Sunday, November 30, 2008

Keeping LGBT Hope Alive

from Michael Crawford at The Bilerico Project:

For those of you who are feeling pessimistic about the possibility of achieving full equality for LGBT people, I present Jason McElway:

Jason's story is not about LGBT issues, but his amazing story shows what can happen when we are open, honest and hold true to our beliefs.

Our cause is just and time is on our side. It is up to each of us to claim our truth and show the world who and what we are.

As guest blogger Travis Ballie said, "We are all Harvey Milks now."

Hearts and Minds Do Change

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Freedom Fighter in Life Becomes Potent Symbol in Death

by A.O. Scott for The New York Times:

One of the first scenes in “Milk” is of a pick-up in a New York subway station. It’s 1970, and an insurance executive in a suit and tie catches sight of a beautiful, scruffy younger man — the phrase “angel-headed hipster” comes to mind — and banters with him on the stairs. The mood of the moment, which ends up with the two men eating birthday cake in bed, is casual and sexy, and its flirtatious playfulness is somewhat disarming, given our expectation of a serious and important movie grounded in historical events. “Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant from a script by Dustin Lance Black, is certainly such a film, but it manages to evade many of the traps and compromises of the period biopic with a grace and tenacity worthy of its title character.

That would be Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn), a neighborhood activist elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and murdered, along with the city’s mayor, George Moscone (Victor Garber), by a former supervisor named Dan White (Josh Brolin) the next year. Notwithstanding the modesty of his office and the tragic foreshortening of his tenure, Milk, among the first openly gay elected officials in the country, had a profound impact on national politics, and his rich afterlife in American culture has affirmed his status as pioneer and martyr. His brief career has inspired an opera by Stewart Wallace, an excellent documentary film (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” by Rob Epstein, from 1984) and now “Milk,” which is the best live-action mainstream American movie that I have seen this year. This is not faint praise, by the way, even though 2008 has been a middling year for Hollywood. “Milk” is accessible and instructive, an astute chronicle of big-city politics and the portrait of a warrior whose passion was equaled by his generosity and good humor. Mr. Penn, an actor of unmatched emotional intensity and physical discipline, outdoes himself here, playing a character different from any he has portrayed before.

This is less a matter of sexuality — there is no longer much novelty in a straight actor’s “playing gay” — than of temperament. Unlike, say, Jimmy Markum, Mr. Penn’s brooding ex-convict in Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” Harvey Milk is an extrovert and an ironist, a man whose expansive, sometimes sloppy self-presentation camouflages an incisive mind and a ferociously stubborn will. All of this Mr. Penn captures effortlessly through voice and gesture, but what is most arresting is the sense he conveys of Milk’s fundamental kindness, a personal virtue that also functions as a political principle.

Which is not to say that “Milk” is an easy, sunny, feel-good movie, or that its hero is a shiny liberal saint. There is righteous anger in this movie, and also an arresting, moody lyricism. Mr. Van Sant has frequently practiced a kind of detached romanticism, letting his stories unfold matter-of-factly while infusing them with touches of melancholy beauty. (He is helped here by Danny Elfman’s elegant score and by the expressive cinematography of Harris Savides, whose touch when it comes to framing and focus could more aptly be called a caress.)

In the years since the earnest and commercial “Finding Forrester” (2000), Mr. Van Sant has devoted himself to smaller-scale projects, some of them (like the Palme d’Or-winning provocation “Elephant”) employing nonprofessional actors, and none of them much concerned with soliciting the approval of the mass audience. “Gerry,” “Elephant,” “Last Days” and “Paranoid Park” are linked by a spirit of formal exploration — elements of Mr. Van Sant’s experimental style include long tracking shots; oblique, fractured narratives; and a way of composing scenes that emphasizes visual and aural texture over conventional dramatic exposition — and also by a preoccupation with death.

Like “Elephant” (suggested by the Columbine High shootings) and “Last Days” (by the suicide of Kurt Cobain), “Milk” is the chronicle of a death foretold. Before that subway station encounter, we have already seen real-life news video of the aftermath of Milk’s assassination, as well as grainy photographs of gay men being rounded up by the police. These images don’t spoil the intimacy between Harvey the buttoned-up businessman and Scott Smith (James Franco), the hippie who becomes his live-in lover and first campaign manager. Rather, the constant risk of harassment, humiliation and violence is the defining context of that intimacy.

And his refusal to accept this as a fact of life, his insistence on being who he is without secrecy or shame, is what turns Milk from a bohemian camera store owner (after his flight from New York and the insurance business) into a political leader.

“My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you.” That was an opening line that the real Milk often used in his speeches to break the tension with straight audiences, but the film shows him deploying it with mostly gay crowds as well, with a slightly different inflection. He wants to recruit them into the politics of democracy, to persuade them that the stigma and discrimination they are used to enduring quietly and even guiltily can be addressed by voting, by demonstrating, by claiming the share of power that is every citizen’s birthright and responsibility.

The strength of Mr. Black’s script is that it grasps both the radicalism of Milk’s political ambition and the pragmatism of his methods. “Milk” understands that modern politics thrive at the messy, sometimes glorious intersection of grubby interests and noble ideals. Shortly after moving with Scott from New York to the Castro section of San Francisco, Milk begins organizing the gay residents of that neighborhood, seeking out allies among businessmen, labor unions and other groups.

The city’s gay elite, discomfited by his confrontational tactics, keeps Milk at a distance, leaving him to build a movement from the ground up with the help of a young rabble-rouser and ex-hustler named Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch).

For more than two lively, eventful hours, “Milk” conforms to many of the conventions of biographical filmmaking, if not always to the precise details of the hero’s biography. Milk’s inexhaustible political commitment takes its toll on his relationships, first with Scott and then with Jack Lira, an impulsive, unstable young man played by Diego Luna with an operatic verve that stops just short of camp.

Meanwhile, local San Francisco issues are overshadowed by a statewide anti-gay-rights referendum and the national crusade, led by the orange-juice spokesmodel Anita Bryant, to repeal municipal antidiscrimination laws. The culture war is unfolding, and Milk is in the middle of it. (And so, 30 years later, in the wake of Proposition 8, is “Milk.”)

“Milk” is a fascinating, multi-layered history lesson. In its scale and visual variety it feels almost like a calmed-down Oliver Stone movie, stripped of hyperbole and Oedipal melodrama. But it is also a film that like Mr. Van Sant’s other recent work — and also, curiously, like David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” another San Francisco-based tale of the 1970s — respects the limits of psychological and sociological explanation.

Dan White, Milk’s erstwhile colleague and eventual assassin, haunts the edges of the movie, representing both the banality and the enigma of evil. Mr. Brolin makes him seem at once pitiable and scary without making him look like a monster or a clown. Motives for White’s crime are suggested in the film, but too neat an accounting of them would distort the awful truth of the story and undermine the power of the movie.

That power lies in its uncanny balancing of nuance and scale, its ability to be about nearly everything — love, death, politics, sex, modernity — without losing sight of the intimate particulars of its story. Harvey Milk was an intriguing, inspiring figure. “Milk” is a marvel.

“Milk” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has some profanity, brief violence and a few discreet sex scenes.

Directed by Gus Van Sant; written by Dustin Lance Black; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Elliot Graham; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bill Groom; produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen; released by Focus Features. Running time: 2 hours 8 minutes.

WITH: Sean Penn (Harvey Milk), Emile Hirsch (Cleve Jones), Josh Brolin (Dan White), Diego Luna (Jack Lira), Alison Pill (Anne Kronenberg), Victor Garber (Mayor George Moscone), Denis O’Hare (John Briggs), Joseph Cross (Dick Pabich), Stephen Spinella (Rick Stokes), Lucas Grabeel (Danny Nicoletta), Brandon Boyce (Jim Rivaldo), Zvi Howard Rosenman (David Goodstein), Kelvin Yu (Michael Wong) and James Franco (Scott Smith).

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Mom Warns of the Dangers of "Ex-Gay" Groups

from Truth Wins Out:

A mom, Susan Stanskas, discusses how ‘ex-gay’ organizations divide families - in the name of family values - and even cause some gay teenagers to commit suicide.

In this video, she urges parents to accept their gay and lesbian children and warns about the harm done by rejecting them.

If you are a parent who has learned your child is gay or lesbian, please visit

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Your Story Is Important

from NGLTF:

It's amazing what we've accomplished together these last few weeks.

The California Supreme Court has agreed to review the legal challenges to Proposition 8, and the protests and the actions of thousands in our community have forced the public eye on the inequality that LGBT people face every day.

But our fight is far from over. In fact, there's one thing you can do this week to help move the needle even further.


Talk to your family and friends when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. Talk to your co-workers when they ask what you are doing for the holiday. Talk to your neighbors when you stop to chat outside your apartment or home.

Tell them about your life, your relationships, how you feel about the state constitutional amendments. It seems simple, but far too many of us know how hard it can be to talk honestly about our lives. Telling our stories is what will make a difference in our pursuit of equality. Hearing from you, hearing about your life is what will change the hearts and minds of every American, one by one — starting with those closest to you.

So take the time this week to talk. Your story is important to this movement and it truly matters.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Living With HIV In Small-Town Ohio

Michael McKinnis is a gay, HIV positive man living in rural Ohio. He was born and raised in Marion, about 40 miles north of Columbus, with a population of about 35,000, and still lives there.

by Michael R. McKinnis for Gay People's Chronicle:

I am one of 21 males with HIV in Marion. There are only two females with the virus in the city, while there are 23 males diagnosed with AIDS in the county and four females. The average age of people living with the virus in Marion County is between 35 and 44.

At 37 years of age, I have seen a lot in life, good and bad. I am single, funny, sarcastic and witty, but I am getting too old to keep quiet and lay low. I have my story to tell.

When diagnosed in August 2006, I was lost, ashamed, and afraid. Thank God my family, friends and co workers were there for me. We learned together how HIV/AIDS would affect me, and in turn affect them.

I also found help at AIDS Resource Center Ohio and the Center Street Clinic, where Jennifer and Lori have been my guardian angels. They were there from the get-go and let me know I was going to be all right.

Lori Robinson is the ARC Ohio’s program manager and specialized case manager in the Mansfield/Marion area. Jennifer Wehry is a case manager for the Center Street Clinic in Marion.

It is difficult to be openly gay, let alone HIV-positive in small towns. There is no gay community to turn to. Marion, Ohio has no known active LGBT group activities other than ARC Ohio’s “Poz Peers” support community. There is only one “gay supported” lounge in Marion, but the location and history of this establishment give worry, as there have been many violent acts committed there.

I have friends that have been attacked, forced into the street or shelter to live, and even committed suicide from the fear of the hatred and stigma that comes with being gay or HIV positive.

I was fired in July of this year from a major telephone company. I had to have oral surgery and turned to a top manager to request time off. I thought I could be open and honest. I told her my HIV status and that my teeth were infecting my body. They fired me a week later after promising I had nothing to worry about. I was mortified, thinking how little we’ve progressed from two decades ago. I was made to feel like a leper, a liability.

There is no proof of what was discussed with that manager and I now wish I had never disclosed anything. I’ve found that when I disclose my gay and HIV status, many friends will turn away out of fear and ignorance. The rural communities are small and everyone knows everyone’s business. Once your status is disclosed, it is almost impossible to find employment, friends--and sometimes doctors.

In the Marion area, according to the Ohio Department of Health statistics for 2006, 53% of males contracted HIV from male-to-male sexual contact, 29% from another source or an unknown one, 5% from injection drug use, 4% from heterosexual contact, and another 8% from one of the latter two but they don’t know which one.

Now it is mid-November and I am still without work, but I am hopeful things will turn around soon. I’m very lucky all in all. My mom and best friend, God, and yes, even Madonna, keep me inspired.

Many of my friends are not so lucky and have been rejected by close family members, including their parents.

I have to keep going because I am loved and want to do so much more in this life. I think I could be a voice of hope, even out here in BFE.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Boycotting Bigotry

This story about boycotting Utah because it is home to the vehemently anti-gay LDS church raises interesting questions about how we should respond to those who promote bigotry and discrimination right here in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Readers, what do you think?

Please send your ideas to open up a dialogue on this subject to


By Lisa Neff for 365 Gay News:

My family comes from a place in western Illinois where great efforts have been made to remedy the persecution of a group of people.

My dad grew up on a farm in Ferris, Ill., not far from Nauvoo, a beautiful little town founded by Joseph Smith, who founded the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints.

The town grew as the Mormon population grew.

And around the town, unease about Mormon lifestyle, political influence and religious beliefs grew to open warfare — homes were destroyed, crops were burned, lives were threatened, leaders were jailed. Eventually the Mormons were forced to abandon their homes in Nauvoo — the largest forced migration in U.S. history, 1,300 miles across the plains to Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

The Illinois Legislature, by resolution, apologized for the forced expulsion of a people in 2004, 159 years after the crimes.

The resolution said the “goodness, patriotism, high-moral conduct and generosity” of the LDS church enriched the landscape of the nation.

Today, I can’t see the goodness, patriotism, high-moral conduct or generosity in a church that has known persecution but continues to persecute a group of people.

The Illinois Legislature’s resolution said “the bias and prejudices of a less enlightened age … caused unmeasurable hardship and trauma for the community of Latter-day Saints by the distrust, violence, and inhospitable actions of a dark time in our past.”

Today, the LDS church is guilty perpetuating bias and prejudices causing unmeasurable hardship and trauma for gays and lesbians.

The church has long funded anti-gay campaigns, especially efforts to legally recognize same-sex unions and establish equal marriage rights in the state.

In 1998 the church invested an estimated $600,000 in the campaign to ban same-sex marriage in Hawaii and $500,000 in Alaska. The investment continued in state after state, as ballot measures to specifically ban same-sex marriage were put to votes. The church played a big role in an anti-gay ballot measure in 2000 in California, and it played a big role in passing Proposition 8 in California earlier this month.

In June, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a letter for church leaders in California to read all congregations:

“A broad-based coalition of churches and other organizations placed the proposed amendment on the ballot. The church will participate with this coalition in seeking its passage. Local church leaders will provide information about how you may become involved in this important cause.

“We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.”

And donate they did — providing about 70 percent of the financing behind the Prop. 8 campaign.

The church is savvy at media relations, at disseminating propaganda. Its leaders will have the world believe that the church now is being persecuted for its involvement in Proposition 8. The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints issued a statement as gays and lesbians nationwide demonstrated against the passage of Prop. 8. He wrote, “People of faith have been intimidated for simply exercising their democratic rights. These are not actions that are worthy of the democratic ideals of our nation. The end of a free and fair election should not be the beginning of a hostile response in America.”

Of course vandalizing a church is wrong and violence against people is wrong.

But challenging the church is right, entirely just and necessary.

I think we can start with calling for a federal investigation into how a church with a tax-exempt status can be so heavily involved in a political campaign — how can that make for a free and fair election?

And I think, too, we must make sure we do our best not to drop even a penny into the accounts of people or institutions that will use that money to rob gays and lesbians of their equal rights and delegitimize their families. Planning a winter ski break on a Utah summit a summer excursion through hiking Utah canyons? Reconsider.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Will California Gay Marriage Ban Open Door To More Discrimination?

Minorities Fear Trend

by Peter Henderson for Reuters:

California's gay marriage ban could open the door to legal discrimination against unpopular groups if the state Supreme Court allows the voter-approved measure to stand, blacks, Latinos, Asians and other minorities said.

The November 4 vote, supporting an end to legal same-sex marriage in the most populous U.S. state, has caused a nationwide furor as opponents of the measure decry what they consider a civil rights violation.

California's highest court agreed on November 19 to hear a challenge, based on whether the state constitution requires support from the legislature -- as well as a majority vote of the people -- to strip rights from any group.

The court had recognized such marriages in May, and about 20,000 same-sex couples wed before the November vote. Those marriages may now hang in the balance. Connecticut and Massachusetts are the only states that allow gay marriage.

Legal scholars say the measure, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, breaks new ground by limiting the courts' ability to protect minorities.

"They could take away any right from any group," said University of Southern California Law Professor David Cruz, who filed a brief in favor of gay marriage in an earlier case.


The ban, California Proposition 8, amended the constitution with 52 percent support -- less than is required to approve some state bond measures.

"The entire purpose behind the constitutional principle of equal protection would be subverted if the constitutional protection of unpopular minorities were subject to simple majority rule," read a brief by black, Asian and Hispanic groups challenging the ban. "This case is not simply about gay and lesbian equality."

It is unlikely that relatively liberal California would approve restrictions on racial and religious minorities, especially ones that clash with the protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, Cruz and others say.

"We are past that as a realistic matter. We just elected an African-American president, for Christ's sake," said University of California, Berkeley, law professor Jesse Choper, who also filed on behalf of gay advocates in the original gay marriage case.

Other groups -- from prisoners to undocumented workers -- might not have public opinion on their side.

"The history of California demonstrates with sobering clarity the potential for disfavored minorities to be subjected to oppression by hostile majorities," the minority groups say in their brief, pointing to segregation laws and one excluding Asian-Americans from land ownership as examples.


"It is not hypothetical. It's a track record," said Stanford University law professor Jane Schacter, who has not filed briefs in the case.

Indeed, a central argument in support of the gay marriage ban is that majority-vote constitutional amendments can change rights.

"That power is broad and deep and, by nature, populist. It has often been used to be make significant changes in state government and to override judicial interpretations of the Constitution with which the people disagree -- including interpretations involving basic constitutional rights," lawyer Andrew Pugno argued in court papers.

He also argued that defining marriage as between a man and a woman simply re-established the situation before the court recognized gay marriage in May.

The California high court could hear arguments in March. Berkeley's Choper says it will be an uphill battle to persuade the judges that the measure requires legislative action.

Choper said he understands why the groups are fighting the ban and he is sympathetic, "but that's not the way the system works."

Gay Rights Advancing in the Heartland

by Michael a. Jones for

Heartland, Rust Belt, Midwest - no matter what you call it, gay rights initiatives are making inroads beyond the coastal states. Case in point, the cities of Kalamazoo, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio are expected to pass gay rights ordinances addressing discrimination and domestic partner benefits.

Tomorrow evening, a proposed ordinance is scheduled to be put before the Kalamazoo City Commission that would protect LGBT persons from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. Since there is no federal or statewide non-discrimination act addressing the issue, activists have stepped up on the local level to advance gay rights. If passed, the "Equal Rights Ordinance" of Kalamazoo will apply to public and private sectors, although a few parties (including religious organizations) will be exempt from the ordinance.

"The goal of the ordinance is to create a level playing field," said Terry Kuseske, head of the Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality's political action committee. City Commissioner David Anderson, who worked closely with Miller and Kuseske to mold the proposal, said the initiative is similar to more than 15 ordinances that have been enacted across the state in cities such as Ann Arbor, Ferndale and Grand Rapids.

Elsewhere, Cleveland's City Council is set to take up a proposal to create a domestic partnership registry in the city.

The registry is non-binding, meaning that absolutely no one is forced to participate in it. But LGBT rights activists and city councilors hope that the symbolic measure sends a message to Cleveland-based businesses to support domestic partnerships as a means of creating a healthy and equal workplace. If passed, Cleveland will join more than three dozen other municipalities nationwide with domestic partnership registries. Sadly, only two other city in Ohio - Cleveland Heights and Toledo - have DP registries. But organizers are optimistic that Cleveland will become number three, with a supportive City Council and a Mayor who has indicated initial support for the concept.

Before signing off on this post, I want to include the first part of a great article by Connie Schultz (with the Post Chronicle) on Cleveland's efforts. This excerpt both frustrates me and warms my heart. It frustrates me because it exposes how under-handed and manipulative certain religious officials (in this case, a Catholic priest) can be when it comes to the issue of LGBT rights. But it warms my heart to see one of Cleveland's city officials, Joe Cimperman, fight back - and use his faith as justification for supporting same-sex domestic partnerships. Way to go, Councilman Cimperman.

As soon as the priest heard about proposed plans for a domestic partner registry in Cleveland, he called City Councilman Joe Cimperman.

"You are disloyal to your faith," the priest told Cimperman, who is a lifelong Catholic and chief sponsor of the registry. "This is the wrong thing to do."

My immediate response would have been to ask the priest a few questions:

Does he really think discouraging any version of committed love between two adults should be a priority in these desperate times of lost jobs and foreclosed homes?

Has he noticed that northeastern Ohio is a region in economic crisis?

Wouldn't his time be better spent helping to slow the exodus of yet more members of his depleting flock and stemming the fear of those who remain?

Cimperman's response was more measured. He didn't agree with the priest, and he gently made it clear just why.

"I was raised by a mom who believed that our faith was always more about human rights than religious conscription," Cimperman told him. "So this is completely consistent with my Catholic faith." ...

To read the rest of Schultz's article, go here.

Religion: Does God Like It?

by Phil Zuckerman for The Huffington Post:

Proposition 8 passed because of religious folk. There is no question about it. Church-going Black Americans, tithe-paying Mormons, mass-attending Latinos, and Evangelical whites all joined forces in "protecting marriage." The underlying reason religious people voted to revoke from gays and lesbians the legal right to marry is doggedly theological: God doesn't like it. And when a society or culture does things that God doesn't like, that society or culture will suffer. This is a central tenet of every religion, and has been ever since the first shaman first claimed to be able to discern the will of the Almighty by examining the patterns in a bowl full of crushed berries.

And it simply isn't true. If God punishes societies that violate his commandments and rewards those that do, this just isn't apparent by looking at the state of the world today. The sociological fact is that the most irreligious nations right now are among the most successful, humane, moral, and free, while the most religious nations tend to be among the most destitute, chaotic, crime-ridden, and undemocratic. A similar pattern also holds true within the United States: those states and counties that boast the greatest numbers of strong believers and regular church attenders tend to have higher poverty rates, child abuse rates, violent crime rates, and lower educational attainment rates than those states and counties characterized by more secular populations.

Consider the nations of Scandinavia specifically. These countries are noteworthy because they were among the first nations to make abortion legal and readily available and they were also among the first nations (along with Holland) to allow for gay marriage. Indeed, gays and lesbians have been able to wed in these countries of Northern Europe for nearly 20 years now. And what is the state of society in these relatively irreligious nations, where weekly church attendance is among the lowest in the world and belief in God is markedly thin? They lead the world on nearly all indicators of societal well-being. From economic prosperity to low crime rates, from equality between men and women to excellent child welfare, from life expectancy to low rates of H.I.V., the relatively godless (or at least God-indifferent) nations of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Holland suggest that secularity - and acceptance of gay marriage, specifically -- doesn't bring down the wrath of God at all. And yet when we look at the most religious nations in the world - especially those that severely condemn homosexuality, such as Iran, Angola, and Mauritania -- we see extreme poverty, high violent crime rates, oppression of women, dictatorship, warfare, corruption, etc..

Where is the best place to be a mother and raise children? According to the latest Save the Children Report, it is relatively godless Sweden. The worst? Extremely Godful Niger. How about murder rates? Highly religious Columbia leads the globe, while highly secular Japan is near the bottom. What about strong economies? According to the World Economic Forum, of the top ten nations boasting today's most competitive economies, nine are relatively irreligious (the USA being the sole exception). According to the latest Global Peace Index, the top five most peaceful nations are simultaneously among the most secular, such as Denmark, which ranks in at #2. Even when it comes to suicide rates, it is the former Soviet nations that lead the pack, some of which are fairly secular, but most of which are quite religious, such as Lithuania.

Admittedly, atheist-communist regimes constitute an ugly experiment in human misery. North Korea is far from a beacon of societal health. The same can be said of the former U.S.S.R, China, or little Albania under former atheist-dictator Enver Hoxha. There is no question that atheism coupled with totalitarianism is a veritable recipe for societal disaster. But as for democracies that forgo God -- societies in which secularism is not forced upon a captive citizenry by dictators, but emerges organically and freely over several generations -- the overall international pattern is unmistakable. It is the more godless democracies - and especially those that allow for gays and lesbians to wed -- that are faring the best, while it is the more God-worshipping and homosexual-condemning nations that are faring the worst.

When it comes to God and the acceptance of gay marriage, the religious supporters of Proposition 8 certainly have a right to their opinion. But that doesn't make their opinion right.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Letter To My Brother Newt

Dear Newt,

I recently had the displeasure of watching you bash the protestors of the Prop 8 marriage ban to Bill O'Reilly on FOX News. I must say, after years of watching you build your career by stirring up the fears and prejudices of the far right, I feel compelled to use the words of your idol, Ronald Reagan, "There you go, again."

However, I realize that you may have been a little preoccupied lately with planning your resurrection as the savior of your party, so I thought I would fill you in on a few important developments you might have overlooked.

The truth is that you're living in a world that no longer exists. I, along with millions of Americans, clearly see the world the way it as -- and we embrace what it can be. You, on the other hand, seem incapable of looking for new ideas or moving beyond what worked in the past.

Welcome to the 21st century, big bro. I can understand why you're so afraid of the energy that has been unleashed after gay and lesbian couples had their rights stripped away from them by a hateful campaign. I can see why you're sounding the alarm against the activists who use all the latest tech tools to build these rallies from the ground up in cities across the country.

This unstoppable progress has at its core a group we at HRC call Generation Equality. They are the most supportive of full LGBT equality than any American generation ever -- and when it comes to the politics of division, well, they don't roll that way. 18-24 year olds voted overwhelmingly against Prop 8 and overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. And the numbers of young progressive voters will only continue to grow. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning, about 23 million 18-29 year olds voted on Nov. 4, 2008 -- the most young voters ever to cast a ballot in a presidential election. That's an increase of 3 million more voters compared to 2004.

These are the same people who helped elect Barack Obama and sent a decisive message to your party. These young people are the future and their energy will continue to drive our country forward. Even older Americans are turning their backs on the politics of fear and demagoguery that you and your cronies have perfected over the years.

This is a movement of the people that you most fear. It's a movement of progress -- and your words on FOX News only show how truly desperate you are to maintain control of a world that is changing before your very eyes.

Then again, we've seen these tactics before. We know how much the right likes to play political and cultural hardball, and then turn around and accuse us of lashing out first. You give a pass to a religious group -- one that looks down upon minorities and women -- when they use their money and membership roles to roll back the rights of others, and then you label us "fascists" when we fight back. You belittle the relationships of gay and lesbian couples, and yet somehow neglect to explain who anointed you the protector of "traditional" marriage. And, of course, you've also mastered taking the foolish actions of a few people and then indicting an entire population based on those mistakes. I fail to see how any of these patterns coincide with the values of "historic Christianity" you claim to champion.

Again, nothing new here. This is just more of the blatant hypocrisy we're used to hearing.

What really worries me is that you are always willing to use LGBT Americans as political weapons to further your ambitions. That's really so '90s, Newt. In this day and age, it's embarrassing to watch you talk like that. You should be more afraid of the new political climate in America, because, there is no place for you in it.

In other words, stop being a hater, big bro.

Candace Gingrich

We Are Struggling FOR Equality For ALL Americans

by Cleve Jones & Dustin Lance Black from the SF Chronicle:

On Nov. 27, 1978, gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco City Hall. Thirty years later, his struggle continues.

On Nov. 4, 2008, millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans of all races proudly cast their ballots for Barack Obama, helping to elect the first African American president of the United States. On that same day, voters in Arizona, Arkansas, California and Florida approved initiatives denying basic civil rights to GLBT citizens.

Like other Americans who voted for Obama, gay people supported our president-elect because we share his vision of a united America, and want to move forward to address the critical challenges facing our country and our planet.

We have always been willing to serve our country: in our armed forces, even as we were threatened with courts-martial and dishonor; as teachers, even as we were slandered and libeled; as parents and foster parents struggling to support our children; as doctors and nurses caring for patients in a broken health-care system; as artists, writers and musicians; as workers in factories and hotels, on farms and in office buildings; we have always served and loved our country.

We have loved our country even as we have been subjected to discrimination, harassment and violence at the hands of our countrymen. We have loved God, even as we were rejected and abandoned by religious leaders, our churches, synagogues and mosques. We have loved democracy, even as we witnessed the ballot box used to deny us our rights.

Like Obama, we never abandoned hope in the American dream of equality and freedom. We never stopped believing that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights included us.

We have always kept faith with the American people, our neighbors, co-workers, friends and families. But today that faith is tested and we find ourselves at a crossroad in history.

Will we move forward together? Will we affirm that the American dream is alive and real? Will we finally guarantee full equality under the law for all Americans? Or will we surrender to the worst, most divisive appeals to bigotry, ignorance and fear?

It has been 30 years since Milk gave his life in our struggle for equality. We will not wait 30 years more. We demand that the federal government act immediately, decisively and unequivocally to ensure equal protection under law throughout the United States of America.

We call on President-elect Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to draft and submit to the Congress comprehensive legislation protecting the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens in all areas, including civil marriage, military service, adoption, Social Security, taxation, immigration, employment, housing and access to health care, social services and education.

We call on our country's leaders to take personal responsibility for involving our nation's religious leaders and the GLBT community in a national dialogue to encourage understanding and reconciliation.

We call on everyone to carry this message of hope and equality throughout our nation, to every place of worship, to every school and factory and shopping center, every city, suburb and farming town. We call on you to march together, demonstrate together, to pray together and dream together of a future America where, finally, all are free.

There are rare moments in human history when, suddenly and unexpectedly, the opportunity for great change and progress becomes possible. Obama has shown us the power of hope and the urgency of seizing that moment. Milk has shown us the power we possess when we make our voices heard.

We can accept no compromise.

We can wait no longer.

Now is the time.

We are equal.

Post-Prop. 8 campaign for equality

We call on all supporters of equality to sustain and intensify the nationwide campaign of mass protests and nonviolent civil disobedience, for seven weeks, starting on Nov. 27, the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, and to then gather together en masse, in Washington, D.C., on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 20, to honor the inauguration of our President Barack Obama.

During the next seven weeks, we shall:

Strive always to maintain a positive message of hope and change.

Keep organizational structure to a minimum.

Encourage participants to express their anger and determination in creative, thought-provoking and peaceful ways.

Respect the media and law enforcement officers.

Avoid attacking people's religions. Hate language is always inappropriate.

Reach out immediately to racial and ethnic minorities, immigrant communities, labor unions, progressive religious denominations and other organizations working for social change.

Take your actions to downtown retail centers, transportation hubs and shopping malls for maximum impact during the holiday shopping season.

Insist upon a commitment from all participants to nonviolence when planning civil disobedience.

Study the history and traditions of nonviolent action. Angry marches and rhetoric can be cathartic, but do not necessarily help win hearts and minds to our cause. Effective forms of nonviolent civil disobedience often follow the peaceful, dignified and disciplined examples of Gandhi, the Quakers and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Remember always, and reflect in all your actions, that we are not fighting against anyone, or anything. We are struggling for equality.

For more information, go to Seven Weeks to Equality.

Cleve Jones is a longtime gay-rights activist and creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Dustin Lance Black is the writer for the HBO series "Big Love" and screenwriter for the film biopic "Milk."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Keystone Progress

A Special Request from Michael Morrill of Keystone Progress:

What issues should PA progressives fcous on in 2009?

What an exciting time! These are days that will be remembered in history as our nation has chosen hope over fear.

But as exciting as these times are, they are also troubled. Every day the headlines scream out new problems for our nation, our state and our communities. Our elected officials will face problems that are unprecedented in our lifetimes.

The Bush Administration and their ideological allies in Washington and Harrisburg have nearly destroyed our nation. But while Bush is leaving office, his allies remain powerful and influential. And make no mistake about it, the corporate and right wing lobbyists that back them will be fighting to regain their lost power by opposing everything on our progressive agenda.

Progressives will need to be as active on our issues in 2009 as we were during the election campaign in 2008. Keystone Progress and our partners will be working tirelessly next year to further our progressive agenda. In order to be effective, we need to know where you want us to focus our attention.

Please take a moment to help us pick which issues we should work on. Click on the link below to go to take our survey about which issues are most important to you:

Keystone Progress Issues

Thanks in advance for your support. Please spread this survey to your progressive friends and allies in PA.

Together we will win!

Right-Wing Labels

from Pick Wayne's Brain:

The Right-Wing in this country uses fear and hate to win public support for their ideas. This cannot be disputed, and was even studied by Associate Professor Jonathan Haidt (“What Makes People Vote Republican?"). In a nutshell, when our fears and emotions are tapped, we tend to react first and rationalize what we did later, even if our “rationale” is in conflict with the facts. Rather than appeal to our intellect and ability to reason our way to a solution, the Right-Wing stokes fear and hate and then tells you who to fear and who to hate. The reason why you should fear and hate becomes completely irrelevant once they have tapped into your emotions, for any kind of “reasoning” will make sense if it makes you feel justified in doing what you did, even if you normally would have thought that what you were doing was wrong. Without this tactic, they could not win support for their arguments on the facts alone. (And when I talk about “facts”, I’m talking about things that are actually true, not what many people might believe to be the truth.)

Whether they want to admit it or not, this attribute in humans to have our sense of fear and hate be easily tapped comes from our evolutionary survival skills. Our ancestors needed to be able to spot danger by seeing who or what was different around them. If they came across another human-like creature that looked different from themselves, they would know he was not from their own clan/tribe/collective/village, and that he might pose a danger. A good place to grow food, hunt animals, and live peacefully was worth defending from those who would take it by force.

But we have evolved beyond the need to immediately be fearful of someone who looks different. And we have learned that cooperation benefits everyone when resources are plentiful. The key to advancement as a society and a civilization is cooperation, not division. The Right-Wing tries to make you fear or hate someone or something, and then gives you a plausible-sounding (but usually illogical) argument for doing so, and tells you what to do about it. You rarely ever hear them give a rational explanation for supporting what they want you to do.

Rush Limbaugh has been big on labeling the current economic mess as “The Obama Recession”. It’s stupid because the economic problems began more than a year ago and Obama is not yet the president. But they have given the situation a Label, and then they will define for you what it means. And they will make you afraid of what Obama might do (based on nothing but their own personal fears and imaginations), and tell you that you have to stop him before it’s too late. I know, because I’ve already seen them doing this. But they will never explain why they are right in the first place. And do you know why? It’s not simply because of their anti-intellectual attitude. It’s because they don’t have one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Day Without A Gay

On December 10, 2008 the gay community will take a historic stance against hatred by donating love to a variety of different causes. On December 10, you are encouraged not to call in sick to work. You are encouraged to call in “gay”–and donate your time to service!

December 10, 2008 is International Human Rights Day.

Learn More at Day Without A Gay

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Transgender Day of Remembrance

from Equality Advocates:

In November of 1998, Rita Hester, a transgender woman in Boston, Massachusetts, answered a knock at her door. Instead of a friend, however, the person at the door was an assailant who forced entry into her apartment and stabbed her over twenty times. Rita's death that night proved to be the event that focused the attention of transgender people everywhere on the terrible violence often inflicted on trans people.

Today, November 20th, is Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day honors the memory of persons murdered during the past year. Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time to stand up against this violence and say "NO MORE."

This past week, over 30 people came to a Transgender Town Hall meeting in Pittsburgh, PA to discuss current legislation considered in Pennsylvania affecting the transgender community. Additionally, Equality Advocates Legal Intern Natalie Hrubos helped plan the Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review’s 2008 Symposium titled “Intersections of Transgender Lives and the Law: Critical Perspectives on Legal and Social Challenges.”

Other events are planned throughout Pennsylvania today, and can be found at International Transgender Day of Remembrance

All Hands, Black & White, On Deck

The high number of African-Americans who voted to pass Proposition 8 may have surprised some people, but not the folks at the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT Americans. NBJC's CEO offers some insights about the black-white divide and how to mend it going forward.

by H. Alexander Robinson of the National Black Justice Coalition:

The National Black Justice Coalition -- along with the rest of our country -- is witnessing a historic event as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to become the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American commander in chief. But even as we share in the unprecedented hopefulness for our nation’s future and the future of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, we have seen the record turnout of African-Americans who voted 95% for Barack Obama sometimes used as an explanation for the passing of anti-LGBT propositions in four states.

The California marriage amendment, in particular, has attracted the attention of politicians, commentators, and strategists alike, and some have concluded that blacks voted to pass Proposition 8 because, even though we are generally more progressive on issues like universal health care access, economic (and tax) equality, and most social justice issues, we do trend more conservative on issues of equality for LGBT people. While this conclusion is open for debate, we fully reject the racially biased musings that African-Americans were the deciding vote or that the presence of a black man at the top of the ticket led to this disappointing defeat.

Moreover, we believe that it is far too simplistic to label all who voted against marriage for same-sex couples as homophobic. We would do well to remember that African-American opinions and attitudes about marriage are shaped by religious beliefs and a tortured history, which includes the sanctity of our families not being honored in the context of slavery. For many black Americans, the Obamas' intact and loving family is as significant as his presidency. Today, fully 70% of black children are born to unmarried people, while only about 42% of Latino children and 27% of white children are now born outside wedlock. It is into this reality that opponents of marriage equality have found fertile ground to plant their seeds of fear of religious intolerance and the further undermining of the black family.

However, we can draw some lessons from an analysis of turnout and its correlation to racial demographics that are obvious on their face. For one, we know that too few resources were dedicated to influencing African-Americans' perceptions (and votes) on LGBT issues during this election. Of the approximately $40 million raised to fight the propositions, scant resources were directed toward the black vote in California, no attention was paid in any meaningful way in Florida, and we were hardly considered as a group to influence in other states with anti-LGBT propositions.

President-elect Obama was against Proposition 8 because he did not feel that states should put discrimination into their constitutions. Although he has said that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, he also believes our families should have all the rights, benefits, and responsibilities afforded to him and his wife. A serious consideration of his nuanced position would have been a good place to start a discussion about full equality in the African-American community.

As we go forward, we need to be mindful that our foes will continue to attempt to use President-elect Obama, the black church, and campaigns of deception and fear to foster their own agenda in manipulative and devious ways. President-elect Obama’s opposition to same-sex marriage is grounded in his view of marriage as a religious institution. We must be steadfast in not allowing public officials to use religion to determine their positions on matters of justice. We know as a community all too well that this reasoning can be harmful to blacks as well as LGBT people.

It is incumbent on every one of us to dedicate resources to educate our brothers and sisters on same-gender loving marriages and LGBT issues. As a community, blacks have always looked to the church as our beacon of hope and a source of political leadership. Black churches must recognize that they are going against their own teachings of tolerance and acceptance by preaching from the pulpit against same-sex marriage. These are cultural impediments that will only be overcome by real conversations about the status of LGBT people. We also recognize that we have affirming ministers and religious institutions, and we need to empower them and have their words highlighted and recognized in the mainstream and LGBT media.

NBJC has undertaken a major program with the mission of influencing the black church. We all need to redouble our efforts in this area and ask our white LGBT brothers and sisters to recognize that progress on issues of fairness and equality for our entire community is paramount to our common future success.

NBJC exists at the crossroads of race and sexual orientation. We see lesbians, gay men, and transgender people calling up their legislative representatives and looking for tickets to Barack Obama’s inauguration while reserving the tuxedos and gowns. At the same time, some folks are choosing a T-shirt and checking out Facebook to find the closest march and area of protest to express their disdain for the passage of antigay propositions.

We hear and read the dangerous expressions of anger toward the black community. NBJC works at this intersection, and at the same time NBJC is expected to address issues like youth suicide and homelessness, high rates of HIV/AIDS, discrimination in employment, and racial and social justice in the black community. To ensure that the LGBT community’s common agenda moves forward on all fronts, we need all our allies to come together and share in providing the resources essential to making the case that same-sex marriage is indeed a civil right, and that it does in fact equate to justice for all.

What Would You Do Venango County?

The Experiment

Racism in America

Great Strides Toward Equality

2007-2008 Pennsylvania Legislative Review

from Equality Advocates:

This past legislative session in Pennsylvania has been historic in countless ways, and although there is much left to be done, the LGBT community made great strides toward reaching equality over the past two years.

In early 2007, a record number of bipartisan co-sponsors came together to introduce House Bill 1400 and Senate Bill 761, legislation to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based upon one's sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Representative Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh) and Representative Chris Ross (R-Chester County) as well as Senator Patrick Browne (R-Allentown) worked tirelessly to promote these bills to fellow legislators and enlist support across the aisle, and from every corner of the state. Local organizations from across the state called and met with their officials, and as a result brought unprecedented visibility to this issue.

While the bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, State Government Committee Chairwoman Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia) committed unprecedented resources to educating her committee on the need for this legislation. Public hearings were held in Erie, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia in the fall of 2007, which brought together people of all backgrounds to testify in support of this legislation, including representatives from the Philadelphia Bar Association, Women's Law Project, ACLU, Equality Advocates, the clergy, and countless others. These hearings marked the very first time LGBT non-discrimination legislation was discussed in this setting, and brought tremendous momentum, as well as the spotlight, to an issue vitally important to LGBT people.

As momentum grew to move non-discrimination legislation forward in the House, opponents introduced Senate Bill 1250, an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that would have defined marriage as solely between one man and one woman, as well as prohibit civil unions. Thousands of people, both LGBT and heterosexual, from every part of the state jumped into action, and let their legislators know there is no place in our constitution for discrimination. As the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the ill-conceived bill, hundreds of people from the LGBT community traveled to Harrisburg to rally on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda, and in one loud voice sent a strong and clear message to our elected officials- do not harm our families. With House Leadership vocally pushing back against the bill, it was withdrawn from consideration in the Senate. Together, as one community, we again stopped this discriminatory action dead in its tracks, and protected same-sex and unmarried heterosexual relationships across the state.

Over the course of the past two years, thousands of people have become involved in unprecedented ways- attending advocacy trainings, e-mailing and calling their legislators, rallying in the capitol, and sitting down with their elected officials. Organizations committed to equality for the LGBT community came together through the Value All Families Coalition and Faith Coalition for Pennsylvania Families, and worked with legislators to promote fairness for LGBT people.

Obviously, as this session ends and another lies just months ahead, there is much work to do. This summer the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down hate crime protections for LGBT people, and we must continue to push hard to pass protections against discrimination in the workplace and in housing; but as one community, with committed and hard-working members of the legislature, we have laid a strong foundation and built momentum to make tremendous strides in the coming year. A new legislative session brings incredible potential to improve the lives of LGBT people across this state, and together, as one community, we will move forward toward full equality.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cool Belated Find: Guns, Roses & Gay Rights

from Salon:

It's been quite a year for Guns 'N Roses fans and proponents of same-sex marriage alike. For both groups, there's been joy, pain and, most of all, anticipation. And now, they have something -- or, rather, someone -- else in common: Slash. The former GNR guitar player, who now shreds for Velvet Revolver, has just released a video (posted below) in which he and wife Perla Hudson announce their support for gay marriage in the wake of California's devastating decision on Proposition 8. As Slash plays the "Star-Spangled Banner," Hudson addresses the camera, telling us, "I married my sweetheart. You should be able to marry yours, too. Say no to hate and yes to equal rights. Keep up the fight."

Like everything anyone involved in GNR has ever done, it's steeped in '90s trash, from Slash's perennial enormous hat-and-even bigger-hair combo to Hudson's cooing, rocker-chick voice. But that's kind of why I love it. As much as I adored Tim Gunn's No on 8 ad, I assume that most people who are into Tim are also already hip to gay rights. Slash and Hudson's video, however, might just open a few minds.

Is The Right Wing Rotting On The Inside?

Focus on the Family Lays Off 202 Workers

by Michelle Garcia for The Advocate:

Focus on the Family will eliminate 202 jobs, making it the biggest layoff in the history of James Dobson's Christian ministry, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. The nonprofit's budget has been adjusted from $160 million in the 2008 fiscal year to $138 million, according to The Gazette of Colorado Springs.

The cuts were made after a fall in donations, and officials expect finances to fall even harder between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Coincidentally, layoffs were announced just after California voters passed Proposition 8, banning marriage between same-sex couples. Focus on the Family contributed a total of $622,000 in cash and services to pass California's marriage ban, making it the seventh largest donor in the country for the cause, according to The Colorado Independent.

Fifty-three vacant positions will not be filled, and 149 employees will be laid off, bringing the staff's head count to 950 employees.

Spokesman Gary Schneeberger said Monday that the organization has notified the affected employees, who will learn about their transition packages this week.

At the height of its popularity, Focus on the Family employed more than 1,500 people in 1991. Monday's announcement marks the third time that the ministry has had to make large cutbacks. Nearly 80 employees were reassigned or laid off in September 2005, and 30 workers were laid off in September 2007.

Study Illustrates Need for LGBT Anti-Discrimination Laws

What's Up Pennsylvania?

from 365Gay:

(Los Angeles, CA): A study released Tuesday by a University of California - Los Angeles think tank has found workplace discrimination against LGBT employees is as widespread as that against women and visible minorities.

Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; 13 of those states also prohibit gender identity discrimination.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace are used as frequently by LGBT workers as laws prohibiting sex and race discrimination are used by women and people of color.

Analyzing employment discrimination complaints filed with state agencies in states prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, the study found that five out of 10,000 LGBT people in the workforce file sexual orientation employment discrimination complaints each year, compared to sex discrimination complaints filed by five out of 10,000 women in the workforce and race discrimination complaints filed by seven out of 10,000 people of color in the workforce.

“Our analysis directly questions the popular argument that sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws are unnecessary,” said study co-author M.V. Lee Badgett, research director at the Williams Institute. “They are needed and utilized by the LGBT workforce.”

The report also addresses any worry that expanding employment discrimination to LGBT people would overwhelm state and federal agencies. “Given the size of the LGB population and the filing rates of LGB people, any increase in complaint intake would be negligible,” the study concluded.

Christopher Ramos, a researcher who also worked on the study, said that in eight states sexual orientation claims surpass sex claims; the same is true for three states when compared to race claims.

“Clearly, LGBT employees are not only facing a certain level of discrimination, but also, taking advantage of protective state policies,” Ramos said.”

While almost half of the states in the country have some form of LGBT protection there is no federal coverage for LGBT workers.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, passed the US House in 2007 but without protections for the transgendered.

The legislation would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee.

When ENDA returns it is likely to include gender identity protections.

ENDA, originally introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass), included transpeople, but Frank removed those protections in committee saying it would be impossible to pass.

More than a dozen LGBT groups immediately distanced themselves from the legislation. Frank and the Human Rights Campaign now say they will fight to ensure an inclusive ENDA is passed.

Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute, noted that over 3.1 million LGBT adults live in states that do not provide workplace protections.

“As the debate surrounding the necessity of LGBT workplace protections begins again in Congress we must keep in mind the fragile economic position of these LGBT employees and their families,” Sears said in a statement.

How Do We Rise Up? How Do We Fight?

by Lisa Neff at 365Gay:

Rise up.

Fight the power.

But where?

The GLBT community lost big on election day in California, Arkansas, Florida and Arizona.

We respond with lawsuits, with protests, with direct non-violent action in the streets, with denunciations.

We have clout now in high places, the highest, in fact, in the United States.

We have many state legislators and governors, both houses of Congress and the president elect of the United States.

We have bi-partisan support.

We have star-power and corporate influence.

We have wealthy — or moderately wealthy — organizations.

We have sympathetic friends and neighbors and relatives.

We have editorial boards and yes, I’ll admit it, we have liberal-leaning reporters.

We have out and proud people to demand equality.

What do we not have?

We do not have the religious institutions, their leaders and their worshippers.

Groups within the religious community and organizations such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force/ National Religious Leadership Roundtable have worked long and hard to effect change, with some success. But still, again and again and again we lose because questionable people of faith perpetuate lies and myths, finance bigoted campaigns and block reform within their institutions and by our governments.

And too many in the pews believe that faith means accepting, without question, what is said from the altar or written in the church bulletin or decreed from Salt Lake City or Rome.

I’m reminded of a passage in the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament. Jesus was in a temple when he turned to his disciples and said, “Beware of these teachers of religious law for they love to parade in flowing robes and to have everyone bow to them as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. But they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property, and then, to cover up the kind of people they really are, they make long prayers in public. Because of this, their punishment will be the greater.”

I’m reminded too of an old nursery rhyme that goes, “Here’s the church, and here’s the steeple, open the door and see all the people.” In too many houses of worship across the country, when we open the doors, we see the people getting indoctrinated against justice and personal liberty. Give me that old-time religion, for GLBTs, can mean long-held prejudice and all the riches to keep discrimination on the law books.

And that old-time promise of separation of church and state has not diminished the influence of churches that bankroll campaigns to thwart equality and turn back our advances.

Institutions that claim to seek to protect traditional families seem committed to undermining families, demeaning love and devaluing relationships.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for one, invested heavily in the fight years ago in Hawaii to defeat marriage equality and, it should come as no surprise, the LDS church invested heavily in the push to eliminate marriage equality in California this year.

A lot of people, myself included, have quit houses of worship because of such actions. But the take it or leave it approach has left the most powerful religious institutions to the rigid, the conservative, the selfish, the hypocritical.

So how do we rise up, fight the power?

For some years now I’ve admired Soulforce for its commitment to direct action to effect direct change. Following Soulforce, we go to the church, open the door, and convince all the people.

We go to the faith-based groups and convince all the people.

We go to the faith-based schools and convince all the people.

This we do within the institutions, as worshippers, as parents and as donors. Step out from the choir and sing a battle hymn, a protest song.

This we do from outside the institutions, as demonstrators, protesters, reformers — whatever word you like for those who agitate for change.

This we do.

Rise up.

Fight the power.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rock the Boat

By Sherry Wolf, CounterPunch and AlterNet:

In the wake of Barack Obama's historic victory, a false and reactionary narrative has emerged that blames Black voters for the gay marriage ban that passed by a 52 to 48 percent margin in California.

While Florida and Arizona also passed same-sex marriage bans, the vote for Prop 8 in the politically progressive state of California is widely attributed to the enormous surge of Black voters, 70 percent of whom approved the ban reversing the state's May 2008 Supreme Court decision allowing lesbians and gays to marry. The exit polls showed that 53 percent of Latinos voted for the ban, as well as around 49 percent of white voters.

The state's Black population is 6.2 percent, and it accounted for 10 percent of the overall vote. In other words, blaming African Americans for the referendum's passage ignores 90 percent of the vote.

It also ignores recent history. To judge from social research, had there been an unapologetically pro-civil rights campaign, there was the prospect of a different outcome.

The most comprehensive study of Black attitudes toward homosexuality, which combines 31 national surveys from 1973 to 2000, came to a fascinating conclusion. Georgia State University researchers found that "Blacks appear to be more likely than whites both to see homosexuality as wrong and to favor gay-rights laws."

African Americans' religiosity leads many to believe that homosexuality is a sin, while their own experience of oppression leads them to oppose discrimination. This was borne out in the 2004 elections, where, in the six states with substantial Black populations that had same-sex marriage bans on their ballots, Blacks were slightly less likely than whites to vote for them.

Nationally, 58 percent now oppose gay marriage bans, a dramatic shift from just a few years ago. If an explicit case in favor of gay marriage were made by activists, a multiracial majority could be won over in coming years.

The exit poll statistics from California don't explain the more important story of why so many of California's Black, Brown and white citizens -- who voted overwhelmingly for the first African American president by a 56 to 37 percent margin -- also supported striking down civil rights for lesbians and gays.

The most critical reason was the ineffective strategy used by pro-gay marriage forces that adhered closely to the Democratic Party -- and Barack Obama's -- equivocal position on the issue.

While formally opposing Prop 8, both Obama and his running mate Joe Biden were vocal throughout the campaign about their personal discomfort with and opposition to same-sex marriage.

Despite the unprecedented and astonishing sums of money raised to fight the referendum -- the pro-equality side took in $43.6 million, compared with $29.8 million for the anti-gay marriage forces -- the No on 8 side lost.

The statewide No on 8 Coalition didn't use the money for a grassroots organizing campaign. It didn't put out a call for activists to hit the phones, knock on doors and hold rallies and actions to publicly denounce the bigotry of the measure -- though in a few cases, activists took the initiative to do so on their own.

Adhering to the false notion that the Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election due to the assertiveness of gay marriage activists, the heads of the No on 8 campaign avoided even using words like "gay" or "bigoted." Instead, one TV ad opposing the measure featured a straight white couple, and only obliquely referenced gays at all when the camera panned over a bookshelf with a photo of two women and their children.

In the final days before the election, No on 8 ran an ad with a voiceover by Black actor Samuel L. Jackson denouncing past civil rights abuses like Japanese internment and anti-miscegenation laws, with a slideshow of gay and lesbian couples on the screen.

Story Continues HERE

More News Coverage of Northwestern Pennsylvania's Rally for Fairness & Equality for ALL

Thanks to Mike Mahler of Erie Gay News and Michael Mahler's Ditherings

Powerful Winds of Change

by Wayne Besen:

Few people at the three Proposition 8 protest rallies I attended -- two in New York and one in Chicago -- were familiar. The ones I recognized were the hardcore advocates and tireless workhorses who have long carried the GLBT movement. However, these semi-spontaneous rallies had a different flavor. There was an injection of raw energy and an infusion of new inspiration that has eluded our movement for more than a decade. I peered into the great expanse and saw a wide-eyed sea of fresh new faces -- neophytes who needed help to complete the old chant, Hey, hey, Ho Ho...(Homophobia's got to go).

There has been a paradigm shift in the movement following marriage defeats in California, Florida and Arizona -- as well as an anti-gay adoption measure passing in Arkansas. From seemingly out of nowhere, people who have sat on the sidelines are now making headlines at rallies across America.

The leaders of what is being billed as Stonewall 2.0 are not coming from large, established organizations, but Internet savvy activists who can use a mouse to mobilize the masses. While Internet activism is nothing new, the fact that this huge outpouring of organic outrage is not being channeled through official organizational channels has enormous implications.

Up until two weeks ago, major GLBT groups instructed people to write a check and then essentially instructed donors to check their activism at the door. Sometimes, one was asked to take their commitment a step further by sending e-mail or attending a dinner. I think this week's protests mark the end of the Passive Era of gay politics. A sign at protests, "No More Mr. Nice Gay", highlighted this monumental change.

Now, don't get me wrong, the Passive Era served its purpose. By the mid 1990's exhaustion had beset the movement. Many leading activists had either died from AIDS or were worn out from fighting the culture wars. People felt deflated by the early Clinton years and dispirited after Newt Gingrich wrested control of Congress. Most of the tangible results during this period occurred in the courts, which produced historic victories, but relegated most GLBT people to cheering bystanders.

At this moment of malaise, technology afforded people the ability to engage in activism without leaving the house. While these notable advances have greatly aided the GLBT movement, they also allowed many people to be anesthetized by the Internet. It soon became a movement of elite movers and shakers, with little room for direct action.

The upside to the Passive Era was that aspiring gay insiders actually did sometimes get inside the halls of power and have a voice in the political process. Our organizations became more professional, better organized and institutionalized, which meant that they were not always on the brink of bankruptcy and had the ability to plan for the future.

But, make no mistake - we are not the same movement we were prior to Nov. 4. Having our marriage rights stripped away by a slim majority in California was a transformational experience for many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. I have lost count of those who have approached me to say that they never thought they were the political type -- until now. These people will bring new ideas, untapped energy and significantly strengthen our work.

It is still unclear how this influx of fiery emotion will specifically change the movement. But, I will make the bold prediction that those organizations that do not adjust to this new reality will wither and die. Newer, sleeker models will replace those that remain stodgy and continue to fight by fax, without incorporating the heat on the street. The new activism is a hybrid of direct action and digital activism. It is evolving, mutating and morphing by the day. And, whichever groups figure out how to be a conduit for this anger -- and effectively turn it into a force -- will lead the movement in the coming years.

This is a rare moment where the pain of Proposition 8 meets the possibility represented by Barack Obama. A great many people can now see that passion can lead to real progress -- and they demand a role in creating change.

Lastly, the rules of the Mormon, Catholic and Evangelical churches are now enshrined into civil law. We are all unofficial members of these religious institutions and captive to their narrow, sectarian rules. They have effectively hijacked the state and now govern our personal relationships and private lives -- whether we like it or not. I think people are finally awakened to this existential threat and willing to fight back.

On Nov. 8, I stood in freezing weather with hundreds of Chicagoans. Last week in Washington, 900 protesters braved a tornado watch to rally in front of the Capitol. Far from a victory, anti-gay forces unleashed a ferocious storm with powerful winds of change that will only end with the sound of wedding bells.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Venango County Voice To Make All of Northwestern Pennsylvania Proud!

Thanks to Videographer Jeremy Jeziorski!

And Thanks to Mike Mahler, Rev. Steve Aschmann, and Other Courageous Activists for Organizing This Inspiring Event!

Ain't No Stopping Us Now! We're On The Move!

Additional Videos of the Rally for Fairness & Equality:

Part I

Part II

Northwestern Pennsylvania Residents Rally for Fairness & Equality

by Lisa Weismann for WICU 12 News Erie:

Proposition 8 was passed in a state clear across the country.

But on Saturday, people in Erie stood up for those in California.

"The point is, if it happens anywhere, we have to take care in our own state. We are doing this in support of what's happening in California," Doris Cipolla, a gay rights activist, said.

Proposition 8 has been in the spotlight since the election, when it was passed in California.

It's an amendment that only recognizes a marriage between a man and woman -- not a gay couple.

But on Saturday, local gay rights activists took the steps of the Erie County Courthouse to show their pride and their anger towards the amendment.

"I'm just hoping -- I'm just hoping that [heterosexual] people realize that we are just people. We're no different; Our aspirations are the same," Cipolla said.

Aspirations like those of Linda Henderson and her female partner, who recently purchased The Latonia in Oil City.

"As soon as we opened and started doing things there, the right wing -- in particular, the American Family Association -- spoke out against us. [They were saying that] what we're doing had a gay agenda, simply because we happened to be lesbians," Henderson said.

Rallies, like the one in Erie, were held all across the country Saturday as a display of solidarity.

"This is not some theological group of people. These are actual human beings. We're your friends, your neighbors, your parents, your teachers. And we deserve the same rights to equality," Co-Editor of the Erie Gay News Michael Mahler said.

Video: "The Battle Continues"