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    February 28, 2007

    Another voice in the HRC chorus

    Posted by: Chris

    Bareditorial Add the Bay Area Reporter's editorial page to the voices calling for a change in direction at the nation's largest gay and lesbian organization. Taking note of the handful of controversies stirred up by the Human Rights Campaign in recent days, the venerable B.A.R. noted:

    Among national gay rights organizations, the Human Rights Campaign is the 800-pound gorilla in the room; and lately, it has been acting like one, flailing its arms at critics and derogatory candy ads. …

    HRC's actions have led to mounting questions in recent weeks about its purpose and ability to work in a bipartisan fashion. Its executive director, Joe Solmonese, hasn't done much to douse the firestorm of criticism.

    After recounting my criticism of HRC's overwrought response to the Super Bowl Snickers ads, the editorial took issue with Solmonese's angry response:

    Solmonese, in turn, personally attacked Crain in a letter sent to gay publications that run his column. He chided Crain for his "fascination with me" and "misguided rhetoric" but even attacked the gay press, saying printing Crain's columns "sets back the work of the entire movement."

    Instead of zeroing in on his agency's critics and attacking the media, Solmonese should leverage HRC's muscle power be working the halls of Congress to build support for pro-gay legislation.

    Apparently the nation's largest LGBT organization, with more than 650,000 members and a $30 million budget, the 25-year-old group doesn't have many gains in the way of federal rights.

    The B.A.R. even added a new issue to the anti-HRC mix, which is actually a perfect example of how Solmonese is too willing to put Democratic Party priorities over those of the movement. The editorial notes that with Democrats finally in control of Congress, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a hate crimes law are poised for passage — as well they should be, after years and years of strong bipartisan support, sky-high public support.

    But repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has also been introduced.  Of the three, this is the only bill that would actually require political capital to push through. So of course, the Democratic leadership is ducking, and so is HRC:

    One player seems to be missing [from the effort ot repeal DADT]: HRC. So far the organization has signaled it will focus on hate crimes legislation and ENDA, not the repeal of DADT. Rather than attack gay media outlets and LGBT pundits, Solmonese would better serve the cause by focusing on Congress and proving for once that HRC merits its gorilla reputation.

    At this point, hopefully other gay media outlets — including my friends at the Washington Blade and its sister papers — will devote some coverage to this important discussion about HRC's direction and future.

    HRC vs. gay blogosphere

    Posted by: Chris

    At what point does scaterred criticism in the blogosphere become something of a movement? I'm not sure but the point of critical mass may well have been reached with gay bloggers and the current leadership of the Human Rights Campaign.

    LessthanIn the last couple of weeks, a growing number of gay bloggers from across the ideological spectrum have taken aim at the decision by HRC prez Joe Solmonese to position his organization in the same way labor unions have — as a special interest within the Democratic Party.

    I first blogged about Solmonese and the "Dem-jacking" of HRC a couple of times back in January, and again in support of gay philathropist Tim Gill's alternative outside-the-beltway approach a couple of weeks ago. For other bloggers, the issue has come up in the same and other contexts:

    • Andrew Sullivan picked up on the Tim Gill thread in a post he titled "The Antidote to HRC": "There is hope for the gay rights movement," he wrote, "just don't expect it from the failed Hillary cronies at the Human Rights Campaign." I'm unclear whether Andrew was referring to those at HRC already pining for posts in a Hillary Clinton White House or maybe Hillary Rosen, who's at the core of the so-called "Massachusetts Gay Mafia" that has long controlled the organization. Either way…
    • The catty young queerlings at Queerty, ever in need of a catfight, cast the conflict as a "faggot feud" between Solmonese and me. I have absolutely nothing against Joe personally and have had only positive interactions with him. But hopefully this puts the lie to some who grumbled that I was somehow mysoginist for critiquing Solmonese's two HRC predecessors, Cheryl Jacques and Elizabeth Birch.
    • Longtime gay and HIV activist-blogger Michael Petrelis, who is also a long-standing Solmonese critic, most recently questioned HRC's refusal to acknowledge the remarkable stand taken by several Republicans in the Wyoming state legislature, who blocked passage of a bill that would have refused recognition of gay marriage licenses issued by Massachusetts. One in particular, Republican Dan Zwonitzer, said, "If it costs me my seat, … I can say I stood up for basic rights, and history can be my judge." HRC not only stayed mum about these courageous Republicans, it stuck to the usual party line that the Wyoming legislature had more important, "real issues" to worry about — a bit of tired rhetoric that minimizes our own struggle and always acts to cover weak-kneed Democrats who want to stop anti-gay laws without coming off as (ick!) pro-gay.
    • Echoing Petrelis' criticism but from the left-wing of the gay blogosphere was Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend, who wrote on Monday, "It's sad that HRC still hasn't managed to release even a simple statement of support for Zwonitzer's stand — after all isn't the point of an advocacy organization to support and show public respect for all pols who put themselves on the political line for our civil rights, not only Democrats who 'support' our civil rights (only when it suits them)? … I guess I'm just naive because I believe that to win the battle and the war we need to encourage every ally working for equality, regardless of party affiliation."
    • Cue Robbie Matt over at The Malcontent, who sent HRC a note in response to one of the group's ubiquitous fund-raising mailers saying he couldn't support an organization that was no longer bipartisan. The response he got was full of outright lies and manipulations, as Robbie Matt  documented here. Most blatant was the claim that HRC "gives to candidates, not parties," when donation records show last year "$135,000 to national and state party organizations (every penny of it to Democrats), including the DSCC and DCCC." He also pointed out that barely 10 percent of HRC's PAC donations in the last election cycle went to Republican candidates, and the organization recently removed the word "bipartisan" from its mission statement, burying it on an inside page on the group's website.
    • The gay Republican blogger North Dallas Thirty not unexpectedly claims we are all unfashionably late to his anti-HRC tea party, and even claimed to be the Cassandra we all ignored on the issue. (Something about a cross and needing the wood, NDT…)
    • Then there was Solmonese's appearance recently at a town forum in Washington, D.C., on "the state of the movement." Local gay blogger "The Scientist" was unsparing in his critique of the HRC president in a post titled "The Devil Wears Gucci":

    "Joe Solmonese deigned to sit on the panel tonight. And he was pedantic. His whole spiel could be embodied in this summation: "You just don't understand how things work."

    Now having been in academics for ages, I have run across this sort a number of times. The professor, giving you some weary look as you describe your idea, shoots it down passively. They don't explain their disagreement with your idea because "it is just wrong". No further explanation given nor needed. The professor doesn't have time to go into explaining the basics of the err of your ways. Or, what is generally more accurate, they won't lower themselves to argue with an inferior. And why should they? You, the little peon, just don't understand but Joe does.

    Joe is a political animal. As the head of HRC, he doesn't have time to explain why grass-roots approaches are so slow, sloppy and ineffective. He can just tell you that it is, he'll then do a stage voice sigh, and pick at some imaginary lint on his Gucci sleeve. Condescension dripped from his every pronouncement.

    To Joe, low level politics are passe. Blogs are distracting (quote). Local efforts are notable, not as a means but soley as a humble example, but ultimately, small potatoes. The only thing that matters is the House and the Senate. 535 people are his audience. The rest of us, the unwashed gay masses, are just sheep and we ought to just write our checks and shut the fuck up. He will decide what we need and our job is to genuflect towards the onerous burden that he has in spending our contributions."

    Both Petrelis and Sullivan (who noted a growing anti-HRC "insurgency") sounded off in agreement with The Scientist's general view of Solmonese's smug dismissiveness, which for me is more a style issue than the substantive problem with the direction he has taken the "nation's largest gay and lesbian advocacy group." Another gay D.C. blogger, Jimbo, suggested gay contributions follow Gill down to politics at the local level.

    All this criticism of HRC isn't just sniping from bloggers with nothing better to do. It represents a growing sense, among some of those who pay closest attention to the gay rights movement and its "leading" organization, that a major strategic error has been made in how to achieve our equality. These critics are not, for the most part, yelling for more money for Republicans as much as they are asking that HRC not treat the interests of the movement as secondary to the interests of the Democratic Party.

    We are asking, ultimately, that HRC and Solmonese "keep their eyes on the prize."

    (Extra special credit to The Malcontent for the altered HRC logo above. He calls it "less than" but my take was the reverse button on a tape player…)

    February 26, 2007

    I'm no anti-dad bigot for backing Mary

    Posted by: Chris

    Mary Cheney's announcement in December that she is pregnant with a child she will raise with long-time partner Heather Poe drew some predictably mean reaction from some predictable sources. The good Rev. Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, for example, didn't miss the opportunity to focus on the father.

    Jamesdobson"The two most loving women in the world cannot provide a daddy for a little boy," said Dobson, "any more than the two most loving men can be complete role models for a little girl."

    But just as Mary Cheney can bring out the surprisingly tolerant side of her grumpy conservative dad, her decision to start a family has brought out the surprisingly intolerant side of some usually friendly liberals. None more so than Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., who wrote this month that he agrees with Daddy Dobson to disagree with Mary and Heather.

    Leonardpittsblog "Fathers matter," wrote Pitts, "something we seem to have forgotten, so busy are we pretending that women and men are interchangeable. My problem with Cheney and Poe is the same problem I'd have with a heterosexual single mom who decided to make herself a baby without benefit of a man in her life. It seems part and parcel of the diminution of fatherhood."

    Pitts seemed genuinely surprised when he was flooded with angry reaction from lesbian and gay readers and even penned a second column defending his disapproval. Pitts, who is African American, insisted his objections were pro-dad and not anti-gay, and he's backed up by a long history of sometimes moving support for gay rights and acceptance of gay people within black culture.

    But that same background has made him sensitive to our "toxic slide" into "a fatherless society," where "the male parent is considered optional, irrelevant or interchangeable." Like Dobson, Pitts cites a familiar wealth of social science research for the proposition that a child raised without a biological father is more likely to "live in poverty, do poorly in school, drop out altogether, become a teen parent, exhibit behavioral problems, smoke, drink, use drugs, or wind up in jail."

    That's where Pitts gets into trouble. It's one thing to list the problems faced by children raised by single mothers, but it's quite another to say the missing father is the reason for that parade of horribles. And even if an absent dad is a factor, it's an even bigger leap to conclude that a two-parent household of the same gender, whether two moms or two dads, would produce children who face the same maladies.

    In fact, all the peer-tested social science data out there suggests that children raised by gay parents are at least as well adjusted and happy as those raised by two parents of the opposite gender. Does that mean dads don't matter? Or, if two gay dads can raise happy, healthy kids, that moms aren't important? Of course not.

    Gay parents face their own unique set of challenges, just as every different sort of parent does, not the least of which is disapproval from the likes of Dobson. I was lucky enough to be raised by my mother and father together in a loving, supportive, middle-class family. But that still left us all ill-equipped to deal with my homosexuality, and it remains a huge barrier in my relationship with each of them.

    The reality is that missing fathers are one significant piece in a much larger and more complicated puzzle: the decline in households with parents who are interested and financially able to become invested and involved in the lives of their children.

    There are economic and cultural reasons for that phenomenon, and even the loss of "traditional values" no doubt plays a role. But the problem can be found almost entirely in heterosexual households, not gay ones.

    And the daddy decline has absolutely nothing to do with happy lesbian couples like Mary Cheney and Heather Poe, who can financially afford the difficult proposition of having babies. These are the opposite of "accidental parents"; to the contrary, they are more prepared than most.

    Of course, addressing the cultural and economic changes that undermined two-parent, heterosexual-led households is much more difficult and time-consuming than simply blaming gay parents. It is truly depressing to think about the time, energy and resources wasted making life more difficult for gay parents and their children, when it could have been spent addressing the real problems facing families.

    But Focus on the Family wouldn't be the media empire it is today if Daddy Dobson was pointing the finger back at his red-state constituents, even though the divorce rate there is much higher than in Massachusetts, the only state where gay couples can marry.

    It's still a real shame to see Pitts, who is scheduled to receive an award from Parents Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, take the same twisted leap of faith.

    Melissaoscars More and more, we are witnessing how concern over the decline of traditional mom-and-pop families has morphed into opposition not just to gay parents, but to gay marriage as well. The state supreme courts in New York and Washington both cited the need for a mother and a father as the main justification for laws that limit marriage to straight couples.

    Let's hope as the world learns more about gay couples, like Mary and Heather, and like Melissa Etheridge and Tammy Lynn Michaels — showcased for the billions watching the Oscars this week — they'll focus their attention back on the real problems facing families today.

    February 24, 2007

    No snickers from Solmonese

    Posted by: Chris

    Solmonesejoe_1_1 A recent column I wrote about the Snickers ad controversy has Human Rights Campaign director Joe Solmonese spitting mad. In an angry letter to the San Francisco Bay Times, one of several gay papers that published the piece, Solmonese claims I suffer from "clear manic bias" against…him:

    While I fail to understand it, I’m beginning to view his fascination with me almost as a badge of honor. In his most recent article, "No Snickers for Snickers" Bay Times, Feb. 8, 2007), Chris Crain, once again, misses the bigger picture.

    The Human Rights Campaign and other gay rights organizations complained not about the ad that aired but about the online campaign which featured homophobic football players and alternative endings to the ad that depicted violence in reaction to two men kissing. The complaints raised were not exclusive to the original ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Chris would be more credible if he commented on the facts rather than contorting them to suit his clear manic biases.

    Two problems with Sloppy Joe's criticism: (1) HRC's attack on Mars, the maker of Snickers, was never limited to the online campaign., and (2) I never said HRC's criticism was limited to the ad that aired during the Super Bowl.

    First, the HRC press release I quoted from attacks "the ad campaign launched yesterday during the Super Bowl," and then describes "the ad" that aired:

    The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, is calling on the makers of Snickers, and its parent company Mars Inc., to pull the ad campaign launched yesterday during the Super Bowl. The ad features two presumably straight men who accidentally engage in a kiss and then try to distance themselves from any perception of being gay by “doing something manly.”

    While HRC goes on to criticize "Wrench," one alternative ending for the ad online, no fair reading of the press release suggest HRC's "condemnation" was limited to that one ending and the football players' reactions.

    Second, I wrote in the column and in a blog post here that HRC condemned "the ads" and the player reactions, not simply the one from the Super Bowl:

    The Human Rights Campaign was quick to condemn the ads, although they ought to be busy protecting our interests on Pennsylvania Avenue, not Madison Avenue.

    HRC chief Joe Solmonese was characteristically patronizing, chastising Mars for not “knowing better.”

    “If they have any questions about why the ad isn’t funny,” finger-wags Solmonese, “we can help put them in touch with any number of GLBT Americans who have suffered hate crimes.”

    Well I, for one, am a gay American who suffered a broken nose and two black eyes for holding my boyfriend’s hand in the street. If that somehow qualifies me to speak, then let me say I am much less disturbed by Snickers’ goofy ad than by the gross overreaction of our overly earnest activists.

    It's striking to me that Solmonese somehow teases a "manic bias" out the hairs he splits here, when I make clear in the rest of my column that I thought criticism of even the "Wrench" version and the NFL player reactions was also overwrought. 

    The only real substantive point raised by Solmonese in the letter was about whether HRC was in fact guilty of "issue-creep," as I had suggested in one aside.  Again quoting from Joe:

    [Crain] writes that HRC, “ought to be busy protecting our interests on Pennsylvania Avenue, not Madison Avenue.” Unfortunately, it is this “criticize for the sake of criticizing” mentality that shadows way too many of his columns. Does he not understand that our work to change hearts and minds in America is connected both politically and culturally?

    When a major American corporation depicts in their advertisements, violence against gay people and reactions of homophobic football players, which many kids hold up as role models, then it is the responsibility of groups like HRC to stand up and demand change.

    Of course Solmonese knows I am well aware we need to "change hearts and minds" both "politically and culturally." Solmonese also knows the movement already has not one, but two, organizations whose missions are directly related to bias in media: the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Commercial Closet, the latter of which is devoted specifically to watchdog Madison Avenue's depiction of gays. Both zeroed in immediately on the Mars campaign, so it's not as if it wasn't being addressed.

    HRC piled on Mars for two reasons: First, HRC is need of victories, since decades of untold millions in donations, from gay communities around the country, has produced a shiny HRC headquarters but not even a single piece of basic federal gay rights legislation. Second, battling corporate America is fairly easy, given today's politically correct environment, and to the victor go the spoils, in the form of corporante penance for its wrongs. Note the language from the HRC press release after Mars caved and pulled the Snickers campaign:

    “While we are pleased with the initial response from Mars, this is not the time to spike the ball,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. … “After speaking with company representatives today, we hope to continue a dialogue and establish a working relationship with Mars Inc., as we have with the majority of Fortune 500 companies, about responsible marketing and fair workplace policies for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

    I don't begrudge Solmonese, or Neil Giuliano at GLAAD — query how it is that I bear "manic bias" against Solmonese when I spent more of my column criticizing an organization run by one of my best friends — for their shakedown. The more money invested in the movement, the better. But from those to whom much is given, much is expected, and whether Solmonese likes it or not, the role of the gay press, and gay people generally, is to make sure HRC is a good steward of those precious resources.

    In fact, it's a bit mind-boggling to me that the head of "the nation's largest gay rights group" would claim a gay newspaper had "set back the entire movement" by "giving a platform" to me to "spout" my "misguided rhetoric." The tight-ship HRC communications department from the Elizabeth Birth era would never have allowed the E.D. to go off such half-cocked.

    Nonetheless, Solmonese can rest assured that the Bay Times and more than a dozen other gay newspapers, as well as this blog of course, will continue to be a forum for those of us willing to take issue with the direction he steers the HRC ship.

    (Hat tip to activist-blogger Michael Petrelis for alerting me to the Solmonese missive and for defending my honor. I have to admit, after years of being on the receiving end of Petrelis' sharp tongue — now there's a man with a "manic bias"! — it's a bit odd to see him write fondly of my years at the Washington Blade.)

    February 22, 2007

    Groggy Thursday, post-Carnaval

    Posted by: Chris

    Sambodromo Fat Tuesday is history and with it an amazing Carnaval celebration here in Rio.  The festivities were cut short for me a day early when a burger I ate at the legendary Sambodromo on Monday night leveled me with food poisoning the next two days.

    I'm not much of a travel blogger, so I'll leave it to my pal Jeff DeKorte to fill in all (or at least some) of the sordid details on his blog "Traveling in Pants."

    Two years ago, when Carnaval was in early February, I met my boyfriend at the weekend's opening party.  This time around, we shared the whole experience together: the street parties, the samba school rehearsals, the overflowing beach in Ipanema, the breathtaking pageantry of the parade of samba schools in the Sambodromo, and not one but four big gay dance events (including one with my favorite DJ, the Israeli phenomenon Offer Nissim).

    The first time, Carnaval was whirlwind, exotic and exhausting. This time around, it was a true celebration, with my partner by my side, surrounded by good friends like Jeff and many of the new friends we have made in São Paulo and here in Rio. Now, hopefully, after another good night's sleep, I will have recovered enough to get back into the real world, including this here blog.

    Até la, Bom Carnaval por tudo!

    February 16, 2007

    Italian-style family values

    Posted by: Chris

    Sylvioberlusconi Italy's raucous debate over civil unions for unmarried couples has been overshadowed by a marital squabble plaguing the man claiming the mantle of "family values."

    Prime Minister Romano Prodi introduced the legislation, which would be open to both gay and straight unmarried couples, to fulfill a campaign promise. But several members of his fragile governing coalition have threatened to bolt if the legislation is adopted and one cabinet minister said she'd rather resign than support rights for gay couples.

    Center-right opposition leader Sylvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister, saw the political opportunity and took it.  After Prodi's cabinet unified long enough for a unanimous vote for the civil unions bill, Berlusoni attacked. "It creates exactly what we don't want," he told Reuters, "a sort of 'second division' marriage, which devalues the meaning of family."

    Berlusconi certainly knows a thing or three about "devaluing the meaning of family." At 70, the bazillionaire business mogul is used to flirting with impunity despite the fact that he's married (to a woman 20 years younger). At a television awards ceremony a couple weeks ago, he told one beautiful woman, "I'd follow you anywhere." To another, he said, "If I weren't already married, I'd marry you."

    Veronicaberlusconi That was all his semi-separated wite, former actress Veronica Lario, could take and she demanded an apology. When he refused in private, she wrote an open letter to him and sent it to the newspaper most critical of him. "They are comments that I interpret as damaging to my dignity, comments that for the age, political and social position, family context … of the person who made them, can't be brushed off as harmless jokes."

    Berlusconi relented and issued a public apology, but too late to make transparent and hypocritical his claim to defending the institution of the family for all Italians. (Though whether due to the language difference or the unique co-existence of Catholicism with Italian male bravado, I haven't seen media reports picking up on the irony and polls show most Italians more sympathetic to Berlusconi than his wife.)

    For me, the irony is even deeper because I agree with Berlusconi that, as written, the Italian civil unions bill undermines marriage and the family — but not because it's open to gay couples or would lead to adoption by gay couples.  The problem is that it's open to unmarried heterosexual couples, an approach (also adopted in Washington, D.C.) that seems equal on its face but actually threatens marriage much more so that allowing gays to wed, since straight couples then have the easier option of "marriage lite."

    Especially in a culture like Italy's dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, where divorce is still heavily frowned upon, these civil unions will become more and more tempting for straight couples.  Berlusconi, for example, was only seen in public twice with wife during his entire tenure as prime minister, during state visits from President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But they stay technically married yet separated, no doubt for political reasons.

    "Marriage lite" civil unions, like the "PACS" adopted by France, may well undermine long-term relationships and even exacerbate the chronically low European birthrate.  Civil unions ought to be a half-step toward true marriage equality for gay couples, not a half-step backward for heterosexuals.

    February 14, 2007

    I miss my Fourth Amendment

    Posted by: Chris

    Rj_road_trip_01 On an otherwise beautiful drive from Rio De Janeiro to Buzios, a beach resort town three hours away, we came face to gun barrel with the ugly remnants of Brazil's military dictatorship, a full two decades after the civilians wrested control of the government.

    About 20 minutes outside of Buzios, a military police roadblock stopped traffic, but not in a random manner.  Locals were waved right through, but taxis and private cars holding tourists were pulled off the road by cops holding rifles. 

    Ours was no exception.  This alone would be a clear violation of constitutional rights back in the States.  Police must have "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity to stop a vehicle unless a roadblock is truly random, or stops everyone.

    Once stopped, we three passengers were searched by hand, all pockets emptied.  Our Brazilian driver was asked for documents, but no effort was made to search his person.

    Coming up empty, the police turned to our bags, and they were meticulously searched; no pocket was left unzipped, no potential hidden gap left unchecked.  These searches were done with absolutely no probable cause, an even more serious violation of the Fourth Amendment, if we were home in the U.S.

    I had a sinking feeling as the military police officer began searching the plastic bag where I carry my random medicine and workout supplements.  I've used the same bag for years, and it holds all sorts of meds that aren't in identifying bottles or packages.  I was a sitting duck, and the cop didn't miss the opportunity.

    He produced five hard white tablets, about the size of Rolaids or Tums, several of them so weathered from months in the bag that they had turned brown on the edges.  The officer proceeded to tell me that he didn't recognize these pills from any Brazilian medicine he'd seen, and he suspected they were synthetic narcotics, possibly ecstacy.

    It was a riduculous claim, given the size and hard shell of the tablets, and the fact they were just sitting open in a bag full of meds, but the officer was undaunted.  While he went to confer with his partners, another officer approached my boyfriend, and warned us that we would be losing a great deal of time while he "verified" the contents of the tablets.

    As the officer warned and warned and warned about the need to call in other officers, the shakedown was clearly on.  It was crystal clear to all concerned that, regardless of the tablets' actual content, we could make the inconvenience go away for a price.

    We stood our ground, though our hearts were pounding.  They could take all the time they wanted.  We had nothing to hide.  We all sat down in the shade, giving a clear indication that we were prepared for a long delay.

    After more consultations with more officers, and more cell phone conversations, the officers returned, lectured us about carrying medicine outside its packaging, and gave us the Portuguese equivalent, "We'll let you go this time."

    Back in the car, our driver told us these sorts of police stops are routine on the road between Rio and Buzios, as we've heard they are between São Paulo and Rio, and they're not aimed at confiscated drugs. They're aimed at confiscating money, whether from tourists or well-heeled Brazilians.

    In retrospect, we should consider ourselves fortunate.  I had been carrying a wad of cash with my passport, which the searching officer no doubt saw before he came to the medicine bag in my second piece of luggage.  Without blaming the victim, I'll certainly take it as a life lesson not to carry any unmarked medication or supplements.

    It's the third time during my stay in Rio that we've been stopped without cause and searched by the police, but by far the most serious and threatening. On one level, it angers me to think that we were stopped without cause and searched as if we posed some sort of threat.  It frustrates me on an entirely different level, of course, that the goal of the search was blackmail. 

    But what really enfuriates me is that the Brazilian military, which still operates with far too free a hand, is wasting precious resources shaking down tourists and not fighting the grotesque rate of violent crime throughout the country, but especially in Rio De Janeiro city and state.

    In fact, our shakedown occurred the same day that nine people were killed in gun battles in ongoing violent battles for control of the city's "favelas," or shantytowns. From the BBC:

    In recent months some favelas have been taken over by militias - consisting of retired and off-duty police officers. They offer to rid communities of drug gangs in return for protection money. The new state governor, Sergio Cabral, says he won't tolerate the involvement of serving police officers in parallel security forces.

    The drug gangs that operate in the favelas and from inside the country's prison system would be a serious problem, if the police were rife with corruption or not.  But whether due to chronically low compensation or poor discipline, far too many law enforcement officers succumb to the temptation of illegal profit-making.

    The violence is so bad that there's a web site, RioBodyCount.com, that's tallying the dead and wounded — 138 dead and 73 injured since Feb. 1 — to pressure the goverment into taking stronger action.

    Aside from the contribution that dirty cops make to the violence that plagues this beautiful country, I am reminded of the warning that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."  The constitutional protections we Americans take for granted — including our Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure — aren't just protecting us from overzealous law enforcement and "anti-terrorism" measures, they're protecting us from the corruption that would inevitably follow if the police were given more power over the citizenry.

    (Photo of the highway leading into Buzios courtesy of my friend and fellow passenger, Jeff DeKorte, who is blogging about his Brazilian travels.)

    February 12, 2007

    Conservative, desperate & dateless

    Posted by: Chris

    NytpollRELIGIOUS RIGHT SEEKS: A true social conservative for the GOP presidential nomination with a consistent history of opposing abortion rights and gay rights, and please be eligible to win a general election.

    Pity the poor social conservative; their issues are not just low on the national agenda, but now they're low on the Republican agenda.  Their GOP partners have lost control of both houses of Congress, and their ally in the White House is at historically low poll numbers.

    And when these conservative Christians look ahead to 2008, the picture is even bleaker.  None of the three leading Republican presidential contenders appears to be a true-blue believer.  As a piece in Sunday's New York Times put it, social conservatives are holding out for "Mr. Right":

    Is it the hero of 9/11, Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose support of abortion rights is anything but heroic to social conservatives? Is it the hero against gay marriage in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, who nevertheless once championed gay rights? Or is it a hero of wartime, John McCain, who has also betrayed them on issues like federal judicial appointments?

    Not to mention McCain's checkered rhetorical past, calling Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance" during the 2004 presidential primaries.

    The only contenders truly on the right wing on the issues are second-tier candidates like Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, or third-stringers like Congressmen Duncan Hunter of California and Tom Tancredo of Colorado. So do social conservatives swallow hard and back lukewarm first-string contenders, throw their support for these protest candidates, or just sit this one out and concentrate on smaller races?

    If the dilemma sounds familiar, it should. It's the same place gay rights supporters found themselves in 2004.  Three candidates backed full marriage equality, but all three — Rev. Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley-Braun and Rep. Dennis Kucinich — were third-tier. 

    Most gay Democrats instead chose to back a second-tier candidate, Howard Dean, and he rode their support to lead the pack.  Then Dean imploded in Iowa, and gay Dems held their nose and went for John Kerry, who had a perfect Human Rights Campaign score even though he backed a constitutional amendment in his home state of Massachusetts to ban gays from marrying.

    Four years later, we look to be again in the same position.  The first-tier Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, are about at the same place as Kerry (and Edwards) four years ago.  There are tempting second-tier options, like New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, or even switching to the GOP for Rudy Giuliani.  And then there's the temptation to follow Tim Gill away from the high-profile White House race, where gay money matters only at the margins, into smaller races where we can make more of an impact.

    As for the social conservatives, don't feel too bad.  John McCain has been running very hard to the right, especially on abortion and gay rights, for the last year or so.  He even met with Falwell to apologize for lambasting him in 2004, and did penance by giving the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University.  Since Liberty Univ. expels openly gay students, McCain's appearance was the equivalent of George Bush's 2004 visit to Bob Jones University, strongly criticized by McCain at the time. 

    Anti-gay, anti-abortion conservatives won't have to hold their noses too tightly to cast their lot with McCain, who appears to be the establishment GOP candidate for 2008 anyway.

    February 11, 2007

    Turning away from the D.C. Dems

    Posted by: Chris

    Howarddean Regular Citizen-reader Andoni makes an interesting comment to my post yesterday about Tim Gill:

    It's a continuation of the spat between Howard Dean and Rahm Emanuel. Is the money best spent at the top or building a party at the state level? Well both, but each half has to acknowledge the contributions of the other.

    Indeed, Dean was pushing to invest many in all 50 states, while Emanuel wanted to concentrate limited resources in the races he thought would flip control of Congress.  Dean did things his way, as he is wont to do, and the Dems won both houses anyway, though by smaller margins than Emanuel et al claim they would have.

    I'll buy into the analogy so long as it stays an analogy.  Dean and Emanuel were squabbling over how to spend limited resources on Democratic Party priorities.  In the same way, Gill and Jeff Soref (and his Dem-first, gay-second friends at the Human Rights Campaign) are partying ways on how to spend limited resources on gay rights priorities.

    Dean may have had the better long-term argument for Dems, but that doesn't mean gay money should back his "50-state" campaign.  This confluence of Democratic Party priorities and gay rights priorities has been one of the central strategic errors of the gay rights movement over the last decade, and rathern than be corrected, it's been enshrined in Joe Solmonese's decision to model HRC after (of all things) organized labor.

    I have made no secret of my great disappointment in how Dean morphed from the civil union champion who rode gay money to become the early leader in the '04 Democratic primaries into the curmudgeonly, anti-marriage technocrat who abolished the Democratic National Committee's gay outreach desk and treated gay Democrats as if they were nothing more than glorified pocketbooks.

    Dean was so miffed by my paper's tough coverage and my editorial pressure that he called the Washington Blade the "New York Post of the gay and lesbian press." "They’re not credible and they have somebody there who has an agenda which is clearly not favorable to the Democratic Party so we simply don’t give them any credence," he told an interviewer last summer.

    Hitchcockyandura Exactly.  Like so many other Democratic Party leaders, Dean expects gay people and gay groups to treat the Democratic Party agenda as if it were their own, and he bristles when the gays get uppity.  Take, for example, Donald Hitchcock and Paul Yandura.  Dean fired Hitchcock as the head of gay outreach after Yandura, his partner, sent out a blistering email criticizing Dean for refusing to fund the fight against statewide mariage ballot measures.

    But Hitchcock is keeping up the pressure, evidenced by a letter in this week's Blade that critiques Dean's performance at the recent Democratic LGBT Caucus meeting:

    After attending the recent Democratic National Committee LGBT Caucus meeting, it reaffirmed for me my reasons for standing up to Howard Dean’s reluctance to treat our community with dignity and respect, an action for which I was fired. I claim that firing as a badge of honor.

    Dean barely addressed the LGBT caucus with only five minutes worth of comments and he took no questions from the floor. And unfortunately, his talking points had shifted from the comprehensive plan to address the anti-LGBT state ballot measures offered last year to throwing only “a little bit of money” into the states at the end of the fight. 

    So much for the strategy to combat them that he touted in the LGBT press prior to the elections. A recent survey shows that the DNC gave states less than $20,000 in total, despite having raised almost $2 million from the gay community in 2006. But we will never know the exact amount given to state groups since the DNC is embarrassed to officially release the numbers. …

    At the meeting, gay finance staff and key fundraisers did sit at the caucus table, as before, but what is different is that lately we seem to be treated solely as an ATM for the party, with our civil rights seeming an afterthought or burden.

    Kudos to Donald for holding Dean to task, even if groups like HRC and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force have swallowed Dean's dogma hook, line and sinker.  Let's hope gays with money pay heed to Hitchcock's criticism and give close consideration to Gill's new approach.

    February 10, 2007

    An independent voice in Washington

    Posted by: Chris

    Tim_gill_jpg Kudos to Atlantic Monthly for luring reclusive gay philanthropist Tim Gill out for a long-form interview that adds a much-needed perspective to how gay Americans might best strategize for equality. Gill, who made his fortune on Quark software, has been devoted full-time to philanthropy through his Denver-based Gill Foundation since selling his stake in the company six years ago.

    But after dissatisfaction with the results from donating large sums to existing gay groups and political parties, Gill hired his own political strategists and embarked on something of an experiment.  First motivated by anti-gay ballot measures in Colorado, Gill invested his money directly where the action was: trying to stop statewide constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. 

    But seeing the long odds there, he and his advisers looked more closely at the situation and saw that, although these measures get broad support at the polls, they are typically generated by only a few local politicians who use the social issue of gay marriage to drum up dollars and build larger political careers.  As they advance, they only wreak further havoc on gay people at a higher level. Think Rick Santorum.

    So beginning in 2004, Gill aimed at cutting off these careers early on, identifying the loudest anti-gay politicians from the most vulnerable local districts, and he poured large sums of money into knocking them off.  And after years of networking with other gay philanthropers, he got them to follow suit.

    The result, according to Atlantic Monthly, was extraordinary:

    In 2004, [Gill] quietly targeting three anti-gay Colorado incumbents; two of them went down. Through the combined efforts of a host of progressive interest groups, including many supported by Gill, Democrats captured both chambers of the legislature for the first time in forty years. Gill’s decision to back Democrats in Colorado was the only choice that would produce the gay-tolerant leadership he’s pursuing. But ten years from now, he told me, he hopes he’ll be able to give evenly to Republicans and Democrats.

    In 2006, Gill went even bigger, targeting some 70 vulnerable anti-gay incumbents and other races that might affect who controls a state legislature. The results were even more extraordinary:

    In the 2006 elections, on a level where a few thousand dollars can decide a close race, Gill’s universe of donors injected more than $3 million, providing in some cases more than 20 percent of a candidate’s or organization’s budget. On Election Day, 50 of the 70 targeted candidates were defeated … and out of the 13 states where Gill and his allies invested, four—Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington—saw control of at least one legislative chamber switch to the Democratic Party.

    Even with the strong anti-incumbent, anti-Republican electorate, those are impressive results.

    Two factors that set Gill and the Gill Action Fund, his political action committee, apart from dinosaurs like the Human Rights Campaign are GAF's constituency of one, and its independence from the Democratic Party.  GAF has been headed since last year by Patrick Guerriero, the smart and talented former director of Log Cabin Republicans.

    Patrickguerriero Gill and Guerriero harbor no illusions that money is well spent today on the anti-gay GOP leadership, but their independence means — and this is most critical — that their money is spent on gay rights priorities, not Democratic Party priorities. There are many times, of course, when these two interests coincide, often in deciding control of state legislatures and in many individual races.

    But one key principle preached by Gill and GAF is that gay money is better spent down in the trenches, like conservative Christians have for decades, than on "the shiny bauble" of national politics, even when sirens like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are calling.

    That sort of strategy doesn't sit well with the "Massachusetts Gay Mafia" that runs HRC, or with leading gay Democrats like Jeff Soref, who complained to Atlantic Monthly that Gill's approach drained needed resources from Democrats:

    "One of the problems with Tim’s strategy is that he’s turning people away from national politics at a time when Democrats have just achieved a big victory — one that we weren’t as big a part of as we might have been, perhaps because of his steering gay money away from the national level. I’ve personally gotten calls, pre- and postelection, from Democratic leaders who feel the gay community has not been as supportive in this election as in previous ones. There’s a tangible downside to disengaging. In a competitive environment, our issues may not get the attention we want them to get."

    Soref has been an important critic of weak-kneed Democratic Party strategy on gay issues, but I couldn't side more strongly with Gill's independence over Soref's apologist thinking.  Let's hope Democratic Party leaders noticed the missing pink dollars.  It's frankly galling to hear that party leaders are paraphrasing Ms. Jackson — "What have you done for us lately?" — when that's exactly what we gays should be saying to them.

    And as Gill Action Fund opens up a Washington office, the contrast with HRC couldn't be more striking.  As HRC adopts a strategy modeled after labor unions beholden to Democratic Party crumbs even as the party fails to deliver on its priorities, Gill and GAF are putting their money where the action is: ballot measures that deal directly with our equality and races where our money can make the most difference.

    February 08, 2007

    'Cured' Haggard will pay it forward

    Posted by: Chris

    Haggardprays There is, of course, absolutely nothing credible about Pastor Ted Haggard's latest claim that three weeks of counseling have made him "completely heterosexual."  Just as there's absolutely nothing credible about his claim that his only sexual contact with men ever was with his accuser, a male prostitute who described three years of paid sex and crystal meth abuse. If Haggard really leapt from zero to all that, his case is one for the history books.

    We know that Haggard's M.O., like Bart Simpson before him, is to confess to only those facts he couldn't squirm out of.  His story changed repeatedly, as new evidence emerged, and with each change his credibility was further haggard.  The good pastor hasn't even owned up to his previous lies, like his early claim to not actually knowing escort Mike Jones — until Jones produced voicemail messages from "Pastor Ted."

    On one hand, I'm impressed that Haggard and his wife are sticking to their guns, practicing what they preached, if belatedly. I've often felt change would come faster if conservatives were forced to live by the same ridiculously harsh rules they set for gay people. What's more, Haggard's claim to be "cured" after just three weeks is so ridiculous that only the snake-handling types could believe it.

    On the other hand, I'm amazed at the Haggards' announcement that they plan to seek master degrees in psychology. There is a certain audacity in two people whose lives have proven so horribly and publicly dysfunctional emerging from a few weeks of counseling to announce that they feel themselves good candidates to guide others psychologically.  What's more, they would be expected to learn through their study some very hard scientific truths about sexual orientation that make a mockery out of claims to be cured after three weeks on the couch.

    Then again, Haggard's undergrad degree is from Oral Roberts University, and the couple plans to earn their master's online, so we can imagine the quality of education they'll be receiving.  If ever there were a case of caveat emptor, it would apply to the Haggards would-be pysch patients.

    February 07, 2007

    GLAAD bitch slaps Shirley Q.

    Posted by: Chris

    Shirleyqliquor Fresh from its "victory" over a candy bar, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is now trifling with a two-bit drag act that isn't even anti-gay.

    My good friend Neil Giuliano, GLAAD's president, issued a press release yesterday condemning Charles Knipp, the white gay man in blackface drag who for years has been peddling his racist, misogynist comedy act as  Shirley Q. Liquor.

    "While our work at GLAAD is about promoting fair, accurate and inclusive media representations of the LGBT community, this issue has risen to a level of visibility and importance that we feel compelled to add our voice to those speaking out against this awful portrayal," Giuliano said.  "Based on what we have heard from community members and read about this character, we are joining those taking a stand against Knipp's offensive caricature. …

    "This performance perpetuates ugly racial stereotypes that are offensive, hurtful and simply unacceptable, and we are urging our constituents to visit glaad.org so that they can express their concerns to the venues at which Knipp is expected to perform in the coming months."

    Jasmynecannick Neil says that "recent email communications by several community members" brought Knipp's act to GLAAD's attention, but it was really black lesbian activist Jasmyne Cannick who pushed GLAAD into action.  As I relayed in a previous blog post, Cannick somehow excuses Isaiah ("Dr. McHomophobe") Washington for calling openly gay colleague T.R. Knight a "faggot" because — and the connection still mystifies me — the "white gay media" has ignored Knipp a.k.a. Liquor.

    Never mind, as my previous blog post pointed out, a number of articles in just the gay publications I've edited have covered Knipp, including one story that led to a prominent appearance in Atlanta being canceled. Now that Cannick said "frog" and GLAAD jumped, is Cannick finally taking Washington to task, rather than organizing signatures for an online petition to help him keep his job?

    Not exactly.  She issued a statement (available on her website) that commends GLAAD for condemning Knipp, but she damns with faint praise:  "It's a small step from GLAAD, but it's a step and I'll take it," she writes. "What's the old saying…better late than never."

    GLAAD's decision to step outside its mission — which is to respond to anti-gay defamation — was transparently political, though likely without long-term effect except to open the door for complaints that GLAAD hasn't responded to any number of "ist" and "phobe" activities by gay folk. At least it puts the lie to Cannick's silly contention — reprinted in a number of prominent African American newspapers nationwide — that gay activists leapt on Washington because "they smelled meat, dark meat." As if gay (white) activists ever sought out battles with African Americans, prominent or otherwise.

    Since the Human Rights Campaign ventured onto GLAAD's turf in Snicker-gate, we'll have to wait to see whether Cannick lobbies HRC to slap down Shirley as well.  My guess is she'll steer well clear of publicly pressuring the Stonewall Democrats, since she co-authors the group's blog.

    I am happy to join Cannick and GLAAD in condemning Knipp's silly racist banter, even though RuPaul and legendary (black) drag queen Ella Fitzgerald defend him/her and even though his/her fans include quite a few black gay men.  My (few) (white) gay friends who love Shirley Q.  give the crystal clear impression they're laughing at, not with, the targets of her comic slings.  And they often take pleasure in mocking black people (and Latinos, and Asians, and lesbians and so on) in ways that would make any redneck proud. (Yes, I tell them so.)

    But the failure of gay groups in the past to go outside their mission statements to campaign against Shirley's sad little minstrel act hardly justifies excusing an A-list black celebrity on a top-rated TV show who called his gay colleague "a faggot" and then used the word again at a press conference, lying about it.

    What's the old saying…two wrongs don't make a right.

    February 06, 2007

    No snickers for Snickers

    Posted by: Chris

    Snickerskiss Gay rights groups are up in arms about an ad for Snickers that aired during the Super Bowl on Sunday, and even more so about three alternative endings for the spot made available on the Mars web site. 

    All four versions of the ad feature two middle-aged mechanics working closely under the hood of a car.  One unwraps a Snickers bar and begins eating it while the other gazes longingly — at the Snickers. 
    The second mechanic begins eating the other end of the candy bar, leading to the inevitable, "Lady & The Tramp" kiss in the middle.  The two men jump back, shocked that they've just kissed, then come the four different endings:

    1. Chest Hair: In this ending, which actually aired in the Super Bowl, one of the mechanics says, "Uh, I think we just kissed."  The other says, "Quick, do something manly," to which the other response by ripping open his shirt and ripping out (with a shriek) a big wad of chest hair.  The first responds in kind amid screams.
    2. Monkey Wrench:  In response to "Quick, do something manly," the first mechanic grabs a monkey wrench and clobbers the other over the head.  The second mechanic throws the first one under the hood and slams it down.  The violence is clearly intended to be comic.  In the trailing seconds, the mechanic now slammed under the hood says, "OK, that's good."
    3. Motoroil Motor Oil: In response to "Quick, do something manly," one mechanic grabs some motor oil and begins gulping it; the other does the same with windshield washer fluid.  Both men scream (in manly fashion) as they do it.
    4. Love Boat: In this version, both men jump back from the kiss but before either can say anything, a third, long-haired and older mechanic walks up, tosses his hair and says, "Is there room for three in this love boat?"

    Mushinmuhammad2 In addition to encouraging visitors to the web site to vote on the four different endings, Mars posted video reactions from players from the two Super Bowl teams as they watched the commercials.  The response from the two Indianpolis Colts — linebacker Cato June and wide receiver Marvin Harrison — were low key and non-descript. 

    But the three Chicago Bears showed a good deal more enthusiasm. Mushin Muhammad, a wide receiver for Chicago, had an exaggerated facial reaction to the kiss, while tight end Desmond Clark laughed in a "no they didn't" style.  Quarterback Rex Grossman covered his face with his hands.  Clark, in particular, seemed shocked the two male actors actually had to kiss to make the commercial.  When told it took 15 takes, he laughed, "I hope they got paid a lot of money!"

    The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation "strongly condemned" the ads in a press release issued yesterday, calling on Mars to pull the "Wrench" ad and what the gay groups calls the "offensive" player reactions from its web site. 

    Judy Shepard goes so far as to claim in the GLAAD statement that the Snickers campaign "encourages the same type of hate that lead [sic] to the death of my son Matthew. It essentially gives 'permission' to our society to verbally and physically harass individuals who are gay, lesbian or bisexual." Shepard reserves particular "dismay" for the players, who she said are "perpetuating such discrimination and prejudice."

    Chesthair The Human Rights Campaign also condemned the ads, calling on Mars to pull the "Chest Hair" version that aired during the big game.  HRC's Joe Solmonese says in the release that Mars "should know better.  If they have any questions about why the ad isn't funny, we can help put them in touch with any number of GLBT Americans who have suffered hate crimes."

    Well I, for one, am a gay American — how, exactly, can one person be G, L, B and T anyway? — who has suffered a hate crime, and I am more disturbed by the gross overreaction of these overly earnest gay rights groups. 

    The version of the Snickers ad that aired during the game was funny, if not exactly guffaw-inducing.  Funny, as in funny ha-ha.  Remember that, activists?  This isn't Isaiah Washington cursing a gay colleage or Michael Richards unleashing a torrent of angry "N-words."

    This was a silly ad for a candy bar in which two unattractive, middle-aged mechanics accidentally kiss and then have a comic overreaction.  Do we really believe impressionable youngsters will learn life lessons from these two? They are the butt of the joke, after all, not gay people.

    Let's not forget, too, that this same-sex kiss didn't just run in prime time, but on Sunday afternoon in the most-watched television event of the year.  Long after the short ad spot is forgotten, a taboo has been broken, the "shock value" of a gay kiss has been lessened, and that's ultimately of more cultural influence than the mechanics' macho morality.

    Monkeywrench The only version of the ad that troubled me was "Monkey Wrench," since it did show the two men whacking each other in the head to prove they were still "manly."  But the "violence" was of the slapstick, comic-book variety, about as real as that inflicted on Wile E. Coyote in his pursuit of the Roadrunner. And let's not forget, each clobbering was invited by its recipient, as we're reminded at the end, when one mutters humorously, "OK, that's good."

    Viewers are about as likely to respond the same in real-life situations as they are to use a real rock to bash in their opponent's head the next time they play "rock-paper-scisscors," as portrayed in a hilarious Bud Light ad.

    Desmondclark An even bigger head-scratcher was the GLAAD/HRC condemnation of the NFL players' reactions.  These poor sobs were videotaped as they saw the commercial for the first time and, truth be told, I had the same facial reaction as Mushin Muhammad when I saw these two unattractive guys lock lips. Does that make me a look-ist?  Should I sign up for counseling along with Isaiah Washington? 

    GLAAD accuses two of the players of "overt expressions of prejudice"  — Clark presumably for believing the two actors ought to be paid handsomely, and June for explaining how the two guys reacted to kissing, "Nah this ain't right."  (Hello, he was explaining what was in the minds of the two men; not his own personal morality.)

    Loveboat C'mon, GLAAD.  Are we this hard up for "overt expressions of prejudice"?  I understood, in the Isaiah Washington incident, how his celebrity contributed to pushing "the F-word" off the cultural lexicon.  But all this type of hypersensitive overreaction does is push gay lives back into taboo territory, too controversial to touch.

    Like it or not, one price of coming out of the closet is that we are fair game for cultural jibes as much as anyone else.  We gain nothing by proving we are too sensitive to take a joke.

    Snickersvote_1 Unfortunately, lost in the dust of outraged press releases is the "Love Boat" version of the Snickers ad that, by any interpretation, was funny and not homophobic. The Mars web site promised that the version that got the most votes would air during the Daytona 500, and the "Love Boat" version was running second, behind "Motor Oil," after I voted.

    But in response to the gay groups' press releases, Mars has how pulled all four versions and the players' reactions from its web site.  No doubt the controversy has scared the company away from using any version, including "Love Boat," during the Daytona 500 or anywhere else.  Is that really a victory?

    Decide for yourself.  You can view all four versions of the ad and the player reactions by following the jump:

    Continue reading»

    February 04, 2007

    Moving beyond the mushy in '08

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillaryclinton_1More signs that in the early days of her campaign for president, Hillary Clinton is failing to connect in a meaningful with key constituencies, including gays.  Anti-war protesters took aim at her at last week's Democratic Party confab, leading liberals like Frank Rich are lodging the same complaints I did about her crippling overcalculation, and even the gays are proving hard to please.

    Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor with a very strong gay rights record, came in first in the survey of this blog's readers about who should get early gay backing.  He received almost a third of the votes, though my complimentary blog post was spread by some Richardson supporters so that may have biased the result.

    Rudy Giuliani was not far behind with 24%, followed by John Edwards with 19%.  Hillary was far behind with barely 10%, just ahead of (gay marriage backer) Dennis Kucinich at 8.  For a long time Obama didn't register a single vote, though he rallied to finish sixth with just over 5%.

    Hillary is even having trouble with gay Democrats, apparently.  This week's Washington Blade quotes Rick Stafford, Democratic National Committee GLBT Caucus chair, as well as "other politicos," as being more impressed with Obama and Edwards "because they're prepared to sincerely discuss gay issues":

    Stafford said such genuineness is a key quality that many other candidates — including top Democratic contender Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) — have yet to demonstrate.

    "When Obama and Edwards talk about our issues," he said, "I think there's a sense that they speak from their hearts and they're willing to show that they're not there yet, where I’m not sure that kind of speaking from the heart comes from Hillary."

    Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown poli-sci prof and author of "The Politics of Gay Rights," was quoted to similar effect, arguing that Clinton's scripted ambiguity is hobbling her campaign.  "I think more Democrats need to say what Edwads says: 'I'm not there yet, but this is something I'm mulling over.' It's really hard to attack someone with a position like that."

    Johnedwards_1 I didn't find it so hard to fault what I took to be Edwards false-genuineness, and I certainly hope the gay rights movement has matured to the point where we don't confuse a politician "feeling our pain" to one who's actually committing to work for our equality.  It's a bit astonishing to see someone like Wilcox — a full decade after Bill Clinton snowed gay voters and then signed the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell — still reminscing fondly the great gay seduction of 1992.

    "One of the things you saw with Bill Clinton was he'd say, 'I'm against marriage, but,' and then after the 'but,' he had a five-minute talk about things like employment non-discrimination," Wilcox said. "It wasn't him just quickly changing the subject — it was him beginning to embrace a set of issues and making an argument about equality."

    Of course it absolutely was "him just quickly changing the subject," on to others about which he also accomplished almost absolutely nothing despite eight years in office, many of them with Democrats in control of one or both houses of Congress.  Are we still so tied up and triangulated from the 1990s that we can't see things more clearly well into the '00s?

    Give me a candidate with firm, clearly stated commitments on our issues over a mushy candidate "mulling over" our issues, ready to cast us to the political winds when it comes time to spend some actual capital for our civil rights. 

    Where is the debate on actual issues?  And not just about marriage.  What are our leading organizations pushing for, in terms of concrete commitments from those in the hunt for the White House who won't back full marriage equality?  How about this list:

    First, the given: 

    1. Full support and a strong commitment for early enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a federal hate crimes law.  Both may be non-issues by '08, if the Democratic Congress passes them as expected.  Would a lame duck Bush really veto? (I will leave it to the trans activists to wedge their way into inclusion on one or both).
    2. Repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  This should be a non-issue, given all the recent momentum, and the similar positions taken by Al Gore and Bill Bradley in 2000, and John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004.
    3. Full support and a strong commitment for early passage of the Uniting American Families Act (formerly known as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act) which allows gay Americans to sponsor their non-American partners for citizenship.  Neither Clinton nor Obama has signed on as a sponsor, though Edwards did before he left the Senate in 2005.

    Then, the harder issues:

    1. Repeal the portion of the Defense of Marrige Act that blocks all federal recognition of valid state marriage licenses issued to gay couples.  If the issue really should "be left to the states," as leading Dems are fond of saying, then the feds should respect the conclusions reached by each.
    2. Federal recognition of state-issued civil unions, at least for tax and Social Security.
    3. Full-throated opposition to ballot measures at the state level designed to amend state constitutions to block gay marriage.  It's long past time leading Democrats found their voice in defending the role played by the judiciary in defending civil rights.  Respecting constitutions and judges doesn't require agreeing with every ruling.

    As the gay rights movement has learned, the devil is often in the details, and we'd be foolish to sit back looking for which candidate is speaking from the heart.  It's not enough anymore.

    I've confined things here thus far to the Democrats, but the Blade story didn't, quoting the Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese being incredibly charitable toward John McCain:

    Solmonese noted that Republican contender Sen. John McCain has alternately been quoted as saying he supports and opposes gay marriage.

    "I think McCain is an interesting guy because he seems to struggle with where he might be personally on our issues, and where he feels he needs to be as a Republican presidential candidate," he said. "My observation is that he's going through this without really endearing himself to either side."

    Mccainthisweek If someone at HRC (or anywhere else) has a favorable quote from John McCain about gay marriage, I'd love to see it.  Perhaps Solmonese is thinking about McCain's opposition to a federal marriage amendment, though that was purely based on federalism grounds.  McCain fully backed an Arizona anti-marriage/C.U./D.P. amendment that was so punitive it was the first nationwide ever to be rejected by voters. 

    Or perhaps Solmonese was thinking about McCain's apperance last fall on ABC's "This Week," when he initially said "No, I'm not," when George Stephanopoulos asked if he was against civil unions.  It became clear in McCain's answer, however, that "no I'm not" was in response to an earlier portion of the question and McCain in fact supports only the right of gay couples to enter into private contracts and power of attorney, something any two people can do without regard for the type of their relationship.

    If Solmonese really believes McCain is still trying to have it both ways on gay rights, then he's the only one.  Every other political observer I've seen or talked to sees a clear march to the hard right as McCain tries to become the preemptive party favorite of the GOP. The candidate Solmonese (and Log Cabin) should really find "interesting" is Rudy Giuliani, whose record on gay rights is unmatched by any leading Republican ever.

    In the meantime, here's hoping for more cogent, and less mushy, analysis of such an important election.

    February 02, 2007

    Mary Cheney has it her way

    Posted by: Chris

    Mary_cheneyheather_poe When it comes to being gay, Mary Cheney is a tramp. Not because she sleeps around, of course, but because when it comes to her whether sexual orientation is public or private, she doesn't just want to have it both ways, she wants to have it every way. 

    When it suits her interests, usually financial, her sexual orientation is public and a subject of pride.  When it doesn't suit her interest, usually political, being gay is a private matter and she and her family feign offense that it's a  fit subject of conversation.

    Long before her father was elected vice president, Mary took a job at Coors Brewing Co., a brewery owned by an anti-gay family, to do outreach to gay and lesbian consumers.  Then, during the 2000 presidential campaign, her mother Lynne Cheney outright denied Mary was a lesbian and took offense when Cokie Roberts raised the question on ABC's "This Week."

    Through a term and a half of gay-baiting Bush administration policy, including an unconscionable push for a federal marriage amendment, Mary stayed silent, deeming the subject off limits.  In fact, she famously uttered an expletive when John Kerry and John Edwards referenced her during the 2004 debates.

    Only a year or so later, when Mary stood to make a buck on a memoir, her sexual orientation was again relevant, though she only put out as little as necessary to collect her paycheck. Now that the book tour is done and she's again off the dole, her sexual orientation and pregnancy are again off limits, even if under attack by her father's political allies.

    So, even though she was selected no doubt primarily for her sexual orientation to participate in a Barnard College panel discussion, Mary took offense that her pregnancy had been a matter of public discussion. From a New York Times account:

    "When Heather and I decided to have a baby, I knew it wasn’t going to be the most popular decision," Ms. Cheney said, referring to her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe. She then gestured to her middle — any bulge disguised by a boxy jacket — and asserted: "This is a baby. This is a blessing from God. It is not a political statement. It is not a prop to be used in a debate, on either side of a political issue. It is my child."

    Let's get this straight, so to speak. Her relationship can be a prop to sell books, but her pregnancy can't be a prop for politics.

    Not surprisingly, she defended her father's defensive reaction when CNN's Wolf Blitzer fawningly asked about the pregnancy as well. "He was trying to get a rise out of my father," Mary told a New York Times reporter. If that's the case, he clearly succeeded, since the vice president angrily dismissed the question as "over the line."

    Blitzer certainly didn't come across as "trying to get a rise" out of the vice president.  In fact, the only thing "over the line" was Blitzer's schmaltzy insistence at the time that he meant no offense by the question, "We like your daughters," he said.  (Who's "we," anyway?  CNN?  Time-Warner?  Americans generally?)  "Believe me," Wolf went on, "I'm very, very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both," he said, referring to Cheney's other daughter, whose family is trotted out regularly to GOP events.  Would that every hardball question were thrown so softly.

    My good friend and former Window Media colleague Steve Koval minced no words in labeling Mary a "gay apologist" for her father and the GOP.  "You don't work to elect an anti-gay administration that uses same-sex marriage as a wedge issue to ensure victory, and then get to complain about how having a baby with your same-sex partner is somehow not a legitimate subject."

    In my view, you don't even need to go that far because that formulation can take you down a very slippery slope.   Having used her sexual orientation to make money on more than one occasion, and having joined the debate over gay rights in her book, Mary Cheney has no right to expect that she gets to pick and choose when she'll be asked the question.  Neither do her parents.

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