Year: 2011

BOLD Gathering: A ‘Movement Moment’ for LGBT People of Color to Build Political Power

Corrected. There was a moment during one of NGLTF’s Creating Change conferences in the early 1990s when a small group of LGBT activists of color gathered to discuss where they fit in the larger LGBT liberation movement. Joel Tan, a radical young gay Asian artist from Los Angeles whose powerful presence made him the de facto leader, forcefully complained about how there were NO leaders of color and that the rich gay white power structure didn’t give them any respect.

By chance, Phill Wilson, co-founder of the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, and Urvashi Vaid, NGLTF’s executive director, popped their heads in just then to see how the meeting was progressing.  They laughed and said, “What about us?” Tan looked at them with something akin to scorn. Perhaps because of the age difference or their leadership status or because they seemed to be comfortable with the power structure – but somehow they didn’t understand, they didn’t count, they didn’t represent real grassroots LGBTs of color. Tan retorted, “Well, there are no gay ASIAN leaders!” Urvashi explained that she was born in New Delhi, India from Southeast Asia. Urvashi and Phill then left and the group resumed a discussion that seemed to go in endless circles.

That NLGTF moment was poignant for its commonality: such encounters between angry youth and battle-scared old-timers are endless in political movements. But too often in communities prickly from years of external discrimination and internalized oppression, one-upmanship conflicts dissipate the idealistic energy of activism. Joel Tan subsequently disappeared, apparently to concentrate on his art. Like Joel, many other people of color (POC) groups either faded away for lack of organizational funding or included an HIV education program to attract capacity building grants.

That endless cycle may now be changing. An effort by LGBT POC called the Bold Gathering is underway in Minneapolis, Minnesota this weekend to both recognize and honor cultural and political differences amongst the groups and to learn how to come together to build “political power and change the course of the LGBT movement,” according to Ari Gutiérrez, co-founder of LA-based Honor PAC and the Latino Equality Alliance.  “The first official event is an honoring ceremony and feast at a nearby Native American Reservation – where the Chief is a lesbian.”

“This is our Movement Moment — one that will be marked by communities of color becoming the majority in this country within the next two decades. As a result, we have an unprecedented opportunity to move the movement towards justice and full inclusiveness. Why? Because working towards justice, rather than just-us, has always been the legacy of queer and trans communities of color. In order to do so we need to build towards understanding one another’s issues and working across communities to achieve collective power,” Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz, an author and principal of Intersections/Intersecciones Consulting, a leading LGBT social justice consultant firm, said in a Bold Gathering press release.

The Bold Gathering is bringing together over 180 representatives from over 80 POC-led community based organizations that work in empowering POC LGBT constituencies from all over the US. The Gathering is being underwritten by eight LGBTQ funders as part of the Racial Equity Initiative. According to the Bold Gathering press release:

“When the initiative was launched in 2008, there were over $100 million in annual grant awards to LGBT agencies, but only 12% 1% were awarded to LGBT POC organizations. Yet, combined, people of color communities make up a majority of the population in the United States and each includes a proportion of LGBT identified people, as do other communities.  People of color communities including those from African American, Latino/Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American/Two-Spirit and others also tend to experience more conservative attitudes about sexuality and concurrently have the highest incidences of economic, health and educational disparities.

At a time when the national and statewide LGBT organizations are focused on winning state and federal marriage equality, POC LGBT organizations are working within the intersection of their LGBT and ethnic identities and challenging their own ethnic communities to win basic acknowledgement and acceptance.”

Gutiérrez is mindful of the No on Prop 8 experience where LGBT communities of color felt disrespected by the larger LGBT community – while at the same time recognizing the work that needed to be done within their own communities. Gutiérrez helped found two LGBT Latino political groups to help bridge the gap.

“In California, we have worked on marriage equality and would again if necessary. However, working on marriage equality in our Latino communities seems illogical when our LGBT community has not sufficiently done the advocacy and support work for family acceptance” said Gutiérrez. “Our learned lesson is that it’s our own leaders of color who best succeed in establishing and activating the networks necessary to create community-wide cultural change.”

“In our Native American culture, our traditions take precedence in how we approach our two-spirit work, but we find that funders often do not understand our work and that the granting process in many ways are at odds with our cultural approach,” explained Harlan Pruden, Co-Founder of the NorthEast Two Spirit Society based in New York City and member of the Cree Nation.  ”As our two-spirit communities struggle to fund our organizations – we operate as a minority group within a minority group making empowering our two-spirit community very difficult.”

The Minneapolis-based PFund Foundation, along with the Astraea Foundation, devised the program. “Our focus is in creating an opportunity for the leaders of People of Color LGBT organizations across the nation to know and learn from each other and also to provide an opportunity for our foundation peers to better understand the LGBT movement from the perspective of LGBT POC organizations,” explained Alfonso Wenker of the PFund Foundation.

As the Bold Gathering release explains:

Communities of color are often disproportionately affected by anti-LGBT policies.  For example, a Williams Institute (UCLA School of Law) analysis of US military discharge data suggests that, over time, ethnic women bore an increasingly large burden of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

In a front-page New York Times story published in January, Gary Gates, a demographer and distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute observed, “Black or Latino gay couples are twice as likely as whites to be raising children…They are also more likely than their white counterparts to be struggling economically.”  He goes on to explain that, “A large number of gay couples, possibly a majority, entered into their current relationship after first having children with partners in heterosexual relationships.”  As a result, many same-sex couples with children are living in communities with little, if any, LGBT support and programming.  In fact, recently released data from Census 2010 shows that same-sex couples raising children are more common in socially conservative areas of the country like the South and Southwest that include large communities of color.

The conveners believe that increasingly the success of the LGBT movement itself will rely on the success of its work within communities of color.

“At some point, the large LGBT organizations, their funders and ally supporters need to change their culture and approach and instead work in tandem with our LGBT POC organizations.  It’s important they understand that work in LGBT POC communities is actually the key to winning equality, including marriage equality,” stated Gregory Walker, Managing Director of the Philadelphia based The Brothers’ Network.  “Our collective work in POC communities would go far in improving the lives of LGBT Americans but it takes winning support of our ethnic families and communities and we need the help of an inclusive and culturally sensitive LGBT movement,” she added.

# # #

The BOLD Gathering is a Queer* & Trans People of Color Gathering to Support our Liberation and Self-Determination is an invitation only gathering designed by and for LGBT POC representatives and sponsored by the eight primary funders for LGBT issues. For more information and to support the effort please visit www.BOLDgathering.org.  

 *Queer is used as a term of self-empowerment and is not indented to offend or deter from the right to self-identity of LGBT individuals.

Bilerico: Top 20 Most Important LGBT Figures in History

(Editor’s note: Last week, The Bilerico Project’s Adam Polaski posted a series in which a number of contributors and readers offered their picks for who they think are the top figures in LGBT history. As Adam describes, the series was in reaction to the young gay man’s personal discovery of how little he knew – something the California FAIR Education Act is designed to correct.  The fun about lists, of course, is that they are always fodder for dispute. In the Top 20, I would substitute the Rev. Troy Perry for Abraham Lincoln, for instance, since there’s no proof Lincoln was gay but Perry created an international LGBT –affirming church out of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC).  Here’s the top 20 – cross-posted with permission. And check out who other contributors picked, as well – Karen Ocamb)

The Top 20 Most Important LGBT Figures in History

Posted by Adam Polaski

At the beginning of this summer, as an aspiring journalist covering LGBT issues, I thought I understand the ins and outs of the LGBT community. Then I hung out with Bilerico Project founder Bil Browning for an hour, spent my first week interning for the blog, and realized how little I knew.

Since that first week, I’ve been challenged every day by the readers and contributors at The Bilerico Project and the rest of the LGBT media world, and I’ve learned so much in the process. I’ve learned about the current state of the movement, the various ideologies and philosophies surrounding activism and momentum-building, and the importance of our history. That’s why I was so excited to take on the project of compiling a list of the most essential LGBT figures in history. These are figures I’ve been reading about all summer and seeing when, where, and how they influenced the broader LGBT movement.

Since California passed the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive & Respectful Education Act in July, which requires California schools to teach students about LGBT people and the contributions they’ve made to society throughout history, we’ve been wondering how the law will be implemented. Who, of the hundreds of important LGBT people in history, will be included? We decided to poll the readers and contributors of The Bilerico Project to get a better feel for which figures are important to today’s LGBT community.

All this week, we’ve heard from some of the top LGBT voices in activism and media about the moments and figures that they consider most essential. The lists have been extremely varied, and that’s reflective of the diversity within our community. (Check out those lists, from MondayTuesday, and Wednesday.)

We also compiled all of the votes from the readers, Facebook fans, and other Bilerico contributors to create a Top 20 list of the most-named LGBT figures. Check out the slideshow below of the Top 11, see the rest of the Top 20 listed, and look at the other names that received recognition from multiple people.

The Top 20 LGBT Figures in History

As voted on by readers and contributors of The Bilerico Project

1. Harvey Milk(1930-1978), one of the first openly gay people elected to public office, when he was elected to the San

Harvey Milk

Francisco Board of Supervisors

2. Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), King of Macedon in Greece, creator of one of Ancient History’s largest empires, and considered one of the most powerful commanders ever

3. Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), Civil rights leader, proponent of direct action, and activist for gay rights, pacifism, and socialism
Voter Voice: “Too often he’s reduced to the “organizer of the 1963 “I Have a Dream” March on Washington which, while indeed miraculous in barely six months (in pre Internet times), pales next to his decades of important influence and example in the more militant black movement (too many are unaware/forget that the NAACP was opposed to direct action when Rustin and, later, King started out).” – Lt. Dan Choi

4. Michelangelo (1475-1564), Renaissance-era artist, architect, poet, sculptor & engineer
Voter Voice: “Anyone who can sculpt the statue David is truly a lover of the male body” – Bil Browning

5. Alan Turing (1912-1954), Computer scientists who served in World War II, broke the Germans’ Engima Code, and was harassed by the British government for being gay until he committed suicide in 1954.
Voter Voice: “In a remarkable historic rarity, the British government has formally apologized for this. The Turing story is a fascinating one, including a demonstration that LGBT people can excel not only in the arts and humanities, but also the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).” – A.J. Lopp

6. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), The original “Renaissance Man,” painter, poet, sculptor, engineer, architect, inventor, musician, writer, scientist & botanist

Bayard Rustin

7. Walt Whitman (1819-1892), American poet, essayist, and journalist

8. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States

9. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish poet, writer & playwright
Voter Voice: “Literature is an important aspect of education, and a good understanding of literature requires acknowledging the wide variety of sexualities present among authors and how it informs/informed their work. Wilde is a good example of this.” – Erika Kerr

10. Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), American writer & poet, famous for writing honest and candid portrayals of lesbian relationships
Voter Voice: “Innovative and very influential force in the arts at a key time who also lived unapologetically as a lesbian long, long before it was OK. Strong is beautiful.” – Scott Wooledge

11. Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002), transgender activist, Stonewall leader, founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance, and contributing member to the foundation of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries

12. The Stonewall Rioters (June 1969), The crowd comprised of drag queens, trans people and queer youth joined together in one of the first – or at least most remembered – episodes of the LGBT community fighting back against oppression, this time from the police. Sparked the formation of key activism organizations and galvanized the movement.

13. Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon (1921-2008 and 1924 – ), founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, founders of The Ladder, a lesbian and feminist magazine, and first lesbian couple to join the National Organization for Women.
Voter Voice: “What did they not do?” – Michael Maloney

14. James Baldwin (1924-1987), essayist, playwright, poet, civil rights activist, & author of Giovanni’s Room

15. Harry Hay (1912-2002), labor advocate, teacher, and founder of the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest and most influential gay advocacy organizations

16. Sappho (~630 BC – ~570 BC), Ancient Greek poet, born on the island of Lesbos, which many believe to be the origin of the term “lesbian.”

17. The Members of ACT UP(1987), or the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, was a direct action advocacy group

ACT UP/LA protesting President George H. Walker Bush in LA (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

focused on improving the lives of people with AIDS and demanding that the government and health organizations begin paying attention.
Voter Voice: The organization provided the pressure needed to inspire real action in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In the same spirit, we should recognize every grassroots activist who spends their time, money, and energy to support our rights without any expectation of public recognition.” – Rev. Emily Heath

18. Christine Jorgensen: (1926-1989), one of the first publicly known people to have sex reassignment surgery

19. Leonard Matlovich: (1943-1988), a technical sergeant and Vietnam War veteran who received the Purple Heart and was the first gay man to come out in the military when he did so while serving in the U.S. Air Force.
Voter Voice: When he appeared on the cover of Time, with the headline “I Am a Homosexual,” he “brought the issue of open service for the first time to the mainstream media.” – Jarrod Chlapowski

20. Audre Lorde: (1934-1992), writer, activist & poet who wrote about race, gender, and sexuality

Honorable Mentions: Names or moments suggested by multiple readers, commenters, or contributors Susan B. Anthony, Virginia M. Apuzzo, Rita Mae Brown, Wendy Carlos, George Washington Carver, Professor Lynn Conaway, Quentin Crisp, Reed Erickson, Barney Frank, Christopher Isherwood, King James I of England, Frida Kahlo, Frank Kameny, The Lawrence v. Texas case, Eleanor Roosevelt, William Shakespeare, Matthew Shepard, Socrates, Lou Sullivan, Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf

Read All of Our LGBT History Coverage:

  • Part One: Mon., Aug. 8 – Kramer, Baldwin, Wolfson, Andre, Weiss, Rogers & Meronek
  • Part Two: Tues., Aug. 9 – Choi, Boylan, Conrad, Besen, Warren, Cheslik-DeMeyer & Lopp
  • Part Three: Wed., Aug. 10 – Duque, Sklar, Kerr, Wooledge, Heath, Chlapowski, Monroe & Browning
  • Initial Post: “Who Are the Most Important LGBT Figures in History?”

Bulletin: Gov. Brown Signs FAIR Education Act, Reaction

(UPDATED with reaction) Governor Brown’s office just issued a notice that he has signed SB 48, the FAIR Education Act. Brown has been under intense pressure this past week from both sides.

Openly gay State Sen. Mark Leno, author of the bill, just issued this press release:

Governor Jerry Brown today signed the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Education Act, authored by Senator Mark Leno. The bill ensures that the historical contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and disabled individuals are accurately and fairly portrayed in instructional materials by adding these groups to the existing list of under-represented cultural and ethnic groups already included in the state’s inclusionary education requirements.

UPDATE: Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued the following statement regarding SB 48 by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco):

“History should be honest. This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books. It represents an important step forward for our state, and I thank Senator Leno for his hard work on this historic legislation.”

Leno also released a statement in a press release from his office:

“Today we are making history in California by ensuring that our textbooks and instructional materials no longer exclude the contributions of LGBT Americans,” said Senator Leno (D-San Francisco). “Denying LGBT people their rightful place in history gives our young people an inaccurate and incomplete view of the world around them. I am pleased Governor Brown signed the FAIR Education Act and I thank him for recognizing that the LGBT community, its accomplishments and its ongoing efforts for first-class citizenship are important components of California’s history.”

Research indicates that students who learn about LGBT people find their school environments more accepting of LGBT youth. Students are also more likely to report that their LGBT peers are treated fairly at school – and that other types of peer-to-peer disrespect also declines – when LGBT people and issues are included in instructional materials.

In addition to including the role and contributions of LGBT Americans in educational materials, Senate Bill 48 ensures that the contributions of disabled people are included. The bill also adds sexual orientation to the state’s existing anti-discrimination protections that prohibit bias in school activities, instruction and instructional materials. The bill is co-sponsored by Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

“Today marks a monumental victory for the LGBT equality movement as the struggle of the diverse LGBT community in California will no longer be erased from history,” said Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia. “Thanks to the FAIR Education Act, California students, particularly LGBT youth, will find new hope and inspiration and experience a more welcoming learning environment.”

“I am awed and humbled to be part of this historic moment,” said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network. “Today, we’ve written the latest chapter in the LGBT civil rights movement – one that will now be presented fairly and accurately in California schools. By signing the FAIR Education Act and ending the exclusion of the LGBT community from instructional materials, Governor Brown has realized the hopes of youth who have been fighting for safe and inclusive schools, where all students learn about our history and gain respect for each other’s differences as a result. This is a part of the American story that we can be proud to know all students will learn.”

SB 48 passed the Senate in April and cleared the Assembly earlier this month.

More reaction below.

Press release from Equality California and GSA Network, sponsors of SB 48:

Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill that will fairly and accurately portray the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement and the historic contributions of the diverse LGBT community in social science instruction. The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act (SB 48), by including fair and accurate information about the rich and diverse history of LGBT people in instructional materials, will enrich the learning experiences of all students and promote an atmosphere of safety and respect in California schools. SB 48 was authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by Equality California and Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

Studies have shown that inclusion of LGBT people in instructional materials is linked to greater student safety and lower rates of bullying.  In schools where the contributions of the LGBT community are included in educational instruction, bullying declined by over half and LGBT students were more likely to feel they have an opportunity to make positive contributions at school.

“Today marks a monumental victory for the LGBT civil rights movement as the contributions of diverse LGBT community will no longer be erased from history,” said Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia. “Thanks to the FAIR Education Act, California students, particularly LGBT youth, will find new hope and inspiration and experience a more welcoming learning environment that will embrace them.”

Palencia added, “For decades, LGBT leaders have worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for all Californians. LGBT leaders were involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the farm workers’ movement, the women’s movement, have built health and human services institutions that now serve millions of Californians, and have contributed to the economic development of our state. We are truly grateful for the courageous leadership of Senator Leno, the LGBT Caucus, allied lawmakers, our members, and the entire LGBT community for making history and for promoting safety in our schools as students learn about our rich legacy.”

The FAIR Education Act will bring classroom instruction into alignment with existing non-discrimination laws in California and would add the LGBT community to the existing list of underrepresented cultural and ethnic groups, which are covered by current law related to inclusion in textbooks and other instructional materials in schools.

“I am awed and humbled to be part of this historic moment.  Today, we’ve written the latest chapter in the LGBT civil rights movement — one that will now be presented fairly and accurately in California schools,” said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network. “By signing the FAIR Education Act and ending the exclusion of the LGBT community from instructional materials, Governor Brown has realized the hopes of youth who have been fighting for safe and inclusive schools, where all students learn about our history and gain respect for each other’s differences as a result.  This is a part of the American story that we can be proud to know all students will learn.”

“Today we are making history in California by ensuring that our textbooks and instructional materials no longer exclude the contributions of LGBT Americans,” said Senator Leno “Denying LGBT people their rightful place in history gives our young people an inaccurate and incomplete view of the world around them. I am pleased Governor Brown signed the FAIR Education Act and I thank him for recognizing that the LGBT community, its accomplishments and its ongoing efforts for first-class citizenship are important components of California’s history.”

“There is no room for discrimination of any kind in our classrooms, our communities or our state,” said Dean E. Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association.  “We believe that curricula should address the common values of the society, promote respect for diversity and cooperation, and prepare students to compete in, and cope with a complex and rapidly evolving society.  SB 48 does that by helping to ensure that curricular materials include the contributions of persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans to the development of California and United States.”

Among the diverse supporters of the FAIR Education Act include: Adolescent Health Working Group, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Anti-Defamation League, Arc and United Cerebral Palsy in California, Asian Americans for Civil Rights & Equality, Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy & Leadership, California Language Teachers Association, California Psychological Association, California Teachers Association, California Faith for Equality, Californians for Disability Rights, Inc., City of Oakland, City of West Hollywood, Disability Rights California, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Unified School District, Public Advocates, San Francisco Unified School District, Transgender Law Center, California Church IMPACT, Our Family Coalition, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Fresno County Democratic Central Committee, San Joaquin Valley Democratic Club, The Trevor Project, School for Integrated Academics & Technologies, and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund.

Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights advocacy organization in California. Over the past decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for LGBT individuals to a state with some of the most comprehensive civil rights protections in the nation. Equality California has passed more than 70 pieces of legislation and continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment. www.eqca.org

Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network) is a national youth leadership organization that empowers youth activists to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools by training student leaders and supporting student-led Gay-Straight Alliance clubs throughout the country. In California alone, GSA Network has brought GSA clubs to 56% of public high schools, impacting more than 1.1 million students at 850 schools. GSA Network’s youth advocates have played a key role in changing laws and policies that impact youth at the local and state level. GSA Network operates the National Association of GSA Networks, which unites more than 30 statewide networks of GSA clubs throughout the country. GSA Network is also the founder of the Make It Better Project, which aims to stop bullying and prevent suicide. www.gsanetwork.org

From Shannon Minter, Legal Director for National Center for Lesbian Rights:

This is a major turning point for our movement. California is the first state to mandate inclusion of accurate information about LGBT  people and history in public classrooms. This will change the future for LGBT youth and their families in ways that are just as important and far-reaching as marriage equality. For the first time, LGBT children and youth in California will have the experience of being affirmatively included and supported in school.

EQCA’s Roland Palencia also sent out emails of thanks to those who helped spread the word, reprinted here with permission:

I want to thank our Communications staff and all those in the LGBT and ally communities who worked on this bill for many months and helped to mobilize people to contact the Governor’s office to create awareness about the historical importance of the FAIR Education Act. On my second week, I also want to pay a tribute to the previous leadership of Equality California, as this is part of their legacy.

This is a watershed moment for the movement, as it will help to break the spell that they have over us: that we are bad for children and youth. Instead, this will point to the real culprit:  harassment, discrimination, prejudice and invisibility that has done so much harm not only to our youth, but also to those who are seen as different. An even better, it will be proactive, as it will teach about the rich and diverse contributions of our LGBT civil rights movement. Mil Gracias,

Roland Palencia

AND this to former EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors:

Geoff,
This is a tribute to your leadership and to your legacy.
roland

From the LA Gay & Lesbian Center:

Despite pressure from anti-LGBT extremists, Governor Jerry Brown stood up for truth and accuracy in education by signing into law Senator Mark Leno’s Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act. The passage of FAIR Act (SB48) means that California schools must no longer exclude the historic contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

In response to this important victory, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri L. Jean issued the following statement:

“We’ve seen it over and over; too many LGBT youth are harassed and bullied in schools at the hands of those whose fear and hate stems from ignorance about LGBT people.

It’s vital that all students learn about the great LGBT trailblazers who went before them—many of whom have been inexcusably closeted by our history books. When all students learn about the work and lives of such notable figures as Barbara Jordan, Bayard Rustin, Alexander the Great, Tennessee Williams, Walt Whitman, Billie Jean King and so many others, they should understand the historical context of their accomplishments, including how their sexual orientation or gender identity informed their work and shaped their character.

Right-wing extremists will crow that teaching children that LGBT people exist, and always have, is some type of ‘indoctrination’, but in fact it just means they’re learning the truth. And that is what education is all about. Governor Brown, thank you for standing up for all of our state’s young people by ensuring they are given accurate  information, and not an incomplete version of history that erases the contributions of LGBT people.

The Center is working with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to make our public schools safe and welcoming for today’s young LGBT people. Giving students accurate, fairly presented information about LGBT people who have shaped history is another important part of making their lives better.”

Last month, the Center and LAUSD held a summit to develop a plan of action for fighting LGBT youth suicide and reducing homophobia in the nation’s second-largest school district. The initiative, called Project SPIN (Suicide Prevention Intervention Now), is also supported by many community partners.

(UPDATE 2:00pm)Antigay Capitol Resource Institute:

Governor Brown capitulated to pressure by the homosexual community and signed Senate Bill 48 by Sen. Mark Leno.

Moments ago, Brown signed SB 48 and said, “History should be honest,” the Democratic governor said in a written statement. “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books. It represents an important step forward for our state, and I thank Senator Leno for his hard work on this historic legislation.”

SB 48 is an attempt to indoctrinate children as young as five to not only accept but also endorse homosexuality through our social sciences curriculum specially history, history books and instructional materials.

“Governor Brown refused to listen to the thousands and thousands of calls by pro-family, traditional values voters asking him to veto SB 48,” stated Karen England, executive director of CRI. “He has ignored over half of the people in our state to implement a controversial, objectionable, and poor public school policy measure into California’s classrooms.”

“SB 48 does absolutely nothing to reduce bullying, improve the state of our education system, ensure students graduate, or prepare them for global competitiveness,” said Paulo Sibaja, legislative director of CRI. “Instead it diverts precious classroom time away from science, math, reading, and writing and focuses on the agenda of a small group of people.”

Senator Leno and supporters of SB 48 argued that students would stop bullying others if they learned the sexual preference of certain figures yet they failed to mention most bullying is not based on homosexuality.  Also, the implementation of SB 48 would cost Californian’s a lot of money since textbooks would have to be changed in order to meet the mandate of SB 48. The Governor failed to take SB 48′s flawed assumptions into consideration and in doing so sign a bill that would harm children’s developing minds by thrusting confusing and controversial concepts not age appropriate.

Capitol Resource Institute is working with a coalition of family advocacy groups on our next step following the Governor’s signage of SB 48. We will continue to follow further developments and keep you informed.

Lesbian Blogger Hoaxes Harm the Credibility of News-Gatherers

Journalists take being duped very seriously. The recent revelations that both the “Gay Girl from Damascus” and Paula Brooks, founder of LezGetReal, are straight white men pretending to be lesbians was a real shocker. OK – it’s not quite the same as discovering that New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner Judith Miller’s exclusive reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was based on inaccurate information provided by the discredited Ahmad Chalabi.

That reporting helped bolster the Bush administration’s cause for an unnecessary “pre-emptive” war, for which we are still paying. For the details on both hoaxes, please check out Adam Polaski’s in-depth reporting on The Bilerico Project. And see the video report on the “Gay Girl From Damascus” from Newsy below.

But please, make no mistake – these hoaxes are harmful. Thanks to the Internet, there is a cacophony of megaphones blaring opinions and analysis and a bunch of junk that people find titillating. I am a huge fan of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression and am grateful I have a platform here to offer my point of view. But when journalists and bloggers break through the noise with crap they’ve made up just to get eyeballs and clicks on their website – even if it’s for a “good cause” – that has the effect of eroding the already soft ground on which the trustworthiness of news gathering in general stands with the public.

And when the source of news is in a hard-to-access place such as Syria during these revolutionary days in the Middle East – we need and want to believe the information we’re receiving. That’s why journalists and the US State Department jumped into action when word spread that the “Gay Girl from Damascus” had been apparently kidnapped by the Syrian government forces she criticized.

This is from the Saturday, June 12, Washington Post piece by Melissa Bell and Elizabeth Flock that exposed the hoax:

For nearly a week, the world followed the saga of Amina Arraf, the blogger who was celebrated for her passionate, often intimate writings about the Syrian government’s crackdown on Arab Spring protesters. Those writings stopped abruptly last Monday, and in a posting on her blog, “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” a cousin said Amina had been hauled away by government security agents.

News of her disappearance became an Internet and media sensation. The U.S. State Department started an investigation. But almost immediately skeptics began asking: Had anyone ever actually met Amina? On Wednesday, pictures of her on the blog were revealed to have been taken from a London woman’s Facebook page.

And Sunday, the truth spilled out: The gay girl in Damascus confessed to being a 40-year-old American man from Georgia.

The persona Tom MacMaster built and cultivated for years — a lesbian who was half Syrian and half American — was a tantalizing Internet-era fiction, one that he used to bring attention to the human rights record of a country where media restrictions make traditional reporting almost impossible.

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MacMaster wrote a couple of apologies. But is that sufficient?

A Reuters blog distinguishes this hoax from the trust broken by “real” journalists:

No doubt his fraud will be used to dredge up the media’s favorite topic of whether or not blogs are reliable, whether or not Twitter is reliable, whether or not you can trust journalists (people are dropping the names Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke and Stephen Glass online). But this isn’t a journalistic scandal: Tom MacMaster has very little in common with the reporters who have betrayed the public trust in the past by faking stories across a variety of topics over many years. They had no ideological premise (unless you count self-aggrandizement). MacMaster has much more in common with the misguided activists who have fooled the public with tales of victimization in order to advance an agenda.

Uri Friedman at The AtlanticWire, however, looks at some of the consequences of that hoax:

What damage has MacMaster done? Here’s what people are saying:

  • Lent Credence to Syrian Regime’s Narrative: Syria’s state-run media has long argued that the international coverage of the Syrian uprising is nothing but a pack of lies, and indeed the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency is gleefully reporting that “MacMaster’s hoax aimed at enhancing continuous fabrications and lies against Syria in term of kidnapping bloggers and activists.”
  • Distracted Media and International Community From Syrian Uprising: As NPR’s Andy Carvin, one of several journalists spearheading last week’s research into Amina Arraf’s identity, tweeted, “If we could only calculate the sheer number of hours we spent this week on #Amina, each one of which was an hour spent not on Syria itself.”
  • Undermined Support for Middle Eastern Bloggers: “You have forever tarnished the reputation of bloggers in this region who chose to write in English,” writes a Lebanese blogger who identifies himself as Mustapha. “One day if I’m kidnapped by my government, many readers won’t care because I could turn out to be another Amina.”
  • Endangered LGBT Syrians: “Because of you, Mr. MacMaster, a lot of the real activists in the LGBT community became under the spotlight of the authorities in Syria,” argues a gay Syrian activist named Daniel Nassar.
  • Cast Doubt on Citizen Journalism in Middle East: The Washington Post‘s Melissa Bell and Elizabeth Flock note that “the hoax raises difficult questions about the reliance on blogs, tweets, Facebook postings and other Internet communications as they increasingly become a standard way to report on global events”–especially as regimes in the Middle East restrict foreign media access during the Arab Spring. At Al Arabiya, Muna Khan wonders what will happen to the thousands detained in Syria–”those who have as much courage as the hoax Amina but no avenue to get their voices heard. Will journalists who didn’t have the time to verify facts before giving Amina the international fame she received suddenly back off or labor over each detail before printing–by which it could be too late for the real Aminas out there?”

OK – now let’s bring that home. What will journalists and accuracy-minded bloggers do when they come across a blog with a horror story about same sex domestic violence – but the blog only uses anonymous sources? Or what about an email from someone who claims to be a gay person in the military or the loved one of someone suffering under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell who needs to get an important story out about discrimination – what proof will we now require that this person is not a fraud?

How many stories will we now pass up for fear of being duped?

As for “Paula Brooks” – I “spoke” with the editor of LezGetReal several times via email and chats on Facebook. She constantly wanted me to write for the website as their person in LA. I explained that I already have a job as the news editor for Frontiers In LA. But I had no clue I was “speaking” with a dude. In fact, I was often sympathetic about Paula’s circumstances – whether her deafness or her situation with the kids. Now, I just feel stupid. But I see I have a lot of company.

Anyway – for the record – here’s the most recent photo of me, a “real” gay girl – Day 6 of the AIDS LifeCycle ride outside my tent. I haven’t gone “camping” since 1969 when I demonstrated as part of the Vietnam War Moratorium co-organized by David Mixner in April and then got high and soaking wet at Woodstock in August.

Journalist/blogger Karen Ocamb on Day 6 of the AIDS LifeCycle ride (Photo by Calvin Fleming)
Journalist/blogger Karen Ocamb on Day 6 of the AIDS LifeCycle ride (Photo by Calvin Fleming)

Dan Rather once told me: “I don’t care what people think about me – but I sure give a damn about my reputation.” Right now – whether they know it or not – the reputation of journalists and bloggers is pretty damaged by these hoaxes perpetrated by these two fake lesbians.

CA Sen. Dianne Feinstein Talks About Her Effort to Repeal DOMA

This is cross-posted from my interview with Sen. Feinstein for Frontiers In LA magazine.

(Corrected) A book could be written about the complicated relationship between California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the LGBT community. The conservative Democrat has alternatively sparred with and fought hard for gay people for over 30 years, starting as mayor of San Francisco in the late 1970s/early ‘80s. Best known nationally as the mayor President of the Board of Supervisors who announced the assassination of gay Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978, at home she was at the center of a serious political dust-up over her opposition to the city’s proposed domestic partnership law in 1982, which she said “divided the community.”

Feinstein also angered many in 2004 by seeming to suggest that gays and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom essentially cost Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry the presidential election against President George W. Bush because Newsom permitted the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That decision led to the court case that resulted in a ruling by the California Supreme Court in May 2008 that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marriage equality. Prop. 8, the anti-gay 2008 ballot initiative, sought to invalidate that ruling.

So no one expected Feinstein to become a heroine for marriage equality. But her first action sent up a flare. On Sept. 12, 2008, urged by Equality California and prodded by the Bay Area Reporter, Feinstein officially came out against Prop. 8.

“Proposition 8 would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. I oppose it as a matter of equality and fairness,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The right to marry is fundamental. It provides social stability, economic equality and the ability to make decisions for a spouse in a time of crisis.”

But almost as if speaking of her own evolution, Feinstein added, “The views of Californians on this issue have changed over time, and as a state, I believe we should uphold the ability of our friends, neighbors and co-workers who are gay and lesbian to enter into the contract of marriage.”

Feinstein didn’t stop with a statement. She worked with the No on Prop. 8 campaign to produce one of the most effective TV campaign ads, featuring her personal plea to voters to oppose Prop 8. The voters passed Prop. 8 anyway in November 2008.

The reaction to her extraordinary measures was barely constrained worship when she gave the keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign in Los Angeles in March 2009. Nevermind that Feinstein is considered one of the most powerful members of the U.S. Senate as Chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence and a respected member of the judiciary and appropriations committees. All anyone could see was the woman who stood up for the rights of LGBT people to enjoy liberty and the pursuit of happiness, just like heterosexual Americans.

During her keynote, Feinstein said her “heart sank” when she heard that Prop. 8 passed, but noted that “a great deal

Feinstein talks with Frontiers In LA publisher David Stern before the HRC dinner, with her openly gay LA Field Director Trevor Daley looking on (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

of money had been spent to distort marriage equality and cast these equal rights as something dangerous to children and to all marriages.”

Feinstein then added, “I can’t tell you when or how. It may take another year, or five. It may take another ballot initiative. But I firmly believe that equal marriage rights will one day be the law in the state of California. I hope that day comes soon, and I believe it will. … Until this question is settled, it’s up to you to continue to press the case, united, as you march forward in dignity. We cannot simply put our faith in a positive outcome. We must hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. … You have come a long way, but the journey is not finished. We must persevere until the day when acceptance triumphs over prejudice. I will support you in this quest. And it will happen.”

Another surprise came this past March 16 when Feinstein, the politician who opposed domestic partnerships 29 years ago, introduced “The Respect for Marriage Act,” a bill designed to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Though she had voted against DOMA in 1996, no one expected Feinstein to take a lead on such a controversial issue. A similar bill was introduced in the House by very liberal Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York.

Sen. Feinstein announces legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (Photo courtesy Sen. Feinstein’s office)

“There are tens of thousands of legally married same-sex couples in the United States, and more than 18,000 in my home state of California alone,” Feinstein said at a news conference. “These couples live their lives like all married people; they share the bills, they raise children together and they care for each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, until death do they part. But because of DOMA, they have been denied federal protections. It is time to right this wrong. This bill will ensure that all married couples in the United States enjoy equal protection of our laws.”

During a 12-minute phone interview on May 26, Frontiers asked Feinstein about the status of the DOMA repeal bill.

“It’s in the Judiciary Committee. We hope to have a hearing before long. We’re working with the community on securing votes. We have 24 co-sponsors now and I’d like to get as many as possible, which strengthens the possibilities for passage,” Feinstein said. “The Courage Campaign is reaching out. They have organized campaigns of phoning in several states, as I understand it. I’m not making phone calls.”

Given the opportunity to speak directly to people about DOMA, Feinstein said she would tell them, “Issues of family and marriage are virtually all done by state law, not federal law. The Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, essentially said, OK, even if a state says you can go ahead with a same-sex marriage, those individuals cannot have any of the federal benefits. And the list of federal benefits [include] joint federal income taxes, certain deductions, spousal benefits under Social Security, unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act if a loved one falls ill and the protections of the estate tax when one spouse passes and wants to leave his or her possessions to another. Those are federal laws that are essentially cancelled under DOMA.

“So if you strike DOMA,” she continued, “these basic rights come back to individuals whose states have passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage. I think people have to know that. We’re not giving anybody anything special that any other married couple doesn’t get. But what we are doing is taking out a prohibition.”

Frontiers noted that binational couples are closely monitoring the DOMA repeal, since in many cases that right is

Alex Benshimol and Doug Gentry, a binational couple from Palm Springs (Photo courtesy Doug Gentry)

what keeps straight binational couples together and orders the deportation of gays. Frontiers told Feinstein about the deportation hearing that Doug and Alex, who live in Cathedral City, are facing on July 13. Frontiers asked if Feinstein might be willing to advocate for suspending or halting deportations while the DOMA repeal bill—which Feinstein and the Obama administration agree is unconstitutional—makes its way through Congress.

“I’ve never been asked that question before. I very much doubt it because it’s a whole different set of laws, and there I would be accused of really giving preference because—let’s say there was somebody in a straight marriage that was where the gay couple are—and the same thing would apply to them. They would be deported, regardless of the marriage. I really think it’s a bit of apples and oranges,” Feinstein said.

Frontiers pressed a bit, trying to explain that for gay binational couples, the issue was precisely one of inequality because of DOMA. But Feinstein seemed to link the DOMA issue with the larger battle over immigration reform.

“There are straight binational couples, too. And one could be eligible for deportation,” she said. “I don’t know what the circumstances would be, but it’s certainly possible. I don’t want to argue with you here. I didn’t know you were going to ask this question. I’m happy to take a look at it. I have my hands very full with where we are now, and if we get just this bill through, it’s an enormous victory. And I’m not eager to complicate the situation.”

On Prop. 8, Feinstein said that “at this stage,” she has no opinion on whether the LGBT community should return to the ballot in 2012 to repeal Prop 8.

“No one’s presented that to me as an option. I think it has to be carefully evaluated and looked at. I have no doubt that as time goes on, people’s views are changing,” Feinstein said, adding “I think the situation is moving in a very positive direction.”

Sen. Feinstein with Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs (Photo courtesy Sen Feinstein’s office)

Frontiers spoke with Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs, who talked about his meeting with Feinstein—another surprise since the Courage Campaign has disagreed with the senator on a number of progressive issues. “She looked me in the eye and said, ‘I want to repeal DOMA,’ and I believe her,” Jacobs said. The two shook hands on a partnership where Courage is using all its resources and intellect to help Feinstein get more co-sponsors and get to the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass the DOMA repeal bill. Jacobs said they now have 77 volunteers in 43 states working with local organizers. And their aggressive Facebook campaign continues to move senators who are overwhelmed with Facebook messages from constituents. (See their Facebook campaign here.)

Lavi Soloway, an attorney who works with binational couples and runs the stopthedeportations.com website, was not happy that Feinstein does not see the desperate urgency faced by binational couples.

“We are at a time in our history when equality is within reach for binational couples,” Soloway said, noting the “unprecedented efforts underway in Congress, led by Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Senator Patrick Leahy

San Jose, CA-based binational couple Judy Rickard and her British wife Karin with attorney Lavi Soloway (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

and Senator Feinstein.” But action is needed now.

“The growing call for a moratorium on deportations that are tearing married same-sex binational coules apart every day in this country is not solely, or even primarily, an immigration issue, but rather an equality issue. No other civil rights issue of our time intersects with our broken immigration system in this manner,” Soloway told Frontiers, noting that the administration has the power to stop supporting the law it has declared unconstitutional by using prosecutorial discretion and prioritizing law enforcement resources to deport criminals but preserve family unity.

“Our greatest allies have stood up in the Senate, the House and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to declare that an end must come to the destructive law known as DOMA,” said Soloway. “In the meantime, those words must be followed by actions. To stand by and allow families to be torn apart and marriages destroyed suggests a gap in leadership on this issue. A rhetorical position in support of LGBT families must be backed by actions, which would truly make a difference. That is the moral and responsible response to the crisis created by DOMA deportations.”

Feinstein told Frontiers that she would “look into” the binational issue. But as her work with the Courage Campaign illustrates, Feinstein wants and needs the support of the LGBT community to pass the DOMA repeal bill and help secure full equality for same-sex couples.

Deconstructing the Angry West Hollywood Election

(UPDATED to delete inaccuracy): For some long-term West Hollywood residents, there has never been as nasty a campaign season as the one leading up to the Tuesday, March 8 election for three seats on the West Hollywood City Council.  Unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and campaign finance irregularities – standard fare for most political contests – have devolved into a very real breach between women and gay men in a community internationally renown for welcoming diversity.

Unlike the city of Los Angeles, where the seven councilmembers elected from 26 candidates will have to cut jobs and public services to close a $404-million budget gap (the mayor and city council have already dealt with a $1-billion shortfall over the last two years),  the 1.9 square mile city of West Hollywood has a $68.5 million General Fund reserve, has not had to cut jobs or social services and is, in fact, building a library and expanding and renovating Plummer Park with money raised, saved and designated for those projects.

But while the city of West Hollywood has its fiscal house in order, it is in serious danger of losing its mythology – the belief that WeHo is an urban village where all – especially society’s odd creative outsiders – are welcome.

What follows is not an endorsement or intended to otherwise suggest for whom the reader should vote. In fact, I strongly urge you to check out this post that features all nine candidates on video speaking directly into the camera about why they are running. Rather, this piece is an attempt to offer another perspective to the barrage of slanted blog coverage, which has often been misleading, incorrect – or in a few cases, downright scandalous.

The West Hollywood Democratic Club endorsement, part one

The anticipated fireworks did not materialize at the second West Hollywood Democratic Club endorsement meeting

Endorsed incumbents Mayor John Heilman, Councilmember Lndsey Horvath, Councilmember Abbe Land (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

at the National Council of Jewish Women LA headquarters Monday, Feb. 21. It was a far cry from the earlier meeting when the club’s recommended candidates in the March 8 election for WeHo City Council – incumbents Mayor John Heilman and Councilmembers Abbe Land and Lindsey Horvath – received a majority of votes but not the required 60 percent of credentialed club voters, thanks to a surge in new members supporting the challengers. This time the club voted 48-10 to endorse Heilman, Land and Horvath.

Two of the biggest issues discussed during this WeHo election campaign have been strict parking enforcement (requested by the neighbors in those heavily-trafficked business and nightclub areas) and over-development, an issue mostly involving vacant buildings that the city planning commission and the city council might not have foreseen at a time when the truth of the near-Great Depression economy was hidden even from incoming President Obama.  And, as was revealed during one of the candidate forums, sometimes people believe in false assumptions such as: Is development of new affordable housing a priority over preserving existing rent controlled housing? “That’s a false dichotomy,” said incumbent Mayor John Heilman. “You need both.”

The President’s Day meeting started with tension in the air. Everyone seemed braced for a confrontation, the new-normal whenever the challengers – six gay men with varying degrees of political experience: John D’Amico, Scott Schmidt, Steve Martin, Mito Aviles, Lucas John and Mark Gonzaga – encounter the incumbents seeking re-election.

Tension, anger and distortions of the facts are standard in almost every political election – commonly explained away as “just politics.” In small elections that do not draw the attention of FactCheck.org, candidates usually feel free to say whatever they want without close scrutiny – there is little chance they will wind up in court, under oath, having to back up their assertions with evidence under a withering and precise cross examination by David Boies, as he questioned the ProtectMarriage witnesses in the federal Prop 8 trial.

Some distortions are minor and easy to fact check. For instance, candidate John D’Amico’s supporter Vince Roncone wrote a Facebook post Monday, Feb. 21, about the “urgent special meeting” called by the West Hollywood Democratic Club.  In fact, it was a regularly scheduled general meeting with club endorsements, club president Josh Kurpies told me, not “urgent” or “special” nor was it called for or coordinated by Heilman, Land and Horvath, as Roncone contends.

But it’s the sexism in Roncone’s inaccurate Facebook alert that seems echoed by most of the challengers:

“Lindsey Horvath was appointed to the council and is new to the community. She belongs to the College Republican Club where she was an advocate for George W. Bush and the Iraq war. Abbe Land whispers, Horvath is being harassed because she is a woman but, ignores her attachment to Lindsey’s appointment and campaign. 39 qualified community servants were overlooked – which included other democratic woman.”

Gay Republican candidate Scott Schmidt

First of all, given the above complaint, no New Yorker should have ever voted for Hillary Clinton for US Senate. She did not live in New York when she decided to run for Senate, she once was a Goldwater Republican and in October 2002, as a Democrat, she voted for the war in Iraq. In Clinton’s case, no one seemed to hold her right to change her mind and party affiliation against her. In Horvath’s case, however, some of the WeHo challengers make her youthful membership in the Republican Party – a result of family influence – an albatross from which she can never be freed, despite her publicly expressed regrets. The blatant sexism here is that while some of these challengers are going after Horvath, challenger Scott Schmidt is the proud and effective president of the LA chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans and none of his fellow challengers have raised the “R” word against him.

The contentious appointment process

Roncone’s ire is focused on Horvath’s appointment over “39 qualified community servants.” Yet the appointment process to fill a seat vacancy has a long history – the most recent California example is Gov. Schwarzenegger appointing Abel Maldonado to replace Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who was elected to Congress in a special election. After Horvath’s appointment, WeHo City Clerk Tom West posted an unscientific survey on the City Clerks Association www.californiacityclerks.org/  listserv asking how many cities had held special elections to fill a vacancy or used the appointment process or waited until the next election. West said he received 48 responses, 44 in which clerks said their city filled vacancies through appointments.

It’s my understanding that the City Council’s decision to appoint someone to fill out the term of the late Councilmember Sal Guarriello instead of holding a special election was because a full council was urgently needed to make some important upcoming decisions. Additionally, the city wanted to save the money it would take to hold a special election: writing, printing and mailing a ballot, notifications, publicizing the election, sponsoring and televising debates, setting up a special page on the City Clerk’s website, setting up polling places, getting and training volunteer poll workers, taking city staff away from other duties to handle the election, etc.

The appointment process was open, transparent and decided before the public in an open city council meeting viewed on television and online.  Of the 39 people who filed applications for the job (all applications are public record), 36 came to the meeting and had an opportunity to make a presentation. Additionally, people for certain candidates and people against the process spoke during public comment.

The City Council took one long night to make the appointment, narrowing the list from 39 down to 12 and then the

Lindsey Horvath and Abbe Land (center) at Laurel Park opening (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

top five. There is a persistent rumor among supporters of the challengers that the councilmembers agreed beforehand to give each other a “secret veto” of one candidate that the others could not contest. That is given as a reason for the elimination of such highly respected candidates as Kate Bartolo and John Altschul.  However – such an arrangement would be a clear and serious violation of the California Brown Act, (visit Californians Aware for an explanation of the Brown Act), which prohibits elected officials from discussing and making decisions together out of view of the public. Since Heilman is a law professor, Mayor Pro Tem John Duran is an attorney, and Councilmember Jeffrey Prang is the Assistant City Manager for the city of Pico Rivera – as well as the required ethics training for all elected and appointed public officials – such illegal collusion is difficult to imagine without evidence. So far, there has been no complaint filed with the West Hollywood City Clerk or City Attorney or the LA District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division or the Secretary of State.

Land vehemently denied that such an action occurred:

“We did not. That did not happen. We did not have a secret veto. Our process was done at council meetings and during those meetings, people were voted on or people said who they supported. And so some of those people might not have been supported. But there was no pre-ordained secret veto – that would have been a violation of the Brown Act. We had a process. We made our thoughts known during that process in open council meetings. We had candidates come and speak to us. We conducted the proceedings according to the laws.”

Horvath was the only candidate who made the Top Five list of all four councilmembers. Prior to the selection process, all the applicants agreed they would support whoever was appointed. When the list got down to three applicants –  two gay men, Joseph Guardarrama and Agassi Topchian, and Horvath – the council decided to compromise. Horvath had votes from Heilman and Land and Prang finally offered to change his vote. With those three votes, the councilmembers asked Duran if he would be willing to support Horvath. Duran agreed and the vote on the Horvath appointment was unanimous.

Some wonder if the appointment process would become so controversial if a gay man had been appointed instead of a young straight woman.

WeHo Democratic Club endorsement, part two

Nonetheless, Horvath’s appointment has become a lightening rod for the challengers. And yet after all the sturm und

Lindsey Horvath and Jeanne Dobrin, foreground, who refused to leave the podium (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

drang raised at the first West Hollywood Democratic Club meeting, only two people opposed the club’s final endorsement of the incumbents. One of them, 90 year old Jeanne Dobrin, actually announced support for Land and Heilman (to a lesser degree) while slamming their “slate” – and Horvath, who Dobrin said knew nothing about zoning and land use issues. (Ironically, Horvath said she took UCLA Extension classes on land use and zoning with Sue Buckner after the former applicant was named to the Planning Commission. Horvath appointed Guardaramma, who calls her “a smart person, a good person. She really puts he community’s best interest first when she votes.”)

Ed Buck, a former WeHo council candidate, was the other endorsement opponent. “This three-way endorsement is an abomination,” he said, noting that when he ran in 2007 “the deck was stacked” against him. “I saw the ugly underbelly” of politics. I got very mad.” He told me later that the club’s endorsement was a “done deal.”

Indeed, Mito Aviles was the only one of the six challengers who attended the meeting, but his appearance seemed more perfunctory than focused. He talked vaguely about how people in West Hollywood want to have a voice and be included in the process of the city” without giving any specifics.

Challenger Steve Martin, who was once on the West Hollywood Ciyt Council and once president of Stonewall Democratic Club, later said that it was a “waste of time going” and disparaged the club’s endorsement. “They don’t do any work. How many volunteers do they generate? How many volunteers does Stonewall generate? It’s not worth the emotional effort.”

Heilman, Land and Horvath showed up, talked about their love for the city and appealed precisely to the Democratic nature of the club. “I support and believe in Democratic values. This is not just an endorsement,” Horvath said. “I regret nothing more than supporting another party in the past.” Now as a progressive, she is running for re-election to “demonstrate exactly what ‘progressive’ means in West Hollywood.”

In fact, after Arizona passed the abhorrent anti-immigrant “documents please” SB1070, Horvath introduced a resolution to ban official travel to Arizona and review contracts with Arizona-based businesses.  Some of her challengers have questioned why West Hollywood should care about discrimination in Arizona.

At the meeting, Heilman, who is known to many of the members – nonetheless made a respectful pitch for their votes of endorsement. He noted some of his long list of accomplishments, including launching the Sunset Strip Business Association, the Convention and Marketing Bureau, and the Avenue of Arts and Design, as well as his commitment to affordable housing and his “passion” for social services. Land contested the argument that the city is no longer following the progressive values upon which it was founded. “We have not strayed…This is a community that cares,” she said, adding that she’s proud of the work she’s done. She noted that West Hollywood now has a Triple A Bond rating.

Jeff Prang, who once seemed to be the favored councilmember of some of the neighborhood groups trying to oust

Councilmember Jeffrey Prang and Commissioner Ruth Williams

Heilman and Lang, defended his council colleagues and the club’s procedures. In a phone interview, he said that local political activists and elected officials are involved on a regular basis with club activities such as phone banking for club-supported issues and candidates. The endorsement process itself is not a simple beauty contest but rather entails an interview process and candidates are required “to meet certain standards.” That means, Prang said, “that the club members know the incumbents, they’re well-liked and the challengers have an uphill battle. And most of these challengers are not active in Democratic Party politics.”

West Hollywood Public Safety Commissioner Ruth Williams made a similar point, noting that Horvath is considered something of a heroine to women for her work as Hollywood chapter president of NOW. Working with community leaders and LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, she found the money to fund testing for the huge backlog of DNA evidence in unsolved and unprosecuted rape cases. Women view rape as a matter of public safety, not merely a political and apparently easily dismissed “women’s” issue. In fact, it was Williams who first suggested four years ago that Horvath, an entertainment ad executive, run for political office.

Endorsement by the Democratic Party and Democratic clubs are no small matter since with endorsement comes mailers and robo-calls. LA County Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman, who is also Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party and former president of the Stonewall Democratic Club, is making energetic phone calls urging WeHo to vote for Heilman, Land and Horvath.

Michael Andraychak and Eric Bauman voting (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

“The LA County Democratic Party will disseminate our endorsements aggressively and widely to voters in West Hollywood, via mail, phone and email. We take our involvement in races like West Hollywood most seriously,” said Bauman told me.

Bauman and his husband Michael Andraychak (the couple is celebrating 28 years on March 27 and were legally married in October 2008) spoke at the WeHo Democratic Club meeting. Andraychak was perplexed that some voters were so anxious to unseat “good solid leadership” in a city that is “operating in the black” and is “in good [financial] shape today. Do you have any idea what’s going on” in this economy? Andraychak asked.

Bauman came to the podium waving a copy of the LA Weekly cover story featuring Mito Aviles and “marionettes” Heilman and Land. “This is not journalism – this is trash,” Bauman said angrily, regarding a story with which many found fault. He, too, cited the city’s “stellar bond rating,” adding that he lives in the “near bankrupt city of Los Angeles.”

Former WeHo city council candidate Ruth Williams also spoke for the incumbents. Williams said she has lived in West Hollywood since 1949 and was part of the cityhood movement. Heilman, Land and Horvath, “have proven and committed themselves to the values of the Democratic Party and the West Hollywood Democratic Club,” she said. “They have a proven record with the Democratic Party” and they didn’t just bring in members to get an endorsement. She was clearly upset over what she called the “unfair” and “sexist” tone of campaign, which she hopes is an “aberration.”

In a later interview, Williams, who is Director of Advocacy at NCJW/LA, was furious over a story that appeared in the WeHoNews blog that she had called the LAPD to come to the meeting, ostensibly because the blog’s controversial publisher Ryan Gierach was there to cover the club’s meeting.  Williams said that earlier she discussed with Capt. Davis how the Jewish Center has to constantly be on guard against possible hate crimes and the officers just stopped by that night to check in.

Charges of corruption and other campaign complaints

There have been numerous complaints about “corruption” at City Hall, including campaign finance irregularities that the DA’s office is “actively” investigation. This is from the Perez Hilton-wanna-be blog WeHo Confidential:

“ Lindsey Horvath is now being investigated for illegal campaign practices for using city logos, letter head & email contacts to fund her 2011 re-election campaign. She will receive a misdemeanor once found guilty.”

DA spokesperson Jane Robison says, however, that one complaint against Horvath received last November was an

open-and-shut case because the complaint “lacked merit;” the DA’s office has no such active investigation. The

Campaign poser for Mito Aviles

complaint pertained to Horvath’s use of the city logo on her campaign website, which was immediately taken down when City Clerk Tom West sent out a letter informing all candidates such use was a violation. Candidate Mito Aviles also used the city logo until then as well, but there was no formal complaint filed with the DA’s office nor has there been any publicity or charges of corruption leveled against Aviles.

Another more complicated charge of corruption was initially raised last year by candidate Steve Martin in his column on the WeHo News blog. Martin suggested that Abbe Land may have violated state public disclosure laws because the website for the non-profit Saban Free Clinicwhere she is a co-director, showed contributions from people who also come before the city to do business. He suggested that Land solicited those donations for the charity she runs – but failed to disclose the solicitation and the amounts received in the state conflict-of-interest forms. In a phone interview, Land said she has always complied with all laws and filed conflict-of-interest forms – WeHo City Clerk Tom West said are available for public viewing at the office but not yet online.

Land said:

“I don’t believe I have violated conflict of interest laws. Some of those donations like Live Nation – were other people in the organization – mainly volunteers – solicit. They’re friends of board members, they’re board members of the organization and I have not solicited people. And I do not believe that I have violated the conflict of interest laws.”

I named a few donors – Live Nation (which owns the House of Blue site), Page and Lou Adler (who owns Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset), Susan and Alan Casden (owner of Movietown Plaza). Land said:

“Those people are people that board members and volunteers at the clinic solicit for funds – many of them have been giving for years – Lou Adler was involved with the clinic when it started in 1967. They give on a regular basis and I am not usually soliciting their dollars.  I don’t solicit the dollars of people that are doing business in front of the city for the clinic. Many of those names are people who are on our board, who are longtime supporters of the clinic or who have been solicited by other people who are involved with the clinic and based on their relationship.”

I asked if she filled out Form 700, the conflict of interest form:

“Yes, I do. That’s the form I fill out every year and I have to say where I own property, where you work and I declare where I work at the clinic, and any other income that you get. And I also have to declare if my husband has any interest that is over $10,000 – that he might have received revenue from people doing business here. So I disclose all of that, if it’s applicable.”

Mayor John Heilman (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Another complaint wafting through the challengers’ campaigns about the pressure lobbyists feel to contribute to the incumbents’ charities, whether it’s having to go to a dinner for the Saban Free Clinic or receiving an email from John Heilman announcing that he’s running in APLA’s annual AIDS Marathon and asking for financial support. On the campaign trial, Heilman says he’s proud of the $200,000 he’s raised for AIDS at APLA. But apparently at least one lobbyist, who would not give his name, said he felt his job required a financial response to that fundraising solicitation letter – as well as to contribute to Doctors Without Borders, another favorite Heilman charity – so Heilman would see his name on the list of donors and therefore feel favorably inclined towards the lobbyist and/or his project.

I’ve received those APLA fundraising letters from Heilman, too, but have never felt pressure to contribute in order to maintain access to him as a journalist. I didn’t ask him if he culled the names of lobbyists from his presumably large charity-related email list.

There’s also a complaint about lack of transparency at City Hall regarding how the city went from a $100 million reserve to $68 million – as if there is something nefarious about the “disappearance” of that money. But City Manager Paul Arevalo, City Clerk Tom West and Anil Gandhy, Director of Finance and Technology, point to the Financial Reports posted on the city’s website featuring the Budget and specifically the 2009-2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to show exactly how the city spent its money and balanced its budget – without layoffs or cuts or reduction in services. Arevalo notes that in the last five years, there has been a “draw down” on the General Fund only last year and this year – $10 million for two cash-funded projects: $6-7 million for the Sunset Renovation project and $3 million for the purchase of property. There has also been some fiscal transfer for the parks and library capital projects, as well.

“There has been no drastic hemorrhaging of General Funds,” Arevalo said, adding that the Bond rating had recently been recalculated with the city receiving a Triple A Bond rating, while the city of Los Angeles was downgraded.

Women feel under attack

CBS late night host David Letterman and the LA Times noticed the blatant sexism in how CBS and Warner Bros. looked the other way when actor Charlie Sheen’s bad behavior included deadly threats to his ex-wife – but suspended Sheen’s hit show Two and a Half Men after Sheen disparaged the show’s male creator.

From the LA Time’s Mary McNamara:

“So now we know.

If you are the star of a hit comedy on CBS, you can keep your job in spite of accusations of: threatening your pregnant second wife; holding a knife to your third wife’s throat on Christmas Day; and indulging in cocaine-fueled weekends during which your bizarre behavior causes your female companion to fear for her life.

But say mean things about Chuck Lorre and You Are Toast.”

It’s troubling that Letterman and the LA Times can ascertain when blatant sexism is right in front of them – but that somehow eludes the gay male candidates who claim to want to represent the entire city of West Hollywood, including its women.

Since the uproar over the Tom of Finland exhibit – which longtime feminist and artist Ivy Bottini first brought to the attention of Mayor Pro Tem John Duran – gay men in WeHo have been issuing a call to “Take Back Boystown” from straights with strollers. Though West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce board president Alan Bernstein is a proud gay dad who has strolled his children in the Christopher Street West Pride parade – many women have perceived the call to “Take Back Boystown” as a slight against their very presence.

It is part of a larger national Zeitgeist women have been feeling for a while: the assassination attempt against Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords; the brutal sexual assault against CBS News correspondent Lara Logan by 200 men in Afghanistan and the subsequent Internet attacks suggesting she deserved it because she’s pretty; the religious and political right wing attacks against abortion rights and the Congressional defunding of Planned Parenthood – prompting California Rep. Jackie Speier to stand up on the House floor and talk about terminating her own pregnancy.

When WeHo News blogger Ryan Gierach posted video of him aggressively chasing Lindsey Horvath at the opening of Laurel Park – some WeHo women started feeling as if the national assault was coming home. There was – and continues to be – as sense of insecurity and anger – especially among lesbians who have always stood by gay men, even when gay men were too afraid to stand by each other during the AIDS crisis. Why don’t these theoretically sensitive gay men – the ones who recently rose up over feeling their culture was threatened – why don’t they understand the threatening situation women find themselves in today?

But instead – in the name of “anything goes” election politics – the attacks have not only come home but have intensified.

Lucas John, one of the gay male candidates, tells the WeHo News he has “better things to do with my time than to police comments & edit articles to appease third parties or extremists”  after the Lucas John -supportive WeHo Confidential called Land a “shady puta,” (whore) and let stand a comment referring to Horvath as “Whore-bath.”

Meanwhile, the WestHollywood Patch (the AOL micro-site) let stand a comment suggesting Land be hanged:

“Bob

8:48am on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It was a public Hanging. We need to publicly hang those who think it is a good idea that our Sheriff policing Force drives down from the Antelope Valley everyday on the 14 freeway instead of having our own WHPD.

West Hollywood bleeds public safety dollars to people who do not even live here and who vote for Sarah Palin first. West Hollywood does more to support Pro 8 Republicans than any other city in the county.

They should put up Abbe Land then next time a public hanging takes place. However they should use a proper hangman’s knot.”

It was too much for Ivy Bottini, who railed against the harassment at a West Hollywood City Council meeting.

Bottini told me the next day:

“I’ve been fielding phones call day from women in the community saying it’s about time somebody spoke up about how the women are being treated and attacked in this election. For 35 years, I’ve fought for gay men. Now I call upon gay men to stand with me and put women back on the council.”

Candidate John D’Amico and Mayor Pro Tem John Duran (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

I had the same experience after I appeared on Warren Olney’s “Which Way, LA?” radio show on KCRW (“A Rumble in West Hollywood).  I’ve been on the show before and the producer and Olney know me as a journalist. But they felt the need to have someone representing the six gay challengers and brought on candidate John D’Amico. I called D’Amico and gay Republican Scott Schmidt “viable candidates” (and erroneously said there were no people of color running – Mito Avilies is a candidate of color). But after I suggested that the gay men were angry over the potential loss of gay culture (though the gay bars are still packed) and the women were angry over the sexism, D’Amico, in a very patronizing manner, said I was “exaggerating” the anger. I responded by noting that the anger was also evident in publications that backed D’Amico – such as the LA Weekly and the WeHo News blog – as well as the two candidate forums.

The following day I received a call from Madeleine Rackley, a straight WeHo at-large Arts Commissioner, who heard the radio broadcast and was angry on my behalf. She told me:

“I am concerned that in this election, some of the candidates are not listening to women and not taking women seriously. It seems to me in some ways to be dividing the city.  There is a meltdown happening in the LGBT communities and between men and women. And that kind of patronizing threatening language and behavior is dividing us.”

She feels the Tom of Finland controversy “triggered something. The real issue is the perception that they are being marginalized. But it could have been anything.”

Now she asks:

“Why is there a gang of six gay men who are not listening to women? Why are we descending into uncivil speech about each other?  But there are opportunities to make it better. These are serious issues that need to be addressed – and now we can talk about them because they out in public.

The dream of living in a progressive city does not belong to one group,” telling me of a mother who moved to West Hollywood “on purpose to raise her family here because it’s a progressive city.”

Land says:

“I do think there has been sexism in this campaign and that there has been a targeting with some of the statements and some of the allegations specifically directed to the two women running. I think people should be angry at that because all of us should be fair and talking about facts and not making the kinds of comments that are being made that are sexist, offensive and belittling.”

Ruth Williams says:

“The tone is as if we are dividing the community! I was so angry [at the West Hollywood Democratic

Ruth Williams

Club meeting] because I come and work and phone bank for the city – and who the hell are these other people who show up with the attitude that they can fix all these things. All the fights we’ve won and lost – all the standards we’ve set when it comes to human rights. And they say, ‘Take Back Boystown’ as if we’re trying to destroy the gay community in West Hollywood! I’m just so upset. And when Ryan chased Lindsey around the park like that – to me, the relentless attacks are against women, more than against Lindsey. I just keep shaking my head.”

(Section deleted)

Finally, a number of people have called me complaining that they were interviewed by Patrick Range McDonald for his cover story in the LA Weekly – but received nary a mention because – they suspected – they only had positive things to say. Of course, it is the prerogative of the reporter and editor to decide who to include, exclude or edit out – though some critics think McDonald started with a preconceived premise and cut to fit. His descriptions of the women candidates are also interesting. Land is described as “a lanky, middle-aged woman with short, spiky hair, looks stunned and uncomfortable when the Weekly approaches her.” And “[a]n outspoken and sometimes combative feminist.”

And then there’s this:

“Horvath, a pixielike 20-something woman with short, blond hair, is oddly programmed and almost robotic in talk and style, her unnatural delivery and bland words sometimes coming across as if she’s carefully rehearsed the Heilman-Land message in a bedroom mirror.”

But perhaps the most disturbing image of all is the cover shot – candidate Mito Aviles, who gained international fame for hanging Republican Sarah Palin in effigy, is pictured next to two mannequins with the heads of John Heilman and Abbe Land. Upon closer inspection, it appears that there are “strings” to the elbows of each Heilman and Land – but the other “strings” are around the necks of the two incumbents. After the Sarah Palin-effigy incident, Aviles and his partner Chad Michael Morrisette gave an interview in which the paper reported that in addition to then-Mayor Jeffrey Prang, the LA County Sheriff and the Secret Service all discussing the effigy with them:

“The NAACP also sent representatives, according to Morrisette, who supported his right to showcase the effigy, but suggested he showcase it in a different way, rather than from a noose.”

If these mannequins were black, would the West Hollywood progressive or LGBT communities have sloughed off the symbolism as they have apparently done with this cover?

Ronald Reagan’s Real Legacy: Death, Heartache and Silence Over AIDS

America is gushing Sunday over former President Ronald Reagan in recognition of what would have been his 100th birthday. Produced by Reagan groupies, the long-weekend celebrations at the newly primped Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley are glitzy and reverent evocations of an imagined man.

In this white-washed version of history, Reagan, not Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev (remember “glasnost,”  “perestroika,” and the impact of Levis, Coke and “Dynasty”?) is credited with “tearing down” the Berlin Wall; the trillion dollars in debt Reagan wracked up during his “conservative” presidency is ignored;  “supply-side” or “trickle-down” economics” still works, even though theory-originator David Stockman says it doesn’t; the Reagan-approved secret Iran-Contra scandal was patriotic, not subversive; and he is still the “Great Communicator” – who conned working-class “Reagan Democrats” while catering to the rich, creating a huge surge in homelessness, reveling in unchecked deregulation and extolling union-busting with the mass firing of the over-worked, striking PATCO flight controllers – even before there were trained replacements.

After the depraved Vietnam War, the perennial dark and disgraced Richard Nixon, the short-term Gerry Ford and the confusing Jimmy Carter (who orchestrated the Middle East Peace talks but couldn’t free the Iran hostages or prevent long gas lines) – Reagan, the “ah-shucks” bad B-movie actor (Bedtime for Bonzo), huckstered his scripted “vision” of “Morning in America” viewed from some exceptional shiny city on the hill. Reagan was the imaged Mount Rushmore president, the right wing conservatives’ longed-for King Arthur who would crush the Democratic Dream of FDR and the Kennedys and anyone who believed in social and economic justice promised by the “counter-culture”1960s. He’d already proven his anti-Communist bona fides appearing in 1947 as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

For LGBT people, Ronald Reagan’s presidency was the far different “mourning in America.” And unlike Nixon who was forced to resign for covering up the political Watergate scandal, Reagan didn’t even bother covering up his cold disdain, his deliberate neglect, his abject refusal to help gay men stricken in 1981 by a strange new communicable disease that turned out to be AIDS. But there was no “AIDSgate” for Reagan; the White House agreed with the Religious Right that gays deserved what they got – they deserved to die.

Rev. Jerry Falwell, head of the Moral Majority, said, “AIDS is the wrath of God upon homosexuals.” Patrick Buchanan, Reagan’s Press Secretary, said AIDS was “nature’s revenge on gay men.” Antigay Gary Bauer, Reagan’s domestic policy advisor, kept Surgeon General C. Everett Koop (selected because he was an anti-abortion Christian fundamentalist) away from Reagan:

”[In 1986] President Reagan asked the surgeon general to prepare a report on AIDS as the United States confirmed its ten-thousandth case. Leaders of the evangelical movement did not want Koop to write the report, nor did senior White House staffers who shared Koop’s evangelical convictions. As Dr. Koop related to me, “Gary Bauer [Reagan’s chief advisor on domestic policy] … was my nemesis in Washington because he kept me from the president. He kept me from the cabinet and he set up a wall of enmity between me and most of the people that surrounded Reagan because he believed that anybody who had AIDS ought to die with it. That was God’s punishment for them.”

In his extraordinary book And The Band Played On about the early history of the AIDS epidemic, gay journalist Randy Shilts, who later died of AIDS, wrote that two events dramatically changed the course of AIDS in America. The first was the announcement that closeted gay movie star Rock Hudson had AIDS and the second was the report by Koop.

In an interview with me for the 25 anniversary of the June 5, 1981 CDC report of six gay men with what turned out

Rock Hudson – publicity photo

to be AIDS, Hudson’s publicist Dale Olson said Reagan called his longtime friend in July 1985 when Hudson was in a Paris hospital desperately looking for a cure for AIDS. Nonetheless, the “Great Communicator” remained silent. It’s not as if Reagan was unaware of AIDS by then: on April 23, 1984, the CDC had reported 4,177 case and 1,807 deaths – something that came to the attention of the National Democratic Convention when a candlelight vigil of more than 100,000 people marched from the Castro to Moscone Center.

California Rep. Henry Waxman, who held the first congressional hearing on the disease at the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in Los Angeles in 1983, wrote Washington Post in late 1985:

“It is surprising that the president could remain silent as 6,000 Americans died, that he could fail to acknowledge the epidemic’s existence. Perhaps his staff felt he had to, since many of his New Right supporters have raised money by campaigning against homosexuals.”

Reagan finally mentioned the word “AIDS” in October 1986 and was virtually forced to deliver his first major speech on AIDS on May 31, 1987 on the eve of the Third International Conference on AIDS in Washington. He was the invited by Elizabeth Taylor to speak at a fundraiser for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, which Hudson helped start with a $250,000 grant given to Taylor. (Here’s a link to Reagan’s entire speech.) Outside the tented-event were protesters and yet another candlelight vigil.

Shilts wrote about Reagan’s 20-minute speech:

“Reagan’s program, of course, would do very little to actually stop the spread of AIDS. Though testing heterosexuals at marriage license bureaus created the illusion of action, very few of thse people were infected with the virus and very few lives would be saved. But then saving lives had never been a priority of the Reagan administration. Reagan’s speech was not meant to serve the public health; it was a political solution to a political problem. The words created a stance that was politically comfortable for the president and his adherents; it was also a stance that killed people. Already, some said that Ronald Reagan would be remembered in history books for one thing beyond all else: He was the man who had let AIDS rage through America, the leader of the government that when challenged to action had placed politics above the health of the American people.”

And not once did Ronald Reagan utter the word “gay.”

Shilts:

“By the time President Reagan had delivered his first speech on the epidemic, of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with the disease; 20, 849 had died.”

Photo from WebMD’s history of AIDS – www.webmd.com/hiv-aids/slideshow-aids-retrospective

On the USAID website, the statistics read:

“In 2009, 33.3 million people around the world were living with HIV/AIDS. More than 60 million people have been infected with HIV since the pandemic began. AIDS is the leading cause of death in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the fourth leading cause of death globally…..Almost 5,000 people die every day due to AIDS. AIDS caused 1.8 million deaths in 2009. An estimated 25 million people have died from HIV-related causes since the beginning of the pandemic….There were 2.6 million new HIV infections in 2009, or almost 7,200 people per day.”

The terrible irony for LGBT people is that in the very beginning of the epidemic there was hope that Ronald Reagan would DO something. There was precedent for the government acting quickly to stem a public health crisis. In 1976, just five years earlier, the government rushed to stop an outbreak of Legionnaires disease at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia.

(Corrected) And perhaps even more importantly, in 1978, as former governor of California, Reagan publicly opposed the Briggs Initiative – the antigay measure proposed by associates of Rev. Jerry Falwell and Anita Bryant. Opposition by the hugely popular governor helped significantly in the measure’s defeat. As a result, Reagan received gay support in his presidential bid against Jimmy Carter in 1980, as well as the more effective Religious Right.

But once in office, Reagan turned his back on the gay friends and staff he and his wife Nancy had known for years.

Most historians and political pundits will look at the ripple effect Reagan’s two terms in office – from 1981-1989 – continues to have on American politics. But for many LGBTs, myself included, I cannot hear the man’s name without thinking of so many other names now effectively wiped from the collective memory – names like Michael Callen and Paul Monette and Connie Norman and Wayne Karr. So many names – and with each name, memories of joy and rage and a kind of spirituality in confronting death with dignity – in spite of the government’s disgusting deliberate neglect.

Names Project AIDS Quilt – via WebMD -www.webmd.com/hiv-aids/slideshow-aids-retrospective

Former President Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004 – 23 years to the day when the CDC’s first report on AIDS appeared. Reagan had apparently been living in seclusion with Alzheimer’s Disease — the progressive disease that causes loss of memory and mental abilities. People gushed for a week remembering the “Great Communicator” who was entombed at his grand presidential library and museum like a political Elvis: Simi Valley as the political Graceland. There his groupies gather again, while those of us who remember his legacy of horror, neglect and death still struggle with an un-ending heartbreak of what might have been had our government cared and our friends not died.

Paul Monette Photo book publicity still

In Last Watch of the Night, my friend Paul Monette wrote in an essay about the 25h anniversary of Stonewall:

“[A] Victor, my last best friend, is wont to observe: ‘They don’t understand. I don’t just want a cure. I want a cure and all my friends back.’….As for my own losses, the pile of bodies is harly countable anymore except in the heart – because the dead outnumber the living now. Personally, that is…..

Meanwhile, let the Stonewall celebrants save me a piece of cake from the party, a rainbow flag and a rousing chorus of ‘We shall overcome.’ Understand that I am far too busy tracking the enemy within. But I’m with you. Brother and sister, and will be always, even after I’m carried from the battle and planted on the final hill. You must never forget: There’s no turning us back now. No more closets and nor more loveless years in solitary. From now on, we have each other. Freedom is on our side.

And there is no America without us.”

Keiko Lane: Why Good Porn Matters – Tristan Taormino, Oregon State University, and Sexual Empowerment

Why Good Porn Matters: Tristan Taormino, Oregon State University, and Sexual Empowerment

By guest blogger Keiko Lane, MFT

UPDATE (Monday, Feb. 7): In the three weeks since Oregon State University officials cancelled Tristan Taormino’s keynote speech at OSU’s “Modern Sex” Conference, the university received hundreds of calls and emails criticizing its decision. OSU students have raised funds to bring Tristan to their campus to give her original talk “Claiming Your Sexual Power” the night before the conference. Additionally, she will be appearing at the University of Oregon to give a talk entitled “My Life As a Feminist Pornographer.” Read the entire press release here.

By now, many people have heard the story and read the spin circulating through the blogosphere: In October 2010, Tristan Taormino, a sex educator, lecturer, author, editor, and pornographer, was invited by student organizers at Oregon State University to give the keynote speech at their “Modern Sex: Privilege, Culture, and Communication” conference. In January 2011, a month before the conference, Tristan was uninvited.

Administrators at OSU who cancelled Tristan’s appearance said they were concerned about controversy and jeopardizing future public funding if they used general campus funds to bring Tristan, a known pornographer, to the conference. Students who organized the conference assert that they never misrepresented the scope of Tristan’s work to the university and question her cancellation so close to the conference date.

It’s disconcerting that that several other conference speakers, including the speaker whose talk has been rescheduled as the keynote speech, have ties to porn.

While the details of this unfolding story are being written and reported about elsewhere, I want to talk about a line that pops up over and over again in the accounts that I am reading:

“Regardless of how you feel about pornography…”

This phrase is then followed by very thoughtful analysis of free speech, academic freedom, feminist sexual empowerment, and why Tristan’s other credentials more than qualify her as a keynote speaker. But I think the crucial questions embedded in Tristan’s dis-invitation are exactly about pornography, about why porn matters, and about why people are so afraid of it. Specifically, why the kind of pornography that Tristan produces matters.

I teach a class called “Queer Bodies in Psychotherapy” to graduate students studying to become psychotherapists. Often, my students tell me that their education thus far has been filled with traditional psychotherapy texts—including minimal and often outdated clinical information about sexualities and gender identities, and virtually no breadth of information about sex practices. The degree for which they are studying is the academic preparation to become Marriage and Family Therapists in the state of California. My class is an elective.

The first time I taught the class, I endeavored to create a reader and resource list that I thought would give my students the best survey of information I could find on the ranges of sex practices, sexual identities, and embodied responses to cultural oppressions of gender and sexuality; and their intersections with race, class, and other identities that have been discounted by mainstream academia and psychology.

Finally assembled, I took a look at my reader, the product of months spent culling thousands of pages of articles into an almost reasonable length for a one-semester class. It was relentlessly sexual and explicit. Out of good faith, I went to speak with my academic dean who supported me in my assertion that we cannot teach students to become therapists who are able to speak explicitly about sex and sexuality with their clients, without modeling for them in the classroom how to do just that.

Most of the text I teach to my students isn’t writing that’s coming out of the field of clinical psychology, but from queer theorists, sex educators, self-identified sex radicals, AIDS activists, and sex workers who are interrogating issues of cultural (mis)appropriations and shame. Tristan’s essays, which I have included in my course readers, often provoke some of the most honest and fruitful discussions in my classes.

And it isn’t just my students. I refer my clients to Tristan’s pornography and sex-education videos as well. Many of the clients who come to see me in my psychotherapy practice come to talk about issues of gender, sexuality, and sex practices. Many of them are survivors of sexual abuse and sexualized violence. They are searching for language and images to help them articulate their experiences, fears, and fantasies. Even most good writing about sex, consent, and sexual experience depends on theory, not the breath, skin, and bones experiences of our actual bodies.

When I suggest that they might want to watch pornography as a part of their process, and that we can talk about it in our sessions, I’m extremely cautious and selective about which filmmakers I suggest. Tristan is one of them.

I have worked with and known sex-industry performers who have worked with Tristan or have wanted to precisely because of her model of performer-driven work. Tristan is part of a small but growing group of pornography producers and directors—mostly women and trans folks—who set the gold standard for self-authorization and sexual empowerment of their actors who are often enacting for the cameras scenes that come from their own fantasy lives with partners of their own choosing.

That’s what makes Tristan’s kind of pornography, with its insistence on self-authorization and empowerment, a therapeutic tool. Because students, clients, and I can trust that the role of consent was central to the projects. Clients—especially survivors of sexual trauma—can make use of the films as tools to help them recognize their own desires and their own aversions.

Good pornography, like good sex education, is useful as a therapeutic tool not because it sets out to convince my clients that they want to do everything—or anything—they see, but because it helps to build somatic and visual vocabularies from which to make empowered choices.

Tristan’s now-cancelled talk, “Claiming Your Sexual Power,” is exactly why, for me as an academic interested in the use of theory to empower and create spaces not otherwise granted by dominant culture for students and clients, her work matters. Not theoretically, but actually. Viscerally. In a world that valorizes the domination over and discrediting of members of queer communities, women, and people of color, images and stories of empowerment are necessary.

So often my students and clients grieve because they believe their lives would have been different if they had these images and this sense of possibility and self-possession when they were younger. This is why the dis-invitation of Tristan is such a loss for the students of Oregon State University.

I must disclose that this is also personal. Tristan and I met 20 years ago as young activists in Queer Nation Los Angeles. It would still be years before drug therapies offered any hope to our HIV+ friends who were dying.

Dykes were taking over a gay men’s sex club once a month, and Queer Nation used the same sex club for a multigendered benefit. There was an ongoing fight with the LA Unified School District to make condoms available to students. Our community spent countless hours venting our frustrations about sex-education and AIDS-education campaigns that employed rhetorics of shame, that blamed queers and queer desire for our death and dying.

We wanted images and campaigns that were more complex, more cognizant of desire, and more compelling than just telling people what they couldn’t do:

Don’t fuck without a condom.

Don’t fist without gloves.

We all wondered how we could produce education based not in shame but in empowerment and endless possibility. Then we realized that we would have to make it ourselves. Tristan has spent her career doing just that.

The images we needed 20 years ago we still need. Sex and sexuality are more visible now in media and cultural production than they have been in the past. But actual conversation and instruction about sexual empowerment and sexual agency are rare. My young clients and students tell me what they have been missing.

The administrators of Oregon State University may not have known who Tristan was when they first approved her invitation, but I suspect that the students of OSU knew exactly who they were inviting and exactly what they are missing.