Monday, August 31, 2009

School Protects Gay Student After Law Suit

Will This Ever Happen In Venango County School Districts?

from The Advocate:

A school district in Herkimer County, N.Y. has agreed to take immediate action to protect a gay student before the academic year begins in September.

The agreement is only a step in resolving a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of a 14-year-old student who was constantly harassed by students at his high school for his sexual orientation. A federal judge approved of the New York Civil Liberties Union's suggestions for the school district, the specifics of which cannot be disclosed.

Jacob, a student at the Gregory B. Jarvis Junior/Senior High School in central New York, had been subjected to constant verbal abuse, and was regularly pushed or the target of thrown objects. Some of his personal property had also been vandalized, according to the statement by the legal organization. Jacob had sprained his ankle earlier this year after a student pushed him down a flight of stairs. Another student brought a knife to school, threatening to kill Jacob.

Though district officials like the superintendent and school principal were notified of the incidents, there was no discipline for the harassment.

The NYCLU filed the case in August.

"It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to motivate school district officials to protect a student from vicious harassment," said NYCLU staff attorney Corey Stoughton, lead counsel on the case. "Our case will proceed until the district addresses the systemic failures that allowed it to ignore Jacob’s plight for two years."

NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman added that the district must take steps to "ensure that all students are safe at school and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Queer Mobilizations: LGBT Activists Confront the Law

Edited by Scott Barclay, Mary Bernstein and Anna-Maria Marshall for the NYU Press:

“Queer Mobilizations is one of precious few volumes that manages to bridge divisions between legal and cultural analysis and between scholarship and partisanship. Brilliantly interdisciplinary, moving fluidly between ‘theory’ and empirical-legal analysis, these essays force us to approach law as central to the current struggles over the American erotic landscape. A truly must read!”— Steven Seidman, author of Beyond the Closet: The Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life

“What is the complicated relationship between the LGBT movement and the law? The contributors to this fascinating volume offer a rich and thoughtful analysis of this important question by exploring an array of important policy issues. Timely and well written, this book should be of keen interest to teachers, scholars, movement activists, and citizens.”— Craig A. Rimmerman, author of The Lesbian and Gay Movements: Assimilationist or Liberationist?

Learn more about Queer Mobilizations HERE.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Pathology of Purity

by Wayne Besen:

In observing American fundamentalism for more than a decade there is one common thread that runs through the movement. It is the romanticized idea of purity, particularly sexual and doctrinal. While the idea is ostensibly innocuous, in practice it can be insidious and always threatens to politically spin out of control.

The idea of applying purity to human beings - who are impure by definition - creates an impossible standard that can't be met. The result is that millions of people are haunted by perceived moral failure and tortured by unnecessary guilt. Instead of producing healthy spiritual lives, this concept can create neurotic people with various complexes, who view themselves as worthless sinners. Such a damaging belief system may have a corrosive affect on self-esteem and creates needless internal conflicts.

The pursuit of unattainable perfection has led to a cottage industry of so-called "experts" who allegedly can help one achieve the unachievable. The proliferation of products and websites profiting from "purity" is problematic. There is no shortage of charlatans to fight "The War on Pleasure" and strictly forbid any form of fun for a fee. In some cases, the rules are so stringent that masturbation is considered a menace.

"God designed sex to be profound, which masturbation is not; it is shallow," wrote Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg on the website Restoring Sexual Purity. "God made sex to be fruitful, but masturbation treats sex like a commodity rather than a capacity for producing life. God made sex to be selflessly God-centered, not self-centered and self-satisfying."

Ultimately, religions and cults that focus on purity have an ulterior motive, which is to maintain control over the lives of its followers. If pleasure is policed, then faith-based father figures can ration it. By squeezing out the "impure" competition, such groups create a monopoly over one's mind.

The idea of protecting the potential sinner from "falling" is as elusive a goal of purity itself. No matter how cloistered, people will seek to explore their humanity, which includes enjoyment and fulfillment. Some fundamentalists hate secular society because temptations - epitomized by the concept of demons - are often stronger than their faith.

Instead of learning the healthy practice of moderation, many of these individuals embark on the pathological path of prohibition. Indoctrinated with a "just say no" ethos, the repression builds up until the fantasies become overwhelming fetishes that spiral out of control.

Unable to extinguish the fire internally, some of these individuals work though external means - namely politics - to eliminate temptations. This is why they have feverishly fought to close down adult bookstores and nude beaches. Such nosey behavior mirrors that of the teetotalers who fought to enact the disaster known as prohibition. Those who cling to this philosophy subconsciously want to ban from society what they cannot banish in themselves.

The quest for "purity" takes its most perverse form in the hands of Christian Reconstructionists. They believe that in order for Christ to return, they have to purify the world by instituting theocracy. This vision often includes executing gay people and adulterers.

The equivalent of such repression is already carried out in many Islamic countries. In Malaysia, which is considered a relatively moderate nation, a Muslim woman was recently sentenced to be whipped for the "crime" of enjoying a beer. God forbid Allah Time had to compete with Miller Time for personal satisfaction.

Of course, the puritanical enforcement of behavior rarely extends to those on the top of the moral hierarchy. In his chilling book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power", Jeff Sharlet writes in alarming detail about members of Congress who believe they are above the law because they are ordained by God as leaders. This must-read book gets into the heads of the hypocrites and allows one to grasp how they justify their tawdry affairs, while passing laws to penalize the very behavior that they had embraced on the sly.

The quest for purity is a sign of sickness and insecurity. It comes from individuals with serious hang-ups who want other people to be as miserable as they are.In order to make the world antiseptic, these zealots often become virtually anti-everyone and everything. It is with great irony that the more a person or nation obsesses about moral cleanliness the filthier, more violent and corrupt they usually become.

In chasing a concept that is elusive, many fundamentalists have become more elitist and exclusive, while intellectually reclusive. This helps explains the perpetual anger, bitterness and frustration that defines populist and political social conservatism.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Odd Silence On Marriage Equality

by Steve Chapman for the Chicago Tribune:

Opponents of same-sex marriage reject it on religious and moral grounds but also on practical ones. If we let homosexuals marry, they believe, a parade of horribles will follow -- the weakening of marriage as an institution, children at increased risk of broken homes, the eventual legalization of polygamy and who knows what all.

Well, guess what? We're about to find out if they're right. Unlike most public policy debates, this one is the subject of a gigantic experiment, which should definitively answer whether same-sex marriage will have a broad, destructive social impact.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire have all decided to let gays wed. Most of the remaining 44 states, however, are not likely to follow suit anytime soon. So in the next few years, we will have a chance to compare social trends in the states permitting same-sex marriage against social trends in the others.

But with the experiment looming, some opponents seem to be doubting their own convictions. I contacted three serious conservative thinkers who have written extensively about the dangers of allowing gay marriage and asked them to make simple, concrete predictions about measurable social indicators -- marriage rates, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, child poverty, you name it.

You would think they would react like Albert Pujols when presented with a hanging curveball. Yet none was prepared to forecast what would happen in same-sex marriage states versus other states.

Maggie Gallagher, president of the Virginia-based Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, has declared that losing this battle "means losing American civilization." But she politely declined my invitation.

Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, has been equally dire. The change, he has warned, would weaken social taboos against adultery and incest and "set in motion a series of threats to the ethos of monogamy from which the institution of marriage may never recover."

When it came time to offer more specific predictions, Kurtz was missing in action. I e-mailed him twice and left a message on his office voice mail. After two weeks, I'm beginning to lose hope.

The only person willing to talk was David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values. His 2007 book, "The Future of Marriage," made a serious and temperate effort to grapple with the case for same-sex marriage. Blankenhorn opposed it out of fear it would drain marriage of its central role by making it "exclusively a private relationship" that is "essentially unconnected to larger social needs and public meanings."

When I talked with him, though, he declined to predict what tangible bad things will occur in same-sex marriage states. "I disagree with those who say it will have no impact at all," Blankenhorn told me. "But beyond that, I don't think you can say."

What's equally striking is that when I made similar inquiries to people on the other side of the debate, I encountered no such reluctance. They forthrightly asserted that granting gays access to matrimony will have no discernible impact.

"I wouldn't expect much effect on the social indicators that would be visible to the naked eye," said Jonathan Rauch, a researcher at the Brookings Institution in Washington and author of the 2004 book, "Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America." Evan Wolfson, founder of the organization Freedom to Marry, agreed: "I don't think social indicators will get worse" in same-sex marriage states.

M. V. Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of the new book, "When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage," was happy to answer my question. "I don't think we'll see those kinds of negative social consequences," she said. "In Europe, there's no evidence that patterns have changed for marriage, divorce or non-marital births because of same-sex marriage or registered partnerships."

In a few years, we won't have to rely on such forecasts, because the facts will be there for all to see. And they should settle the issue once and for all.

But I have a strong suspicion that both sides of the debate are right. The supporters of same-sex marriage are right in predicting that it will have no bad side effects. And the opponents are right not to make predictions.

Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune's editorial board.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What Makes A Space "Safe" ?

By John Corvino for

A friend writes, “I’m coordinating a safe-space training at [an urban public university]. One participant stated that she felt she was a strong ally, but her religious beliefs dictate that homosexuality is a sin. What should I do? Can I deny her a safe-space sticker, or ask her not to advise students on religious issues?”

This is a hard question.

It’s hard partly because of its legal implications. Georgia Tech, another state school, recently lost a lawsuit because its safe-space program distributed literature uniformly criticizing traditional interpretations of the Bible. Not surprisingly, a federal judge ruled that this practice violated the First Amendment by favoring particular religious viewpoints. (Georgia Tech has kept its safe-space program but dropped the religious literature.)

Legal matters aside, the question raises difficult policy issues. What counts as “safe”?

Safe-space programs generally involve a school-sponsored diversity training focusing on LGBT issues. Upon completing it, participants receive a sticker to display on their office doors announcing their “ally” status.

Given how often religion is used as a weapon, I can understand why many LGBT students would not feel “safe” while being judged as sinners. We should never underestimate the potential damage done by telling youth, at a delicate stage in identity formation, that acting on their deep longings could lead to eternal separation from God.

In contemplating my friend’s question, I mainly thought of those vulnerable students, and how best to protect them. I also thought of my friend John.

John is a faculty member at a small private liberal arts college. He is an evangelical Christian who believes that homosexual conduct conflicts with God’s plan as revealed in the bible. And yet John defies easy stereotypes. He supports civil marriage equality, decries the various ways religion is used to harm LGBT people, and avoids “heteronormative language” (his words) in his classroom.

While he believes that homosexual conduct (not to mention plenty of heterosexual and non-sexual conduct) is sinful, he also believes that all humans - himself included - have an imperfect grasp of God’s will, and that we should generally strive to respect other people’s life choices and give them wide latitude in forging their own paths. John and his wife have welcomed me in their home, and during grace before the meal, his wife asked for God’s blessing on me, my partner Mark, and our relationship. (For the record, I did not take the latter to imply approval for every aspect of our relationship.)

In light of all I know about John and his loving treatment of LGBT persons, I can think of few spaces “safer” than his office. Any program that would disqualify him draws the circle of “safe spaces” too narrowly.

Moreover, there are good strategic reasons for wanting to make the circle of self-proclaimed allies as inclusive as possible, consistent with the well-being of LGBT students. We need people like John to make their presence known.

Yet I am not suggesting that we draw the circle so broadly as to rob “safe space” of any real meaning. Any student in any campus office - stickered or not - should expect to be treated with respect and professionalism. Presumably, the safe-space sticker denotes venues that substantially exceed that bare minimum (as John’s office would).

So how does one draw the circle broadly enough to include John and other conservative religious allies while excluding those who might rant about gays burning in hell?

As with any policy question involving human beings, there’s no perfect formula here (just as there are no perfect people). To some extent, the desired group will be somewhat self-selecting. Those interested in condemning LGBT people to hell generally don’t attend voluntary pro-gay diversity trainings.

Yet there are also steps one can take to tailor the circle. My recommendation would be to include, among various other elements of a pledge taken by safe-space training participants, something along the following lines:

“I understand that my own values and beliefs may differ from those of students who seek me out for a ‘safe space,’ and will refer students to appropriate resources given their particular values, beliefs, interests and desires.”

The idea here is that students who wish to retreat to a “narrower” circle will be assisted in doing so. Note that religious people offer such assistance all the time. Think, for example, of the Christian who helpfully directs a student to the Buddhist Student Center, despite her personal conviction that eternal salvation is through Christ alone.

On this approach, students who want pro-gay religious literature can receive it and evaluate it for themselves. At the same time, those who want the advice of fellow conservative evangelicals, for example, or fellow Orthodox Jews, can receive it and evaluate it for themselves.

Admittedly, my recommendation would allow conservative religious students to request and receive - in a designated “safe space” - literature of a sort that’s often deeply damaging to LGBT people. But the approach is preferable to the alternatives: a public university’s (illegally) favoring particular religious viewpoints, on the one hand, or its becoming silent on religious issues–the Georgia Tech solution–on the other.

Universities are places for free exchange of ideas. As long as that’s done in a compassionate manner that respects student autonomy, it should never be considered “unsafe.”

John Corvino, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and philosophy professor at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hate Crimes In A Small Town -- This Is What Leadership Looks Like

from the Imagine 2050:

Hate crimes throughout the United States are on the rise. While many state governments have ignored the statistics and refused to address rising hate crimes, one small town in Ohio is taking a stand.

Joseph P. Sulzer, mayor of Chillicothe, Ohio, has sprung into action by creating a diversity task force. Mr. Sulzer recruited city and county officials, ministers, school administrators, community members and educators to join him in the effort.

The mayor’s reason for creating the group is simple: “The unfortunate thing is we’re seeing a lot of hate groups becoming more visible, not just here but throughout the state, and I think this is an appropriate response to that.”

In recent years, hate crimes in the community have increased. Swastika graffiti was found on an African American family’s home last spring. Other graffiti depicting a lynching and racial slurs was found in a park bathroom. In February of 2008, a Martin Luther King march in the town was disrupted when residents came across a large sign on the back of a pickup truck that read, “A real white person would not march for MLK.”

Instead of the usual method of a fruitless police investigation, which usually fails to apprehend the culprits, the mayor hopes that his task force will help to prevent incidents from happening completely through education and awareness. “We’re hoping this group can act as a voice for the community,” Sulzer said.

The task force has also had meetings with officials from the FBI, Department of Justice and the US Attorney General’s Office. A member of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division detailed how relatively simple and cost effective a task force like this can be. He stated, “This can be a volunteer effort and not cost the city anything,” “Part of this is in training the youth, teachers, police officers, and offering interfaith dialogue — getting groups worshiping together who normally wouldn’t.”

Ohio has turned into a hotbed of white nationalist activity recently, with groups such as the Counsel of Conservative Citizens setting up new branches throughout the state. Be that as it may, it’s nice to hear about a community that has decided to take a stand against white nationalist’s who are spreading hate. With the increase in hate groups and hate group activity, other communities should follow Chillicothe’s lead. Creating a task force is relatively easy and cost-effective for most communities as long as there are residents committed to making it work.

One of the main goals of white nationalist groups is to divide communities by increasing tension between different racial groups. By creating a successful diversity task force like the newly formed one in Chillicothe, a community can defeat racism by bringing the entire community, men, women, and children of all races together in an effort to eradicate hate crimes.

Learn more HERE.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Sermon: Democracy, Religion, and Overcoming Prejudice

Leadership and Human Rights

This Arcus Foundation video tribute to NAACP Chairman Julian Bond was shown at the July 2009 Spingarn Medal Dinner during the NAACP's Centennial Convention.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Jocks Pose for Photos to Fight Homophobia

Wouldn't It Be Cool If Venango County Started Such A Campaign?

If Local Leaders And Everyday People Throughout The Oil Region Got Involved In Making Sure That All People Felt Welcome and Respected In Our Communities, Schools, Churches, Businesses, Etc.?

Hopefully Someday ...

from The Advocate:

The high-profile muscled jocks of Australia’s national rugby team, the Qantas Wallabies, have joined forces with the country’s largest LGBT-focused health and HIV/AIDS organization for a campaign to fight discrimination against LGBT people.

Team captain Stirling Mortlock and other players were photographed holding handwritten signs championing inclusiveness in sports as part of the This Is Oz campaign, an online photo blog where users can upload photos of themselves with messages that challenge homophobia and celebrate diversity and social inclusion.

"Having the Wallabies and the Australian Rugby Union demonstrating their support for social inclusion for GLBT people will hopefully increase visibility for the campaign [and] help change attitudes amongst some rugby supporters who might otherwise think it's OK to be antigay," AIDS Council of New South Wales CEO Stevie Clayton said in a media release. "[It] sends a message to young GLBT people that there is a place for them in a rugby union."

The Wallabies also showed solidarity with gay rugby team the Sydney Convicts by posing with players in photos for the project. The Convicts, founded in 2004 as Australia's first gay rugby team, are the current titleholders of the Bingham Cup, the International Gay Rugby Association's world championship.

"To have representatives of the national rugby union team taking a public and positive stance against homophobia speaks volumes to counter negative stereotypes,” Sydney Convicts president Charlie Winn said. “It also sends a message to the many young players that their role models at the professional level accept diversity and support our community."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Now Is The Time To Lead

America's Gay Leadership Crisis

by Rupert Russell for The Huffington Post:

The leadership struggle for civil equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans is in crisis. A glut of organizations, with competing interests and shifting priorities, of professional lobbyists pitted against grassroots activists, splintered over race and religion, jostling for influence whilst shirking responsibility, has created an unprecedented leadership vacuum.

It is this crisis of leadership -- not the conservative movement, the Republican Party or the Mormon Church -- that represents the single greatest threat to LGBTQ rights. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the attempts to overturn Proposition 8 and restore marriage equality to California.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest group, is abstaining from this "state" issue to focus on federal campaigns. A host of groups, lead by Prepare to Prevail, is undermining a 2010 attempt. Equality California, the single organization charged with repealing Prop 8, decided to ignore a ballot of its membership who voted 69 to 24 percent in favor of a 2010 challenge, to put it off until 2012 because that's when the "experts" told them they could win it.

So, the very organizations that so vocally criticized Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration for asking the LBGTQ community to "wait" for the appropriate political moment, have come to embrace the very same principle of "the fierce urgency of whenever," as Andrew Sullivan aptly puts it. Now, it is the Human Rights Campaign and Equality California, and not just the Democrats, who say: cut your checks now and wait a little longer, equality is right around the corner.

And they have been waiting, patiently: 13 years for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, 16 years to end Don't Ask Don't Tell, 22 years to lift the HIV travel and immigration ban, and 233 years to have their relationships recognized by a Republic that declared "all men are created equal."

Maybe the "experts" have a point. Isn't the practical road just the safest route to a principled destination? According to them, we must wait until support for repeal reaches a safe number, around 60%. How is this to be achieved? They say by a coordinated "grass-roots" campaign, "outreach" initiatives to minority communities, and "generational replacement," which is a cruel euphemism for waiting for our opponents to die.

Yet attempting to launch any mass volunteer based movement with the expectation that it will be able shift 10 points in the polls in the absence of an election campaign is perhaps the least practical of any of the options considered. The idea behind their thinking is that little actual campaigning needs to be done because in the long term society will move in a linear progression towards marriage equality by itself. But the long view has a short-term memory, forgetting that was precisely the mindset of activists in the 1970s on the eve of the Reagan-led conservative backlash that set them back decades.

Nor is this the consensus among political professionals: Steve Hildebrand, the deputy campaign manager for Obama's presidential bid, recently declared that "2010 is the right time to courageously win back marriage rights in California -- as strongly as I felt when I decided to devote two years of my life to help Barack Obama run for President despite warnings from the pundits and pollsters that he would never occupy the Oval Office."

America's LGBTQ leaders only want to lead when there is nobody left to be led. This could not be more opposed to the very leader from their own community who has been posthumously awarded this week the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Harvey Milk. Milk was not afraid to risk defeat, and was defeated many, many times. He also understood that each time he went into battle he was one step closer to winning the war, whether he won or lost.

This was not hopeless idealism, but a kind of pragmatism that is entirely missing from our political culture. Let us not forgot that the when the Brigg's Initiative was first placed on the ballot in September 1978, 61 to 31 percent favored the passage of the proposition. Had it passed, it would have fired the homosexual employees of California's public schools, under the slogan of Anita Bryant's "Save our Children." In fewer than three months, the numbers had flipped with 58% voting against the measure. The consultants who say we must wait for 60% approval before committing to a vote should take note of Briggs and Bryant's defeat.

At a time when gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are flourishing in America's public life like never before, those charged with advancing their civil equality have retreated into the closet. In the spirit of Milk, it's time to say: "come out!" not just to your friends and your families, but your own communities who need you now like never before. Now is the time to lead.

Rupert Russell is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Harvard University

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health Care for All, or Gay Couples Rights?

By Lisa Duggan for Bully Bloggers, the queer bully pulpit you never dreamed of:

The battle royal has now been engaged over the question of whether health care reform will include a public option, with insurance industry flacks and free market ideologues drumming up hysteria and hauling out the loonies to denounce any public option as “socialist” (I wish) and “Nazi” (say what?), while mild mannered liberals defend it for bringing “choice and competition” to the health insurance markets. It’s a hard war to watch, given that the so-called public option is a pale shadow of single payer–the approach that might bring provide universal quality care without siphoning buckets of money into executive salaries and profits for the health care robber barons.

But here’s my question for today: Where are the homosexuals? While all the mainstream gay groups and lgbt media and bloggers are rehashing Prop 8 and planning a march for equality in October, honey, Rome is burning right here right now. Much of the furor over marriage rights in the United States is fueled by the desire for access to health care–employment and marriage being the primary routes for insurance coverage.

In countries with universal health care, the battle over same sex marriage rights has been much less intense and consequential. Gaining universal access to health care in the U.S. now would meet the widespread need that is now largely expressed in campaigns for partnership recognition. In addition, it could address the crying need for adequate health care for masses of queers who have no wish to marry. In the large balancing scale of benefits–free universal health care, or single payer, would do more for The Gays than marriage equality. So where are the gay groups and activists? Where have they been for the past decade when organizing for single payer might have helped push it onto the national political agenda, before it was so unceremoniously replaced by the “public option”? And where are they now that the public option may be replaced by the even paler, more impotent health co-op plan?

Are gay groups and activists serious about gaining concrete benefits for queer constituencies–homeless kids, transgendered sex workers, lgbt populations that are unemployed, elderly, migrant or immigrant, disabled and sick? If so, then it would make a lot more sense to spend $50 million in donor funds pushing for free universal health care, than even thinking about spending that sum to redo the Prop 8 referendum next year. Should we rename the current organizations to peg them as the Gay Couples Rights Movement?

Access to health care is a national emergency, for queers folks more than most. Thousands line up for health care

It’s past time for us all to mobilize on the front lines of this political battle–it matters more to more queers than marriage ever will.

Queer Prehistory

The Gay-Rights Movement Did Not Begin With The Stonewall Riots In 1969.

(How Are We Shaping and Documenting the Movement for Fairness & Equality for All in Venango County?)

by Doug Ireland for In These Times:

Myth has it that the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village were the first open queer rebellion against discrimination. Not so. In 1965, the first queer sit-ins on record took place at a late-night Philadelphia coffee shop and lunch counter called Dewey’s, a popular hangout for young gays, lesbians and drag queens.

The establishment began refusing service to this LGBT clientele, prompting a protest rally on April 25, 1965. Dewey’s management turned away more than 150 patrons while the demonstration went on outside. Four teens resisted efforts to force them out and were arrested and later convicted of disorderly conduct. In the ensuing weeks, Dewey’s patrons and others from Philadelphia’s gay community set up an informational picket line protesting the lunch counter’s treatment of gender-variant youth. On May 2, activists staged another sit-in, and the police were again called, but this time made no arrests. The restaurant backed down, and promised “an immediate cessation of all indiscriminate denials of service.”

In August 1966, there was a riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, a 24-hour San Francisco eatery popular with drag queens and other gender-benders, hustlers, runaway teens and cruising gays. The Compton’s management had begun calling police to roust this nonconformist clientele, and one night a drag queen precipitated the riot by throwing a cup of coffee into the face of a cop who was trying to drag her away. Plates, trays, cups and silverware were soon hurtling through the air, police paddy wagons arrived, and street fighting broke out. Some of the 60 or so rioting drag queens hit the cops with their heavy purses, a police car was vandalized and a newspaper stand was burned down. The Compton’s Riot eventually led to the appointment of the first police liaison to the gay community.

These are just two of the many nuggets of little-known or forgotten queer history to be found in Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation (City Lights, June 2009), the new anthology edited by Tommi Avicolli Mecca, himself a veteran of the earliest gay liberation struggles, and today a San Francisco-based gender-bending performance artist.

By the time of the Stonewall riots in June 1969, rebellion and radicalism were in the air. The country had been riven by the mass agitation against the war in Vietnam. America’s cities had exploded in urban riots by the black underclass. Feminists had begun to articulate their own liberation ideology and burn their bras. Stonewall and the militant gay liberation movement to which it gave birth arose out of this ’60s turbulence.

If the first night of the Stonewall riots was spontaneous, the ensuing nights benefited from activist participation. Mark Segal, who for 32 years has been the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News writes, “Marty Robinson recruited me into the ‘activist group,’ a subgroup of Mattachine New York. If there were organizers of the demonstrations on the nights following the [first] Stonewall riot, it was us. After the first incident in which cops raided the bar, Marty had the brilliant idea to have us write in chalk on Christopher Street, ‘Stonewall Tomorrow Night.’ For three more nights, we gathered and protested.”

Stonewall became the much-evoked milestone because it was followed by the launch of a concrete and militant political organization, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). Within two years, imitators of the New York GLF had launched some 300 independent Gay Liberation Front cells across the country. At GLF demonstrations, one frequently heard the chant “2-4-6-8, smash the church, smash the state!”—hence the title of Avicolli Mecca’s collection of articles.

Nick Benton, a founder of the Berkeley Gay Liberation Front, writes that for him and his fellow GLF activists, “gay liberation was part of the larger struggle of human beings for liberation, in solidarity with the civil rights, anti-war, feminist, and Third World liberation struggles.”

The personal testimonies collected for Smash the Church, Smash the State! help recreate those heady, joyously rambunctious days of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.” Queers, influenced by the hippies, Yippies and Zippies, built their own radical wing of the youth counterculture and created their own influential publications—including Boston’s Fag Rag, which published the notorious Charlie Shively article, “Cocksucking As an Act of Revolution.”

There are contributions by women who tired of the male domination of GLF and founded groups like RadicalLesbians, RedStockings and Dyketactics. There are also accounts both of radical gay liberation’s earliest and often campy direct actions and of the factional fights that eventually destroyed GLF and led to its replacement by the much larger—and single-issue—Gay Activists Alliance.

Avicolli Mecca has not abandoned the anarchic radicalism of those early days. He writes in his introduction, “In many ways, the new millennium gay movement is the antithesis of the early ’70s gay liberation. It cavorts with politicians who may be good on gay issues, but not on concerns affecting other disenfranchised communities. It courts corporate support for its … pride parades, which used to be be protest marches and celebrations of the Stonewall Riots. Now those marches seem more of a market than a movement.”

On this 40th anniversary of Stonewall, that’s a critique that deserves to be heard.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Right To Pursue Happiness: An Unexpected Ally’s Road to Championing Same-Sex Marriage

from The New York Times:

Theodore B. Olson’s office is a testament to his iconic status in the conservative legal movement. A framed photograph of Ronald Reagan, the first of two Republican presidents Mr. Olson served, is warmly inscribed with “heartfelt thanks.” Fifty-five white quills commemorate each of his appearances before the Supreme Court, where he most famously argued the 2000 election case that put George W. Bush in the White House. On the bookshelf sits a Defense Department medal honoring his legal defense of Mr. Bush’s counter-terrorism policies after Sept. 11.

But in a war room down the hall, where Mr. Olson is preparing for what he believes could be the most important case of his career, the binders stuffed with briefs, case law and notes offer a different take on a man many liberals love to hate. They are filled with arguments Mr. Olson hopes will lead to a Supreme Court decision with the potential to reshape the legal and social landscape along the lines of cases like Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade: the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide.

Given the traditional battle lines on the issue, Mr. Olson’s decision to file a lawsuit challenging California’s recent ban on same-sex marriage has stirred up stereotype-rattled suspicion on both sides.

“For conservatives who don’t like what I’m doing, it’s, ‘If he just had someone in his family we’d forgive him,’ ” Mr. Olson said. “For liberals it’s such a freakish thing that it’s, ‘He must have someone in his family, otherwise a conservative couldn’t possibly have these views.’ It’s frustrating that people won’t take it on face value.”

While Mr. Olson came to the case by a serendipitous route that began late last year with Rob Reiner, a Hollywood director widely known for his Democratic activism, he said his support of same-sex marriage stemmed from longstanding personal and legal conviction. He sees nothing inconsistent with that stance and his devotion to conservative legal causes: The same antipathy toward government discrimination, he said, inspired him to take up another cause that many on the right applauded — a lengthy campaign to dismantle affirmative action programs.

A hearing in the marriage case, filed on behalf of two gay couples, is scheduled for Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco. Practicing his opening argument recently, Mr. Olson declared that California’s ban is “utterly without justification” and stigmatizes gay men and lesbians as “second-class and unworthy.”

“This case,” he said afterward, “could involve the rights and happiness and equal treatment of millions of people.”

Chuck Cooper, who is representing proponents of California’s ban, argues that such a “radical redefinition of the ancient institution of marriage” would require the court to find a right that does not exist in the Constitution — the very type of judicial activism Mr. Olson has long decried. “I never expected him to take this case, or at least not this side of it,” said Mr. Cooper, a friend of Mr. Olson from the Reagan Justice Department.

The lawsuit comes as societal views on same-sex marriage are rapidly evolving. Six states have now authorized gay couples to marry, and the politics of the issue increasingly defy convention. President Obama, for example, has said he opposes same-sex marriage, while former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter is a lesbian, supports it.

Even so, Mr. Olson’s involvement stands out. As one of the leading Supreme Court advocates of his generation, he commands wide respect in the legal community, and his views carry considerable weight with the justices, according to Steven G. Calabresi, a law professor at Northwestern University and a leader with Mr. Olson in the Federalist Society, a hothouse for conservative legal theory.

“While some will think that this is an unpardonable error and rethink their views on Ted,” Mr. Calabresi said, “I think it will cause others to take a second look at the argument he is making.”

In the gay community, though, conspiracy theories initially abounded that Mr. Olson had taken the case to sabotage it. While many have since come around, fears remain that a loss in the closely divided Supreme Court could deal a setback to the movement.

Opponents have flooded Mr. Olson with accusatory and sometimes hate-filled e-mail. “A disgraceful betrayal of the legal principles you purported to stand for,” read one message. “Homo” read another.

Conservative colleagues are kinder, but many remain bewildered. Former Judge Robert H. Bork, a close friend who has called same-sex marriage a “judicial sin,” said he could not bear to speak to Mr. Olson about the case.

“I don’t want to get into an argument,” Mr. Bork said. “But I’d like to know why.”

Unexpected Ally

Last November, Mr. Reiner and his wife, Michele, invited two prominent Democratic consultants, Chad Griffin and Kristina Schake, to lunch at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Ten days before, voters had passed Proposition 8, an amendment to the California Constitution negating a State Supreme Court decision that had briefly legalized same-sex marriage. Mr. Griffin, who had come out eight years earlier, said he felt like he had been gut-punched.

As the friends commiserated and discussed what to do next, an acquaintance named Kate Moulene stopped by. In a phone conversation later that afternoon, she suggested that Ms. Reiner contact her sister’s former husband, a leading constitutional lawyer. His name was Ted Olson, she said, and “knowing him as I do, I bet he’d be on your side of this.”

“Ted Olson?” Ms. Reiner recalls exclaiming. “Why on earth would I want to talk to him?”

Mr. Olson’s reputation, after all, went far beyond Bush v. Gore. As head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department in the Reagan administration, Mr. Olson had been an architect of the president’s drive to ease government regulation and end race-based school busing and affirmative action set-asides in federal contracting. He later provided assistance to those seeking to impeach President Bill Clinton.

As Mr. Bush’s solicitor general, in charge of representing the government before the Supreme Court, Mr. Olson became identified with the administration’s broad interpretation of its wartime power in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, in which his wife, Barbara, a conservative commentator, was killed. (Mr. Olson nonetheless privately counseled that terrorism suspects be given certain basic legal rights, administration officials said, correctly predicting that failure to do so would lead to Supreme Court setbacks.)

Still, Mr. Reiner was intrigued. The tactician in him saw the wisdom of hiring a lawyer who had won 44 of the 55 Supreme Court cases he argued; the director grasped the dramatic impact of such a casting decision. He dispatched Mr. Griffin to consult with experts about the feasibility of a federal court challenge to Proposition 8 and to gauge Mr. Olson’s interest.

“I thought, if someone as conservative as Ted Olson were to get involved in this issue, it would go a long, long way in terms of presenting this in the right kind of light,” Mr. Reiner said.

In fact, Mr. Olson’s history was more complex than Mr. Reiner imagined.

Mr. Olson had become active in the Republican Party as a college and law student in California in the 1960s, long before the rise of the religious right and its focus on social issues. He gravitated toward a particularly Western brand of conservatism that valued small government and maximum individual liberty, becoming one of a few law students at the University of California, Berkeley to support Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential bid.

At the time, the South was riven by racial strife, and during a college debate trip to Texas, Mr. Olson got his first close-up view of blatant discrimination. Lady Booth Olson, a lawyer whom Mr. Olson married in 2006, said he still tears up when telling how a black teammate was turned away from a restaurant in Amarillo. Mr. Olson “tore into the owner,” insisting the team would not eat unless everyone was served, recalled the team’s coach, Paul Winters. “If he sees something that is wrong in his mind, he goes after it,” Mr. Winters said.

Years later, during the Reagan administration, when Mr. Olson was asked if the Justice Department could dismiss a prosecutor for being gay, he wrote that it was “improper to deny employment or to terminate anyone on the basis of sexual conduct.” In 1984, Mr. Olson returned to private practice and was succeeded by Mr. Cooper, his adversary in the marriage case. The switch eliminated “what was seen as a certain libertarian squishiness at the Office of Legal Counsel under Ted,” Mr. Calabresi said.

During the Bush administration, Mr. Olson was consulted on a plan to amend the Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. “What were we thinking putting something like that in the Constitution?” he recalls telling the White House.

Around that time, state legislatures were debating alternatives to same-sex marriage like civil unions, but Mr. Olson said he saw them as political half-measures that continued to treat gay men and lesbians as separate and unequal. Over dinner at a Capitol Hill restaurant, he argued that marriage was an essential component of happiness that gay couples had every right to enjoy, recalled David Frum, a conservative author and former Bush speechwriter.

“I was really impressed and struck by how important the issue was to him,” Mr. Frum said. “The majority view at the table was on the other side, but his view was, ‘You have to make peace with this because it is sure to happen, and you will see it in your lifetime.’ ”

Confident Advocate

Mr. Olson signed on to the California case after a meeting at Mr. Reiner’s home last December, telling the group gathered there that he would not “just be some hired gun,” Ms. Schake recalled. In fact, he had already rebuffed a query about defending Proposition 8.

Still, to allay suspicions on the left, he suggested bringing on his adversary in Bush v. Gore, David Boies, whom he had since befriended. Both lawyers agreed to waive part of their fees.

“I thought, why wouldn’t I take this case?” Mr. Olson said. “Because someone at the Federalist Society thinks I’d be making bad law? I wouldn’t be making bad law.”

In Mr. Olson’s analysis, the situation in California presents a favorable set of facts for an equal protection argument. Proposition 8 created three classes: straight couples who could marry, gay men and lesbians who had married in the brief period before the ban, and gay couples who wanted to marry but now could not.

As he began honing the arguments, he sounded out a few confidants, including his wife, Lady.

One of those whose advice he sought was Robert McConnell, a friend from the Reagan Justice Department. Mr. McConnell, a practicing Catholic, said he told Mr. Olson that as a religious matter, he believed that marriage ought to be reserved for two people who can procreate. He said Mr. Olson replied that while he respected his convictions, he considered it a civil-rights issue.

Mr. Olson, who is not a regular churchgoer, began to elaborate on his view that religious beliefs were insufficient legal justification for government to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage, but soon paused. “You don’t agree with me, do you?” Mr. McConnell recalled him saying.

Ms. Olson, a Democrat, said she was thrilled that “on this case we’ll be on the same wavelength.” She said Mr. Olson’s mother, Yvonne, expressed some initial concern that a court decision overturning Proposition 8 would disenfranchise voters, but came around after Mr. Olson explained that voters cannot impose mandates that violate constitutionally protected rights.

In the lawsuit, filed in May, he asserted that Proposition 8 had done just that.

Since then, he and Mr. Cooper have been filing dueling briefs.

The Supreme Court has long recognized marriage between men and women as a right, most notably in a 1967 case overturning bans on interracial marriage. Since sexual orientation, unlike race, is not mentioned in the Constitution, the question is whether that right extends to gay men and lesbians.

The answer, in Mr. Cooper’s view, can be found in a 1970 case, in which the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that marriage could be limited to men and women. But Mr. Olson points to two more recent Supreme Court cases.

The first is a 1996 decision in which six of the nine justices, citing equal protection grounds, struck down an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that stripped gay residents of existing civil rights protections. This, Mr. Olson argues, is similar to Proposition 8’s negating the California Supreme Court decision that recognized the rights of gay couples to marry.

The second is the court’s 6-3 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down laws criminalizing sodomy in 2003. Not only did the majority find that Texas had no rational basis to intrude into private sexual behavior protected by the Constitution’s due process clause, it also declared that gay men and lesbians should be free to enter into relationships in their homes and “still retain their dignity.”

Mr. Cooper asserts that Mr. Olson is stretching the scope of the Lawrence decision, pointing out that it dealt with the criminalization of private sexual behavior, not a state’s duty to recognize a marriage. But Mr. Olson notes that no less a conservative than Justice Antonin Scalia argued in a blistering dissent that the majority in Lawrence had indeed opened the door to same-sex marriage.

Given that the Lawrence case established gay sex as a protected right, Mr. Olson argues, the state must demonstrate that it has a rational basis for discriminating against a class of citizens simply for engaging in that behavior.

He dismisses Mr. Cooper’s contention that the California ban is justified by that state’s interest in encouraging relationships that promote procreation and the raising of children by biological parents. If sexual orientation is not a choice — and Mr. Olson argues that it is not — then the ban is not going to encourage his clients to enter into heterosexual, child-producing marriages, he insists. Moreover, he says, California has waived the right to make that argument by recognizing domestic partnerships that bestow most benefits of marriage.

And that is if the state wanted to: Mr. Olson structured the lawsuit so the named defendants are two proponents of same-sex marriage, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown. Both have filed helpful briefs questioning the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

Last month, at a Federalist Society lunch, Mr. Olson delivered his annual roundup of the Supreme Court term. He was greeted warmly, but there was palpable discomfort over the marriage case. Not a single person mentioned it to him, save for an oblique ribbing by David Bossie, whom Mr. Olson is representing in a case involving his scathing documentary about Hillary Rodham Clinton. After pecking Ms. Olson on the cheek, Mr. Bossie told her husband, “I’m not going to kiss you, even though apparently you wouldn’t mind.”

William Bradford Reynolds, another Reagan-era colleague, said later that while Mr. Olson presented a thoughtful case, “He’s taking a more assertive view of how one should interpret the Constitution than you would normally expect Ted to take.”

Mr. Olson is confident. Paul Katami, one of the plaintiffs recruited for the lawsuit, recalled Mr. Olson’s words shortly before it was announced: “He put his arm around me and said, ‘We’re going to plan your wedding in a couple of years — this is going to happen.’ ”

Paragraph 175, a film about yesterday and today

While this award-winning film from 2000 is about persecution of homosexuals in 1930s Germany, it raises questions about the ultimate goals of today's "traditional family values" activists.

It also serves as a reminder of just how important it is to participate as fully as possible in the ongoing struggle for justice, fairness & equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other marginalized people.

By the 1920’s, Berlin had become known as a homosexual Eden, where gay men and lesbians lived relatively open lives amidst an exciting subculture of artists and intellectuals.

With the coming to power of the Nazis, all this changed. Between 1933 and 1945 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality under Paragraph 175, the sodomy provision of the German penal code dating back to 1871. Some were imprisoned, others were sent to concentration camps. Of the latter, only about 4,000 survived.

Today, fewer than ten of these men are known to be living. Five of them have now come forward to tell their stories for the first time in this powerful new film.

The Nazi persecution of homosexuals may be the last untold story of the Third Reich. Paragraph 175 fills a crucial gap in the historical record, and reveals the lasting consequences of this hidden chapter of 20th century history, as told through personal stories of men and women who lived through it: the half Jewish gay resistance fighter who spent the war helping refugees in Berlin; the Jewish lesbian who escaped to England with the help of a woman she had a crush on; the German Christian photographer who was arrested and imprisoned for homosexuality, then joined the army on his release because he “wanted to be with men”; the French Alsatian teenager who watched as his lover was tortured and murdered in the camps.

These are stories of survivors -- sometimes bitter, but just as often filled with irony and humor; tortured by their memories, yet infused with a powerful will to endure. Their moving testimonies, rendered with evocative images of their lives and times, tell a haunting, compelling story of human resilience in the face of unspeakable cruelty.

Intimate in its portrayals, sweeping in its implications, Paragraph 175 raises provocative questions about memory, history, and identity.

Learn more about the film HERE.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Gay Agenda in Northeast Pennsylvania

A quick link to a nice essay about Pride in Northeastern Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.

Check it out over on the Andrew Plus blog.

What They Call An Agenda, We Call Our Lives

This video, posted on the Fishermen's Net, "a communications tool for Venango County area churches" operated by Lighthouse Ministries of Franklin, provides a glimpse of the beliefs and attitudes that exist here in our communities and the people with whom we need to work to find common ground in order to ensure justice, fairness & equality for all.

What Some Of The Speakers Call An Agenda, We Simply Call Our Lives!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Old Lesbians Organizing for Change

We are a national network of Old Lesbians over age 60 working to make life better for Old Lesbians and to confront ageism in our communities and our country using education and public discourse as primary tools.

During biennial National Gatherings hundreds of us come together to share experiences and ideas and recharge our energies for the tasks at hand.

Our national organization is directed by a Steering Committee that works with local Chapters who operate in their own communities and encourages Regional OLOC Gatherings.

We love sharing our wisdom, experience strengths and laughs with our communities as well as among ourselves.

Learn more about Old Lesbians Organizing for Change HERE.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cool Organization: The Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute

Who Will Be The First Openly-LGBT Leaders In Venango County?

And How Soon Can We Help Make It Happen?

The Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute equips LGBT leaders for success. Through its training and professional development programs, the Leadership Institute assists hundreds of individuals who go on to influential careers in politics, government, business and advocacy each year. Founded in 1993, the Leadership Institute is a tax-exempt educational and research organization.

Learn all about the Institute HERE.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kiss-In for Marriage Equality in Erie - Saturday August 15

from the Erie Times-News:

It promises to be the epitome of nonviolent protests.

A kiss-in, one of many throughout the country, is planned Saturday, August 15, on the steps of the Erie County Courthouse, 140 W. Sixth St.

At exactly 2 p.m., people from Erie to Albuquerque, N.M., plan to put their lips together to protest recent cases in which gay couples in Salt Lake City, San Antonio and El Paso, Texas, were harassed by officials or arrested after kissing in public.

Though the event is in support of gay couples, a local supporter of the Great Nationwide Kiss-In said he hopes people of all orientations will kiss to support equal rights.

"The folks here are fairly tolerant," said Mike Mahler, of the Erie Gay News. "This event emphasizes that small shows of affection are really nothing."

Mary Zuck, who is organizing the local protest, said she doesn't know how large a crowd it will draw.

Handbills were distributed at the Erie Art Museum Blues and Jazz Festival, and information has been sent to local media. Zuck said she hopes the proximity to Perry Square will attract people attending CelebrateErie.

"It should be a fun hour or so," she said.

David Badash, a blogger for the same-sex marriage advocacy Web site, initiated the protest in a July 13 post. The idea has since spread to cities throughout the U.S. and Canada through social networking outlets such as Facebook.

Erie and Philadelphia are the only Pennsylvania cities in which protests have been announced.


Rainbow Families of Erie

Erie’s newest LGBT group... Our focus is on LGBT families and our children.

We are a new group, that is going to plan monthly outings that are family oriented, and focused on our children forming bonds and friendships with families like ours.

Learn more about Rainbow Families of Erie HERE.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Gay Community of Northeastern Pennsylvania Celebrates Pride Fest '09

By Steve Mocarsky for the Times-Leader:

WILKES-BARRE – Hundreds of people clapped and cheered on “Miss Estella Sweet” as she sang Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and her fellow drag queens danced along with her.
click image to enlarge

Sweet’s second Queens of NEPA show on Sunday was the finale for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Rainbow Alliance’s second annual gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community festival at Kirby Park.

Rainbow Alliance Executive Director John Dawe estimated more than 1,000 people filled the park to celebrate being a part of or to show support for Northeastern Pennsylvania’s gay community at PrideFest 2009.

He based those numbers on the fact that the alliance had 900 PrideFest stickers to distribute and quickly ran out after the five-hour festival started at noon.

Committee member Bill Brown said the head count hit 1,000 by 3 p.m., and another 300 to 500 people showed up “when the sun came out.”

“It’s just amazing the amount of growth. The biggest thing … was the amount of vendors and sponsors,” Dawe said, noting that vendors and exhibitors more than doubled to 43 since last year’s festival.

Elva Valentine, owner of Valentine’s Jewelry in Dallas, said she set up a table at the festival this year because “I think it’s important to show support of the gay community in Northeast Pennsylvania. It’s important to show there’s no threat and we can coexist and live together.”

Valentine said she didn’t expect to sell much jewelry, and by 4 p.m., she had not. “The point was to show we have appropriate jewelry and to sign people up for our e-mail list to get the word out there,” she said.

Christopher Kupchik, executive director of Berwick-based Caring Communities, said his organization provides free tests for HIV and syphilis for at-risk people. He’s trying to get the word out that there has been a rise in syphilis, especially among homosexual men.

“We had a good response. We tested about 45 people today, and that’s a great number,” he said.

Jo Vondenhuevel, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Wyoming Valley, said she and other members set up a table to let the gay community know that the church is “an open, liberal religious community, and we’re basically here to support people on any spiritual path they take.”

“It’s kind of tough because we are representing a church, but we’re not that Bible-pushing kind of church. A lot of people walk by us because they think that’s what will happen … and they’re turned off by that. But if they would just come check us out, they’d see we’re an awesome community,” Vondenhuevel said.

Mark Innocenzi, director of health and safety for the American Red Cross Wyoming Valley Chapter, said he attended to promote the Red Cross and programs such as those designed to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis, and recruit volunteers.

“There’s been a lot of interest. It’s not a one-way street. The Red Cross has always embraced the gay and lesbian community and the gay and lesbian community has always embraced the Red Cross, so we’re proud to be a part of this. It’s a wonderful event and really shows a very diverse community and I think that’s exciting,” Innocenzi said.

Cathy Burgi, a captain with Silent Witness PA, said about 14 members of that organization attended the festival to “provide a spiritual firewall between the protesters and the festival-goers.”

“I think things went well. There were no incidents and that’s the reason we were here. Last year, things got a little ugly. But this year, it was very successful,” Burgi said.

There was a quiet couple and two more-active protesters who held religious signs and shouted to attendees as they walked by them to the festival. “They got some people pretty riled up, but we encouraged people not to engage them,” Burgi said.

Overall, festival-goers enjoyed themselves once they entered the festival grounds.

Designed to be family-oriented, PrideFest offered a children’s tent with games and activities such as balloon animals and face painting by Outrageous Entertainment. Adult entertainment, in addition to the drag queen show, included solo and duet singers and instrumentalists, a magician, a poet, disc jockeys and a tarot card reader.

Hilary Hazus, 31, of Plains Township, said she came to the festival to support her friend, Cody Barry, 25, of Mountain Top.

Barry said he missed last year’s festival because he was out of town, but he came this year “to support the gay community.”

“It’s a great turnout. It could have been better, but it’s only going to get better. Good things take time,” he said.

Robyn Brozena, 16, of Larksville, said she and four other teenage friends – Natalie, Brittany, Gaby and Christy – “have gay friends and we came to support them.”

The girls posed for a photo with drag queen Liyahna Montgomery, 26, of Wilkes-Barre. “We like the drag queens and the music,” said Brittany Marra, 17, of Hanover Township.

Montgomery was touched by the support.

“I like the fact that they came out to support the drag queens. It’s an art for me. I try to show them that they can be sexy but also have class. I’m not dressed slutty, I have a bathing suit on. You can do a lot with rhinestones and a lot of talent,” Montgomery said after performing Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed.”

Montgomery said the festival is important to her and other members of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community “because we just want acceptance. We’re the same as everybody else except that we have the same(-sex) partner in bed. People should just accept us because we’re here and we’re staying.”

Dawe was encouraged not only by overall attendance, but by the number of straight people who attended the festival.

“It’s a real outpouring of community support. A lot of people think Northeast Pennsylvania is bigoted and intolerant. I think we proved that wrong today,” he said.


Learn more about the NEPA Rainbow Alliance at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Cultural Third Rails Of Race & Sexuality

Minority and Gay Constituencies Need to Reach Out to Communities that Attack Them and Win Hearts and Minds

by Pam Spaulding for

"At the Intersection: Race, Sexuality, and Gender," a comprehensive report released this week by the The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, is an excellent look at some of the third rails of cultural discussion that usually results in most conversations falling into silence for fear of conflict, offending someone, or having to realize one's own biases in front of others.'

One cannot develop cultural competency if the conversation is encouraged, but not taken in by those who need to listen and absorb the information to break down barriers. We saw the schism in the last election.

The November 2008 passage of Proposition 8 in California clearly showed what could happen when a group listens solely so it can repress others. Research has revealed that organizing efforts by religious and conservative forces were extensive, proactive and heavily funded. Such an observation is important because it also reveals that progressive -- or in this case, LGBT-specific -- organizing efforts were less effective at listening, canvassing, targeting and activating Californians in the same ways that conservative forces were. This ineffectiveness was a result of many significant forces, some of which included lack of access to populations historically left out of debates, basic information about these populations, and the resources -- including cultural competency needed -- to effectively reach the targeted populations.

The key findings of the report:

* Nearly all LGBT people of color say protections from violence and workplace discrimination are important; issues strong majorities of all Americans support in opinion polls. Violence and discrimination are also the most salient issues that connect three critical groups -- non-LGBT people, communities of color and white LGBT communities.

* Religious attitudes are a major source of sexual prejudice. For LGBT people of color, many of whom are regular churchgoers, the conflict is acute. More than half of LGBT people of color interviewed feel treated like sinners by their ethnic and racial communities, and faith communities are among the places LGBT people of color feel least accepted;

* LGBT people of color view the world first from the point of view of race and gender. Most feel there is as much racism and sexism among LGBT people as there is among non-LGBT people, and racially motivated violence and discrimination are more prevalent than violence or prejudice based on sexual orientation;

* LGBT people of color are serious media consumers, but they do not find enough information or see accurate media representations of themselves; "This report is a catalyst for the continuing conversations we all know are necessary to turn the reality of our diversity into inclusion of every member of the LGBT community," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "There are no simple 'answers' to the challenge of inclusion but creating a space where diverse voices can be a part of a dialogue presents opportunities for us to grow as a movement."

The findings are no surprise to me and are not probably a surprise to others, but where there is little agreement is the matter of who is responsible for effecting change (does this fall solely on the shoulders of out LGBTs of color, something tossed out there quite frequently when I raise the issue) and what are the methods of bridge building that need to be implemented. Take the quandry of the conservative black church, for instance.

Already fearful of losing connections, friendship and emotional shelter provided by their faith community if they come out, black gays and lesbians in the church now know that the homophobes in the pews and choirs, along with the bigoted pastors spewing hate from the pulpit, feel empowered to destroy those ties because of their own fear and ignorance. It makes you want to weep. One of Washington's largest black Baptist churches was upended several months ago by a female member of its choir who e-mailed messages to anti-gay Bishop Alfred Owens Jr. of the DC-based Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church outing more than 100 church members as gay, mostly male choir members, saying "I will be leaving the choir at the top of the year because 80 percent of the tenors are homosexuals and act more like a female in choir rehearsal than I do." That's so raw that you don't even know where to begin.

Also, the fact that religious opposition to civil marriage equality is irrelevant seems to escape some in the religious communities of color, even when they hold public office. I experienced this alternate reality first-hand when I participated in an Equality NC Day of Action at my state legislature and spoke with members of the Black Legislative Caucus about LGBT equality issues. One was a supporter of a state marriage amendment to ban gays and lesbians from marrying (and ban civil unions as well as domestic partnerships). I was with a small group of black LGBTs that came up to this legislator and asked her why she could promote institutionalized discrimination. Her reasons?

1) Because it's a "personal issue" for her. Her constituent pointed out that she is in the office because the voters in her district sent her to the General Assembly to represent them, not her personal feelings about legislation. That led the lawmaker to move on to the next reason...

2) "I'm a minister." She made it clear that she didn't want to have to disclose this bit of business, but since #1 didn't work out very well, this was the next hurdle to put up. The constituent, to her credit, challenged her on the issue of church-state separation, but the elected official wouldn't budge. Trying to have a reality-based conversation with someone who feels so strongly that there is no line between the two is like hitting a wall.

One of the black LGBTs with the group, in order to try to connect by humanizing the issue, told the story of friends of hers, a lesbian couple raising a child. One of the mothers is dying of a chronic illness, and in North Carolina there's nothing to legally protect them as a unit -- any will drawn up can be challenged by a homophobic family member, custody could be in jeopardy, and obviously there are myriad issues that are in play because of the lack of any kind of legal recognition.

The legislator was visibly moved by this story, but you could tell it left her in a quandry. That led to explanation #3.

3) "I'm not against anyone, one to one". She said this several times, as if to suggest that she's only protecting marriage by favoring the amendment, but is sympathetic to the concerns raised by the story of the lesbian couple. It's the classic "I'm really not a bigot" defense. No one wants to have that label placed upon them. Unfortunately that led Rep. Parmon to ramble into territory that was perilously close to civil unions without saying those words specifically. The problem, even if she only supports some limited legal recognition, is that the marriage amendment she supports says:

Marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.

That means no civil unions, no domestic partnerships, nada. It's written so broadly that even private company benefits offered to "same-sex spousal equivalents" could be jeopardized. If she supports some kind of way for that lesbian couple to protect their family unit if one passes away, she's negating any possible solution by supporting the amendment.

Afterwards we all commented how hurtful it was to be rendered "less-than" to our faces by this respected lawmaker, who, if she stepped into a time machine that took her only a few generations back in time, couldn't marry a person of the same race, let alone someone of another race -- and the bible was used to justify that. She looked at the people in her office in the eye and said that she "respects you as a person", but would, without any guilt, vote to ensure you aren't equal in the eyes of the law. It was painful, just painful. So we, as LGBTs of color, have a long way to go to if we're to build those internal bridges. But on the other side of the fence, the sense I gather from the reticence to date of the white LGBT community to do outreach in this arena seems to revolve around a couple of things based on the discussions on my blog:

* A surface assumption that all minorities or all POC LGBTs are somehow a cultural monolith any more than the white LGBT community is -- as in all are churched or all poor or working class, for instance and we're responsible for "fixing" the problem because they "can't". And the "can't" stems from...

* A reluctance to immerse themselves in outreach that challenges their own inherent biases and cultural ignorance of various communities of color for fear of rejection or embarrassment. It's an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position to be placed on the defensive, wary and feeling outnumbered -- something people of color have to deal with as a reality all the time. But minorities don't have the luxury of deciding whether we need to be competent regarding the dominant culture.

And the thing is, my blackness clearly doesn't provide any cover when addressing homophobia either. Just witness the scathing, sad, and quite frankly, ignorant comments in a piece I cross posted at HuffPost. Here's one of my favorites:

The States should & can handle social issues and are doing so what's the problem! Some people can just not be happy anymore without confrontation to to sad. I do not believe in gay marriage and do not hate anyone nor do I fear anything--- I Let Go and Let God have the Judgment day not my problem or am I in control of who loves who!.

My response:

You can't be serious with that statement. If we left matters of civil rights to the states, Jim Crow would still be in effect, Obama's parents would not have been able to marry, and poll taxes would still exist. How soon we forget. That's the level of ignorance I'm talking about; others made the quite accurate point that the LGBT community rarely gets behind social justice issues of concern to minorities. Honestly, this card can be played legitimately - because it's true.

I mean how elementary is it that if you want support from a community that you actually have to communicate with them to get your point across and win hearts and minds over. And that was one of the failures of Prop 8. And people have admitted as much, as efforts to get it overturned begin to gain support for another ballot initiative.

Organizers hope to reach Latinos, faith communities and African Americans, constituencies into which they previously failed to make in-roads. Their approach aims to blend slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk's put-a-human-face-on-the-issue activism with Barack Obama's neighbor-to-neighbor organizing.

What a lack of cross-community dialogue means for out minority LGBTs is that one has to be willing to put yourself out there to be attacked, over and over for addressing homophobia in communities of color knowing that few, if any, non-POC LGBTs are going to come forward to have your back. I see it time and again, with the excuses ranging from "I'll be called a racist" or "it doesn't feel safe to do this" or "it isn't my place to do it." And many of these excuses are from people who have the anonymity of the Internet to protect them. Now that's bad.

Well, it doesn't feel great to have your "black card" revoked any more than it feels to be called racist -- and I don't have the cover of anonymity. Of course that's my choice, but the work is so important; I hate to see the rancor and misunderstandings go on and on with the parties talking past one another. The sad thing is that so few black LGBTs are willing to live out, be out and challenge misguided assumptions that it makes it doubly difficult for those of color who do want to challenge the homophobia.

The thing is that are plenty of allies and leaders from the black community who do support full civil rights for LGBTs who can be cited when dealing with this issue - John Lewis, Julian Bond, Leonard Pitts, Al Sharpton, Gov. Deval Patrick, Gov. David Paterson, to name a few. Members of black community who consistently oppose LGBT rights conveniently choose to ignore these leaders -- they have to be called out on it.

And that's why "At the Intersection: Race, Sexuality, and Gender," is a must read.

HRC will host a live national conversation via webchat on Thursday, August 13th, at 3PM Eastern to spur commentary about the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender. Panelists include LZ Granderson (one of few out gay sports commentators on ESPN and the author of the CNN opinion piece "Gay is not the new black"), Rinku Sen, Bishop Rainey Cheeks, and Joshua Ulibarri. The moderator is the leader of this pioneering research Che-Ruddell Tabisola.