Category: Life Style

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.

Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by Newsy.com

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.

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.”

DADT Protester Talks About Disrupting Obama Fundraiser for Boxer

Dan Fotou was among five GetEQUAL activists who bought tickets to the expensive fundraiser for US Sen. Barbara Boxer Monday night at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.  Shortly after President Obama started speaking, first Laura Kanter, then Fotou started heckling Obama over his lack of leadership in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“It was worth it to us,” Fotou told me by phone shortly after leaving the event with fellow GetEQUAL activist David The tickets for the VIP reception were three tiers, with Fotou and Kanter buying three of the $500 tickets each and Zoe and – buying $250 tickets each; they did not pay the $2,500. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell must be repealed and the president has to take leadership on it.”

Fotou described the scene, saying they planned their disruptions in a sequence. First Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine spoke, then Boxer, who introduced Obama. Shortly into his speech, Kanter started yelling: “Show leadership, Mr. President. Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell! It’s time to get Equal! We’re waiting for you!”

After Kanter interrupted, Fotou started chanting the same thing; then Zoe. The crowd was very angry but the security who dragged them out were OK – offering to let them stay if they promised to be quiet, since they had already paid their tickets. They were allowed back in – though they were assigned to the $250 seat area. Then Zoe Nicholson started in with her chant, followed by Michelle Wright and Laura McFerrin – perplexing Obama who said, “I’m on your side. I’m working to do what I can. What do you want?”

“Boom! That was it,” said Fotou, saying he shouted to insert language into the Defense Re-Authorization bill. “I started screaming, ‘Insert the language’ – over and over and over – until the police came.” This time they were escorted out and advised that if they attempted to come back onto the property, they would be arrested. Meanwhile, Fotou said, the “people inside were very angry.”

Fotou said they had planned to have videographer there, but the president showed up early by helicopter, which closed the major streets in the surrounding area. He said some photos were taken and will be uploaded on Flickr. Meanwhile other protesters outside the museum where cordoned off in a designated demonstration zone.

Fotou said GetEQUAL was particularly angry about a recent Pentagon letter to military  families asking their opinion about repealing the policy. “They weren’t asking the families about how to implement the repeal,” Fotou said angrily. “They were asking the families of servicemembers about what they think about the repeal. Why should our rights be going to a poll? The president can change all that by showing leadership and putting the repeal into the Appropriations bill.”

Fotou said Get EQUAL is pushing on DADT specifically because of Obama’s apparent desire to wait to see the Pentagon study on the repeal – which would take about a year.  (UPDATE – The Advocate interviewed Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, about reports from Capitol Hill staffers that the Pentagon asked both the House and Senate to delay a vote on the repeal until after the DoD has finished its study.)

Fotou said he continues to be inspired by a campaign promise Obama made in February 2008. Obama said: I will never compromise on my commitment to equal rights for LGBT Americans.”

Fotou and GetEQUAL intends to hold the president to that promise – not just on DADT, but on all LGBT rights.

One side note of interest: to set up the interview, I spoke with Robert Polzoni in San Francisco, who told me to call Jay Carmona in Washington DC, who told Fotou, who now lives in LA, to return my call. So in a manner of speaking, this was a nationally coordinated action.  When I noted this, Fotou said, GetEQUAL represents the entire LGBT community, not just the lobbying groups.”

Political advisor and strategic organizer David John Fleck acted as their safety net, to ensure that if anything happened, the right information got out and they were protected, Fotou said. He also emphasized that the action “couldn’t have happened without each and every one of us.”

Most importantly, Fotou said he believes the message got through to Obama. “He’s a wonderful orator. He can talk you down. His response was that he is working with Boxer on this [Boxer did not vote for DADT in 1993],” Fotou said. “But that’s not enough. I know he heard us. It’s now on his radar. And we’re not going away. We’re going to keep showing up and showing up until Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed.”

I just watched video on the local KCAL News which has not yet been posted online. Obama looked ruffled, while trying to calm the crowd angry with the protesters.

“We need to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which I agree with – and which we have begun to do,” Obama said. He tries to speak over the yelling. “I just confirmed with Barbara and if you’re thinking of starting a chant – Barbara didn’t vote for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the first place so you know she’s going to be for repeal.”

Interesting how Obama turned what had been a plea for his leadership into a plug for Boxer.

UPDATE: According to the latest pool report, Obama referenced DADT at the tonier event later in the evening. I don’t know if he would have done that without the protest.

Here’s how the White House Press Pool described it:

At 6:17, several protesters among the crowd interrupted POTUS’ speech, expressing anger over the slow progress on repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay service members. The crowd tried to hush them. “What about don’t ask, don’t tell?” one protester shouted.

POTUS yelled back “we are going to do that.”

POTUS kept talking, increasing his volume to speak over the protesters. The crowd then erupted into chants of “Yes, we can.”

He later said, “we are going to repeal don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Your pooler has learned the protesters are from GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group that also orchestrated protests outside the fundraiser. The group was also behind a protest last month at the White House, where activists Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo handcuffed themselves to a gate.

“IT’s time for equality for all Americans!” another protester yelled at 9:22. Obama said, “can I just say again Barbara and I are supportive of repealing Don’t ask dont tell.” But protester keeps yelling. Bringing Obama’s remarks to a halt. The crowd responds again by “shouting yes we can!” over the protesters.

“Be quiet!” someone yells.

At 6:25 local time, POTUS has regained control of the speech.

Here’s the press release GetEQUAL put out after the action:

Moments ago, several GetEQUAL activists interrupted President Obama during his speech at a fundraising reception for Senator Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles, expressing anger over the slow progress on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year and demanding that he repeal it.

GetEQUAL activists shouted, “what about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” and “it’s time for equality for all Americans.”   The President, at one point bringing his remarks to a halt, said, “Barbara and I are supportive of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.”

Activists David John Fleck, Dan Fotou, Laura Kanter, Zoe Nicholson, and Michelle Wright were then escorted out of the reception by security officers.

In a subsequent press release, GetEQUAL said:

“President Obama has been AWOL on DADT,” Fotou. “We had to reminded him of the promises he made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community during his campaign and several times during his Presidency – that DADT will be repealed because, as he’s stated, ‘it’s the right thing to do.’”

“We made it clear our community will hold accountable our President for unkept promises,” said Wright.  “Denying LGBT service members and personnel the ability to serve their country is unfair.”

Today’s action took place nearly one year after a similar protest outside an Obama appearance in Los Angeles, when Lt. Dan Choi asked the President for a response to a letter signed by 136,000 people to repeal DADT.

“These empowering and brave activists feel so strongly about our rights they were willing to confront the President of the United States on his lack of leadership on DADT and to hold him accountable for the promises he has made to our community,” said Kip Williams, co-founder of GetEQUAL.

Those involved in the action:

David John Fleck resides in Long Beach, CA. He is a former Grassroots Outreach Organizing Director for the Courage Campaign and Steering Committee member for the National Equality March. He was involved in today’s action because he believes that this year, this Congress offers the only realistic prospect to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and that the President must take a leadership role in accomplishing what he promised in his State of the Union Address.

Dan Fotou lives in Los Angeles, CA.   He took part in today’s action because he has a dream to have access to the same rights, freedoms, privileges and protections as every other American citizen. He believes federal law must be enacted to protect the LGBTQ community against all forms of discrimination.

Laura Kanter resides in Irvine, CA with her wife.  She was one of 18,000 couples able to get married.  A good friend of Dan Choi, she is participating in today’s action because it is wrong to deny Dan Choi and every other LGBT American who is willing to risk their life for this country, the opportunity to serve. Laura will continue to fight out loud as long as LGBT people are denied equal rights and will challenge Democrats and other progressive thinkers who allow this injustice to continue.

Laura McFerrin from Dallas, TX. She organized a protest at First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX after the minister preached a sermon, “Why Gay is Not Okay”. Laura is the director of March On, a documentary following the lives of several LGBT families on their journey to the National Equality March in Washington last October.  She believes that this direct action will serve as a wake up call to Obama and remind him of his promises

Zoe Nicholson lives in Newport Beach, CA. A feminist and fighter for civil rights, she is the founder of ERA Once and For All, a life long member of NOW, NWPC, Veteran Feminists of America and outspoken voice for LGBTQAI rights.   She has been on the front lines of activism since the 1960s.

Michelle Wright resides in Fresno, CA. Through years of participation in sports she understands competition and passion. Both are key components in the life of a military service member and have the ability to weave there way into one’s internal framework. To deny LGBT the right to pursue their dreams is unjust and she took part in the action because she stands in solidarity with uniform wearing LGBT members who look forward to serving their country with pride and honor.

You can view photos of the action at http://www.flickr.com/photos/getequal/

You can view videos of the action at http://www.youtube.com/getequal

Walking tour traces where F. Scott Fitzgerald once walked in West Hollywood

As part of West Hollywood’s 25th Anniversary of Cityhood, the city is commemorating some of its most famous residents, including a month-long tribute to F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of America’s greatest writers.

On Sunday, Frontiers In LA news writer Peter DelVecchico went on the “Fitzgerald in West Hollywood” tour of places frequented by Fitzgerald, including the famous the Chateau Marmont Hotel. Here are photos and notes from his tour.

Tour guide Adrienne Crew, Los Angeles liaison for the Dorothy Parker Society, led a walking tour of sites frequented by seminal American author F. Scott Fitzgerald when he resided in Hollywood during the mid to late 1930s.

A strip mall featuring a McDonald’s, a Chase bank branch, a payday loan place and various other businesses now occupies the southwest corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset, former site of the Gardens of Allah Hotel. The hotel, where guests tended to stay for weeks or months in a collection of bungalows surrounding a pool said to be shaped like the Black Sea, was party ground zero and erstwhile home for the boozing, bohemian creative elite during the 1930s and 40s, including in addition to F. Scott Fitzgerald, legendary author and wit Dorothy Parker, actress Tallulah Bankhead and a host of others. According to Adrienne, the hotel was just over the line between the city of Los Angeles, with its strict alcohol and other regulations, and the County of Los Angeles, which she described as much more lenient.

A statue, retaining wall and some shrubbery now occupy the southwest corner of the former Gardens of Allah site, where the quarters Fitzgerald rented were located.

1400-1414 Havenhurst, known as “La Ronda” during Fitzgerald’s time, was what Adrienne called a “satellite” to the Gardens of Allah, which was located directly to the rear. La Ronda and the Gardens shared a parking lot, and residents passed freely between the two. Humorist Robert Benchley, Bette Davis and Cary Grant all lived here at various times.

1401-1407 Havenhurst, the “Jefferson,” was another Gardens of Allah “satellite.” Humorist, author and screenwriter S. J. Perelman once resided here.

1471-1475 ½ Havenhurst, the “Andalusia,” was not an F. Scott Fitzgerald haunt, but was, Adrienne said, the first and most influential courtyard-style apartment building in Southern California.

1477-1479 Havenhurst. This unassuming apartment building was once Bette Davis’ home.

FSF 8

8221 Sunset, the Chateau Marmont Hotel, where Fitzgerald often went to visit friends.

1403-1407 Laurel, where Fitzgerald lived from May-November 1940. Lucille Ball lived across the hall.

1449 Hayworth, where Fitzgerald’s long-time lover, Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham lived. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack here on December 21, 1940.

Greenblatt’s Deli on Sunset just east of Crescent Heights, where Fitzgerald’s last meal came from. Adrienne suspects it was a pastrami sandwich.

Actress Zelda Rubinstein taken off life support

In 1984, before Rock Hudson came out as a gay man with AIDS, actress Zelda Rubinstein was the poster-mother for HIV/AIDS awareness.

Literally.  An Los Angeles County AIDS awareness campaign featured her as “mother” in an LA Cares billboard campaign with Rubinsteain warning her Village People-wanna be son, “Don’t forget your rubbers” as he made his way into a world where it was “raining men.” Those billboards were ubiquitous all over the unincorporated portion of LA County where gays, seniors and renters were campaigning to become the new city of West Hollywood.

Rubinstein was best known as the eccentric spiritual medium Tangina Barrons who played a key minor role in the Steven Spielberg-co-written, co-produced movie Poltergeist in 1982. There was something very comforting about her presence as “mother” during those very difficult times when AIDS was snatching away gay men like the creepy Beast in that film.

And there was something incredibly courageous about a Hollywood actress who got her big role so late in life willing to be associated with the gay plague long before anyone else would – even if it was potentially a career-killer.

Later, Rubinstein acknowledged that she did “pay a price, career-wise.” But that didn’t stop her. She attended the first AIDS Project Los Angeles AIDS Walk 25 years ago – and was present for the AIDS Walk anniversary on Oct. 18, as shown in this photo shot by Brian Lowe.

RadarOnline.com reported today that Rubinstein is in Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and

“is dying and it has been estimated that she has only a short time left to live.

[snip]

RadarOnline.com has learned the sad news that Rubinstein, 76, has been taken off of life support following the failure of two of her major organs.

‘Her lungs and kidneys have failed and she’s in and out of consciousness,” a friend of the actress tells RadarOnline.com. “It’s only a matter of time now – she doesn’t have long to live.’”

For those of us who looked up at those billboards and chuckled and got the message and think of how comforting she was to so many of our friends – we can only imagine the warm welcoming reception she will receive from all those who gratefully felt her love.  Our hearts go out to her friends and family.

Here is a short video to give you some sense of Rubinstein’s delightful sense of humor. This was shot at a screening of Poltergeist in Santa Monica, California on June 16, 2007.