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    August 31, 2007

    Make the punishment fit the scandal

    Posted by: Chris

    Craigfrankvitter As news broke today that Larry Craig is expected to resign tomorrow, I've thought better of my post a couple of days ago when I said in passing that I agreed with the calls for him to leave the Senate.

    The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force has been among those to remind us that GOP calls for Craig to resign are in sharp contrast to the standing ovation received by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter after it emerged that his phone number was in the records of the so-called "D.C. Madam." Matt Foreman, the head of the Task Force highlighted the disparate treatment of the two senators this way:

    Let’s see — one Republican senator is involved in soliciting sex from a man and the Republican leadership calls for a Senate investigation and yanks the rug from underneath him. Another Republican senator admits to soliciting the services of a female prostitute and there’s not only no investigation but the senator is greeted with a standing ovation by his Republican peers. What explains the starkly different responses? I’d say rank and homophobic hypocrisy.

    It's a fair point and it's also noteworthy that Foreman does not call on either Vitter or Craig to resign. He's pointing out that the Republicans treated Craig's admission of guilt very differently than Vitters, based on homophobia, hypocrisy and, I would add, empathy. Member of the Republican congressional caucus, who allegedly delivered that standing ovation in response to an emotional apology by Vitter, can imagine themselves in his position much more easily than Craig's.

    But those who would like to see both Craig and Vitter gone should remember the scandal that enveloped Barney Frank, the prominent Massachusetts Democrat, who was caught up in his own scandal involving a (male) prostitute back in 1990, just a few years after he publicly acknowledged for the first time that he is gay.

    Like Vitter, Frank admitted hiring a prostitute, in his case Stephen Gobie, whom the congressman then befriended and allowed to share his Washington, D.C., townhouse. Even more damaging, however, were the House Ethics Committee findings that Barney used his office to influence the dismissal of 33 D.C. parking tickets and inappropriately encouraged Virginia officials to act favorably in Gobie's probation on a felony charge.

    The committee decision, adopted by the House, was to reprimand Barney, who resisted calls including from the editorial page of the Boston Globe, to resign. He has gone on to serve with distinction, becoming an important and influential on a range of issues, including Bill Clinton's impeachment, gay rights and banking regulation.

    In an interesting historical footnote, Larry Craig was an Idaho congressman and member of the House Ethics Committee member at the time of the Frank/Gobie scandal, and voted for the more serious punishment of censure. Apparently he believed about Barney, as he would later say famously about Clinton, that "he's a nasty, naughty, bad boy."

    There are a few differences, of course, among these scandals. Craig was the only one to plead guilty to a crime, albeit a misdemeanor, and he's the only one not to admit the accusations, thus showing a lack of remorse. I'm not sure either of those difference rise to the level of requiring his resignation, and certainly Barney's use of his office is not unlike Craig's attempt to intimidate his arresting officers by flashing his Senate business card and saying, "What do you think of that?"

    Of course the scandals involving Vitter and Craig highlight a hypocrisy with their "family values" posturing and opposition to equality for lesbian and gay Americans.  But if hypocrisy were grounds for resignation, we'd need a lot more resignations and on both sides of the aisle.  I would much rather have Vitter and Craig serve out their terms, as reminders of GOP hypocrisy, both now and next year, when both are up for re-election.

    August 30, 2007

    Newsweek debate with Mike Signorile

    Posted by: Chris

    070830_craigoutingqa_widehlarge As promised, Newsweek has posted my debate with Michelangelo Signorile about the ethics and effectiveness of outing, in the light of the Larry Craig scandal.  They headlined it "Legitimate Journalism or Witch Hunt?" I'll let you guess who took what side…

    Take a look and let me know what you think…

    More from mudville

    Posted by: Chris

    Larrycraigarrestphotos1Sorry to have been out of pocket, gang, but I've been participating in an email debate with Mike Signorile about whether the Larry Craig scandal is proof it's OK for the media to join in the effort to "out" anti-gay politicians. The debate is for Newsweek.com and should be posted soon; I'll be sure to offer a link.

    Thanks to all for the great comments to my original post on Larry Craig, made in the wee hours after I learned of the story.  A few clarifications so we can further focus the discussion:

    By challenging the legal sufficiency of the case against Craig  I wasn't suggesting that I buy his unintentionally hilarious explanation about having "a wide stance" on the toilet and searching on the floor for fluttering toilet paper.  Of course I believe he was there to cruise for sex, either to take place there or somewhere else. I've since been educated by a friend and by this post by Rex Wockner about how two men can have sex underneath the divider of a public toilet stall.  (I had assumed the two men would at least have to join each other in a stall or use a "gloryhole." It all sounds like an awful lot of work to me.  Haven't these folks heard of the Internet?)

    My point was that Craig's arrest isn't exactly something worth celebrating, even if you still find it novel and gratifying that some anti-gay politicians are self-loathing closet cases. 

    Also, my criticism of the media wasn't about coverage of his arrest — that's clearly news, especially since he pleaded guilty.  My concern is that since Craig had previously been a target of Mike Rogers' outing efforts, that the outing activists will play "I told you so" to justify their tactics.

    It comes down to this: It's disturbing enough that the police would arrest someone (famous and anti-gay or not) after stalking out a public toilet and reading sinister intent into toe-tapping and hand-waving. But it's really cause for concern if a few blogger-activists can seduce real journalists into trying to beat the real police to the punch, to the point of passing photos around public toilets (as the Idaho Statesman did) hoping to corroborate years-old accusations. We have quite enough sex police out there, thank you very much. We don't need a bunch of reporters and bloggers acting like keystone sex cops as well.

    When Dan Popkey of the Statesman interviewed me months ago in his Larry Craig investigation, he came across as a smart and thoughtful journalist on a very unpleasant assignment. And kudos to him and his editors that they didn't publish a story about their investigation until after news of Craig's airport arrest and guilty plea surfaced.

    But I told Popkey then and I believe even more strongly now, that the investigation itself set an incredibly dangerous precedent, that public figures have no expectation of privacy concerning their sex lives. It's noteworthy that when the Statesman finally published the results of Popkey's investigation, they didn't even confine themselves to confirming accusations of toilet cruising.

    When only one such accusation panned out at least enough to be included, Popkey dug further and unearthed a 13-year old claim that Craig "made eyes" at someone in a sporting goods store (seriously!), and an ancient accusation that he made a pass at someone in 1967 during college. It just goes to show that witch hunts  — and that's what this was — almost inevitably take on a life of their own. (Just ask Bill Clinton and Ken Starr.)

    None of this is intended to defend Craig from accusations of hypocrisy or quiet calls for his resignation. He's clearly guilty of the former and ought to do the latter. But the downside of this story is much worse than its upside — in its coarsening of the culture, its effect on media coverage, in discouraging good people from entering politics, and on the image of gay men and the gay rights movement generally.  That's what I'm hoping we'll see.

    For a complete news summary about the Larry Craig scandal, go to gaynewswatch.com/larrycraig

    August 28, 2007

    No joy in mudville

    Posted by: Chris

    Larrycraigleft And another one bites the dust. Another Republican, this one with a zero voting record on gay rights and HIV/AIDS, is caught up in a seedy gay sex scandal.

    This time around it was years in coming. As you no doubt heard yesterday after Roll Coll broke the story, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig pled guilty to lewd conduct a month ago after he was arrested by an undercover officer in June in a public restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.

    The gay and leftie blogosphere is, of course, gleeful, as is practically every gay person I've talked to in the early hours after the scandal broke. I understand the indignation that rises up each time we see one of these "family values" types go down in flames. I just don't understand why we don't see the contradictions in how we cheer on the politics of personal destruction, however self-inflicted.

    Even in the early hours of the Larry Craig scandal, a few angles to this story give me pause. First and foremost, was Senator Craig really guilty of lewd conduct? I'm no defender of public sex or public lewdness, but so far as I can see he engaged in neither. According to the arrest report, an undercover police officer whose unhappy task it was to sit for long periods in an airport toilet stall noticed that a man later identified as Craig was peeking through the crack over a period of two minutes while "fidgeting" his hands. (Craig said later he was waiting for an empty stall; one of many points the officer disputes.)

    Craigarrestreport Once Craig was seated in the stall next to the officer, the senator put his roller bag against the front door of the stall. "My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall," Sgt. Karsnia of the airport police wrote in his arrest report. I guess those who use the bathroom "for its intended use," as Karsnia puts it in the report, choose to store their luggage in some more convenient location within the stall…?

    Craig then "tapped his foot," reported Karsnia, who "recognized this as a signal by those who wish to engage in lewd conduct." I'll leave it to you whether there might be one or two or 13 more innocent explanations for such behavior.

    Finally, Craig's foot tapping crept over into Karsnia's stall and even made contact with Karsnia's foot. Craig then swiped his hand a few times under the stall divider, enough that Karsnia could see his fingers and even his gold wedding ring — a point Karsnia made sure to include in his report.

    Based on this and this alone, Craig was arrested for lewd conduct. Now I'll admit to being much more naive than Sgt. Karsnia about the etiquette of toilet sex, but exactly how was this lewd? Strange? Yes. Annoying? Absolutely. Lewd? Explain that to me again.

    Let's assume for the sake of argument that Craig was somehow crudely indicating his sexual interest in Karsnia. The Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Lawrence vs. Texas decision that sex between consenting adults is constitutionally protected. Many states have correctly concluded that, as a result, solicitation of sodomy or other forms of sex, even when the conversation takes place in public, is also constitutionally protected. If conduct is constitutionally protected, then we have a First Amendment right to discuss it.

    That protection falls by the wayside, as well it should, if Craig was not just soliciting a private sex act in a public place but actually intended for the sex itself to take place in public. Nowhere does the arrest report explain to us how Sgt. Krasnia made that leap of logic based on Craig's foot-tapping and hand-swiping.

    The arrest report does indicate that Craig was late for a flight, so it may well have been some odd form of quickie was what was on his mind. But it also reported that Craig identified himself as a regular commuter through the airport, so another explanation might be that he wanted to set up some later rendezvous.

    Yes, I know that Craig pled guilty to the charge, and it's on that point where he most clearly hoisted himself on his own petard. He was so afraid of how things would look that he lacked the nerve to defend himself and his rights — just as over the course of his life he lacked the nerve to accept his sexual orientation (whether bisexual or homosexual) and defend the rights of those who share those orientations.

    The saddest part of the Larry Craig scandal to me is that it will only encourage and energize those who troll the sex lives of politicians in search of juicy slime to spread — as if that somehow makes the case for our equality. As for me, I don't favor arguing I have a right to privacy in my choice of sexual partners by invading that right in others, even if they are our opponents, and even if they are hypocrites.

    We should take no joy in the ruin of Larry Craig's marriage and reputation — even if it is well deserved and a long time in coming. The man has known for two years now he was under intense scrutiny for rumors that he's gay and has sex in public toilets. Not since Bill Clinton have we been treated to a public figure so compulsively unable to control the little head with the big one.

    But you won't find me arguing that somehow Larry Craig's self-destruction is an argument for my own equality. I can think of about 533 more effective arguments we could make that don't require someone else's ruin or suggest we all share some general (im)moral equivalence. Gay Americans are entitled to equal treatment and protection against discrimination whether or not every member of Congress who voted against gay rights has an utterly umblemished sexual history.

    If Larry Craig really does troll public toilets for sex, it doesn't prove his "family values" rhetoric is claptrap anymore than Bill Clinton's infidelity proved his support for gay rights was the product of his promiscuity. The case for gay rights is compelling enough on its own merits. Let's not jump in the mud and join in the muckraking.

    August 27, 2007

    Reunite this family

    Posted by: Chris

    300h Another happy gay couple, this one married in Massachusetts, faces forced separation after the U.S. denied the asylum request made by Genesio Januario Oliveira, who has now returned to Brazil.

    Tim Coco, 46, runs a successful advertising agency in Haverhill, Mass. Six years ago he met Genesio Januario Oliveira, who was visiting Boston on vacation from his home in Brazil. The two fell in love and in 2005, under rights protected by the Massachusetts Constitution, they were married. Since then, they have lived happily and quietly in a Boston suburb with their dog, Q-Tip.

    Except that two weeks ago Oliveira was forced to return to Brazil under orders from the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals, which denied his application for the asylum status he hoped would allow him to stay in the United States with his husband. The couple needed to pursue the asylum route because their same-sex marriage is not recognized by the federal government, and federal laws supersede states' when it comes to immigration.

    The culprit here isn't so much the standard for asylum as the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents Coco from sponsoring his spouse for U.S. citizenship, as countless heterosexual Americans have done for decades.

    Relief for Coco and Oliveira will not come easily. Asking the U.S. Supreme Court to find the Defense of Marriage Act an unconstitutional violation of civil rights is a long shot at best. Building support in Congress to revisit the Defense of Marriage Act is a better strategy, but one that still could take several years. The most promising solution now probably is a bill in Congress that would establish "permanent partnership" status for unmarried couples so that a US citizen could sponsor a foreign-born partner for immigration.

    Actually, I'm inclined to believe repealing Section 3 of DOMA — or getting it declared unconstitutional — may prove easier than passing UAFA, the Uniting American Families Act. Either way, Coco and Oliveira now face forced separation or expatriation — the same horribly unfair Sophie's Choice confronting some 35,000 binational gay couples, including me and my partner.

    Please help reunite this family.

    August 26, 2007

    Gunter glieben glauchen globen

    Posted by: Chris

    2095776l I arrived in Atlanta last night and was surprised by my good friend and colleague Steve Koval with tickets for an concert that would have filled a stadium  — in 1983. Styx, Foreigner and Def Leppard, all together, for the "Rock of Ages" tour. They did not disappoint.

    Everyone has music that defines a period of their lives. For me, the Beatles saved me from the country music of my native region, and introduced me to Billy Joel later on. But as I entered high school, I caught the rock-n-roll bug, at least until all those hair bands ruined things. Styx, for me, defines high school.

    In 1981, when Styx announced its Paradise Theater tour, I convinced my parents to let me go, even though I'd never before been to a concert. Then they announced their Memphis date, in the middle of my family's sacred two-week vacation. I was a good kid — "The Best Little Boy in the World" in fact — but the prospect of missing my teen idols was too much.  I pitched a bitch of epic proportions, over a period of days, until my parents relented.

    That concert was among the best I've ever seen, and I caught the band again in 1996 for its Return to Paradise tour. They were playing Chastain, also here in Atlanta, and Dennis DeYoung's melodic work was perfect for the setting. But since the park is known for its wine-and-cheese set and yuppie neighbors, it wasn't exactly rock-n-roll.

    Chuckhob1 Not so this time around. The venue was Lakewood, south of Atlanta and in redneck territory. DeYoung long since left the band so it was Tommy Shaw and James "J.Y." Young leading the show. They stuck to the straight-ahead rock numbers, and my throat is still hoarse from singing along. We were even treated to a special appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo, who came out as gay and HIV-positive a few years back.

    Here's a quick taste, Styx caught live by someone in Charlotte a few days ago. I wish I had my camera last night because we had much better seats.

    I'll admit I was bit miffed that Styx was opening for Def Leppard. There's no comparison between Styx's art-rock musicality and Def Leppard's head-banging. (I could understand why Foreigner led things off, since only Mick Jones of the original line-up was there. Still, they were fantastic.) Then, looking around me, I could see it was a Def Leppard crowd.

    56329827Leppard has always been a concert band, and its fans are much more concert-going types than the Styx set. I wish Styx had more time on-stage since every other Leppard song was a snoozer, but when they were on, Def Leppard was a blast.

    A few items of trivia I tracked down last night after the concert:

    From Wikipedia:

    Soon afterwards, they adopted the name "Deaf Leopard" (which Elliott had thought of in his school days). At the suggestion of Tony Kenning, the name "Deaf Leopard" was slightly modified to Def Leppard in order to avoid comparison to punk bands, and perhaps also as an indirect homage to Led Zeppelin's similarly styled band name.

    From a VH-1 interview with Def Leppard's lead singer Joe Elliott:

    VH1: What is "Gunter glieben glauchen globen"?

    Elliott: That's the intro to "Rock Of Ages." It's Mutt Lange. There were no guitars in the verses, just drums. So instead of counting off one, two, three, four, he'd say these ridiculous things to make everybody laugh. One of them was "chapatti puppadum something something," all about Indian food. The other one was "Gunter glieben glauchen globen." Some German guy sent a letter to our Artist Pages and said that it's German for "running through the forest silently." I'm assured it isn't. This guy must have just escaped from the happy house or something.

    From Google's language translator:

    "running through the forest silently":  durch den Wald still laufen

    Check here for Styx tour dates and here for Def Leppard.

    August 23, 2007

    Ebert is a bigot, ol' chum

    Posted by: Chris

    Cabaret At the risk of facing revocation of my gay card, I'll admit that I saw "Cabaret" with Liza Minelli for the first time this week. Late Wednesday night on Logo, I finally saw the 1972 classic about a young American singer at the Kit Kat Club in decadent pre-WWII Berlin. For those like me who haven't seen the film, "Cabaret" revolves around a bisexual love triangle, featuring Minelli, a young British writer (Michael York) and a German aristocrat (Helmut Griem).

    Curious to see how critics viewed "Cabaret," I did a Google search during one of Logo's 15,000 commercial breaks — every one selling "Guys Gone Wild" home videos. Anyway, I came across the original review written by none other than Roger Ebert, published on Jan. 1, 1972.

    Roger_ebert You might be surprised at his take:

    "Cabaret" explores some of the same kinky territory celebrated in Visconti's "The Damned." Both movies share the general idea that the rise of the Nazi party in Germany was accompanied by a rise in bisexuality, homosexuality, sadomasochism, and assorted other activities. Taken as a generalization about a national movement, this is certainly extreme oversimplification. But taken as one approach to the darker recesses of Nazism, it may come pretty close to the mark. The Nazi gimmicks like boots and leather and muscles and racial superiority and outdoor rallies and Aryan comradeship offered an array of machismo-for-rent that had (and has) a special appeal to some kinds of impotent people.

    Nice, huh? This kind of soft bigotry is a product of the times, of course. But it's a bit surprising that Ebert and the Chicago Sun Times are still hosting this review, sans any sort of note or clarification, on their website.

    For what it's worth, I loved the movie. To me it was a story about how a culture exploring the boundaries of decadence was forced to deal with the consequences (good and bad) of its carpe diem in the midst of the Nazis' rise to power. Most of all, I finally "get" the Liza thing. Back in the day, she was an amazing talent.

    August 21, 2007

    How Bill Richardson blew it

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardsonforum A reader responding to my post on Hillary Clinton's inside gal for the HRC-Logo presidential forum posted a cite to an interesting piece in the Las Vegas Weekly, a mainstream alternative weekly (you know what I mean), on how Bill Richardson's "choice" gaffe cost him Las Vegas gay and, as a result, the crucial early Nevada caucuses and, as a result, his chance at the nomination.

    The column is by my friend and respected colleague Steve Friess, who knows the Vegas gay political scene like nobody else.  Friess has worked in gay and mainstream newspapers in Vegas and produces a gay-friendly podcast called "The Strip."  I don't doubt his analysis of how devastating the gaffe was for Richardson for the hundreds gathered to watch the forum at the Vegas Gay Center, and for the New Mexico governor's chances in Nevada generally:

    The room at the Center registered audible shock. Few gays view their sexual orientation as a choice because most have very early memories of same-sex attraction and because it’s illogical that so many people would choose to be social outcasts and family pariahs. As Carlson explained in giving the candidate yet a third chance to redeem himself, anti-gay forces use their claim that homosexuality is chosen to argue that gay people don’t deserve equal rights because they can change if they wish.

    Richardson didn’t get it, and it was over. Even his supporters knew it, vacating their space at the info table in the Center’s lobby first and punting all questions to a spokesman with a 505 area code.

    Summing up the general view was travel agent and activist Terry Wilsey: “I thought he’d make a pretty interesting vice-presidential candidate. But after that? No way.”

    Friess also takes Richardson to task for how he responded to the gaffe the next day, calling bloggers and claiming he was jet-lagged and didn't understand the question, which Melissa Etheridge asked twice and Margaret Carlson repeated a third time. The weak recovery reminds me of how he responded to the other gaffe, his "maricón moment" on the Don Imus show, claiming the story was a plant from a rival campaign.

    If Friess is right then it doesn't speak too well about the political sophistication of the Vegas gay community, ditching the one candidate with an actual record of results on a gay rights issue for giving an answer on "choice" that, Friess acknowledges, is actually not wrong and is irrelevant to our civil rights. Even though Nevada and New Mexico are (relatively) similar, Nevada has an anti-gay constitutional amendment and New Mexico doesn't. That's due in no small part to Bill Richardson.

    But candidates have imploded over sillier things. The Howard Dean "whoop" heard 'round the country comes to mind…

    August 20, 2007

    Counting progress in celebrity funerals

    Posted by: Chris

    6836801 When Merv Griffin died this month, many mainstream media obituaries dared to report what largely went unsaid throughout his long career: the legendary entertainer and entrepreneur was a closeted homosexual.

    That news probably came as a something of a shock to most Americans old enough to remember Griffin’s incarnations as a big band singer, or high-brow talk show host, or creator of “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.” That’s because over the years, especially during the peak of his celebrity, media mention of Griffin’s personal life was limited to photos of him with gal pal Eva Gabor of “Green Acres” fame, with no hint she was really his “beard.”

    Merveva The willingness of some media outlets to pry open Merv’s closet door, at least after his death, would seem to represent a new maturity in how our society deals with homosexuality as a natural fact of life, rather than the secret shame it was for so many in Griffin’s generation.

    Until now, the mainstream media could be counted on to “straight-wash” the lives of gay public figures, whether they were fully closeted in life or not. When R&B crooner Luther Vandross died two summers ago, the public mourned a “lifelong bachelor,” and the media missed the chance to report the irony that a man who built his legend singing about love and lust dared not speak, or sing, about his own.

    Susansonta Ditto when feminist and intellectual Susan Sontag died from cancer in December 2004. Even though a proper search would have turned up some discussion by Sontag about her longtime relationship with photographer Annie Leibowitz, the media deferred to dig.

    Filmmaker Ismail Merchant was partnered personally and professionally with James Ivory for more than four decades, and that unique collaboration would have been the central storyline of retrospectives on Merchant’s life if Ivory had been female. But mainstream press accounts of Merchant’s death two years ago stuck to the work relationship.

    Unfortunately, the news about Griffin being gay wasn’t in the context of a loving, longtime partner now left behind, or even happiness in coming to terms with his sexual orientation, however late in life. Instead, the obituaries rehashed two tawdry lawsuits from 1991.

    One was a multi-million dollar palimony claim brought by Brent Plott, a former secretary-driver-bodyguard-horse trainer who claimed Griffin dumped him after a long live-in relationship. The second was filed by “Dance Fever” host Denny Terrio, alleging sexual harassment by Griffin, who created the show.

    Deney Both lawsuits were dismissed, although why isn’t exactly clear. Since gay couples are rarely recognized legally, gay palimony suits rarely succeed, and the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t authorize same-sex sexual harassment suits of the type brought by Terrio until 1998, so it’s simplistic to interpret Griffin’s court wins as a complete vindication.

    Whether or not the suits had merit, they did give the media a convenient way to raise rumors about Griffin’s homosexuality in retrospectives about his life. That’s playing fair, if not nice, since a hetero palimony or sexual harassment suit would no doubt receive attention in an obituary about a straight celebrity, too.

    But in a larger sense, the coverage of Griffin’s life after his death represents a lingering double standard that plagues reports about gay public figures. No doubt out of sympathy, the mainstream press usually defers to celebrities and other public figures when it comes to reports about a closeted same-sex relationship.

    So all too often, the public only learns about a public figure being gay when they’re caught up in scandal. Reports on Merchant and Sontag ignored their long-time lovers, but slap Merv Griffin with a palimony suit from his horse trainer and the press pack is finally ready to ask “the question.”

    This double standard doesn’t just come to life in a public figure’s death, either. The media turned a blind eye for years to Mark Foley’s long-term relationship with a Florida physician, so the public learned the Florida congressman was gay from graphic IM chats he had with pages. Former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe skated by the same way, until allegations from pages surfaced against him, too.

    Singer George Michael lost a longtime lover to AIDS and even dedicated a CD to him, but the media left the subject of his homosexuality alone until he was arrested for offering sex to an undercover cop in a public toilet.

    You get the picture.

    Of course the other willing participants in the cover-up are the closeted celebrities themselves. Griffin was demonized by activists like Michelangelo Signorile for not coming out earlier. Ever the morally outraged gossip columnist, Signorile blasted Griffin for not clueing in his pals Ron and Nancy Reagan about AIDS, even though Signorile has no evidence he didn’t. For that sin, Griffin is apparently culpable for the horrific deaths of thousands.

    Washington Post TV columnist Tom Shales rallied to Griffin’s defense, explaining away his closet saying the truth would have destroyed his career. That excuse might have worked in the ‘70s and maybe even the ‘80s, but Griffin and the world changed too much in the last 20 years for that dog to hunt. Just look at Lily Tomlin, for example. And shame on Shales for not fessing up to how questions of homosexuality and the closet are personal ones for him, too.

    It takes two to tango, or in this case, perpetuate the double standard. Until the press is prepared to ask questions about happy romantic lives, it’s singularly unfair how they pounce on the scandals. And it’s even more revolting how leeches like Mark Foley or former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey wait until they’re wallowing in scandal to milk coming out for public sympathy.

    Are you listening, Anderson Cooper? Jodie Foster? Ricky Martin? How many more celebrity scandals — or funerals — do we need to get this right?

    August 19, 2007

    It's all about Melissa…

    Posted by: Chris

    Melissaforum Don't miss this hilarious "Daily Show" spoof on the HRC-Logo presidential forum and Melissa Etheridge's ability to make the selection of our next president all about her. It also features the show's "Most Immature Montage Ever," excerpting sexually suggestive clips from throughout the "debate."


    Making excuses on marriage

    Posted by: Chris

    In a piece for The New Republic, Jamie Kirchick echoed some of the same points I raised in my post about Mike Gravel's criticism of Hillary Clinton. Kirchick's point is that we shouldn't push the Democrats running for president to take a position on gay marriage, since the country isn't there yet. He bolsters his argument by pointing out, as I did, that gay marriage is a state-level issue, and thank goodness so:

    Aside from being legally sound, stressing federalism is a smart political tactic. It appeals to conservatives who oppose gay marriage (like former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr) but agree that it is a subject best left for states. It also acknowledges that the president's power to enact legislation on gay marriage is extremely limited.

    The most a Democratic president could do is repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996. This law explicitly prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay unions. It's a terrible law: Even though gay couples are equal before the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and gay couples in Vermont have the same rights as straight couples, they are still denied over 1,100 federal marriage benefits.

    A president could fight for its repeal, which would be a considerable accomplishment and open the door to granting federal benefits to gay couples in states where such unions are recognized. But marriage laws themselves are still within the purview of the states.

    I agree with Kirchick's general view, though I think it's important to continue to press presidential candidates on marriage, even if they and the country "aren't there yet."  Interestingly, Kirchick's column comes the same week Andrew Sullivan, a former TNR editor, took another gay pundit to task for making excuses for politicians on marriage.

    Jonathan Capehart, an editorialist for the Washington Post and one of the questioners at the HRC-Logo forum, penned a piece ostensibly about Bill Richardson's "choice" snafu but which ultimately ended up concluding that he didn't mind the candidates didn't commit on marriage. Wrote Capehart:

    Many gays and lesbians couldn't care less about the political calculus involved in gay marriage. They are being denied basic civil rights, and they want them now. Sen. Hillary Clinton's instructive recollection about the charged environment that led to the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, to head off an even more damaging constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, left more than a few people cold. That's understandable. …

    That's why I don't fault Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama or former senator John Edwards for their opposition to gay marriage, even if their explanations leave me scratching my head.

    Not exactly the words I'd use, because I do fault the Clinton and Obama for not showing leadership on marriage. For Sullivan, the problem wasn't so much this op-ed but Capehart's entire body of work as a columnist:

    Capehart is an openly gay journalist with wide access to the media. He is of the same generation as the rest of us who have forged a revolution in public attitudes about homosexuality. He is of the AIDS generation. He is a black man wirting and working at a time when gay black men need all the support they can get. But I have never seen a piece of his, an editorial or a speech defending or advancing the case for marriage equality - for his own equality as an American and as a human being. …

    Sometimes, a writer is called to stand up for something, rather than defend those who cannot stand for what's right. Too many gay activists in Washington have flunked that test. If we are not passionate about our own equality, how do we expect straight politicians to be?

    I would agree with Sullivan that it's fair to expect of gays and those who call themselves gay-friendly in positions capable of influence to speak out in favor of full marriage equality. At the same time, I agree with Capehart and Kirchick that in the presidential race, at least, marriage shouldn't be the focus — not this time around anyway. If public opinion keeps moving in our direction over the next four years, and a few more states manage to extend full marriage equality to gay couples, then all bets are off for 2008.

    It's not like me to be equivocal like this, but as firmly as I support the fight for marriage, the experience of the last five years since Massachusetts has taught us to pick our battles. Sullivan knows that himself, having praised the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision that allowed the legislature there the option of adopting civil unions.

    I would hope that all four of us agree that, in a perfect world, the U.S. Supreme Court might, in a Loving vs. Virginia type ruling, conclude that every state's hetero-only marriage law violates the federal Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. But given the volatile politics of marriage and the possibility such a landmark ruling could be nullified by constitutional amendment, we can't hold our breath for such a ruling — which would be unlikely from the current court anyway.

    So that means marriage is, for now, a state-level issue and saying so is not betraying our cause or committing a sin of Jim Crow proportions.

    August 16, 2007

    The fix was in for Hillary, take 2

    Posted by: Chris

    Addendum at the end of the post....

    Hilary Rosen is the most powerful person behind the gay rights movement that almost no one "outside the Beltway" has ever heard of.

    Picture21She was the longtime chief lobbyist for the Recording Industry Association of America (blame her for Napster's downfall) and longtime string-puller at the Human Rights Campaign. Most who have heard of her know her as also Elizabeth Birch's longtime partner, though they split up earlier this year.

    It turns out she was also the producer behind last week's HRC-Logo presidential forum. It's a bit dumbfounding that she played that role, including selecting the questions to be asked, considering she has already endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Hilary Rosen for Hillary Rodham, anyone?).

    This explains one interesting sidelight from the forum. Did anyone else notice how, as Hillary entered the stage to sit down with the panelists, the camera cut to Eric Alva, the gay Iraq veteran who has fought for "Don't Ask Don't Tell" repeal? Then, moments later, Hillary referred to Alva in her DADT comments. No chance that was coincidental. It was a gift from Hilary to Hillary, straight from the control room.

    She claimed to have been "unbiased" in her producer chair, but she had no business playing any organizing role whatsoever. More evidence the fix is in for HRC (the candidate) at HRC (the org).

    Rosen has never been shy about her contempt for me and my views and the coverage HRC has received from newspapers I've edited. So I was surprised how much I agreed with her take on the forum, posted on her (relatively new) lesbian social networking site called Our Chart.

    Among her thoughts:

    Barack Obama: He said that the difference between civil unions and marriage was "semantics." I found that remark patronizing. When candidates are selling themselves to be a new kind of politician and someone who will do things differently, they do have a responsibility to take our issues to the next level as well. I didn’t put that moniker on him, he put it on himself. Yet he wants to pick and choose the exceptions.

    Agreed that calling the difference between civil unions and marriage "semantics" was Obama's weakest moment during the forum. But Rosen ignored the rest of what Obama had to say, when he connected the issue of gay marriage to interracial marriage, and then said even though his own parents would have been blocked from marrying by anti-miscegenation laws, Obama would have advised the black civil rights movement to pick its battles and wait on marriage. Not only is that refreshingly honest, it's also correct — at least at the presidential level.

    John Edwards:  I thought he went over board to convince us that he cares. Knowing what I do – that this has been a journey for him, (if people only knew how long it took us to get him to even co-sponsor ENDA when he got to the Senate).

    Agreed as well on Edwards feeling our pain just a little too enthusiastically. I wish people like Rosen had been more upfront before now about Edwards early days of resistance on gay rights. It makes his "journey" all the more suspicious, though Rosen credits the evolution as genuine.

    Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel: In theory I care about what they said, but in practice, I just don’t very much.

    Regular readers know that I agree with Rosen on both Kucinich and Gravel. I guess we know now the real reason Gravel was initially excluded from the forum.

    Bill Richardson: Though I haven’t talked to him since the Forum, I suspect that he heard the words choice v biology and since "choice" is a good thing in women’s rights and a major political word in that other context, he got confused. In any event, I think we should take his sincere multiple apologies at their word.

    Again, agreed, as I wrote here. I thought the press obsession with Richardson's "choice" gaffe was unfortunate, but par for the course for Richardson's mistake-prone campaign.

    Hillary Clinton: I heard her despair at Melissa Etheridge’s characterization of the Bill Clinton legacy (a powerful cut on Melissa’s part) and genuinely believe that she thinks they did better than that. I didn’t like her misstatement of the facts about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being progress when they knew at the time that no one thought so since we all protested the result. She was right that the existence of DOMA helped defeat the FMA in the last two Congress’s but they had no way of knowing that at the time they supported it.

    Here we part ways. Rosen is willing to credit "her friend" Hillary where many of us are not. And that's what it comes down to because, as Rosen points out, Clinton's defense of DOMA/DADT was disappointing and ineffectual.

    We keep seeing this with Hillary Clinton, whether on DOMA, DADT or even Iraq. Reverse positions without ever admitting error in the original. If she keeps getting these things wrong the first time around, why should we trust her judgment? Why shouldn't we dismiss her own "evolution" as tacking according to more favorable political winds?

    Addendum: One more thing has nagged at me: The candidates supposedly appeared on stage in the order they agreed to the debate.  Hillary was the second candidate (after Obama) to say yes, and that's why the original HRC-Logo announcement included only these two as confirmed participants.

    So why wasn't Hillary second on the stage, after Obama, instead of last — where she could capitalize on building expectations for her appearance and leave the last impression with viewers?  More evidence still that it pays to have "your girl" in the control room?

    For a complete summary of gay issues in the U.S. presidential campaign visit www.gaynewswatch.com/whitehouse08

    August 15, 2007

    Gravel vs. Hillary on states' rights

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillarygravel Who would have thought the 2008 presidential campaign would feature, even for a millisecond, a dust-up between Hillary Clinton and Mike Gravel over states' rights. But here we are.

    Gravel has penned an op-ed in Huffington Post blasting Hillary for saying during last week's Human Rights Campaign-Logo debate that marriage is an issue appropriately left for the states to decide. Writes Gravel:

    By drawing upon the language of states rights, Hillary embraces the tradition of John Calhoun and the defenders of slavery along with Strom Thurmond and the segregationists.  Throughout our nation's history,  every time national public opinion turns against oppression, opponents of progress use states rights to present themselves as defenders of liberty in the face of federal power.

    States rights has always been the last refuge of the bigots.  Now Hillary has given rhetorical cover to the homophobes.  If she wins the Democratic nomination, opponents of gay marriage will cite her statement to justify their opposition to national marriage equality over the next decade.

    Gravel's history lesson is correct, even if it's a bit out of context in the debate over marriage. It has been interesting, indeed, to watch Democrats retreat to states' rights as a way of avoiding federal action on the gay marriage issues, even as Republicans abandon a long history of states' rights devotion to propose a "federal marriage amendment" that would take the issue away from the states to decide.

    But it's simplistic to suggest, as Gravel does, that any recourse to states' rights amounts to abandoning a federal civil rights commitment. Our federal system properly leaves some issues for the states to decide, whether because they are better if reflective of local values (admittedly a bit of a wormhole there) or because states can more easily experiment with policy and arrive at a variety of policy solutions that each can be judged later on how they've performed.

    Gravel should remember that if marriage were a federal issue, then gays would have no place in the U.S. to marry. The landmark Massachusetts high court ruling in 2003, and the Vermont, Hawaii, New Jersey rulings before and since, would have been impossible if the issue were merely one for the (more conservative) U.S. Supreme Court to decide. Bush vs. Gore anyone?

    If Gravel is harboring the illusion that the president and Congress could simply decide the gay marriage issue on their own, he's most likely wrong. Congressional power is limited to clauses in the Constitution that give the federal government limited powers to legislate. Everything not listed is reserved for the states.

    The federal government has gotten away with passing a whole host of laws the Framers probably didn't intend by arguing that the issue impacts "interstate commerce," one of the Constitution's  enumerated powers. But the Supreme Court struck down a gun control law a few years ago that tried that argument, and any effort to legislate marriage, an issue long left to the states, would no doubt be challenged on similar grounds.

    Gay couples are already learning how our patchwork legal system, with some states offering some rights and some offering others, can wreak havoc on stability and protections. But we are still in the early days of mapping out a solution -- especially one that has a prayer of passing Congress. The Defense of Marriage Act, which allows one state to ignore another state's marriage licenses if issued to gay couples, only exacerbates that problem (and is probably unconstitutional on its own right).

    We are still a long way from uniform rights to gay marriage, like exist in Canada, South Africa and several European countries. I would be the first to argue that the Constitution really does require such uniformity, because any state law depriving gay couples of the rights and responsibilities of marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause. But a win on that point, which is unlikely with the current Supreme Court, would no doubt be followed by a (probably unstoppable) push for a federal marriage amendment.

    So Gravel can score some cheap debate points by lecturing Hillary about states rights and marriage. And he's right that she has retreated to that rationalization to avoid her own responsibility to stand up for full equality for gay couples. But the reality is we need for marriage to remain a states' rights issue, at least until we have the public support to block a constitutional amendment that would set us back decades.

    For a complete news summary on gay issues in the presidential campaign, visit www.gaynewswatch.com/whitehouse08

    For a complete news summary on gay marriage, visit www.gaynewswatch.com/marriageequality

    August 13, 2007

    A great gift idea for gay bashers

    Posted by: Chris

    Gi_artie2jpg Joseph Gannascoli is clearly aiming to milk his 15 minutes in the spotlight. On the heels of his "cookbook novel" called "A Meal to Die For," the actor who played "gay Vito" on HBO's "The Sopranos" is now peddling pool cues.

    You see, after several seasons as a closeted mobster, Vito got "whacked" by the family when they learned he was gay, and the method of the murder was beating him to death with a pool cue.

    "I have teamed up with the greatest billiards manufacturer in the country to make this signature pool cue. It is a great collectible for Soprano's fans and a perfect cue for all pool players," says Gannascoli in a press release that is as clueless as it is self-promotional. (Gannascoli claims he thought up the idea of the gay character and brought it to series producer David Chase.)

    What's next? Matthew Shepard's murderers selling fencing?

    August 11, 2007

    Real men aren't homophobes

    Posted by: Chris

    Remember back a couple of years ago when rapper Kanye West came out against anti-gay lyrics in hip hop? He said being called a mama's boy when he was younger caused him to become homophobic. "'Cause it’s like I would go back and question myself," he said back then.

    Well it looks like admitting he had a problem wasn't the first step for Kanye West ridding himself of homophobia.

    Responding to a tough-guy rapper who called him gay, West's response is old school. "I'm not gangsta, but I'm not gay either. Don't disrespect me as a fuckin' man."

    Grow a pair, Kanye. Real men are secure enough in their sexual orientation that being called gay isn't a threat to their manhood.

    August 10, 2007

    Grade the Dems: Hillary gets an B

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillaryclintonhrcdemforu (Don't forget to vote in the Vizu poll in the right column below on which candidate you think did the best last night.)

    Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed last night what we already know about her — whether the issue is gay rights, Iraq or any other political hot potato. She will talk a good game, connect with her audience and ultimately commit to doing the absolute minimum she thinks she can get away with committing to.

    Whether it's gays in the military or gay marriage, Hillary will calibrate her position according to the political winds, and so will accomplish nothing more and nothing less than what's achievable without the expense of any political capital. That is not leadership.

    Just look at how she defended her record: DADT was justified as a "transitional" measure to spare gay service members from witch hunts. I'm old enough to remember that (Bill) Clinton seemed so shell-shocked by the whole debate that he never actually defended his view. He just kept repeating "we don't have a person to waste." Same with DOMA, where Hillary rationalized her support for it, even though she now supports a repeal of it — well, a half-repeal of it. (Obama opposed it from the beginning and backs full repeal.)

    Joe Solmonese dominated the early questioning of Hillary and after an inexplicable softball on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," pushed her on marriage. Even with such a friendly questioner, Hillary was unable to articulate the reason she's opposed to gay marriage except to say "it's a personal position."  At least Edwards admits to being on a "journey." At least Richardson says he wants to focus on what's achievable. Hillary says nothing at all. She instead skillfully changes the subject, focusing on Karl Rove, George Bush and every other applause line that occurs to her.

    She did say that the right strategy was to leave marriage up to the states to decide, leading Solmonese to ask why states' rights isn't any more a red herring now than it was during the black civil rights movement. Hillary's response was telling: "This has not been a long-term struggle yet," she said about the push for marriage equality. So don't expect anything approximating rapid progress if she's your president, she might as well have added.

    Melissa Etheridge ended up asking the same tough question of Hillary that I had hoped would be asked. She recalled coming out publicly for the first time during the week of Bill Clinton's inauguration, and all the excitement and encouragement felt by gays because of his election. But she also remembered how "our hearts were broken" when "we were pushed under the bus." Bill Clinton signed DOMA and DADT, and nothing got done on ENDA or hate crimes.

    Challenged to explain why we should expect better from her than her husband, Hillary signaled that we pretty much shouldn't. She defended her husband's record, even though she now opposes his two signature pieces of gay-related legislation, and suggested we should have been satisfied that a few gays got White House jobs and Bob Hattoy spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

    Why don't you lead, asked Melissa. "I think I am a leader," responded Hillary. I think I disagree.

    Hillary Rodham Clinton is no doubt more genuine in support of gay rights than John Edwards, but neither of them impresses me as likely to truly lead on our behalf. Richardson may be gaffe-prone, but at least he's proven he can get things done, and Obama has the potential to truly inspire progress on our issues in a way Hillary and John Edwards can't fathom.

    The choice gets clearer and clearer.

    Here's Hillary's full 15 minutes:

    Grade the Dems: Give Bill a B+

    Posted by: Chris

    Billrichardsonforumhrc (Don't forget to vote in the Vizu poll in the right column below on which candidate you think did the best last night.)

    Much of the coverage around last night's forum has focused on Bill Richardson's answer to a question from Melissa Etheridge about whether homosexuality is a choice or biological. To Richardon's discredit, he said the former, though he has enthusiastically reversed himself in statements issued since.

    In some ways, the question says more about us than the answer says about Richardson. Why do we care if a candidate for president believes it's nurture and not nature? Do we really need validation at every level from everybody, just like our conservative opponents claim we do?

    I'm reminded of the Peter Pace controversy, where we all complained that the chairman of the joint chiefs injected his own views about homosexuality into a policy debate, and yet we freaked out when leading Democrats weren't immediately willing to do the same. Either private views about homosexuality are relevant or they're not. I prefer to judge by actions, not words, as Richardson suggested we do.

    Margaret Carlson pointed out in a follow-up question that conservatives harp on the "choice" issue as a justification for opposing our rights, but clearly Richardson doesn't. And even if agrees with them on "choice," he can also say to them that the question itself is a non-issue, since he still supports our equal rights (except for marriage).

    It's ironic to me that Melissa and so many other women who speak out so forcefully about a woman's "right to choose" to terminate her pregnancy, would suggest we have no "right to choose" our sexual orientation or aren't entitled to full civil rights if we do.

    I certainly didn't choose my sexual orientation, and I disagree fundamentally with Governor Richardson's response. But to read so many say how he "imploded" with his response just shows how needy we remain for the right kind of rhetoric, rather than the right kind of laws.

    Speaking of the right rhetoric, kudos to Jonathan Capehart for pressing Richardson about his "maricón" moment on the Don Imus show. Richardson's response was better this time, as you'd hope it would be, saying he apologized without conditioning his contrition with ominous suggestions about the motives of those (that would be me) who dug up the gaffe.

    Throughout his 15 minutes on camera, Richardson tried again and again to return the conversation to his very strong record of actual achievements in gay rights, but the "choice" and "maricón" gaffes only underline how easily he and voters have been distracted from his impressive resume — on this and so many other issues. It's the central conundrum of his candidacy.

    Joe Solmonese asked Richardson the night's only question about immigration rights for binational couples, and Richardson's response was strong. He voiced support for the Uniting American Families Act, now pending in Congress, and he told the story of a staffer who couldn't enjoy the benefits of the domestic partnerships Richardson signed into law as governor because his partner was in Mexico.

    It's unfortunate and a painful missed opportunity that the UAFA question got asked of Richardson, who's already on board with the issue, and not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who've said they support the idea in principle but haven't signed on to UAFA in particular.  Perhaps if real journalists were asking all the questions, they would have been directed to the right candidate.

    Solmonese also pressed Richardson on marriage, trying to move him off previous statements that he would do "what is achievable," meaning domestic partnerships or civil unions. Richardson wasn't budging and frankly I think his answer is more honest than any other candidate's in the race. If the reason is political, at least he's willing to say so, and not wax on about his "personal journey" (Edwards) or give no real answer at all (Clinton).

    I'm just cynical enough to believe that Solmonese's tough questioning of Richardson and the other candidates represents just another way of indirectly helping "the other HRC": Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    As for Richardson, I would be tempted to give him a D for disappointment, but his record his too strong, and I believe he is more genuine than John "feel your pain" Edwards. So I'll give Bill a B+.

    Here's his full 15 minutes:

    Grade the Dems: Give Gravel a C

    Posted by: Chris

    Mikegravel_2 (Don't forget to vote in the Vizu poll in the right column below on which candidate you think did the best last night.)

    At least he'll tell it like it is, or at least how he sees it, without worrying about stepping on toes or staying politically correct. Mike Gravel is as full-steam-ahead on gay rights (including marriage) as Dennis Kucinich, and unlike the Ohio congressman, Gravel won't hesitate to tell you why the others aren't on board.

    But Gravel shares with Kucinich a general disassociation with reality, and his support for gay marriage comes along with a whole host of zany policy positions that are complete non-starters for most Americans.

    Gravel argued that gays only hurt themselves by supporting Hillary-Obama-Edwards when they stiff us on marriage, but I would argue we hurt ourselves more by associating our cause with a man who admits he's a "kooky maverick."

    On gay marriage, Gravel said with a straight face that he believes the U.S. public would support full marriage equality if a referendum were held today. What can you say about someone so out of touch?  Perhaps he's been dipping into the marijuana that he would legalize for sale in liquor stores, or the harder drugs he would allow doctors to prescribe.

    Solmonese, again, asked what I thought was the best question, pressing Gravel to talk about his record on gay rights, and whether it lived up to the rhetoric he voices so forcefully today. Gravel's answer was illuminating; he had to go back 45 years, to his first year in the Alaska state senate, when he said he pushed through legislation for a human rights commission that dealt with gay rights issues along with race. Assuming his account is accurate, I think it would be fair to ask what he's done for us lately.

    Gravel is at ease with gay issues and his enthusiasm appears genuine. But if he really cared about gay rights and gay marriage, he would have more of a record to show for it.

    His full 15 minutes:

    Grade the Dems: D is for Dennis

    Posted by: Chris

    Denniskucinichforum(Don't forget to vote in the Vizu poll in the right column below on which candidate you think did the best last night.)

    "I send you great love." That was the message Dennis Kucinich, whose drag name would no doubt be Polly Anna, because that's where 99.9 percent of his rhetoric lies. He had Melissa Etheridge and many members of the La-La Land audience swooning, which just about says it all. Joe Solmonese called him "an outspoken hero" for our community.

    Huh? This man took one-tenth the political risk of Barack Obama, John Edwards or Hillary Clinton in his answers at last night's forum. He had absolutely nothing to lose by preaching to the choir on gay rights, and in fact had everything to gain.

    "Keep those donations coming," he said, and oh yes that's exactly the aim here. That's not to say I doubt his sincerity.  He may come across like he's doing a late-night infomercial to sell a series of self-help cassettes, but he no doubt smokes his own dope on gay issues. (He backs medical marijuana, natch.)

    Why am I so cynical about a presidential candidate who seemingly says all the right things on gay issues. First of all, because he doesn't. His "feel the love" rhetoric isn't like to win over a single vote in Congress on gay rights legislation, other than those members munching on the same pot brownies.

    We need reality-based effective leadership, a man (or woman) with a plan. But when Joe Solmonese asked Kucinich what "hurdles" ENDA faces to pass the House, Kucinich sang the praises of Barney Frank and failed utterly to answer the question or offer any concrete strategy suggestions.

    Jonathan Capehart offered Kucinich a few opportunities to take some actual political risk in his responses, but Kucinich punted in the worst way. Capehart asked the Ohio congressman why he thinks only two of the eight leading candidates support marriage equality, and followed up by asking whether his position meant Obama, Clinton Edwards et al don't support real equality.

    Kucinich would have none of it, and launched into another verse of "Kum ba yah." 

    When Melissa Etheridge abandoned all semblance of objectivity and gushed that she hopes Kucinich will keep running for president till he wins, Kucinich responded that it took him five times to get elected to Congress. Imagine that, and he was running for the same district he had represented as mayor. Maybe the good folks of Cleveland are telling us something.

    I wouldn't buy a used car from this guy, much less support him for president. He may get an A for his policy positions, but he gets a flat F for being able to do anything about it.

    Here's his full 15 minutes of claptrap:

    Grade the Dems: Edwards gets a B

    Posted by: Chris

    Johnedwardshrcforum_2(Don't forget to vote in the Vizu poll in the right column below on which candidate you think did the best last night.)

    Let me just get this out of the way: I don't trust John Edwards. He comes across as all slick and no willie — or Bill Clinton without the substance, as I've said before.

    That said, the man has considerable charm and persuasive skill, from years as a trial lawyer and politician, and he's honed those skills to a fine point for this race, which represents his best and last chance at being president.

    On the issues, Edwards was effective last night, hitting every major policy point, including a few not touched by the others, like gay couple adoption rights, gay-inclusive curriculum in public schools, homeless gay youth, a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and even immigration rights for binational couples ("We have such work to do to keep loving couples together who are separated because of immigration laws that are unfair.").

    The most interesting exchange came again, with my old pal Joe Solmonese, who pressed Edwards on marriage. With almost no prodding, Edwards backtracked on previous occasions when he said his faith led him in part to opposing full marriage equality. It was a point that had stung him in the CNN-YouTube debate, and he was clearly prepared for it here.

    But Edwards did not go on to say what, if not his faith, did lead him to stop at civil unions. Prodded again by Solmonese, Edwards said, "We're past the time for political double-speak on this." Apparently not, since Edwards still never spelled out why he won't support marriage equality.

    He chided Obama for dodging when Solmonese had asked whether he could see why civil unions sound "separate but equal" to most gay people. "It makes perfect sense to me that people would feel" that stops short of "real equality," added Edwards, but then he never explained why then his position hasn't changed. One step forward for candor, two steps back.

    He also took a sideways shot at Hillary Clinton, saying "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" isn't just wrong now, but was wrong when it was adopted. That's a slam on Hillary, who has called it the best that could be done politically at the time. But the shot was a cheap one, as far as I'm concerned. Edwards' early Senate record from the late '90s was decidedly mixed on gay rights, and I have zero doubt that if he'd been in the Senate way back in 1993, he would have gone along with Sam Nunn and other Southern Democrats in the DADT "compromise."

    Further evidence of that? DOMA. Edwards also said the Defense of Marriage Act was "wrong then and is now," and yet when he ran for president last time around he defended the half of DOMA that allows one
    state to refuse recognition of gay marriages from other states. In fact, I've nowhere seen Edwards specifically commit to full repeal of DOMA. If he did last night, it was for the first time.

    Jonathan Capehart picked up that line, pushing Edwards to explain why we should believe he would defend our rights when the politics get heated, considering how he and running mate John Kerry did everything but just a few short years ago. Edwards never explained his previous reticence, and his promise of future support rang hollow — at least to me.

    Here's the full 15 minutes of Edwards during the forum:

    Grade the Dems: Barack gets an A

    Posted by: Chris

    BarackhrcforumblogA day late and a dollar (or a paltry R$1.95 Brazilian reais) short, I'm watching the HRC-Logo forum for the Democratic presidential candidates. I'll offer my thoughts and grades here, but you can, too.  Vote on the Vizu poll you'll find on the right column of the blog if you scroll down a bit.

    Barack Obama led off last night's HRC-Logo presidential forum with pretty much a home run, as far as I'm concerned. He hit all the right notes, committed on policy, promised leadership not just talk, and spoke with a passion in a way that connects gay civil rights to black civil rights, while recognizing their differences.

    HRC President Joe Solmonese, who has gotten his share of criticism on this blog, pressed Obama with two excellent questions about marriage, first challenging Obama's most recent debate answer that suggests a role for religion in defining the civil institution, and asking how Obama would have voted on marriage if it had come up during his time in the Illinois legislature.

    Obama's answers were as good as could be expected from a candidate who does not support full marriage equality. But remember, the president and Congress can't "enact" gay marriage.  All they can do is (try to) prevent states from doing so, and decide what type of recognition to offer gay couples who are married, civil union'd or otherwise committed to one another.

    Obama promised fully "compatible" federal rights for gay couples in civil unions and "loving same-sex couples" in committed relationships.  It would be nice if he supported gay marriage, but it's irrelevant at the policy level.

    Two other quick points: Obama noted his opposition to DOMA when he ran for the Senate in 2004. There's no  asterisk to that opposition, as there is for Clinton, Edwards and most of the others. He opposes all of DOMA, including the half that blocks federal recognition of gays married by states and (unlike the others) the half that allows one state to refuse recognition of gay marriages from other states. That's a major policy difference, even if he didn't highlight it specifically last night.

    Obama talks about gay rights, including civil unions, in a way that fits nicely into his "new kind of politics" and his historic candidacy. Unlike Hillary, who remains a deeply divisive figure, Obama can actually bring people together.

    Finally (OK this is three points), he handled well questions from Washington Post editorialist Jonathan Capehart about homophobia in the black community. I've watched Obama closely on this, and I thought he did a good job of defending his record of talking about gay issues in front of potentially hostile audiences, including black ministers.

    All in all, Obama was very impressive, and downright inspirational.

    Here's the full video of his 15-minutes in the forum:

    MIA for the HRC/Logo forum

    Posted by: Chris

    I was living a bit of anti-gay discrimination during the Democratic presidential candidates' forum on gay rights issues tonight.  The event coincided with an incredibly long travel day for me, begun at 6 a.m. in São Paulo, Brazil, and finished as I arrived at the Washington, D.C., apartment of a friend at almost 3 a.m.

    The reason for the trip home? My 3-month visa was up for staying in Brazil, so I had to return to the States before heading back down.

    I've read some accounts of the forum and watched some of it online.  It looks like Richardson again fumbled big-time, this time on whether being gay is a "choice." It's sad to see a candidate who really does have the strongest gay rights record in the race implode in non-policy gaffes like his "maricón" moment and now this.

    For entirely selfish reasons, I had hoped to see the candidates pressed on immigration rights for gay binational couples, but I haven't seen sign of that so far in the coverage.  After I've had a chance to sleep, I'll be able to offer more coherent analysis.

    Boa noite!

    August 08, 2007

    Ask the Dems: John Edwards

    Posted by: Chris

    Johnedwards Regular readers of this blog (or my take on things while editing gay newspapers) already know that I'm not a huge fan of John Edwards.  He strikes me as a Bill Clinton "who hasn't read the books," as former aide Bob Shrum put it. That means all the former president's "feel your pain," but without his gravity as a policymaker.

    Nonetheless, he has hit some strong notes on gay-related issues, so much so that I marked him the "front-runner" on gay issues at one point, at least before the Human Rights Campaign questionnaire came out, making clear that all the leading Dems back a full range of federal legal recognition of gay couples in civil unions and other long-term relationships.

    It was a long way from Edwards' weak record on gay rights in his first term as a senator from conservative North Carolina, offering fertile territory for his tough debate question:

    Senator Edwards, you’ve talked about your “personal journey” on gay marriage, but the description also applies to your overall gay rights record. A former top aide of yours wrote in his memoir that you once said you weren’t “comfortable around those people,” meaning gays, and you received a 66 out of 100 from HRC during your first term in the Senate. Is your support today for gay rights today real, or are you Mitt Romney, the pro-gay Republican from Massachusetts who's now anti-gay, in reverse?

    Previous questions:
    Dennis Kucinich
    Joe Biden (not attending)
    Chris Dodd (cancelled)
    Bill Richardson

    Hillary Clinton
    Barack Obama

    For a complete summary of gay issues in the presidential race, go to: http://www.gaynewswatch.com/whitehouse08

    August 07, 2007

    Ask the Dems: Barack Obama

    Posted by: Chris

    Obamafist I like Barack Obama. Among the top-three Democrats, he's the only one for whom I can muster genuine enthusiasm. (Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd impress me most among the second tier.) I wish this election were four years later in Obama's political life, but it seems to me he's immune from criticism on this point from either Hillary Clinton or John Edwards.

    Hillary made a point during her tenure as first lady to say she wasn't involved in policy; now of course she and her camp are trying to spin in reverse. When some claim she is "the most qualified candidate" in the Democratic race, all they do is discredit themselves.  Richardson (especially), Dodd and Biden easily outpace her in policy experience, if not in time in the national spotlight.  The third top-tier candidate, Edwards, has more experience running for president and milking money from jurors as a trial lawyer than he does in actual policy.

    So that leaves Obama, and I find very appealing his message about a "new kind of politics." I have seen some signs of old politics, however, in how his outreach to black voters — and the conservative black church in particular — has muted his voice on gay issues. Case and point was his flub on gay marriage in a recent debate, when he conflated civil marriage with whether churches would permit gays to wed. He's way too smart to be that confused.

    As far as his toughest question, I'd stick with gay marriage, but focus in on how he could actually address the issue as president:

    Senator Obama, when you ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, you said you disagreed with the Defense of Marriage Act at the time it was enacted in 1996, but you also defended the law in a candidate questionnaire from a conservative group. Do you support full repeal of DOMA, including the part that allows each state to ignore valid marriage licenses issued to gay couples by other states?

    Previous questions:
    Dennis Kucinich
    Joe Biden
    Chris Dodd
    Bill Richardson

    Hillary Clinton

    For a complete summary of gay issues in the presidential race, go to: http://www.gaynewswatch.com/whitehouse08

    August 06, 2007

    Ask the Dems: Hillary Clinton

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillaryblog Hillary Clinton is now the clear frontrunner and has recruited high profile gay supporters, but as I've written about extensively in the past, the New York senator’s specific positions on gay rights are as carefully calibrated as her views on Iraq.


    There are any number of individual positions that could be questioned, from her support for only half-repeal of DOMA, to her dodgy support for the Uniting American Families Act.  But pressed to come up with the toughest, most important question for Hillary Clinton, I would ask this:

    Senator Clinton, many gays remember how betrayed they felt when your husband pledged support for gay rights and went on to sign “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act into law. You supported both laws at the time but now say you favor gays in the military and partial repeal of DOMA. Will your campaign rhetoric translate into real leadership on gay rights legislation, even when the going gets politically tough as it did for your husband?

    Previous questions:
    Dennis Kucinich
    Joe Biden
    Chris Dodd
    Bill Richardson

    For a complete summary of gay issues in the presidential race, go to: http://www.gaynewswatch.com/whitehouse08

    August 04, 2007

    A trans activist tees off on ENDA

    Posted by: Chris

    Martibio1 It's a neat trick to cite the EEOC and case law that supports my position and then somehow argue that it doesn't, but Indy-based trans activist Marti Abernathy pulled it off in a post on the Bilerico Project.

    Chris Crain has repeatedly suggested that transgender people don't need to be included in the Employee Non-Discrimination Act because "existing federal civil rights laws have already been interpreted by some judges to protect trans workers. A recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) informal discussion letter would suggest otherwise:

    Historically, courts and the EEOC have held that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination against an individual because of transgendered status. In the past few years, however, some courts have determined that discrimination against a transgendered individual may constitute unlawful gender stereotyping in violation of Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination.

    Whether discrimination against a transgendered individual may constitute discrimination based on sex in violation of Title VII is a factual question that cannot be determined outside the context of specific charges of discrimination and a complete investigation.

    Title VII only covers transgender people if their employer "sex stereotyped" them. Sex stereotyping is a form of harassment directed at a person because that person does not conform to "traditional sex stereotypes." Sex stereotyping is just as illegal against a gay people as it is against transgender or heterosexual persons. Regardless of what you're told, it's still legal to fire someone for being transgender.

    The EEOC says exactly what I said: "existing federal civil rights laws have already been interpreted by SOME JUDGES to protect trans workers."

    Is it every judge? No. Would adding "gender identity" to ENDA ensure protection? Absolutely. But my point was that, under current case law, at least SOME judges interpret Title VII to protect transgender people.

    Abernathy's assertion that "sex stereotyping is just as illegal against a gay people as it is against transgender or heterosexual persons" is misleading. I have yet to see a single court decision applying Title VII to protect a gay worker from discrimination based on sex-stereotyping.

    In fact, employers routinely argue that because the worker is gay (or the discrimination was anti-gay), then Title VII does not apply. So even though gay worker John got called a "faggot" more because he is effeminate than because he has a boyfriend, the courts rule he has no rights because Title VII doesn't protect gays.

    So rather than make the case for trans-inclusion in ENDA, Abernathy has reinforced why immediate action is needed more by gays than trans people. Comparing that need would be irrelevant, of course, if politics weren't an issue. But with the political groundwork not yet laid for trans protections, it is unfair, irresponsible and immoral to withhold protection for gay workers who need it now, for that happy day when we can also protect those "some" transgender workers who need it as well.

    August 03, 2007

    De Nile ain't just a river…

    Posted by: Chris

    Boballenvid The cop from the Village People isn't the only public figure in homo-denial this week. Two more examples surfaced just today.

    First, there was Florida state Rep. Bob Allen, the conservative Republican busted for soliciting sex from an undercover cop. He finally told his version of events, albeit via a recorded interview with police. According to an Orlando Sentinel report, he was only going with the flow, afraid of all the black people around the public park at the time:

    "I certainly wasn't there to have sex with anybody and certainly wasn't there to exchange money for it. This was a pretty stocky black guy, and there was nothing but other black guys around in the park," Allen, who is white,  told police in a taped statement  after his arrest. Allen said he feared he "was about to be a statistic" and would have said anything just to get away.

    Even setting aside the racist paranoia, Allen's version doesn't explain away the version related by the "stocky black" undercover cop:

    Three undercover officers said they were staking out a nearby condo hoping to catch a burglar when Allen entered a park bathroom at about 3:30 p.m. The officers, who didn't recognize the seven-year legislator, said they thought he was behaving suspiciously and thought that he was looking for a sexual partner. …

    Titusville Officer Danny Kavanaugh recalled entering the restroom twice and said he was drying his hands in a stall when Allen peered over the stall door. After peering over the stall a second time, Allen pushed open the door and joined Kavanaugh inside, the officer wrote. Allen muttered "  'hi,'  " and then said, "  'this is kind of a public place, isn't it,'  " the report said.

    The officer said he asked Allen about going somewhere else and that the legislator suggested going "across the bridge, it's quieter over there."

    "Well look, man, I'm trying to make some money; you think you can hook me up with 20 bucks?" Kavanaugh asked Allen.

    The officer said Allen responded, "Sure, I can do that, but this place is too public."

    Then Kavanaugh said he told Allen, "I wanna know what I gotta do for 20 bucks before we leave.'  " He said Allen replied: "I don't know what you're into."

    According to Kavanaugh's statement, the officer said, "do you want just [oral sex]?" and Allen replied, "I was thinking you would want one."

    It's he said-he said, of course, but if police weren't even there for a vice sting, then Allen's version is looking shakier and shakier…

    Then there was former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who snapped angrily at a Time Out New York reporter who asked him to address long-standing rumors that he's gay. The New York Post's Page Six tells the story:

    Time Out New York writer Alison Rosen asked the former mayor, "Are you gay?" Koch fired back, "When was the last time you performed oral sex on your boyfriend?" A flustered Rosen responded, "Well, I'm single now, so it was a long time ago" - to which Koch scolded, "See, I don't think you should answer that question. It's an improper question, and so is yours. My sexual orientation is none of your business, and whether or not you performed oral sex on your boyfriend is none of my business."

    Good for the TONY reporter for calling his bluff! Memo to Koch: It's 2007, not 1957, and saying whether you're gay isn't the equivalent of talking about your last blowjob. Anymore than saying you're heterosexual is the same as dishing on your last time in the missionary position. No wonder he endorsed Bush's re-election.


    August 02, 2007

    Methinks he doth protest…

    Posted by: Chris

    Villagepeoplecop_2waaaay too much!

    Victor Willis, the troubled ex-frontman for the Village People, is mounting a comeback with a tell-all book detailing his frustration with his flamboyant gay bandmates and why they ultimately caused him to leave the group in the early '80s.

    Willis, best-known for portraying the cop and the naval admiral in the '70s disco group, also reveals "Y.M.C.A." was never meant to refer to gay cruising, says his publicist Alice Wolf. Wolf says the group was on tour when Willis wrote the lyrics at the behest of the band's French producer, Jacques Morali, who wrote the music. But Willis never intended the homosexual innuendo that many fans read into the song.

    "Victor Willis wrote about the YMCA and having fun there, but the type of fun he was talking about was straight fun," insists Wolf, adding that Willis has nothing against homosexuality. "When he says, 'Hang out with all the boys'... he's talking about the boys, the fellas.... But it's one of those ambiguous songs that was taken that way because of the gay association with Village People."

    Riiiight. So how does he explain writing the lyrics for "In the Navy," "Go West" and (ahem!) "Macho Man"? Someone's Freudian (pink) slip is showing.

    August 01, 2007

    Ask the Dems: Bill Richardson

    Posted by: Chris

    Story1 Bill Richardson is the big enigma in the Democratic primaries. His resume is the best in the contest, on gay rights and generally. He's Latino, and he brims with confidence. Unfortunately, that confidence once in awhile comes off as cocky or even flippant.

    It's a bit of a mystery to me how a man who successfully negotiated with Saddam Hussein and the North Koreans could be as glib as he's been at times on issues as complex as Iraq. It's probably that same cocksure quality that got him into trouble with the gays — referring, of course, to his  “maricón moment.” on the Don Imus show.

    As noted, Richardson arguably has the strongest gay rights record in the race, including actually pushing into law workplace rights, a gay and trans-inclusive hate crimes law and domestic partnership for state employees. Then came news of his "maricón moment."

    The most troubling thing about the whole incident for me were his wavering explanations and his attempt to pin the whole story on a rival campaign, which we know is bunk.  It broke because a reader of this blog saw the positive things I'd written about him (here and here) and let me know about the maricón in his closet.

    As much as I'd like to ask Richardson to defend his spurious claim about the origin of that story, I would stick to the issues and for his "toughest question" I would ask this:

    Governor Richardson, many gay people were shocked you called a staffer with shock jock Don Imus a “maricón” in an on-air joke because he didn’t believe you were really Latino. You have said the word means “simply gay” to you and not “faggot,” as gay activists and many gay Latinos have claimed. But why would the Imus staffer be “simply gay” for not believing you were Latino? Shouldn’t you take full responsibility for what was clearly intended as a slur?

    Previous questions:
    Dennis Kucinich
    Joe Biden
    Chris Dodd

    For a complete summary of gay issues in the presidential race, go to: http://www.gaynewswatch.com/whitehouse08

    Ask the Dems: Chris Dodd

    Posted by: Chris

    Chrisdod Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is a stark contrast from his mid-Atlantic colleague Joe Biden. Where Biden has dodged specifics and been phobic about commitments, Dodd has signed on the dotted line. Unlike front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Dodd has received a full-fledged 100 on the Human Rights Campaign's congressional report card.

    On the campaign stump and in mainstream debates, Dodd appears to speak from the heart on gay issues, asking straight voters what they would want if their son or daughter were gay. He concludes that if his own daughter were gay, he'd want for her to be equal, so he supports civil unions. It's a non-sequiter, considering civil unions aren't equal, but it's not where I'd got with my "toughest question" for Dodd.

    Instead, I'd fire a fastball right down the center, focused on his long career in the U.S. Senate, and whether he could demonstrate some real leadership of the Oval Office variety:

    Senator Dodd, basic gay rights legislation has languished in Congress for more than a decade, including during times when Democrats controlled one or both houses and the White House. Even today, the public supports hate crimes, workplace rights and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal, but they haven’t come up for a vote in the Senate, where you serve. Being president requires leadership, so why don’t you lead now and call publicly for votes now on all three bills?

    Previous questions:
    Dennis Kucinich
    Joe Biden


    For a complete summary of gay issues in the presidential race, go to: http://www.gaynewswatch.com/whitehouse08

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