Thursday, June 24, 2004
by Wayne Besen
On a day dedicated to honoring fathers, my father was busy honoring me. Early Sunday afternoon he joined my mother and celebrated my life at a large gay pride event. While I gave him Fathers Day presents, it was he and my mother who gave me the gifts of unconditional love and support.
As we ate scrumptious Greek food my parents and I wondered what Mary Cheney – V.P. Dick’s re-closeted daughter who is running his reelection campaign – might say to him on Father’s Day. We imagined it would go something like this:
Mary: “Oh, Daddy, thanks for unlocking the closet in your bunker and letting me out.”
Dick: “Well, it is Father’s Day and you’ve been so very loyal to the Republican Party. You’ve even endured those awful homosexual activists who remind the world that you once gallivanted with Mr. Leather while you worked as Coors gay liaison.”
Mary: “I did miss Gay Pride this year, Daddy. Did Mr. Leather try to call me? The closet you put me in gets lousy cell reception.”
Dick: “He didn’t call. Besides, that one time Mom secretly went with you to Pride she got this kooky idea for a novel with lascivious lesbian characters.”
Mary: “I got you a gift Daddy!”
Dick: “Oh Sweetie, surrendering your dignity and self-respect for my career is quite enough.”
Mary: “But Daddy…”
Dick: “I’ve actually got a gift for you! I saw this Jerry Springer special on a phenomenon called lipstick-style lesbians. So, I pulled some strings and made you an appointment with the producer of Extreme Makeover. And just in time for the Republican convention! Sweetie, you don’t have to look like Ellen anymore! It’s part of our de-Gayification campaign, named after our wildly successful de-Bathification.”
Mary: Daddy, you’re the best.
On a more serious note, while my family dined, I suddenly felt a pang of guilt for being so fortunate. There are thousands of gay men and lesbians who come out and are suddenly estranged from their parents. Many gay teens are abandoned and callously heaved into the cruel streets.
One thing that I have always found maddening is that without a shred of scientific evidence the religious right blames male homosexuality on an absent father. The truth is there are countless gay men who are very close to their fathers and just as many heterosexual men who are not. There is clearly no cause and effect relationship.
Yet, on raucous television debates right wing spokespeople often bellow, “homosexuals are not born, they are made!”
But if gay people are “made”, conservative families must be industrial factories so successful at churning out freshly minted homosexuals that they might qualify for an enormous Bush tax break.
Consider that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s half-sister Candace is a lesbian. John Schlafly, son of right wing crusader Phyllis Schlafly, is homosexual. The late California Sen. William ‘Pete’ Knight – a vociferous same-sex marriage opponent – has a gay son, David Knight. The late Barry Goldwater has a gay grandson, Ty Ross. And even Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry’s adopted son Jamiel Terry recently announced he is gay.
How can these right wing zealots keep fighting the so-called “Gay Agenda” when they are the “Gay Agenda”?
As the Republican Party steps up its drive for a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage, it is time for Republicans with gay relatives to start acting like real mothers and fathers. With attacks intensifying on their children Dick Cheney and others should start putting family values over fundamentalist votes and parental loyalty over party loyalty.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
by Wayne Besen
In June 1969, a few courageous gay men, lesbians and drag queens fought back against police when they raided the Stonewall Inn bar in New York City. Back in those days, homosexuals were routinely harassed by police and could be arrested simply for frequenting gay establishments or dancing with someone of the same sex. This act of civil disobedience is generally recognized as the birth of the modern gay rights movement and commemorated across the world each June with huge parades.
Over the past few decades Gay Pride parades have become one of most celebrated, yet misunderstood events in America. Pride represents revelry for millions of people, but also revulsion from conservatives and some mainstream Americans who recoil at the in-your-face displays of sexuality.
Even relatively pro-gay friends of mine have trouble understanding how Gay Pride furthers the quest for equal rights. They ask, "How does a flabby guy wearing a leather jock-strap while gyrating on-top of a float help the cause? How does a person dressed as a six foot tampon standing on ten foot stilts bring understanding and help end discrimination?"
Well, it probably doesn't help. No one has ever said, "That half-naked lesbian wearing body paint, hot pants and roller skates really opened my mind. I think I'll call my Congressperson and demand he or she votes for gay rights legislation."
But to focus simply on a political message or gratuitous nudity misses the point. Gay Pride has evolved and is no longer just about politics. Today, Pride is a celebration that means many things to many people.
Think of it like Christmas. Some people are very serious about the holiday, having yard signs that proclaim, "Jesus is the reason for the season." Other people see it as a big party and say, "No, it's all about the new and exciting gifts and eggnog!"
The strength of Pride is the beautiful diversity of these mammoth gatherings that can amass more than a half million people in metropolises such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
Some people are at Pride representing gay associations for lawyers, doctors and airline pilots. Gay marriage advocates are always in abundance. There are mothers and fathers marching to support their gay kids. There are clergy representing pro-gay theological viewpoints. Some people are there to celebrate coming out. And, of course, others are there for the pageantry, spectacle and even exhibitionism.
Pride is not a tightly controlled event, nor should it be. It is an open invitation celebrating freedom and self-expression for everyone - gay or straight. And open invitations have a tendency to bring out the serious as well as the strange.
Gay Pride has morphed in to a slightly more political version of Mardi Gras. The only difference is that when straight people get naked for beads in the French Quarter, no one says, "Look at that decadent heterosexual lifestyle." It is clearly understood that this is the activity of a few individuals, not all straight people. The over the top displays at Gay Pride should be looked at through this same discerning, non-discriminatory lens.
Unfortunately, the media often tends to focus on the most outrageous images in the parade and affix political meaning where none may exist. And there is no shortage of nutty right wing groups who exploit these parades for financial gain. In their quest for self-righteous - or is it self serving - morality, these groups ignore hundreds of thousands of positive Gay Pride images and peddle the 100 scariest images to deceive their followers into giving money.
Recent advances in gay rights, however, make it clear that no matter how the media or special interests try to distort Gay Pride, the truth is slowly getting out. Each year the events keep growing and it seems no one can rain on this fascinating parade.
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
by Wayne Besen
It is clear by the outpouring of emotion across the globe that Ronald Reagan was a great leader. He inspired millions of people and made America safer by triumphing over Communism. Reagan's leadership and gift for inspiring hope makes his stunning failure to confront the AIDS crisis all the more tragic.
President Reagan waited until 1987, six years into the epidemic, to give his first speech on the topic. The president known for his sunny optimism did not extend one ray of hope to those who suffered horrible deaths.
While urban centers convulsed with fear and thousands of families were mourning in America, Reagan smiled and pretended it was Morning in America.
The year Reagan finally and reluctantly mentioned AIDS, I was 17 and coming out of the closet. It was a scary time before today's HIV drug cocktails. I watched a 22-year-old friend go blind as his tough, hulking father kneeled bedside and cried. I saw young men in the prime of their lives so frail they walked with canes.
We needed President Reagan to comfort us and enact compassionate policies that would educate our community and find funds for research to end the AIDS crisis. Unfortunately, we were considered expendable and forsaken by the President.
Reagan had never been particularly good on gay issues. In the late sixties as then California governor, Reagan called homosexuality a "tragic disease" and said that homosexuality should be illegal. To his credit, however, Gov. Reagan's opposition to the 1977 Briggs Initiative helped defeat the measure that would have banned gay teachers from teaching in California public schools.
But Reagan's warm embrace of Rev. Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority during his 1980 presidential campaign gave the Religious Right unprecedented power. Thanks to Reagan, the right wing is now the "base" of the Republican Party and continues to oppose gay and lesbian equality.
Led by fawning Fox news, it has been difficult for many gay people to watch the obsequious media coverage. The mindless gushing and historic amnesia over Reagan's true legacy appall many gay leaders who want to set the record straight. For example, playwright and activist Larry Kramer penned a column for the Advocate magazine and opened it with the line, "Our murderer is dead".
In a letter to the New York Times, Christopher L. Babick, former Executive Director of People With AIDS Coalition in New York chided Reagan for his "lack of sensitivity and interest he displayed in AIDS."
While Ronald Reagan is gone, AIDS survives and continues to wreak havoc. Millions of people worldwide have died or now live with this deadly disease. Entire nations in Africa are threatened with total collapse.
Early on Reagan could have done something to head off this epic catastrophe. He failed in this most crucial test of his leadership.
This neglect is no mere blemish on Reagan's record, but akin to a gash on the face of Mona Lisa.
Historians may one day write that the Great Communicator's tragic silence on the Evil Epidemic eclipsed his tremendous victory over the Evil Empire. Reagan rightfully will be remembered for his great successes, but also for his spectacular failure in dealing with an epidemic that has yet to run its deadly course.
Saturday, June 05, 2004
by Wayne Besen
For more than a decade gay Republicans ignored imminent warnings of dangerous climate change in the GOP. Signs of impending doom date as far back as 1992 when firebrand Pat Buchanan declared a cultural war at the GOP convention. Would it take something dramatic like tidal waves submerging the upcoming GOP convention in New York for gay Republicans to see the dangerous atmospheric shifts in their party?
Last week, the great cataclysmic storm finally barreled ashore with consequences that may prove to be "The Day After Tomorrow" for gay Republicans. Republican party Chair Betsy Werronen refused to certify D.C. Council member David Catania's election as a delegate to the GOP convention. She is punishing Catania because he said he might not vote for George W. Bush after the president announced his support for a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.
This disaster signifies the party is finally over for gay Republicans. They are now in a mess so big Halliburton couldn't even clean it up with a Dick Cheney no-bid contract. The message to gay Republicans is clear: Behave or face banishment from the GOP's mythical "big tent".
Catania's Republican credentials are flawless. He is a dutiful, life-long member of the GOP who was designated a "Maverick" - a prominent title bestowed on people younger than 40 who raise at least $50,000 for the Bush campaign. Nonetheless he was branded disloyal and blacklisted. This consummate insider suddenly found himself locked outside on the back porch with no key. His ouster is alarming because most gay Republican realists know that if Catania's out, they must be too.
The fallout was swift with moderate Republican city council member Carol Schwartz courageously resigning as a delegate to the GOP convention. We can expect Catania's demise to snowball and cause further dejection and defections among other fair-minded Republicans.
It is no surprise that the storm hit now. Bush's political mastermind Karl Rove has repeatedly said that a key to reelection is mobilizing the estimated 4 million evangelical voters he believed stayed home in 2000. To woo this right wing base, Rove knows he has to stir up emotions and exploit red meat wedge issues such as same-sex marriage. Catania's protests got in the way of this election strategy, so Catania got steamrolled.
While Rove's strategy has an upside, it is also risky. First, There is no guarantee that those supposed 4 million evangelicals who allegedly stayed home last time would now come out to vote. If they couldn't get motivated in 2000 to vote for a born again, anti-choice, pro sodomy law candidate, what makes Rove think he can motivate them to the polls now to vote for a President mired in Iraq controversies?
Meanwhile, in 2000 an estimated one million gay people voted for Bush. These are proven voters who will likely be at the polls in November. The singular goal of the Log Cabin Republicans should be to persuade all one million gay Bush voters to cast protest votes against the president.
At the very least, these votes can help counteract any additional evangelical voting gains. At best, the targeted evangelicals will again stay home and Rove's strategy will backfire, as gay Republicans - particularly in crucial states like Florida and Pennsylvania - help swing the election and show their voting power.
Let's be honest. If Bush wins gay Republicans are doomed. The political establishment will interpret victory as proof that gay bashing pays. The right wing will take credit for Bush's reelection and further disenfranchisement will occur.
If Bush loses, however, it may be construed that his gay bashing and embrace of the extreme right boomeranged. So, the only way gay Republicans can get an invitation back into the party's mainstream is to prove that gay baiting is politically ineffective by helping to send Bush back to Texas.
Unfortunately, a few gay Republican leaders are still in denial. For example, Carl Schmid, a widely respected gay GOP activist, has said he will replace Catania and cast his ballot for Bush at the New York convention. He justifies this by saying he thinks, "It's important for a gay person to be there and to speak out." Schmid is well intentioned, but he should ask himself, what's the point of "speaking out" to a party that isn't listening? In a sign of solidarity, he should immediately step down and work to defeat Bush.
The problem with gay Republicans is that they are often naively sentimental. Under the rusty, antiquated GOP banner of "stay out of my wallet and my bedroom" you can often hear them harkening back to days of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
Someone forgot to tell these folks that Lincoln and Roosevelt are as long gone as their philosophies in the modern GOP. These men whose faces grace Mt. Rushmore have been replaced by graceless archconservatives that would change the name of the national monument to Mt. Rightmore, if they could.
The bitter Catania episode makes it crystal clear that the only way gay Republicans can save the soul of the GOP is to temporarily leave the party. Today's storms are nothing compared to the ice age to come if gay Republicans help propel Bush to victory in November.