Tuesday, February 22, 2005
by Wayne Besen
The unmitigated disaster of Election Night doomed any hope the gay and lesbian community had for a quick political fix at the national level. There will be no victory celebrations in Washington for some time to come. Indeed, when George W. Bush, who was secretly taped by his backstabbing friend Doug Wead saying that he would not "kick gays", is the GLBT community's protector, we know we are in deep trouble.
As dire as the situation is, it may finally force gay rights activists to do what they should have been doing all along, which is focus more on education. For too long, the community thought it could score a big victory at the top by lobbying Congress. In the process, a strong, dedicated lobbying powerhouse was built. This was a great advance that helped shore up the movement.
However, it has become painfully clear that lobbying alone will not carry the day - as politicians will rarely get out in front of the voters. To ultimately win at the top, it is crucial to bolster public support through programs designed to foster enlightenment and better understanding.
In a much-needed effort to educate America, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) launched its groundbreaking "Stay Close" advertising campaign, which debuted in New York and Washington. The ads emphasize family values by showing heterosexual celebrities and politicians warmly embracing their gay relatives.
Six separate ads highlight the relationships between: Actor Ben Affleck and his cousin, Jason; singer Cyndi Lauper and her sister, Elen; Congressman and Mrs. Richard Gephardt with their daughter, Chrissy; Latina media mogul, Cristina Saralegui with her brother Ignacio; singer Barbara Cook with her son Adam; and New York Congressman Gregory Meeks with his brother John. The cutting-edge advertisements can be viewed online at www.stayclose.org.
"People need this campaign-both gay and straight," said pop singer Cyndi Lauper in a PFLAG press release. "I want people to know that it's about changing hearts and minds. It's about moving from simple tolerance to understanding to acceptance. But, ultimately, it's about unconditional love."
Campaigns like "Stay Close" will lead the way in winning political victories tomorrow, but may save lives today. According to PFLAG:
· 69 percent of GLBT youth report experiencing some form of harassment or violence, with 46 percent reporting verbal harassment, 36 percent reporting sexual harassment, 12 percent reporting physical harassment, and 6 percent reporting physical assault.
· Gay and lesbian youths are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other youths.
· Of 1.3 million homeless children on America's streets, 500,000 are thought to be GLBT kids thrown out by their parents.
The beauty of PFLAG's message is its simplicity. In an understated way, it makes the point that in order to have family values, a family must stay together. Parents that abandon their gay kids are practicing a twisted, conditional love that rots the very core of the family structure.
The alternative to the model of the love and acceptance displayed in the PFLAG campaign is the one put forward by the right wing group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (FPFOX). This Virginia-based group was founded with the intention of mocking PFLAG. Their mission is to teach parents how to biblically justify rejecting their own children.
Exhibit A in the PFOX model is Alan Keyes. In 1999, he gave a blistering anti-gay speech at PFOX's annual conference. Last week when his daughter Maya Keyes came out of the closet he threw her out of his house and stopped paying for her college education. He still has not explained how making her homeless and uneducated will turn her straight.
With such an insidious agenda, it is no surprise that the president of PFOX, Richard Cohen, had once been involved in a cult that got into trouble for practicing nude therapy. Cohen was recently kicked out of the American Counseling Association, although that professional embarrassment hasn't stopped PFOX from using Cohen as their ideological guru.
Like PFLAG - their counterpart has had advertising campaigns, including a billboard in Virginia with the screaming headline, "Ex-Gays Prove That Change Is Possible". The group also ran similar ads in Washington.
One would think that before PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs would be so bold as to place a brash billboard above the highway, she would have changed her own child from gay to straight. However, her son is still openly gay. Perhaps, Griggs should have some success with her campaign at home before she literally takes it on the road.
It is clear that the PFLAG paradigm brings families together, while the PFOX model tears families apart.
More gay organizations should follow PFLAG's lead and produce ads that highlight love and family. When our community changes enough hearts, the votes of politicians will surely follow.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
by Wayne Besen
Although George W. Bush once owned The Texas Rangers, anyone who has seen him at a press conference knows that his favorite sport is really softball. Bush's penchant for puff helps to explain the mercurial rise and fall of "reporter" Jim Guckert, who went from working in a cyber-whorehouse to covering the White House as a "correspondent" for conservative Internet magazine, Talon News.
When not reporting conservative news, Guckert was a member of Bush's "ownership society". In fact, he owned seedy gay sex websites including HotMilitaryStud.com, MilitaryEscorts.com and MilitaryEscortsM4M.com. While other reporters covered a beat, Guckert's beat was under the covers.
Hypocrite-buster John Aravosis of AmericaBlog.org
also posted evidence that Guckert sold himself on these websites for $200 an hour, or $1,200 a weekend. Having seen his picture, Guckert - a poor man's Mr. Clean - is guilty not just of impropriety, but overcharging.
One would think that with such a unique resume in the era of homeland security, Guckert would have had trouble getting clearance to cover the President. But this is the Age of Bush, where payola pals like Armstrong Williams, Michael McManus and Maggie Gallagher are standard fare. Still, would the administration let a gay right wing Internet pimp set up shop in a Republican White House that won partly by pandering to "values voters"?
The administration didn't blush or blanch, but simply gave carte blanche to Guckert. Using the pseudonym Jeff Gannon, he quickly became Bush's patronizing patsy who served puff on a platter, while genuine reporters with real questions were overlooked. In his "news stories" he often cut and pasted administration press releases. The unqualified Gannon was so much a part of the White House Press Corps, he reportedly was given a classified CIA memo that outed agent Valerie Plame.
You've got to hand it to this White House. When they couldn't get the media to buy their spin, they bought the media. And now, when they couldn't get the media hook they desired, they simply got a hooker. Unfortunately for Bush, his ringer was a Ringling Brothers sexual circus.
Interestingly, Guckert was denied Capitol Hill press passes because Talon News was considered an illegitimate right wing propaganda service run by Republican rabble-rouser Bobby Eberle. Yet, he somehow got into the White House.
At the heart of the scandal are a couple of crucial questions: Was Guckert simply an ambitious prostitute or a propitious presidential plant? If he was a plant, exactly who greased the wheels that got him past tight security?
The vulgar scandal has revived Washington whispers that the supposedly anti-gay Republican Party is really nothing less than a gay affirmative action program. Glance at whose running the GOP and it looks like a Harvey Fierstein cocktail party. A few months ago, activist Mike Rogers
revealed that GOP National Field Director Dan Gurley is gay and sought unsafe sex online. Rogers also revealed that Ken Mehlman, chair of the Republican National Committee, is gay.
This week, the Internet news site Raw Story
posted allegations that White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan may be gay and suggested he is a common fixture at Texas gay bars - kind of like a gay, southern version of Norm on the old sitcom Cheers.
"He was often seen in gay clubs in Austin and was comfortable being there," an anonymous source told Raw Story. "He's been seen in places that normal people who are looking for heterosexual relationships are not seen alone."
Clearly, Mehlman, Gurley and McClellan are in powerful positions and have the authority to, say, get a whore through the door with press credentials. There ought to be a full investigation to find out how a man who poses in briefs got into the briefing room.
Quite frankly, I couldn't care less what people do in their spare time. If someone wants to live a miserable life and stay in the closet, it is his or her choice. If you want to cruise the Internet, just make sure you have good pictures. It only becomes my business when gay people run a party that actively works to pass a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting me from marrying. Based on their reported behavior, Gurley, Guckert and McClellan clearly aren't the marrying kind. Still, they have no right to earn their living by undermining the lives of other gay and lesbian people.
The GOP's hypocrisy on gay issues extends beyond administration officials. In 1999, right wing nut Alan Keyes spoke at a Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays conference, which falsely blames bad fathering for causing homosexuality. This week, his daughter Maya Keyes officially came out as a liberal lesbian. Talk about getting karmaed! In a demonstration of family values, Keyes threw Maya out of the house and will no longer pay for her education.
The conservative party line on homosexuality is a complete fraud. Conservatives who preach that gay people can go straight keep having gay kids. The Bush administration is the gayest in memory, although they are all quivering in the closet, or is that gyrating on the Internet? If Bush's face is ever plastered on currency, there is no doubt it should the three-dollar bill.
Monday, February 07, 2005
by Wayne Besen
I haven't written much about the Democratic Party since Election Day, because I never aspired to be an obituary writer. But up from the Democratic dead floats the political poltergeist Howard Dean, who has risen to the helm of the graveyard known as the Democratic National Committee. As one of the foremost critics of Howard Dean during his ill-fated presidential campaign, it might surprise some people to know I applaud his resurrection as good for Democrats, gay people and America.
In July 2003, I wrote a scathing column, "The Dean Delusion"
, that predicted a Dean implosion at a time he was riding high as the clear Democratic frontrunner. According to my column:
"Dean seems unable to control his emotions or his mouth on the campaign trail....Any honest appraisal will show that Dean so far is a gaffe-prone politician who has shown a penchant for self-destructive comments that may ultimately prove his demise."
My reward for such brutal honesty was a ton of nasty e-mail from Dean sycophants that questioned my political savvy. Of course, the history books are closed and we all know Dean crashed and burned in Iowa, punctuated by his infamous "Scream". I don't mean to gloat and sound prophetic, but pass the swami hat and crystal ball, baby, and let me savor my Nostradamus moment!
Now that my Homer Simpson end zone victory dance is over, let me explain why I now support Dean.
I admire his determination and perseverance. Most politicians would have quietly slipped away and moved to Mozambique after they became a punch line for late night comics. The next time I expected to see Dean was on VH1's "Where Are They Now". Or maybe in a decade some rapper might have used his "Scream" as a sample in a hip-hop song.
However, while critics were counting on Dean's demise, he was counting the number of ways he could stage a comeback. Following his loss, he helped raise a whopping $3.5 million for Democrats across America. He even raised an estimated $250,000 for a recount in the governor's race in Washington State that led to a Democratic victory.
Dean is clearly a scrappy pit bull, which is exactly what the Democrats need to battle the ruling demagogues in the Republican Party. More than anyone else, I think he will stand up to Republican excess and clearly articulate the difference between the two parties.
During Dean's presidential bid I suggested that he might have an immutable character flaw where he was unable to control his emotions. Here is what I wrote:
"At times, Dean seems to suffer from logorrhea - which is defined as the inability to shut up. He has had to offer apologies at least five times in recent months for either reckless statements or for insulting fellow Democratic presidential nominees."
Since I wrote this, I think Dean has shown maturity and the ability to learn from his mistakes. I caught him on television a few times and he appears more thoughtful and deliberative. The big challenge for Dean is to keep energizing the Democratic base by speaking his mind without mindlessly speaking.
In recent months, Dean has also learned to smile and appear more affable on television. His angry-man routine during the Democratic primaries appealed only to angry people. If voters were generally content, or at least well medicated, Dean's fury fell flat. We can only hope that Dean stays optimistic and remembers that "sunny sells" in American politics.
Dean also has won me over with his loyalty to the gay community. Sure, it was easy for the Vermont Governor to support gay rights during the presidential campaign when the gay community was showering him with money and manpower.
But how would he react after 11 states passed Constitutional Amendments prohibiting gay marriage? Would he abandon a minority group that was largely responsible for his mercurial rise as a national figure?
"I was sickened in this election when on the ballot in 11 states, there was an amendment that was completely unnecessary - every single one of those states already outlawed gay marriage," Dean said. "The only reason to put gay marriage on the ballot in those states was to scapegoat a minority that was unpopular in order to win an election."
These are words from a man who clearly understands the value of friendship, trust and loyalty - rare commodities in the dirty game of politics.
Finally, the charge of Dean being too liberal is a conservative fabrication - much like Saddam's stockpile of WMD. As Vermont's governor, he was pro-gun, cut taxes, reformed welfare and balanced budgets. George W. Bush could only wish his record was as fiscally conservative as Dean's is.
It is too soon to tell if Dean, the ghost who wouldn't fade away, will help or simply haunt the Democrats. Based on his resilience, personal growth, allegiance and toughness, I believe Dean has earned his shot to lead the Democratic Party.