Monday, July 19, 2004
by Wayne Besen
I usually write about gay issues. But today I must touch on a critical topic that affects all Americans: The fairness and integrity of the 2004 presidential election.
At a time when our nation is fixated on promoting democracy in Iraq, the desecration of democracy may be happening right under our noses in America. Florida, the state that brought us the election fiasco of 2000, seems poised to bring a horror sequel in 2004.
Four years after Florida's voting irregularities traumatized this nation and brought it to the embarrassing precipice, one would think Gov. Jeb Bush, the President's brother, would have done everything in his power to ensure a fair and free election this time.
Instead, Little Bro's motto is: If you can't beat them, purge them.
In Florida, convicted felons can't vote. The state made a list to ban 47,763 such people, mostly democrats, from voting in 2004. Because of the shenanigans of the 2000 elections, civil rights groups wanted to make sure the list was accurate and that no one would be unnecessarily disenfranchised.
A fair request one would think, right? Not so in Bushland.
Afraid of getting gypped again (or is it Jebbed?) the NAACP, People for the American Way, the media and Sen. Bill Nelson, took the state to court. Bush lost and on July 1 had to give up his treasured list. It quickly became clear that Bush had been hiding something.
It turns out that more than 2,100 people still on the purge list - mostly Democrats - should not have been there. They already had their voting rights restored through clemency. This is a huge deal if you consider that George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida by only 537 votes.
It gets worse. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune discovered that out of the entire list, only 61 people were listed as Hispanic - a group that largely votes Republican in Florida, while the purge list contained large numbers of African Americans who overwhelmingly vote Democrat. For some perspective, finding only 61 Hispanic names on a list of nearly 48,000 in Florida is as absurd as finding 61 gay people on a list of the same size in San Francisco.
Having had their scheme exposed, Bush and his lapdog Secretary of State Glenda Hood were forced to purge the entire purge list.
But that's not all. This Little Shop of Election Horrors also includes relatively inaccurate electronic voting machines in largely Democratic counties. To make matters worse, there are currently no printers with these electronic machines to ensure an accurate vote recount in a tight race. If you thought hanging chads were tough to recount, try getting an accurate recount out of thin air.
Sure, mistakes occur and election systems are not perfect. But why in Florida do all the mistakes seem to favor the Republicans? Why do the Democrats most loyal constituency, African Americans, seem to always get the short end of the stick? Why was the felon purge list a protected state secret until the court intervened?
And most important, why are we still discussing voter system abnormalities in 2004? It seems unfathomable since Gov. Bush had four years to fix the problem. Is this spectacular incompetence or is he just trying to sow confusion to make it possible for him to manipulate a few thousand votes to help W? If this election is a replay of 2000, Gov. Bush should swiftly resign in shame and ignominy.
While this issue affects all people, as a gay man I am particularly appalled because I have a lot to lose. A Kerry victory means inclusion and advances in gay rights. A Bush victory is a setback and means legislative and rhetorical gay bashing for four more years. It means abstinence-only programs that deprive young people of crucial, life saving information on HIV. It means Rev. Jerry Falwell having a direct line to the White House.
Despite all the terrible things that come for gay people with a Bush victory, I can live with the consequences. The only thing I absolutely can't live with is getting Jebbed again. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe that all eligible voters should be able to vote, all votes should count and the guy who wins the election ought to be President.
Thursday, July 15, 2004
by Wayne Besen
Right wing conservatives who say that same-sex marriage will destroy the family appear to be right, with the first unlikely casualty being the Cheney family.
On CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Lynne Cheney disagreed with her VP husband on the need for a federal Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
"First of all, to be clear that people should be free to enter into their relationships that they choose," Lynne Cheney told Blitzer. "And, secondly, to recognize what's historically been the situation, that when it comes to conferring legal status on relationships, that is a matter left to the states."
Surely this has got to cause dinner table dissention in the Cheney household. The only people left in America who seem to like Dick are those on the far right of the political spectrum. Yet, Lynne nobly chose parenting over the VP's popularity. While Lynne elected to support her lesbian daughter Mary, Dick sold her down the river to get reelected. While Lynn displayed family values, Dick values the votes of the right wing over Constitutional rights for his daughter.
Beyond eviscerating the GOP family, the same-sex marriage issue also has the capacity to destroy the meaning of friendship. On NBC's Meet the Press, William F. Buckley, the Godfather of Conservatism, urged President Bush to exploit the same-sex marriage issue to boost his sagging popularity. Buckley conveniently forgets that his ascent to the top of conservatism was made possible in part by his friend and political partner, the late Marvin Liebman.
Liebman, also a friend of mine, was gay and the author of "Coming Out Conservative". Buckley knows well of the torment, turmoil and hardship faced by his close buddy who waited until old age to come out. Yet, he still brazenly seeks to employ anti-gay prejudice so Bush can win reelection. With friends like these...
The debate over same-sex marriage also threatens to destroy Republican political families on Capitol Hill. Gay activists Mike Rogers and John Aravosis are now conducting campaigns to "out" high-level gay Republican Hill staffers who work for Members who support the Federal Marriage Amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The first turncoat to get outed is Jonathan Tolman, a key aide on a committee chaired by rabidly right wing Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. Tolman now complains that his sexual orientation should be kept confidential. But you can't work for Inhofe by day and appear in a racy feature called "Cover Boy Confidential" for MW, a gay Washington, DC magazine, at dusk and whimper that your privacy has been invaded.
In the Washington Blade Tolman comically explained, "it isn't my style to broadcast my sexual orientation with klieg lights." No, apparently just camera flashbulbs during his homosexual modeling shoot for MW. In the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Tolman defended his indefensible position by saying, "The Senator and I may disagree on this issue, but I didn't come to the Hill thinking I was going to find my political soul mate in a Member." To have a soul mate, one must first have a soul.
Whether the family is biological, acquired through friendship or political it is clear that gay people are deeply woven into the fabric of the Republican family. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how GOP leaders are willing to backstab their friends and family members to court the Pat Robertson "bigot vote".
Let's be honest, George W. Bush is in really bad political shape. During the Clinton years Americans used to enjoy turning on CNN or picking up the morning newspaper because it made them feel good about themselves and hopeful about the future.
Since Bush took over, turning on the news has been a painful and unbearably unpleasant experience. All we hear about is exploding deficits and exploding bombs. Weapons of mass destruction can't be found, and neither can jobs. Gas prices are soaring and consumer confidence is souring. People are starting to get wary, even depressed, over the reign of "Bad News Bush".
Bush's attempt to promote the Federal Marriage Amendment is nothing more than a cynical attempt to change the subject and distract Americans from his administration's failures. In his Saturday radio address Bad News Bush again turned in desperation to gay issues by saying, "Changing the definition of traditional marriage will undermine the family structure."
And exactly how will this happen? Which Republicans are planning to get divorced if I get married?
Bush and his sophisticated Republican cronies have enough gay friends, colleagues and family members to know their red meat rhetoric is pure nonsense. Sadly, gay people are considered expendable and collateral damage in Bush's unprincipled war for reelection.
The real fear of the president is not that same-sex marriage will undermine the family structure, but that if he doesn't exploit anti-gay prejudice the public will focus on his dismal record and this will change the political structure and put John Kerry in the White House.
In the meantime, the only families this obscene debate seems to be destroying are those of Republicans who are grappling with the fact that gay baiting is as much an act of self-annihilating cannibalism as it is an attack on other people.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
by Wayne Besen
Last night I stayed up until 3:30 AM hitting on a guy in Greensboro, North Carolina at a chic straight bar with a large gay clientele. It turns out I wasn't his type. He liked women, which kind of made the situation hopeless because I'd look terrible in drag. Who would of thought I'd find a Metrosexual - a straight guy with a strong gay fashion and culture sensibility - in Greensboro?
I didn't know he was straight. He was ultra-fashionably dressed and had and earring in his lip. He was completely at ease talking to gay men and women and seemed flattered, although uninterested - with my advances.
Thanks to television shows like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", I can't tell who's truly gay anymore. In the New World Fashion Order we've got straight guys who dress like Richard Simmons understudies and gay guys who look like they belong on a poster for the Young Republicans. The traditional fashion lines have become blurred beyond recognition.
This makes me pine for the days when gay people dressed like the Village People at bars and straight guys went to nightclubs dressed in tacky Saturday Night Fever suits. At least it made it easier to know who to ask out on a date!
It seems this fashion crossover isn't just confined to city-slicker straight guys imitating urban gay guys and vice versa. A revealing New York Times article on lesbian style points out that lesbians are also having a huge impact, with rural straight men mimicking their fashions.
"Trucker hats, wallet chains, cowboy boots and straw Stetsons, all that started with gay women and was transformed into street fashion," said Rebecca Weinberg, a former stylist for HBO's 'Sex and the City'.
Imagine the surprise at truck stops across America when some of the big, tough guys realize they are draped in gay garments. But even lesbian fashion has evolved beyond the stereotype with leading fashion model Amanda Moore setting trends while sashaying across runways and on the cover of glitzy magazines.
Recently, I was debating at a coffee shop with a few gay guys whether the smash television hit "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy" was good for the gay community. For the unacquainted, this show features a modish team of uber-hip gay guys who take a hapless straight guy and tarts him up so he can land the female object of his affection by the end of the show.
Some of the men at the coffee shop said that it was terrible for the gay community because it stereotyped homosexuals as effeminate queens. One guy said, "These guys make Liberace look like Rambo."
A few of the other gay men said they loved the show because it was enjoyable, increased visibility and it was only fair to show the lives of all gay people, not just those who acted "mainstream". I personally like the show and find it fun to watch. These days we have enough macho role models like former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo to balance the more stereotypical portrayals on Queer Eye.
While debating, it suddenly occurred to me that the real question is not how Queer Eye will affect the gay community, but how will it impact heterosexual men? Many straight guys are unwitting victims of homophobia, immobilized with a ridiculous fear of being labeled gay that keeps them from embracing the Metrosexual within.
Some of these guys want to study ballet, become hair technicians, interior designers or florists. Sadly, they often forfeit their dreams to "fit in" and instead end up in lame, unsatisfying jobs selling gizmos or crunching numbers in bland cubicles located in a sterile office parks.
What Queer Eye does is brilliant. They make Metrosexual guys cool by having them land the sexy girl at the end of each show. The message is, if you don't take care of yourself, you'll be by yourself. Thus, trendy straight guys can break out of the narrow confines imposed by closed-minded people and follow their hearts.
Gay men now face the opposite problem. As long as they aren't too flamboyant they can gain acceptance in many places. But will assimilation mean annihilation of the gay sensibility? Some people think so.
"The gay gene for fashion is like the gay gene for musicals, it doesn't exist," said Valerie Steele, the museum director at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in the New York Times article. It "is the reality that being an outsider heightens awareness."
So, it seems progress for the next generation may mean gays exchanging musicals for the mundane, while newly liberated heterosexuals muscle in on our fancy hairdo salons and aerobics studios. Who thought leaving outsider status behind would have us working inside the coalmines and wearing polyester? If fashion foreshadows the future, the world has already changed more than we as a society have acknowledged.