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    June 29, 2009

    White House hosts gay reception today

    Posted by: Andoni

    Gay flag

    UPDATE:  Watch a video of the speech here.

    To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, President Obama has invited 250 LGBT leaders from across the country to the White House for a cocktail reception today. Brian Bond, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, makes note of this event on the official White House web page. And if you wish to be a witness to history, you can tune in to a live stream of the event here starting at 4:25 pm.

    Can anyone imagine such an event ever taking place under President Bush? The message that this event sends to the American people is incalculable. President Obama is saying that LGBT Americans are a valued part of the American fabric. Certainly there is a lot of work to be done to achieve equality, but this is definitely a good first step. I thank the president and look forward to his leadership on ensuring that gay America gains its equality during his administration.

    Now for the second step..........

    June 27, 2009

    Credit card scams (again)

    Posted by: Andoni


    I've reported before on the various shady ways credit card companies and currency exchangers (posing as ATM machines) are using to bilk customers and earn questionable extra profits.

    Well, last night at a restaurant at the Bangkok Airport, I encountered it again in an even more blatant fashion.

    Our food bill came to 609.90 Baht, and I decided to pay by credit card. However, when the charge slip arrived for my signature, I noticed the 609.90 Baht in big digits and then in tiny almost illegible digits was "USD 19.65." This alerted me that something wasn't right, so I asked if they had indeed charged me in Thai Baht or US dollars. The waiter answered that they charged me in Thai Baht. My next question was, "Well why does it have something in dollars here?" and he replied that it was there so I would know about how much to expect on my credit card statement. Then seeing that I was objecting, another person came over to assure me that the transaction had indeed occurred in Thai Baht (the proper way).

    I believed what they said, so I proceeded to sign ----- until midsignature, my eye caught the following statement at the bottom of the slip:

    "Please debit my account with the total amount in USD. I accept the I was given a choice to pay in Thai Baht and understand that the selected transaction currency is final. I understand that the currency conversion is provided by SCB."

    I was livid. This was an outright lie and they wanted me to put my signature to it. I was not given a choice. And they lied to me when I asked. I had expressly asked that the transaction be in Thai Baht. Yet I was about to sign an "informed consent" that said I had requested the charge in USD after being informed of my options. This signed slip would be their proof in any court that I was totally informed and aware of what was happening and that I made that choice - when in fact the whole thing was a lie.

    I immediately tore up the charge slip and simultaneously stood up, yelling at the waiter to call the manager, who by now had already heard me and had come out. My partner (a Thai national) was so embarrassed that he tried to shrink under the table.

    Quite frankly I don't know exactly what I said from that point on because I was so mad, but I do remember telling my partner to tell them in Thai that I was going to call the Tourist Police.

    That got their attention and they immediately starting working to calm me down. Everything was OK they said, and they would undo the transaction. After they undid transaction and gave me all the paperwork that goes with that, they presented me with a proper charge slip in Thai Baht. Needless to say there was no tip and as we stomped out of the place, with the manager and 3 waiters all at the door bowing in humility (maybe humiliation, who knows).

    I encountered this kind of thing in London -- everywhere. Even Harrod's did it, but they at least they really did ask if you wanted the transaction in USD or Pounds Sterling. Most places just do the transaction in dollars -- resulting in an extra 10% profit for them (which probably gets split between merchant and currency trader) - and when you sign the slip, it looks like you were given the choice and chose dollars. You've just signed an "informed consent" even though you weren't informed and they did it without your consent.

    All I can say is beware of this scam and it's variations. It's everywhere now. It's fraud. In fact it's more than fraud, it's outright stealing. When someone takes $100 from you for every $1000 you spend they are stealing real money from you. Now that I see this is global, this represents millions, no billions of dollars of ill gotten profit by banks, credit card companies, and currency exchange dealers.

    June 24, 2009

    Sanford's 'crime against morality'

    Posted by: Chris

    Marksanford Following the admission by Republican Gov. Mark Sanford that he had disappeared to Argentina as part of an extramarital affair, some have been minimizing the legal dimension of his offense.  Unlike Republican Sen. David Vitter (La.), who admitted to having sex with a prostitute, the South Carolina governor hasn't broken any laws.

    That may be untrue under South Carolina's penal code:

    Title 16 - Crimes and Offenses
    CHAPTER 15.

    SECTION 16-15-60. Adultery or fornication.
    Any man or woman who shall be guilty of the crime of adultery or fornication shall be liable to indictment and, on conviction, shall be severally punished by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five hundred dollars or imprisonment for not less than six months nor more than one year or by both fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the court.

    SECTION 16-15-70. "Adultery" defined.

    "Adultery" is the living together and carnal intercourse with each other or habitual carnal intercourse with each other without living together of a man and woman when either is lawfully married to some other person.

    The crime of adultery is listed along side not just prostitution, but bigamy and incest. I wonder if his relationship with his mistress will be compared to a same-sex marriage. The prohibition against "buggery" remains on the books in South Carolina in the same section of the criminal code.

    Without additional information about the extent of "carnal intercourse" between the governor and his Eva Peron, it's impossible to know if it was so "habitual" as to constitute the crime of adultery.  Also unclear is whether the South Carolina criminal prohibitions against adultery and fornication survive the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence vs. Texas, striking down state sodomy statutes.

    No doubt Sanford disagreed strongly with the Lawrence ruling, at least until recently.

    June 16, 2009

    LGBT goes missing

    Posted by: Chris

    Update at the end of this post:

    Planetoutregentmedia Tongues are wagging about the apparent delisting of Planet Out, Inc. -- which trades under the symbol LGBT -- from the Nasdaq stock exchange. A post today on Queerty speculates that Planet Out's stock was yanked because the company failed to comply with a 15-day warning from Nasdaq about maintaining a minimum of $10 million in capitalization. I wonder if that's really the reason, or if something less sinister is afoot.

    Obviously there've been quite a bit more than 15 days since the March warning from Nasdaq, which makes that the unlikely trigger. Today's date does figure prominently, however, in a June 4 filing by Planet Out with the SEC. In that document, the company's management reveals an amendment to the merger agreement inked between Planet Out and Regent Entertainment Media -- which owns here! TV as well as the Advocate and Out magazines, formerly published by Planet Out.

    Under the terms of an amendment to the plan filed back in April, either party could pull out by the end of May if the other party had not been able to complete the merger. The June 4 filing extended that pull-out deadline until yesterday, June 15. So was Planet Out delisted because the merger fell through or because it finally went through?

    So far no word from either Regent or Planet Out; the latter's corporate site hasn't been updated and PlanetOut.com itself is carrying "breaking news" about "Bruno" and "how gay is too gay."

    Stay tuned...


    We now have our answer, courtesy of a press release announcing that the PlanetOut merger with Regent Media/Here Networks was successfully completed.  That's great news for gay media, considering survival at this point is an accomplishment in the current economic environment and the steep decline of media business fortunes:

    Here Networks LLC and Its Publishing Affiliate Complete Merger Deal With PlanetOut Inc.
    New company will operate under name Here Media Inc.

    June 16, 2009 (LOS ANGELES, CA and SAN FRANCISCO, CA) – Here Networks LLC  announced today the completion of the business combination of Here Networks LLC and its publishing affiliate, which includes the LGBT publications The Advocate and Out, with PlanetOut Inc. (formerly-traded under the ticker symbol, LGBT). The new public company resulting from this business combination will be named Here Media Inc. with Stephen P. Jarchow serving as Chairman and Paul Colichman serving as CEO.
    On Wednesday, June 10, 2009, the holders of a majority of the outstanding shares of PlanetOut Inc. common stock voted to approve the proposed business combination.
    “The close of this deal represents an exciting moment for LGBT consumers across the globe,” said Stephen P. Jarchow and Paul Colichman. “We look forward to bringing new features that will enhance the user experience and keep our customers engaged.”
    Here Media now becomes the premier global company for providing news and entertainment to the LGBT community. The company is also uniquely positioned to provide advertisers opportunities to reach its niche audience across platforms including television, online, print publishing, and filmed entertainment. Here Media’s unmatched reach positions the company as a leader in creating an interactive relationship with consumers across all its iconic brands.
    Jarchow and Colichman, along with current PlanetOut Inc. Chairman Phil Kleweno, will serve as the initial board of directors of Here Media.
    About Here Media
    Here Media, Inc. produces and distributes niche content across all platforms worldwide. Here Media’s iconic brands distribute gay media and world cinema programming with universal, humanistic appeal. Its distribution platforms include theaters, television, VOD, broadband, online, print and mobile.  It earns subscription, advertising and licensing revenue from its award-winning content.
    Here Media owns and operates a variety of media assets including:
    Here Studios, a full service motion picture studio. Here Films, a motion picture distribution company. here! Networks, a premium television network featuring programming that appeals to a gay and lesbian audience airing in 96 of the top 100 US markets, including every top 10 market. Iconic print brands including Out, Advocate and HIV Plus, as well as Alyson Books. Online properties including Gay.com, Planetout.com, Advocate.com, Out.com and SheWired.com which provide broadband video and social networking.
    Paul Colichman is Chief Executive Officer of Here Media and Stephen P. Jarchow is Chairman.  Together, they have produced and/or distributed over 200 motion pictures including Academy Award® winners “Gods and Monsters” and “Departures."

    Obama's major speech on LGBT rights

    Posted by: Andoni


    Before you get too excited, this hasn't happened yet. When I was sitting on the island of Symi, Greece I was getting despondent over the inaction in Congress on LGBT rights. Remembering the president's promises during the campaign, I thought the answer was a major address to the nation by President Obama on LGBT rights -- to jump start things in Congress.

    The president has a great way of explaining issues. Just think of his speech in Philadelphia on race and the one in Cairo on Muslim relations with America. When people listen to his well reasoned speeches, a lot more people nod their heads in agreement after the speech. Do I think LGBT rights warrants a major address by the president? Yes, I do. It is the civil rights issue of our time and should be one of the major issues of this presidency.

    I began writing a post suggesting a major speech by Obama on LGBT rights sometime in the early fall, but couldn't quite get the words right on paper. Juan and Ken Ahonen-Jover, however, have done me one better. They wrote the speech the president should give. Juan and Ken are the founders of EqualityGiving an organization of major LGBT donors and activists. The link to the speech is here. And at the risk of eating up too much server space (sorry, Chirs), I copy it in its entirety below.

    This is the LGBT speech Obama should give. The bold print are his actual words from this year's Pride proclamation.

    "Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.  Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in America was born.

    "LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society.  There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities.  LGBT Americans also mobilized the Nation to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening this country's response to the HIV pandemic.

    "I am proud to be the first President to appoint openly LGBT candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration.

    "The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done.
      In the last four decades legislation has been enacted in many states to ensure that we hold our most dear American Promise: that we are all equal under the law. However, no state provides full legal equality to guarantee that each person is treated equally independently of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

    "Other states fall far behind in what most Americans believe to be fair and just.

    "Congress has not passed a single piece of legislation in the four decades since Stonewall to ensure that Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are treated equally under the law. So, millions of Americans remain denied this American Promise.

    "In these same four decades, Congress has passed two pieces of legislation that do the exact opposite and that actually openly discriminate against those Americans. As I said in my campaign, I support repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell legislation, as well as the repeal of the entire Defense of Marriage Act.

    "I am here to tell you that yes, we can end discrimination. And that yes, the time for this is now.

    "Many will argue that while equality is a worthwhile goal, civil rights have been given incrementally. They will also tell you that we have other important priorities.

    "But I ask: Where is our moral compass when we knowingly continue to allow members of our society to be unequal under the law? Where is our moral compass when we have laws that openly discriminate against some members of our society?

    "How do you tell a parent that the daughters and sons they love so much will not be treated equally under the law? That one will be able to serve his country, while the other will be fired for doing the same thing? That one will be able to marry and raise a family with all the protection that the law affords, and the other will not?

    "We may not agree with every person. But we have to respect them. And the law has to apply equally to every person in the same way.

    "Many of the problems that we face require solutions that are complex. Many of these problems have different solutions, which some uncertainty about which solution might be best.

    "For instance, Congress already analyzed and enacted legislation on one of our most important and difficult problems: the economic crisis. Work is underway now on healthcare reform.

    "But inequality under the law is not a difficult problem to fix. We just have to ensure that all citizens are covered by our existing laws in the same way. No more and no less. We also need to repeal two laws which fly in the face of equal protection under the law: the Defense of Marriage Act, which not only acts against the rights of the States, but also religions, and the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy that acts against the national security of our nation because it deprives our armed forces of personnel we need.

    "There is never an ideal time to enact legislation for equal rights. Yet every moment that passes, and we don't act, injustice continues. There are always reasons to delay. But ensuring that we live to our highest promise of equality needs to happen now. It is our moral imperative, since delays just end up denying the rights and protections to those who do not deserve to be left out.


    "First, I want to commend the House of Representatives for approving the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. As a senator, I was a co-sponsor of this legislation, and I am asking the Senate to act swiftly to approve it.

    "Some say that a crime is a crime and there is no need to distinguish crimes motivated by prejudice against a minority. The reality is that our judicial system considers, as it should, the intention of the criminal. The punishment is not the same, and it should not be, if somebody kills a person by accident versus somebody killing a person with predetermination.

    "Hate has no place in our society. Respect for each individual is the glue that keep us together.

    "Today, we already have hate crimes laws for those who are victims of crimes based on their race, color, religion and national origin. It is important to add gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to those laws." Rest assured that adding this language to our existing laws in no way gives special rights to homosexuals, since hate crimes against someone for being a heterosexual would be also included in this law.


    "Most Americans are very familiar with several pieces of civil rights legislation that protect Americans against discrimination. Most people naturally assume that those protections also cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

    "They do not.

    "The first legislation covering LGBT individuals was introduced 35 years ago. I am asking Congress today to introduce an expansion of the civil rights legislation to cover non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodation, public facilities, credit, and federally funded programs and activities."


    "My most important responsibility as President is to protect our country. Because our national security is at stake, we cannot continue to fire personnel from the military, just because of their sexual orientation. All of our dedicated service members are vital to our national security, and we have spent large sums of money and time training them.

    "Since the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy has been in effect, more than 12,000 service members have been discharged to the detriment to our national security, just for who they are, and not because of their actions or performance.

    "I am thinking of service members like Sergeant Eric Alva, a marine, who was awarded a purple heart and was the first American soldier wounded in Iraq. He was discharged for being gay; and Lieutenant Daniel Choi, a West Point graduate and an Arab linguist, also discharged just for being gay.

    "Therefore, today I am signing an executive order asking for a temporary suspension of investigations and discharges of service members because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Of course, behavioral problems will continue to be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.

    "I am also asking Congress to pass without delay the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2009.

    "Effectiveness and cohesion of our military forces is based on trust. Each service member needs to trust each other with their own lives. Critical to this trust is integrity and the ability of our service members not to have to hide who they are and whom they love.

    "As when the military was integrated with female service members, we know that our troops are professional and capable of interacting appropriately. We know that our allies, such as Great Britain, Israel, Canada, and Australia have successfully integrated gays and lesbians into their militaries. I believe that our armed services personnel are capable of acting professionally.

    "I have also asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to modify regulations within the next 60 days to ensure that all service members are treated equally and that inappropriate behavior is punished whether it is between a members of the same gender or of different genders.


    "Our country is very divided on the issue of same gender marriage. I have expressed my own opinion on the subject before.

    "Yes, marriage has a religious component.

    "Some religions do allow same gender couples to marry, others don't. It is not the role of the government to interfere with religion or favor one religion over another. For example, most religions do not allow divorce. However, led by Ronald Reagan while he was Governor of California, no fault divorce has been adopted by all states.

    "Let me say this, in no uncertain terms, to all Americans: the government does not currently, and will not, tell your church whom they can or cannot marry.

    "In addition, the rights of the States need to be protected: civil marriage licenses have been and should continue to be the prerogatives of each state. When the Defense of Marriage Act was approved by Congress in 1996, no state allowed same gender couples to marry.  Today, six States do, while several others allow either civil unions or domestic partnerships. Other states have their own Defense of Marriage Acts or constitutional bans against same gender marriage.

    "The principle at stake is that the federal government does not, and will not, issue marriage licenses. However, the federal government needs to honor all the licenses issued by the States, not just those of opposite gender couples. Therefore, I am asking Congress to repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act without delay and to ensure that all the 1,138 federal benefits, such as social security, immigration, and hospital visitation, that apply to opposite gender married couples are applied without discrimination to all couples legally married or otherwise joined by a civil union or domestic partnership legally recognized by a State.

    "Today I am proud to say that I signed an executive order providing domestic partners of federal employees many of the benefits of married spouses."


    "One of my main priorities is education. This is a requisite for our country to be competitive in the 21st Century. Our hearts were broken when in the space of two weeks in April, two young people committed suicide after being repeatedly bullied because of a perception that they were gay. One was a middle schooler. The other was in elementary school. Our thoughts and prayers go to their families.

    "I want to send a clear message to all children: in America you can be free to express who you are. Bullying should not be part of our vocabulary. Every child should grow up in a society that respects their differences.

    "Youth should feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment. One of the critical components of learning is to have a safe environment for children to develop to their full potential. This means, among other measures, schools free of drugs and free of bullying. Bullies target other children based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and others. I am asking Congress to immediately pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2009, which has bipartisan support.


    "These issues affect not only the LGBT community, but also our entire Nation.  As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected.  If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit.  During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.   

    "Some people will argue that we cannot do so much, so fast, while the country is dealing with an economic crises, is engaged in two wars, desperately needs healthcare reform, needs education reform, and needs to address the problems with the environment.

    "I say: we cannot afford to NOT take care now of these blights on our American Family to ensure that we live to our highest value: That we were all created Equal.

    "The time has come to live to our highest aspirations. To send the message that while we may not agree with each other all the time, we all share the aspiration of living in a society in which none of our members faces discrimination. And a reminder that we were all created equal.

    "I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

    "Because if some of us are not equal, none of us are equal."

    June 15, 2009

    Defending Obama's indefensible defense...

    Posted by: Chris

    Doma obama brief ... of the Defense of Marriage Act. OK not really. But at the risk of being labeled (once again) as an Obama apologist, I want to add a bit more context to the excellent analysis done by Andoni and others of the DOJ's brief defending DOMA.

    Like most of you, I was profoundly disappointed by the filing, and my heart sank even further when I read some of the arguments used by the Obama Justice Department in favor of DOMA's constitutionality. The analogy to incest, in particular, was completely beyond the pale. Although (once again) it's not fair to say the brief directly compared same-sex relationships to incestuous relationships, it is ludicrous and insulting to suggest there is no meaningful legal distinction between laws that don't exclude gays from marrying and laws that permit an uncle to wed his niece.

    It was also patently irrational to argue that DOMA doesn't discriminate against gay Americans because we, too, can  enter into "traditional marriages." Its unfathomable that lawyers for a president who is the product of an interracial marriage would use an argument that was rejected some four decades ago in Loving v. Virginia. In that case, the Supreme Court rejected the state's argument that anti-miscegenation laws weren't racist because both whites and blacks were equally restricted to marrying within their own race.

    Even so, once my blood pressure came under control, I cannot join those who see the DOMA brief as a "betrayal" by President Obama or even as a sign that his administration will be "throwing us under the bus" like the last Democrat occupant of the White House did. Here's why:

    First and foremost, candidate Obama did not make any commitment that I'm aware of to refuse to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. That would have been an extraordinary promise for any presidential candidate to make about any piece of duly adopted legislation, and yet I don't know of a single time the question was even put to Obama or his competitors, or where he was even asked the more general question of whether DOMA is unconstitutional.

    There's obviously a big difference between believing a law is wrongheaded or unfair or even discriminatory, on the one hand, and believing it is unconstitutional, on the other. Since Hillary Clinton defended her husband's decision to sign DOMA into law, and only favored half-repeal, it's fair to conclude she agrees with the Obama DOJ that DOMA's deficiency is a matter of policy, not constitutionality. Ditto  the Human Rights Campaign, since "the nation's largest gay rights group" chose only to score the candidates on whether they support DOMA's half-repeal -- thereby equating Clinton's views with Obama's.

    If this question of DOMA's constitutionality is so crucial and fundamental, then why did everyone -- all of us -- fail to raise it during the eons-long presidential campaign? We thought about DOMA enough to make a big deal -- or not -- about half-repeal vs. full repeal, and others questioned Obama about the positions the DOJ might take in defending Don't Ask, Don't Tell in court. So why didn't we ask for a commitment about refusing to defend DOMA as well? And if we didn't, maybe we should take a deep breath before accusing Obama of treason for how his lawyers ultimately answered our unasked question -- in a lawsuit that most gay legal experts wish had never been brought and hopefully will get dismissed.

    A  spokesperson has explained the DOJ brief saying that, "As it generally does with existing statutes, the Justice Department is defending the law on the books in court." John Aravosis makes a good point by digging up examples of the DOJ under previous presidents declining to defend the constitutionality of certain statutes in court, but rather than proving the Obama administration is "lying," he accomplished the opposite. Four examples out of thousands hardly disproves the claim that "generally" the DOJ defends laws passed by Congress and signed by the president.

    Let's also pause long enough to consider whether we want to advocate the politicization of the Justice Department. Let us recall from the debate over the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the DOJ has an independent obligation to weigh questions of legality and constitutionality. Those decisions ought to be made on the basis of the law, not politics. It's not fair for us to switch sides on that argument when it suits our cause, however worthy.

    Please, please don't take away from these observations any hesitation on my part about the constitutionality of DOMA. As someone whose entire life has been torn apart for years now because of this single federal law, I know its destructive force, and for years counted myself among those who see DOMA as a gross affront to the Constitution. Nonetheless, I think it's a bit too easy to condemn President Obama for failing to anticipate a complicated legal question that our own advocates either also failed to anticipate or decided was unworthy of raising during the presidential campaign.

    Schoolhouserockbill Speaking of our own advocates, I will say it was refreshing to see Joe Solmonese at HRC actually speak out on the issue, even if he ultimately cops out by attempting to evade any institutional or personal responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in. Solmonese's impassioned letter to Obama calls on the president to "put your principles into action and send legislation repealing DOMA to Congress."

    Is that the way Washington works, Joe? Are we really to believe that this consumate lobbyist -- who couldn't resist bragging about his own White House access in the same self-serving letter -- completely missed that "Schoolhouse Rock" episode on how a bill becomes a law?

    Solmonese and his Beltway minions know damn well the president doesn't "send" legislation to Congress. Even on top administration priorities like the stimulus package and health care reform, the bills are drafted by legislators -- hence the name -- with public and private input from the White House throughout the process, including what importance the president puts on passage.

    If pressure is to be brought to bear, and indeed it should, then it ought to focus first on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. So when the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles raised a public ruckus with the president over DOMA this weekend, HRC should passionately remind them that not one of the Democrats in Congress from these two gay meccas, including a certain Speaker of the House, has introduced, much less given priority to, a bill to repeal DOMA.

    Why is it, then, that in the 13 years since passage of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that HRC and its friends in Congress have failed to "put principles into action" and draft repeal legislation, identify House and Senate sponsors and co-sponsors, pressure for hearings or otherwise shepherd the bill through the legislative process?

    I will answer my own question. Because anyone with even a passing familiarity with gay politics in our nation's capital knows that HRC long ago agreed with its cronies in the DNC and on the Hill not to even begin pressing for DOMA repeal until a whole laundry list of other (far less important and less controversial) legislation is adopted.

    With all of this context in mind, I would humbly suggest that we take each of Andoni's five examples of direct action and aim them also (not instead) at your member of Congress, the Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate, and our dear friends at the Human Rights Campaign. Has either Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid even committed publicly to repealing DOMA, or half-repealing it?

    Let's demand that HRC publicly release draft language for repealing DOMA and point us to members of Congress we should lobby to take on leadership roles in sponsorship. (And how about federal civil unions legislation while they're at it!)  With those pieces in place, pressure on the White House can be much more concrete, and all this righteous anger might move the ball forward toward relationship equality.

    The DOMA f*ck up

    Posted by: Andoni

    Screw Up


    As you can read here and here, the Obama Justice Department filed a brief defending DOMA. This was no ordinary brief. It was way over the top with arguments that could have just as well been made by Pat Roberson or Jerry Falwell. I'm still scratching my head over how this could have happened.

    One of the authors of the brief was a Bush appointee who happens to be Mormon. It's pretty obvious in reading the brief that his personal religious views got in the way of prudent arguments. The Assistant Attorney General in charge of the office that filed the brief is Tony West, an Obama appointee, and by all accounts a progressive person. He is married to someone who was the ED of a major California pro gay non profit. (I don't want to drag names of uninvolved spouses or organizations into this, but a few googles will give this information if you are curious). The point being, I doubt the Assistant Attorney General -- the head of the office that filed the brief, is anti-gay.

    So this is a major screw up that should never have happened. What do we do? So far, we've been complaining among ourselves. This is my advice to my friends and my email lists:

    Complaining amongst ourselves about the horrendous brief that was filed by the Obama DOJ last Thursday afternoon defending DOMA does no good. We need to do something constructive, like TODAY -- when the government offices are open again in Washington after the weekend. I don't know how many people are reading this, but I bet if we all make a focused attempt to do the following, we will be heard:

    1. Call or email the the White House (or do both) to register your strong complaint/disapproval/anger at the the Dept. of Justice's legal brief filed last Thursday defending the "Defense of Marriage Act" in US District Court, Central District of California, Southern Division (Smelt v United States). Make sure you reference DOMA, Dept of Justice, and filed in federal court in CA last Thursday so that when they tally the calls at the end of the day, our calls get lumped together. (Referencing Smelt v United States would be icing on the cake.)  Emails to the White House can be made at: whitehouse.gov/contact/ and the comment phone line is: 202-456-1111. If you wish and have time, you can cite as an example some particular section of the brief that is particularly outrageous to you.

    2. Ask/demand that the president fulfill his campaign promise to repeal DOMA by immediately introducing legislation to repeal DOMA

    3. I would hope that all three (in concert if possible) of our representatives in Congress call or meet with the appropriate person in the White House to explain/protest how demeaning and over the top the DOJ brief was. They should stress that this was a completely avoidable fiasco if the White House had only consulted with them on this matter first. They should also point out that this is an example of why we need an LGBT senior staff liaison in the White House.

    4. I would hope that every person who represents an LGBT organization would have that organization also contact the White House with the same above messages.

    5. If you are a member of another email list, you would send the above suggestions to that list, so that the calls and emails snowball.

    Taking action is preferable to complaining among ourselves. We've been run over here. If we don't make a loud noise and protest, the next time it will be even worse.

    If we can't get enough people to take action over this -- to make our voices heard at the highest levels on this very justified complaint, I fear we don't have the energy, unity or passion to achieve equal rights in the near future.

    ADDENDUM: The New York Times agrees with us. Here is their great editorial this morning. And I'm glad to report that Joe Solmonese, ED of the Human Rigths Campaign sent the president a strong letter that is well worth reading.Here's a key clip from the opening paragraph:

    "I realized that although I and other LGBT leaders have introduced ourselves to you as policy makers, we clearly have not been heard, and seen, as what we also are: human beings whose lives, loves, and families are equal to yours.  I know this because this brief would not have seen the light of day if someone in your administration who truly recognized our humanity and equality had weighed in with you."

    June 12, 2009

    Defending DOMA

    Posted by: Andoni


    In case you haven't heard, the Obama Justice Department has decided to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court. You can read the brief in Smelt v The United States of America here (at the bottom) along with some reactions here. A statement from some of the major LGBT organizations are here.

    Reading the arguments the DOJ makes to defend DOMA really makes me angry and I wonder if this is what President Obama or the higher ups in the White House really think. It's the same arguments the Republicans and religious right have been making for years --- with even a few new ridiculous ones thrown in.

    The only thing I can conclude is that we've been thrown overboard by the Obama administration or by presenting such ridiculous arguments, this is a really clever way to throw the case.

    For instance they argue that restricting rights is a legitimate action of the federal government because it can save the federal government money. What federal court accepts the principle that you can deny rights because there's not enough money to administer them. By that reasoning we can close down polling places in poor neighborhoods or Democratic neighborhoods and say we don't have enough money to keep those places open. Lack of money should never be a reason to deny equal rights.

    Or the argument that federal tax money can't be collected from people in states that do not recognize same sex marriage going to benefit sames sex married couples in states that do. This is bullshit. A citizen or state or any other entity cannot specify or prevent federal dollars from being sent to a specific place or for a specific designation. If citizens could specify how and where their federal tax dollars could be used, a lot of people would request that their money not be spent on war or the pentagon or tobacco.

    The people in the Justice Department writing this brief made so many discredited and ridiculous arguments for DOMA, I hope these were really intended to help the court see the fallacy of DOMA to persuade the court to strike it down. Otherwise my only other conclusion is that the Obama White House has thrown us overboard.

    ADDENDUM: Harvard constitutional law exprert, Prof. Lawrence Tribe, offers the Advocate another plausible reason for the DOJ filing this lawsuit. Of all the federal lawsuits challenging DOMA, this is the worst one and has the least probability of succeeding. It has a good chance of going to the Supreme Court and losing, thus cementing DOMA consitutionally in place for a long time. The DOJ has merely asked that this lawsuit be dismissed, then made a laundry list of every single argument ever made for DOMA, hoping that one would stick and the case would be thrown out. Tribe seems to think that the GLAD case (you know that group that has been so successful in the New England states) is the best challenge to DOMA out there, but that one (timing wise) is behind this one, so this one had better not reach the Supreme Court before the GLAD case. The GLAD case was crafted to appeal to five or more justices on bases that we are fairly certain they agree with. If GLAD wins, that will slice DOMA open and some of pieces holding it together will fall apart, making DOMA much more vulnerable for the next lawsuit. The idea is to put a hole in DOMA first, then go in for the kill later. Most experts think the Smelt challenge (above) doesn't have a chance of touching DOMA at the Supreme Court level, and would only serve to cement it in place for years (think Bowers) if they lose. That's why it has to be moved out of the way by having it dismissed.

    So maybe the DOJ is doing its job (defending the United States laws) and helping the marriage equality cause both at the same time. I mean, if this case doesn't have a chance at the Supreme Court, knock it off now.

    It still hurts to read all those debunked (and even pre-Lawrence) laundry list of arguments being used against us. But I guess if you are trying to get a case thrown out, you use everything you have, hoping that one will stick.

    I would feel much better if Obama would simply let us in on what his plan and timeline are to achieve LGBT equality. Since June is Pride month, now would be a good time to tell.

    So if any reporters are reading this, the question for Press Secretary Gibbs is, "Can you share with us what is the president's plan to achieve his campaign promise of gay and lesbian equality and what is the timeline for that plan?"

    June 10, 2009

    They said it…

    Posted by: Chris

    I am not at all persuaded that so-called homosexuals are homosexuals because of biological problems. There may be a very few, but there are so many that have been made homosexuals because of a coach or a guidance counselor or some other male figure who has abused them and they think there's something wrong with their sexuality. … That's what I think. All right, what else? … You love him. Of course you love him. And you accept him. You love him, but at the same time, you can't let him just go, you know, he'll wind up --  well, I mean, if somebody's on their way to hell, they'll -- I mean, you've got to love them to rescue them.

    Televangelist Pat Robertson, counseling tough love to a "700 Club" caller seeking advice on "how to handle" her gay son (Media Matters)

    They said it...

    Posted by: Chris


    "He's the one guy that I found attractive in the whole group on the show: nice, nonchalant, pretty and totally my type — except that he has a wife."

    Adam Lambert, "American Idol" runner-up, revealing his crush on season champ Kris Allen in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine (Reuters)

    June 08, 2009

    Marriage in jeopardy in N.Y. Senate switch

    Posted by: Chris

    Senaterevolt-480 Two New York City Democrats defected to the other side in a Senate leadership vote that appears to have swung control of the body over to Republicans. At stake in the switch is a vote on gay marriage legislation which both men are said to oppose:

    One source of contention among Democrats recently has been Mr. Smith’s support for same-sex marriage. Senator Rubén Díaz Sr., a Democrat from the Bronx, has been outspoken in his insistence that legislation allowing gay couples to marry not be allowed to come to a vote. Some had speculated he might leave the Democratic Party if Mr. Smith were to allow a vote.

    But Mr. Díaz did not join Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate in the leadership vote on Monday. It was not immediately clear whether the same-sex marriage legislation played any role in the leadership dispute.

    It's ironic that Republicans are trumpeting the changeover as an opportunity to "bring real reform to the Senate" considering that the GOP had controlled the body for four decades until this January, and both the Democratic turncoats are under investigation: Pedro Espada Jr. (R-Bronx) is under scrutiny for his business dealings and Hiram Monserrate (D-Queens) is facing felony charges for assaulting his girlfriend.

    (Photos of Espada and  Monserrate via the New York Times)

    They said it…

    Posted by: Chris


    I understand that you should put the question, but frankly, do you think people are just waiting to see us hand-in-hand sitting here looking into one another’s eyes? Of course not.

    French President Nicholas Sarkozy, at a joint press avail with President Obama in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France, in response to continuing questions about whether the American president had snubbed his French counterpart by not accepting his dinner invitation over the weekend. (Wall Street Journal, June 6)

    Glad to be back, Michael

    Posted by: Chris

    Michaelpetrelis I had to smile when I read a post welcoming me back to blogging from a somewhat unlikely source: Michael Petrelis. It was something of an understatement for Michael, a longtime gay, AIDS and human rights activist, to write that we have had "a sometimes adversarial acquaintance over the years."

    During my tenure editing Southern Voice in Atlanta, the Washington Blade and the other publications in the Window Media family, Petrelis left me his share of screaming voice mails. He was usually complaining about our decision not to give what he considered adequate coverage to a story or, more frequently, to source stories from outside the usual Beltway suspects.

    He was a pain in the ass, frankly, to me and my reporters, but then again, that's what the long lost art of activism is all about. I still differ with him on his methods at times, as well as on substance occasionally, but then and now Michael was at times spot-on in his criticism. I particularly took to heart his complaint that we should never do a story about HIV/AIDS without at least one quote from someone living with the disease, and I worked with the reporters to make it something of a rule for our coverage.

    Anyway, Michael has long been an ally -- along with Andrew Sullivan, the Gay Patriot folks and my co-blogger Kevin -- about the massive waste of potential and resources that is the Human Rights Campaign. It was on this point that Michael welcomed me back to blogging. And I have to say, thanks Micchael, it's good to be back.

    (Photo of Michael Petrelis protesting U.N. secretary general via Clinton Fein)

    June 06, 2009

    They said it...

    Posted by: Chris

    Oprah routinely grabs viewers with the sort of tales of the strange and absurd that might be found a few clicks over on Maury Povich or Jerry Springer: women who leave their husbands for other women.

    Newsweek Magazine ("Why Health Advice on 'Oprah' Could Make You Sick")

    June 05, 2009

    Don't Ask Do Deal: 'outright lie'?

    Posted by: Chris

    Me thinks they doth protest too much, our friends at the Human Rights Campaign. Trevor Thomas has fired off an angry response by Blackberry to Jason Bellini's Daily Beast report alleging HRC cut a deal to delay pressing for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell until next year. Wrote Thomas:

    This story is not only an outright lie, it is recklessly irresponsible. HRC never made such a deal and continues to work with congress and the administration on a full range of equality issues including a swift end to the military's shameful ban on gay servicemembers.

    Considering that Bellini's claim to a go-slow deal on DADT was (a) sourced to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, and (b) confirmed on camera by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, thereby (c) confirming what Beltway gays have known for months, it appears that (d): HRC's Thomas, while using his Blackberry, was in fact talking out of a much lower extremity.


    It's put up time for the Dems

    Posted by: Andoni

    Line in the sand

    The Democratic Party (and President Obama) made some substantial commitments to the gay community during the past election campaign. They promised that if they gained control of government, LGBT Americans would be treated as equals under the law and that our families would be valued and protected.

    We soon will have a good test to see if they really meant what they said or not.

    Yesterday, Rep. Michael Honda (D- CA) introduced an immigration bill called the Reuniting Families Act (RFA), which for the first time in history includes an LGBT provision as part of an omnibus bill. The legislation would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign born partner for residency, just as a straight American citizens currently can do. Rep. Honda did not forget the Democrats' promises, so in this new era of Democratic control,  he included LGBT families in his immigration reform bill. The question now is, does the rest of the Democratic Congress also believe what they promised?

    Honda's bill is brand new and simply includes gay families in his overall plan to revise the immigration system. Republicans will do their best to strip gays out of this bill. However, the Dems control the House by a substantial margin and after Al Franken is sworn in, they will have a filibuster proof margin in the Senate. So, they will have the power to stop Republican efforts to strip gays out of this bill. Will they use it?

    Keeping a provision in a bill is a much different thing than passing a bill from scratch such as they have to do with ENDA or the repeal of DADT. So I can understand the difficulty they are having getting these two moving. And furthermore Honda's bill is an easier vote because it doesn't deal only with gay issues and cannot be labeled a "gay" bill. The gay provision is only a very minor part of the overall bill. If the Republicans offer an amendment to strip gays from the bill, queasy Dems need only take a walk for the amendment vote, but vote yes on the final bill.

    In my mind this is going to be a very telling test for the Dems. They have the power to protect us, to prevent us from being stripped out of the bill. There is no acceptable excuse if they don't.

    June 04, 2009

    Don't Ask Do Deal: HRC's betrayal

    Posted by: Chris

    I've been writing for years and years about the tragic willingness of those in "leadership" roles of the gay rights movement to cut deals that betray their supposed constituents. Joe Solmonese and David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign are archetypes of this pathetic trend -- grossly overpaid lobbyists who spend far more political capital lowering the expectations of gays on behalf of the Democratic Party than they do pressuring for equality in Washington.

    Thanks to a report for the Daily Beast by Jason Bellini -- formerly with Logo -- we have yet another pathetic example of HRC's betrayal of the movement, agreeing not to press for repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell until next year:

    Don't say I didn't warn you. HRC and the Democrats have been promising (with no plan to deliver) passage of a hate crime law and Employment Non-Discrimination Act for more than a decade, including before the 2006 election, and yet we are still expected to be satisfied by these same civil rights crumbs for the entire first year that Democrats are firmly in control of Washington.

    In some ways, delay is somewhat more justifiable on DADT than other gay rights measures, given the implementation steps to be taken in the midst of two foreign wars. But make no mistake: if DADT waits until 2010, then relationship recognition -- whether repeal of DOMA or a federal civil unions law -- won't get touched until after the midterm elections, if then.

    I hope that grassroots activists and gay folks nationwide play Bellini's report again and again, paying special attention to Smith's dissembling and Solmonese's smarmy status-whoring, along with the ridiculous excuse-making by Tammy Baldwin.  Come on, Congresswoman -- there hasn't been enough "education" on gay rights issues? Polls show overwhelming public support for not just ENDA and hate crime laws, but repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and for marriage or civil unions.  Enough with the lame, self-serving excuses!

    As for "the nation's largest gay rights group," we are definitely not getting what we pay for.  Despite an astronomical budget, we get backroom deals and snail's pace progress. Then again, what do we expect from a civil rights group that recently bought a building with a 30-year mortgage?  The Beltway tuxedo crowd is in no hurry, especially if actual activism might risk their coveted access and cocktail invites.

    All this nonsense reminds me, unfortunately, of why I burned out on gay politics earlier this year. We can only hope that independent voices bypass the Solmonese/Smith crowd and demand change directly from the Democrats in power -- in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

    Count me in for another March on Washington -- let's just make sure the HRC building is included on the protest route.

    June 03, 2009

    The 'big M' is 'empathy'

    Posted by: Chris

    Dickcheneynatlpressclub It was a bit of a head-turner this week when Dick Cheney, the former vice president and conservative attack dog, took time out from his blistering critique of Barack Obama to disagree with the president from the left on the issue of same-sex marriage.

    “I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish — any kind of arrangement they wish,” Cheney said during a question-and-answer session that followed his harsh assessment of how the current occupant of the White House is handling the economy and national security.

    “The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute to protect this, I don’t support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. … But I don’t have any problem with that. People ought to get a shot at that,” he added.

    Instant analysis from the blogosphere took pleasure in the obvious irony that such an iconic figure from the Republican right now appeared better on the issue than the Democratic president who despite opposing marriage equality has promised to be a “fierce advocate” for gay rights.

    Not so fast. Careful observers like Denis Dison, who blogs for the Victory Fund at GayPolitics.com, noted that Cheney stopped just short of saying he actually supports marriage for gays, referring as he has in the past to gay couples entering into “any kind of union they wish.” We are dealing here, after all, with a politician who knows how to parse his words, re-branding waterboarding and other forms of torture as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

    More concretely, Cheney’s opposition to “a federal statute to protect this,” while also vague, could either be referring to a law banning states from marrying gays or a law that extends marriage rights nationwide.

    In that sense, Obama still comes up better than Cheney on marriage friendliness, since the president supports full repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the heinous federal statute that allows states to ignore same-sex marriages elsewhere, as well as blocking federal recognition.

    A “federal statute” repealing DOMA could decide things nationwide as a practical matter, since even couples in states that ban gay marriage would be able to travel to places like Massachusetts or Iowa, get married, and demand legal recognition back home.

    Even if Obama remains better on paper, it is certainly fair to complain that he’s done nothing concrete thus far toward ridding us of DOMA — much less been a “fierce advocate.” Then again, no Democrat in Congress has introduced repeal legislation either.

    All in all, Dick Cheney’s supportive comments tell us less about the president than they do about gay marriage as an issue and how a personal connection can be so critical in winning over even hardened hearts and minds.

    As we all know, the former veep’s younger daughter Mary is gay, and she and her long-time partner have a young son. By all accounts father and daughter are very close, personally and politically; so much so that Mary managed her father’s re-election campaign in 2004. From that close-in vantage point, Dick Cheney understands full well that her desire to marry — or “union”-ize — is a basic human need that poses no threat to the “traditional family.”

    NancyreaganobamaA Gallup poll out last week confirmed the importance of that personal touch. Among Americans who said they don’t know personally know anyone who is gay or lesbian, opposition to same-sex marriage runs almost three to one. Among those with who do, slightly more support marriage equality than oppose it.

    Marriage isn’t the only hot-button controversy impacted this way. Nancy Reagan became such a "fierce advocate" for stem cell research, parting ways with the religious conservatives who are her husband’s greatest admirers, because she saw firsthand the devastating effect of Alzheimer’s.

    There is a word to describe this ability to look beyond politics and even religious teachings to see how an abstract issue has real impact in real lives, whether among loved ones or strangers. It’s called empathy.

    Sotomayor-obama It’s the quality that President Obama said he was looking for in a Supreme Court nominee, and it’s the reason Sonia Sotomayor may well be right that, on average, “a wise old Latina” ought to make a better judge than “a wise old white man.”

    It’s the reason your's truly is no longer the conservative Republican I once was, because seeing bigotry and grossly unequal treatment up close has given me greater empathy than I had before for the struggles of others.

    And it’s empathy that will ultimately be responsible for President Obama eventually finding the political courage to lend his support for full marriage equality.

    June 02, 2009

    The more things change...

    Posted by: Chris

    Shelbycountythumbsup ... the more they actually do change sometimes. I posted last week about how my hometown county commission was debating an ordinance to add sexual orientation and gender identity to non-discrimination ordinances. Well, yesterday the measure passed 9-4, albeit in (further) watered-down form:

    Gay rights activists whooped and applauded when the Shelby County Commission voted 9-4 Monday in favor of an ordinance that could protect gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people from employment discrimination, but the resolution that passed was weaker than they wanted -- its three paragraphs make no mention of sexual orientation. …

    The resolution that passed says "discrimination against any Shelby County Government employee on the basis of non-merit factors shall be prohibited," and doesn't mention any protected groups.

    It was introduced by Commissioner Sidney Chism, who along with James Harvey represented swing votes on the issue -- both abstained from voting when commissioners split on the matter 5-5 in a committee meeting last week.

    The importance of the measure is largely symbolic anyway, showing that a measure that's called "gay rights" can actually be enacted here in the Deep South. Just as symbolic was the opposition, from local conservative religious leaders, of course -- proudly on the wrong side of yet one more civil rights movement that is inevitably moving toward victory.

    How can someone vote against a measure that prohibits discrimination on the basis of "non-merit factors"? Only if they firmly believe even the government ought to hire and fire based on their personal religious beliefs, all while screaming that their cause is actually in defense of "religious freedom."

    (Photo via Memphis Commercial Appeal/Brad Luttrell)

    UAFA hearings tomorrow, Wed, June 3

    Posted by: Andoni

    I said I would interrupt my Greek island hopping break when some important news comes along and this is important news. Senator Patrick Leahy will conduct the first ever hearing on the Uniting American Families Act this Wednesday June 3 at 10 am.

    The Washington Blade will have a reporter there twittering during the hearing, so you can sign up to receive those. Or if you have more time, you can watch a webcast of the Senate hearing here. Either way, this is history in the making.

    I will be trying to tune in to the webcast from the Greek island of Symi, just a few miles off the Turkish coast.

    As background, here is the news release from Immigration Equality.

    The goal is to pass UAFA (the Uniting American Families Act -HR 1024/S 424) either on its own or as part of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill. President Obama and some Congressional leaders would like it as part of the CIR. Either way, it would be nice to get some equality for gay and lesbian families where one partner is US born and the other is foreign born.

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