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    May 30, 2007

    My big gay announcement

    Posted by: Chris

    Gaynewswatch_capture I have an announcement to share with those of you who've been nice enough to visit and contribute to my blog these last months.  You've been wonderful and loyal and charming and, well…there's someone else.  Yes, I've been cheating on you, for weeks really, and "the other man" is a new website, Gay News Watch.

    After leaving the Washington Blade and Window Media last fall, I spent a good deal of time thinking about what's next step for media generally, and of course gay media in particular.  I decided there was a real need for "one stop" that tailors news and views to each person. 

    The idea is by no means original to me, of course.  If you want to know what stories have a "buzz" in the MSM, you go to Drudge Report.  If you want to know what general-interest stories have a groundswell of interest on the Net, you go to Digg.  But where's a poor homosexual to head? You guessed it.  Gay News Watch.

    There you'll find all the latest gay news and views from the MSM, the gay press and the blogosphere, but that's just the beginning.  Gay News Watch is set up to tailor the way you view the news to your interests.  For instance, you can:

    • View articles by the state, country or region of the world that interests you.
    • View which articles are the most popular or rated the highest by other visitors.
    • View articles according to the categories — politics, crime, lesbian, sports sex, "weird" etc. — of interest to you.
    • If you register, you can even set the site to give you a "custom view" every time you visit, showing only the types of stories, or articles from the geographic areas that interest you.  Not bad eh?
    • Follow ongoing stories by seeing all the headlines, blog posts, viewpoints and comments conveniently grouped together.  Interested in the controversy over Isaiah Washington using the "F*word"? Click here.  Want to follow how gay issues are playing out in the presidential race? Click here.  Pretty nifty huh?
    • You can sign up for email alerts that let you know — instantly, daily or weekly — when new stories in the categories and/or regions of interest to you get posted.
    • You can even sign up for email alerts to find out right away when a new story is posted about an ongoing controversy or story subject.
    • Know about a story or blog post or op-ed that isn't on the site? Submit it with a few clicks of the mouse, either anonymously or not.

    That's really just the tip of the iceberg.  Rather than blab on more about it here, just visit the site for yourself, take a few minutes to surf around using the navigation bars on the left and the right.  Let me know what you think!

    If you like the site, then please bookmark it and visit often.  Let your friends know about it.  If you have a blog or your own web site, then please link to it.  All the good stuff that makes a fledgling web site grow.

    Last, but not least, I want to thank some folks who were very important to making Gay News Watch happen.  Since I haven't asked in advance to broadcast your involvement on here, I'll just say you know who you are. 

    Two sets of folks, however, were absolutely critical:  Douglas Blocker, the brilliant (and I mean that) programmer who worked with me to design the system, and Matt, Chris and Austin at Virtual Atlantic, the company that executed the design of the site.  I put this idea in their hands, and they came through amazingly, along the way putting up with my somewhat exacting demands. (Those of you unfortunate enough to work with me through the years can no doubt feel their pain).

    Because some have asked since the press release launching the site went out yesterday, I'll reiterate that Gay News Watch is my baby.  I'm still an owner of Window Media, but this project is completely independent.  Of course I'll be posting many articles from the publications in Window Media's family because my former colleagues (and those who've arrived since) continue to do important journalism that deserves the widest possible audience.  That's true of many other gay publications as well, and I hope Gay News Watch will offer a venue for them to compete for attention with "the big boys" in the MSM.

    So enjoy, and enjoy often, and thank you in advance for the contributions you can make — through comments, ratings, submissions and links or just visiting — to realizing my hopes for Gay News Watch.

    A new Democratic frontrunner

    Posted by: Chris

    John_edwards1 There may be three Democrats in the "top tier" of presidential candidates, but on gay issues we now have a clear frontrunner.  Now that we can see in complete form the "campaign statements" issued by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last week on gay issues, it's clear that rival John Edwards is willing to go further and is much stronger on the specifics.

    Whether the former North Carolina senator has evolved or converted since the days when he supposedly felt uncomfortable around "those people" — that would be us — he's got a comfortable lead on gay rights now. To date, only Edwards among the top-tier (or even the second tier) has:

    1. committed to extending the more than 1,100 benefits, rights and privileges provided to married couples and their families in federal law to same-sex couples (and their children;
    2. supported repeal of the half of the Defense of Marriage Act that blocks federal recognition of marriage licenses issued by states to gay couples; and
    3. supported the Uniting American Families Act, which extends to gay Americans the same rights that straight citizens have to sponsor our non-American partners for residence and citizenship.

    1111151611111519slarge Hillary Rodham Clinton's statement is the most disappointing, given her high profile support from gay activists, especially from inside "the other HRC" — that would be the Human Rights Campaign.  Like Edwards and Obama, Clinton favors workplace rights and federal hate crime laws and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  And like the other two, she opposes both gay marriage and a federal marriage amendment, and supports civil unions.

    The similarities apparently end there.  As I've pointed out (here and here and here and here and, well you get the point), Hillary has been persistently vague about what federal recognition she supports for gay couples in civil unions, domestic partnerships or state-sanctioned marriages.  She is running for president, after all, not governor, so her support for civil unions is nice but not so relevant.

    Edwards has committed to repealing DOMA so that gay couples married in Massachusetts (and hopefully elsewhere, soon enough) would be entitled to federal recognition.  And he's spelled out that the recognition would extend to everything marriage does — all 1,000-plus rights and responsibilities — including immigration rights.

    Hillary, on the other hand, commits to "work to ensure that all Americans in committed relationships have equal benefits — from health insurance and life insurance, property rights and more."  Good stuff, of course, but aside from federal employee D.P. benefits, which she supports, how does a president work to extend property rights and other benefits controlled at the state level?  We need to hear from her on Social Security benefits, federal taxes, immigration rights, but her position paper is position-free on those.

    11_barack_obama_gl Obama's statement isn't much better; in fact the two look so similar it's as if their staffs were in collusion. On the crucial issue of legal recognition for gay couples, Obama talks about “full rights,” but only spells out health insurance, employee benefits and making medical decisions, as well as “the same property rights as anyone else.”

    Obama’s support on these state-level issues is welcome but it's been years since he served in the Illinois state Senate.  He’s in the big leagues now, and he needs to spell out his "full rights" for gay couples the way Edwards does.

    Speaking of his time in the state Senate, Obama does get a few bonus points for going on record for legislation "to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and public accommodations."  Clinton hasn't addressed bias beyond the workplace, at least that I've seen, though even Obama's statement stops short of saying he would support extending federal civil rights laws on housing and public accommodation to protect gays.

    It's also noteworthy that only Edwards commits to inclusion of "gender identity" in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, although both he and Clinton (but not Obama) back a similar category in federal hate crime laws.

    It's hard to say exactly why, behind just playing it safe, that Obama and Clinton offered up such lukewarm support.  Obama may place a higher priority on courting African-Americans, especially those black clergy who reject the analogy of the two civil rights movements. 

    For Hillary, it's probably about Bill. We were reminded just yesterday of how Bill Clinton can look us in the eyes, feel our pain, and sell us down the river.  Not only are we still trying, a full decade later, to undo his signatures on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act.  But we learned how in just the last presidential election cycle, the former president tried to convince John Kerry to reverse his opposition to a federal constitutional amendment banning states from marrying gay couples.

    Here's the low-down, from Ben Smith's Politico blog, retelling the story from the new memoir by longtime Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum:

    In 2004, Newsweek reported, without a named source, that Bill Clinton had suggested Kerry "to back local bans on gay marriage." Shrum has more, and different, detail:

    "Clinton, Kerry reported at the time, did suggest blunting Bush's appeal to cultural conservatives with a reprise of Clinton's Sister Souljah moment in 1992 when he'd denounced her call for violence against whites — and done it as conspicuously as possible in front of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition.

    "Kerry, Clinton ventured, should consider defying Democratic interest groups by endorsing the Bush proposal for a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage."

    Shrum reports that "this was a flip-flop too far for Kerry."

    It's also worse in Shrum's version — the federal amendment, versus state amendments -- than in Newsweek's telling. And Bill Clinton does, reportedly, continue to play a small role in Hillary's campaign.

    Putting aside the obvious hypocrisy of a lecherous adulterer like Bill Clinton backing a constitutional amendment to prevent gay couples from marrying, the Kerry vignette is an important reminder about the two-for-one bargain Hillary now brings to the table. With Obama's star fading a bit, as could only be expected when his specifics don't live up to his starpower, where does that leave us?

    It puts the pressure on the committed gay men and lesbians within the HRC camp — and HRC — to push Hillary to put out specifics that even her husband wouldn't like.  The latter HRC, the group that is, has indicated that the release of full questionnaires from all the candidates is imminent, including a side-by-side comparison.  So perhaps Clinton and Obama's blanks will get filled in then. 

    If they don't, then perhaps we take another look at the second tier, where both New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Connectitut Sen. Chris Dodd have already committed to more specifics on federal recognition for gay couples than either Clinton or Obama, including on immigration rights. Otherwise, we may well be left with choosing between Hillary allowing slick Willie to still pull the strings vs. Edwards, who may well be a poor man's Slick Willie "who hasn't read the books," as Shrum put it so memorably.

    From my files:

    May 29, 2007

    Now THIS is daytime cattiness…

    Posted by: Chris

    Hasselbecksilverstone Yesterday I (sort of) stood up for Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, whose supposed "catfight" was actually an interesting exchange about the Iraq War, not to mention a curious personality study.  The same can't quite be said for Alicia Silverstone, who was the first "View" guest after the Rosie-Elisabeth faceoff.

    Check out this video from a "View" fan with way too much time on his hands…

    You just gotta love it…

    At least Rosie and Elisabeth are plumbing the depths of "the power of forgiveness"…

    May 28, 2007

    Defending Rosie (sort of)

    Posted by: Chris

    Rosiehasselbeck By now you've no doubt heard about Rosie O'Donnell's split-screen blow-up last week with conservative 'View' co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck. Shortly thereafter, Rosie announced she wouldn't return to the show — even though her contract doesn't expire until the end of June. Most pundits dismissed the whole thing as a catfight, which is as misogynist as it is untrue.

    I appreciate the Rosie O'Donnell who speaks her mind on "The View" far more than the saccharine sweet Rosie who self-censored for years on her own daytime talk show. (Are you listening, Ellen?) And I appreciate even more a daytime talk show that's willing to feature a toe-to-toe on the Iraq war instead of pander about the latest celebrity DUI.

    So let's take the confrontation seriously.  Was Rosie justified in the level of umbrage she took from Hasselbeck? The tete-a-tete was actually in response to an earlier show, on May 17, when Rosie argued that U.S. policy in Iraq is a "terrorist" policy because (she claims) 655,000 innocent Iraqi civilians have died.  From Rosie's own blog, here's an excerpt of what was said:

    O’DONNELL: I just want to say something. 655,000 Iraqi civilians are dead. Who are the terrorists?
    HASSELBECK: Who are the terrorists?
    O’DONNELL: 655,000 Iraqis — I’m saying you have to look, we invaded –
    HASSELBECK: Wait, who are you calling terrorists now? Americans?
    O’DONNELL: I’m saying if you were in Iraq, and the other country, the United States, the richest in the world, invaded your country and killed 655,000 of your citizens, what would you call us?
    HASSELBECK: Are we killing their citizens or are their people also killing their citizens? 
    O’DONNELL: We’re invading a sovereign nation, occupying a country against the U.N.

    Subsequently, Chris Matthews on "Hardball" (hardly a right-winger) and other TV talking heads suggested Rosie was calling "our troops" terrorists. Flash forward to Friday, when Rosie blamed Hasselbeck for not defending her against the charge when the two subsequently revisited the issue on-air.  Apparently Hasselbeck only put the question back to Rosie rather than saying she knew it wasn't what Rosie really believes.

    Here's the clip for those who want to see:

    Lost somewhere in the obvious passion that Rosie brings to this subject is that her provocative rhetoric has consequences, and it's up to her, and not "her friend" Elizabeth, to defend what she says.  Rosie's point about U.S. policy is interesting, and one that probably rarely gets heard by a "View"-type audience.  She was focused on whether U.S. policy in Iraq is responsible for the deaths of far more innocent civilians than are "the terrorists."

    But she can't be too surprised that some would conflate calling "U.S. policy" terrorist with calling the soldiers who execute it terrorists.  I've never seen anyone suggest that only Osama Bin Laden is responsible for his terrorist policies, and not the foot soldiers who execute those policies.  So Rosie's suggestion is an inflammatory one and, as much as I oppose this war, I'll take Hasselback's side on whether Rosie's wrong-headed or not.

    What's more, calling U.S. policy "terrorist" is equally wrong-headed.  Terrorists target innocent civilians to terrorize their opponents and achieve their theocratic objectives.  U.S. policy, however poorly executed, has been to establish a democratic government and is directed at enemy combatants.  I believe that "our side" (including "our troops") have made every effort to spare civilians to a degree far greater than, say, we did toward "innocent" Germans and Japanese during WWII.  (Hiroshima anyone? Nagasaki? Berlin?)

    The biggest irony, for me, was that Rosie claimed Elizabeth Hasselbeck "cowardly," and yet it was Rosie who bailed from the show after the confrontation. "The View" has at times done a commendable job of breaking the daytime monotony with some real conversation on real issues. But that means engaging in a respectful debate with those who disagree, not walking off in a huff (and a schmaltzy blog poem or two) when we don't get our way.

    Speculation on who might replace Rosie on "The View" includes fellow comedian Kathy Griffin, who is as loud and as gay-friendly (though with the gay boys not the gals).  From everything I've seen of her over the years, I doubt she'd duck from a fight — with Donald Trump, Elisabeth Hasselbeck or Rosie herself.

    In case you missed it:

    May 27, 2007

    This is the opposition?

    Posted by: Chris

    I've been keeping an eye out for what conservatives on the Net are saying in response to the reintroduction of the Uniting American Families Act, which extends to gay Americans the same right to sponsor non-Americans for citizenship as straight Americans have.  The high-profile move by John Edwards to back UAFA upped the ante, and Bill Richardson has followed suit.  But still the response has been only a murmur, which comes as a surprise with so many loud xenophobes out there.

    The American Conservative Daily was one of the few to weigh in.  Using the same photo I did to show Edwards meeting with gay plaintiffs in the California marriage suit, under the headline "Edwards backs gay immigration rights," Carolyn Hileman offered this retort:

    I don’t know about you but I am not seeing $400.00 there…

    That's it.  Nothing more.  What followed was an extensive excerpt from Ben Smith's Politico blog, which noted that Edwards was the first "top-tier" Dem to publicly support UAFA.

    If this is the best the right has to offer, a mild-mannered version of Anne Coulter's "fag" slam, then it ain't much.  Perhaps they appreciate an immigration reform that defends the rights of American citizens, rather than non-Americans.

    In case you missed it:

    May 26, 2007

    Clinton, Obama come up short

    Posted by: Chris

    Clintonobamablog Not to be outdone by the release on Thursday by the Edwards' campaign of his HRC candidate questionnaire, the Clinton and Obama camps put out documents on Friday to the Washington Blade outlining their gay rights positions.

    The Blade reports** that like Edwards, both Clinton and Obama renewed their support for civil unions, repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and support for ENDA and hate crimes bills.  Nothing new there, unfortunately, though in general terms both Clinton and Obama reaffirm their support "equal benefits" (Hillary) and "full rights" (Obama) for gay couples:

    “Hillary will work to ensure that all Americans in committed relationships have equal benefits — from health insurance and life insurance, property rights and more,” says a document from her campaign titled “Fighting for the LGBT Community.”

    “Barack Obama supports civil unions that give gay couples full rights, including the right to assist their loved ones in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits currently extended to traditional married couples and the same property rights as anyone else,” says a campaign document titled “Barack Obama’s Support for the Gay and Lesbian Community.”

    But the Clinton and Obama statements, which appear** to be reworked versions of their HRC candidate questionnaires, fall short of Edwards' positions in several key places:

    • Neither Clinton nor Obama addressed marriage equality; at least Edwards explained his continued opposition;
    • Clinton and Obama were silent on the Defense of Marriage Act; Edwards backed repealing the one-half of DOMA that blocks federal recognition of gay couples married by states;
    • Clinton and Obama were silent on the Uniting American Families Act, which extends to gay Americans the same rights straight citizens have to sponsor non-American spouses for residence and citizenship; Edwards for the first time pledged his support.

    Without seeing the actual Clinton and Obama documents,** it's also not clear whether either matched Edwards' specific commitment to extend to gay couples "all of the 1,100 other legal protections [the federal] government affords married couples." 

    I have asked several times in this blog how it is that Clinton and Obama could live up to their rhetoric on treating gay couples equally, even just at the federal level, without at least repealing that half of DOMA — the other half, which is likely unconstitutional, allows one state to refuse to recognize marriage licenses issued to gay couples by other states.  Whatever you think of Edwards, give him credit for confronting DOMA head-on and making his commitment on legal recognition specific.

    On UAFA, which has particular importance for me and thousands of other gay binational couples, it's long past time for Clinton and Obama to come clean on their position.  As noted, Edwards came out in support of the bill, which was reintroduced this month, in his HRC questionnaire. 

    Then came word yesterday (via Immigration Equality) that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signaled his support for UAFA in a yet-to-be-published interview with my pal Karen Ocamb at IN LA magazine. “I’m for that," Richardson told Ocamb. "Absolutely. I would push for that."

    By my count, that puts Edwards, Richardson, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich (who backs full marriage equality) on record in support of UAFA.   Still to be heard from: Clinton, Obama and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.

    Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Brad Luna told the Blade that the gay rights group will be releasing all the candidate questionnaires next week, along with a side-by-side comparison.  That's very encouraging news, but let's just hope the Clinton and Obama positions on DOMA, UAFA and specific federal recognition for gay couples aren't filled in with question marks — or worse.

    ** Sorry I can't provide more detail on the Clinton and Obama releases because they appear to have been released exclusively to the Washington Blade, but the links to download the actual documents from the three camps are all broken.  I searched the campaign websites for both Clinton and Obama in vain for any mention (or public acknowledgment) of their supposedly proud stands in support of gay rights.  To be fair, the Edwards site does not include his gay rights positions either, so far as I could find, and all of the top three update their sites in real-time to include their positions on dozens and dozens of issues.

    In case you missed it:

    May 25, 2007

    A Romney with (even) better hair?

    Posted by: Chris

    John_and_stuart_talk_to_john_edwa_2 'Feeling our pain' or just sucking up? John Edwards with plaintiffs in the California gay marriage case. (Photo courtesy of Marriage Equality.)

    Is John Edwards a hard-charging progressive or just the Democrats' answer to Mitt Romney, only with (even) better hair?  How else to reconcile the conflicting portraits of Edwards that (not so coincidentally) emerged in an eight-hour period yesterday.  First, the legendary party operative Bob Shrum, who fell out with former client Edwards when he chose Kerry over Edwards in the 2004 primary season, has written a tell-all book that trashes his one-time client.

    WaPo reported on Thursday morning:

    In his new memoir, "No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner," Shrum recalls asking Edwards at the outset of that campaign, "What is your position, Mr. Edwards, on gay rights?"

    "I'm not comfortable around those people," Edwards replied, according to Shrum. He writes that the candidate's wife, Elizabeth, told him: "John, you know that's wrong."

    Even considering Shrum's clear dislike for Edwards, reaction to the vignette seems to confirm its gist:

    Edwards' pollster, Harrison Hickman, who was in the room during the discussion, says Shrum "is sensationalizing and taking out of context what was an honest discussion about [Edwards's] lack of exposure to these issues and openly gay people. I don't remember anything that expressed any kind of venom or judgment about gay people."

    Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz says Shrum "has a very casual relationship with the truth. Bob is obviously more interested in selling books than reporting honestly and accurately about what happened."

    Hickman later issued a flat denial of the conversation to blogger Ben Smith: "John Edwards did not say the words that Bob Shrum purportedly quotes him as saying. I know because I was there."  The Shrum story drew a scathing reaction from my former colleague Kevin Naff, now the editor of the Washington Blade, who wrote on the paper's blog:

    "Those people?" Does he mean the same people whose money and votes he’s been trying to win since 2003?

    Edwards’ record on gay issues has always been a rather mixed bag and now we finally see why: He’s simply not comfortable around us. That’s a typical feeling among the inarticulate, unsophisticated masses, who can’t justify their narrow-minded views and so fall back on the 'icky' defense.

    What exactly does Edwards think we’ll do to him behind closed doors? Wrestle him to the floor and have our way with him? (Those piercing eyes! That golden tan! The feathered hair!)

    As the story (and gay reacton) grew legs in the mainstream media, the Edwards campaign went into immediate damage control mode, and leaked to Pam Spaulding, a progressive gay blogger and fellow North Carolinian, his answers to the Human Rights Campaign candidate questionnaire.

    Edwards' questionnaire is actually the big gay news of the day, setting a markedly higher bar for the other Democratic candidates, coming as it does from one of "the top three."  Specifically, Edwards for the first time:

    • Supports the Uniting American Families Act, which extends to gay Americans the same rights that straight citizens have to sponsor our non-American partners for residence and citizenship.
    • Supports repeal of the half of the Defense of Marriage Act that blocks federal recognition of marriage licenses issued by states to gay couples.
    • Supports extending the more than 1,100 benefits, rights and privileges provided to married couples and their families in federal law to same-sex couples (and their children).

    In response to other questions, Edwards goes on to specifically support equal federal tax treatment, Social Security benefits, Family & Medical Leave Act benefits for gay couples, as well as domestic partner health benefits for federal employees.

    Edwards is the first "top tier" (or even second-tier) candidate from either party to come out with this level of support.  That's should earn him very serious consideration from gay voters and donors.

    Mitt_romney But is it real? Or is he Mitt Romney in reverse — moving from the right-center to the left to position himself as "the true progressive" among Democrats, just as Romney moved from the left-center to the right to position himself as "the true conservative" in the GOP field?

    At least in the immediate aftermath of that disputed 1998 campaign conversation with Shrum, Edwards was indeed no friend to gay rights, failing to sign up to co-sponsor even the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or a federal hate crimes law.  In his last two years in the Senate, he rectified that deficiency but still earned a 66 out of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign.  One of the reasons for that low score was his failure to sign on to immigration rights for gay couples.

    Johnedwardshair So are we witnessing a natural evolution, from small town North Carolinian with no experience dealing with "those people," to a Democrat educating himself on the issues important to his party?  Or a calculating flip-flopper whose strong support today is no more reliable than his weak support before?

    I have never trusted Edwards, and Shrum summed up my general sense of him perfectly by labeling him "a Clinton who hadn't read the books." The Shrum account of Edwards' vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution — that he allowed consultants to override his gut objections — lead further credence to that disappointing portrait. I don't see how anyone believes his vehement anti-war rhetoric now that he's no longer in the Senate, considering his record when he was.

    Some pundits have suggested that whatever his closet liberal past, conservatives ought to trust and be happy with "the New Mitt Romney."  Perhaps the same can be said for Edwards, and he has certainly raised the bar on policy positions for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.  But checking the correct boxes on the HRC questionnaire, as helpful as that is, only gets Edwards so far.  Given his past, and the doubts that have surfaced about his genuineness and credibility generally, the task before him (and Romney) is at least clear.

    (The complete Edwards resopnse to the HRC candidate questionnaire is available for download via Pam's House Blend here.)

    Broken link…mil desculpas!

    Posted by: Chris

    Clodovil3 I've just learned that I used a broken link in my earlier post about the hilariously vicious gay Brazilian congressman Clodovil.  I've corrected it there, but I offer it again here because, I'm telling you, you don't want to miss this one.

    Mil desculpas (a thousand apologies) to my friend Kevin for screwing that up.

    May 24, 2007

    Kinder, gentler evangelicals?

    Posted by: Chris

    Randybrinson From a Washington Post story at whether we'll look back at Jerry Falwell's death as a turning point in the political focus of evangelical Christians:

    Redeem the Vote, a group formed in 2004 to register young evangelicals to vote, is campaigning with black churches in Alabama for capping the interest charges on short-term "payday" loans, which can hit 400 percent a year. The group's founder, physician Randy Brinson, said he finds that young evangelicals are intensely interested in practical ways to help their communities and are little swayed by issues such as same-sex marriage.

    "These kids have gone to school with people who happen to be gay, and they don't see them as a direct threat. They may think that lifestyle is wrong, but they don't see it as something that really affects their daily lives," Brinson said. "The groups that focus only on a narrow agenda, especially gay marriage and abortion, are going to decline."

    It's an encouraging view, and one that is buttressed by another survey — this one by the Pew Foundation — that shows that people who know their close friends or family members are gay are much more likely to be accepting and supportive of our equality. Among those with close gay friends or family — 41 percent of all those surveyed — support for gay marriage (55%) was more than double that of those who don't (25%). 

    The important number here isn't the percentage who support gay marriage as much as the percentage who know that a close friend or family member is gay.  And while 41 percent might seem encouragingly high, we all know it's pathetically low.

    The take-away message here? Come out, come out, wherever you are — and to everyone you know! Not in some big dramatic, policial speech.  Just talk about your life the same way they talk about theirs. Stop using gender-neutral pronouns and censoring water cooler talk about how you spent your weekend.

    It's not a new idea but it's every bit as true: If every gay person fully came out tomorrow, the debate over our rights would be over by the weekend.  We do control our own destiny.

    Gays behaving madly

    Posted by: Chris

    GomezfundraiserUPDATE:  At the end of the post.

    From loony legislators to bitchy queen congessmen to just plain bitchy queens.  A longtime reader passes along this juicy dish from today's Washington Post, on how a public relations event cum fund-raiser in Georgetown devolved into bitch slaps delivered by angry neighbors.  And yes, dear reader, all involved were gay.  From today's Reliable Source,  "This Soiree Became a Real Hair-Puller":

    Eyebrow groomer to the stars Erwin Gomez [on the right] and partner James Packard-Gomez invited 125 people to a lymphoma/leukemia benefit at their new salon on Wisconsin Avenue. The big draw was singer Julia Nixon, who agreed to perform three sets on a stage erected in the salon's back garden. The party had just gotten started when a neighbor, former [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] member Gunnar Halley, came in to complain about noise.

    Eventually, according to Gomez, glass rocks and bricks were thrown over the fence from Halley's yard, landing on frantic partygoers.

    "We were all freaking out," he said, and so he climbed over the fence into his neighbor's back yard -- and, he says, was beaten up by Halley and partner Dale O'Quinn. He scrambled back over the fence and called the police, but a second fistfight occurred when he went around the block to stand in front of his neighbor's house. Packard-Gomez was sent to the emergency room; Halley, O'Quinn and David Rahnemoon (a friend of Gomez's) were arrested for simple assault and spent the night in jail.

    Halley made the best of things in his Post interview, denying throwing objects over the fence and claiming it was all one big misunderstanding.

    Cheneyswchild Fortunately, this wasn't the lead item in Reliable Source, or even the lead gay item.  That was reserved to news that Mary Cheney had her baby on Wednesday in Washington's Sibley Hospital.

    The White House released a photo of little Samuel David Cheney swaddled in the arms of his grandma, social conservative Lynne Cheney, seated next to a beaming grandpa, the vice president. Perhaps he's hoping wistfully that his fiercely loyal daughter's burgeoning prodigy might help prop up his sagging popularity ratings.

    UPDATE: I've received an email from James Packard-Gomez in response to the first half of this post.  He writes:

    Cute article/blog you wrote but a bit trashy wording.  But i believe facts and 100+ witnesses and all (5) the video camera's rolling and 4 photographers shooting during the performance will speak volumes to a jury.  Washingtonian's who graciously opened their wallets in an effort to raise funds for cancer and were put in grave danger that is not a laughing matter.  You need to mention that the event raised over $25,000 for charity towards a cure for cancer. In 2 hours.   100% went to charity unlike most charity events. That is a very important fact.  You missed!!!!! Thanks

    Always happy to offer up space for "the rest of the story." Of course, only those present know the degree  to which tempers (and attitudes) flared betwixt the parties before the punches flew. 

    We can all agree, I think, that violence is never justified except in self-defense, and even Halley's version of events wouldn't excuse sending James to the hospital with a black eye, cuts and bruises and (lawsuit anyone?) a ruined $4,000 D&G suit.  (Too bad some of that $4,000 didn't go toward curing cancer, eh?)
    Here's wishing James well in his recovery.

    May 23, 2007

    That's Rep. Bitchy Queen to you

    Posted by: Chris

    Clodovil For anyone even under the delusion that the U.S. has cornered the market on loony politicians, consider Clodovil, the first openly gay member of Brazil's national Congress.  In an outrageous burst of mysogynism and plain ole bitchiness, Clodovil managed to reduce a leading female member of Congress to tears, and to the point of requiring medical attention.

    It's less serious than it sounds, and Clodovil gets his just desserts in the end.  Whether or not you're interested in Brazilian politics, take a few moments to read an absolutely hilarious recitation of Clodovil's misadventures by my friend Kevin Ivers, who blogs over at Club Whirled. (Many of you will remember Kevin as the No. 2 over at Log Cabin during the Rich Tafel years.  This year he, like me, has moved to Brazil to be with his boyfriend, a handsome business school student by the name of Vinicius.)

    As for Clodovil, what can you say?  If only Barney Frank could tap into his true inner-bitch as effectively…

    Your doctrinal slip is showing

    Posted by: Chris

    There are some valid and reasonable arguments against adding new categories of protection to existing workplace discrimination statutes — but they weren't on display this week in Nebraska.  The state's unicameral legislature voted down a bill that would extend job bias laws, which already  cover race, religion, national origin, physical disabilities and age, to also include sexual orientation.

    Johnharms But before the vote, these heartland legislators came up with some mighty interesting arguments to oppose the measure.  Leading the way was the scholarly Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff, Neb., who according to AP argued against sexual orientation protections because being gay is "a choice," unlike other protected groups.

    "I don't believe they should be in the same class of race, color, creed, religion because I believe life is about a series of choices," said Harms, a Democrat.

    Last time I checked, creeds and religious affiliations were a lot easier to choose than sexual orientations, but maybe Harms and his fellow Cornhuskers are bigger swingers than we are out east.  I mean I'm sure the good Christian parents there must indoctrinate their children early and often, but do Nebraskans really have as little choice about their "creed" and "religion" as they do their "race" or "color"? 

    (Keep in mind, by the way, that this airtight logic comes from a distinguished politician who according to his online bio has also been the president of two colleges and a dean at three others.)

    Tomfulton Not to be outdone, Republican Sen. Tony Fulton, from the big city of Lincoln, argued that gay employees don't really need the protection anyway since there are popular TV shows with gay characters.

    "There's a certain amount of credibility, I guess, granted to the homosexual lifestyle," he said.

    Not enough credibility, apparently, to convince Senator Fulton and his colleagues that in Nebraska, gays are misunderstood and mistreated enough to deserve basic workplace protections.  Or enough credibility, for that matter, for public officials like these two good senators to respect the judgment of psychiatric and psychological associations in the U.S. and abroad, which have universally concluded that being gay isn't a "lifestyle" or a "choice" anymore than is being heterosexual.

    May 22, 2007

    PlanetOut free-fall watch

    Posted by: Chris

    Lgbt_priceTWO UPDATES: At the end of the post.

    It's been just seven business days since I last posted about the free-fall in share price for Planet Out, Inc., and in that time it has dropped to a close yesterday of 98 cents, a loss of one-third the company's value in that short time.

    Eric Savitz, who blogs for Barrons, pointed out yesterday that most of the damage came in the last two trading days:

    PlanetOut (LGBT), which fell 20% on Friday, is down another 13% today, and still no updates from the company on its financial situation. The company, which provides web sites, print publications and travel services for the gay and lesbian market, has been more or less in free fall since reporting disappointing financial results earlier this month. The company is running low on cash, and has hired Allen & Co. to consider strategic options.

    PlanetOut shares are down 15 cents today to $1, a decline of 13%. The shares are now down 78% for the year to date, 60% since its earnings report earlier this month and 31% over the last two days.

    Savitz, who has been tracking PlanetOut's problems, reports that he was promised an interview with someone in the company's management, so perhaps the most recent serious decline will be explained soon.

    In what is perhaps a telling display of the company's lack of focus, Magee told investors and reporters in  a May 9 conference call that PlanetOut will sell off one of its few profitable divisions, the soft-porn magazine titles owned by LPI's Specialty Publications, in an effort to raise cash. Specialty publishes Unzipped, Men (formerly Advocate Men) and Freshmen magazines.

    "It is a profitable one for us," Magee is quoted as saying about Specialty on the call, according to the Bay Area Reporter. "With that said, the adult business does not fit going forward with our other media properties."

    As far as I can tell, one danger not immediately faced by the first gay company ever traded publicly in the U.S. is being delisted by Nasdaq.  The stock exchange does require stocks to trade above a price of $1 per share, because below that amount even changes of a few cents represents a dramatic change in value.  But the price must trade below $1 for 30 days and even then, the company is given 90 days to recover.

    Still, an earlier post on Barrons, Savitz lays out the quandry raised by PlanetOut's impending cash crunch:

    [Magee] said the company will require a capital raise or strategic transaction in the coming months.  [JMP Securities analyst William] Morrison has some advice for potential investors: Don’t do it. “We continue to recommend that investors refrain from putting new capital to work in LGBT until we see evidence that its turnaround plan is working and the company raises additional capital.”

    FIRST UPDATE: Barron's Eric Savitz is even more of a night owl than I am. In a blog post at 1:42 a.m. this morning, he relates the substance of his interview with PlanetOut's CFO:

    In an interview Monday, PlanetOut CFO Dan Miller said the deep slide of the company’s stock … likely reflects sales by 1 or more of the company’s largest shareholders, rather than any specific new developments in its financial situation. It also may reflect the anticipated massive dilution from a capital raise of the size it has promised to seek.

    Miller says the company is “moving as quickly as we can” to solve its financial issues. If it can’t find a way to raise additional funds, he says, PlanetOut “would be forced to approach the lender and work with them on what is best for all parties.” One possibility is that they would trigger a default on the debt. …

    Miller notes that the company’s Gay.com URL is “incredibly valuable.” That may be true; what’s not clear is whether the company can raise enough cash to avoid having the site and the rest of PlanetOut’s assets sold off in a Chapter 11 fire sale.

    As I post this update at 1:30 p.m. (Eastern time), LGBT is trading at 92 cents, a slight rally from a new record low price per share of 86 cents in early trading this morning.

    SECOND UPDATE:  The PlanetOut rally continued off and on until the closing of trading today, when the price per share was at $1.11, a 13 cent rise from yesterday's closing price of 98 cents.  That small increase also represents a 13% increase in the stock value of the company in one day, demonstrating how volatile the stock can be when the price per share is so low.

    Still, the news could be much worse.  At least some investor(s) decided in the early afternoon that the record low represented an opportunity to buy PlanetOut stock at bargain basement prices and had enough confidence in the company as an ongoing concern to pony up.  But if the analysts are right, it will take  decisive action from management, and response from the financial community, for PlanetOut to truly rally.

    Lgbt_up_slightly
     

    May 21, 2007

    UAFA's 89-percenters

    Posted by: Chris

    24778445TWO UPDATES: At the end of the post.

    Some of you have emailed to ask just who besides Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are these 89-percenters who would have perfect 100s on the Human Rights Campaign congressional report card except for their failure to sign on in support of the Uniting American Families Act

    That piece of legislation would extend to gay Americans the same rights heterosexuals have to sponsor our permanent partners from other countries for U.S. citizenship.  Well here they are, all of them Democrats:

    Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)
    Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
    Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)
    Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)
    Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
    Barack Obama (D-Ill.)
    Evan Bayh (D-Ind.)
    Mary Landrieu (D-La.)
    Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)
    Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.)
    Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)
    Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
    Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)
    Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)
    Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
    Jack Reed (D-Nev.)
    Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)

    There are all sorts of surprises on this list, including purported closet case Mikulski and her liberal Maryland counterpart Sarbanes, whose seat is now occupied by Ben Cardin, another progressive Democrat who had a perfect HRC score as a member of the House except on UAFA.

    Besides Obama and Clinton, the other two biggest disappointments are Schumer, the senior senator from New York, and Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader.  His public backing, like that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would carry extra weight.

    Immigration Equality, which along with HRC is pushing for passage of UAFA, announced Thursday that two more senators had signed on as co-sponsors: Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, and Senate newbie Sherrod Brown of Ohio, both Democrats.  Brown isn't much of a surprise since he was already a co-sponsor as a member of the House.  Inouye is one of five senators who had perfect HRC scores except on UAFA and one other item.  The other four all progressives, including the two most likely Republican co-sponsors:

    Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)
    Susan Collins (R-Maine)
    Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)
    Carl Levin (D-Mich.)

    Immigration Equality Policy Director Adam Francouer, writing on the organization's blog, indicated it's still a "long shot" that UAFA will get included as part of the comprehensive immigration reform currently being debated in Congress.  The best shot appears to be in conference, assuming the House and Senate can each pass some sort of reform package, but UAFA will need a champion and that is more likely on the House side, where Pelosi is a co-sponsor.

    UPDATE No. 1 (5/22):  From a New York Times piece about how the bipartisan immigration reform bill came together, it's clear that a core problem for UAFA entering the process is withheld support from key Democrats.  Of those mentioned as critical to negotiating the package, only Ted Kennedy is on board as a UAFA co-sponsor.  The rest — including Ken Salazar of Colorado and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — are not.

    Also, I was probably off-base expecting much support from Pelosi and the House leadership, only because mustering the votes for even the UAFA-free compromise measure appears much more difficult on that side.  That means, from my vantage point (very) outside the Beltway, that Kennedy looks like our best and only hope.

    But in addition to Clinton, Obama and Reid, I would put Menendez (who is an 89 percenter) and Salazar on the top of the "get" list for UAFA's backers.

    UPDATE No. 2 (5/26):  This is what happens when you blog with no editor. 

    JoebidenIn my hand count of the UAFA 89-percenters and 78-percenters, I left one (very prominent) senator off the latter list.  Joe Biden, the Delaware senator now making a second run for the White House, is a 78-percenter.  He managed good marks from HRC for the last session of Congress on every issue except two: UAFA and a bill that would allow states the option to use Medicaid funds to pay for HIV meds.

    As I noted in a post today (5/26), there are now only three serious candidates in the Democratic primary — Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are the other two — who have not publicly backed UAFA.

    May 20, 2007

    Correcting a checkered history

    Posted by: Chris

    Falwell1967_200 In my earlier post on Jerry Falwell's death, I pointed out that "the fundamentalist ministers who are Falwell's ideological predecessors" have been on the wrong side of history on almost every major "culture war" this country has fought, including support for the segregated South of Jim Crow. 

    I've since learned, however, that Falwell didn't need to search the history of his fundamentalist forbears to learn his lesson of humility and biblical fallibility.  The Los Angeles Times reports:

    During the 1950s and '60s, Falwell spoke out against the civil rights movement and the Supreme Court's order to desegregate public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education. In his view, God insisted upon segregating the races, and he claimed to find proof of that in the Bible. (He later repudiated those remarks, apologizing and admitting he had been wrong.)

    Perhaps Falwell and other fundamentalist Christian leaders were momentarily chastened by the colossal error of favoring second-class citizenship for African-Americans, and that's why they retreated from politics in the 1960s and '70s.  But when they re-emerged, led by Falwell's formation of the Moral Majority in 1979, I can only wonder how they were presumed to have any credibility on contemporary social issues.  We Americans are condemned by our short memories.

    And Falwell and his ilk were doomed to repeat their mistakes.  In the mid-1980s, Falwell voiced support for the white apartheid government in South Africa and, of Bishop Desmond Tutu, Falwell said, "I think he's a phony, period, as far as representing the black people of South Africa."  Falwell later acknowledged that calling the Nobel-Prize winning leader a "phony" was "unfortunate."

    Still, Falwell was undaunted by these grand errors.  I wrote earlier, "The fact that Falwell and his fellow travelers suit up for battle against gays with no humility or regard for that very checkered history speaks of arrogance and a lack of compassion."

    Now that I know that this "very checkered history" was actually his own, it only serves as an exclamation on the point that Jerry Falwell's arrogance and self-styled superiority overrode the core Christian tenets of loving his neighbor.  I stand by my previous assertion that "hate" was not among Falwell's values, although those of us on the receiving end of his rhetoric often heard it that way.

    But arrogant, intolerant, cold-hearted, willfully ignorant — Jerry Falwell is guilty as charged.

    May 19, 2007

    Let's unite all our families

    Posted by: Chris

    The new bipartisan immigration proposal under consideration in Congress already has many of the leading candidates from both parties bobbing and weaving for fear of angering their core constituencies.  Of course, leading the way in calibrations and calculations is the Democrats' weather vane, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  The New York Times reports:

    When Mrs. Clinton was asked about the bill in New Orleans on Friday, she avoided stating any precise position and instead highlighted her support for both toughening border security and providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

    Clinton's primary problem with the compromise bill is apparently the lesser priority it would place on what has been a central tenet of U.S. immigration laws: family reunification.  The new bill introduces a merit-based point system for foreigners wishing to live in the U.S., valuing their contribution to our economy as much or more than bringing families together.

    That central change came from the GOP side, showing once again how Republicans in practice can favor the dollar over their cherished "family values."  (It's not the first time they've set aside the right wing of the party to ease immigration for talented foreigners and their unmarried, even gay, partners.)  Of course the families sacrificed in the current compromise are largely Hispanic, of a generally lower economic class, and Democrat-leaning, so perhaps their "family values" don't count. 

    As for Clinton, the Times reported she will "try to limit the impact on Hispanic immigrants by offering an amendment to reunite lawful permanent residents with their spouses and minor children by exempting those family members from the visa cap in the bill."  The amendment is a good idea, but it also places in sharper relief Clinton's unwillingness to date to come out in favor of the Uniting American Families Act, which would extend to gay Americans the same right to sponsor our permanent partners for citizenship.

    In her speeches on gay issues, Clinton talks about "equal rights" for gay couples, but support for UAFA would be a concrete way to put some leadership where her rhetoric is.  Like the Republicans who value their whitebread families over brown-skinned immigrants, Clinton has shown a willingness to do more for the huge Latino voting bloc than the much smaller gay contingent.  She no doubt has steered clear of UAFA because it represents something of a political "perfect storm": combining gay marriage and immigration, two of today’s most divisive social issues.  In reality, UAFA doesn't touch marriage laws at the state or federal level, but of course the conservatives will act as if it does.

    That potential powder keg no doubt explains the failure of not only Clinton, but Barack Obama as well, to sign on in support of UAFA, even though both have said repeatedly that gay couples should be “fully equal” except for the name "marriage." We should call them 89-percent’ers. Both Clinton and Obama received 89’s on HRC’s last congressional report card, and UAFA was the only thing keeping them from a perfect score. They’re not alone. By my count there are 17 of these 89-percent’ers in the Senate alone, and five more for whom UAFA is one of only two black marks. Joe Biden, the Delaware senator and presidential candidate, falls into that category.

    Only Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich are on board with UAFA and earned perfect 100's from HRC.  New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has spoken with particular weight as a Latino candidate on immigration, has said he favors "equality" for gay couples but has so far been silent about UAFA.  Ditto Rudy Giuliani, who is unlikely to take any additional pro-gay positions at this point, given the grief he's already getting from conservatives about his past gay rights support.

    If Clinton, Obama, Biden and the other 19 senators with otherwise strong gay rights records joined the 13 senators already cosponsoring UAFA, the legislation would gather significant momentum.  It's long past time for Clinton and Obama to show some actual leadership on gay rights rather than simply talking a good game. 

    If they will stand up for Latino families separated by immigration laws — no doubt including thousands of gay couples (like mine) with one Latino partner — then they should stand up for us as well.

    Euheart_1

    May 17, 2007

    Hate was not a Falwell value

    Posted by: Chris

    Falwell The death of televangelist Jerry Falwell has brought the expected chorus of praise from the right and cries of "hate-monger" from the left. I am no fan of Falwell, but I've always thought that liberal critics did themselves and their cause no good by portraying Falwell as some sort of hateful villain.

    Jerry Falwell no doubt became intoxicated with the notoriety that came from always pushing the rhetorical envelope to the extreme, and he rationalized away the damage he did by arguing it was necessary to bring attention to his cause (and him).  Ultimately, it was his own undoing, as his pronouncements on 9/11 and Tinky Winky radically diminished his mainstream political influence.

    But a hater? No.  Those of us who have real, firsthand experience with fundamentalist Christians, who have known them as our friends and as our family members, know that the vast majority of them are not motivated by hate.  We may think of them as wrong-headed, or as willfully ignorant of our lives and the lives of others they condemn, but the vast majority are not animated by some irrational animus toward gays and pregnant women and so on.  The same, I believe, can be said of Jerry Falwell.

    My best guess, having watched Falwell for years, is that like so many other fundamentalist Christians, he overreacted with fear and worry to all sorts of societal change — some legitimately bad, some good and some neutral — by retreating to his Bible for solace and guidance. 

    The problem is that looking to an ancient manuscript to make sense of modern social ills makes about as much sense as looking to a text of similar vintage for scientific or medical understanding.  Not only has our knowledge of physics, biology and the human body advanced dramatically since biblical times; so has our understanding of human beings, including their emotional and psychological makeup.

    In its broad strokes, the Bible offers a system of values that has generally served humankind well for centuries, but when you drill down to the particulars, it is ultimately limited by the scope of knowledge and understanding at the time it was written.

    Even still, Falwell and his fundamentalist followers don't get off quite that easily.  The evidence is all around us — and them — that there is enormous capacity for error in interpreting and using the Bible to guide the resolution of modern social conflicts. Just in this country's short history, the fundamentalist ministers who are Falwell's ideological predecessors have been on the wrong side of almost every "culture war" we've fought, whether over slavery, Jim Crow, Prohibition or women's rights.

    The fact that Falwell and his fellow travelers suit up for battle against gays with no humility or regard for that very checkered history speaks of arrogance and a lack of compassion. But not of hate.

    The distinction is one with a difference.  When Falwell's critics call him and his followers hate-mongers, there are millions who are either fundamentalist Christians themselves or who know fundamentalist Christians and know the charge to be false.  It is another example of what we like to say about ourselves — that once fair-minded people know us as gay people and come to know our relationships, they can see for themselves that the caricatures of the right are unfair and inaccurate.  Well, the same goes for the cries of hate that come from the left.

    We would do far better to engage the rhetoric of fundamentalist Christians in a more respectful way.  We should answer their opposition to our civil rights by pointing out that they are attempting to legislate their own theological views, in the same way (if not based on the same theology) as the fundamentalist Muslims we call our enemy today.

    It's difficult at times not to stoop to their rhetoric; to not caricature them the way they have caricatured us. I remember being among the first in my group of friends back in the early '90s to slap a bumper sticker on my car that said, "Hate Is Not A Family Value."  Well, hate was not a Falwell value, either. So let's not hate him back.
    Hatenot

    May 16, 2007

    Bye-bye to Jerry Falwell

    Posted by: Chris

    Story1 Two days of packing up my condo in Washington have left me with little time to post, which has been especially tough given the news yesterday that Jerry Falwell died. 

    The first thing that came to mind was something the first-ever female president of my college alumni association once told me.  Talking about the notoriously slow pace of progress on our alma mater's board of trustees, she said, "What we need for some real change is a few good funerals."  Indeed.

    As for me, tonight brings a flight back to Rio, which actually feels like going "home" after living there since September with my partner.  But this time is different; I'll finally be working "without a net" — no apartment back in Washington.  Wish me luck...!

    As I climb on board "the new Delta," take a few minutes to enjoy a fitting bye-bye to Jerry from Tinky Winky, who the televangelist infamously outed back in 1999. 

    May 13, 2007

    Sunday Survey: Abortion a gay right?

    Posted by: Chris

    Not a lot of disagreement among visitors to this blog about Jim McGreevey, the governor of New Jersey who announced his "truth" that he is "a gay American" and then resigned because he was cheating on his second wife with a member of his staff.  In response to last week's Sunday Survey, more than three quarters of you (82.4%) said he was an embarrassment to the rest of us, while the remainder (17.6%) were proud to call him a fellow traveler.

    McgreeveywifeI count myself among the majority of you.  I am happy to see a governor come out of the closet, but the messy circumstances more than made up for whatever social advance we could claim.  I would place McGreevey in the same category as any number of other celebrities, including Mark Foley and George Michael, who only come out after years of hiding when the news that they're gay is intended to help deflect even worse publicity they face for their personal misconduct.

    I am sympathetic to how the closet might have led these men to their ignominy, although in George Michael's case his conduct hasn't changed since he was free of the closet.  (In fact, he's claimed "cottaging" — as public sex in the bushes is known among Brits — as some sort of gay right.)  And the closets of McGreevey and Foley have too long a body count, in misled wives and manipulated teens, to simply forgive and forget.

    You need look no further than McGreevey's latest round of divorce filings to see his claim to being a "changed man" is as big a sham as his years of pretending to be heterosexual.

    On to this week.  I was happy to run columns by freelance writer Jamie Kirchick during my tenure at the Washington Blade and its sister publications.  He is a thoughtful conservative with often provocative opinions.  He has kept it up since my departure, penning a column in last week's New York Blade that argues against gay rights groups treating abortion rights as if it were a gay rights issue.

    It might surprise you to learn that I wrote an editorial years ago making the exact opposite argument.  I'll post my thoughts soon, but in the meantime, what do you think?  Is abortion a gay rights issue?  Vote on the Vizu poll to the right, and as always, you won't be transported off the site or have to deal with any pop-up ads.

    May 12, 2007

    Giuliani's Straight Talk Express

    Posted by: Chris

    Rudyhouston It's very refreshing to see Rudy Giuliani finally coming clean on his less-than-conservative views on hot-button social issues.  In a speech on Friday at Houston Baptist College, Giuliani made his case for a new GOP that focuses more on fighting terrorism and growing the economy, and less on fighting each other on guns, God and gays — my words not his.  From a report in the New York Times:

    In a forceful summation of the substantive and political case for his candidacy, the former mayor of New York acknowledged that his views on social issues were out of line with those of many Republican primary voters.

    But he argued that there were even greater matters at stake in the election, starting with which party would better protect the nation from terrorism. Mr. Giuliani suggested that his record in New York, which included leading the city after the attacks of Sept. 11 and overseeing a decline in violent crime during his eight years in office, made him the most electable of the Republican candidates, no matter his stand on social issues like abortion.

    “If we don’t find a way of uniting around broad principles that will appeal to a large segment of this country, if we can’t figure that out, we are going to lose this election,” he said.

    The excerpt that ran alongside the Times report only dealt with Rudy's views on abortion, about which he takes a principled stand of personal moral opposition to the procedure but respect for those who disagree and a belief that government should let each woman decide. 

    The speech earned Giuliani a standing ovation, which may show he's the "Straight Talk Express" candidate in this year's GOP race: respected for sticking with his views, even if it means sticking it to the religious right.  He was certainly more tactful than the original straight talker, John McCain, who in 2000 famously called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance." 

    That choice phrasing cost McCain the South Carolina primary and a shot at the nomination, and the Arizona senator has since bent over so backward to win the right back that he has alienated those who respected him before.  Still, Giuliani did not pull punches like he could have in his speech on Friday, and in provocative fashion suggested moral equivalence between those on both sides of the abortion debate:

    [I]n a country like ours, where people of good faith, people who are equally decent, equally moral and equally religious, when they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very very personal, I believe you have to respect their viewpoint. You give them a level of choice here. Because I think ultimately even if you disagree, you have to respect the fact that their conscience is as strong as yours is about this, and they’re the ones that are most affected by it. So therefore I would grant women the right to make that choice.

    From everything I know about conservative Christians — and I know quite a lot — that was not the way to play it.  He would have been much better off saying those who choose abortion are commiting serious moral error, but the government should not decide that question for them.

    On gay issues, at least from the Times report, Giuliani was not as depthful, saying "he remained firmly committed to the idea that marriage should be between a man and woman, but that he was equally committed to protecting the rights of gay men and lesbians," in particular "domestic partnerships."

    That doesn't exactly represent Giuliani talking straight. In the past, he has said he favors "civil unions," which as enacted in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey (and soon to be New Hampshire) include all the rights and benefits of marriage except the name.  "Domestic partnerships" presumably include more limited rights, but in reality run the gamut from health insurance benefits and hospital visitation, to something very close to civil unions themselves as adopted in D.C., California and Oregon.

    In a story a couple of weeks ago, the New York Sun nailed Giuliani on the semi-flip-flop:

    On a February 2004 edition of Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor," Mr. Giuliani told Bill O'Reilly, when asked if he supported gay marriage, "I'm in favor of … civil unions." …

    Asked by Mr. O'Reilly in the interview how he would respond to gay Americans who said being denied access to the institution of marriage violated their rights, Mr. Giuliani said: "That's why you have civil partnerships. So now you have a civil partnership, domestic partnership, civil union, whatever you want to call it, and that takes care of the imbalance, the discrimination, which we shouldn't have."

    But in a statement the Giuliani campaign issued to the Sun, the candidate backed off of civil unions as too close to marriage:

    "Mayor Giuliani believes marriage is between one man and one woman. Domestic partnerships are the appropriate way to ensure that people are treated fairly," the Giuliani campaign said in a written response to a question from the Sun. "In this specific case the law states same sex civil unions are the equivalent of marriage and recognizes same sex unions from outside states. This goes too far and Mayor Giuliani does not support it."

    Of course any attempt to cast Giuliani, who dumped his second wife in a press conference in the midst of an adulterous affair, as a defender of traditional marriage is downright laughable.  But if he sticks to support for non-discrimination, hate crimes and domestic partnerships, Giuliani will be by far the most gay friendly of any major league GOP presidential contender.

    Romneyriht Giuliani's somewhat straight talk on abortion and gay rights stands in marked contrast to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has abandoned his pro-choice, somewhat pro-gay past in a rush to pander to conservative Christians.  Now Romney is portraying a GOP with no room for those who are only conservative on terrorism and taxes, but not social issues.  From a report in yesterday's New York Times:

    In Iowa, Mr. Romney introduced to audiences the metaphor of a three-legged stool, reflecting what he described as core conservative Republican principles: “strong military, strong economy, strong families.”

    “In my view, you’ve got to talk about all three for the Republican stool to stand,” he said. “Two won’t hold it up.”

    If the Republican contest for the White House shapes of as a choice between Rudy's big tent and Romney's three-legged stool, then the Log Cabin Republicans are right to put their early vocal support behind the former mayor of New York.  A nomination victory for Giuliani legitimizes social moderates on abortion and gay rights for the first time as mainstream Republicans, which could make it as important and defining for the party as Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 — albeit in the opposite direction.

    May 10, 2007

    PlanetOut going down?

    Posted by: Chris

    Lgbt_today The stock price of Planet Out is reeling today from news yesterday of weaker than reported sales for the first quarter and a net loss of $6.6 million for the same period. The stock began the day at $2.25, already an all-time low for the company, which trades under the symbol LGBT on the Nasdaq. In the first 20 minutes or so of trading, the price had plummeted to $1.45 per share.

    As I post, the stock has rallied a bit, to $1.62 per share — but still a loss of more than one-third its value just since yesterday's closing price.  To put that in perspective, Planet Out was trading at $15 per share as recently as January 2005, and even $10 a year ago.  The price began the year at $4.50 but had dropped to $2.49 per share by the end of the day yesterday.

    Hopefully, the rally will hold. Whatever you think of PlanetOut and its shifting focus and publishing standards at the Advocate and Out magazines, the failure of the first-ever publicly traded gay business would be a blow to others who hope to repeat PlanetOut's early success. 

    Its two marquee print titles have already shown marked improvement under new editors since the departure of corporate editorial director Judy Weider.  PlanetOut has already survived the dot-com bust; it would be a shame if it petered out now.

    May 09, 2007

    PlanetOut confirms sales fears

    Posted by: Chris

    Lgbt_stockprice Gay media company PlanetOut, Inc., announced disappointing first quarter sales results today, sending the stock price plummeting to near record lows. The company, which trades on the NASDAQ exchange with the symbol LGBT, took in a total of $16.8 million in revenue so far this year, down 5 percent from the same period in 2006.

    Still, company CEO Karen Magee tried to sound a positive note. "We are taking some major steps to generate the healthy revenue growth and solid earnings performance that we believe this company is capable of producing," Magee said in a press release issued today.  "To complete that work and regain the confidence of the market will take time."

    Online and print ad sales for the media conglomerate were steady at $5.3 million, but subscription sales fell from $6.3 million in the first quarter last year to only $5.6 million this time around. Overall, the company suffered a net loss for the quarter of $6.6 million, after breaking even over the first quarter in 2006.

    Critics have complained PlanetOut lacks focus because its properties are too far flung, from Gay.com and PlanetOut.com online, to print publications the Advocate, Out and Out Traveler, to the RSVP gay cruise line. I'm not surprised at the drop in subscription revenue.  With more and more popular social networking sites out there that don't require membership fees — MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, Connexion, Gaydar, BigMuscle etc — fewer will be willing to pay for the same thing at Gay.com.

    Magee suggested the attempt to find focus was an ongoing process at PlanetOut. "The tremendous promise represented by our businesses and the market, we believe, is as solid as ever," said Magee, who took over as CEO last June from longtime chief Lowell Selvin.

    "But without question, our business model is in transition. We need to identify the areas with the most significant growth prospects for us, be clear about our objectives, and streamline the rest of our business to enable us to focus our resources and talent on those opportunities which we believe will return the most value to our shareholders."

    Wall Street may be tough to convince. PlanetOut's stock price has already dropped from $15 per share in January 2005, to $10 as recently as a year ago.  The price began the year at $4.50 but was trading at $2.49 per share at the end of the day today, down 5 cents for the day.

    May 08, 2007

    Hating the haters

    Posted by: Chris

    While we wait for our friends at the Washington Post to finally answer the questions raised in their hate crime story last week, our even better friend Stephen Colbert reveals the true victims of hate crime laws:

    Note that Colbert uses a Washington Post report in the report. Smell the irony.

    At least Jonathan Weisman's report in Friday's WaPo remembers the law only covers violent acts, reporting, "Conservative religious groups said the bill would make criminals of clergymen who speak out against homosexuality, then inadvertently inspire violence from misguided followers." But like Hamil Harris' article last weekend, Weisman never allows the bill's backers, much less the language of the statute itself, answer that charge.

    May 07, 2007

    Sunday Survey: Proud of McGreevey?

    Posted by: Chris

    Surveyprezissues Last week's Sunday Survey was the most popular yet, so thanks for voting. I asked what issue is most important to you in the 2008 presidential election.  From the looks of things, about half of you should be pretty happy with the commitments already made by the Democrats in the White House hunt.

    Every Democrat in the race is already on the record backing both of your top two choices: "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repeal (22.7%) and employment non-discrimination (19.7%).  They've already committed as well on the two smallest vote-getters: hate crimes (4.5%) and domestic partnerships for federal workers (1.5%).

    The other half focused on forms of legal recognition for gay relationship.  One-third of the total survey voters wanted stronger commitments through either full-fledged marriage equality (18.2%) or federal recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships (15.2%).  Another 7.6% — God bless you every one! — singled out immigration rights as the form of legal recognition most important to you.  The same percentage (7.6%) listed repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act as your top priority.

    Finally, 3% of you remembered that HIV/AIDS remains with us and listed it as your top priority.

    Mcgreeveyxlarge Now on to this week's topic.  I'll post more about this later today or tomorrow, but former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey is back in the news this past week.  The twice-married father famously announced in 2005 that he is "a gay American" and then resigned over an affair with one of his staffers. He wrote a memoir last fall, but now it's his ex-wife's turn.

    Dina Matos McGreevey took time off from increasingly nasty divorce proceedings to pen her own memoir disputing McGreevey's claim that she must have suspected he was gay. In an interview with Oprah, she of the frozen smile at the press conference went even further, "It's a cliche that the wife is always the last to know, and it's true." she told Oprah. "I'm not in denial, but I don't think he's simply gay. I think he's bisexual. I mean, he was married twice. He has two children. And, you know, I never saw him checking out men, but I certainly saw him checking out women."

    Dear, dear Dina. Slick Jim was slicker than that, for sure. Despite her ongoing denial, Dina is the understandable object of a great deal of sympathy.  How do you feel?  On the one hand, her husband admits kissing her goodnight at the hospital after a particular difficult pregnancy delivery, then bopping off home to bop his male paramour.  On the other hand, she's screaming that in so doing he exposed her to AIDS.  (Eye roll.)

    FullfrontalOn the one hand, she's fighting for custody and citing among the factors that prove he's an unfit parent that he has a full-sized poster of a naked man (pictured) in his bedroom.  On the other hand, the man in the poster is his partner's ex.  (Eye roll.)

    McGreevey has raised conservative hackles with his academic appointment to the faculty of Kean University in New Jersey — as an ethics professor.  Then the lifelong Roman Catholic raised everyone's eyebrows by announcing that he's begun the process to enter a new profession: as an Episcopal priest.

    McgreeveyxWhat do you make of all that? Are you proud of James McGreevey as "a gay American" fighting for the right to raise his daughter and build a new life with his partner?  Or are you embarrassed by the former governor for coming out when it was expedient, cashing in on his scandal and family pain with a big book deal, and making all sorts of very public bad choices ever since?

    Vote now and vote often — OK all you're allowed to do is change your vote. And as with all Vizu polls, voting won't transport you away from this site or open any annoying pop up windows.

    May 06, 2007

    Dandy Dan redux

    Posted by: Chris

    Well Dandy Dan Riehl couldn't resist, and offered up his tit for my tat, or something like that. If you're curious how we got here, a quick background is in the jump to this post. But I'll skip that, along with the temptation to respond to his (sometimes amusing) personal insults to get to the substance of what he wrote — since there actually was some this time.

    In a post titled "My Crain Headaches," Riehl writes:

    As straight-forwardly as I can be, here is my point [about hate crime laws]. You and [Andrew] Sullivan rail against the source of moral instruction as, for who knows why, you've come to view it as the primary source of societal division. I strongly disagree, believing that contemporary, as opposed to classical, liberalism is the source of such divide because of its unending addiction to grouped-ness.

    It's whole point of existence is to tear societies apart. It prefers people in these myopic little groups with special needs, then promises legislation to serve those needs and it uses that offer as its lever to power - its actual ultimate goal. If we aren't going to tear down all hate crimes legislation, adding one, or another, or any group to it simply broadens our divide by further legitimizing today's prevailing liberal doctrine.

    What really amazes me about Riehl's world view is how breathtakingly inaccurate it is historically. Does he remember the 1960s?  The liberal focus on "myopic little groups" like blacks and other racial minorities did, as he says, result in "legislation to serve those needs," namely civil rights laws.  Does Riehl claim that legislation tore us apart? 

    Those laws caused substantial push-back and divisiveness in the short term, from conservatives who resisted the idea of equality based on race.  But survey after survey shows Americans view those of a different race with much greater tolerance and acceptance than they did before.  Does Riehl think this happened in spite of liberals and civil rights laws?  Which side exactly were conservative Christians on in those battles? The side of dividing or uniting?

    It wouldn't be fair to saddle contemporary conservative Christians with the racist beliefs of their predecessors.  But at the same time, the current crop should hardly be heard to complain that a liberal focus on minority rights drives wedges in society!

    The fact is that civil rights laws — whether based on race or sexual orientation — not only constrain reprehensible conduct like hate crimes and workplace discrimination.  They also make plain that ours is a society that treats difference with respect , not disdain.  That doesn't drive a wedge, except among a certain percentage of conservatives who are, generation after generation, are forever in fear that their "way of life" is being challenged by progress.

    Continue reading»

    May 05, 2007

    Dandy Dan's diatribe

    Posted by: Chris

    Danriehl Apparently I touched a nerve over at the conservative blog Riehl World View by having the temerity to defend hate crime laws. I had posted yesterday in response to Dan Riehl, whoever he is, because he had misinterpreted both me and Andrew Sullivan on the issue.  Rather than read what I actually wrote in response, Riehl vented in one of those rambling, indignant blog-atribes that give the web a bad name — second only to the "Amen corner" commenters who of course high-fived him for standing up to the sissy.

    In "Confession: I've Been Gay Bashed," Riehl accuses me of calling him a "Christianist," which is funny because (a) I only used the word in quotes to relate back to an Andrew Sullivan post and (b) never at all about Riehl.  In my concluding paragraph, I did use the phrase "conservative Christians," which I prefer to Sully's "Christianist," but I was summing up the whole post, not labeling Riehl, whatever he believes.

    Riehl takes some serious umbrage that I would assume to be a Christianist, but it doesn't stop him from making a major "ass" out of "u" and "me" in return.  Without even bothering to skim my blog bio,  he guesses I grew up with little access to organized religion: wrong, I was raised in a church-going, deeply religious, loving Southern family.  He assumes I have no respect for Judeo-Christian values: wrong, I am a firm believer in many of them, though I do loathe how they have been and are being twisted to justify all sorts of division. He labels me on the Left: wrong, I am recovering Republican now proudly independent, though like Andrew I am forever being pushed Left by the likes of Riehl.

    Regardless, Riehl spends very little time actually addressing the issue of hate crime laws, except to repeat his silly suggestion that they're useless since we were gay-bashed in Amsterdam despite the existence of such legislation in Holland — as if the continued existence of crime proves the futility of laws against it.  He does, however, manage to suggest two fairly creative reasons why we were apparently asking for a good beating:

    Were the Left and its now affiliated minority groups to expend half the energy it does in shouting Look at me, I'm a fag, or a Black, or I'm fat! and direct that energy into constructive dialog around how to foster and retain the morals and values we require as a society to survive, I suspect, given time, the assorted members of your too many to here name special interest groups wouldn't find themselves being beat up on the streets at night.

    And I doubt very much that's it's really happening at the hands of genuine church goin' folk now, Crain. It was 2 AM. I suspect for the most part, they were home in bed. Just curious, were you by any chance out catting about in what some might call a decadent slice of Netherlands night life you no doubt rejoiced in helping to bring about? Perhaps not, and I'm not suggesting it excuses the crime, though it might help to explain it.

    Be careful what you wish for, Crain. One tremendous irony I have discovered in life, is that, when you get it, it can come back to kick your ass.

    Finally, there it is.  If we'd spend less time flaunting and — God forbid — enjoying ourselves, then maybe I wouldn't have wound up with a broken nose and two black eyes.  Nice.  Kiss your mother with that mouth?

    Best of all, Riehl proves my point about the way conservative Christianity (and Islam) foster intolerance in society generally.  He writes:

    Crain, and the Left, cite thug-ism and waywardness as one root of evil, blame that on Religion - WITH ABSOLUTELY NO PROOF AT ALL - because they either fear or detest religion, it's as simple as that. Yet, a not formally religious-ized conservative like myself sees the very values religion engenders as the only effective way to combat thug-ish-ness and waywardness in modern man, because I have observed it happen, time after time.

    Since Riehl wasn't actually raised in religion, or apparently spent much time reading the Bible, he has missed entirely Jesus' central message of love and compassion, especially for those different from yourself.  Instead, he hones in on the judgmental, law and order version preached by conservative Christians and right-wing mullahs. How else can you explain why a religious man like Riehl would call the Dixie Chicks "the Dixie Clits," and when he disagreed with a blogger named Matthew Ortega, call him "a water boy" "ringing the Taco Bell" and question the legality of his parents.

    Mmmmm, feel the conservative Judeo-Christian love.

    For an educated person like Riehl, conservative Christianity's judgmental, love-only-thy-like-thinking-neighbor message gets translated into immature misogynist bigotry. To his less intellectually endowed, more inebriated brethren, it can translate into yelling slurs at a gay couple holding hands in the street, spitting in their faces and, sometimes, beating the crap out of them.

    May 04, 2007

    I know he's being sarcastic…

    Posted by: Chris

    …but sheesh!

    Let us have hundreds and thousands of Chris Crains and Matthew Shepards. Let these deprived, deviant homosexuals live in fear and self-loathing.

    Islamists of a Christian feather

    Posted by: Chris

    33060218l I mentioned yesterday that Andrew Sullivan had posted my Amsterdam photo while making an excellent point about the real reason conservative Christians, who Andrew calls "Christianists," oppose adding gays to hate crime legislation:

    Christianists simply regard homosexuality as an evil and a sickness. Any law that implies that being gay is an identity and deserves equal respect and protection as other identities is anathema to them. Implicit in their worldview — and absolutely implicit in the position of the president — is that it's okay to attack gays in a way that it's not okay to attack, say, Jews or blacks. This is the core position of the Christianists — which is why I refuse to call them Christians.

    I agree entirely with him that their opposition springs primarily from resistance to any legal recognition of gays as a minority deserving of protection ("special rights" etc).  I don't completely agree that it's implicit in their view that it's OK to attack gays in a way it's not for Jews, blacks and other groups, though that is arguably the message their position sends.

    The opposition of conservative Christians to the Shepard Act is rooted, in addition to the first reason cited by Andrew, in a deep discomfort that attacks on gays involve misguided reactions to teachings they themselves espouse.  That, of course, is a far cry from attacks on blacks.   (Though racist attacks remain the moral legacy of a similar message of intolerance preached from the pulpits of conservative Christians a generation ago.)

    Granted, many of these same conservative Christians also preach that Jews, Muslims and other people of other religious faiths are Hell-bound, but including religion as a protected category is a political priority for conservative Christians, who have more than bought into the idea they are a "victimized majority."  That brings us to the final thing we can say about their opposition to the Shepard Act: They value protecting people from hate crimes less than they value protecting their own reputations as they preach intolerance.

    One blogger who reacted to Andrew's post took him to task for not clarifying that my boyfriend and I were attacked in Amsterdam by "radical Islamists" not "radical Christianists." And there's more, from Riehl World View:

    The real problem for Sullivan is that the Netherlands already has more stringent laws than anything being considered here in the US. He neglects to point that out along side his provocative example of Islamist Gay bashing.  The laws did absolutely no good. … Clearly Sullivan has the wrong -ist on his mind.

    Riehl World needs to step in to the real world.  First of all, it's silly to suggest hate crime laws are useless because we were gay bashed.  So I guess that means murder laws are useless, since homicides are a daily occurrence?  What's more, Andrew's comparison works because "Christianists" pose an indirect threat to gay Americans in a way very similar to "Islamists" in Europe. 

    The seven Moroccan 20-somethings who spat on us and beat us up for holding hands weren't "radical Islamists."  They weren't hanging out on the streets of Amsterdam at 2 a.m. on Queen's Day because they were headed to the mosque for prayer.  They were the Islamic equivalent of our own rednecks: macho thugs who have absorbed the prejudices of their culture, which persist in large part because their own conservative religious leaders dress up the bigotry and legitimize it.

    I'm not surprised to see conservative Christians freak out at the comparison with their hated Islamic foes. But when they regularly advocate the imposition of their own religious views in the law, the connection is more than well deserved.

    Reading the Bible in a certain way

    Posted by: Chris

    Bibleindistress Dr. James Dobson, founder of the Focus on the Family and among the most powerful conservative Christians in America, told his bazillion radio listeners today that they have much to fear from the Matthew Shepard Act, just passed by the House.  According to AP:

    Dobson warned that the true intent of the bill was "to muzzle people of faith who dare to express their moral and biblical concerns about homosexuality." If you read the Bible in a certain way, he told his broadcast listeners, "you may be guilty of committing a 'thought crime."'

    By "reading the Bible in a certain way," does Dr. Dobson mean reading it upside down?  He certainly shouldn't fear prosecution for reading the Bible to teach that homosexuality is a sin, or even if he believe it teaches to hate those of us who accept our sexual orientation as a natural and morally neutral characteristic.

    Not only does the Shepard specifically limit itself to "violent offenses," the bill contains a special provision to prevent evidence of the person's views or affiliations being used as evidence of biased intent:

    Evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense.

    Jamesdobson That means even if one of Dr. Dobson's listeners forgets that he's only supposed to hate the gay sin and decides to violently act out his hate on the gay sinner himself, his religious devotion to Focus on the Family radio programs can't be held against him. The provision is so strong that the ACLU supports the Shepard Act and said in a statement today that it, "fully protects both civil rights and free speech. In fact, the new hate crimes bill  has stronger protections for free speech than any other federal criminal law now on the books."

    Claims like Dobson's are so blatantly false that the only get traction if the MSM (that's mainstream media, not men who have sex with men) goes pre-Iraq in its coverage quality.

    May 03, 2007

    Shepard bill closer to being a law

    Posted by: Chris

    Matthew05 The House passed the Matthew Shepard Act today by a vote of 237-180, a wide margin but not veto proof. Congratulations to the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU and the other groups that have worked for its passage.

    The Bush administration was quick to spoil the moment, issuing a statement that said the legislation is "unnecessary and constitutionally questionable."  If the measure passes the Senate, the statement says, the president's "senior advisors would recommend that he veto" it.  That's the equivalent of a veto threat, not a promise, since it's coming from his "senior advisers," but it doesn't bode well.

    The White House statement adds that the administration "favors strong criminal penalties for violent crime, including crime based on personal characteristics, such as race, color, religion, or national origin."  Notably absent from that list are the categories the Shepard Act would add: namely sexual orientation, gender and gender disability.  The statement later acknowledges the addition of these categories but not approvingly; instead commenting only on a few imaginable categories that were not added:

    The Administration notes that the bill would leave other classes (such as the elderly, members of the military, police officers, and victims of prior crimes) without similar special status. The Administration believes that all violent crimes are unacceptable, regardless of the victims, and should be punished firmly.

    The elderly? The military?  Come on.  This country has no significant history of crimes motivated by age discrimination, and the others are occupations not personal characteristics.  Besides, existing federal sentencing guidelines already provide for longer sentences because a victim is selected for being elderly or otherwise vulnerable physically.

    The Bushies have made a bigger deal than anyone out of categorizing and punishing crimes intended to terrorize more severely than those with more garden-variety motives.  That the president would move so aggressively against every conceivable form of terrorism except that motivated by the type of prejudice popular among his own supporters speaks for itself.

    As Andrew Sullivan points out in a post featuring a not-so-flattering photo of yours truly, there's no coherence to supporting hate crimes for some minorities and not others.

    Nancypelosi On the other side of the aisle, it will be interesting to see how the legislation fares in the Senate.  One disgruntled gay Democrat was unhappy with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's speech in favor of the Matthew Shepard Act.  Though she made passing reference to Shepard's murder and she listed the categories the bill would cover, she somehow managed to never say the words "gay" or "transgender":

    We in our country take pride in saying that we moved to end discrimination of all kinds.  Today, we have an opportunity to end discrimination and the violence that goes with it that equal a hate crime. So whatever you may think of any one of us, based on our ethnicity, or our gender, or whatever, you have no right to act upon that opinion in a violent way.

    On behalf of at least some of the "or whatever's" out there, Speaker Pelosi, you can do better!

    May 01, 2007

    Hamil Harris responds…

    Posted by: Chris

    Hamilharristhumb Washington Post reporter Hamil Harris has responded to my post this weekend on his story about pending federal hate crime legislation. I took Harris to task for reporting a claim by a consortium of black pastors that the Matthew Shepard Act could be used to throw ministers in jail for preaching homosexuality is a sin. Harris quoted black pastors and others who oppose and support the bill, but never tested the central claim that the hate crime law could criminalize hate speech, much less less speech from a pulpit.

    Because the story so failed to question the ministers' claims, I did a bit of digging on Harris the reporter, and offered in my post a couple of curious examples where he introduced his own religious faith into professional situations — including an email to Marion Barry's press flak that was uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request by Washington City Paper. It raised in my own mind questions about Harris' objectivity or possible sympathy to the complaining black pastors.

    In response to my post, Harris wrote:

    I learned the hard way that even one's personal email's can be public information. I guess it is against the law to offer a king word to somebody. Does this make a person less of a reporter because of an email. This is a very serious issue that deserves a much bigger story. But it is not fair to offer a critique when you know nothing about how what was written got in the paper. I am sure the dialogue will continue.

    Anyone who's spent time as a reporter or an editor knows the limitations that deadline and available space can have on a story, so I grant Harris probably lacked the room to tell the story properly. But even a cursory mention that the bill's supporters challenge the ministers claim would have been welcome. 

    I'm also pleased to see that he believes the issue deserves "a much bigger story." I hope he writes it soon; the issue certainly remains "in play." In a press release today, the Human Rights Campaign challenged the premise of the black pastors' complaint:

    One of the most frequently promoted lies by the opposition is that the hate crimes law will make anti-gay bigots criminally liable for their hate speech.  While it is certainly un-American and un-Christian to embrace a message of hate, the religious right has nothing to fear from the hate crimes bill as it applies only to acts of violence.  Nothing in this act would prohibit the lawful expression of one's deeply held religious beliefs.

    "It's no surprise the religious right is so concerned about hate speech - for them hate appears to be a cottage industry," [said Joe Solmonese, HRC president,]  "But they have nothing to fear.  Even after the hate crimes legislation is passed, the religious right will continue to have the federally protected right to preach hatred."

    You won't catch me saying this very often, but well said, Joe.

    Of course no one expects Harris or any other journalist to simply accept HRC's defense of the bill, any more than the pastors' claim should have gone unchallenged. But with a House vote on the bill looming on Thursday, the time is now for more complete coverage.

    Love thy neighbor…unless he's gay

    Posted by: Chris

    Gayneighborgraph Who wouldn’t want a homosexual for a neighbor?

    Our interior and exterior decorating skills are legendary. We keep a tidy lawn and a colorful garden. And in city after city, we renovate and update, raising property values for ourselves and those around us.

    To top it off, we’re avid neighborhood activists, throwing ourselves into better policing, stricter zoning and removal of “unsavory elements.”

    Who wouldn’t want a homosexual for a neighbor? Plenty of people, as it turns out.

    Asked who they would not want as neighbors, one in five residents of Western Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand said “no” to the gay next door. That’s fully double the number who said they wouldn’t want Jews or someone of a different race for a neighbor.

    The papers may be full of stories about resentment toward immigrants and foreign workers, but gays are less welcome to the neighborhood by more than 50 percent. Even Muslims, with all their bad press, are 25 percent more accepted.

    The somewhat surprising findings are from work done by researchers at universities in Northern Ireland and New Zealand. Since few among us would admit outright to being a bigot, these academics found that the best way of measuring bigotry is a more indirect inquiry into what types of people you wouldn’t want to live nearby.

    If you believe, as many of us do, that homophobia is the last acceptable prejudice, you’ll find support in the study. In two-thirds of the countries surveyed, gays were rated the least desirable neighbors, including in the U.S., Canada and Australia, where the numbers who disapproved of gay neighbors were more than double that of Muslims, the next group down the list.

    Only in a few countries in Scandinavia and northern Europe were we welcomed by almost everyone. A special thanks to Sweden, Holland, Iceland and Denmark — the only places where fewer than one in 10 respondents were homophobic.

    As bad as that looks for the gays, it’s clear that bigotry loves company. In every country at least one in four residents didn’t like the idea of at least one minority group in their neighborhood, and in strife-torn Northern Ireland and Greece, almost half were bigoted against at least someone.

    Still, we homosexuals are the most despised group among bigots generally. In most major Western countries, including the U.S., Canada and Great Britain, more than three-quarters of those who object to at least one minority group include gays on their list of phobias. That gem led the researchers to conclude that, “Homophobia is, by far, the main source of bigotry in most Western countries.”

    What, in turn, is the source of that homophobia? Not a person’s level of education or income, as it turns out. Age and gender were much better indicators. A New York Times poll released last week backs that up, showing only 25 percent of Americans under the age of 30 opposed to any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples, while opposition among those over 30 ranges between 35 and 45 percent.

    It’s impossible to say whether the 23 percent of Americans who don’t want gay neighbors form the bulk of the 35 percent of Americans overall who don’t want our relationships to receive legal recognition — but it’s a pretty safe bet.

    I’ve always resisted the idea that opponents of gay rights are bigots. It has struck me as a cheap shot that polarizes the debate, rather than attempting to reason and address concerns. There’s not much point in reasoning with prejudice, of course; the whole idea is that’s animus without any logic to it.

    Religion can be as impenetrable to reason as prejudice, and gay rights opponents have long cited their moral beliefs as justification for our inequality. Sill, since I come from a loving, religious family that is steadfastly opposed to my equal rights as a gay man, I’ve always taken the anti-gay Christians at their word when they swear it’s the sin they hate and not the sinner.

    So how do they explain the “good neighbor” study’s most surprising finding? That being deeply religious made Christians less prejudiced against Muslims and immigrants, and much more prejudiced against gays? Being deeply religious was the single most significant factor in predicting whether someone would reject the idea of having a gay neighbor.

    Do these churchgoers simply ignore Jesus’ central commandment to “love thy neighbor”? Or are they figuring if they do have to love their neighbor, they hope for Christ’s sake their neighbor isn’t queer?

    Welchfamily As more lesbians and gay men live their lives openly, there’s hope the number of anti-gay bigots will someday soon drop down to the same levels we see for race and religion.  The short-lived ABC reality show "Welcome to the Neighborhood" effectively tested out the findings of the “good neighbor” study, allowing a group of mildly bigoted Texas neighbors to award a house on their block to either a black family, a Korean family, hippies, Wiccans or a gay couple. The series was yanked because it touched on too many racial hot-buttons, but the gay couple won over their skeptical neighbors and won the house, too.

    One objection to the show was from "fair housing" advocates, who pointed out federal law prohibits discriminating on the basis of race, religion, and national origin in the housing market. Of course that law doesn't include sexual orientation as a protected category, and absolutely no one is talking about amending it anytime soon.

    But as the gay couple on "Welcome to the Neighborhood" proved, although no one got to see it, the answer to this level of bigotry may not be in changing laws, but in changing hearts and minds. We have always been our own best ambassadors, and perhaps if we keep extending our welcome mat, one day more "deeply religious" folks will do the same.

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