexuality out into the open, even among a small group of advisers read with their "rebuke," is a very positive step that will likely have unintended consequences if acted upon.  As any gay person can testify, once the genie is out of the bottle and being dealt with directly, even those of us from very conservative religious traditions can move fairly quickly toward acceptance that being gay is a natural part of who we are, as morally neutral as heterosexuality. Gay journalist Gabriel Rotello has it right:

    The biggest weapon in the historical arsenal against gay dignity has always been shame. The desire to avoid the shame that our culture heaps on people with a homosexual orientation is what causes them to often resort to the secrecy, the hiding and the destructive double lives that characterize the Closet.

    Coming out, in the form of admitting homosexual desire, whether you have ever acted on that desire or not, is immensely liberating. The vast majority of people who come out are transformed. They no longer harbor a desire to repress their love because they have faced the enemy — shame — and have survived.

    Rotello goes on to suggest that these closeted pastors come out to their congregations, though that's certainly not likely, nor what the conservatives are actually proposing.  It's also unnecessary at this point.  The first time I acknowledged my struggle with same-sex attraction — to a minister, actually — I set in motion a chain of events that almost inevitably led me out of the closet.  That won't be the case for everyone, since the habits of self-deception can be hard to break, but for most who are willing to take an honest look at themselves and their feelings, that first act of coming out is by far the most crucial.

    December 21, 2006

    America's queer idea of free speech

    Posted by: Chris

    Tango_2 While the BBC is censoring anything that dares to "offend" minority groups, we see how back in the USA, limiting free speech usually works to the majority's advantage.  In Charlotte, N.C., the school superintendent banned a book about two male penguins  who raise a baby from school libraries:

    "And Tango Makes Three," the real-life story of "the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies," has drawn objections in schools or public libraries in seven states. …

    The district pulled the penguin love story without a formal complaint. [School Superintendent Peter Gorman] said a couple of parents had asked him about the book, in which two male penguins at New York's Central Park Zoo pair up and hatch an adopted egg, and Republican county Commissioner Bill James had e-mailed him.

    James said he read an online article about the book and asked Gorman whether the district libraries had it. "I am opposed to any book that promotes a homosexual lifestyle to elementary school students as normal," he said.

    The battle over "Tango" plays into a larger debate about whether exposing students to the existence of gay people necessarily involves discussion of sexuality that isn't age-appropriate for the pre-puberty set, or as the GOP commissioner put it, teaches that "the gay lifestyle" is "normal."

    The job of schools, of course, is to teach students about the world around them and to prepare them for higher education and/or a job.  Gay people are a part of the outside world, living in 99% of the U.S. census districts, and paying the taxes for public schools just like their heterosexual (and conservative heterosexual) counterparts.  An increasing number of gay couples are raising children, as well.

    Teaching the mere fact of gay people (or penguins) does not require a discussion of sexuality anymore than teaching the existence of straight couples (or penguins).  The job of teaching what's "normal," whether that means natural or not sinful, doesn't belong to public schools; that should be left up to parents and their churches, synagogues and mosques. 

    It's also not the job of public schools to hide from students the existence of gay people out of deference to the private religious views of some parents, even if their beliefs are in the majority, anymore than schools should hide the existence of unmarried parents, interracial couples or single moms or dads.

    The problem with "political correctness" — at least when government is censoring speech so as not to "offend" — is that the pendulum can swing in many different directions, depending upon who is empowered to decide what "offends."  The better choice, for both the progressives in the U.K. and their conservative counterparts in the U.S., is to let speech with which they disagree be countered by more speech.  Children should receive moral guidance from their parents and religious counselors, not from overzealous school superintendents or network TV censors.

    December 20, 2006

    U.K.'s queer idea of free speech

    Posted by: Chris

    Jeremyclarkson Our gay friends across the pond have successfully lobbied for civil unions, immigration rights for same-sex partners and the repeal of anti-gay laws like disparate ages of consent and "no promo homo" rules for schools.  But perhaps all that success has gone a bit to their  heads.  Now some gay activists there are up in arms over an alleged slur from the host of a TV program about cars:

    The BBC has upheld a complaint against Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, after he described a car as a "bit gay." The ruling is a surprise since the corporation had defended Clarkson robustly when the remarks were broadcast in the summer.

    He provoked the ire of the gay community when he asked a member of the show's audience if he would buy a two-seater Daihatsu Copen, retailing at £13,495. The man said, "No, it's a bit gay," to which Clarkson added: "A bit gay, yes, very ginger beer." …

    Fraser Steel, the head of editorial complaints at the corporation, took offense and has upheld the complaint — thought to be the first in broadcasting about homophobia and a motor car. In his ruling, Mr Steel said: "Clarkson supplemented the term 'gay' with a phrase which is rhyming slang for 'queer.' There was no doubt that it was being used in the sense of 'homosexual' and was capable of giving offense."

    That's right.  It wasn't calling the car "a bit gay" that rankled official censors at the BBC, but the "rhyming slang" of "ginger beer" that was meant to mean "queer."  I'll admit to not exactly being up on the latest British slang, but by "ginger beer" it seems to me Clarkson meant to say it was a bit fey, or metrosexual, or not manly enough.  Either way, do gay activists in Britain really believe that government-enforced political correctness of this sort actually advances the cause?  Apparently:

    Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, the equal rights group, said: "At last the BBC appears to be taking this sort of offensiveness seriously. This is not light-hearted teasing, it is inappropriate language. The BBC would not permit offensive remarks to be made about faith or race communities."

    Of course "light-hearted teasing" is exactly what Clarkson and his guest were engaged in, and the sort of hysterical reaction from Summerskill and his ilk only provokes a (well-deserved) backlash among free-thinking sorts everywhere.  But Summerskill isn't the half of it.  Paul Patrick of School'sOUT, the U.K. version of GLSEN, wasn't satisfied by Carson's scolding from censors and released a public letter demanding more decisive action from the BBC:

    The BBC have told-off Jeremy Clarkson for his misuse of the word "gay."  … Yet they continue to maintain that the use of the word “gay” to mean dysfunctional is not homophobic.  Clarkson was only scolded because he went on to use the rhyming slang "ginger beer."  This is outright hypocrisy!

    Humor-challenged folks like Summerskill and Patrick bring to mind the old joke about how many gay activists it takes to screw in a light bulb. The answer? "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

    What's really got Patrick fuming is the cultural use of the word "gay" to mean "stupid," which is apparently as universal in schoolyards in the U.K. as it is the U.S. of A.  Of course using "gay" in that context is troublesome, and perhaps even worth a finger-wag from the teacher; but demanding the goverment censor its use from the airwaves? 

    Takethat As Patrick's No. 1 example of the injury he felt from such slurs, he offered up a boy band — yes, a boy band — called Take That, who according to Patrick "clearly used the word 'gay' to mean both 'naff' and homosexual to such a degree that [a BBC program host] apologized to her audience on their behalf." 

    In fact, Patrick's example is a perfect illustration of why the free marketplace of ideas is better than censorship, every time.  The BBC host apologized to her viewers, so the message from the boy band, such as it was, was countered in real-time. 

    Asking for more — and Patrick even raises the specter of gay youth suicides to back his demands — only pushes anti-gay speech underground and colors the entire cause with the luster of political correctness run amuck.

    December 19, 2006

    Who cares if they 'told'?

    Posted by: Chris

    Salute Not the soldiers and sailors they serve with, apparently.  A new Zogby poll released today by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network found that almost three-quarters (73%) of U.S. military personnel are comfortable around gays, and nearly one-quarter (23%) know for sure that someone in their unit is gay. 

    Among 545 troops who served combat duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, 21% knew gays in their unit and nearly half (45%) suspected they did.  A press release on the poll indicates "few said service [by gays] undermined morale," but didn't give a number.

    These survey results strike at the core of the real justification of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which has never been about whether out gay men and lesbians can serve effectively.  No one is still arguing the "old saw" that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.  In fact, the Army was embarrassed recently by an old document that listed homosexuality as a mental illness and quickly changed the wording.

    And it's not about service members' "privacy."  If the goal of the policy were really to protect straight troops from sharing close quarters with gay troops, then the full-fledged ban we used to have on service by gays was the way to do that.  "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" allows gays to serve in those close quarters, so long as they don't reveal their sexual orientation. 

    An official policy of letting gays serve but only in the closet actually undermines the privacy of straight troops more than would lifting the ban.  If straight soldiers knew who in their unit was gay, they could take steps to protect their privacy, and out gay soldiers would no doubt make every effort not to be seen looking where they shouldn't.  It's the closeted troops who can stare all they want.

    No, the policy isn't about privacy, but about protecting straight troops from their own supposed homophobia.  That's what is meant by the risk to "unit cohesion" — not from gay personnel but the prejudiced reaction to openly gay personnel from their straight colleagues. It's what makes the military ban the most insidious form of discrimination in the U.S. today.  Not only is it official goverment bias against gays; but unlike limits on marriage, it's based not on homophobia but on catering to it.

    The supposed "judicial activists" in U.S. courts have mostly rejected constitutional challenges to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," deferring to Congress' ability to regulate the military.  These decisions ignore clear Supreme Court prejudice, established in a case about neighbors objecting to a home for the mentally disabled in Texas, that says the Constitution does not require the government to eradicate private prejudice, but it does not permit the government to give that prejudice official effect, either.

    Fortunately, even the unconstitutional justification for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is fading along with societal prejudice against gays generally.  Back in 1993, when Bill Clinton's promise to let gays serve caused such a ruckus, support for gay service members among members of the military was at only 13%.  Those worried about homophobic reactions to out gay soldiers and sailors could point to those numbers to support their worries about "unit cohesion."

    But a 2004 Annenberg poll cited by SLDN put that number at more than half; and Gallup says some 79% of the general public support lifting the ban.  Now this Zogby poll shows almost three-quarters are comfortable with gays, so the question to be asked is how long we continue catering to the prejudice of the remaining few.

    Some would argue that the risk is too great to change the policy in the midst of war, but U.S. forces are already serving in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside units from the U.K., Canada, and most other European countries that allow out gays in their ranks.  And with the military struggling to meet recruiting goals, we don't have a person to waste, as President Clinton was fond of saying.

    December 18, 2006

    A north-south divide on marriage

    Posted by: Chris

    A new survey that polled Europeans about a wide range of social issues found views on gay marriage split largely along north-south lines, much as they are in the U.S.  Overall, 44 percent of citizens in the 25-country European Union support gay marriage for the whole continent, but the number is deceptive. 

    In Holland, the first place worldwide gay couples could marry, support is 82 percent, compared to tallies below 20 percent in several eastern and southern European countries.  Other countries follow a similar pattern; backing for gay marriage is high in Sweden (71%), Denmark (69%), and Belgium (62%), but falls in Romania (11%), Latvia (12%) and Cyprus (14%). 

    Support for gay marriage is at about one-third in the U.S., with support much higher in New England and the Northeast, and of course most Canadians support their government's decision last year to make equal marriage rights the law of the land. Having grown up in the American South, I would attribute the conservative intransigence to conservative religious views, inferior public education and a prideful lack of curiosity in cultures other than their own. 

    The more progressive Europeans, who also typically live in the more prosperous E.U. nations, have used the prospect of E.U. membership as a way to influence social policy in southern and eastern Europe.  The national Democratic Party has had a similar influence, though palpably less strong, in the U.S., more on race and gender than on sexual orientation.  As support for full legal equality for gays grows rapidly among Democrats in the the northeast and west,  the more conservative midwest and south will eventually be dragged along, though not as quickly as across the pond.

    December 17, 2006

    The Obama boomlet goes thud?

    Posted by: Chris

    Obama Watching politicians when you feel like your civil rights depend on it can feel like an exercise in courting frustration.  Just like the lonely single always expecting happiness from the next date, the would-be courtier almost inevitably disappoints.  But since the "prize" is so important, you keep your eyes on it, and the next suitor in waiting.  Along the way, you try to walk the line between hopeful skeptic and jaded and bitter.

    That's how I felt reading all the positive press about Barack Obama's triumphant appearance in the belly of the beast, winning a standing ovation from the conservative congregation at Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., home to anti-gay, pro-life evangelist Rick "Purpose-Driven Life" Warren.  "Pastor Rick" cheerfully withshood a mini-rebellion from other conservatives for even inviting pro-gay, pro-choice Obama to speak at a special World AIDS Day service. 

    Obama delivered with an address that interwove the Illinois senator's religious conviction in a natural way that the John Kerrys and Howard Deans — much less the Hillary Clintons — can only dream of.  Liberal pundits cheered and the Obama "boomlet" sounded again.  So why did I hear a bit of a thud?

    In many ways, Obama's address at Saddleback hit all the right notes, expanding the idea of religious activism beyond legislating conservative theological positions, Taliban-style.  His stories about AIDS in Africa were poignant and his call to action effective.  But below the surface… we Chandler-Seinfelds of the gay political world saw signs that Obama might be another Bill in Clinton's clothing — the man from a place called Hope, who promised we didn't have a person to waste, whose view of America included us, and who went on to sign the two worst pieces of anti-gay legislation in U.S. history: Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.

    Many of those signals in Obama's address were in the tone, especially in how every time he referred to sex in relation to AIDS, whether in Africa or in the U.S., he referred to the relationship between "men and women":

    • For some, the only way to prevent the disease is for men and women to change their sexual behavior…
    • I don't think we can deny that there is a moral and spiritual component to prevention — that in too many places all over the world where AIDS is prevalent — including our own country, by the way - the relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down, and needs to be repaired.
    • [In Africa], I heard stories of men and women contracting HIV because sex was no longer part of a sacred covenant.
    • I also believe that we cannot ignore that abstinence and fidelity may too often be the ideal and not the reality — that we are dealing with flesh and blood men and women and not abstractions.

    It wasn't that Obama was off the mark in the substance of what he was saying in any of those snippets, or generally, and he was speaking about AIDS in Africa on World AIDS Day — both of which generally concern a virus transmitted heterosexually.  But like a scorned spinster trying to stay hopeful on a date going south, I found myself bracing a bit more each time, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And then, with a thud, it it did:

    Like no other illness, AIDS tests our ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes — to empathize with the plight of our fellow man. While most would agree that the AIDS orphan or the transfusion victim or the wronged wife contracted the disease through no fault of their own, it has too often been easy for some to point to the unfaithful husband or the promiscuous youth or the gay man and say "This is your fault. You have sinned."  I don't think that's a satisfactory response. My faith reminds me that we all are sinners.

    Ouch.  There we are, down there in the muck with the unfaithful husband and the promiscuous youth.  And our man Obama is there for us, reminding everyone that they sin as well.  Of course, they generally don't organize a civil rights movement asking for legal recognition of their sins, or hold annual festivals to celebrate their pride in being sinners. 

    Sp what to do with Obama, who has a strong gay rights record, if not one that shows much leadership, though like almost all serious possible Democratic contenders for the White House in '08, he opposes gay marriage?  We keep an eye on him, and on the prize, and hope he doesn't follow Dean and other Dems in some quixotic quest to woo the right.  For once, we should insist to dance with the ones we help bring.

    December 16, 2006

    Bush avoids getting Keye'd

    Posted by: Chris

    Cheneypoe President Bush narrowly avoided getting "Keye'd" this week when People magazine asked him about news that Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter, his expecting a baby along with her partner Heather Poe.  In a 2005 interview with the New York Times, the president said, "I believe children can receive love from gay couples, but the ideal is — and studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman."

    Asked by People about whether the news from Cheney, who managed her father's re-election campaign in 2004, had changed that view, Bush sidestepped.  "Mary Cheney is going to make a fine mom, and she's going to love this child a lot," he said, according to a transcript of the interview. "And I'm happy for her."

    The mere fact of Cheney's 15-year relationship with Poe has wreacked havoc on social conservatives for years now, because their abstract rhetoric about gay people takes on an especially harsh tone when applied to a living, breathing gay person — especially one with whom they have such close ties.

    Mayakeyes Just ask Allen Keyes, the erstwhile GOP presidential candidate who jumped in the 2004 Illinois Senate race against Democrat Barack Obama.  In an interview during the Republican National Convention that year with Sirius OutQ, Keyes called homosexuality a form of "selfish hedonism."  Asked whether that meant Mary Cheney is a "selfish hedonist," Keyes fatally failed to sidestep. "Of course she is," he replied.  "That goes by definition. Of course she is."

    In the ensuing media furor about calling the veep's daughter such a name, Keyes only stepped deeper into the doo-doo, telling the Chicago Tribune that if his own daughter were a lesbian, he would tell her that she was sinning and should pray.  That came across harsh even in the abstract, but made Keyes look even more heartless a few months later, when his "own daughter," Maya Marcel-Keyes, came out publicly — at a Valentine's Day rally for Equality Maryland, a gay rights group.

    Of course, Keyes gets integrity points for at least being consistent in applying his abstract views to even his own flesh and blood.  But the larger point about self-righteous divisiveness isn't lost on many people in the "mushy middle" on gay rights, even when someone like George W. tries to distances himself from his own rhetoric.

    December 15, 2006

    N.J.'s glass of water, almost full

    Posted by: Chris

    WaterNew Jersey lawmakers passed a civil unions bill yesterday, and when the governor signs the legislation as expected, it will be the third state after Vermont and Connecticut to afford to gay couples the rights and responsibilities of marriage — albeit via a separate institution. 

    The New Jersey Supreme Court had given the legislature 180 days to ex tend to gay couples the same rights and responsibilities as straight married couples have, although it was left to lawmakers to decide whether to open up marriage or create a separate institution by another name.  With almost no debate and less than one-third of the way to their deadline, legislators opted for civil unions rather than marriage. 

    The civil unions bill passed easily, by 56-19 in the House and 23-12 in the Senate, with five abstaining in both bodies.  Gov. Jon Corzine (D) is a long-time supporter of civil unions and said he would sign the bill into law.

    Even though the glass in New Jersey is at least three-quarters full, some nonetheless focused on the remaining one-fourth to go.  "Although same-sex couples in New Jersey are better off today than
    yesterday, they are still not equal to other couples," David Buckel of Lambda Legal said in a statement yesterday. "Their relationships will likely continue to be disrespected. By passing a law that marks
    same-sex couples as inferior, the government has paved the way for others to discriminate against them."

    Buckel makes a fair point that separate institutions are inherently equal, as our nation learned with segregated schools, but let's hope he does not carry through on his threat to take the matter back to the courts.  Buckel and Lambda Legal represented the gay couples who brought the New Jersey marriage suit, and since the ruling they have staked their hopes on a line from the court's opinion leaving open the possibility that legislation that falls short of marriage could also fail to satisfy the court. 

    But with so much in the majority opinion making clear that "separate but equal" civil unions are constitutional, it's next to impossible to imagine (barring a change in the court's membership) that the justices would reverse course now.  Nor would it be the best thing for gay couples, especially those not so lucky as to live in New Jersey. 

    Gays successfully lobbied the state's legislature and then-closeted former Gov. James McGreevey to adopt domestic partnership legislation, and the Supreme Court carried the ball forward to civil unions.  "The distance between nothing and civil unions is greater than the distance between civil unions and marriage," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton), the state's only openly gay lawmaker.

    In the interest of long-term success and reducing the likelihood of some push-back in the form of an anti-gay marriage amendment, gays in New Jersey should go back to the legislature to get from civil unions to marriage.  Not because the state's constitution doesn't guarantee marriage rights — it should — but to protect that same constitution and others like it from the backlash we've seen elsewhere.

    Full marriage already has the backing of the five top leaders in both the House and the Senate, and even Governor Corzine makes the next step sound inevitable, saying that for now it was important not "to get so far out in front of the public."

    Massachusetts will remain for now the only state to marry gay couples, while California offers same-sex domestic partnerships that fall just short of civil unions. The District of Columbia permits gay and straight couples, as well as some blood relatives, to enter into domestic partnerships that also come close to civil unions, while Hawaii and many local governments offer domestic partnerships with a greatly reduced set of rights and responsibilities.

    New Jersey lawmakers even went one step further than their counterparts in Vermont and Connecticut, beating back "poison pill" legislation that declared marriage is limited to "one man and one woman." The new civil unions bill also sets up a commission that will investigate whether keeping gay couples from marrying subjects them to unequal treatment.  That commission will likely provide the impetus to reconsider full marriage in a year or two.

    It's clear who has the better side of the argument this week.  Republican Assemblyman Ronald Dancer of Ocean, N.J., admitted his vote was dictated by his private religious faith, saying, "I cannot compromise my religious beliefs and faith. Let marriage be known by no other name, nor let marriage ever be redefined."  So much for the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on the establishment of a religion.

    "We're not taking away anyone's rights," echoed Sen. Robert Singer (R-Jackson), "just sanctifying what marriage is."  Since when is it the job of the New Jersey state legislature, or politicians generally, to "sanctify" anything?

    If gay rights activists can accept incremental progress like that achieved yesterday in New Jersey — on the same day the state became the ninth to adopt a transgender bias bill — while continuing the push forward, the happy ending is inevitable — it's only a matter of time.

    December 14, 2006

    A hetero-only AIDS vaccine?

    Posted by: Chris

    Circumcision Two clinical trials have been halted midstream after it became clear that circumcision reduced by at least half a man's risk of contracting the AIDS virus, at least in heterosexual sex.  Officials with the U.S. National Institutes of Health stopped the trials, in Kenya and Uganda, after learning that more than twice the number of uncircumcised men had contracted HIV than in a similar sized circumscribed group. The New York Times reports:

    Uncircumcised men are thought to be more susceptible because the underside of the foreskin is rich in Langerhans cells, sentinel cells of the immune system, which attach easily to the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. The foreskin also often suffers small tears during intercourse.

    The protection offered by circumcision in anal sex is murkier.  Anthony Fauci, the famous AIDS researcher and director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, told the Times that circumcision "does nothing to prevent spread by anal sex."  But a Q&A fact sheet provided by Fauci's agency indicates, "The degree of protection that circumcision may afford for men who have sex with men is unknown."  Still, even if circumcision helps protect the active partner (the "top") in homosexual anal sex, the effect will be at the margins, at least in the U.S., where 77 percent of men are already circumcised.

    The new NIH study confirms findings from an earlier South African study that concluded circumcised men were 65 percent less likely to contract HIV from vaginal sex than those whose penises are uncut.  Francois Venter, a South African AIDS expert at the University of Witwatersrand, made headlines in September 2005 by comparing the effectiveness of circumcision to that of a vaccine. 

    "We dream of a vaccine which has this efficacy," Venter said then.  Indeed, most "AIDS vaccines" that have been approved for any level of clinical trial never even claim to achieve protection in as many as 65 percent of those "vaccinated."  Still, Venter's use of the vaccine comparison was roundly criticized for suggesting circumcision provided complete protection.  That's a dangerous suggestion, especially considering that it only improves protection odds for men, not women, although women would be indirectly benefited by a decrease in the number of infected men generally.

    Played out on a scale of millions, circumcision would no doubt save many lives, especially if the expanded use of microbicides provide anything like the level of protection for women that scientists hope.  There are clear scientific reasons why heterosexual, vaginal sex is more easily made safer, since anal sex invariably involves more tissue breakage, both because the anal opening is smaller and the receptive tissue is much more sensitive and thin.   

    But rest assured that some opportunistic religious leaders will nonetheless leap to moral conclusions about what sex is "natural" or sinful.  (Also rest assured, believe it or not, that anti-circumcision groups, often led by gay men, will recklessly try to debunk the new science as encouraging what they call "male genital mutilation.")

    It's not difficult to imagine, over the next five to 10 years, that circumcision and microbicides dramatically reduce the risk of HIV infection from heterosexual sex, making anal sex and I.V. drug use again the most prevalent forms of transmission worldwide.  We'll see if the AIDS, Inc., industry continues pressing for ways to make homosexual sex just as safe.  You can certainly imagine that a grant request with that as a stated goal is much less likely to get government funding.

    December 13, 2006

    No laughing matter

    Posted by: Chris

    Jasonstuart Give Jason Stuart some credit for chutzpah. He no doubt gets it from years of combat duty, working as an openly gay stand-up comic in mostly straight comedy clubs. But after a press conference at the Laugh Factory, site of Michael Richards "n-word" rant last month, Stuart turned the tables a bit on a black civil rights activist overreaching a bit in response to Richards.  The New York Times reported:

    In the lobby of the Laugh Factory after the news conference, Jason Stuart, a gay comedian, buttonholed Najee Ali, a civil rights activist, and said, ''Twenty-five percent of every black comic's act is gay-bashing and none of you have done anything about that."

    Earlier, Mr. Ali had shouldered his way to the microphones to tell the cameras that what Mr. Richards said showed that many white people harbor deep racism. In the lobby, he said he opposes [a ban on using the 'n-word'], and he responded to Mr. Stuart. ''It wasn't so much what he said," Mr. Ali said. ''We've heard the word used by many comedians. It was the rage, the hatred, the anger."

    Talk about your moving targets. The reality, as we all know, is there's truth in humor. And whether a black comic's fag jokes are said with "rage, hatred and anger" or not, they contribute to a hyper-masculine, homophobic culture that plays itself out everywhere from hip hop music to the "Down Low" phenomenon.

    Within a few days of the Times article, Stuart's chutzpah was on chutz-break. He issued an open letter claiming he has made peace with Ali (who says "he has been on the front lines to support all folks from prejudice") and was misquoted by the Times, and had really said, "about 25 percent of black comics have anti-gay material in their act and just as many or more white comedians do the same."

    Regardless, Stuart's larger point shouldn't get lost in all the back-pedaling. Richards' rant was an out-of-control, unscripted response to heckling that did, of course, reveal a darker side to the man we know as "Kramer." But the anti-gay riffs in white and black comics' routines are scripted to get laughs and do, and say much more about what prejudice is still acceptable in society.

    Of course comedy involves poking fun at all sorts of groups.  And gay activists have been more guilty than most at lacking a sense of humor, but there's an important difference between a comic who is laughing with you and one who is laughing at you.  Let's hope the Michael Richards rant helps us keep a closer eye on that line.

    December 12, 2006

    If you just can't get enough…

    Posted by: Chris

    …of the Mark Foley scandal, the House ethics commitee has just the thing: More than 100 pages of IM transcripts (click on Exhibit 13), starring Foley himself and a handful of name-redacted teens who he lamely attempts to seduce, as they complain about their AP English homework and Mom calling from downstairs.

    I haven't had the stamina to get through them all, but I did love this gem below (click on the image for a closer view), which finds Foley becoming jealous because Jim Kolbe, the other gay Republican congressman (that we know of) has invited Foley's teenage lust-object and three other former pages to stay at Kolbe's Capitol Hill townhouse for a page reunion. 

    "Be careful" of Kolbe, Foley warns the teen, "don't want you foolin' around with that older man." 

    The House ethics committee declined to investigate allegations that Kolbe also had inappropriate contact with underage pages because the Arizona Republican, who is retiring from Congress in January, already faces a criminal probe.

    With gay role models like Foley and Kolbe — not to mention admitted adulterer James McGreevey, lately accused of sexual assault — who needs Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell?

    December 11, 2006

    What of Foley's 'thin pink line'?

    Posted by: Chris

    Foleyreport_3 The newly released House ethics committee report on Mark Foley offers some important clues about whether the once-closeted Florida congressman found some degree of cover from other closeted Republicans who tried to keep his "page problem" in-house, as it were.  From the earliest days of this blog, I have suggested that questions be asked about whether Foley implicitly relied on something like a "thin pink line" of closeted gay Republicans on the Hill to keep the lid on his inappropriate interest in teenage pages.

    It's clear now from the testimony of two of those gay Republicans — Jeff Trandahl, the former chief clerk of the House, who was responsible for the page program; and Kirk Fordham, Foley's long-time chief of staff — that they both were aware from the time Foley first came to Congress in 1995 that he was "overly friendly" with male pages, interns and even custodial staff.  It's also clear that both of them took these warning signs seriously, and repeatedly implored Foley to maintain a more professional distance.  Some of these warnings may have stuck in the short term, but of course we know now that they did not succeed in keeping the Florida Republican in check.

    Trandahljeff_1Both Trandahl and Fordham clearly understood and repeatedly communicated directly to Foley the dangerous waters he was treading as a closeted gay congressman developing personal relationships with male teenagers.  Here's how Trandahl described his thinking:

    Here you had — which I think is appropriate to say — a closeted gay guy who was putting himself in a situation of being one on one with young people.  And if an accusation is made, he would be immediately presumed, in a political light, guilty unless he could prove himself innocent.  So my counseling to him was, one, you don't need to be in the middle of this community of children; and two, you are creating an enormous political risk for yourself.

    Trandahl told the committee that, in addition to these direct warnings to Foley, he also talked repeatedly with Fordham to enlist his help and found Fordham "always agreeable."

    Fordhamkirk_3 Fordham, in turn, would meet with Foley to reinforce the message, and the report includes Fordham's description of one of these meetings:

    I went in to the boss and again — very uncomfortable conversation to have — and again relayed basically what Mr. Trandahl had shared with me.  I reminded him that because, you know, he is gay — most of his colleagues had figured that out, even though he hadn't announced that he was, you know, people were watching what he did.  [They're] paying attention to his behavior, and he needed to be more conscious of how he interacted with younger staffers, interns, pages.

    The report details dozens of attempts like this, by both Trandahl and Fordham.  In addition, Trandahl raised concerns about Foley on several occasions with Ted Van Der Meid, effectively Trandahl's "boss" in the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert.  To Van Der Meid's discredit, he  essentially did nothing with Trandahl's concerns.

    When Trandahl and Fordham could see that Foley was reverting to old habits, the duo decided to up the ante, raising the issue directly in late 2002 or early 2003 with Scott Palmer, Hastert's chief of staff.  Fordham testified that he met with Palmer to seek assistance with the "chronic problem with [his] boss' attention to pages and young staffers."  Fordham told the committee that Palmer said he would meet with Foley and later confirmed Foley "understood the message" and Speaker Hastert had been "brought in the loop."

    Palmer famously denied either meeting ever took place, much less saying anything to Hastert.  The committee decided that "the weight of the evidence" supports Fordham's account, an especially damning indictment of both Palmer and Hastert, since the Speaker has stuck to his denial of knowing anything at all about Foley's page problem until just before his resignation this September.

    So what of the "thin pink line" of closeted Hill Republicans?  The committee made no effort to follow this line of inquiry.  There's no indication either Van Der Meid or Palmer in Hastert's office was asked if he is gay, despite persistent rumors that both are.  The report does not even mention that Trandahl and Fordham are gay.  No doubt pursuing these questions struck the committee and its staff as McCarthy-like and irrelevant, even though the committee ultimately concluded that partisan motives and protecting Foley's closet were the key reasons why more wasn't done in response to all the warning signs.

    Markfoley_2Most importantly, the report underscores tenfold that the primary and overwhelming responsibility for Foley's misconduct lies with no one but Foley himself.  His gross predatory behavior — the scope of which is still unknown — was despite years and years of friendly warnings from Trandahl and Fordham that, as a closeted gay man, he needed to maintain a more professional distance with young male interns and pages.  Those warnings were repeated by Palmer and even by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chair of the page board, who at Trandahl's request confronted Foley in November 2005 about an "overly friendly" email Foley sent to a former page.

    Foley nonetheless used the page program to meet and befriend these teenage males, and then moved in for the kill once they graduated and (in his sick mind) were fair game for his sexual advances.  That sort of predatory behavior reflected poorly not just on Foley, but (unfairly or not) on Trandahl and Fordham, whose names were dragged through the mud despite all their efforts.  And of course Foley's conduct reflected poorly on gay people generally, since he chose to finally come out only after his resignation, as part of a last-ditch effort to explain away his misconduct.  ("I'm not a pedophile," he was saying.  "I'm an alcoholic gay man still victimized by my teenage abuse by a Catholic priest.")

    There's also absolutely no evidence that either Trandahl or Fordham knew anything about the sexually explicit instant messages that ultimately led to Foley's resignation, although the committee's indefensible refusal to investigate those communications robbed all those involved from complete vindication on that point.  Trandahl and Fordham should be credited with taking very seriously the "warning signs" about Foley, and with repeatedly taking steps — albeit within certain boundaries — to get Foley's attention.

    Without knowing more about Palmer and Van Der Meid, we don't know if one of those "boundaries" was limiting disclosure about Foley's "page problem" to other gay Republicans, though regardless Van Der Meid was the appropriate Hastert staffer for Trandahl to approach.  The committee was far more critical of Van Der Meid, who "showed an inexplicable lack of interest" in the Foley matter, than of Trandahl, though the latter was outside the committee's jurisdiction once he resigned as House clerk in November 2005.

    Some may fault Trandahl and Fordham for not ratcheting things up further.  One of those "boundaries" they didn't cross was partisan; all their warnings stayed within Republican circles.  Even when Trandahl brought in Congressman Shimkus in late 2005, neither Republican informed any of the Democrats on the page board.  The reason, sometimes expressed and sometimes not, was a concern that Democrats would have leapt on the issue for partisan advantage.  The report certainly validates that concern, recounting how the only two Democrats to learn about the "overly friendly" Foley email responded by bypassing all House channels and going directly to the press.

    I will say this, as well, about both Fordham and Trandahl.  I have known and respected Kirk Fordham for years, even if I have frequently disagreed with him on any number of issues surrounding Foley and the other Republicans for whom he has worked.  I do not know Trandahl, but close friends and respected colleagues of mine also speak very highly of him and his commitment to the integrity of his office while chief clerk of the House.

    With the benefit of hindsight, I would say both Fordham and Trandahl were co-opted, voluntarily or not, by Foley's closet.  It's a danger faced by anyone who deals with gay issues, including those of us in the gay press.  It doesn't matter how out and proud you are personally.  Once you learn that someone like Foley is gay and closeted, any action you consider taking based on information connected to his sexual orientation carries with it the freight of "outing" him as well.  If you're semi-closeted yourself — both Fordham and Trandahl were out within the D.C. gay community and to some House colleagues, but not generally or publicly — then outing someone else can carry a great personal risk as well.

    That is why, faced only with warning signs and no direct evidence of sexual misconduct by Foley, both Trandahl and Fordham come off as concerned more that "where there's smoke someone might see it," rather than "where there's smoke there's fire."  Both Trandahl and Fordham acknowledged that their primary concern was for Foley, not the pages, and to the extent Trandahl expressed concern about the pages, it was that Foley was a "nuisance," not a threat.

    Perhaps because both Fordham and Trandahl knew, liked and wanted to protect Foley, they did not imagine him to be the predator he turned out to be.  And they did not press him with the 64-thousand-dollar question:  Was there actual fire behind the smoke?  Was this middle-aged congressman having sexually explicit contact, by virtual or non-virtual means, with young males he met through the page program?  Shimkus is the only one the report credits with actually raising that question with Foley, and he emphatically denied it, as probably he would have even to closer (gay) confidants like Trandahl and Fordham.  Only when confronted with the goods by ABC News did Foley finally admit his misdeeds.

    All in all, the portrait that emerges from the committee's incomplete investigation is one that largely vindicates Trandahl and Fordham, even as it implicates the "see-no-evil" soon-to-be-former Speaker and his staff.  Among the most depressing side effects of the Foley scandal is that the light it has shown on the role closeted gay Republicans play on Capitol Hill is likely to push the ones who remain there further into the closet, compounding the complicated and dangerous situation that Trandahl and Fordham faced. 

    Hopefully, the utter destruction of Foley's reputation, and the way he dragged Trandahl and Fordham (despite all their efforts) into the mud along with him, will serve as a warning in the future that sometimes smoke signals fire, and everyone aware of a problem needs to grab a hose, and not a shovel.

    December 09, 2006

    A report with no teeth

    Posted by: Chris

    As expected, the House ethics committee report on the Mark Foley scandal answers more questions about how the matter was handled than initial press accounts suggested.  More on that later. 

    In the meantime, my general conclusion is that the report is a hypocritical exercise in exactly the same type of buck-passing and willful ignorance that the committee criticizes House members and staffers for exhibiting when they learned over time about the disgraced Florida Republican's unseemly interest in teenage pages.

    The report has already come in for some justifiable criticism for concluding that no ethics rules were violated, but to be fair the applicable ethics rule — that "members and staff act at all times
    in a manner that reflects creditably on the House" — is so vague as to be useless as a proscriptive against particular conduct.

    The ethics committee points out that the rule "does not mean that every error in judgment or failure to exercise greater oversight or diligence establishes a violation."  Fair enough, but the committee never goes on to spell out when such errors in judgment or diligence would give rise to a violation. Instead, it comes off like the Supreme Court's infamous standard for when pornography can be deemed legally "obscene": they know it when they see it.

    A New York Times editorial nailed the point.  "No, not every error or failure should be a violation," the Times allowed, "but certainly the ones that lead to an elected official’s sexually stalking teenage boys while his colleagues turn a blind eye or cover it up should be. We’d set the bar at least there. Apparently, it’s too high for the House."

    Rather than find rule violations, the House ethics committee issued a "strong reminder" — feel the teeth! — that "the failure to exhaust all reasonable efforts to call attention to potential misconduct involving a member and House page is not merely the exercise of poor judgment; it is a present danger to House pages and to the integrity of the institution of the House."

    Got that? Failure to protect the teens in the House page program "is a present danger … to the integrity of the institution of the House" but isn't so bad that it fails to "reflect creditably on the House" in violation of ethics rules.  (I'm not engaging in an unfair cut-and-paste job here; these two conclusions are contained in adjoining paragraphs on p. 4 of the report!)  Either the "integrity of the House" is already so sullied that you can be a present danger to it and still reflect creditably on it, or the report's line-drawing is so arbitrary that only a lawyer could understand it (or write it).

    But the real failure of the ethics committee investigators is they did exactly what they criticize other House members and staff of doing.  The committee criticizes "a disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility for resolving issues regarding Rep. Foley's conduct. Rather than addressing the issues fully, some witnesses did far too little, while attempting to pass the responsibility for acting to others.  Some relied on unreasonably fine distinctions regarding their defined responsibilities" (p. 70).

    Et tu, committee members? The report is chockful of excuses why the committee chose not to follow the most damning leads, even while finding fault in others for doing exactly the same thing. Rather than learn the full extent of Foley's misconduct with House pages, committee members remarkably chose not to investigate the sexually explicit IMs between Foley and former pages that actually led to his resignation. 

    Oh, they claim to have "devoted substantial effort to determining whether any House member, officer or employee was aware of or saw the sexually graphic instant messages" (p.74).  But that "substantial effort" apparently amounted only to asking those already implicated by Foley-gate to 'fess up to what they knew.  The committee admits that it "did not seek to investigate fully all instances in which Rep. Foley may have had improper communications with pages or former pages, or to determine the complete facts and circumstances surrounding the instant messages that were the cause of his resignation" (p. 72). 

    The committee's excuse?  Foley had resigned and so was outside their jurisdiction.  Sound like "unreasonably fine distinctions regarding their defined responsibilities"?  How could the committee hope to know if House members and staff, including in the Republican leadership, knew about sexually explicit IMs without first nailing down (1) all the instances when Foley sent such IMs; and (2) who the recipients might have told or forwarded copies of the communications?

    A similar escape clause is adopted when it comes to Jim Kolbe, the other openly gay House Republican, who was identified by (also gay) chief House Clerk Jeff Trandahl as among those with unseemly interest in teenage pages.  The committee admits that during its investigation of Foley, it learned about "allegations made regarding Kolbe and his interaction with former House pages" (p. 77), but still chose not to investigate.

    The committee's excuse?  Kolbe is already under a criminal probe and he's retiring at the end of his term anyway, putting him outside the committee's jurisdiction (p78).  Sound like "attempting to pass the responsibility for acting to others"?  How could the commitee know without investigating whether current House members and staff, including in the same Republican leadership, knew about Kolbe's alleged misconduct and failed to act?

    By putting all these unduly restrictive limits on its investigation, the House ethics committee ultimately sends exactly the wrong message to members of Congress and their staff.  Because the real takeaway here is that if you're going to willfully ignore signs that a congressman is engaging in improper conduct, you better hope the conduct you're ignoring is so bad that the congreassman is forced to resign or is subject to a criminal probe, preferably both. That's the surest way to avoid the watchful oversight of the House ethics committee.

    December 08, 2006

    Ethics probe clears GOP on Foley

    Posted by: Chris

    Foleyreport_2 The House ethics probe into the Mark Foley scandal has concluded that House Republican leaders and their staff violating no rules but exercised poor judgment in failing to follow up reports of inappropriate contacts by the former Florida congressman with teenage pages.  The Washington Post reports:

    "A pattern of conduct was exhibited among many individuals to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences" of Foley's behavior, the report said. " … The failure to exhaust all reasonable efforts to call attention to potential misconduct involving a Member and House page is not merely the exercise of poor judgment; it is a present danger to House pages and to the integrity of the institution of the House." …

    The report said Foley declined through his lawyer to appear before the subcommittee, citing pending criminal investigations against him and asserting his constitutional right to refuse to testify against himself.

    Markfoley_1Hopefully the 91-page report sheds more light on the scandal than initial press reports indicate. On the key question of whether leading House Republicans told Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) about the matter before September, when Hastert says he first learned, the report concludes — drum roll, please —  "probably at least in passing." 

    On the key question of whether former Foley staff chief Kirk Fordham raised the issue Scott Palmer, Hastert's top aide, as Fordham claims and Palmer denies: no answer, at least in the Post report.

    And finally, on whether the gay Republicans who knew at least something about Foley's misconduct — Fordham, then-chief House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, and Hastert aides Palmer and Ted VanDer Meid (if they're gay, as rumored) — acted in-house as a sort of "thin pink line" to protect Foley, one of their own, again nothing. Committee members were probably too timid to even ask the question.

    All in all, a thoroughly disatisfying conclusion to the matter. But I'll reserve judgment until I've actually read the full report.

    Porque eu adoro Brasil

    Posted by: Chris

    Riosurfers I know other people's photo albums can be tedious, but for those who are interested I've posted a visual sample of pictures I've taken during nine trips to Brazil over the last two years.  American and Brazilian friends alike had encouraged me to visit for years, and almost immediately after arriving I understood why.

    The Cristo Redentor statue on Corcovado mountain in Rio is the perfect symbol for the country, whose people open their arms to embrace visitors, even Americans. Brazil is not without its share of challenges, and a progressive yet corrupt government  results in two steps forward always being accompanied by one step back.

    But as exiles go, however temporary, I'll take it.  I can't encourage you strongly enough to visit and see for yourself.

    Canada defends marriage, charter

    Posted by: Chris

    Canada Canadian lawmakers voted yesterday to defeat a Conservative Party effort to reopen debate on the country's law allowing gay couples to marry. The vote was seen by many as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's perfunctory attempt to fulfill a campaign promise to social conservatives to try and re-open the issue, after Parliament passed landmark legislation last year making opening marriage up to gay couples.

    The vote this time was 175-123, an improvement over the 158-133 tally last year, even though Conservatives have since taken control of Parliament (over corruption issues, not gay marriage). Even many Conservative ministers in leadership roles voted against their own party, saying the issue should now be closed closed. 

    Yesterday's motion was a last-ditch effort to prevent same-sex marriages from taking hold in Canada, although even Conservatives promised they wouldn't revoke more than 12,000 marriage licenses issued to gay couples since the change in the law. In some ways, Harper's Conservatives were following the same script as George W. Bush's Republicans, following through on a campaign promise by introducing a motion on gay marriage they knew would be defeated. In similar fashion, Republicans forced votes in 2004 and 2006 they knew they would lose on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban states from marrying gay couples.

    What's more striking, however, was the stance taken on the other side of the aisle. In the U.S., Democrats have run screaming from the gay marriage issue, opposing a federal marriage amendment as unnecessary and a political diversion from "real issues."

    Shephanedion In Canada, as in the U.S., the initial impetus to marry gay couples came from judges, who ruled that it was required by that country's Charter of Rights & Freedoms — their Bill of Rights. But the Liberal Party — another label they embrace rather than running from! — didn't hide from the judges' ruling; they defended it. Imagine!  The National Post reported:

    Liberal Leader Stephane Dion called the prospect of re-opening the gay-marriage issue “an attack against the Charter.” … He reacted with pleasure to the results of the vote, saying Harper tried and failed to overwrite the Charter of Rights & Freedoms. “We are the party of the Charter. … It’s good news for the Charter, for the rights of all Canadians,” Dion said.

    How impressive it would be to see Democrats show the same cajones, and defend the role the judiciary plays in our constitutional democracy. "We are the party of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights," they could say. "The Republicans are attacking the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and that's bad news for the rights of all Americans."

    Yes, Canada is not the United States, and conservative Christians are far more influential in the U.S. than they are north of the border. But if Howard Dean's Democrats weren't so willing to sacrifice a full-throated defense of gay Americans in some delusional effort to win white evangelical votes, we wouldn't see gay marriage already banned in so many states. And many Americans, whatever their views on judicial activism and gay marriage, might see a Democratic Party willing to stand for something other than opposing Republicans.

    December 07, 2006

    W's nightmare same-sex marriage

    Posted by: Chris

    Bushclinton This tidbit from CNN's story about George H.W. Bush breaking down while praising his other son, Jeb. After the sob session, H.W. took questions, including about his budding friendship with Bill Clinton:

    He talked about his recent friendship with former President Clinton. He recalled a political cartoon showing his son, the president, opposing gay marriage and then walking into a room and finding his father on a sofa with Clinton's arm around him, prompting him to shout, "Dad! What are you doing?"

    "(Clinton) cut it out of the paper and said, 'Don't you think we ought to cool it, George?"' Bush said.

    Fortune's look at Queer Inc.

    Posted by: Chris

    Pick up the latest issue of Fortune magazine for a whole slew of articles bearing good news about gays and big business in the U.S of A. Among the highlights available online:

    Fortune_20061211 Besides the sheer volume of reporting here, most of it by senior Fortune writer Marc Gunther, the most surprising take-away is how overwhelmingly good the news is. Reading vignette after vignette about how well gay employees are being treated by their Fortune 500 employers, it's almost jarring to come across anything less than fully supportive. Like this example from Gunther's story about how gay employee groups have transformed the corporate workplace for gay Americans:

    These gay networks customarily meet in company facilities, use the company intranet, and receive financial support. Some get more respect than others. Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, makes it a point to clear his calendar each year for the annual gatherings of the African American and women's networks at GE, but he has never met with the GLBT group. That's caused some bad feelings.

    Does anyone doubt after that bit of nasty press that Immelt will be finding time on his schedule in the near-future to sit down with the GLBT group at G.E.? Not to mention Gunther's column about ExxonMobil, which begins provocatively enough:

    Does ExxonMobil have a problem with gay people? While much of corporate America has embraced gay rights — by promising not to discriminate against gay workers and offering domestic partner benefits — the world's largest oil company has steadfastly resisted pressures to become more gay-friendly.

    Gunter goes on to note, among other things, that every other Fortune 100 company but one (Plains All American Pipeline, an energy firm in Houston) has adopted a written non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, and 78 of the Fortune 100 offer health benefits to same-sex domestic partners, including ExxonMobil competitors BP, Chevron and Shell. He concludes just as provocatively:

    Exxon says in its proxy statement that the company "has zero-tolerance discrimination and harassment policies that are comprehensive in nature, rigorously enforced, and applicable to all employees." It goes on to say that those policies prohibit "discrimination or harassment for any reason, including sexual orientation."

    You've got to wonder. If ExxonMobil will tell its shareholders that it opposes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, why won't it put that into its employment policy to tell its workers the same thing?

    In such a large report, it's not surprising that there are a few points worth quibbling over. In "Queer Inc.," Gunther quotes an anti-gay activist who claims they called of a (ridiculous) boycott of Tide, Crest and other Proctor & Gamble products because of alleged private promises that P&G has "quietly backed away from promoting homosexuality" (as if they ever did such a thing).

    But Gunther allows that the activist "may be right" because P&G's score on the Corporate Equality Index compiled by the Human Rights Campaign "has dropped in recent years." The real reason for that isn't a reversal by P&G on any previous gay-friendly stance, but because HRC (understandably) raises the bar every year to pressure further improvements in the workplace. In recent years, many of those changes in the Index ratings have been in the controversial area of treatment of transgender workers, which most likely accounts for P&G's falling score.

    In Gunther's paean to MTV's Logo channel, he swallows what he likely heard from some P.R. flack that there was no mainstream advertising in gay media before the cable channel's debut last year:

    Before [Logo] came along, gay media was dominated by free local newspapers that were mostly financed by personal ads, by Web sites and AOL chat rooms where users could remain anonymous, by a pay TV network called Here! that viewers had to invite into their homes, and by The Advocate, a 37-year-old national magazine that even today arrives in a black envelope.

    Huh? The local gay press hasn't received a significant portion of its revenue (much less a majority) from personal ads in at least a dozen years, when the Internet gobbled up that arena. The majority of ad dollars in local gay papers like the ones I edited have come from "mainstream" (as in "non-gay") businesses, including big business, for at least a decade.

    And while the Advocate and (ironically) Out magazine, like competitors Genre and Instinct, are still distributed in covered envelopes, they broke the ground on national ads from brand-conscious corporations long before MTV and Viacom got into the game. Logo's success can be trumpeted without diminishing the real yeoman's work that came before.

    Still, all in all, Fortune did an impressive job of charting the course gays have taken in corporate America. In his blog, Gunther offers up the conclusion he reached after completing the work behind the arsenal of stories:

    I learned a lot reporting this story, met some great people, and came away with this thought–that this is one of those rare areas (the environment, in some respects, is another, although that’s more complicated) where big business is leading the rest of America in a progressive direction. As business becomes more gay-friendly, more people will come out at work. As more people come out, their co-workers will become more tolerant and empathetic.

    It's a familiar point that doesn't lose its power with time. It also ought to be the clarion call for gays everywhere that our fate remains, as always, very much in our own hands. As for whether big business is truly out front of "the rest of America" on being gay-friendly, I think Gunther overstates the case.

    Polls have shown a strong majority of Americans have for years backed workplace protections, domestic partner benefits, and even legal recognition for gay couples up to the level of civil unions that are marriage in all but the name.  Big business isn't ahead of the rest of America so much as the politicians in Washington are behind.  Time will tell if the changes on Capitol Hill in January redress that gap.

    Tom Toles on Mary Cheney

    Posted by: Chris

    A clever take from the Washington Post cartoonist on hypocrisy in the Cheney household, and the GOP "big tent."
    (Hat tip: Citizen Reader Tim C.)

    'Don't Ask…Don't E-mail'

    Posted by: Chris

    VfmarkfoleyThat's the headline on Vanity Fair's  long-anticipated exposé on the Mark Foley scandal, but for all the rich detail there's precious little new here on the big questions raised but not yet answered. There are no revelations about inappropriate conduct by the disgraced Florida Republican with other congressional pages; in fact, other media have reported more than VF about actual sexual contact Foley had with young men soon after they left the page program.

    Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, is one of a few primary sources relied on by the article, and there's nothing contradicting Fordham's claim that he knew nothing about Foley's misconduct beyond casual flirtation with young gay men that Fordham frowned upon as "reckless and unnecessary." Fordham did share, however, the intimate story about how Foley reacted when he first learned that his sexually explicit instant message exchanges were going public. 

    The story picks up after Fordham, who was at Foley's Washington, D.C., townhouse working damage control, was read over the phone the contents of one particularly explicit chat:

    Fordham cried, "Stop! That's all I need to know!" He heard female campaign workers weeping on the other end of the phone. When he hung up, he says he saw Foley, who was joining him on the patio, looking scared. Fordham told him the news.
    "Are those instant messages authentic?" he asked Foley, who turned away, mortified.
    When Foley looked back, he said, "Probably."
    "Yeah, I'm sure they're real," said Foley.
    [Liz] Nicolson [Foley's then-current chief of staff,] joined them. "Liz, I've been stupid," said the congressman. …
    Everyone [in GOP congressional leadership] agreed that Foley needed to resign. They weren't sure how. A lawyer was called in and advised that Foley sign a letter to be delivered to Speaker Hastert on the floor of the House. Just then, Fordham was alerted that Foley's sister Donna Winterson had arrived at the congressman's office, totally unaware of the meltdown. He ran over and found Winterson sitting on the sofa, "looking like she was in a coma." Her life, having been devoted to her brother's campaigns, would be crushed, too. It took Fordham five minutes to get her composed enough to walk back to the house, where they would finally have to swallow the bitter pill.
    "You have to get out," Fordham told Foley.
    "You mean I have to drop out of the re-election race?
    "No, you need to resign your seat in the House. Today. Now."
    Fordham says that Foley dissolved into hysterics. His sister wrapped her arms around him, and they rocked together, in tears. Foley wailed to his sister, "I'm so sorry I've done this to you." Fordham says, "He thought he'd ruined everyone's life."

    The article sheds no new light on whether a "thin pink line" of gay Republicans who knew something about Foley's "page problem" — including Fordham, Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, then chief House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, and perhaps one or more of Speaker Dennis Hastert's top aides — kept the matter "in house" in hopes of protecting one of their own. The article touches on Foley's mysterious decision to drop out of the 2003 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, despite a fund-raising lead and state party support, but offers only wild speculation that Karl Rove shut Foley down because he caught wind of the page problem.

    With almost nothing new of substance to report, the VF piece instead engages in a pretty shocking leap from the known facts about Foley's own teenage abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest. With precious little evidence to support their conclusion, VF's reporters Gail Sheehy and Judy Bachrach remarkably assume that Foley enjoyed the sexual attention:

    The formative experience of [Foley's] passage through puberty, as the world now knows, was his seduction by an authority figure whose attentions may have been a guilty pleasure. A priest at the Sacred Heart Catholic School took him biking and skinny-dipping and massaged him in the nude, often bringing him to saunas for fondling. Unlike a peer of his who ran away from another priest's overtures, young Foley apparently did not resist.

    The attentions of a predatory priest "may have been a guilty pleasure"? Foley "apparently did not resist"? And on what do they base these conclusions? Why, from the assurances of the predatory priest, of course!

    The Reverend Anthony Mercieca, who was 17 years older than Foley, claims they became "attached to each other .… almost like brothers." … The priest rejects Foley's latter-day charge of abuse and defends their relationship as one of "naturalness.… For some people, it's molestation. Maybe for other kids, it's fun, you know?" This arrested sexual development, with its titillating mix of secrecy and shame, Foley would reproduce in his adult years.

    Perhaps VF assumes Foley enjoyed being abused because he turned out to be gay himself, or because he subsequently repeated the cycle, albeit only by virtual means. Neither assumption is justified; in fact, both are as irresponsible as it would be conclude Foley "became" gay because of the abuse or engaged in abuse because gay men are predatory.

    Sexuality is an incredibly complex phenomenon that doesn't reduce itself nicely to a Vanity Fair "thought piece" that bases its conclusions on the confession of an admitted priest-predator. Perhaps more real information will emerge from the congressional ethics probe (doubtful) or ongoing FBI investigation (still more doubtful). Until then, here's hoping the VF armchair psychology doesn't catch on as accepted fact.

    December 06, 2006

    In celebrity news…

    Posted by: Chris

    • Reichenlance Lance and Reichen have split up, according to People magazine. I always cringed a bit when the mainstream media reported Lance Bass, the N'Sync alum, and Reichen Lehmkuhl, the "Amazing Race" alum, were "partners," when clearly they'd just begun dating. I certainly never heard them use that word, or even "boyfriends." I agreed 110% with an op-ed I published in the Blade by Randy Foster slamming the Human Rights Campaign for handing the two "visibility awards," even though Bass had just tip-toed out of the closet. But the fault lies with HRC, which has doubled its previously slavish devotion to celebrities as its black-tie fund-raisers have turned even softer than the days when at least high-profile political figures made appearances. All that said, I was impressed by the acceptance speeches given by both Bass and Lehmkuhl, who recognized they weren't really deserving but dedicated themselves to be going forward. 

               Here's what Reichen said:

               Followed by Lance:

    • Jamiefoxx Jamie Foxx took a playful shot both at rumors that he's dating Oprah Winfrey (yes, really) and more persistent rumors about the unusually close friendship between the talk show queen and best friend Gayle Knight. On the stage for a special tribute to fellow actor Will Smith, Foxx said, "I was talking about you the other day. I was laying in bed with Oprah, and I turn over to Gayle and I say, 'You know what?'" The subsequent audience laughter drowned out the rest of what Foxx had to say. Later, he apparently requested that Bravo edit the joke out of an upcoming broadcast of the event.
    • Alexisarquette Gay-transgender-"out there" actor Alexis Arquette slammed newly out actors Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser M.D.") and T.R. Knight ("Grey's Anatomy") for appearing at a Hollywood fundraiser for a suicidal hotline but not mentioning anything about their personal lives during brief on-stage comments each made. "People like that are weak," Arquette is quoted as saying. "It's pathetic." The same story, by the somewhat dodgy celebrity site WENN, also reported that Harris exited his limo separately from boyfriend and fellow actor David Burkta, explaining to USA Today that his "highly paid public relations firm" had warned him to "lay low for awhile." Such antics if true are a bit pathetic for someone who claims to be comfortably out, though I don't think gay actors are obliged to discuss their sexuality every time they go on stage.

    Mary Cheney Is Expecting

    Posted by: Chris

    Mary_cheneyheather_poe_1 Mary Cheney, the vice president's lesbian daughter, has announced she is pregnant and expecting in last Spring, the Washington Post's "Reliable Source" reports today:

    It's a baby boom for grandparents Dick and Lynne Cheney: Their older daughter, Elizabeth, went on leave as deputy assistant secretary of state before having her fifth child in July. "The vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild," spokesman Lea Anne McBride said last night.

    Cheney, 37, was a key aide to her father during the 2004 reelection campaign and now is vice president for consumer advocacy at AOL. Poe, 45, a former park ranger, is renovating their Great Falls home.

    News of the pregnancy will undoubtedly reignite the debate about gay marriage. During the campaign, Mary Cheney was criticized by gay activists for not being more publicly supportive of same-sex marriage. Her father said people "ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to" but deferred to the president's policy supporting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. Cheney herself called the proposed amendment "a gross affront to gays and lesbians everywhere" in her book, "Now It's My Turn: A Daughter's Chronicle of Political Life," which was published in May.

    Cheney has described her relationship with Poe -- whom she took to last year's White House dinner honoring Prince Charles and Camilla -- as a marriage. The two met in 1988 while playing ice hockey and began dating four years later. They moved from Colorado to Virginia a year ago to be closer to Cheney's family. In an interview with the Post six months ago, when asked if she and Poe wanted children, Cheney said that was a "conversation I think I should have with Heather first."

    In November, Virginia voters passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions; state law is unclear on whether Poe could have full legal rights as a parent of Cheney's child. The circumstances of the pregnancy will remain private, said the source close to the couple. This is the first child for both.

    As frustrating as Cheney's reticence to speak out on gay rights has been, she makes a pretty powerful case for tolerance just by living her life as part of a very public family with conservative Republican credentials that are unquestioned.  Mary Cheney's family has embraced her partner, their relationship and now the idea of a child being born and raised by them — all without jettisoning their conservative Republican world view, or being jettisoned by other conservative Republicans.

    They love their daughter, and they accept her for who she is and want to be a part of her life.  Most members of my own conservative Republican family have never gotten that far, refusing to meet or even talk to anyone they consider part of my "gay life," including an ex I was with for eight years. Faced with the prospect that my partner and I might have children, I was told, "I would hope a judge somewhere would prevent that."

    So while we shake our heads at all that Mary could have accomplished if she'd been a little more aggressive defending her family within the Republican Party, let's be thankful for the example she and the Cheneys are setting for other conservatives.

    December 05, 2006

    Choosing Bishops

    Posted by: Chris

    Akinolapeter It's one thing for conservative Episcopal congregations to express their disagreement with the 2003 election of a gay bishop in New Hampshire. It's another thing for them to secede from the U.S. Episcopal Church over the issue, threatening a schism in one of the few Protestant denominations that didn't split over slavery. 

    And it's still another for them to align instead with a controversial African bishop who favors jailing gays for the crimes of marrying, forming organizations, or even holding hands in the street.

    That's exactly what two of the Episcopal Church's largest and most influential congregations, at least according to the Washington Post, are in the process of doing. The Falls Church and Truro Church, both in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, will vote next week whether to leave the Episcopal Church and instead affiliate with Nigerian Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, who has emerged as a leader for disaffected conservatives within the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Post reports:

    Three other churches in the 193-congregation Virginia diocese -- the nation's largest -- are also voting this month. And Saturday, the Associated Press reported that leaders of the San Joaquin, Calif., diocese voted to affirm their membership within the Anglican Communion, a slap to the U.S. church that some see as a first step toward a later vote to separate. That would be the first entire diocese to leave the mother church.

    Although some orthodox congregations have been leaving since 2003 -- as some did in the 1970s, when ordinations of women began -- advocates think they are getting closer to creating a new, U.S.-based umbrella organization that would essentially compete with the Episcopal Church. And the two Fairfax churches are on the vanguard of the movement, which could lead to massive changes in the 226-year-old denomination, years of painful litigation or both.

    "In one sense there is a sadness because this feels like a death," said Mary Springmann, a soft-spoken stay-at-home mother who worships at Truro and plans to vote to split when a week of voting begins Sunday. "Like someone who has been gravely ill for a long time, you keep hoping there's going to be a recovery. And at some point you realize it's not going to happen. Right now . . . there is a feeling of hope and expectancy about where God is going to lead us next. It's kind of exciting."

    If the votes at the Falls Church and Truro succeed, as their leaders predict, the 3,000 active members of the two churches would join a new, Fairfax-based organization that answers to Nigerian Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, leader of the 17 million-member Nigerian church. The new group hopes to become a U.S.-based denomination for orthodox Episcopalians.

    Gene_robinson The two Fairfax County churches object to the elevation to bishop three years ago of Eugene Robinson, who was elected by the New Hampshire diocese despite the fact that he is openly gay and non-celibate; he is in a long-term relationship. It's hard to imagine how these conservative Episcopalians see the issue of homosexuality as so central to their theology that it justifies seceding from the denomination. But it's even harder to imagine why they think "God has led them" to affiliate instead with Archbishop Akinola.

    This is, after all, a man who has said homosexuality is "an aberration unknown even in animal relationships," something contravened of course by reams of scientific data about hundreds of species. Akinola lobbied the Nigerian government earlier this year to enact a law that would throw gays into jail for up to five years if they hold private commitment ceremonies, form organizations to lobby for their rights, or hold hands in the street. The legislation applies equally to TV stations or newspapers that publicly portray same-sex couples.

    Even the Bush State Department registered an objection to the draconian law, passed in February, saying it contravenes Nigeria's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    So how do these two historic Virginia congregations reconcile Akinola's aggressively anti-gay views with their own, which are not so extreme?

    Jim Pierobon, a member of the Falls Church serving as a spokesman for both Fairfax churches, said he believes Akinola is trying to ease tensions between Nigerian Anglicans and Muslims by supporting the law. That doesn't mean the leadership issue doesn't weigh on Pierobon's conscience.

    "I can't ignore what's gone on," he said Friday. "It gives me pause. But I understand it well enough that it's not a show-stopper."

    Easing tensions between Nigeria's Christians and Muslims would be an unusual move for Akinola, considering the same month he backed passage of that country's anti-gay law, he incited Christians there into revenge violence against Muslims angered over the Mohammed cartoon controversy. Following reports of burned churches and 43 deaths at the hands of angry Nigerian Muslims, Akinola issued a statement that said, "May we at this stage remind our Muslim borthers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation." Some 80 Muslims were subsequently killed by angry Christian mobs, who went on to deface mosques and burn a Muslim district with 100 homes.

    So these conservative congregations consider it "a show-stopper" for other churches from a different diocese within their denomination to select an openly gay bishop, but it's not "a show-stopper" to put themselves under the direct authority of a bishop who would throw gays in jail for holding hands and who incites Christians into violence against Muslims.

    Johnchane Back in February, after the Nigerian law was enacted, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C., penned a Washington Post op-ed that slammed Akinola for backing the legislation. John Bryson Chane concluded his column by posing a question to Akinola's allies back home in the U.S.:

    I feel compelled to ask the archbishop's many high-profile supporters in this country why they have not publicly dissociated themselves from his attack on the human rights of a vulnerable population. Is it because they support this sort of legislation, or because the rights of gay men and women are not worth the risk of tangling with an important alliance?

    As a matter of logic, it must be one or the other, and it is urgent that members of our church, and citizens of our country, know your mind.

    With their votes next week, these two congregations are answering Chane's question. Whatever their motivation, the willingness of these churches to break affiliations that date back more than two centuries and submit instead to such a morally misguided bishop shows how obsessed they've become with their sexuality to the exclusion even of basic humanity.  The Episcopalians should say good riddance.

    My Bad...

    Posted by: Chris

    Apologies to those of you nice enough to visit the blog since Sunday.  I wrote a short post on Monday morning to explain that I was en route back to Rio, to arrive this morning, but I forgot to "publish" it.  So there were no new posts.  My bad!

    December 04, 2006

    Making Lemonade

    Posted by: Chris

    Lemonade It's that time again. Time to uproot myself again and fly 5,000 miles away from home, to what will be my new home, in Rio De Janeiro. It was great for me to have some time back in Washington, albeit at a long distance from my better half. If we had the choice, Washington is where we'd call home.

    But when life gives you lemons, you do your best to make lemonade. And as lemonade goes, Rio is mighty, mighty tasty.

    December 03, 2006

    He Said, He Said

    Posted by: Chris

    Golancipel Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey claimed in his tell-all book "The Confession" that Golan Cipel was his lover, but the former aide went on "Larry King Live" this week to call the whole thing a lie. Cipel, now on his first trip back to the U.S. since returning to Israel after McGreevey resigned, tells a story so dramatically different than the former governor that only one thing is really clear: At least one of these two men is telling an incredibly brazen, and detailed, lie.

    Here's a portion of the interview — and take note of Larry King's bizarre hand-wave and whispered scream off-camera:

    Cipel claims that, rather than having a romantic and sexual relationship with McGreevey, the former governor sexually assaulted him on three occasions.  Two of the incidents have that "so strange they might just be true" quality to them. Cipel claims McGreevey, laid up in bed with a broken leg and his infant daughter in the same room, played with himself and tried to coax Cipel to the bed — all while the governor's wife and another aide were briefly out of the room.  In another, Cipel and McGreevey were in a van with two state troopers driving to Washington, and Cipel claims the governor, who was lying on a matress on the van's floor, put his exposed penis on Cipel foot and grabbed his leg — all while the troopers sat in the front seat.

    These two incidents also could be true stories of consensual weirdness — McGreevey being sexually reckless with his secret boyfriend Cipel — that the former aide has twisted into assaults that also make his old boss look plain strange.  There are holes in Cipel's account; no satisfactory explanation for why he stayed in McGreevey's employ after the first two alleged assaults, and his claim he dropped the threatened harassment suit because McGreevey resigned and "it was never about the money." If that's the case, then how does Cipel explain demanding money (rather than a resignation)?

    The two men's stories are so dramatically different that there's no reconciling them with your typical "truth is somewhere in between" shrug. It's hard to consider McGreevey to be credible, given his lifelong history of lies and deceit, not to mention the way he cashed in on his family's pain with a tell-all book, published by the now-infamous Judith Regan, the amoral mastermind behind O.J.'s recent "if I did it" farce.

    But it's hard to believe Cipel's account when you remember that rumors of an affair between the two swirled with such intensity in the last months Cipel worked for McGreevey that reporters were assigned to track them down. Why would so many believe the two spent inordinate time with each other if, as Cipel claims, he was avoiding the governor because of the first two alleged assaults?

    It's also eyebrow-raising that Cipel, a good-looking 38-year-old has never been married, though he told the Jerusalem Post that, "I'm just seeking a nice American Jewish bride." Can you say green card, anyone?

    Whoever is telling the truth, Cipel's version of events only adds to the seediness of the whole sordid McGreevey affair.  Far too many within the gay community have embraced the former governor as a hero for coming out, mainly because he's a Democrat with a decent gay rights record, without regard for whether his account is true, and whether we — like so many others in McGreevey's life — are just being used.

    December 01, 2006

    Schindler's List

    Posted by: Chris

    Gcn It all started as a throwaway comment as things got heated during a panel discussion at this year's National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association convention in Miami. The topic, suggested by Terry Michael of the Washington Center on Politics & Journalism, was "Lavender Press Politics: Too Blue for Red-State Readers?"

    Terry had argud there was a "soft bias" in the gay press that doesn't give a fair shake to Republican, conservative and libertarian ideas. Karen Ocamb of IN Los Angeles magazine took issue with that view, and I focused on how too many gay press editors value clubby membership in their local community "A crowd" over really pressing coverage where their readers have the most influence: within the gay rights movement and the Democratic Party.

    All this proved too much for a staffer at New York's Gay City News, a longtime competitor to our New York Blade. As we went back and forth on the issue, I found myself surprised that the GCN staffer — I believe it was Associate Editor Duncan Osborne, but I'm not sure — would even argue there wasn't a liberal bias to the gay media. After all, GCN and its indy predecessor LGNY always seem so proudly left-wing. Finally, I pointed out that GCN prints ever week a tally of fatalities in Iraq. To me, that's a self-evident case of "you know you're a liberal gay paper when…"

    The panel discussion moved on but GCN Editor Paul Schindler circled back to the issue in Press Pass Q, an online trade journal of sorts for the gay press. There he wrote:

    I am confounded as to when commemorating members of the American Armed Forces who die under fire became a sign of a left-leaning sensibility.

    As the death notices in Gay City News indicate, just over 3,000 Americans have now died as the result of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. The information is all based, as best we can determine from Pentagon data, on fact. Those facts have no political meaning in and of themselves. There are names, ages, hometowns, ranks, and military units.

    All this was completely beside the point I was making. ABC's "This Week" every Sunday airs the list of dead from Iraq, and I would agree there's no "left-leaning sensibility" behind that. But within the gay press, it's so off-topic that it betrays the liberal anti-war bias of the editors. (And I'm no closet defender of the war. I have thought it was irresponsible and unjustified from the start.)

    When Schindler finally tries to make the weekly Iraq War death tally a gay issue, his argument is even weaker:

    Having lived in Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan in the days following 9/11 — and for almost two decades before that — I find it inconceivable that this city’s LGBT community would ever attempt to be able to seal itself off from the horror of that experience, or from the debate about how our nation has responded in its wake. The events since Sept. 11, 2001, have at their essence been a New York tragedy, an American tragedy. And our integration into American life will never be full until our community recognizes its inseparability from the whole of that tragedy. …

    U.S. military policy forbids open service by gay and lesbian soldiers, though we all know that many serve, and some die. We can’t say for certain who the [closeted gay soldiers] of Iraq and Afghanistan are, but their names are somewhere on the lists we print.

    Talk about your bootstraps! A story about gays serving overseas under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," or the difficulties faced by their partners back home, or any number of other "gay angles" to the Iraq War story are certainly fair game for the gay press without being liberal-biased. Efforts by gay rights groups to ally with other progressive groups in opposition to the war — or work on the other side by Log Cabin Republicans — would be as well.

    But it's way too thin a reed to suggest that dedicating space every issue, week in and week out, to these Iraq death statistics is justified because some gays are somewhere on the list. The same logic would justify almost any editorial decision. A gay paper could publish the size of the federal deficit every week (gay tax dollars are included in that tally) or the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. (gays are among those crossing the border). Just as either of those statistics in the gay press, repeated ad nauseum every week, would be evidence of bias — are you listening Lou Dobbs? — the same is true for Schindler's list of Iraq war dead.

    Hearing Schindler try so hard to argue GCN isn't biased makes me wonder why he even bothers. News articles in the pub are often written in first-person and include the writer's viewpoint. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Objective journalism isn't the only form. But let's call it what it is, rather pulling a Fox News in reverse and protesting way too much.

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