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    April 29, 2007

    Sunday Survey: Rank the issues

    Posted by: Chris

    Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that more than two-thirds of you support hate crime laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected category, but I am. Not because I thought this blog's readers didn't back gay rights, but because I know quite a few of you are libertarian or conservative, and there are principled reasons to oppose hate crime laws (so long as you oppose them for all categories, including race and religion etc.). There are even states' rights reasons.

    But the vast majority of you (71.4%) said hate crime laws correctly punish the wider impact of bias-motivated offenses, a position that I espouse as well. Almost a quarter of you (21.4%) oppose hate crime laws on the ground that all crimes involve hate to some degree, while much smaller percentages oppose them because they infringe on free speech (4.1%) or the free exercise of religion (2%).

    Since surveys show overwhelming public support for hate crime laws that include sexual orientation it's no surprise that all the Democrats running for president are on board as well.  But the continued mushiness from the contenders about how they feel on other gay rights issues raises a good question for this week's survey:

    What gay issue do you think is most important in the presidential race?

    I've done my level best to come up with a good list, and it's up to you to pick the issue that's most important to you.  Remember this is not the gay rights issue that's generally most important to you, but the one you think should be most important in the presidential race.

    As always, vote in the Vizu survey on the right column of the blog.  Voting won't transport you to another site or open any annoying pop-ups.  Thanks and happy voting. 

    April 28, 2007

    Another blunder for Bill?

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardson Is Bill Richardson getting bad advice? The New Mexico governor has a strong record on gay rights and support for minorities but in recent days he's sending all the wrong signals.

    There was his gaffe on Thursday, when he said during the first debate among Democrats running for president that Byron "Whizzer" White was his "model Supreme Court justice" — even though White authored the anti-choice dissent in Roe vs. Wade and anti-gay majority opinion in Bowers vs. Hardwick.

    Then, when given the opportunity to at least partially disavow his support for the Defense of Marriage Act — he did not do so.  Here's an excerpt from his interview in the May 8 issue of the Advocate (which I couldn't find available online):

    In 1996, when you were in Congress, you voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. Do you stand by that vote? Yes, I do. I'm for civil unions, and I've got the strongest record of any governor in protecting gay rights, in nondiscrimination, in transgender [issues].

    It's not entirely clear, since the interview doesn't go into detail, whether Richardson views his DOMA vote as simply a reflection of his opposition to gay marriage, or whether he really stands by each of DOMA's two provisions: (1) allowing one state to refuse recognition of another state's gay marriages; and (2) prohibiting federal recognition of gay marriages.

    In the same interview, Richardson twice suggests that as president he would push for "domestic partnership rights" and "a domestic partnership act."  Again there's no detail, and Richardson could just be referring to a law extending D.P. benefits to gay federal workers. But assuming he's talking about broader federal recognition of gay couples — something Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and others have hinted at as well — then repealing the second part of DOMA is almost a necessity.

    That's because any meaningful domestic partnership law at the federal level would likely recognize, at the least, gay couples who are married (in Massachusetts or abroad), civil union'd (Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey and soon in New Hampshire) or domestic partnered (California, Hawaii, District of Columbia, etc.). To give any recognition to gay married couples, Congress would have to repeal that portion of DOMA. What's more, even those opposed to gay marriage shouldn't sign on to efforts to block federal recognition of licenses issued by those states that have chosen to marry gay couples.

    All this mushiness in positions taken by the leading Democrats practically calls out for some clarity from the Human Rights Campaign and other leading gay rights groups. I have pointed out, on more than one occasion, that we need some specifics from the candidates about what level of federal recognition each would extend to gay couples, whether or not such legislation is pending today.

    This would be my checklist:

    1. Domestic partner benefits for gay federal workers: 20 points
    2. Immigration rights for binational gay couples (Uniting American Families Act): 20 points
    3. Repeal of DOMA, Part 1 (federal recognition of gay married couples): 20 points
    4. Repeal of DOMA, Part 2 (let courts decide whether states can refuse recognition of marriage licenses issued to gay couples by other states): 20 points
    5. Federal civil union/D.P. law: tax, social security and other marriage-related federal recognition of gay couples extended to gay couples who are married or in civil unions or domestic partnerships: 20 points

    Unless I'm wrong, so far no one among the first or second tier of Democrats would score beyond a 20, at least in terms of specificity. It's long past time for gay rights groups, or the gay press, to get the candidates on the record on these points.

    Are hateful sermons hate crimes?

    Posted by: Chris

    Hamilharris It's not been a good week for quality reporting by the Washington Post of gay rights issues.  First "In the Loop" columnist Lois Romano fell for a snow job by the Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese about the membership size and strategy of the organization. Then today in the Religion section, reporter Hamil R. Harris completely misses the boat in coverage of the new federal hate crime legislation.

    Under the headline "Conservative Black Pastors Fight Bill on Hate Crimes," Harris reports on a coalition of African-American ministers lobbying black Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to oppose the new bill, called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act:

    [The ministers] say it would pin the hate crime label on their sermons against homosexuality, which they consider a sin.

    "This bill will offer a status for gays, lesbians and transgender people under the equal protection status that can muzzle the black church," said Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham and founder of the High Impact Leader Coalition. "This law can be applied in the way that can keep the church from preaching the Gospel."

    Fair enough to give "Bishop" Jackson (his church is nondenominational) and his allies their say, and Harris does goes on to quote a black pastor who favors the legislation, comparing it to other types of civil rights measures.

    BishopjacksonConspicuously absent from the report, however, is any attempt to test the complaint made by Jackson and the other opponents of the law. The bill's supporters aren't quoted on whether the hate crime bill could, in fact, actually make criminal an anti-gay sermon, and the law's language isn't quoted either.

    Is this what passes muster at the Post these days? Of course, the bill would have absolutely no relationship to anti-gay sermons given by Jackson and his conservative cohorts — unless of course they are exhorting their congregations into violence against gays with a "clear and present danger" of the layfolk acting.

    The hate crime bill does not prohibit any form of speech, from the Gospel or otherwise. It doesn't even prohibit any actions, including violence, that aren't already illegal under existing federal, state or local laws. It only assists in the prosecution of crimes that are motivated by bias and enhances the punishment for those offenses.

    Ironically it is "Bishop" Jackson, not the gays, using the language of violence to describe the debate about our rights. "The gays are aggressive! Gays have called war! Gays are attacking traditional marriage!" Jackson yelled at a press conference last June before Congress debated — and rejected — a constitutional amendment that would block states from marrying gay couples.

    Surely Bishop Jackson, a Williams College grad and Harvard MBA, can read the bill and know what it actually provides. If Harris had been doing his job, Jackson would have been asked whether his real complaint with the law is really fear about being arrested for sermonizing.

    Harris' shoddy report may well be the result of classifying this as a "religion" story, which makes it about "faith" not "laws." And perhaps Harris himself is biased — in a News Channel 8 interview about a story he wrote, Harris started off by saying, "It's a blessing to be here."  And then this gem, unearted by Washington City Paper through a FOIA request for emails to/from D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry. The exchange is actually between Harris and Barry flak Linda Greene:

    From: Hamil Harris
    To: Linda Greene
    Subject: Re: Barry To Hold Press Conference Today
    Date: Jan. 13, 2006, 2:22 p.m.

    Tell Marion

    I am praying for him and you

    These are trying times but God has not changed

    From: Linda Greene
    To: Hamil Harris
    Subject: RE: Barry To Hold Press Conference Today
    Date: Jan. 13, 2006, 2:44 p.m.

    Amen, it’s good to hear from you.…

    Whatever Harris' bias, no editor should have signed off on today's story, when the central claim of the headline goes entirely unchallenged.

    April 27, 2007

    A 'Whizzer' of a debate gaffe

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardsondebate Last night's first Democratic presidential debate featured an interesting look at all the candidates and, with the exception of some bizarre rants from former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, relatively few gaffes. The worst of the evening was probably from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, someone I've written about favorably in the past.

    Put on the spot to name his "model Supreme Court justice,"  Richardson named Byron "Whizzer" White. Debate moderator Brian Williams of "NBC Nightly News" didn't allow Richardson an opportunity to explain the selection, but probably Richardson was responding to White's compelling biography. A college football star from Colorado, another Western state, White went on to serve in World War II before attending law school and working as Bobby Kennedy's No. 2 in the Justice Department.

    Justice_whiteBut White's tenure on the Supreme Court, after being appointed by JFK in 1962, was anything but exemplary. White was on the wrong side of history in three of the most important civil rights cases of his tenure: Miranda vs. Arizona, which established that police had to inform an arrested person of their constitutional rights; Roe vs. Wade, the landmark abortion rights ruling; and Bowers vs. Hardwick, which upheld Georgia's sodomy law.

    And White just didn't vote in the Roe and Bowers cases; he wrote the lead dissent in Roe and the majority opinion in Bowers, which was later overturned in Lawrence vs. Texas. White's approach in Bowers was particularly disingenuous, as he framed the issue about whether there was "a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy," even though the Georgia law at issue applied to both heterosexual and homosexual sex.

    White went on to characterize the Court's "right to privacy" opinions as closely connected to family and marriage. "No connection between family, marriage, or procreation on the one hand and homosexual activity on the other has been demonstrated, either by the Court of Appeals or by respondent," White wrote dismissively. 

    In 2003, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained for the Court in Lawrence why White's approach wrongfully treated homosexual sex as purely sex, even as the Court associated heterosexual sex as fundamentally intertwined with marriage and family.

    "To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward," Kennedy wrote, "just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse."

    Richardson may well not be familiar with White's role in Bowers (or Roe or even Miranda), but he's certainly got some explaining to do. It's unfortunate that a candidate with such a strong record enacting laws the respect the dignity of gay people made such a poor debate impression.

    April 26, 2007

    "It's all about the math"

    Posted by: Chris

    Hrclogos It don't get more ironical, to paraphrase our commander-in-chief.

    "It's all about the math," says the Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese in today's Washington Post, though he didn't let "In the Loop" columnist Lois Romano know he meant HRC's patently fuzzy kind of arithmetic.

    Taking full advantage of yet another "mainstream media" reporter whose idea of covering the gay rights movement is taking one phone call, Solmonese our savior spins a tale of turning around his organization, and the movement, from silly sidewalk protests to his own version of "strategery":

    It was not so long ago that gay activists were on the defensive, with 22 states considering bans on same-sex marriage and Congress considering a constitutional amendment declaring that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

    But after working hard -- and spending millions -- in last year's elections, activists are looking at 2007 as a victory year. Joe Solmonese says it is no accident.

    When he took over the leadership two years ago of the Human Rights Campaign-- the nation's largest gay rights group -- Solmonese saw a clear opportunity to go on the offensive with the organization's largest-ever electoral effort. "It was time to be tactical and not just stand on the sidewalk" protesting, he said in a recent interview. "We are trying to change the role we play in electoral politics. It's all about the math, and for the first time in a very long time there are people in charge who are committed to moving legislation." …

    For the first time in the group's 27-year history, the HRC spent or raised millions of dollars on state and congressional elections and mobilized many of its 700,000 members to work in the field. …

    "What it all comes down to is that we're beginning to be perceived as politically potent," Solmonese said.

    Let's count the inaccuracies and downright fabrications, shall we?

    1. "'It was time to be tactical and not just stand on the sidewalk" protesting: Can anyone else remember the last time HRC organized a protest, on the sidewalk or anywhere else? My memory drifts back to the Millennium March on Washington, and that was obviously seven years ago. There may have been a megaphone or two in sight during Cheryl Jacques' ill-conceived "George W. Bush, You're Fired!" campaign back in 2004, but to suggest it was Solmonese who took the movement from the sidewalk to the strategy room is ridiculous.
    2. For the first time in the group's 27-year history, the HRC spent or raised millions of dollars on state and congressional elections: Huh?  HRC has claimed every election cycle to have spent or raised millions on state and federal elections. Was HRC lying then or is Solmonese lying now, when he claims the 2006 cycle was the first time?
    3. For the first time in the group's 27-year history, the HRC … mobilized many of its 700,000 members to work in the field: This whopper is a two-fer; "mobilized many"? HRC has never effectively mobilized its "members" for anything other than putting on their tuxedos, writing checks and sending the occasional canned e-mail. It's a great idea to actually mobilize them, but where's the proof?

    Joesolmoneseofc And of course the big whopper is that bald-faced lie about "700,000 members." It's ballsy, if nothing else, for Solmonese to trot out HRC's grossly exaggerated membership claim after so many within the movement have called on him to cut it out.  But Solmonese must be packin' some Bush-sized "cajones" to actually inflate the figure further, from 650,000 to now 700k.

    Those of you "in the loop" already know that HRC counts its members two different ways: To become a member, you must pay an annual $35 membership fee, although in response to scrutiny a $5 alternative is now offered online. But when touting its members, HRC doesn't just count those members of the current, dues-paying variety. It counts every single person who has ever donated $1 or more to the organization, including purchases at the HRC merchandise store.   And once you're counted, you are forever counted, until HRC receives proof that you're dead.

    No one knows how many memebers HRC actual has because Solmonese refuses to answer the question. The closest he's come is to admit that less than half of the 700,000 figure made some sort of donation during the last two years. Read what you will into his ongoing refusal to whittle that number down to those who are current dues-paying members.

    Loisromano Seeing how the Washington Post swallowed all this without question reminds me of how much we need the gay press to keep the movement honest. A simple Google search would have turned up all the recent attention paid to HRC's inflated claims and "strategery" in the gay press and the blogosphere.

    Makes you wonder what else the Post is "out of the loop" about…

    (As before, credit goes to The Malcontent for the clever "less than" (or rewind) HRC logo.)

    April 25, 2007

    More bad news from Planet Out

    Posted by: Chris

    This just in, more bad news about Planet Out from the San Francisco Business Times:

    Media company PlanetOut Inc. said Wednesday that it expects revenue from the first quarter ended March to be between $16 million and $17 million. Analysts had expected an average of $18.59 million.

    The San Francisco company (NASDAQ: LGBT), which focuses on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, said greater than expected discounts on a Caribbean cruise package hurt its results, as did poor sales online and in print.

    The news is likely to be poorly received on Wall Street, although the PlanetOut stock does not have much further to fall, having already dropped from $15 per share in January 2005, to $10 as recently as a year ago, to trading at $3.05 today, down another 15 cents since last Friday.

    As if to rub salt in the wound, among the reasons given for the shortfall was $600,000 paid out to Jeffrey Soukup, who quit as president and COO earlier this month. The collapse of PlanetOut would be devastating to gay media generally, given holdings that include not just the websites Gay.com and PlanetOut, but the Advocate, Out and RSVP vacations.

    'Hate' crime laws in action

    Posted by: Chris

    Michaelsandy A New York City countroom this week offers a glimpse at how hate crime laws work in the real world, and how the name can be a bit of a misnomer. Contrary to the biggest headlines, they don't always involve crimes where the victim is sought out out of "hate" for his race, religion or sexual orientation. In the case of Michael Sandy, it was because three drunken losers thought a gay guy would be easy prey for robbery.

    The New York Times reports:

    They told the police that they thought it would be easy to rob the gay man. It was not easy.

    The gay man ran away when they punched him, they said on videotaped statements played yesterday in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. He climbed over a guardrail along the Belt Parkway, stopped a lane of traffic, waved his cellphone as if to call for help, stumbled into the next lane and was hit by a car.

    They said they dragged the gay man off the road and searched his pockets for money and drugs but his pockets were empty. They went home and drank beer and the gay man died in a hospital.

    The three of them were charged with murder as a hate crime, a distinction that could affect their sentences if they are convicted. Prosecutors said they chose their victim because they thought gay men were weak and afraid.

    As I outlined yesterday, hate crime laws often work the same way existing sentencing guidelines have for years: punishing crimes more severely if a victim is targeted for perceived weakness. That additional punishment isn't there because the bias itself is a crime, but because the impact to society of the crime is more serious if victims are selected based on this sort of perceived weakness.

    Consistency is hard to come by on this issue, at least among hate crime opponents. Oftentimes the first to scream "First Amendment" when anti-gay hate crimes are under discussion, are also the first to yell support for legislation that punishes more severely any act of terror or threat of same.

    April 24, 2007

    All hate crimes aren't created equal

    Posted by: Chris

    Choqaeda On Sunday I ran through the "gay angles" to the Virginia Tech shooting massacre, but I missed one caught by my blogging buddy over at G-A-Y.

    He caught wind of an item on the Christian News Wire, buzzing with a press release by the Biblical Family Advocates, arguing that the campus shooting illustrated the “absurdity” of hate crimes legislation.

    Of all the gay-related reactions to Virginia Tech, this was the most timely. Just two weeks earlier, Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) reintroduced a bill that would allow federal prosecution of hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Similar legislation had been introduced in the House two weeks earlier, and has passed one or the other houses of Congress numerous times over the years, but never made it to the president’s desk.

    Matthewshepard This year, the bill has renamed to honor Matthew Shepard, another college student struck down violently just as he began his adult life. But to hear the conservatives tell it, all violent crime is motivated by “hate,” so punishing some more than others is “hypocritical.”

    “How can anyone say that it was not a hate crime for any of these [Virginia Tech] students or faculty to die the way they did?” asked Phil Magnan, director of Biblical Family Associates. “Where is their equal protection of the law? The fact remains that all crimes are a crime of hate.”

    In fact, most violent crime among strangers is motivated by greed and indifference, not outright hate for the victims, but Magnan’s analysis isn’t only wrong there. Our laws regularly punish crimes differently based upon the intent of the perpetrator and the societal impact of the offense.

    The U.S. federal sentencing guidelines, for example, allow for a more severe punishment if the criminal singled out the victim based on his or her old age or other frailty. The victim’s vulnerability makes the crime particularly heinous.

    Civil rights laws similarly punish burning a cross in the lawn of an African-American family much more severely than burning some other object in the lawn of a family without regard to their race because the impact of the crime is much more severe. It’s intended to intimidate not just the black residents of that house but others in the area.

    Hate The same is true of hate crimes where the victims are selected based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Two years ago this weekend, during gay-friendly Amsterdam’s annual Queen’s Day festivities, my partner and I were walking hand in hand down a busy street.

    A group of thugs spat on us and muttered an anti-gay obscenity, and when we didn’t flee, they attacked us, leaving me with a broken nose and two black eyes. No doubt there were other street scuffles during the course of that weekend, some perhaps resulting in more serious injuries. But the attack on us was intended to terrorize us, and others like us, from exercising the basic human freedom of walking down the street holding hands.

    Consider for a moment if Cho Seung Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter, had been Muslim, and his videotape message had said his attack was part of an anti-American jihad. The crime would no doubt taken on even greater significance, probably resulting in all sorts of anti-terror measures.

    The motivation of the criminal matters, even if he’s acting on a hostility against gays that is a perversion of Christianity, in the same way terror attacks can be a perversion of Islam. Gordon Smith was right when he dismissed concerns that the Matthew Shepard Act would infringe on the free speech rights of those opposed to homosexuality on religious grounds.

    "This act is about the prosecution of crime, not prohibition of speech," Smith told the Washington Post. "Unless they believe part of their religion is the practice of violence against others, they should not be affected by this bill."

    What do you think?  Take a moment to vote in the Vizu Poll to the right of this post.  As usual, you don't leave the site to do it.

    April 23, 2007

    The kids are all right on marriage

    Posted by: Chris

    Nytpoll Speaking of surveys, there is an encouraging new New York Times/CBS News Poll on gay marriage.  It shows a plurality (40%) of those under 30 now support gay marriage; while another 29% back civil unions; leaving only 25% opposing any form of legal recognition for gay couples.

    Support for gay marriage drops with each successive age group: 28% among 30-44, 25% among 45-64, and only 18% among those over 65.

    There's a bit of a surprise on civil unions, since by 38% to 28%, a good deal more of those age 45-64 support C.U.'s than those 30-44. 

    Two final positive notes: only among those over the age of 65 is there less than majority support for either marriage or civil unions, and even among this group it's almost half (48%).  Overall, 60% of Americans back marriage (28%) or civil unions (32%) for gay couples, while only 35% oppose both.

    That should be more than enough cover for the leading Democrats running for president to back federal recognition of civil unions for gay couples.

    (Hat tip: Don in Atlanta, one of my very best sources)

    Sunday Survey: Bias on bias crimes?

    Posted by: Chris

    Some surprising results from last week's Sunday Survey, on the nature of sexuality among (not necessarily between!) the genders. The poll was based on the latest report on controversial sex researcher J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University, who argues that men are generally straight or gay and women are mostly bisexual.

    Visitors to this blog disagree with Bailey about both genders. Given the option of saying that each gender was "generally either straight or gay," "along a spectrum from hetero to bi to gay," or "mostly bisexual," a near majority of you selected the second, along a spectrum option, for both genders: 49% thought so of men; 47.1% thought so of women.

    Bailey's view came in second for both genders: 37.3% thought men were either straight or gay, while 39.2% of you thought women were mostly bisexual. Trailing far behind were the beliefs that men are mostly bisexual (13.7%) and women are either straight or gay (3.9%).

    I say the results are "surprising" because they run counter to my own experience; so apparently I need to get out more…

    This week's survey is on hate crimes.  I'll be posting later today on the subject, since it's the piece of gay rights legislation most likely to be enacted by Congress this year, having been reintroduced last week as the Matthew Shepard Act.  Hate crime laws are controversial among conservatives and libertarians, including gay conservatives and libertarians, because they make bias, or thoughts, into a crime. 

    Some say that impinges on free speech, others say free exercise of religion. Still others argue, as the Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese wrote in this week's Washington Blade, that "the hate crimes bill sends a strong message that society does not tolerate hate violence against our community."

    What do you think?  Vote in the Vizu Poll to the right, and as usual voting will not open annoying pop-ups or navigate you away from the blog.

    April 22, 2007

    Is latent homosexuality a killer?

    Posted by: Chris

    Chonbc_2 One thing I learned from almost a decade in the gay press: Every big news story has a gay angle. It would drive some homos crazy that we reported on gays affected by Hurricane Katrina or every last homosexual impacted by the 9/11 attacks, but their stories are often lost in the media melee that inevitably follows huge news events.

    The Virginia Tech massacre is no exception, so herewith are a few nuggets:

    GayNgle: No. 1:  Was shooter Cho Seung Hui a latent homosexual, acting out his anger against his own same-sex urges?  So thinks quack shrink Helen Morrison, interviewed by (not-so-latent) glass-closet-case Anderson Cooper:

    COOPER: Dr. Morrison, what do you make -- you know, in his writings, there seemed to be sort of an obsession with the debauchery, the hedonism of other people. He seemed to need to prove his masculinity a lot.

    MORRISON: Well, one of the early theories about paranoia is that it's a defense against the person's own urges of homosexuality. And that's a very old theory.

    But, if you look at the writings he had in both of his plays, they are focused on things occurring that would generally happen only in a same-sex-type relationship. But they're very threatening. And his response to those threats is to kill.

    COOPER: But he seemed to be attracted to women.

    MORRISON: Well, but, you know, it's like anything else. If you are trying to prove yourself, and trying to show that you're the complete opposite of what you might be afraid of, you will definitely stalk. You will definitely look into a woman's eyes and see promiscuity, which is one of the things he talked about.

    But the focus on the sexuality of females was only masking what appears to have been a tremendous fear that he was not truly attracted to females.

    H/t: G-A-Y

    GayNgle: No. 2
    : There were gays among those killed in Cho's shooting rampage, reports Lou Chibbaro of the Washington Blade.  But the gay student leader on campus gets it right, when he says the tragedy is "not a gay thing; it's an everybody thing":

    “Thirty-three people were killed,” said Curtis Dahn, president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Alliance of Virginia Tech. “Some were queer, and others were straight allies. The GLBT community at Tech grieves in the same way as others — deeply and as part of a greater whole.”

    Dahn declined to disclose the number of gay or lesbian students killed or wounded in the incident, nor would he identify them, saying he and the gay alliance group wanted to wait until they were certain all families were notified about the loss of their loved ones.

    “Yes, there were gay people that were killed,” he said. “One was a very close friend of mine. But I don’t feel comfortable talking about it because I haven’t talked to the families and I want to be respectful to the families, first and foremost."

    Dahn also said he doesn't "want this to be a gay thing, because it’s not a gay thing,” he said. “It’s an everybody thing.”

    GayNgle: No. 3: The good Rev. Fred Phelps, best known for his "God Hates Fags" signs and for picketing Matthew Shepard's funeral and those of soldiers killed in Iraq, plan to do the same at the funerals of some Virginia Tech shooting victims:

    The organization, founded and led by Fred Phelps, believes the United States has condemned itself to destruction by accepting homosexuality and other “sins of the flesh.” Phelps’ daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said the Virginia Tech teachers and students who died on Monday brought their fate upon themselves by not being true Christians.

    “The evidence is they were not Christian. God does not do that to his servants,” Phelps-Roper said. “You don’t need to look any further for evidence those people are in hell.”

    Giovanni GayNgle: No. 3: POZ magazine founder Sean Strub sent an email highlighting the positive role played by Nicki Giovanni, an out lesbian professor at Virginia Tech who alerted school officials about Cho and helped rally and heal the campus after the shootings.  Writes Strub:

    Over the past few days I have thought that the fact that it was an out African American lesbian who so dramatically inspired the mourners at the VA Tech all-campus memorial service had gotten insufficient press play.  She's also the one who recognized that Cho was seriously ill, complained about him to school administrators and refused to allow him to remain in her class.

    Nikki's a legend and I've always thought her insufficiently honored by our own GLBT community.  And this was an occasion to which she rose with an elegance and strength that makes me really proud.  I've never met her, but I have admired her for years.

    Then I went on the web and, to my surprise, I can't find any references to her as an out lesbian.  I guess that may explain why I might she's been insufficiently honored by the community.  I've always thought of her as being out, but I may be in error.  I understand she lives with her partner.  I have no idea whether she thinks she is out or not or how or if she identifies her sexual orientation. 

    More about Giovanni at her website.  And I'll close with Prof. Giovanni's remarks at the Virginia Tech convocation honoring the dead:

    We are Virginia Tech.

    We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

    We are Virginia Tech.

    We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

    We are Virginia Tech.

    We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

    We are Virginia Tech.

    The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

    We are the Hokies.

    We will prevail.

    We will prevail.

    We will prevail.

    We are Virginia Tech.

    April 21, 2007

    Planet Out in a nosedive?

    Posted by: Chris

    Lgbt_stock_price They may snipe like silly schoolgirls, but the bitter queens at Queerty manage a few scoops now and then. This week, they reported on the continued decline in the stock price of Planet Out, Inc., which runs Gay.com, PlanetOut.com, the Advocate and Out magazines and RSVP cruises, among other gay ventures.

    Like many dot.com ventures, PlanetOut has always struggled financially, and has made some wrong turns along the way to building the world's largest gay media conglomerate.  Just how bad are things now?  Queerty asked John Carney of Dealbreaker.com:

    PlanetOut has a chart that's almost painful to look at. It's slid from highs a couple of years back around twelve bucks down to Vonage territory. The company has been chopped-down by Wall Street analysts, who have noted declining revenues from ads and travel biz. Mounting debt and insider sale last year probably don't help. It's not clear what the companies core business is. Is it a publishing company? A travel site? A web 2.0 portal? Investors don't like companies when they can't tell what it's supposed to be doing.

    To make matters worse, at start of the year PlanetOut adopted a "Shareholder's Rights Plan" which is the phrase companies use to describe something better known as a poison pill. Basically, it's a device that prevents an outside shareholder from acquiring the company without the consent of the insiders. These things hold down stock prices because they make acquisitions less likely and discourage outsiders from acquiring substantial portions of the company. No one has ever successfully swallowed a poison pill.

    Lowellselvin Observers and critics have been predicting PlanetOut's demise for years now, and yet the company has managed to persevere and even grow despite all the doomsaying. I know something about the risks and responsibilities that gay entrepreneurs face when combining gay media with a long history of serving our community and the gay rights movement.  I know that Lowell Selvin, who played a central role at PlanetOut until he resigned as CEO for medical reasons last year, shared that commitment.

    But now Selvin is gone, and another key player, COO and president Jeffrey Soukup, resigned two weeks ago. Karen Magee, who took Selvin's place as CEO last June, hasn't yet managed to right the ship. In fact, from a stock price high of almost $15 in January 2005, and $10 as recently as a year ago, PlanetOut is now trading at $3.20.

    Markelderkin Queerty posted again about PlanetOut on Thursday, with a breathless headline that "PLANETOUT IS TOTALLY CORRUPT" due to "insider trading." The basis for the claim was this link to an SEC filing that shows a number of top PlanetOut officials, especially former president Mark Elderkin, sold off a large number of shares last year. Queerty complains that the filing, called "LGBT Insider Trading" because "LGBT" is PlanetOut's stock symbol on the Nasdaq exchange, reflects poorly on all gay people.

    Of course there's nothing inherently wrong with "insiders" buying, owning or selling their shares, unless they're doing so based on inside information unavailable to the public.  The SEC filing is there to alert other investors about just what top execs and board members are doing with their shares because they know the company better than anyone.  In the case of Elderkin, the original Gay.com founder left the company in 2006, so the sell-off coincided with his own departure.  Hardly evidence PlanetOut is "totally corrupt."

    Still, those interested in the future of gay media should mark their calendars for May 9, when PlanetOut will announce financial results from the first quarter of 2007.

    April 20, 2007

    Hillary Rosen for Hillary Rodham

    Posted by: Chris

    Hilary_rosenNote: Correction appended to end of post.

    It didn't take Hillary Clinton's campaign long to respond to the gauntlet thrown down by John Edwards, who last week trumpeted a modest list of gay supporters. In response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, the Clinton campaign came up with its own list of early gay endorsements, and not surprisingly, the list has a lot more big names, especially those affiliated with "the other HRC," the Human Rights Campaign.

    At the top of that list of HRC'ers for HRC is another Hillary — minus one "L" — who's been pulling the strings behind the nation's biggest gay rights group for years. Hilary Rosen rose to prominence as the lead lobbyist for Recording Industry Association of America, the music industry's trade group, mostly railing against Napster and the trend toward downloading music without royalty payments.

    But Hilary has been around the gay rights movement at least as long. She was on the HRC board back in the mid-'90s when her then-girlfriend, Elizabeth Birch, was selected as the organization's executive director. Their relationship wasn't well known at the time, and raised quite a few eyebrows when others realized the behind-the-scenes role Rosen had played at the time.

    During the Birch years, Rosen was obviously among the most influential figures with the organization. When Birch was ready to leave HRC, Rosen was a part of the "Massachusetts Gay Mafia" that helped select her successor, a Bay State Democrat named Cheryl Jacques. In turn, Jacques turned to Rosen in 2004 to run HRC's lobbying effort against the Federal Marriage Amendment. It was Rosen's strategy call to position the FMA as a "distraction from real issues" like the Iraq War and the economy, rather than to fight the conservatives on the substance of gay marriage itself.

    When Jacques alienated HRC staff and crashed and burned as E.D., Rosen, Birch and their longtime friend EMILY's List founder Ellen Malcolm hand-picked EMILY's List E.D. Joe Solmonese (another Massachusetts Democrat) as Jacques replacement.

    Solmonesebreslauer In addition to Rosen for Rodham, another prominent HRC name on HRCs list of gay endorsements is Mary Breslauer, another of the "Massachusetts Gay Mafia" and co-host with Solmonese of "The Agenda," HRC's show on XM Satellite Radio. Two HRC board members — Jill Staufer and David Wilson — made Hillary's list as well.

    Among the other prominent gays endorsing Hillary are:

    • Billie Jean King, tennis legend
    • Steve Elmendorf, president of Elmendorf Strategies and longtime top staffer for Dick Gephardt, who ran for president in '88 and '04
    • Fred Hochberg, dean at Milano The New School for Management & Urban Policy, who was appointed by Bill Clinton to be a top position at the Small Business Administration
    • Ilene Chaiken, creator and executive producer of television series “The L Word”
    • Bruce Cohen, film and television producer
    • Rebecca Haag, executive director of AIDS Action

    Not surprisingly, Hillary also has the early backing from a number of prominent gay Democrats from her adopted home state of New York, including

    • Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council
    • Danny O'Donnell, Rosie's brother and a New York state Assembly member
    • Deborah Glick, New York state Assembly member
    • Tom Duane, New York state Senator

    Two prominent gay Democratic activists, Jeff Soref of New York and Peter Rosenstein of Washington, D.C., also came out for Hillary. Soref is a longtime Clinton backer, but both are also outspoken in their call for full marriage equality.  Hillary, of course, is on record opposing gay marriage and favoring civil unions.

    But among all the names on the list, Soref and Rosenstein are probably the movement's best hope of voices inside the Clinton camp pushing the candidate to "move beyond the mushy" and on to "those devilish details" about federal legal recognition for gay couples.

    Correction: This post originally identified Mirian Saez, one of Clinton's gay endorsers, as a New York member of the Democratic National Committee.  Saez was a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., active in local politics here.  Last fall, she moved to California and lives there.  I regret the error.

    April 16, 2007

    Those devilish details

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillary_clinton Kudos to Lou Chibbaro and my former colleagues at the Washington Blade for an excellent report this week on how all the talk from the Democrats running for president about "equal rights" for gay couples hasn't translated into any real sense of what they're actually talking about.

    We know that Hillary, Obama and Edwards oppose gay marriage and support civil unions. But what does that really mean, considering they're running for president and those issues are decided at the state level?

    No one believes that Clinton, Obama, Edwards or the other Democrats support legislation to enact civil unions nationwide. Most Democrats are already on record favoring the idea of letting states decide what level of recognition, whether through marriage or some other form, to give same-sex couples.

    But that still leaves open what form of federal recognition will come for gay couples in those states that do enact marriage (Massachusetts), civil unions (Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey) or some form of domestic partnership (California, D.C., Hawaii, etc.). There are all sorts of possibilities. I offered up my own view, in a blog post ("Moving Beyond the Mushy") back in early February, about what specifics we should seek from the Dems:

    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, Social Security and immigration purposes. After a half-repeal of DOMA (see #1), gay marriages would also be treated the same as civil unions at the federal level.
    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.

    The Blade story hit some of the same highlights, especially the half-repeal of DOMA and federal recognition of civil unions. Interestingly, though, several leading gay activist sources suggested in the story that pushing for federal recognition of civil unions undermines the case for full-fledged marriage:

    HRC and other national gay advocacy groups so far have not called on Congress to pass a bill recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships sanctioned by state laws.

    “Though such a bill would provide significant protections for our community, it does not constitute same-sex marriage,” said Allison Herwitt, HRC’s legislative director.

    “Within our movement, there is an acknowledgement that only marriage constitutes full equality while civil unions are becoming a reality more quickly, causing advocates of equality to ask tough questions about what position to take on civil unions,” she said.

    Evan Wolfson, executive director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said it is far too early for gay groups and their allies to push for a federal civil unions recognition bill.

    With the 2008 presidential election already drawing widespread publicity, Wolfson said gay advocacy groups and their allies should be asking the candidates to spell out what they mean when they express support for equal rights and benefits for same-sex couples through civil unions.

    “When they try to do that, they will realize that there is only one system for doing it and that is marriage,” he said.

    “Why would we want to create a whole new system just to keep gay people from getting equal marriage rights?” Wolfson said. “This is not where the discussion should be at this time.”

    As much as I sympathize with these positions, I think they make the mistake of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The presidential race is not the proper forum to fight for marriage equality. It's a state-level issue, and all but marginal candidates like Congressman Dennis Kucinich are going to commit to it this time around.

    If we are to advance the ball with the first and second-tier candidates from where the Democrats were four years ago, then we need some teeth and some details in all the vague talk about "equal rights" for same-sex couples.  At the very least, we need HRC, the Task Force and other major gay groups to spell out what type of commitments they want to see from the candidates.

    April 15, 2007

    Sunday Survey: gay vs. lesbian

    Posted by: Chris

    Glaadawards It's time for a new Sunday Survey, and before I introduce a new topic, let's look at how the last poll turned out.  Well it was up for several Sundays, but it looks like almost a bare majority of you (48.8%) agree that the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation should respond to the recent criticism it's received by creating special categories for "niche media" aimed at a gay and lesbian audience. 

    I like that approach because it preserves the primary purpose for the awards (outside of raising money for GLAAD), which is to influence and recognize non-niche media to present fair and inclusive representations of gay people. At the same time, gay media — whether it's here! TV, Logo or the gay print press — can also be recognized for its outstanding work. That said, I think editors who work within gay journalism should guard against being compromised by the awards process. The watchdog role played by the gay press, including over movement organizations like GLAAD, is much more important than any award recognition.

    Coming in second in the poll at 29.3% were those of you who preferred to see gay media included in the same categories as "mainstream," non-niche media.  This is the approach called for by here! TV and others who claim they've ghetto-ized by being excluded.  Finally, 22% of you preferred to see the awards remain as they are currently, open only to non-niche media. On the one hand, that's less then one-quarter of you for the status quo; on the other hand, almost three-quarters of you accepted GLAAD's explanation of why full inclusion of gay media would conflict with the organization's mission.

    GLAAD President Neil Giuliano has said the board will be reviewing the policy after this year's awards, and I wouldn't be surprised if some sort of change is instituted.  Speaking of the awards, the Los Angeles ceremony was held this weekend and the big surprise was that "Grey's Anatomy" received honors for "outstanding episode." The show has very gay-friendly content and has been very supportive of actor T.R. Knight, who came out last fall. But GLAAD was vocal in criticizing actor Isaiah Washington after he called Knight a "faggot" during an on-set feud.

    More surprising to me was that Jennifer Aniston received the "Vanguard Award" for her work on GLBT visibility. The GLAAD website doesn't explain why, though a bit of on-site sleuthing suggests it was because of her "girl-on-girl kiss" with Winona Ryder on "Friends" and again with Courteney Cox on the TV show "Dirt."  According to Hollywood.com, "Aniston also appeared in lesbian rocker Melissa Etheridge's 'I Want To Be in Love' video and was the first guest on gay comedienne Ellen DeGeneres' talk show." I'm not exactly sure all those snippets add up to a Vanguard, but it's more than Lance Bass had done before being honored by HRC.  Too bad Aniston locked lips with presenter Jake Gyllenhaal (above) at the ceremony.  Query whether either would have greeted a same-sex presenter the same way — now that would be Vanguard territory.

    OK now for this week's survey. I posted yesterday about a New York Times report on the difference between gay male and lesbian sexuality.  The article relied on the controversial research of Northwestern University psychology professor J. Michael Bailey, who concluded that men are either straight or gay, while most women are bisexual.

    What do you think? Register your answer on the poll to the right. And as usual, clicking on the poll won't take you away from the site or subject you to any annoying pop-ups.

    April 14, 2007

    Is gay different from lesbian?

    Posted by: Chris

    Nytimesgenes Controversial sex researcher J. Michael Bailey is back, and this time it's the lesbians who'll be steamed.  The Northwestern University psychologist has already rankled many transgender activists, bisexuals and, to some extent, gay men.  It was only a matter of time until he took on our preconceptions about lesbian identity as well.

    Bailey's forum this time, as once before, is the New York Times, which published an article by science writer Nicholas Wade this week headlined, "Pas de Deux of Sexuality is Written in the Genes." The report wades through what research has to say about the genetic or biological reasons for sexual desire and the evolutionary reason for being the way we are.

    The article's thesis is that "the male brain is sexually oriented toward women as an object of desire," while male homosexuality is "evolutionary maladaptive," meaning "only" that "genes favoring homosexuality cannot be favored by evolution if fewer such genes reach the next generation." Bailey argues that the "masculinization of the brain shapes some neural circuit that makes women desirable."  The report continues:

    If so, this circuitry is wired differently in gay men. In experiments in which subjects are shown photographs of desirable men or women, straight men are aroused by women, gay men by men. Such experiments do not show the same clear divide with women.

    Whether women describe themselves as straight or lesbian, “Their sexual arousal seems to be relatively indiscriminate — they get aroused by both male and female images,” Dr. Bailey said. “I’m not even sure females have a sexual orientation. But they have sexual preferences. Women are very picky, and most choose to have sex with men.”

    Dr. Bailey believes that the systems for sexual orientation and arousal make men go out and find people to have sex with, whereas women are more focused on accepting or rejecting those who seek sex with them.

    Stop, drop and roll, Dr. Bailey. I think you may have started another fire. The gay rights movement has a few core beliefs and among these is that our sexual desire is an "orientation," not a "preference" that we can change at will. Once again, Bailey is challenging that assumption.

    Bailey The last time he did was in another New York Times report, in July 2005, provocatively headlined "Gay, Straight or Lying: Bisexuality Revisited." That article reported Bailey's research findings based on penis reaction to pornographic stimulus, that of 100 men who self-identify as bisexual, 75 percent were attracted only to gay porn, and 25 percent only to straight porn. They were all "lying" about their sexual desire, he concluded.

    The report unleashed a storm of criticism from bisexual activists and lots of quiet nodding from many gay men, many of whom self-identified as bisexual on the road to accepting they were full-fledged homosexuals. There was also criticism of his selection methods, and the idea that penis response is the end-all, be-all of sexuality, leaving out the romantic and emotional connection.

    This week's Times report cites one other researcher who agrees with Bailey, the aptly named Marc Breedlove from Michigan State University:

    “Most males are quite stubborn in their ideas about which sex they want to pursue, while women seem more flexible,” [Breedlove] said.

    Sexual orientation, at least for men, seems to be settled before birth. “I think most of the scientists working on these questions are convinced that the antecedents of sexual orientation in males are happening early in life, probably before birth,” Dr. Breedlove said, “whereas for females, some are probably born to become gay, but clearly some get there quite late in life.”

    Of course, many women who self-identify as lesbians could just as easily be described as bisexual, at least in terms of their sexual history and desire, if not in their regular gender choices in partners. We're certainly aware of high profile "lesbians" like Anne Heche and Julie Cypher who left their high profile partners (Ellen DeGeneres and Melissa Etheridge, respectively) for relationships with men.

    We also know that there are many, many more self-identified gay men — at least within the "gay community" — than there are lesbians, and perhaps this could provide a scientific explanation. If most women are bisexual, then it's not surprising that most would choose a male partner, given the societal treatment of gay people generally, not to mention the ease of starting a family.

    None of this makes being a lesbian, or a bisexual women, less "legitimate" than being a gay male. The claim for legal equality based on sexual orientation has to do with treating people's relationships equally, and fighting public and private discrimination that attempts to enforce one person's moral or religious beliefs on another.

    Those of us who lack the scientific background will have to leave it to the experts to battle out the legitimacy of the research by Bailey and Breedlove, as well as the "pro-gay" work by gay scientists Dean Hamer and Simon LeVay. In the meantime, we should let down our political guard long enough to be open to what science may teach us, lest we become fundamentalists of a different but no less intolerant sort.

    April 13, 2007

    A gay ol' time at the Magic Queendom

    Posted by: Chris

    Queenskingdomxlarge You may have heard the news earlier this week that Walt Disney Co. decided to allow same-sex couples to buy "fairytale wedding" packages at the company's theme parks and on its cruise ships.

    Previously, the ceremonies had been limited to couples with valid marriage licenses, but a company spokesperson said the change reflected "Disney's long-standing poicy of welcoming every guest in an inclusive environment." Query whether it might also reflect Disney's long-standing policy of welcoming greenbacks from every available source: The packages run from $8,000 to almost $50,000.

    The change also prompted USA Today to publish an interview with Jeffrey Epstein and Eddie Shapiro, authors of the upcoming "Queens in the Kingdom: The Ultimate Gay & Lesbian Guide to the Disney Theme Parks." Among the highlights (and lowlights):

    What are some of the pinker places in the Kingdom?

    Epstein: There are the obvious things: "Ellen's Energy Adventure" hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. But there are more subtle things. "Honey I Shrunk the Audience" was directed by Randal Kleiser, who is openly gay.

    Shapiro: The way you might look at something as a gay person is different than a straight person. In the Hall of Presidents (I call it Disney's tunnel of love — it's dark, air-conditioned and half-empty), at the finale is Abraham Lincoln, who says our (government) began by affirming rights.

    At a time when we're talking about gay marriage and a government that is curtailing the rights of a large number of its populace … for gay or lesbians that's going to ring bells. …

    Q: I enjoyed the Fairy Facts (gay trivia) sprinkled throughout the guide. Do you have a favorite fact?

    Shapiro: (The employee) in a Mickey costume is usually a woman because of size issues. So when you see Mickey and Minnie hold hands or kissing, you know a secret.

    Epstein: The Indiana Jones animatronic figure has nipples.

    It's all fun and games, of course, but these two might learn to tailor their message a bit more for an interview such a broader audience. They touch some pretty hot buttons here, sexualizing a place meant primarily for kids. And then there was Shapiro's response when asked "if you were truly queens of the Kingdom, what would you change about the Disney parks?"

    "We'd get rid of the other people," answered Shapiro.

    April 12, 2007

    Don't forget about Dodd

    Posted by: Chris

    Chrisdodd1 The top three Democrats running for president may be getting almost all the attention, but add Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd to the list of other candidates in the race with a better gay rights record than the leading contenders.

    Like New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose history of actually producing gay rights laws dwarfs the field, and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the only candidate backing full marriage equality, Dodd's record stands out above the Hillary-Obama-Edwards cacophony.

    In a talk with New Hampshire high school students last week, Dodd gave an impressive answer when asked about legal rights for gay couples:

    Dodd told Concord High School students that people debating gay marriage should ask themselves just one question: What would you do if your child were gay? Dodd said anyone who would deny a gay child the right to be happy isn’t being honest.

    ”We ought to be able to have these loving relationships,” the Connecticut senator said.     Dodd, the father of a 2- and a 5-year-old, said his daughters could grow up to be lesbians and he hopes they would have the opportunity to enjoy marriage-like rights. ”They may grow up as a different sexual orientation than their parents,” Dodd said. ”How would I want my child to be treated if they were of a different sexual orientation?”

    In reality, Dodd backs civil unions not full marriage equality, just like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and everyone else in the race except for Kucinich. But his answer was more compelling and direct than anything we've seen from Clinton or Obama, certainly.

    What's more, Dodd's record surpasses Clinton and Obama. Unlike those two, Dodd received a perfect 100 from the Human Rights Campaign because he has signed on a cosponsor to the Uniting American Families Act. Clinton and Obama have not, and neither has even publicly committed to vote for the legislation, which extends to gay men and lesbians in committed relationships with non-Americans the same rights that straight Americans have.

    Dodd's campaign hasn't really caught fire yet, and he lags badly in fund-raising, but his direct and compelling rhetoric and stronger record should give gays pause to give him a second (or first) look.

    April 11, 2007

    An FOB goes MIA

    Posted by: Chris

    Davidmixner_sm The John Edwards campaign released today the names of some two dozen "national LGBT leaders" who endorsed the former North Carolina senator in his race for the White House.  The list is fairly impressive, given how early it is in the presidential primary season and the very big names also in the race. But one name in particular comes as something of a shocker — not only for its prominence but because it comes from the core of the Clinton camp: David Mixner.

    Mixner is a long-time "FOB" ("Friend of Bill" for those who've forgotten their '90s political parlance) and among this country's most respected gay activists. You can agree or not with his '60s-inspired populism, but David Mixner has time and again put principle over politics, even when it meant risking his personal relationship with the Clintons.

    That's why, even in the earliest months of Bill Clinton's presidency, Mixner was arrested in front of the White House in a protest over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  I was there, playing hookie from my law firm job, on the afternoon that it happened, and his willingness to put himself on the line made a deep impression on me at the time.

    Mixner explained his reasons for backing Edwards on his blog, which I also recommend as top-notch reading for anyone interested in gay issues and politics. In a post today, Mixner writes:

    For the past 33 years, I supported former President Bill Clinton and his wife Senator Hillary Clinton every time either has run for office, including his very first campaign, an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1974, and her run for the Senate in 2006. For the first time in three decades, I sadly cannot support a Clinton for public office.

    Mixner's decision to back Edwards over Clinton is especially striking because Mixner came to prominence four presidential elections ago, back in 1991-92, when he successfully encouraged candidate Bill Clinton to reach out to gay voters.  When Clinton did so it was unprecedented, famously telling Mixner's ANGLE group from Los Angeles, "I have a vision for America, and you're a part of it."  Both community and candidate ultimately received a huge boost — though that relationship was sorely tested through Clinton's first term.

    Sixteen years later, Mixner's reasons for backing Edwards over Clinton don't relate directly to gay issues.  On that score, he ranks the two of them and Barack Obama as roughly equal:

    Only one Democratic presidential candidate, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, unequivocally supports marriage equality. All of the other candidates support some form of civil unions. In addition, all Democratic candidates have staked out decent positions on key LGBT issues, such as employment nondiscrimination, hate crimes, HIV/AIDS, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They all have their own rhetoric, but the substance behind their positions is generally the same.

    I don't disagree with Mixner's analysis, or his disappointment that no one besides Kucinich backs full marriage equality.  But I think it's too soon to conclude that all the candidates, or even all the major candidates, are roughly equal on gay rights and HIV/AIDS.  There are too many details still to flesh out and records to compare.

    Johnedwards1_2 But Mixner's main motivation, given the rough equivalence on gay issues, is the war in Iraq. And on that score, understandably, he finds Hillary Clinton to be "frustrating" and "baffling."  He also acknowledges, as he must, that Obama is the only major candidate to be consistently against the war from the start, and he credits Edwards much more than I would for reversing himself on the war once he was no longer in the Senate. But Edwards has cast himself as a populist and that is far more to Mixner's general way of thinking. After all, he backed Dick Gephardt the last two primary seasons.

    Mixner mentions in his post that Lorri Jean, the well respected head of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, has suggested that gay activists refuse to endorse any presidentialy candidate unwilling to back full marriage equality.  Like Mixner, I think that comes off as too single-issue, even with regard to gay rights. But I do think many activists who are endorsing candidates this early may well be aiming for post-election jobs more than moving the movement.

    That certainly can't be said for Mixner.

    April 08, 2007

    Parabens e feliz aniversario

    Posted by: Chris

    Feliz_aniversario I have generally avoided the kind of personal commentary found on many blogs, but I thought I would share briefly some of the events of the last week, which like many in my recent past have been filled with highs, lows and a lot of travel.  The highlights included a return trip to Brazil, a day in Rio before Anderson and I flew to São Paulo together to spend my birthday weekend with good friends there.

    Some of our closest friends here gathered on Saturday night for a small party, before we hit the dance floor at The Week, which I continue to believe is hands down the hottest gay nightclub in the world.

    Here in Brazil, for the most part they say "parabens" ("congratulations") instead of "happy
    birthday," and I like the way it recognizes a sense of accomplishment at another year completed.  But "parabens" would feel more in order if we had sorted out the basics of our lives, or at least the next chapter.

    In the last week, my condo in Washington finally went under contract, only to have the buyers subsequently withdraw — after I had paid $150 to change my return ticket so I could move my things out before the closing date they suggested.  So six months after I left Window Media, the company I co-founded, my partner and I still don't know in what country, or even what continent, we will settle down and truly begin a new life together.

    Jeffshewey Even still, I am grateful for the friends in Washington, Atlanta, São Paulo, Rio and actually around the world who continue to offer us support and encouragement. They have no idea what a difference they've made. I treasure them even more since receiving the shock that a friend, Jeff Shewey, died unexpectedly last week. I won't even try to explain the unexplainable, but I know all of us who knew Jeff will miss him terribly, and remember to make every day count as if it were our last.

    April 05, 2007

    'Wait for the celebrity' game

    Posted by: Chris

    Lilytomlin To the "glass closet" examples of Anderson Cooper and Jodie Foster, Rex Wockner adds the example of Lily Tomlin, who (finally) acknowledged she was gay in a late 2000 interview on cable access TV (of all places) and even then did so almost in passing. From an article Wockner wrote at the time about the interview:

    Speaking to journalist Ann Northrop in late November, Tomlin said: "I'm not going to make a big national case of it which is what, really, everybody would like to do, or some people. But in most articles, most people refer to Jane [Wagner] as my partner or my life-partner or whatever. ... We've been around so long and been through so much and I always kind of took a lot of stuff for granted and I just never -- I also never wanted to be anybody's spokesperson or poster person. You know, I see what happens to too many people."

    Tomlin has subsequently talked about being gay in a number of interviews, almost all in the gay press. For whatever reason, the mainstream media has almost entirely ignored the story — perhaps because Tomlin has been mostly out of the spotlight for a number of years now, save a few movie roles here and there.

    But I do have to roll my eyes a bit when Tomlin, like Rosie O'Donnell would later, claims never to have been "in" the closet, asking rhetorically how she could then come out. O'Donnell even had the nerve to act surprised at all the fuss (most of which she had scripted), pointing out that she had been accompanied by her girlfriend to many public events.

    Yes, but the media was playing the tacit game of "wait for the celebrity" to open the closet door before including their partner in coverage. I remember one particularly notorious gossip item in a New York tabloid that mentioned Rosie had been accompanied by "an attractive blonde" to a Knicks game. Only a few nerds out there realize that "blonde" with an "e" refers to women, while "blond" with no "e" refers to a man. Talk about subtlety!

    Mostly, Tomlin and O'Donnell's own history belies their claim to have never been "in" the closet. No celebrity who so studiously avoids talking about being gay or having a same-sex partner for that many years, knowing the rules of the "wait for the celebrity" game, can then with a straight face claim to always have been "open."

    It's not as if Tomlin has any difficulty expressing herself...

    April 04, 2007

    Out cracks the 'glass closet'

    Posted by: Chris

    Outmaycover Gay gossip maven Michael Musto penned the current cover story of Out magazine, on how celebrities like Jodie Foster and Anderson Cooper have figured out a way to live gay lives fairly openly without the general public ever being the wiser.

    The story is more interesting because of Out's ballsy cover illustration than in anything Musto wrote. After all the gay press, especially my alma mater the Washington Blade, has been writing about both Foster and Cooper, and their glass closets, for years.

    But it's a bit of a hoot knowing that in bookstores across the U.S. and internationally, the magazine peering public will see too individuals holding masks of Foster and Cooper, over the headline "The Glass Closet."

    I've stated and restated my view on "outing" for years: it's always fair for the media to ask "the question" of public figures and then let the person have their say. If they choose a non-answer, as Foster, Cooper, Clay Aiken, Ricky Martin, Sean Hayes and umpteen others have of late, then so be it. We all know that no bona fide heterosexual has ever refused to answer a question about their sexual orientation, so the non-answer is really an answer, after all.

    There's almost never a justification for "going behind" the non-answer — or a claim of heterosexuality — in the case of entertainment celebrities. Only when public figures have actively worked against gay right does their sexual orientation become so newsworthy that it's worth delving some into their private lives.  And even then, good editors are always balancing the newsworthiness on the one hand, and the degree of invasion into their personal life, on the other.

    Musto does a good job of explaining how the "glass closet" phenomenon works, from the celebrity's rationale (some would say, rationalization) to the media's complicity. It's the latter that gets my goat far more than the former. The publishers of Out magazine — now Planet Out — certainly  understand that rationalization, since the publication with the screaming-faggot name is delivered in a plain brown envelope that doesn't identify its contents.

    I also like that Musto isn't afraid to point out the inevitable goofs when a glass-closeted celeb accidentally lets their little light shine from behind the bushel:

    Keeping the glass up is a high-maintenance job, especially since many celebs are left to do it—or, more often, screw it up—alone. … That would explain the various slipups that happen when the luminaries take their own images by the balls. I was wildly amused some years ago when the terminally noncommittal Sean Hayes was asked by a newspaper interviewer what he likes in a partner and he blurted out that he’s “not into that gay ideal of musclemen.” This from the guy who refuses to label his sexuality. Whoopsy!

    I have a similar story about Cooper, who angrily e-mailed me after the Blade reported, in matter of fact fashion, that Cooper had shown up for the GLAAD Media Awards in New York a few years back — before he was on CNN — and quipped from the stage that he hoped to find a boyfriend from the night's festivities. He can claim he's not out, but he said what he said and he didn't challenge the article's accuracy.

    Clearly the celebrity treatment of homosexuality has trended along with society's acceptance of gay people. The days of Ellen (and even Rosie's) big coming out party already seem dated. The ho-hum reaction to T.R. Knight ("Grey's Anatomy"), Lance Bass (N Sync) and Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D.") isn't just due to their B-list status. As America cares less, so will celebrities.

    And someday, both Jodie Foster and Anderson Cooper will ride that wave, and no doubt receive courage awards from gay rights groups when they finally do so.

    April 01, 2007

    Richardson hits the right notes

    Posted by: Chris

    Bill_richardsonap Bill Richardson continues to hit pretty much all the right notes in his underdog run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In a speech last weekend at the Human Rights Campaign's Los Angeles black-tie dinner, the New Mexico governor justifiably trumpeted a record of actually doing, rather than just talking, when it comes to gay rights.

    A story about Richardson's speech in the Washington Blade gave top billing to his forceful call for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which Richardson actually voted against as a member of Congress in 1993 — if Hillary disagreed at the time with her husband's support for the so-called compromise on gays in the military, she has never said so publicly. It's also worth noting that Richardson's HRC speech was pre-announced and open to the press — seven TV stations and a bevy of print reporters were there — unlike Hillary's stealth, press-free chat with the HRC board last month.

    A few of the high notes from Richardson:

    • On domestic partnership legislation in New Mexico: "The reason I have to leave [immediately after my speech] is that I called in my New Mexico legislature into a special session to keep pushing my agenda, which is a full domestic partner rights act.  (Applause) Now, it was a special session, it lost by one vote in the senate on the last night, just eight nights ago.  And the next day, with the legislature adjourning until next year, we thought we had secured one more vote, but we couldn’t get it to be considered on the floor of the senate.  So I said, not good enough! … I’m pushing this bill because I believe all families deserve our respect, no matter their race, creed, or sexual orientation.  I think people realize this bill is a victory to fairness and equality as well as to open hearts and open minds."
    • On workplace protection and hate crimes: "I don’t take just votes, I don’t debate issues; I actually get things done.  And I know that your top priorities this year are passing federal hate crime and workplace discrimination legislation.  I want you to know I don’t just support these bills, because we did it two years ago in New Mexico.  They were my bills."
    • On domestic partner benefits for government workers: "I ordered personally, through executive order, that access to health insurance and benefits be extended to domestic partners of state employees.  And now, I am fighting for full and equal rights for all domestic partners, including gay and lesbian families."
    • On openly gay political appointees: "I also appoint gay and lesbian individuals to important posts throughout my administration: in the cabinet, division directors, boards and commissions, and I’ll do the same if I’m elected president.  Leading an administration that truly looks like America."
    • On "the politics of division": "This country is tired of the politics of hatred and division.  What we need in this country is someone who can bring us together. And we are fed up, we are fed up with Karl Rove’s machinations, and Ann Coulter’s ignorant epithets. (Applause) Actually, we’re fed up with Ann Coulter, period!"  (laughter)
    • On being Latino (note he is unafraid to draw comparisions many white Democrats won't make with race and ethnicity): "As a Hispanic American, I’ve known in my life what it is to be different, to be singled out and throughout my entire career I have fought against discrimination."
    • On "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": "If I’m elected president, I will end this disastrous, disrespectful policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ And, once again, I am not a latecomer to this issue.  I voted against this initiative when I was in Congress.  And, I was one of the Democratic whips with President Clinton.  And I continue to oppose it today.  It makes no sense to turn away and turn out well-qualified recruits at a time when our country needs them most.  There are approximately 65,000 gay and lesbian soldiers serving in our military.  They are no less patriotic and their lives and sacrifice no less valuable because of their sexual orientation."
    • On Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace: "Homosexuality, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, is not immoral.  Asking someone to hide their identity and devaluing their sacrifice, is."
    • On federal legal recognition for gay couples: "Gay and lesbian families deserve respect.  And, if I’m elected president, [I’ll wage] a principled stand with you to fight for it.  What we don’t need [are] constitutional amendments, designed to exclude supportive, devoted couples.  We need to extend the rights due to all of us as Americans.  For instance, the right to visit a sick or dying partner in the hospital.  The right to make necessary legal and financial decisions when a partner can no longer do so."
    • On HIV/AIDS: "I pledge to you, if I’m elected president, that this will be the highest priority in our foreign policy.  And the AIDS commission that is appointed and disappointed and is not active will be a priority in my administration and the AIDS commission chairman will be the vice president of the United States."

    There are important issues Richardson didn't address, like his 1996 vote for the Defense of Marriage Act. Does he stand by that vote and both of DOMA's twin provisions: banning federal recognition of state-issued marriage licenses to gay couples, and allowing one state to ignore gay marriages from another state?

    He spoke of "domestic partnerships," while Hillary, Barack Obama and John Edwards talk about civil unions. The difference may be simply semantic, since DP laws and civil unions can be rough equivalents (compare domestic partnerships in California and D.C. with civil unions in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey). But that should be clarified. And he gave examples of federal recognition for gay couples, but didn't flesh out everything he would support, including tax, Social Security and immigration rights. The three leading candidates are already on record in support of the first two and Edwards for the third.

    But speaking of Edwards, Richardson's L.A. appearance was dramatically better than Edwards' gay debut, at the Atlanta HRC dinner in May 2003. I was there and, like many in attendance, was disappointed. Given the opportunity to make his case for gay votes, the then-senator from North Carolina chose instead to give his stump speech with small additions backing ENDA and hate crimes. Richardson has a much stronger record to run on than Edwards (then or now) and a much better start four years later.

    The important thing to watch now is whether HRC pressures Richardson and the other Democrats to flesh out their positions on federal recognition of gay couples. Even though HRC's top priorities in the current session of Congress are ENDA, hate crimes and perhaps "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, the Democrats campaigning for gay support in their White House runs should be pressured to hit even higher notes on the long campaign trail ahead.

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