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    March 29, 2007

    Romney's Law of Thermopolitics

    Posted by: Chris

    Romneyflipflp Even when Mitt Romney isn't contradicting himself, it seems he's contradicting himself. That's what can happen when a politician who wants to seduce the right in the GOP presidential primaries goes in for an extreme makeover on social issues. As pretty as the former Massachusetts governor has made himself to  conservatives, he could be expected to have his political shirt untucked and a few hairs out of place.

    It's bad enough the press keeps flashing back to those ugly days before the radical change in his look. That 1994 promise to be more effective on gay rights in the Senate than Ted Kennedy must just make him cringe. Think Justin Timberlake forced to relive "Bye! Bye! Bye!" from his 'N*Sync salad days.

    Rauch_hed2_nov2005_274k But it's not just that Romney has just shed his pro-gay, pro-choice past like last season's Prada. The nettlesome fashionistas in the media keep pointing out when eve his brand new belt and shoes don't match. Like this excellent piece in the Atlantic by gay journalist Jonathan Rauch, who I recently had the pleasure of meeting. Rauch points out that although Romney has reversed himself on abortion and gay rights, he didn't wind up consistent, even in his consistent opposition to both "social ills":

    Romney believes abortion is wrong, but he thinks the decision on whether to allow it should be left to the states. In February, National Journal asked him if he favored a constitutional amendment banning abortion. No, he replied:

    "What I’ve indicated is that I am pro-life and that my hope is that the Supreme Court will give to the states … their own ability to make their own decisions with regard to their own abortion law. … My view is not to impose a single federal rule on the entire nation, a one-size fits all approach, but instead allow states to make their own decisions in this regard."

    Romney also believes gay marriage is wrong, but he thinks the decision on whether to allow it should not be left to the states. Last year, he poured scorn on Senator John McCain, who (like Romney) opposes gay marriage, but who (unlike Romney) opposes a U.S. constitutional amendment banning it. “Look,” Romney said, “if somebody says they’re in favor of gay marriage, I respect that view. If someone says — like I do — that I oppose same-sex marriage, I respect that view. But those who try and pretend to have it both ways, I find it to be disingenuous.”

    Taking the two quotations side by side, one could be excused for supposing Romney was trying to have it both ways.

    Rauch cuts Romney some slack for his clashing views, since conservatives generally can't seem to reconcile their fondness for federalism — letting the states decide important social questions — with their impatience with those pesky progressive states that decide questions the wrong way. The pattern that emerges is one of politics more than principle: Where the public nationwide is against them, like on keeping abortion legal, conservatives go for federalism so they can get their way at least somewhere. Where the poll numbers swing with them, like on gay marriage, they go for broke and a single federal solution. That's so expedient it's no wonder a swinger like Romney fell for it.

    But Rauch digs even deeper, arguing that Roe vs. Wade short-circuited the public debate by taking the abortion question out of the state legislatures.  He believes that since the Supreme Court forced a one-solution-fits-all result, abortion became "an indigestible mass in the pit of the country’s political stomach."

    For gay marriage, on the other hand, Rauch sees the debate playing out like "the abortion tape run backward." Things started out on the extremes, with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court insisting on nothing short of marriage and President Bush responding with a federal marriage amendment. But since then, says Rauch, the action has moved back to the states:

    With the federal government standing aside, the states got busy. All but a handful passed bans on gay marriage. Several adopted civil unions instead of gay marriage. One, Massachusetts, is tussling over efforts to revoke gay marriage.

    The result is a diversity of practice that mirrors the diversity of opinion. And gay marriage, not incidentally, is moving out of the realm of protest politics and into the realm of normal politics; in the 2006 elections, the issue was distinctly less inflammatory than two years earlier. It is also moving out of the courts. According to Carrie Evans, the state legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign (a gay-rights organization), most gay-marriage litigation has already passed through the judicial pipeline; only four states have cases under way, and few other plausible venues remain. “It’s all going to shift to the state legislatures,” she says. “The state and national groups will have to go there.”

    Barring the unexpected, then, same-sex marriage began in the courts and will wind up in the state legislatures and on state ballots.

    Rauch does a fine job of dressing up a pig, but I can't share completely his optimism that conservatives (or liberals) will sit back and allow a full and fair debate on gay marriage at the state level. For one thing, there's the federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows all 49 states to ignore marriage licenses issued to gay couples from Massachusetts. It's the equivalent of a law in an anti-abortion state that makes it criminal to travel to another to terminate a pregnancy. If we're going to have a patchwork of laws, then the states leaning one way have to live with and respect those states that lean the other.

    And in many of the states that lean strongly against gay marriage, the legislatures haven't just banned it, they've written their disapproval into their state constitutions.   That overreaction can only be redressed with an equal an opposite overreaction — call it Romney's Law of Thermopolitics — likely in the form of federal court intervention. That could happen in either of two forms: some federal court somewhere will strike down a state amendment, like the pre-Bush Supreme Court did in Romer vs. Evans, albeit in response to another type of anti-gay amendment enacted by Colorado.

    Or, even more likely, a federal court will rid us of DOMA, which would mean those states with anti-marriage bans written into their constitutions would be forced to at least recognize marriage licenses issued to gay couples in the pro-gay state next door. The U.S. Constitution does require, after all, that each state give "full faith and credit" to the legal documents issued by the others. If a federal court has the temerity to strike down DOMA for violating that fundamental principle of comity, then federal marriage amendment here we come.

    Or the liberal side may take action at the federal level, since all the leading Democrats running for president back extending federal recognition to same-sex couples. The campaign promises have stayed somewhat vague up till now, but when Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and the others say they favor "civil unions" and "equal rights" for gay couples, that probably means repealing the other half of DOMA, which blocks federal recognition for gays married by states.

    That's a lot of different avenues that lead to re-federalizing the gay marriage debate, and I'm skeptical the two warring absolutes will stick to fighting it out in the state legislative sandbox. And that's too bad for all concerned. I agree strongly with Rauch that "the last few years have provided a potent demonstration of the power of moral pluralism to act as a political shock absorber." As much as I believe that banning gays from marrying offends our Constitution's promise of equal protection, the United States is not Canada (or South Africa) and is unlikely to follow such a court-led route to marriage equality.

    But with DOMA and these  state amendment stacking the deck so heavily against a fair debate on marriage in the state legislatures, that means we're forced to put our faith in the likes of Romney, Clinton et al to keep both sides playing fairly. Color me skeptical they're up to the job, whatever they believe this week.

    March 27, 2007

    Immigration law is an ass

    Posted by: Chris

    I promised in a post last week to pass along a couple of bizarre twists in my immigration saga. Please read on, even if this issue doesn't affect you personally. I think you'll be surprised the myriad ways, as Dickens put it, the law is an ass — especially toward us.

    Canada, of course, is leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S. in realizing full equality for gay men and lesbians, especially since they have full marriage rights — first recognized by courts and then affirmed by politicians actually willing to defend their judiciary and constitution.

    Not surprisingly as a result, Canada has become a popular destination for gay Americans forced into exile because our country's immigration laws do not allow us to sponsor non-American partners for residence or citizenship. Canada's immigration law, on the other hand, is fully equal — at least on its face.

    Under Canadian law, foreigners can apply for "landed immigrant" status or, if they have a job offer in hand, a temporary work visa. In both cases, a same-sex partner can be included on the visa application, whether or not that partner would qualify on his/her own, so long as the couple is either married or  are "common law partners," which means have lived together for one year.

    For straight couples, that's pretty straightforward, since almost all countries (including the U.S.) allow their straight citizens to sponsor opposite-sex partners for marriage or even fiancee visas. For gay couples, getting married or living together for a year can be an almost impossible hurdle.

    Only five countries currently marry gay couples: Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and South Africa. Of those, only Canada and South Africa will marry two non-residents. But since Canada's tourist visa requirements are almost as strict toward developing countries as those of the United States, visiting Canada to marry is out of reach for a huge number of gay people. That leaves South Africa, where non-residents can marry and visa restrictions aren't so severe, as the single, very remotely located country where gays wishing to immigrate to Canada can wed.

    "Common law" status can be even more difficult to achieve, unless one of the two partners in the  binational relationship happens to live in one of the 19 countries worldwide that recognizes gay relationships for immigration purposes. Otherwise, one or the other would have to qualify in some other way to live for a year in the other's country — or a third country — all so they would then qualify as "common law partners" to move to Canada.

    Once married or partnered, the application for landed immigrant in Canada can take on average between 14 and 18 months to be processed, and the associated legal fees and other expenses can run up to $3,000 to $4,000.

    Meanwhile, heterosexual American can sponsor their foreign partners for fiancee visas, even if they've never met in person. And to make matters even more unequal, a relatively new State Department regulation gives gay non-Americans more rights those of us who are American citizens. That's right, a non-American granted a work visa in the U.S. can sponsor his/her unmarried partner — same or opposite sex — for a visa to come to the U.S. for the length of employment.

    While it is encouraging to see the State Department, especially in this administration, take this progressive step, let's be clear about why it happened. It had little to do with uniting families or fulfilling the promise of equality without regard to sexual orientation. It had a lot to do with U.S. corporations who wanted to bring talented non-Americans, primarily Europeans, to work in the U.S. without forcing them to be separated from their unmarried partners.

    So if that's the incentive our government listens to, perhaps it's time for a change of strategy for Immigration Equality and other groups pushing for passage of the Uniting American Families Act. Perhaps it's time to enlist powerful U.S. corporations in the fight for UAFA, so that they do not risk a "brain drain" of talented gay and lesbian Americans forced into exile to be with the one they love.

    Take a look at this powerful story from the English-language version of El Pais, the Spanish newspaper, for some examples of how the case might be made. Love Exiles, the fantastic Holland-based group of Americans stranded abroad for this reason, would be a tremendous resource for such a strategy. Whether for economic or human rights motivations, it's time the U.S. government began treating its own citizens at least as well as it treats foreigners seeking to work here.

    March 26, 2007

    sandbagged! by here!

    Posted by: Chris

    Dantes21_2 The New York Times reports today on the GLAAD Media Awards controversy, and a few additional points of interest emerge.

    First off, the more we learn, the less sympathetic here! TV is sounding.  The GLAAD policy of limiting its awards to non-niche media is long-standing, yet here! waited until the eve of the ceremonies this year to go public with its complaint.  That seems timed not only to benefit here! but to hurt GLAAD — not something that should give gay cable TV consumers much of a warm fuzzy.

    Stephen Macias, the somewhat shrill here! TV exec who penned the nasty public letter to GLAAD, told the Times he was "flabbergasted" by the policy, which is a bit surprising since it's not new and certainly defensible, if not unassailable.

    0178 The Times also asked a couple of other gay media outlets if they agreed with here! Networks. Cable competitor Logo did, as did the Advocate's editor in chief:

    Anne Stockwell, the executive editor of the Advocate, said her magazine’s staff members have been bewildered that GLAAD has chosen not to honor their work at the awards.

    “Everybody feels it would be great to see GLAAD take a forward-looking position and be assertive in coming to some kind of a sensible way to recognize all of us,” Stockwell said. “I do think it can feel frustrating to do all the reporting that we do, and break all the stories that we break, and not feel that there is a path to recognition.”

    It's surprising to me the Times didn't go on to ask Stockwell why it wouldn't create a conflict of interest for the Advocate to cover GLAAD while also seeking its recognition. After all, the Times won't let its own editors and reporters accept awards from GLAAD or any other advocacy group because it creates the appearance of a conflict and the potential for bias.

    Judywieder I was at the Human Rights Campaign black-tie dinner in New York a few years ago when Stockwell's predecessor, longtime Advocate editor Judy Wieder , received a special award. In her acceptance, Wieder spoke proudly of how in her first days at the magazine's helm she adopted a policy that gay rights organizations were not to be criticized in the magazine's coverage.

    Now that's the kind of "journalism" that HRC particularly likes, and the temptation at GLAAD would be similar. Would award-caliber journalism get the same consideration if it comes from a gay media outlet that has asked tough questions of GLAAD and other gay rights groups?

    (It's also worth noting, as an aside, that GLAAD does hand out the Barbara Gittings Award, named after the recently deceased, groundbreaking lesbian activist and publication editor, to an individual, group or publication that made a pioneering contribution to the gay media. The Advocate received the award in 2002.)

    Finally, the Times also talked with gay advertising agency head Howard Buford, who served on the GLAAD board in the late '90s, about the changing definition of "gay media":

    “Is it gay ownership? Is it predominantly gay content? Is it a gay target audience? It’s not as easy a definition as it was at the beginning.”

    Buford is right about that, especially in the TV industry, where Logo is owned by media giants MTV and Viacom. But still, I think "gay media" can be fairly reliably defined by the content and the target audience. Adding "gay media" categories to the GLAAD awards in the entertainment realm would recognize that changing landscape while not presenting a conflict of interest the same way handing out journalism awards would.

    (Top photo: "Dante's Cove" — pioneering programming at here! TV ineligible for GLAAD Award recognition)

    March 25, 2007


    Posted by: Chris

    In a blistering blog post (is there any other kind?) over at HuffPo, gay jouralist and author Gabriel Rotello  weighed in against the long-standing policy of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation not to consider work by gay TV and media for the organization's Media Awards.

    Gabrielrotello Rotello, whose work I have always respected, offers up what he suspects it the "real reason" for the exclusion:

    GLAAD and its awards focus on "those whose attitudes about our right to fairness, dignity and equality we must work to transform."

    In other words, GLAAD sees its awards as a way of cajoling mainstream media types into treating gays better. If you're a straight producer who has accepted a gay award in front of hundreds of cheering queers, the idea goes, you will be less likely to dump on those same people in your next broadcast.

    By that reasoning, GLAAD doesn't think it needs to cajole the gay media into doing the right thing. The gay media do the right thing by dint of their very existence. So why waste awards on them?

    Exactly. Couldn't have said it better. So why isn't that enough? Again, Rotello:

    GLAAD was founded to advance gay visibility and fairness in the media, and to reward excellence in the coverage of lesbian and gay issues. Excellence is excellence, even if it springs from outlets run by and for gays. You'd think a gay group would not just know that, they would celebrate it.

    For a gay media group to reinforce outdated divisions, and shove into the shadows those who do the most to advance visibility, is archaic, absurd and insulting to its own community.

    As someone with a decade of experience in the gay media, I have to disagree. Gay media should have its own, built-in incentives for portraying gay lives in a fair and inclusive way. And it's a clear and dangerous conflict of interest to set up a system whereby a gay rights group covered by the gay press also decides when their work is worthy of commendation.

    The biggest challenge facing the the quality of journalism in gay press today is the pressure to accede to the A-crowd within each gay community, abdicating our watchdog role so as not to anger potential advertisers and win plaudits at black-tie dinners. As pointed out before, GLAAD is not the gay TV and motion picture academy or the queer Pulitzer Prize committee. The National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, for one, already hands out awards from peers to reporters and editors in the gay press and general circulation media.

    The point of the GLAAD awards is to incentivize the mainstream media and raise money for the organization. That should be enough.

    What do you think? Be sure to vote in my Vizu Poll (to the right) on the topic. As always, voting does not transport you off the site or subject you to annoying pop-ups.

    March 24, 2007

    Don't be mad at GLAAD

    Posted by: Chris

    Huffman_felicity256 It’s been a rough 2007 so far for gay rights groups, and much of the flak has come from friendly fire.
    The Human Rights Campaign, flush with optimism after the Democrats took control of Congress, has faced a storm of scrutiny from the blogosphere and the gay press calling for greater transparency in its operation and a more independence from the Democrats.

    Now it’s the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that’s in the crosshairs. Just days before the group’s high profile Media Awards, the gay cable network here!TV released a blistering letter withdrawing sponsorship of the GLAAD Awards because gay-specific media isn’t eligible to compete.

    Steven F. Macias, senior vice president at here! Networks, castigated GLAAD for failing to notice that “media has changed dramatically over the years because of the blood, sweat and tears of brave LGBT activists.” With the advent of here! and Logo, among other gay media outlets producing higher quality content, Macias argued that gay media should no longer be considered outside “the mainstream.”

    “Gay networks are raising the bar around what mainstream media should consider fair, accurate, and inclusive work,” wrote Macias. “No longer is the LGBT community beholden to ‘mainstream’ media as the only place where we might catch a glimpse of ourselves.”

    In some cases, like Logo’s ground-breaking series “Noah’s Arc” that tells the stories about a group of black gay and bisexual men, gay media is pointing the way for a broader and more diverse characterization of gays generally.

    So with gay media leading the way in portraying gays fairly, visibly and accurately, argued Macias, why shouldn’t they be recognized and encouraged by GLAAD for their good work?

    The GLAAD policy not to considering gay media in its award categories isn’t new, and applies not only to entertainment but to print and broadcast journalism as well. For years, the gay press has done ground-breaking work covering gay lives and issues, only to see mainstream newspaper reporters and TV news celebrities get all the credit for following our lead.

    But does that really make the GLAAD policy wrong-headed. After all, GLAAD is not the gay television or motion picture academy or the queer Pulitzer Prize committee. It’s an advocacy group with a mission: to push for fair, accurate and inclusive portrayals of LGBT people in the media.

    Macias took special umbrage at the idea that the good work done by here!TV isn’t covered by that mission, but why should he? A gay TV network is primarily gay people portraying gay people for the viewing pleasure of other gay people. Why should they require an advocacy group to give them credit for doing that job particularly well? It is fundamentally what they do.

    The same goes for the gay press, whether magazines or newspapers. The largely gay staff is reporting gay and lesbian stories for largely gay and lesbian readers. That should provide more than enough “check” on the system for them to do the job right. And given the watchdog role the gay press ought to play over gay groups like GLAAD, there’s an inherent conflict of interest in gay newspapers and magazine asking GLAAD for praise and golden statuettes.

    GLAAD President Neil Giuliano, who I should disclose is a friend (though that hasn’t stopped me from criticizing him on more than one occasion), answered here!TV by promising to revisit the issue again after this year’s award ceremonies. A special GLAAD board subcommittee convened last year to hear all the arguments pro and con, and ultimately recommended the categories stay defined the way they are for now.
    “Personally,” Giuliano wrote Macias, “I think we should work to create a way to recognize LGBT-focused media, and am hopeful someday we will do so.”

    One obvious solution would be for GLAAD to create new categories especially for gay TV and journalism outlets, though that’s unlikely to satisfy here! Networks since it chafes so much at not being considered “mainstream.”

    There’s too much focus on semantics here. Whether called outside “the mainstream” or just “niche media,” here! Networks, Logo and the gay press have a gay-specific audience and shouldn’t be so focused on integrating queers into American culture generally that they no longer recognize and celebrate our difference.

    Ideally, here!TV would sponsor the GLAAD Media Awards because they support the organization’s overall mission and, of course, want visibility among the entertainment industry generally.
    The Media Awards, on the other hand, exist to give non-niche, “mainstream” media an additional non-commercial incentive to portray our lives in a fair and inclusive fashion — and, of course, to raise money for GLAAD.

    If the need for praise at here! Networks outweigh its support for GLAAD’s mission, so be it. But GLAAD shouldn’t be distracted from its primary mission to placate its gay media critics.

    March 22, 2007

    Idiots of a feather

    Posted by: Chris

    Crainsullyblog It seems that Sean Bugg over at Metroweekly here in D.C. isn't the only former competitor who has a bone to pick with me. Duncan Osborne, longtime associate editor of Gay City News and its predecessor LGNY, jumped into the fray today with an editorial dismissing me, Andrew Sullivan, Michael Petrelis and anyone else with the temerity to criticize the Human Rights Campaign as "idiotic."

    There's history there. I went up against Osborne when I oversaw the New York Blade for some five years, and I will certainly credit the LGNY/GCN crew with being fierce. When my company, Window Media, purchased the Blade, LGNY changed its masthead so as to claim to be the only "gay-owned" gay newspaper in New York. That came as a something of a shock to me and the other 26-some-odd homosexuals (including the principle of our equity firm backers) who owned the Blade. Then, when LGNY went under and was salvaged by a publisher who happened to hetero, the blurb mysteriously disappeared.

    More recently, Osborne went off on me last September during the National Lesbian & Journalists Association conference in Miami for daring to characterize the gay press as liberal. With CSPAN cameras rolling, Osborne angrily defended the supposed objectivity of GCN, which regularly publishes first-person coverage from a left-wing slant. When I asked him why, then, his gay newspaper devotes space each week to a list of Iraq war dead, and the overall Iraq death and injury toll, he claimed that was conservative support for America's troops. 'Nuff said.

    When someone's head is buried that far into ideological ground — from whatever stripe — an honest debate can be hard to come by. So it's not surprising that, in addition to labeling us "idiotic," Osborne conveniently misstates the criticisms of HRC before taking down his newly created straw man.

    Where to start:

    1. I never criticized Joe Solmonese for making too much money. I only said that I refuse to be told by someone who only joined the movement a year ago to the tune of a cool quarter-million annually that I am somehow "bad for the movement."
    2. I never criticized the financing logic behind HRC's shiny new headquarters; I questioned siphoning $26 million out of the gay community's limited resources at a time when we were losing the marriage battle in Washington and around the country. Having visited the offices, I can also vouch that it is nicer than most Washington law firms I've seen. More wasted money.
    3. I assume since Osborne didn't mention it that he's peachy with HRC paying off former president Cheryl Jacques, pushed out in 2004 after only one year, a massive severance that included $160,000 payment in 2006, two years after she left. More wasted money.
    4. I never said HRC "was wrong to back the Democrats in 2006." That, dear Duncan, would be idiotic. I have said until I'm blue in the keyboard that of course Democrats are better on the whole than Republicans on gay rights and there are definite advantages when they control Congress and other legislative bodies.

    My central criticism of HRC, should Osborne choose to actually address it, was that the organization under Jacques and now Solmonese has aligned itself too closely with the Democrats, treating the interests of the movement as secondary to those of party, when they conflict. Or, probably more accurately, drinking Howard Dean's kool-aid and buying into the idea that what's good for the Dems has to be good for the gays, even if it means our issues take a backseat and our lives aren't defended.

    When Solmonese et al told the Boston Globe that their aim was for HRC to be positioned like labor unions as a Democratic Party special interest, well that just said it all. So tell us, Duncan, why is it you think the path to political oblivion followed by organized labor makes sense for the nation's largest gay rights group?

    (Illustration courtesy of GCN)

    March 21, 2007

    Nature of the Bugg?

    Posted by: Chris

    There's an interesting post (called "Nature of the Beast") from Metroweekly editor Sean Bugg on his personal blog about the HRC brouhaha. As you can see if you scroll down to the comments, I expressed surprised that he was so bitchy toward me personally, considering he agreed with me that:

    1. HRC focuses too much on champagne fund-raisers and not enough on its mission.
    2. With the sizable resources they take from the gay community ought to come sizable scrutiny.
    3. Tim Gill offers an attractive alternative for gay donors.
    4. The Globe story highlighted how HRC has devoted too few resources to fight state amendments and too much on electing Democrats.
    5. HRC should not come out so early and often for the other HRC, Hillary.
    6. HRC should be truly bipartisan where it can in supporting candidates, which means sticking with pro-gay GOP incumbents.  (I wrote editorials back in 1998 defending HRC's endorsement of Alphonse D'Amato and clearly it hasn't hurt them or gays with Chuck Schumer).
    7. HRC has handled the blog backlash badly and acted almost Bush-like in claiming its critics are helping "the enemy."

    That last point is an important one. I have already said how silly I think it was for Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese to declare my own criticisms "bad for the movement," but Bugg highlights the "gob-stobbing" (Bugg's apt phrase choice) claim by long-time HRC deputy David Smith (in a Washington Blade story that Bugg fails to credit) that , "There’s nobody happier about what Andrew Sullivan is doing than Tony Perkins and James Dobson."

    If you close your eyes, you can almost channel White House Press Secretary Tony Snow or some GOP hack on the Hill claiming that Osama Bin Laden and his henchmen revel in any war criticism that Democrats (or free-thinking Republicans) dare to offer. Is this the model now for how our movement's biggest organization treats its gay critics now?

    What's more, the Washington rumor mill is buzzing with claims that HRC is on board with a Hillary-hatched Democratic plan to hold off on passage of employment non-discrimination and/or hate crimes to save them as "wedge issues" for 2008. What's good for Rove is good for Solmonese? We'll have to wait and see just how much of our movement's goals the Democrat-first, gay-second leadership at HRC is willing to sacrifice.

    So where do Bugg and I disagree? His Washington-weary reminder that "it's the nature of the beast" for groups to inflate their numbers and cave on principles in favor of donors.

    In fact, the original Blade story (from two years ago, again uncredited by Bugg) that Andrew Sullivan relied on in criticizing HRC's book-cooking "member" tally compared HRC, NGLTF, NCLR, PFLAG and even AARP: None of the others counts members the "creative" way HRC does. And HRC's methodology was criticized in the Blade piece by the National Council of Non-Profit Associations. Is that bar really too high?

    As for the "vitriol" and "animosity" that Bugg says has characterized the debate, perhaps he shouldn't have checked his own alleged "genteel Southernness" before writing his posts. He take a couple of catty shots at me without any explanation, and he and I have never even had a one-on-one conversation. As far as I can remember, we've only even met once.

    I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact I edited a competing publication for five years.

    March 20, 2007

    Defend us or defend us not?

    Posted by: Chris

    In my column for gay newspapers this week, I had a chance to look back with a bit of perspective on the controversy over Marine General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, justifying the ban on military service by out gays because "homosexual acts" are "immoral."

    Pacepoll Like most gay people, I sharply criticized the general for injecting his own personal moral view into a public policy debate. And yet, like most gay people, I was also critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama for not injecting their moral views on homosexuality.

    That double-standard — that moral views about homosexuality ought to be heard in politics but only from our friends — probably explains why exactly half of you voted in my online poll that, "Yes, politicians should defend the morality of gay Americans," and the other half voted, "No, the personal view of politicians about the morality of homosexuality ought to be irrelevant."

    I had originally voted "yes," and wrote as much. In my column, I reconsidered that stance:

    Perhaps we all fell too easily into the trap set by Pace's remarks, expecting politicians to defend our morality instead of our equal treatment under the law. If we truly believe in the separation of church and state, and that personal moral views have no place in politics, then we shouldn't demand that gay-friendly politicians pronounce us "moral" any more than we accept it when conservatives like Pace call us immoral.

    We know more than enough about most politicians and even most religious leaders not to put too much stake in their moral approval anyway. Let's not get distracted from the real equality issues at the heart of the movement.

    It's controversies like this one that remind me why "separation of church and state" never really commands the full support of most Americans in practice as much as it does in principle. Because deep down, we want our political leaders to share our moral outlook on the important social issues of the day, even if we say it's only the policy position that ought to be important.

    March 19, 2007

    I miss my Fourth Amendment, Part 2

    Posted by: Chris

    Peace_bridge_from_canadian_side It's been a month since I wrote about how my partner, an American friend and I were subjected to a harrowing roadblock and search by the Brazilian military police on the highway between Rio De Janeiro and Buzios. I remarked at the time that I missed the constitutional protections of our Fourth Amendment, which requires the police to have "reasonable suspicion" of a crime before stopping a vehicle and "probable cause" before conducting a search.

    Flash forward to last week, and a short trip I took to Toronto. I am back in the States for a short visit and wanted to check out Toronto as a possible new home. As much as we love Brazil, it may be that hard economic realities lead us to live up north. (More later on the immigration vagaries faced by gay couples seeking refuge north of the border.)

    Good friends from Pittsburgh were kind enough to lend me their (very nice) new Saab, and I drove three hours to Niagara and the Peace Bridge (pictured above) into Ontario. A polite and friendly Canadian immigration official asked me a few short questions about my visit and welcomed me into the country. My trip back into the U.S. two days later would not go so smoothly.

    From the moment I approached the American border, the mood was decidedly different. The U.S. immigration guard barked at me to pull my car forward and asked me to tell him my license plate number without looking. Huh? I couldn't do that in my own car, and I quickly explained that I was in a friend's vehicle. It all went downhill from there.

    I produced my license and the car's registration, as requested, and the guard said, "You know your registration is expired, right?" No, of course I didn't; it wasn't my car. He told me he was confiscating my documents and sending me to an area off to the side for further questioning.

    Once parked and inside, I answered even more questions about my trip, but then the inquiry began to range far afield, about my life in general. I told the officer I that I didn't understand how his questions were relevant. That led to a sharp rebuke from the border guard, who said that every question was asked with good reason and I needed to answer.

    Now I'm not your average citizen. I'm an attorney with many, many years of experience in civil rights and civil liberties work. I know by heart my constitutional protections. Yet even as an American citizen on American soil, I was unsure of how to proceed. Do I have the same rights at the border, trying to enter, as I would have once I was through the crossing? Did I have the right not to cooperate with this fishing expedition into my personal life, even if my answers wouldn't incriminate me?

    I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't — and don't — know. Like most people, I felt the pressure and mostly wanted to be done with the confrontation. I was worried they might impound the car if the registration is expired, and where would that leave me?

    So I answered all the questions as best I could, though the border guard seemed to grow more incredulous with every reply. He took copious notes as well and for the next 45 minutes to an hour, typed a large amount of information into his computer. Is this some sort of record about me and my life? Will it be used against me in the future, either domestically or when I want to enter or leave the country?

    Is the government entitled to retain this information indefinitely, simply because I availed myself of the basic right to travel outside the country?

    I couldn't help noticing, as well, my fellow travelers stopped and questioned by U.S. authorities. To look at them, you would think that America faces an especially significant threat from 70-something women with bad hair and a penchant for bingo. I know I felt safer just knowing these ladies couldn't enter the country without some sort of screening. And this was the screening room for Americans, mind you, not for non-citizens. I can only imagine what they get put through.

    After more waiting, I was informed that two officers were going to search my car and its contents, and I could watch if I wanted. Of course I wanted, but I was kept so far at a distance that if they were planting something, I almost certainly wouldn't have seen it.

    Finally, after a search about as thorough as the one in Brazil, and with no more "probable cause," I was told I was free to go. But what about the car registration, you ask? It was a lie. A bold-faced lie. It was valid and not due to expire for months.

    At the time of our shakedown last month by the Brazilian military police, I wrote that I was reminded of how "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 even more power over the citizenry.

    I hadn't imagined that those words would be echoing in my ears just one month later, this time because I had been bullied with bold-faced lies by abrasive and rude U.S. police — no doubt emboldened by the Patriot Act and the disrespect shown for the rule of law all the way up their chain of command.

    I understand and respect the need to safeguard our borders and protect our national security. But my border crossing reminds me just how willing we have been to sacrifice our ideals supposedly for the sake of protecting them. If we can't uphold them in times when they're threatened, what good are they really in times when they're not?

    March 17, 2007

    The emperor wears thin skin

    Posted by: Chris

    Hrclogos The Boston gay paper Bay Windows published an excellent article by reporter Ethan Jacobs on Friday detailing recent criticism of the Human Rights Campaign from the gay blogosphere, your's truly included.

    Of greatest interest to me was how Joe Solmonese, HRC's president, said he decides which critics are worth listening to and which are "bad for the movement." Just what makes an HRC critic "bad" according to this joey-come-lately to the struggle? Well, either they are too partisan (allegedly Andrew Sullivan) or too personal (allegedly me) in their critiques.

    It's true, of course, that Andrew has been a vocal supporter at times of the Republican Party and George Bush. He has also been among their most strident critics. Can Solmonese or anyone else associated with HRC (or its supporters) demonstrate anything close to that level of partisan independence?

    Solmonese told Bay Windows that he regularly reads the "thoughtful" criticism of HRC by Pam Spaulding over at Pam's House Blend and appreciates it. Well of course he does. She is a proud progressive Democrat. Is that the only direction Joe's head will turn?

    It's unconscionable for Solmonese to dismiss criticism from someone like Sullivan, who has a far longer and more impressive record on gay rights than Solmonese himself, as (supposedly) "a conservative Republican." Agree or disagree with him on any given issue, Andrew Sullivan has already done more for the lives of gay people and those with HIV than Solmonese will if he stays on the job at HRC for another 10 years.

    On the substance of the charge that HRC is partisn, Solmonese points out to Bay Windows that HRC backed a few Republicans in congressional races last fall. That's like saying a bill is "bipartisan" if it has 125 Democrats and one Republican as sponsors. In reality, HRC endorsed fewer Republican congressional candidates this cycle than ever before and even abandoned gay-friendly GOP incumbents in favor of Democratic challengers.

    But my primary criticism of HRC under Solmonese has never been about not supporting Republicans enough. And neither Sullivan nor I has ever suggested that the two parties are equal on gay rights. Those are red herrings that HRC likes to use because so few gays are sympathetic to the GOP.

    To the contrary, I have stated the obvious time and time again: Democrats are far better at every level of government than Republicans on gay rights, and that difference is magnified when their party leaders are compared. With the exception of a couple of gay and gay-friendly Republicans in local D.C. races, I haven't voted in the GOP column in recent memory. 

    But all that says far more about just how bad the Republicans have been than it does about how good the Democrats are. My criticism is from the left, not the right, and it is that HRC does not stand up to Democrats enough when they are too weak-kneed to spend political capital on our issues.

    In the end, Solmonese's dismissal of me as having some sort of "personal fascination" with him is a bit ironic, since he admits (finally) to Bay Windows that he is the one who has taken things too personally:

    HRC has made several attempts to respond to the current wave of criticism from bloggers, but more often than not those efforts have only further alienated bloggers and, in one case, the LGBT media more broadly. Last month Crain wrote a column for the San Francisco Bay Times critical of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) and HRC’s response to a Snickers ad aired during the Super Bowl that the two organizations argued was homophobic. In response Solmonese wrote a letter to the paper accusing Crain of having a “fascination” with him and arguing that “[g]iving Chris Crain a platform to spout his misguided rhetoric sets back the work of the entire movement.” His response was criticized not only by Crain himself on his blog but by [blogger Michael] Petrelis, who accused Solmonese of being “thin-skinned” and of declining to answer legitimate criticism, and by the Bay Area Reporter, which published an editorial accusing HRC of acting like “the 800-pound gorilla in the room” by attacking its critics.

    Solmonese admitted that his letter to the Bay Times struck a sour note and said, “I think that that is a really good example of where it was the one and only time I let what I felt was a personal attack get under my skin.” He said he would never again “lose sight of who our real enemies are” in responding to criticism.

    I'm a bit shocked to think that Solmonese needed reminding I'm not "the real enemy." I have been involved and committed to the gay rights movement for far longer than he has, and I have sacrificed much more. After a half-decade of working as a pro bono lawyer and activist within the movement, I left a lucrative law career in 1997 to go into the gay press — all because of my commitment to that struggle. I'm not asking for a medal or sympathy, but to have that commitment questioned by someone making almost a quarter-million dollars annually in the very first year of his very first ever gay rights job is just beyond silly.

    What's most surprising is that Solmonese (and the communications department at HRC) still hasn't grasped the role the media (old and new) plays within any power structure, including non-profit political lobbies and civil rights movements. The Bay Windows story does an excellent job of highlighting how that tin ear has damaged HRC's image so much in recent weeks and months.

    We in the media are here to ask the tough questions and demand accountability. When we see things going astray, it's our job to say so. It's not (at all) personal; it's professional. It's also the kind of thing it would be nice to see HRC do more of on all of our behalf.

    March 15, 2007

    A Clinton-Obama immorality tale

    Posted by: Chris

    Clintonobamablog Congratulations, homosexuals. You're not immoral, after all. Or so said the two leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination today, backtracking from their evasive answers about whether they agreed with Joint Chiefs chairman Peter Pace that gays are "immoral."

    Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had said only yesterday that she would leave the matter for others to conclude, issued a short statement reacting to angry gay supporters:

    I have heard from many of my friends in the gay community that my response yesterday to a question about homosexuality being immoral sounded evasive. I should have echoed my colleague Senator John Warner’s statement forcefully stating that homosexuality is not immoral because that is what I believe.

    The clarification is welcome, even though it is carefully couched (imagine!) to piggyback on a conservative Republican, inoculation from criticism down the road. Query whether treading a path already blazed by a right-wing Republican is what gays really need in the way of White House leadership.

    Barack Obama also issued a short statement, as well he should have since he tied St. Peter's record of thrice-refusing to embrace the morality of his gay supporters. Said the Illinois senator:

    I do not agree with General Pace that homosexuality is immoral. Attempts to divide people like this have consumed too much of our politics over the past six years.

    Credit John Edwards with coming out full-fledged in disagreement with Pace from the get-go.

    JohnedwardsThis from CNN's "Situation Room," even before Hillary and Obama dodged:

    BLITZER: Let's talk about General Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs. He suggested today, his own personal opinion, homosexuality, he said, was immoral. As a result, don't change the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

    First of all, in your opinion, is homosexuality immoral?

    EDWARDS: I don't — don't share that view. And I would go — go further than that, Wolf. I think the don't ask, don't tell is not working. And as president of the United States I would change that policy.

    New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson gets a bit of a pass, since AP apparently asked him about the controversy only after he saw the trap that ensnared the two leading Democrats:

    Richardson called Pace's remarks "unfortunate" and said the Bush administration should reject them, adding that he would push Congress to repeal military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. …

    "People should not be judged based on their sexual orientation," the New Mexico Governor said in Santa Fe. "Throughout my entire career I have fought for equal rights and against discrimination of any kind."

    All these statements and clarifications leave me feeling a bit uneasy, and only partly because they were even necessary. For one thing, if we really believe that General Pace's personal moral views about our lives ought to be irrelevant to public policy, then why are the personal moral views of these politicians of any interest? Perhaps that's why almost half of you who've voted in my blog poll said they didn't want the candidates defending our morality.

    And maybe it's just the lawyer in me, but are the Democrats parsing words here? General Pace never said "homosexuality is immoral," and it's a bit of a straw-man to suggest otherwise. He said "homosexual acts" are immoral, and in so doing he tracked the language of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which still prohibits consensual homosexual sodomy.

    Sambrownbackblog Leave it to an anti-gay conservative to understand the difference. Sam Brownback, the Kansas senator trying to steal the Republican right from Mitt Romney, understands the difference. Asked if he agreed with Pace, Brownback followed the classic "hate the sin, love the sinner" approach:

    I do not believe being a homosexual is immoral, but I do believe homosexual acts are. I'm a Catholic and the church has clear teachings on this.

    Brownback also gets credit for consistency, if not respect for pluralism, since he argues that his own personal view and that of General Pace are perfectly suitable grounds for public policy, even if that means discharging gays from the military. Said Brownback:

    We should not expect someone as qualified, accomplished and articulate as General Pace to lack personal views on important moral issues. In fact, we should expect that anyone entrusted with such great responsibility will have strong moral views.

    Were the Democrats still dodging by saying they disagree that "homosexuality is immoral" while taking no position on whether "homosexual acts" are? Maybe that's why Hillary told Bloomsburg News (watch the video here), all while "clarifying" her disagreement with Pace, that morality will still have a role to play in the military, even after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell":

    Let the Uniform Code of Military Justice determine if conduct is inappropriate or unbecoming. That's fine. That's what we do with everybody. But let's not be eliminating people because of who they are or who they love.

    "Who they are" and "who they love" are about sexual orientation, of course, while "what they do about it" is about those dirty "homosexual acts" about which the general spoke so fondly. Technically speaking, the UCMJ is silent as to sexual orientation, while saying loudly that only heterosexuals are allowed to act on theirs.

    Here's to holding out for someone to say in response to General Pace that not just "who they love" but "what they do about it" ought to have no bearing on whether Americans can serve their country in uniform, whether or not their "acts" are thought to be "immoral" by some.

    March 14, 2007

    Hillary dodges 'immorality' issue

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillarygma Hillary Rodham Clinton's interview today on ABC's "Good Morning America" made headlines because she (belatedly) joined calls for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation. But ABC's Jake Tapper also asked Clinton what she thought of comments by Joint Chiefs chairman Peter Pace in support of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" because of his personal belief that homosexuality is "immoral."

    Tapper asked Clinton if she agreed with the general about the morality of homosexual acts and rather than take issue, as John Edwards had in an CNN interview and even Republican Sen. John Warner (Va.) did, Clinton dodged. "Well, I'm going to leave that to others to conclude," she said.

    In a report about Clinton's demurral on CNN's "Situation Room," campaign spokesman Philippe Reinns tried to undo the damage, issuing a statement that said the Democratic frontrunner "obviously" disagrees with Pace and that everyone, including the general, "has the right to be wrong, but should not inject their personal beliefs into public policy."

    The report also quoted a political analyst who attributed Clinton's unwillingness to stand up for the morality of gay and lesbian Americans to her carefully scripted campaign, which makes it difficult for her to be "spontaneous." Credit Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson with calling on Clinton to stand up for her gay and lesbian supporters. "I assume that Senator Clinton ... understands that gay Americans are not immoral, and she ought to say so clearly," he told CNN.

    Yes, Clinton opposes "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a policy backed by her husband when he was unwilling to fight to allow gays to serve openly in the military, as he had promised in his campaign.  And yes, there is something to be said for politicians (and generals) staying out of the debate over the "morality" of homosexuality, since there personal views should be irrelevant to public policy.

    At the same time, HRC (the candidate) can hardly expect to believe she'll be our "champion," and be willing (unlike her husband) to actually expend political capital on our behalf, if she won't even say publicly whether she thinks we're immoral for pursuing the same happiness in relationships as straight Americans.  And her demurral is even more galling when you think about the clear "arrangement" she reached in her own marriage that stands far outside the bounds of traditional morality.

    We need to hear from Hillary herself. Are we "immoral" or not?

    UPDATE: This just in from a reader.  Apparently Barack Obama is dodging as well:

    Barack Obama joined Hillary in courting gays and lesbians by calling for the rollback of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" — without wanting to directly refute General Pace's comment that homosexuality is "immoral."

    Newsday caught Obama as he was leaving the firefighters convention and asked him three times if he thought homsexuality is immoral.

    Answer 1: "I think traditionally the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman has restricted his public comments to military matters. That's probably a good tradition to follow."

    Answer 2: "I think the question here is whether somebody is willing to sacrifice for their country, should they be able to if they're doing all the things that should be done."

    Answer 3: Signed autograph, posed for snapshot, jumped athletically into town car.

    Why the dance? Maybe it has something to do with not wanting to alienate moderates — or social conservatives, the churchfolk who view homosexuality as a sin.

    If you give them the benefit of the doubt, it's for the reason given by Obama and implied by HRC: that personal views about the morality of homosexual acts ought to be irrelevant to public policy. The more skeptical view is that suggested by the reader.

    I think these candidates need to understand that, since Pace has injected the issue of our morality into public debate, we need to hear from them that they respect our relationships, even if they are unwilling to go the full distance and back marriage equality. It is not too much to ask.

    March 13, 2007

    The bible-thumping general

    Posted by: Chris

    Peterpacecc In a surprisingly candid interview with the Chicago Tribune, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace explained that his support for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is based on his own personal view that homosexuality is "immoral":

    Responding to a question about a Clinton-era policy that is coming under renewed scrutiny amid fears of future U.S. troop shortages, Pace said the Pentagon should not "condone" immoral behavior by allowing gay soldiers to serve openly. He said his views were based on his personal "upbringing," in which he was taught that certain types of conduct are immoral.

    "I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts," Pace said in a wide-ranging discussion with Tribune editors and reporters in Chicago. "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.
    "As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior," Pace said.

    It is striking to see the nation's top uniformed military officer, in the midst of a long slog war that has been so purely executed, taking time out to explain why he thinks gay Americans should be blocked from serving openly because it offends his personal beliefs. He does not go on to explain why military policy should enforce his personal moral code, and the Tribune unfortunately doesn't ask.

    It's worth it to visit the Tribune site to listen to the small audio clip of the good general. He winds up tongue-tied as he tries to explain how "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" serves to defend his moral code. It's easy to understand how he gets tripped up. Current policy does not protect the military from service by immoral homosexuals; it protects bigoted heterosexuals in the military from knowing the gays are there.

    Before 1993 gays were banned from military service — end of question. Under DADT, gay men and lesbians are allowed to serve so long as they stay in the closet and aren't caught engaging in "homosexual acts."

    Therein lies the aspect of DADT that most offends the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The U.S. Supreme Court made clear long ago that, while the Constitution does not require the government to eradicate private prejudice; it cannot give that bigotry "public effect" — meaning it cannot enforce anyone's private moral code on anyone else.

    The Supreme Court case that stated that principle involved efforts by morally upstanding Texans opposed to a mental health facility in their neighborhood. It was, of course, in another famous case from the Lone Star state, Lawrence vs. Texas, that the court made clear that personal objections to homosexuality — or "homosexual acts," as the general put it — cannot be enforced through criminal law.

    Yet the Uniform Code of Military Justice still outlaws sodomy, almost four years after Lawrence was decided. And the Joint Chiefs chair can wax moralistic in explaining why private, consensual homosexual sex is the equivalent to adultery.

    The last time I checked, it was our sworn enemies in the "war on terror" who advocate the use of laws to enforce their personal beliefs. General Pace should make clear just which side of that war he's on.

    March 12, 2007

    Cooking the books at HRC

    Posted by: Chris

    Joesolmoneseofficeblog The "nation's largest gay rights lobby" continues to stonewall its critics within the gay community rather than engage them. As noted here and here, Andrew Sullivan has been among those questioning the close relationship between HRC (Human Rights Campaign) and HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton). The response from the thin-skinned leadership was swift, and when Sullivan dared to edit a lengthy letter penned in response, HRC tried to go over his head to his editors at the Atlantic.

    Sully had the last laugh, however, posting two intro graphs he had lopped off their letter that relied on the group's wildly exaggerated membership numbers to suggest HRC is somehow representative of gay people generally. I've been citing the same Blade story from May 2005, which caught HRC counting as "members" anyone who ever donated at least $1 to the group and hasn't been proven dead — even though the HRC web site claims "membership" requires $35 in annual dues. Andrew asks:

    So here's my first, open, transparent, simple question to HRC: The minimum membership fee on your website is $35. How many members paid $35 or more in annual dues in the last twelve months? You claim 650,000. What's the real number? Please provide documentation to prove it. Let's see how long it takes them to provide an honest answer. They've got my email address.

    Andrew expects an answer on Monday, but I would counsel him not to hold his breath. When we published that Blade report, Solmonese responded with a prickly letter to the editor that in retrospect set the tone for his tenure at HRC:

    Our inclusive membership practices are central to the defining values of our community.  From our inception in 1980, HRC has worked to be inclusive of all Americans who support GLBT equality.

    That’s why HRC makes no apologies about counting members who can’t afford regular donations as well as those who can.  And membership is about more than contributions.  It’s about sending e-mails to elected officials, volunteering time or lobbying members of Congress. 

    Still, in the interest of ending any confusion, of our more than 600,000 members, 343,328 made donations during the last two years and contribute to our annual $30 million budget. 

    Your newspaper may continue to engage in trivial, let alone inaccurate, weekly attacks on HRC.  In the meantime, our enemies are growing in membership and financial resources, taking aim at the entire GLBT community.

    Let's count the misinformation, shall we?

    1. "HRC makes no apologies about counting members who can’t afford regular donations as well as those who can": Why would HRC assume that a decision not to donate signals budgetary problems? There are any number reasons people wouldn't choose to renew, including a dissatisfaction with the group's direction or failure to achieve concrete victories.
    2. "Membership is about more than contributions.  It’s about sending e-mails to elected officials, volunteering time or lobbying members of Congress": But HRC has never counted membership that way, and has never used its membership as a truly effective lobbying force. Sending rote emails does little to influence policy, and HRC has always treated its members much more as checkbooks than soldiers in a movement.
    3. "Still, in the interest of ending any confusion, of our more than 600,000 members, 343,328 made donations during the last two years": Consider the confusion continuing, though at least we've gotten rid of almost 250,000 in fluff members. Why does Solmonese add up donations from two years instead of giving the current year's figure? Why count any "donations" when HRC's website makes clear that the annual membership fee is $35?

    It takes a certain gall to attack a newspaper report as "inaccurate" all while engaging in full-fledged disinformation yourself. But that's how things work inside the Beltway, and Solmonese is your prototypical political insider. He would have made a good political director for HRC, so long as a strong executive director kept his partisan leanings in check. 

    Instead, we have Karl Rove (or, rather, James Carville) running the largest organization in a civil rights movement.

    March 11, 2007

    Busted by the Blade

    Posted by: Chris

    It turns out that Marine Reserves Cpl. Matt Sanchez may not have been completely honest about just how far back in his past some of his time in the gay sex industry. His porn work, he claims, dates back 15 years, and he has said up until now that his escort work does as well.

    Alancolmes But in a radio interview with Alan Colmes — the leftie punching bag for Fox News' Sean Hannity — Sanchez is confronted with a personal ad he placed in the New York Blade as recently as 2004 offering his "massage" services. Sanchez at first denies the ad is his, and Colmes doesn't help matters by mangling the publication name. Eventually, Sanchez "owns up to everything" even while claiming someone could be placing fake ads with his name and phone number.

    You can understand Sanchez's need to stay vague. Not only does he risk blowing his conversion-to-conservativism story, if he's been tricking out for money so recently, he also risks getting tricked right out of the military.

    Sanchez joined the Marine Reserves in May 2003, long after the (apparent) end of his porn career. But if he was selling "massage" services that involved "homosexual conduct" as defined by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, then he could get the boot from the Marines, and not in a good way.

    Maybe now is the time for Sanchez and his conservative friends-standing-by-him to call for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

    Here's the interview (audio only):

    Hat tip: AmericaBlog

    'The real 11 inches' on Matt Sanchez

    Posted by: Chris

    Mattsanchezblog Matt Sanchez may have left his gay porn-escort past behind him, but it is coming back to haunt, and I don't mean angry Ann Coulter phone calls. The Navy Times reports that the U.S. Marines have begun a probe — er, investigation:

    Homosexual behavior is prohibited by an article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that forbids “sodomy.”

    As a member of the [Individual Ready Reserves], Sanchez falls under the authority of Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City, Mo., where the commanding general’s staff judge advocate, Lt. Col. Michael Blessing, has begun an inquiry into the revelations about his past, according to command spokesman Shane Darbonne.

    “We’re looking into it and we’re going to verify facts and determine if any further action is warranted,” Darbonne said.

    As of Friday afternoon, officials at Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans were unable to confirm whether Sanchez had enlisted prior to the end of his film career or if Reserve Marines were prohibited from doing porn when not in a drilling status. Sanchez has not returned phone calls seeking comment. He joined the Corps May 14, 2003 and is a refrigeration mechanic.

    On Friday officials at Marine Corps Recruiting Command were unable to say whether past participation in gay porn disqualifies a potential enlistee because it was unclear how the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy might apply.

    If liberal and gay bloggers can get over their (understandable) glee at the fact that O'Reilly-Coulter-Hannity put a gay porn star on their right-wing pedestal, the real focus of the Sanchez flap ought to be here. Or, as Matt Foreman of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force put it, this is "the real 11 inches" of the Matt Sanchez story. Says Foreman:

    There’s no inherent contradiction between Matt Sanchez being pro-military and being part of the ‘adult film’ industry. The real hypocrisy expresses itself in two different and important ways. First, the failed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law requires Matt Sanchez and thousands of other loyal Americans to hide their sexual orientation to serve their country in the military.

    The important 11 inches in this story? That is the approximate distance between berths on U.S. naval submarines, so defamatorily measured in front of TV cameras by then-Sen. Sam Nunn in 1993, who immorally intimated that openly gay service members could not be permitted to bunk next to straight service members. From that shameful episode, Nunn led Congress to adopt the ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ law, which should now be repealed. Let’s be done with officially enforced closets.

    It's not a juicy hypocrisy, but it's certainly wrongheaded, that adult consensual sodomy between two people of the same sex is still a crime under the Military Code of Justice, almost four years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down civilian sodomy laws.

    Jamiegorelick It's little known outside legal circles that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" actually depends on that military sodomy law. Since the Clinton Justice Department (9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick in particular) wanted to hide how the policy is actually based on the "status" of being gay, they constructed it to be based on "conduct," in particular the UMCJ prohibition on "homosexual conduct."

    So now Sanchez might get caught up in "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," even though he's not technically "telling," since he claims he was so "bad at being gay" that he isn't anymore. (Huh?) Ironically, that ludicrous defense just might work. There's a loophole that allows a service member to stay even after being identified as gay if they can prove that they have no "predilection" for future homosexual conduct.

    Ericalva_1 Let's hope this whole ridiculous house of cards comes tumbling down when the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston considers an appeal in a suit challenging the policy brought by the gay vets and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Or maybe the Democratically-controlled Congress will step up to the plate, and listen to a much more impressive handsome gay Latino Marine — Eric Alva, the first American injured in the 2003 invasion of Iraq — and repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

    It's disappointing that Sanchez hasn't added his voice to that call, perhaps because he still hopes to curry favor with those conservatives who've been so accepting of his porn past. Whether or not he is actually gay — and Andy Towle is insisting he as "pretty good at it" back in the day — Sanchez ought to know as well as anyone that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is unfair, and may well result in his own ouster.

    March 10, 2007

    Judging an ideology by its followers

    Posted by: Chris

    Sanchezhannity Marine Reserves Cpl. Matt Sanchez posted an interesting essay on Salon.com where he argues that his history in gay porn is not only not hypocritical, as some gay and liberal pundits are charging, but helps explain why he wound up so conservative:

    Porn reduces the mind and flattens the soul. I don't like it. That's not hypocrisy talking; that's just experience. I sometimes think of myself, ironically, as a progressive: I started off as a liberal but I progressed to conservatism. Part of that transformation is due to my time in the industry. How does a conservative trace his roots to such distasteful beginnings? I didn't like porn's liberalism. In porn, everything taboo is trivialized and everything trivial is magnified.

    Why did I become a conservative? Just look at what I left, and look at who is attacking me today. Let's face it: Those on the left who now attack me would be defending me if I had espoused liberal causes and spoken out against the Iraq war before I was outed as a pseudo celebrity. They'd be talking about publishing my memoir and putting me on a diversity ticket with Barack Obama. Instead, those who complain about wire-tapping reserve the right to pry into my private life and my past for political brownie points.

    Sanchez seems to be arguing that he turned right mostly over his distaste for those on the left. I can identify with him in a sense. When I arrived at a different Ivy League grad school in the late '80s, I had been branded a liberal and, by some, "a nigger white" for pushing diversity issues at a conservative Southern school.

    I learned very quickly that conservatives had not cornered the market on intolerance, and it bothered me even more coming from liberals because it seemed so at odds with all their sermonizing about tolerance and respect. But really, which is worse? Intolerance from the right on the basis of ethnicity, religious beliefs or nationality? Or intolerance from the left based on ideology.

    Sanchez wrote in Salon that his conservative colleagues have been far more accepting of his gay porn past than his liberal critics, a claim that surprises me, and I can't help wonder if it's wishful thinking or if it will last.

    Regardless, I've come to realize that judging an ideology by its followers is not a particularly effective strategy. There's plenty of intolerance and hypocrisy to go around, along with respectful and thoughtful advocates. Powerful ideas can result in powerful abuses, as well as powerful progress.

    Ultimately, choosing sides on an issue or more generally ought to come down to the merits of what's said, and not so much on who is doing the saying.

    March 07, 2007

    Ann Coulter's fag fetish

    Posted by: Chris

    Sanchezcoulterblog Pretty much everything I would say about the Anne Coulter's fetish with calling Democrats "fags" has already been said by The Nation's resident faggot, Richard Kim:

    So Ann Coulter called John Edwards "a faggot." All this proves is that the woman's gaydar is seriously on the fritz. Last year she diagnosed Bill Clinton as a "latent homosexual" whose "promiscuity" is "reminiscent of a bathhouse." Then on Hardball she called Al Gore a "total fag." Meanwhile, Ted Haggard and Mark Foley stage 120 Days of Sodom right under her nose, and all she can say when confronted with the goods is "who knew Congressman Foley was a closeted Democrat?"

    Ann Coulter couldn't find a homosexual at a Barbra Streisand concert, in San Francisco, on gay pride, if Elton John bitch slapped her in the face. I shudder to think what would become of her on "Gay Straight or Taken?"

    What really has me peeved though is not Coulter's misfiring gaydar, but the histrionic response from Democrats and gay leaders alike. Here's HRC head honcho Joe Solmonese:

    "To interject this word into American political discourse is a vile and disgusting way to sink the debate to a new, all-time low. Make no doubt about it, these remarks go directly against what our Founding Fathers intended and have no place on the schoolyard, much less our country's political arena."

    Likewise, DNC chief Howard Dean called Coulter's remarks "hate-filled and bigoted." "This kind of vile rhetoric is out of bounds," said Dean while calling on Republican presidential candidates to denounce Coulter's remarks.

    Howie, Joe, listen, don't get your panties all in knot over this Coulter-faggot business. What's so "vile," "disgusting," and "low" about being (called) a faggot in the first place? …

    In Coulter's twisted little mind, "faggot" is an insult, not necessarily because it's true, but because "faggot" is so radioactive that even to be called one is damaging.

    But this homophobic logic is exactly what Dean and Solmonese recapitulate in their over-zealous response. One can only believe that being called a faggot is "vile," "digusting" and "low" if one believes, as Coulter might, that being a faggot is vile, disgusting and low. Do Howard Dean and Joe Solmonese believe that?

    That said (and said so well!), I do see justification for the campaign by Solmonese and my friend Neil Giuliano at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to move the "F word" into the same culturally "banned" category as the "N word."

    For me, it's all about the kids. If there were some other way to get school officials and parents to get serious about stopping the use of anti-gay slurs among kids, some way that didn't involve censoring adult speech, then I'd much prefer that course. But it does seem the quickest avenue to protecting kids, whether gay or effeminate or just different, from bullies is to teach the adults — though in Coulter's case I use the term loosely — the lesson first.

    March 06, 2007

    Gay escorts say the darn'dest things

    Posted by: Chris

    Mattsanchezstill The blogosphere is all a-twitter with news that the handsome Latino Marine on all the news programs this week once worked in gay porn and advertised his services as an escort.

    No, not that handsome Latino Marine, Edward Alva, who appeared at a press conference with Democratic Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts calling for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

    I'm talking about that handsome Latino Marine, Matt Sanchez who did the "O'Reilly" "Hannity" rounds to complain about how some socialist students at Columbia University were mean to him for being a minority in the military.

    Blogger Joe.My.God gives the blow by blow:

    If you are familiar with Cpl. Matt Sanchez, you probably know him as the handsome 36-year old Columbia University junior and USMC reservist who recently made the rounds of right-wing talk shows like "O'Reilly Factor" and "Hannity & Colmes," where he received praise for coming forward and complaining about his treatment at the hands of Columbia's "radical anti-military students" who called him names and mocked his military service. Sanchez was then feted at the CPAC conference where Ann Coulter made her "faggot" remark. Sanchez wrote an op-ed piece on the Columbia experience for the NY Post and began a blog and MySpace page chronicling his media exposure. …

    Sanchez' face tinkled a few gay bells out there in fairyland, and [it turns out] Sanchez has had a lengthy career in gay porn, working under the names Rod Majors (NSFW) and Pierre LaBranche.

    Sanchez hasn't denied anything, and since early posts by Joe and Tom Bacchus, blogger extraordinaire Andy Towle revealed that he actually went out on a few dates with Sanchez back in the late '80s. Since then, Sanchez has apparently given Joe a half-hour interview that left the liberal blogger impressed that the Columbia conservative is no "dumb bunny."

    Sanchezcoulter It will be interesting to see how the Sanchez story breaks.  Liberals will scream "hypocrite!" which is their absolute favorite catch-all criticism. As applied to Sanchez, the charge seems particularly unfair.  I'm not particularly sympathetic to his argument that Columbia should discipline his tormenters — if anything, there's your hypocrisy, since conservatives are supposed to be against campus speech regulations. But if you believe that gays should be able to serve in the military, and that there's nothing wrong with adult entertainment, then it's Sanchez service in uniform, not his servicing out of uniform, that should matter.

    Ericalva Or maybe some liberals will argue, as they did with Jeff Gannon before, that somehow it's hypocritical to be gay, conservative and have a sex life.  I'm not sure they realize what they're really arguing: that something about selling sex for money (whether on film or in person) should make you a leftie.

    The real travesty here is that coverage of Sanchez will dwarf coverage of Alva, who was the first U.S. service member injured in Iraq — he lost part of his leg — and his story of service with fear that he would be outed and discharged.

    For video of Sanchez (on "O'Reilly," alas, not from his early work), follow the jump:

    Continue reading»

    March 05, 2007

    Learning from the last Clinton

    Posted by: Chris

    Bobhattoydiner I was saddened to hear yesterday from Sean Strub, publisher of Poz magazine, that Bob Hattoy has died from PCP-related AIDS complications.

    If you've heard of Bob (pictured in the center above in this recent photo from the Duplex Diner in D.C.), it's probably due to his ground-breaking speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1992.  At a time when both AIDS and gay issues remained mostly in the closet, he gave them a very public voice.

    But he played an even more pivotal role, along with that other gay Friend of Bill's David Mixner, placing gay folks in jobs throughout the new Clinton administration. This from my good friend William Waybourn, who was executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund back in 1993:

    After the 1992 elections, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and other groups created Coalition ’93 to promote openly lesbian and gay candidates for the incoming Clinton Administration.  In anticipation of jobs needing people, we compiled a pool of resumes from more than 1,200 qualified and diverse individuals from around the country with various backgrounds and experiences. 

    As David Mixner and Bob Hattoy were two of the more outspoken gay men in the campaign, they got calls from the various transition committees to deliver potential appointees.

    Bob treated us as if we were a carry-out delicatessen:   “I need two persons with aeronautical backgrounds for NASA, one military type for the Department of Defense, and three with medical and public health service for Health & Human Services.  Hold the feather boas on the DOD one.”  Twice a day or more, Bob and I would confer on possible openings, and I would pull the appropriate resumes and deliver them to him.  Bob then forwarded them to the committees for placement. 

    After so many years of Reagan/Bush, the competition for these jobs was fierce, and almost every group had scores of potential appointees lined up.  But many of our applicants got there first because Bob took upon himself to track down committee members to promote each applicant.  Of the more 100 individuals placed with the incoming Administration in those early months, almost all were shepherded by Bob.

    Just weeks after Clinton took office, the gays in the military debate flared and the man from Hope, Ark., systematically walked away from his commitments to gay people. But Bob and David both held firm, as Andrew Sullivan remembered in a funny and spot-on tribute posted today:

    [Bob] refused to sell "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," refused to lie and spin, and so got shunted off to an Interior Department job and muzzled. "They thought I'd be dead in a few months, that's why they gave me the White House job," he once said to me, bursting into laughter.

    I wish he'd written his book about life as a gay man in the Clinton administration. One working title — among many — was "It's The Economy, Faggot," which was roughly the attitude of most senior Clintonites to the gays who worked for them.

    After the gays in the military debacle, Clinton backed the Defense of Marriage Act and was too busy triangulating to deliver on even basic gay rights legislation. Eight years later, Clinton apologists were still pointing to all those openly gay personnel as the administration's big gay accomplishment.

    It's a point worth remembering, all these years later, as Bob passes on and another Clinton runs for the White House. Just this weekend, Hillary paid an undisclosed visit to the Human Rights Campaign, where she spoke to the group's assembled national board of directors and board of governors.

    Kudos to Andrew Sullivan for again pointing out how "the fix is in" already for HRC the candidate over at HRC the organization — a match made in initials that Clinton herself alluded to repeatedly in her speech:

    Here's Senator Clinton's speech to Human Rights Campaign volunteers yesterday. Money quote on HRC's talk to HRC: "I love the fact that it's my initials. Have you ever noticed that?"

    There was no press coverage of this speech, and HRC kept it very hush-hush, which is weird, defensive, suspicious — but that's HRC, sucking money out of gay pockets to finance an insider, velvet-rope elite of D.C. hacks. But the speech is significant in one respect, it seems to me. HRC, the organization, is now fully integrated into HRC, the campaign. It is the Clinton campaign. Clinton calls HRC's executive director, Joe Solmonese a "colleague." She talks of a future "relationship" with HRC in a Clinton administration: "You will have an open door to the White House." Among HRC's victories, she cites the 2006 election turn-out campaign ... for the Democrats.

    Hattoy's passing should remind us how such "access" means little when it doesn't result in real policy changes. Clinton did make a number of commitments in her HRC speech, from the usual bromides about workplace discrimination and hate crimes, to some meatier rhetoric on civil unions, Social Security benefits and gay adoption. Still missing was a solid commitment to federal civil union legislation or even the existing bill (the Uniting American Families Act) to extend immigration rights to gay Americans.

    Unfortunately, a growing number of observers have little confidence that HRC and Solmonese will actually pressure Clinton and other leading Dems into actually expending political capital toward these policy gains, especially when they're too busy imagining themselves as political appointees in an HRC White House.

    Here's the full video of HRC's chat with HRC and the fawning introduction from Solmonese that preceded it:

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