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  • December 26, 2008

    The great gay migration

    Posted by: Chris

    Memphishernandodesotobridge I've spent a lot of time this year back in Memphis, where I grew up, and I'm struck how over holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, the city's gay establishments swell with locals like me who got the hell outta Dodge after graduating high school or college. The reasons are obvious enough to us, but bit by bit "those who stayed" are beginning to clue in.

    The Memphis Commercial Appeal documented "the great taxpayer migration" in an article last week:

    An analysis of tax-return data compiled by the Internal Revenue Service showed that in Memphis, upward mobility often translates into outward mobility. The total income of people leaving the area outstrips the pay of those moving in by tens of millions of dollars each year, according to the data.

    That has led to a substantial -- and accelerating -- hemorrhaging of wealth, bringing ominous portents for the economy, tax base and even quality of life for the entire region.

    That's only counting the impact of  folks who were already in the workforce and moved on to greener pastures. If you add in those of us who left for college or just afterward, the net loss to cities like Memphis would be further multiplied.

    The beneficiaries aren't just bigger cities, but those without the cultural and political baggage of racism and homophobia. Dallas-Fort Worth was one of the top beneficiaries of the exodus out of Memphis, but the No. 1 destination was Nashville, a city that's slightly smaller in population but with better race relations, a much more active and engaged gay community and a lower "redneck ratio."

    Memphislogo The evidence isn't just anecdotal, either. Using Census data from 1990, the Brookings Institute constructed a number of different "indices" based on population categories and looked for patterns among the best and worst performers among the nation's top 50 cities. The results should not surprise you:

    Perhaps our most striking finding is that a leading indicator of a metropolitan area's high-technology success is a large gay population. Frequently cited as a harbinger of redevelopment and gentrification in distressed urban neighborhoods, the presence of gays in a metro area signals a diverse and progressive environment and provides a barometer for a broad spectrum of amenities attractive to adults, especially those without children. …

    Eleven of the top 15 high-tech metropolitan areas also appear in the top 15 of the gay index. The five metro areas with the highest concentration of gay residents — San Francisco, Washington, Austin, Atlanta, and San Diego — are all among the nation's top 15 high-tech areas. …

    The gay index is positively and significantly associated with the ability of a region both to attract talent and to generate high-tech industry.

    And just in case you thought San Francisco -- known for Silicon Valley and the Castro -- was unfairly weighting the data, the "gay index" was even more closely associated with high-tech success without S.F. included. Studies like this are part of what convinced the city of Cincinnati to rescind its anti-gay ordinance a few years back. And if this follows other trends, Memphis will clue in sometime before the turn of the next century…

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    May 20, 2008

    Hang in there, Ted

    Posted by: Kevin

    Ted_kennedy_face Considering the fact that I spent a good part of my political career loathing much of his machine-left politics, and working with the Massachusetts GOP to thwart him and even unseat him in the 1990s, it was with great sadness that I read the news that I'd feared was coming after hearing about his unexplained seizure over the weekend.  Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has a very serious, malignant brain tumor, and we all know what that probably means.

    It's no surprise to read that Democrats and Republicans alike immediately went on the record to say how sad they are to hear the news.  As much as I hated some of Kennedy's demagoguery on a wide range of economic and social issues, and his sharpest of partisan elbows too often, I also have to say (like many Republicans of varying intensities also would) that you could never not love the guy, too.

    Some of us have had the pleasure to work with him in and out (and in again) of the majority in Congress, and while you can fault the man for his partisan stripes, they were no less vibrant than any of ours, and they were not painted on by convenience, but seared on by passion and by guts.  That is one thing you have to admire about any political figure of either party, especially the ones you battle with.  I remember Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), his frequent collaborator or opponent on many issues on the other side of the aisle, doing his Ted Kennedy impersonation for us in private a couple of times, especially of when the old man would start to fulminate during a floor speech.  It was hilarious because it was done with tremendous affection.  Even if you went to war with Kennedy, you couldn't imagine a world without him.

    He was always the Senate leader on gay rights issues, but unlike many of his Democratic colleagues in the House, he was never proprietary about it.  He never acted like he "owned" us and our concerns.  And he was not the type to come around with the slimy attitude of so many Democrats that we owed him anything.  That always made me like him underneath it all.  And behind the scenes, that upright profile held its own and his was one of the few offices among Democrats that often sought out Log Cabin's views and opinions, and put them into the mix.  Not often enough, of course.  But it was never just for show.

    Most recently, there was his dramatic intervention in the Democratic primaries on behalf of Barack Obama, soon after the Clintons raised the race card in South Carolina and made it clear they would trash anything and anyone -- including the values he holds most dear -- in order to win.   I was very moved by his speech the day he endorsed Obama, and the way he sought to pass on a torch of passion, eloquence and visionary dreams to the (now) likely nominee.  Despite being totally outside the Democratic arc myself, it was riveting not because of what was said, or how it was said, but by who was saying it.  I'll confess, I wrote an email to my old war buddy Rich Tafel that afternoon that I'd never enjoyed a speech by that old SOB so much in my life.

    So here's hoping that we're all wrong in what we're thinking today, and that Ted Kennedy will be around and full of steam for a bit longer.  The country still needs to be reminded what honorable, courageous men in politics are like.  There are so few left.

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    November 24, 2006

    Making family

    Posted by: Chris

    I got a few reminders over the holiday yesterday about how we gay men make our own families, whether or not we're in relationships. I spent the day in Washington, thousands of miles from my partner in Brazil. Although Thanksgiving of course has no special meaning for him, he sent me a sweet online card and we talked several times by Internet telephone (we give thanks to Skype!).

    During one stretch of afternoon, I drifted off into a daydream, one I've had many times before, of him  here with me, maybe smuggled in my suitcase. I know how silly that sounds, but the subconscious takes its own course.

    LongtimecompanionI was reminded of that fantasy later, as I watched the closing scene from "Longtime Companion." I found the film on my TiVo, recorded a year earlier, and had decided to see it (for the first time).

    Released in 1990, "Longtime Companion" was one of the first "AIDS movies," and it effectively drew you back to the fear and loss that filled the decade of the 1980s for gay men. At the end, when the original group of seven friends has dwindled to three, they imagine what it would be like if a cure for the virus was discovered, and they could celebrate with all their lost friends. As silly as it sounds, it is a devastating scene. I defy you to watch it without tears.

    These men created a family of friends, boyfriends and partners — longtime companions, as the New York Times deigned to refer to them in obituaries — and they stuck by each other as blood families do. Some were still supported by blood relatives, others were turned away, but as the character Willy (Campbell Scott) describes in a memorial service for his friend David (Bruce Davison), their friendship circles were welcoming and unshakeable.

    AIDS is still with us, of course, and still kills. I learned this month that Dennis Vercher, the longtime editor of the Dallas Voice, recently passed away from complications from the virus. He was only 53. But even without the trauma of weekly memorial services, there's still evidence of how we make our families. I counted a half-dozen "orphan" dinners for Thanksgiving yesterday, just among the folks I know. These meals are usually hosted by a close set of friends that then widen their net, inviting anyone and everyone unable or not wanting to return home to see family for the holiday.

    With so many lost to AIDS and the advent of new drugs, the disease and a united response to it are not so ingrained into the consciousness of those who came out in the last five to 10 years. That's a good thing, of course, because no generation should have to endure such horror, whether from epidemic or war. But these wonderful "orphan meals" on Thanksgiving and Christmas are a welcome reminder of how much we gain from our opening up our circle of friends, our chosen families, to the larger community.

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    October 27, 2006

    Happy half-century, old man!

    Posted by: Chris

    It was the weekend before Bill Clinton's first inauguration, in January 1993, and I was at my regular watering hole at the time: JR.'s in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle.  I told my friends I thought the guy across the bar looked exactly like George Stephanopolous, the handsome, single Clinton adviser that had all the capital's gaydar buzzing at the time.

    Neilgiuliano I went to investigate, and learned it wasn't Stephanopolous — who also wasn't gay, we learned later.  It was Neil Giuliano, another rising political star, but from the other party.  Back then, he was the vice mayor (emphasis on vice, I used to joke) of Tempe Ariz., and a member of the City Council there.  The New Jersey native was in D.C. as a lobbyist for Arizona State University, part of his "day job" there.

    At the time we were both semi-closeted gay Republicans, unsure of the direction of our party now that Clinton had won the White House and conservatives were ready to dump the moderate wing, which they blamed for George H.W. Bush's tepid re-election effort. 

    Neil and I became fast friends and have seen each other through many good times and some bad.  He was soon elected Tempe's mayor, a position he held for 10 years until July 2004.  Republicans in Tempe are for the most part moderate, like Neil, but that didn't stop anti-gay activists from threatening to out him in 1996 for signing on to an initiative from the City Council to cut off some funding for the Boy Scouts over its ban on gay members and leaders. 

    He beat them to the punch and came out on his own terms, but that didn't stop them for petitioning for his recall.  Neil won the vote by a 70-30 landslide and in a stinging blow to his enemies on the right, subsequently won a court ruling that said his recall victory also counted for his re-election.  Take that!

    I have often thought (subjectively) that Neil would have been an ideal choice to run one of our national gay political groups, which have stayed hopelessly partisan-Democrat during the Bush II years, even though the entire town is controlled by Republicans.  The result has been their marginalization and no effort (outside Log Cabin Republicans) to incentivize GOP strategists away from wedging on gay rights issues, especially marriage.

    Last year, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation got smart and tapped Neil as its new leader, and the organization has flourished since.  So has Neil, who has taken to non-profit activism like I always knew he would.

    He is someone who sought and held public office for all the right reasons, and who has always measured his ideals by what's practically possible under the circumstances.  That's where real progress comes from, more than bomb-throwing from the sidelines.  Two decades in politics and activism haven't changed him, and he remains exactly the kind of guy you want on your side, when the chips are down or things are looking up.

    Today is Neil's 50th birthday, and from a good friend who is very far away, parabens and felicidades!

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