Tuesday, June 30, 2009
by Wayne Besen
The fortieth anniversary of Stonewall, the 1969 bar riot that kicked off the modern gay rights movement, was supposed to be a time of reflection. Judging from the gushing media coverage and flowery political speeches, it momentarily seemed that the struggle for equality had ended in victory. Out with marches and in with museums, where gay and straight people could walk the marble corridors and gasp in astonishment, "The police actually used to raid gay bars?"
When the Fort Worth police stormed the gay Rainbow Lounge at 1AM on Sunday, June 28, the patrons could be forgiven for thinking it was a quaint cabaret show in memory of Stonewall -- very much like the Civil War reenactments so popular in the south. But, no, this was the real deal -- a gang of gun-wielding thugs using their badges to badger helpless patrons who committed the crime of drinking beer while gay.
It was the third such raid of the night by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Fort Worth police. They were allegedly harassing bar customers to crack down on public intoxication, which is as ridiculous as raiding the mall for public displays of shopping. While they claim they were carrying out their duty, it sure seems to me like a band of good ole boys with too much time on their hands. Instead of fighting real crime, becoming the criminals must have provided a greater adrenaline rush.
By the time these taxpayer supported public servants reached the gay bar, they unleashed a viciousness and violence not seen at the other establishments. According to the Dallas Voice, seven bar patrons were arrested on charges of public intoxication. One customer, Chad Gibson, suffered brain injuries during the raid and is still hospitalized, reportedly suffering from bleeding on his brain, which may require surgery.
The armed hooligans tried to excuse their thuggish behavior by reviving the stereotype of gay men as sexual predators. Incredibly, they claimed that as they stormed the bar, patrons made sexual advances.
They actually want people to believe that their magnetic, sexual appeal triggered the insatiable sexual appetites of the drunken gays, who thought they were being rushed by the Village People. That's odd, because the patrons describe the invasion as more terrifying than titillating.
Clearly, the police are insulting the public's intelligence by offering a lame, implausible excuse, based on bigotry. As they used to say when I lived in Texas: "They are shoveling ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag."
And, quite frankly, it is irrelevant whether sexual advances were made. If Gibson had chased the officers across the dance floor with a male blow up doll, they are still guilty of excessive use of force. The police don't have the authority to mug people -- and when they do so, they transform from protectors to perpetrators.
In many ways, such actions are worse than hate crimes. We can accept the fact that wild-eyed, crazy extremists will always exist. But, when the cops become the criminals, it creates an insecurity and raw vulnerability that affects the entire GLBT community in a substantial way.
What is troubling is that Fort Worth is a sophisticated town teeming with gays. If a raid can happen here, it can happen anywhere. The city needs to quickly investigate this outrage and punish those who planned and participated in this brutal attack on innocent beer drinkers.
This week, President Obama met with gay leaders and offered more pretty words. He should be applauded for this meeting, because it does send the right message and adds to an atmosphere of acceptance that transcends policy.
Still, we need this president to make history because the discrimination faced by gay people is not a relic of the past. The hatred is alive, it is sometimes deadly and our lives -- no matter how enchanted - can take a lethal turn if we are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While I am thrilled that Obama recognized the rainbow flag, he and Congress must take action to end discrimination, because the Rainbow Lounge is a grim reminder that the fight for justice is far from over.
Monday, June 22, 2009
by Wayne Besen
I understand the magnetic allure of Washington, DC. I worked there for several years and it could, at times, be mesmerizing. I've attended press conferences on the steps of Capitol Hill with Ted Kennedy and marveled that I was standing next to the real icon, not a replica from Madame Tussauds wax museum. I have stood only a stone's throw from President Clinton, as he greeted foreign dignitaries on the White House lawn. (I might have actually thrown the stones at Bush)
It makes one feel, well, important.
From a media perspective, there is also nothing like being swept into the tidal wave of presidential politics. Last year, I made national news by slamming candidate Barack Obama for sponsoring a South Carolina gospel tour featuring "ex-gay" singer Donnie McClurkin. My second foray into the spotlight involved Sarah Palin's church promotion of an "ex-gay" conference in Anchorage.
Getting thrust into the national storyline means hundreds of news stories that feature your name and the bright lights of television. Of course, such massive media hits are important and serve a larger purpose. But, the downside is our movement can become intoxicated with Washington at the expense of broader issues.
Let me be clear, it is crucial that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement have a strong voice in Washington. It is vital that we support our national lobby groups. Solutions at the federal level are often preferable because they apply to conservative states where it may take decades to achieve equality.
Still, this past week underscored how the gay movement's engagement with Washington has become an unhealthy obsession. I have seen hundreds of articles and e-mails with people opining on Obama, the Democrats and the gay movement. (I'm as guilty as anyone else. Indeed, my column last week was about the administration's timidity on gay issues)
It seems every person wants to be the star of Meet the Press, every activist is now Chris Matthews and we are all experts at political chess, prattling endlessly in the cyber salon about the machinations of the administration. Everyone with a computer is now a master strategist and can regurgitate the records of previously obscure members of Congress.
Political discourse has become an aphrodisiac that has seduced our community away from equally important issues. Perhaps it is time we go into rehab and free ourselves from the Washington crack pipe. It is a cheap high that rarely lasts and often leaves us broke and unsatisfied.
We all wanted King Obama to sweep into office, wave his magic wand and make discrimination disappear. I really wish he would, but it is clear that he won't -- or at least not as quick as we desire. So, why don't we pry ourselves away from DC for a moment and try using our resources in alternative ways?
Anyone remember AIDS?
Ever hear of the multi-million dollar ex-gay industry that pumps out reams of propaganda to portray gay people as sick and "sexually broken?" Few people seem to notice, even though these groups spread harmful myths and poisonous stereotypes that impact our daily lives.
What about increasing funds to help GLBT youths who are thrown out of their homes? Or, scholarships, so these teens can succeed in life and maybe one day run for Congress?
How about focusing on the abuses against GLBT people overseas?
The aforementioned issues will not get you on a Congressman's speed dial. It is unlikely that you will win a sparkling trophy or have a marble bust made of your head. The cable shows may not be dialing you at a frenzied pace. But, you might have a disproportionately positive impact and even save a few lives.
The other problem with our political addiction is that it breeds bad messaging. We are coming across as a powerful lobby that is demanding action as payback for money and votes. While there is a place for such muscle flexing, it masks our true agenda.
The immediacy of our cause has to do with the trauma we all faced as children. Now that we are strong, we don't want one more GLBT teen to commit suicide while Congress dithers. It is unconscionable for another youth who dreams of serving his or her country to be turned away while Obama plots his reelection. It is an insult -- right down to the core of our soul -- when our government tells us that we can't marry the person we love.
Our movement is not about Obama's career, nor the happenings in Congress. What we seek is to reclaim our basic dignity and end needless suffering -- both goals that one is unlikely to achieve solely in the glamorous quicksand of Washington.
While our fate in DC hangs in the balance, how about returning some balance to the GLBT movement by ending our fatalistic fixation on all-things political?
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
by Wayne Besen
A debate is raging on whether to have a national gay March on Washington
in October. Most leaders I have spoken with are against the idea, preferring to keep scarce financial and human resources in the states. Others, such as myself, are largely ambivalent. A galvanizing force, however, is giving new life to this idea and his name is Barack Obama.
The President is in serious danger
of motivating a huge mass of gay people to stream into Washington for the simple joy of standing in front of the White House and giving him a piece of their minds. This frustration
may lead to an embarrassing situation for the President, where former supporters mount the largest anti-Obama pep rally not fronted by Sarah Palin.
Today, an array of GLBT leaders expressed their dismay
with the President by pulling out of
a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. The action is in protest of a noxious legal brief submitted by the Department of Justice. It implausibly defended the heinous Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by using anti-gay arguments that likely drew a standing ovation from Rev. Pat Robertson.
DOJ's paper included a comparison of gay relationships to incest and opposed same-sex relationships on the absurd basis that it would cost taxpayers money (Don't gay people pay taxes?). HRC also sent
a pointed letter to Obama
highlighting the betrayal felt by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
"I cannot overstate the pain that we feel as human beings and as families when we read an argument, presented in federal court, implying that our own marriages have no more constitutional standing than incestuous ones," wrote HRC's President, Joe Solmonese.
The deteriorating situation is exacerbated by confusion about who will push for equality. The Obama administration claims to be awaiting congressional action on a number of issues, including ending employment discrimination, eliminating DOMA and repealing Don't Ask/Don't Tell. Meanwhile, Senate majority leader Harry Reid
is waiting for Obama to act, as well as the House of Representatives. The GLBT community has become a hot potato that the Democrats do not seem to want to touch.
Aggravating matters was John Berry, the highest-ranking gay official in the administration. In an interview
with The Advocate, he said that Obama's timetable to enact his pro-gay campaign promises is "before the sun sets on this administration." So, now we have to wait 4-8 years, while watching him suck up to Rick Warren on Day 1?
For what seemed like forever, Democrats told us that when the big bad Republicans went away, our lives would improve. Well, the Republican nightmare is over, so why do I still feel like I'm in the middle of a political Friday the 13th movie?
The Democrats took our money, our votes and our volunteer hours and now they tell us to wait patiently, like good little gays. As far as I'm concerned, if the donkeys can't deliver now, they can kiss my ass. The Democrats run the show in Washington and if they will not act like a majority party, then they do not deserve to be one.
This is not about making unreasonable policy demands, but about the Democrats recognizing the daily struggles faced by gay people. A new report
by The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs said, "violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people increased 2% from 2007 to 2008, continuing the trend of a 24% total increase in 2007."
Yesterday, I read about
a lesbian who was barred from visiting her partner in a Fresno hospital, and as a result her partner received the wrong medication. Last week, I was in conservative Western Michigan where I spoke to young people who were nearly driven to suicide as a result of anti-gay attitudes.
We need a president who recognizes these evils and demonstrates the courage and leadership to enact the change he so eloquently promised during his campaign.
If Obama continues down the current path it will come at a steep price. When Bill Clinton settled for Don't Ask/Don't Tell, it solidified the growing perception that he was "Slick Willie." By turning his back on the gay community, Obama will play into the idea, stoked by Hillary Clinton and exploited by John McCain, that he is a man of beautiful, yet empty words.
What Obama fails to understand is that when poetry does not translate into policy, and hope turns hollow, the American people will begin to tune him out.
I'm still undecided about the wisdom of a march on Washington, but I am decidedly fed up with my political "friends" marching all over my dignity and taking my support for granted. If the majority party does not cough up the votes to protect our families, we should close down our generous coffers.Update:
Today, Obama will sign
a presidential memorandum to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, but he will stop short of pledging full health insurance coverage.
This is a good start. Of course, the health care thing is perplexing, as gay people have been known to come down with colds too. However, let's not be ungrateful. Thank you Mr. President
for this wise step. We do appreciate it and your action today has not gone unnoticed.
That said, we are not satisfied. If you agree that we are human beings and American citizens - than why should we not share in equal rights and be able to protect our families - just like anyone else? Why must we have any laws on the books that single out GLBT people and discriminate? Why not work in a swift manner to end discrimination and have it be your legacy? Why must another day pass where we are second class citizens?
Mr. President, we know you are capable of greatness. You are already an historic figure and a man of enormous achievements. We want to celebrate your administration and help reelect you.
But, the time has come to move beyond the campaign trail and do what is moral and just. We are watching and waiting and we hope we can celebrate you as the fierce advocate that you portrayed yourself as to gain our support.
There is still much work to be done.
Monday, June 01, 2009
by Wayne Besen
Like flowers in spring, the culture war is in full bloom. The most explosive flashpoint this past week was President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. She is under fire for saying, "I would hope a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
Her comments caused the de facto leaders of the Republican Party, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, to become apoplectic and accuse her of reverse racism. The battle over her nomination seems like a flashback to the old battles in the 1970s and 80s over identity politics.
In Kansas, George Tiller, a brave and fearless abortion provider, was gunned down in his church. Of course, the anti-abortion fanatics deny any wrongdoing. But, this movement knows full well that when they single out and accuse individuals of killing babies, they are inviting extremists to take vigilante action.
"Who me?" they ask, as they disingenuously feign innocence.
Strangely, the one place a national consensus is building (albeit in its budding stages) is marriage equality. A landmark federal lawsuit by conservative lawyer Ted Olsen and his liberal counterpart David Boies has crystallized this phenomenon. They are charging that denying marriage licenses to gay couples is a violation equal protection and due process under the United States Constitution.
"This is not a liberal or conservative issue," said Olsen on CNN's Larry King Live. "This has to do with human decency, human rights, and equality under the law." On the same show, Boies deftly dispatched the argument that civil unions are acceptable, because they are marriage by another name.
"You're from Japan," Boies said on the show. "You can vote. You can do all the things that other individuals can do who are citizens. But, we are not going to allow you to use the word 'citizen' because you are from another country. That would be discrimination on an unacceptable basis. That is what we have here."
Gay and lesbian legal organizations are incensed by the lawsuit and say it could lead to a huge setback, if it results in a Supreme Court loss. A memorandum sponsored by every major gay rights group titled, "Make Change, Not Lawsuits," essentially tells the interlopers to get lost.
"The history is pretty clear: the U.S. Supreme Court typically does not get too far ahead of either public opinion or the law in the majority of states," says the memo. "The fastest way to win the freedom to marry throughout America is by getting marriage through state courts (to show that fairness requires it) and state legislatures (to show that people support it)."
The conservative columnist George Will echoed their position on ABC's This Week when he warned, "The consensus is moving toward gay marriage if they just let it alone and just let democracy work." He said that if the Supreme Court now ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, it would cause ongoing cultural division, much as the Roe v. Wade decision did with the abortion issue.
Of course, the GLBT organizations are correct in concluding that Olsen and Boies are engaging in a risky strategy that could easily backfire. The one wildcard, in my view, is Chief Justice John Roberts. He is a product of the Federalist Society, the conservative movement's powerful legal association. Olsen's involvement in the Federalist Society
may help persuade Roberts to support equality. Or, at least, give him the cover he needs to vote his conscience without accusations of betrayal by conservative colleagues.
The legal issues aside, this case is a boon in the realm of public relations. We now have two of the brightest legal minds winning over the jury of public opinion in the media each day. Dick Cheney and Steve Schmidt, John McCain's campaign manager, are two more conservatives who reinforce marriage equality as a nonpartisan issue.
Even as I write this column, the drumbeat of small victories keep mounting. The Nevada legislature overrode the governor's veto by approving a domestic partnership registry by a two-thirds majority. This week, President Barack Obama signed a gay Pride Month proclamation. The organization Faith in America persuaded
a key Southern Baptist writer, David P. Gushee, to call on Christians to offer an apology for the way they have treated LGBT people.
This steroidal push for equality has been supercharged by a group of democratic gay leaders who recently met in Texas to draft, "The Dallas Principles."
Much like the Olsen/Boies lawsuit, their goal is to put gay rights on the fast track by pressuring Congress and the Obama administration to take immediate action. Their mantra seems right for this electric moment: "Now is the time for full civil rights for the LGBT Community. No delay. No excuses."
There is still no shortage of culture war vultures like the National Organization for Marriage's dour Maggie Gallagher. But, as more fellow conservatives defect, these zealots are finding their biggest threat is "friendly" fire.