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  • March 15, 2009

    Prohibition and gay rights

    Posted by: Andoni

    AAA prohibition

    History repeats itself. That is the theme in Frank Rich's wonderful Op Ed The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off in today's New York Times.

    According to Rich, we are entering a new period where the public has again tired of the anti-science, let me impose my values on you crowd. After the major economic downturn we have experienced over the past year, the culture wars are a luxury we can no longer afford. The same sort of cultural reversal happened in 1933 during The Great Depression.

    In the period leading up to the Depression fundamentalists pushed for Prohibition and anti-evolution legislation - succeeding on both counts. The Depression ended all that nonsense. In the period leading up to today's great recession, the fundamentalists peddled an anti-gay, anti-stem cell research agenda and also succeeded broadly.

    Now history is repeating itself. Anti-stem cell research was reversed last week by President Obama with only a whimper from the religious right and public opinion is showing majority support on most of the crucial gay rights issues - employment, the military, and our relationships.

    We need to take advantage of this moment in history. FDR demonstrated that a president can lead a nation to reform on cultural issues when the country's mood changes. Obama should follow that example. As the saying goes - it is his moment, it is his time.

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    February 23, 2009

    Dustin Lance Black, award winning speech

    Posted by: Andoni

    If an Oscar were given for best acceptance speech while receiving an Oscar, Dustin Lance Black would win my vote. Black, who won the Academy Award for for Best Original Screenplay for "Milk," brought tears to my eyes with a brief description of his own personal struggle of being gay in a hostile world, then gave hope to millions of young gays by paraphrasing Harvey Milk, asking them to love themselves and assuring them that very soon they would have equal rights federally across this land.

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    November 18, 2008

    The Queen doesn't like "queens"

    Posted by: Andoni

    Queen_sofiaWell, not THE Queen as in Elizabeth, but the Queen as in Sofia of Spain. Turns out she doesn't like gays.

    In a new book, "The Queen Up Close" by Pilar Urbano, Queen Sofia tells the author that while she respects other sexual orientations, she does not understand why "they should feel proud to be gay." Then she goes on to say

    That they get up on floats and parade in the streets? If all of us who are not gay were to parade in the streets, we'd halt the traffic in every city.

    The Queen also opined that although gays were entitled to unions, the unions should not be called marriage.

    All I have to say is that the Queen probably can't help herself -- she was brought up Greek.

    Before she married Prince Juan Carlos of Spain and converted to Catholicism, she was Princess Sophia of Greece and brought up in the Greek Orthodox religion. Greek Orthodox is even more homophobic than Roman Catholic -- if such a thing is possible. Good thing the monarchy is pretty much a figurehead in Spain and the Queen's views don't really matter in governing. In 2005, the Spanish government was among the first countries to legalize  same sex marriage in spite of the views of the Church (or the monarchy). Apparently the churches in Spain have less influence over government than the churches in the United States. Could it be that all that bad history Spain had with Church and state intermingling taught the people that the church should not be involved in matters of the state?

    The Queen's comments were roundly denounced by Spanish liberals and gays. The palace apologized but also claimed that she was "inexactly" quoted, and the gay community more or less accepted the apology. The 70 year old Queen did not limit her candid comments to gays however; she also spoke out on euthanasia and religious education in schools

    King Juan Carlos is reported angry at the staff that permitted the Queen to sit for interviews for the book because the carefully controlled facade of the royal family has been pierced.

    As a tangential note, the trial  of those first same sex weddings in Greece was supposed to commence on Oct. 2, but it has been postponed to Dec. 4. It will be interesting to see if Greece has progressed as far as Spain in allowing for the separation of church and state. In my opinion the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece is more powerful than the Roman Catholic Church in Spain. The civil marriage laws in Greece were clearly gender neutral. So we'll see if Greece follows the law or a religiously biased interpretation of the law.

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    Filed in: Celebs , Values

    June 14, 2008

    It's the economy, economy, economy

    Posted by: Andoni

    Depression As I've noted before, voters, including myself, tend to vote their values over their economic interests. It takes really bad times to break this pattern. In order to ascertain that the Democrats wrestle control of the White House from the Republicans and also win a huge filibuster proof majority in the Senate, I'm still hoping for the economy to keep tanking. The economy has to get to the point where it really hurts. This happened in 1932 and provided a new era of Democratic control after a long period of Republican economic mismanagement similar to today. I know that a severe economic downturn is devastating to lots of people and it will harm me as well. But it's the economy that gets voter's attention more than anything else.

    Bob Herbert provides evidence in today's New York Times that the economy is indeed tanking and may provide the the deep and broad voter dissatisfaction that will help re-align politics for another generation. As a person interested in gay rights, this would be very welcome. A McCain victory will throw cold water on a gay rights movement that is about to break out with its biggest advances in our country's history. All we need is a gay friendly president and large working majorities in Congress.

    To this end, I don't trust the voters to make the right choice on their own. However, when the economy is foremost on their minds, we just might get the results we are looking for and we deserve.

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    May 20, 2007

    Correcting a checkered history

    Posted by: Chris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    January 10, 2007

    Younger voices in 'values' debate

    Posted by: Chris

    Christopherrice After posting on Monday about a rekindled debate among gay men over "values," I came across a couple of viewpoints from the younger set worth noting. In a recent Advocate magazine column, author Christopher Rice wrote about "the gay divide" between his 20-something crowd and those (including me, just barely!) over 40:

    Conventional gay wisdom says that AIDS in the mid-1980s stole an entire generation of gay men who were on their way to becoming the gay uncles of tomorrow. But my experience suggests that AIDS didn't behead the gay community; it drove a wedge between generations that neither side has done a very good job of bridging. I have met countless gay men over 40 who lived through the first years of the epidemic only to move into a world of inswardly focused domesticity and lose their taste for communal gathering places fueled by sex and alcohol. On the other side of this divide, my generation rose up, convinced that it could return to the escapist delights of the 1980s as long as it remembered to put on a condom. …

    A true bridge between gay generations will require non-sexual mentoring between older and younger gay men. This isn't easy, since the bar, with its social hierarchies rooted in sexual attraction, remains our central gathering place. But that doesn't mean we need to tear them all down, or throw up more community centers where sex and flirtation are banned. Rather, we need to approach the world as out gay men in all areas of our lives. The freedom to be gay around the clock is what allows gay men to engage as full-fledged human beings, not just sexual ones.

    I couldn't agree more with Rice, though I think AIDS both beheaded and wedged gay men largely along generational lines.  There's no question that there are fewer gay Baby Boomers in their 40s and 50s to mentor younger Gen-X and Gen-Y gays and (just as importantly) serve as role models, especially in maintaining long-term relationships.

    I'm more optimisic than Rice about whether sexual attraction operates as a barrier between generations.  We're all accustomed to having other gay men as friends without sex interfering in the relationship.

    In fact, we're much more experienced and adept at keeping things platonic than our hetero brethren.  Remember the classic debate between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally" about whether men and women could ever be "just friends"?  I'm always surprised when I hear a straight person — whether a friend or in TV or the movies — become angry with a boyfriend-girlfriend-spouse for having a friendship with someone of the opposite sex.  Are they really so sexually undisciplined?  Could you imagine a gay man complaining that his boyfriend has other gay male friends?

    Rice does point out how difficult it can be to bring the different age groups together, though every extended friendship network — whether real or virtual via Friendster, MySpace or the like — offers plenty of opportunities to interact. And there's so much to be gained!

    Rice writes quite complimentarily of the wisdom his elders have imparted, but I hope he does not sell short what he and his generation have to teach us.  There are tremendous advantages to coming of age in a society that is more accepting of homosexuality.  In fact, I think that developmental time spent in the closet — dividing feelings of love and sex and associating sex with guilt — causes more relationship problems for gay men over 30 than anything else.

    Along those same lines, Lovetastic co-founder Ryan Norbauer commented in response to some of the criticisms of his site in my Monday post:

    You seem to imply that our site somehow positions itself against sex. To the contrary, we want to help gay men find better sex through deeper romantic connections. In my experience, the best love-making comes when you have a deep spiritual connection with your partner, based on something more than simply an appreciation of his body (although that's obviously an important component of a good relationship too.)

    It's nice to see that level of understanding from someone in their 20s.  I know plenty of folks in their 40s who separate sex from deeper emotion as if they were still in the closet.  It's no doubt in the eye of the beholder whether Lovetastic is truly a better venue for "deeper connections" or whether it's a site for those less comfortable with their physical appearance.  There's certainly a place in the gay world for it, whatever the case.

    Norbauer adds that he shares my "discomfort with the term 'values.'" "Lovetastic isn't about promulgating some system of values," he writes, "it's about providing an aesthetic and philosophical alternative to most of the other self-proclaimed gay dating sites."

    Haggardpoints_4 Actually, I'm very comfortable with a discussion about values, and I think it's long overdue.  We are so used to being on the receiving end of a wagging finger ever time we hear the word, that "values" has become not-so-coded for "judgmental" or, even worse, "prejudiced."  In fact, we all live by values, whether consciously or subconsciously, even if our primary value is to live a life free of all conduct rules.

    I still remember when I was in my mid-20s, struggling with the closet, and an Episcopal minister challenged me to list my "sexual values."  What bar must be reached to be sexually intimate with someone?  It was an invaluable exercise then and one I've repeated many times over the years since. 

    Is physical attraction all we require?  Physical attraction + the absence of other offending qualities?  I remember discovering way back when that my sexual interest was inversely proportional to my romantic/relationship interest.  That is; the less likely I thought the prospects of a relationship, the more interested I was in having sex right away (assuming the mutual attraction piece was there, of course).  If a relationship did seem a real possibilty, on the other hand, I would push to wait, hoping we could get to know each other better and, as Ryan suggests, sex would be an expression of something other than "we're hot for each other."

    What are your sexual values?

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    Filed in: Sex , Values

    January 08, 2007

    A new kind of 'values' debate

    Posted by: Chris

    Ericrofes Eric Rofes would be proud. I only met him once, but we corresponded from time to time after I read his fantastic book, "Reviving the Tribe." I identified with how Rofes saw the need for gay men to look below the surface for meaning in our lives. The first step for many of us was to free ourselves from the shackles of self-loathing and judgmentalism, but what value system would take their place?

    Not that Rofes was the first or the only gay male voice to recognize the need for us to attain greater spiritual depth, but he was fairly unique in his ability to explore that need without trashing "gay life" the way so many "mainstream" gay men are wont to do.

    I call them the "happen to be gay" men. They trash "the bars" as if they were uniformly meat markets, "the scene" as if it were all drugs, endless clubbing and unsafe sex, "the activism" as if supporting gay rights means screaming at ACT UP protests, and "the attitude" by which they generally mean that men more attractive than them don't return their interest.

    Eric knew better. He knew that finding spiritual depth didn't require trashing the bars, the scene, activism or attitude. It meant finding common ground on which gay men can connect at a level other than superficial. It was a huge loss to "the movement" when Rofes passed away of an apparent heart attack last summer at the age of 51.

    But now it seems a new round of folks is giving it a try, if a story from today's San Francisco Chronicle is any indication.  The article focuses on three gay men — Ryan Norbauer, 25, founder of Lovetastic.com; Doug Sebesta, 50, co-founder of the San Francisco Gay Men's Community Initiative; and Christopher Lee Nutter, 36, author of "The Way Out," a self-help book:

    They and others across the country are engaging gay men in conversations about their goals and values — both personal and collective — and challenging the sense of who gay men are and what makes their community. This introspection is happening as gay men are able to move away from the AIDS crisis, which had demanded their full attention for two decades, and now have the time and energy to look inward, these leaders say.

    Unfortunately, of the three, only Sebasta seems able to engage in the type of search envisioned by Rofes, a fellow San Franciscan, without denigrating those of us who don't "happen to be gay" but actually are. The Chronicle reports:

    Norbauer, who lives in Massachusetts, said his experience seeking a lover led him to Web sites and personal ads that were more about sex than personality. "That's not what being gay is about," he said. "Being gay is about loving men, and love is not the most pervasive thing on those publications or Web sites."

    Unsatisfied, he created his own dating Web site, Lovetastic.com, where he requires that men be fully clothed in their posted pictures. The site is more MySpace than Manhunt, an Internet hookup site.

    Actually, being gay is about loving men and having sex with them. What Rofes understood is that you don't have to trash the sex to celebrate the love. He founded PerfectUnion.net to fight for marriage rights, as well as Sex Panic!, the short-lived but influential group that fought the sex-negative safe-sex efforts of the late '90s.

    Ryannorbauer If you take a look at Norbauer's Lovetastic, the first thing you notice is that almost half the "happen to be gay" men looking for "love not sex" on the site are too closeted to include any photo at all.  As for the others, well, it's clear why they seek a safe space to remain clothed. What's more, their profiles are no more or less depthful that what you'd find on, say, Gay.com, the afore-mentioned MySpace, Google's Orkut or Friendster, or (gasp!) even BigMuscle, BigMuscleBears and Gaydar, for that matter. 

    The profile questionaire promises you won't be judged by your "stats," but it hastens to judge you by your "taste": "Taste is not only a part and index of morality," it announces, "it is the only morality." So much for spirituality — what's your favorite movie?! I had expected more of a personality questionnaire, like the kind used on eHarmony (which refuses on religious grounds to match up same-sex couples).

    Instead, Lovetastic profiles are full of dismissiveness of the non-statistcal variety: "I have more important things to do with my time than go to the gym" is a typical refrain.  Well I guess I haven't, and after using urban gyms in three major U.S. cities, I can tell you that without exception, the gay men there are a cross-section: from braniacs, type-A achievers and type-B creative types, to true athletes, muscleheads and retail queens.

    Gay men in Washington, D.C., love to trash my gym (Results-Dupont) as a bastion of Muscle Marys with attitude, but among its members are Andrew Sullivan, HRC prez Joe Solmonese, Barney Frank and countless politicos, foundation heads, authors and the like. But my point is a bigger one: is counting resume inches truly more depthful than measuring "nether regions," as Lovetastic calls them?

    Chrisnutter Christopher Lee Nutter, another of those featured in Chronicle story, makes the Lovetastic profiles look downright tolerant. Nutter's own story is one of lurching from extreme depression in the closet, to "a state of bliss" as a "reborn" gay male, to "high as a kite" as a bartender at a New York City gay bar, posing nude for a photo book, to "spending weeks getting control" of himself if a guy didn't return his phone call.

    Then he bought a book by the Dalai Lama and after two years of "isolation tank" soul-searching, had a conversion experience walking down the street when he became "suddenly awash in… extreme clarity and awareness." Would you buy a used self-help book from this man? As one reader, reacting to an excerpt of Nutter's book on Advocate.com, put it:

    I recognize that we're now in the Age of Oprah and that anyone who lacks the sensitivity of Dr. Phil is considered a neanderthal, but one gets the impression that Mr. Nutter has taken things to a new level. By recycling every touchy-feely, new agey self-help adage that's ever been written, he's created a book whose insights sound astonishingly trite.

    Dougsebesta Then there's Doug Sebasta, the 50-year-old San Franciscan who helped launch a group aimed at making life in that city more meaningful, and more fun:

    Sebesta said that as the community emerges from the AIDS epidemic, some gay men in San Francisco have found broken pieces of what used to be. But many have told him it is difficult to meet other gay men outside of sexual encounters or to connect on an emotional or friendship level.

    "Over and above, people were saying they really have this longing for a sense of community (and) that they feel everything is fractured, that everybody is paranoid, and nobody is having fun," he said.

    His group takes an unusual approach to healing the "fractured," clique-ish nature of gay male life in the big city: creating separate community groups specifically for blacks, Latinos, Asians, young men under 25 and older men over 50. The counter-intuitive idea, according to the group's website is that, "most people believed that before we could begin building something unified, each respective group of gay men had to deal with their own 'stuff.'"

    I don't quite get that logic, but maybe as a white gay guy between 25 and 50, I'm not supposed to. And to their credit, their umbrella group ForEveryMan is by far the most active, so they put their organizing where their mouth is. Of course, not everyone is a "joiner," but here's hoping that groups like Sebasta's might contribute to a bigger dialogue about how gay men can live more meaningful — and fun — lives.

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    Filed in: Sex , Values
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