Tuesday, June 30, 2009

LGBT Leaders Meet Obama at White House for Stonewall 40

On Monday President Obama, in full damage control mode, hosted a group of LGBT leaders at the White House to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The president was greeted with a standing ovation and shouts of "I love you!"

Has the secret service come up with some new amnesia-inducing laughing gas? Three days ago these so-called leaders were out for blood, still reeling from the Obama Justice Department's insulting brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court, in which they compared homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality. Several prominent LGBT rights activists, organizations and politicians boycotted a democratic fundraiser last week in protest of the DOMA brief.

Just days ago the administration ignored a letter signed by 77 congressional democrats calling for a moratorium on military discharges under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) until the policy could be legislatively ended. Since Inauguration Day, over 260 gay and lesbian military personnel have been discharged under the homophobic policy.

On Tuesday, Lt. Dan Choi, a decorated Arabic linguist, faced a military tribunal which recommended his discharge for coming out on the Rachel Maddow show, at a time when his skills are needed more than ever.

Among those in attendance were Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, Jarrett Barrios, incoming president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Kate Kendell, executive director of the California-based National Center for Lesbian Rights and Judy Shepard, mother of slain gay student Matthew Shepard and founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Also present was LGBT rights pioneer Frank Kameny, co-founder of the nation's first gay rights organization, The Mettachine Society, who was fired from his government job in the 1950's for being gay and fought it all the way to the Supreme Court. Obama recognized Mettachine as the first gay rights group to picket the White House in 1965.

The president recited the history of the American gay rights movement, not so much for those in the room, who know it all too well, but to show us that he knows it too. I wonder which documentary he downloaded from Netflix.

He talked about his commitment to pass the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. He reminded his audience about the same-sex partner benefits he granted State Department and Foreign Service workers and reaffirmed his commitment to overturning DOMA and DADT.

In short, Obama pressed all the right buttons and every queen in the room rolled over and threw their legs up to Jesus.

In the most notable remark of the event, the president said, "We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."

We'll see.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Varla Jean Merman

I've posted a couple of videos featuring the musical comedy stylings of the incomparable Varla Jean Merman and I'm still amazed that more of you aren't familiar with her work. Her 2001 cult classic film "Girls Will Be Girls" is too campy to miss. Here's a video sampling of our community's hardest working busy gal on the go. Look for the scene from "Girls Will Be Girls" where she warms up her vocal chords with a can of Cheese Whiz. For more Varla vids, visit her YouTube page.

Defense Secretary Gates Considers Easing Up On "Don't Ask, Don't Tell "

(From AFP.com) ON BOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AFP) – The Pentagon is considering how it might ease the "don't ask, don't tell" law requiring gays to keep quiet about their sexual identity or face expulsion from the military, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.

"One of the things we're looking at is, is there flexibility in how we apply this law," Gates told reporters aboard a military plane.

The Pentagon boss said he discussed the issue last week with US President Barack Obama and that there also has been discussion among senior military and legal counsel about possible changes in how they apply the law, which he described as "very restrictive."

"We're talking about how do we move forward on this, achieve this objective which is changing the policy."

Gates added: "What I discovered when I got into it was it's a very restrictive law. It doesn't leave much to the imagination, or a lot of flexibility."

The defense secretary said one possible modification might be consider the circumstances under which a service member is "outed" in determining whether or not he or she must leave the military.

Gates offered as an example "when we're given information from someone with vengeance in mind or blackmail, somebody who has been jilted.

"If somebody is outed by a third party, does that force us to take action?" he said.

"That's the kind of thing we're looking at -- seeing if there's a more humane way to apply the law until it gets changed."

Military board in Syracuse recommends discharge for Lt. Dan Choi

(From the Syracuse Post-Standard) Syracuse, NY -- Lt. Dan Choi vowed tonight to fight to stay in the military after an Army board in Syracuse recommended he be the first gay person discharged from the New York National Guard for violating the don't ask don't tell policy.

A four-officer panel meeting at Hancock Air Base notified Choi at about 5 p.m. that it would recommend he be discharged because he has publicly said he is a homosexual.

The recommendation goes to Lt. Gen. Thomas Miller of the First Army Division, and Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, who will make the final decision. However, the recommendations are seldom overturned, according to Asterisk*, a blog on gay rights issues from Matt Algren.

"I'm disappointed," said Choi at a news conference tonight."Today was a setback for me."

But Choi said he plans to appeal to the higher ranking officers. "I refuse to lie about my love relationship," he said.

Choi, who served in Iraq as a member of Fort Drum's 10th Mountain Division before joining the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry of the New York National Guard, publicly admitted to being gay in March on a nationally-broadcast MSNBC show.

The recommendation that federal recognition of Choi as an officer is the first step in what could result in Choi's discharge from the service for violating the military's don't ask-don't tell policy against homosexual conduct.

Now it will be up to the Obama Administration or Congress to decide whether to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Minnesota Supreme Court Finds in Favor of Al Franken

Nearly eight months after the November elections, comedian/radio host/best-selling author/politician Al Franken can finally declare victory in his bid for the the U.S. Senate.

(From the AP, via the Washington Post)
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Al Franken ascended Tuesday from the ranks of former "Saturday Night Live" comedians to an even more exclusive club, outlasting Republican Norm Coleman in an eight-month recount and courtroom saga to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Franken's victory gives Democrats control of 60 seats in the Senate - the critical number needed to overcome Republican filibusters. When Franken is seated, which could come as early as next week, his party will have a majority not reached on either side of the aisle in some three decades.

"When you win an election this close, you know not one bit of effort went to waste," Franken said. "The way I see it, I'm not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator, I'm going to Washington to be the second senator from Minnesota."

Repost: How I Came Out, Part 1: Home is Where the Hate Is

I wrote this article last year. It was originally posted in June of '09. I might write it differently yoday, but I don't like to re-write too much. It kills the tone of the story. Any way, in light of the recent global attention to the very old problem of bullying and LGBT youth, I thought it might help to share this again. Readership has grown over the last year, so some of you might not have read this yet.

The things that I wrote about in this story did happen. My family doesn't like to admit it, or talk about it. My nieces and nephews don't understand why I stay away from my family and this may be part of the family history they haven't heard about before. For that reason alone, they deserve to know this. I don't know if any of them are LGBTQIA or anything else, but if any of them are, they need to know that you can get through the tough times and be stronger because of it.

It does get better when you clear your life of the people that just want to take you down and decide to live by your own rules. I have ducks, for god's sake. How much cooler does it get than that?  I hope that what I went though has made it easier for them. 

I didn't plan on this being a big article, but once I started writing, it just sort of flowed. Then I decided to make it a three-parter, but it became such an emotional experience for me, that I couldn't get past part 2. I'll finish it some day. Maybe I'll write a book some day.

As I've written before, I attended my first Gay Pride parade and festival in Washington, DC in June, 1978, as an 18-year-old kid, fresh out of High School. I wasn't out to my family yet and all I could tell them about what I did that day was that I was hanging out with some friends.

When I came home that later that Sunday afternoon, my mind reeling from everything I'd seen that day, I felt like Dorothy being whisked out the technicolor landscape of The Land of Oz and landing with a thud back in that sucky sepia-toned farmhouse in Kansas. I wanted to be anywhere but home. I had to keep my joy at finally finding a community of people like me hidden. I turned on the 6 o'clock news to see if there was any Pride coverage, in part because I wanted to relive the day's events, but also out of fear that I might have been caught on camera. At the very end of the broadcast there was a 30 second piece about the Parade with the usual shots of drag queens and leather men. I guess I wasn't interesting enough for TV.

My coming out process had actually started much earlier that year because of my relationship with my best friend, Charles who later became my boyfriend. But as every LGBT person knows, it really goes back even further.

My older siblings and their friends had always called me fag or queer. I was short, awkward and skinny with a sensitive, artistic nature. My brothers were both popular and athletic. My sisters were smart, pretty and opinionated like my mother. There may have been six of us, but the similarity to the Brady Bunch ended there. Each of them had always made sure that I knew that I didn't fit in and wasn't welcome in my own home. There was no way I could ever confide to any of them that I thought I might be gay.

During the spring semester of my senior year of High School, Charles and I had two art classes together, worked at the same place after school and his family had just moved in around the corner from me. He had always known he was gay and was never once plagued with the self doubt that had ruled my life. Charles had always known just exactly who he was and made no apologies. He was one of those confident, over-the-top characters that I just couldn't believe was real and I decided I had to get to know him.

In short order, my family became uncomfortable with our friendship and had even staged an intervention. My mother started by telling me that someone had asked her in the supermarket if I was gay, because of the flamboyant guy I was hanging out with. I countered that she was assuming guilt by association. I stood my ground on the basis that he was my friend and I wasn't going to let her or anyone else tell me he couldn't be. It was a horrible confrontation of accusation and denial, with f-bombs flying everywhere. (It may be hard to believe that I could use words like that with my mother, but she did teach them to me.) 

I was still in denial about myself, so in my mind, my argument was sound and she was just pointing out one more thing about me that she didn't like. By that time I had learned that my family would never approve of anything I did anyway, so I might as well do what I want. Fuck'em if they didn't like it. Exhausted, but never giving in, I retreated to my room.

My older sister was home from college that weekend with her buff, blond, blue-eyed boyfriend, Tony. They had witnessed the whole thing and my sister couldn't wait to put her two cents in. We had never been close and when she came to my room filled with her college student sense of enlightenment and wisdom and started her "just wait until you're ready" speech, I told her that I was ready for her to get the fuck out of my room.

After a few minutes, they sent Tony up, the poor sap. I felt really bad for him that he had been dragged into this mess. Though he clearly didn't want any part of this, he came in, sat down and in his dopey, dumb jock way said, "So your mom thinks your gay, huh?" 

By then I was an emotionally drained. I knew how hard it was for him, and since he wasn't family, I gave him a break. Calmly and with conviction I told him that my mother's guilt-by-association mindset was bullshit, that I wasn't gay and that I wasn't going to let them dictate who my friends would be. With that, the conversation ended and Tony, his duty fulfilled, left the room with a sense of immense relief and extreme embarrassment.
That was the last time the subject came up for the next year. But during that time, Charles and I became closer.

It happened on April 16th, 1978. I wanted to remember the date forever, so I made a mental note that it was the day after tax day. (Silly, maybe, but 29 years later, I still remember.) 

I stayed the night at Charles' small apartment that Friday night when his divorced mother was away for the weekend. He shared a room with his brother, so we slept on the floor in the living room. One thing lead to another and I fumbled my way through my first boy-on-boy experience.

In the morning, I woke up feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. For the first time I knew who I was. I was in love with my best friend and he loved me back. He was the first person in my life who had ever loved me "warts and all". I was reborn.

Next Time: Dupont Circle, Freshman Year and the Final Showdown
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Monday, June 29, 2009

Dozens protest arrests at Fort Worth gay bar

(From The Dallas Morning News)

Several dozen people marched outside the Tarrant County Courthouse on Sunday to protest arrests made at a gay bar over the weekend.

Protesters said they want to know why Fort Worth police officers and Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission agents used what the protesters described as excessive force when arresting seven patrons at the Rainbow Lounge early Sunday.

Todd Camp of Fort Worth, who was at the bar, said one person was hospitalized after hitting his head during the incident. Police could not confirm that Sunday night.

"It was incredibly excessive and brutal," Camp said.

In a statement, the Fort Worth Police Department said agents inspected three bars early Sunday and police arrested patrons at the Rainbow Lounge because they were drunk and tried to grope officers.

"A thorough internal investigation into the allegations made is being conducted as all allegations against officers are investigated," the statement said.

The bar, which opened south of downtown last week, was due for a TABC inspection, officials said. Police said they told the bar's owner they were coming.

The arrests came exactly 40 years after the Stonewall Inn uprising, where patrons at a New York City gay bar fought back against a police raid.

Fort Worth council member Joel Burns told protesters Sunday night he would ensure a thorough investigation.

RIP Billy Mays

From ctrl+alt+del.com
Click to embiggen.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Va. Senator John Edwards Addresses Roanoke's Rally For Equality

Virginia Senator John Edwards addressed a small crowed gathered for Roanoke's Rally For Equality in Elmwood Park on Sunday. The event was held to mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. I spoke with Sen. Edwards before his speech and discussed his views on LGBT rights, President Obama's campaign promises to LGBT Americans, same-sex marriage and gays in the military.

Edwards said he believes the president will make good on his promise to end the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy but cautioned, "It's a long, involved process." He also said that a moratorium on military discharges under DADT should be implemented until the policy can be ended legislatively, saying, "it's the right thing to do."

The senator added that with major issues like the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama "wants to go slow" on LGBT rights, having learned from Bill Clinton's mistakes. It was Clinton's efforts to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. armed forces early in his first term that resulted in DADT as a compromise.

Edwards worked closely with Virginia's gay rights advocates to defeat the Marshall/Newman marriage initiative in 2006. Despite his efforts, voters passed the measure amending the Virginia constitution to ban same sax marriage. Edwards says the initiative was devised as a wedge issue by the campaign of candidate George Allen in his run for governor. Allen lost that election.

Sen. Edwards said that when the initiative passed, the margin of 57/43 was much lower than expected. With Virginia going blue in the '08 elections, Edwards thinks the political climate in the Old Dominion is changing.

"If the election were held now, you'd be surprised", he said, adding that he believes that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage will eventually be overturned.

Later, in his speech to the group of about 40, Sen. Edwards talked about cultural diversity and Roanoke's many annual cultural festivals which include Pride in the Park. He said that he always considered Roanoke "a welcoming place."

He compared the Stonewall Riots to John Brown's taking of the armory at Harper's Ferry West Virginia. The senator explained that Brown naively thought he could end slavery with one courageous act. Though his actions were unsuccessful and lead to his death, they were a catalyst for change, which ultimately lead to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Edwards said that all civil rights battles "have to start with a courageous move."

The Stonewall Riots: 40 Years Ago Today

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that launched the the fight for LGBT Equality, I thought it would be appropriate to post the original New York Daily News article about the events. The article ran on July 6, 1969, a week after the police raid on the historic bar.

The tone of the article is condescending and offensive to say the least, but it gives an interesting historical insight into how the American people viewed us at the time. Our fight for full equality is far from over, but we've come a long way, baby!

Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad

Reprinted from "The New York Daily News," July 6, 1969

She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn't bothered to shave. A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street.

Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra strap to bra strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 57 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village. Queen Power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt. New York City experienced its first homosexual riot. "We may have lost the battle, sweets, but the war is far from over," lisped an unofficial lady-in-waiting from the court of the Queens.

"We've had all we can take from the Gestapo," the spokesman, or spokeswoman, continued. "We're putting our foot down once and for all." The foot wore a spiked heel. According to reports, the Stonewall Inn, a two-story structure with a sand painted brick and opaque glass facade, was a mecca for the homosexual element in the village who wanted nothing but a private little place where they could congregate, drink, dance and do whatever little girls do when they get together.

The thick glass shut out the outside world of the street. Inside, the Stonewall bathed in wild, bright psychedelic lights, while the patrons writhed to the sounds of a juke box on a square dance floor surrounded by booths and tables. The bar did a good business and the waiters, or waitresses, were always kept busy, as they snaked their way around the dancing customers to the booths and tables. For nearly two years, peace and tranquility reigned supreme for the Alice in Wonderland clientele.

The Raid Last Friday

Last Friday the privacy of the Stonewall was invaded by police from the First Division. It was a raid. They had a warrant. After two years, police said they had been informed that liquor was being served on the premises. Since the Stonewall was without a license, the place was being closed. It was the law.

All hell broke loose when the police entered the Stonewall. The girls instinctively reached for each other. Others stood frozen, locked in an embrace of fear.

Only a handful of police were on hand for the initial landing in the homosexual beachhead. They ushered the patrons out onto Christopher Street, just off Sheridan Square. A crowd had formed in front of the Stonewall and the customers were greeted with cheers of encouragement from the gallery.

The whole proceeding took on the aura of a homosexual Academy Awards Night. The Queens pranced out to the street blowing kisses and waving to the crowd. A beauty of a specimen named Stella wailed uncontrollably while being led to the sidewalk in front of the Stonewall by a cop. She later confessed that she didn't protest the manhandling by the officer, it was just that her hair was in curlers and she was afraid her new beau might be in the crowd and spot her. She didn't want him to see her this way, she wept.

Queen Power

The crowd began to get out of hand, eye witnesses said. Then, without warning, Queen Power exploded with all the fury of a gay atomic bomb. Queens, princesses and ladies-in-waiting began hurling anything they could get their polished, manicured fingernails on. Bobby pins, compacts, curlers, lipstick tubes and other femme fatale missiles were flying in the direction of the cops. The war was on. The lilies of the valley had become carnivorous jungle plants.

Urged on by cries of "C'mon girls, lets go get'em," the defenders of Stonewall launched an attack. The cops called for assistance. To the rescue came the Tactical Patrol Force.

Flushed with the excitement of battle, a fellow called Gloria pranced around like Wonder Woman, while several Florence Nightingales administered first aid to the fallen warriors. There were some assorted scratches and bruises, but nothing serious was suffered by the honeys turned Madwoman of Chaillot.

Official reports listed four injured policemen with 13 arrests. The War of the Roses lasted about 2 hours from about midnight to 2 a.m. There was a return bout Wednesday night.

Two veterans recently recalled the battle and issued a warning to the cops. "If they close up all the gay joints in this area, there is going to be all out war."

Bruce and Nan

Both said they were refugees from Indiana and had come to New York where they could live together happily ever after. They were in their early 20's. They preferred to be called by their married names, Bruce and Nan.

"I don't like your paper," Nan lisped matter-of-factly. "It's anti-fag and pro-cop."

"I'll bet you didn't see what they did to the Stonewall. Did the pigs tell you that they smashed everything in sight? Did you ask them why they stole money out of the cash register and then smashed it with a sledge hammer? Did you ask them why it took them two years to discover that the Stonewall didn't have a liquor license."

Bruce nodded in agreement and reached over for Nan's trembling hands.

"Calm down, doll," he said. "Your face is getting all flushed."

Nan wiped her face with a tissue.

"This would have to happen right before the wedding. The reception was going to be held at the Stonewall, too," Nan said, tossing her ashen-tinted hair over her shoulder.

"What wedding?," the bystander asked.

Nan frowned with a how-could-anybody-be-so-stupid look. "Eric and Jack's wedding, of course. They're finally tieing the knot. I thought they'd never get together."

Meet Shirley

"We'll have to find another place, that's all there is to it," Bruce sighed. "But every time we start a place, the cops break it up sooner or later."

"They let us operate just as long as the payoff is regular," Nan said bitterly. "I believe they closed up the Stonewall because there was some trouble with the payoff to the cops. I think that's the real reason. It's a shame. It was such a lovely place. We never bothered anybody. Why couldn't they leave us alone?"

Shirley Evans, a neighbor with two children, agrees that the Stonewall was not a rowdy place and the persons who frequented the club were never troublesome. She lives at 45 Christopher St.

"Up until the night of the police raid there was never any trouble there," she said. "The homosexuals minded their own business and never bothered a soul. There were never any fights or hollering, or anything like that. They just wanted to be left alone. I don't know what they did inside, but that's their business. I was never in there myself. It was just awful when the police came. It was like a swarm of hornets attacking a bunch of butterflies."

A reporter visited the now closed Stonewall and it indeed looked like a cyclone had struck the premisses.

Police said there were over 200 people in the Stonewall when they entered with a warrant. The crowd outside was estimated at 500 to 1,000. According to police, the Stonewall had been under observation for some time. Being a private club, plain clothesmen were refused entrance to the inside when they periodically tried to check the place. "They had the tightest security in the Village," a First Division officer said, "We could never get near the place without a warrant."

Police Talk

The men of the First Division were unable to find any humor in the situation, despite the comical overtones of the raid.

"They were throwing more than lace hankies," one inspector said. "I was almost decapitated by a slab of thick glass. It was thrown like a discus and just missed my throat by inches. The beer can didn't miss, though, "it hit me right above the temple."

Police also believe the club was operated by Mafia connected owners. The police did confiscate the Stonewall's cash register as proceeds from an illegal operation. The receipts were counted and are on file at the division headquarters. The warrant was served and the establishment closed on the grounds it was an illegal membership club with no license, and no license to serve liquor.

The police are sure of one thing. They haven't heard the last from the Girls of Christopher Street.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rally For Equlity In Roanoke

We may not yet have our Pride festival in June, but there is an event this weekend that will give the Roanoke, Va. LGBT community the opportunity to show its Pride and make a statement.

There will be a Rally for Full Equality on Sunday, June 28th at 1:30 pm at the Franklin Rd. entrance of Elwood Park in downtown Roanoke.

Scheduled speakers include Sen. John Edwards (D. Va.), Rev. Joe Cobb of Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge, Len Rogers of The Stonewall Society and Rev. Steven Stanley of Christ Episcopal Church.

Don't wait until September to show the world Roanoke has Pride. I'll be there talking to people, taking pics and looking for stories.

My "Pride During Pride Month" poll is posted. Make your voice heard by casting your vote on the right side bar.

If you've got stories, pictures or information about upcoming LGBT events in or around the Roanoke region that you'd like to see on Rev. Steve's Cyber-Pulpit, email me at rev.stevescyberpulpit@yahoo.com

Michael Jackson, Billie Jean and the Bartender with the Nice Butt

For the past few days I've been trying to sort out my thoughts over the passing of Michael Jackson before I attempted to write anything. He was such an odd character, but his talent was indisputable. I wasn't even sure I wanted to write anything at all.

I was at work when Paul called me with the news. He had called me about an hour and a half earlier with the news of Farrah Fawcett's death. Between customers and on my breaks, I hastily cut and pasted something to the site, which I hate to do, but sometimes getting the word out is more important than originality, although I strive to do both. It's the blogger's curse.

I was never a huge MJ fan, but I did buy "Off The Wall" when it came out in 1979, a year after I myself came out. It remains my favorite album of his. It was a more subtle production than "Thiller", but for me, that's what makes it a better album.

Like a lot of folks, I grew up with Michael Jackson. He was just a year older than me and I remember the first time I heard his voice on the radio back in the 60's, I thought it was Diana Ross. I remember the Jackson 5 performing on the "Ed Sullivan Show", "American Bandstand", "Soul Train", "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" and later "The Cher Show".

He was such a cute kid with so much talent and energy packed into that little body, how could you not love him? Looking back, I think he was my first boy-crush. As he matured, Michael developed a more masculine, ruggedly handsome look, which reminded me of a young Billy Dee Williams. It seemed inevitable that he would transition to movies and become a classic Hollywood leading man.

When he co-starred with Diana Ross and comedian Nipsey Russell in the film version of the Broadway musical "The Wiz", his face was almost completely hidden beneath the heavy makeup and prosthetics of his Scarecrow character, but his explosive energy in the dance routines made the box office bomb and critical flop worth seeing. I couldn't wait to see what would come next in his career now that he was coming into his own.

In the early years of Michael's young adulthood, there was a lot of speculation that he was gay. It was a natural assumption. He was handsome, talented, sensitive and soft spoken and was never seen in public with a girl on his arm. Like a lot of closeted gay men, his public image was very asexual. There was a lot to identify with, even though we gays had to admit to ourselves, it was probably just wishful thinking.

One Friday night in in 1982, I was with my friend Charles at a bar in DC's Adams-Morgan neighborhood called Morgan's, a typical 80's fern bar with a spacious dance floor. It was new and we decided to check it out, even though it was several blocks away from our usual Dupont Circle stomping grounds. It was still early when we arrived and the place was virtually empty. As we walked in to the opening strains of "Billie Jean", I checked out the cute bartender with the nice butt.

After about a half hour, I got up the nerve and jotted down my phone number on the back a business card, walked over, passed it across the bar to him and said, "Call me." A few days later he did and we dated for four weeks, which is a long-term relationship by gay standards. To this day, every time I hear that song, I think of the cute bartender with the nice butt.

I won't go on about all the scandals, bizarre behavior and plastic surgeries. There's no shortage of those stories and there will be many more in the coming weeks. I prefer to remember Michael Jackson as the adorable kid and handsome young man that came before all that. For me he will always be the young dynamo with unlimited potential that I grew up with.

As I said before, I was never a huge, over the top fan, but Michael Jackson has always been there in the background of my life. With his passing, I feel an unexpected sense of loss. He was truly one of a kind and I will miss him.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


King of Pop Collapsed in His Home

(From TMZ) 5:20 p.m. We've just learned Michael Jackson has died. He was 50. Michael suffered a cardiac arrest earlier this afternoon at his Holmby Hills home and paramedics were unable to revive him.

We're told when paramedics arrived Jackson had no pulse and they never got a pulse back.A source tells us Jackson was dead when paramedics arrived. A cardiologist at UCLA tells TMZ Jackson died of cardiac arrest.Once at the hospital, the staff tried to resuscitate him but he was completely unresponsive.

A source inside the hospital told us there was "absolute chaos" after Jackson arrrived. People who were with the singer were screaming, "You've got to save him! You've got to save him!"We're told one of the staff members at Jackson's home called 911.

La Toya ran in the hospital sobbing after Jackson was pronounced dead.Michael is survived by three children: Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr., Paris Michael Katherine Jackson and Prince "Blanket" Michael Jackson II.

Actress Farrah Fawcett Dies at Age 62

Actress Farrah Fawcett has died after a two-year battle with anal cancer. When the cancer spread to her liver, Fawcett launched an aggressive fight against the disease, seeking out new treatments in the U.S. and Germany.

Fawcett recorded her courageous battle with the help of best friend Alana Stewart, in the documentary, "Farrah's Story" which aired on TV in May.

Her longtime partner, actor Ryan O'Neil, was by her side throughout her ordeal, despite their often stormy on-again, off-again relationship. The couple had announced this week that they were finally going to get married after over 20 years together.

During the seventies, Fawcett was married to TV's "The Six Million Dollar Man", actor Lee Majors before making it big as Jill Monroe on "Charlie's Angels". Although she left the series after its first season, the actress has always been remembered for that roll and her billowing hair.

Critics thought she was just another pretty, dumb blonde getting by on her looks. Farrah proved them wrong in 1984's "The Burning Bed" a TV movie about an abused wife who kills her husband by setting him on fire as he slept, a roll that raised awareness of battered wife syndrome, which earned her the first of five Golden Globe nominations throughout her career.

Fawcett won critical acclaim for her work on stage in the extremely physical roll of a rape victim who turns the tables on her rapist in the play "Extremeties". She was nominated for another Golden Globe when the play became a TV movie in 1986.

The actress is survived by Ryan O'Neil and their son Redmond.

It's Official: LGBT Virginians Have No Rights!

Virginia Court Rules Executive Order 1 (2006) Gives Gays No Cause of Action
Michael Hamar of The Bilerico Project reports:

The Circuit Court for the City of Martinsville has ruled in Michael Ware Moore v. Virginia Museum of Natural History that Executive Order 1 (2006) signed by Virginia Governor (and DNC Chair) Tim Kaine provides no cause of action to gay Virginians fired for discrimination based on sexual orientation, nor does it waive the Commonwealth of Virginia's defense of sovereign immunity against fired gay employees seeking redress. Executive Order 1 (2006) provides in relevant part as follows:

"This policy specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities."

Other than Executive Order 1 (2006) gay and lesbian Virginians have no state law protections against employment discrimination.

Michael W. Moore, who sought protection under Executive Order No. 1 (2006) was an employee of the Virginia Museum of Natural History until the late afternoon of November 14, 2006, when he maintains he was forced to involuntarily resign by former Museum Executive Director, Timothy Gette because Moore is gay.

Prior to November 14, 2006, Moore had received an employee performance evaluation on October 20, 2006, in which he was evaluated as a "Contributor" based on the Employee Work Profile - Performance Evaluation form signed by both Gette and Nancy Bell, a/k/a Nancy Bell Dethlesfan, Moore's supervisor. This evaluation qualified Moore for a pay increase.

In summarily dismissing Moore's appeal from a determination by the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, the Circuit Court for the City of Martinsville, Virginia, ignored numerous U.S. Constitutional issues raised in the case and suggests that Virginia state employees leave their federal constitutional rights at the door. Moore is considering filing a further appeal from the ruling.

As I have said before, LGBT citizens considering a move to Virginia from progressive states need to truly think twice before moving to a state where LGBT citizens are in essence 3rd class citizens.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Landmark Documentary "Before Stonewall" Now On DVD

Most of today's LGBT Americans think of the gay rights movement as beginning with the riots that took place 40 years ago at the Stonewall Inn in New York City's Greenwich Village. Drag queens, hustlers and other bar patrons had had enough and fought back against police during one of the routine raids on Gotham's gay gathering places. More riots broke out over the course of two weeks at other queer bars in The Village as New York's Finest moved to "clean up" the city.

While Stonewall was the defining moment in our fight for equality, what is less well known is that before June 27, 1969 there was a thriving, if hidden, gay subculture in America.

In the 1950's gay and lesbian civil rights organizations, the Mettachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were meeting in private homes and picketing the White House and State Department over the denial of security clearances for homosexual government employees.

Gays and Lesbians partied on the down-low at their own bars, vacationed at their own unofficial gay hot spots and led secret lives that could have cost them their jobs, homes and families. The 1984 film, "Before Stonewall", now available on DVD, documents the earliest days of our history in America.

John Corry of The New York Times writes about the film in Wednesday's edition:

In sometimes moving interviews, homosexuals talk about what they found. ''I was in a room with 12 other lesbians for the first time in my life,'' a woman [the late activist Barbara Gittings] says, joyously recalling a meeting of the Daughters of Bilitis, ''and, oh, what a thrill that was!'' On screen, her happiness, even if it is in retrospect, is contagious.

''Before Stonewall'' touches an earlier era, too. ''I do more bothering now with straight people than I ever did in my life,'' an elderly woman says. She talks of Harlem nightclubs in the 1920's. An elderly man, spare and elegant, remembers the period differently. It was the ''world of the demimondaine - the people who would be out at night with no good place to go.'' The euphemism for homosexuality then, he says, was ''temperamental.''

"Before Stonewall" is one of those you'll want to buy, not rent. The DVD hits stores this week.

AWOL SC Gov. Mark Sanford Busted with Mistress, E-mails Exposed

He disappeared without a trace for seven days leaving his wife and family, staff and constituents wondering where he was. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford had talked about going hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but when he resurfaced at the Atlanta airport on Wednesday, he revealed to a reporter from The State newspaper that he had changed his mind and instead gone to a favorite vacation spot in Buenos Aires, emphasizing that he had gone alone.

Wednesday afternoon the staunch defender of traditional marriage held a press conference where he revealed that he was in fact with his mistress.

The State published e-mails between the governor and the Argentine woman, identified only as Maria, which show that the relationship has been going on for a year or more.

Governor Sanford said between tears that he will step down from his position as head of the Republican Governors Association. State Representative Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, called for Sanford's resignation, saying "There is nothing left to save. There is no reason for him to remain as governor."

House Dems Call on Obama to Stop DADT Discharges

In bold move on Monday, congressional Democrats submitted a letter to Pres. Obama calling for a moratorium on military discharges under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" until a legislative solution to ending this ridiculous policy can be found. It's reassuring to know that at least some democratic leaders understand that they were sent to Washington to represent all of us.
(From The Boston Globe) WASHINGTON _ In the most vocal plea yet for the White House to take the lead in pushing for gays and lesbians to be allowed to serve openly in the military, 77 Democratic lawmakers today urged President Obama to use his executive powers to order a halt to military discharges under the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and work aggressively with Congress to pass new legislation to overturn what they describe as a discriminatory policy that harms national security.

"We urge you to exercise the maximum discretion legally possible in administering Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell until Congress repeals the law," states the letter, organized by Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat of Florida. "To this end, we ask that you direct the Armed Services not to initiate any investigation of service personnel to determine their sexual orientation, and that you instruct them to disregard third party accusations that do not allege violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

A recent study by the Palm Center, a public policy think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara, argued that Obama has the authority as commander-in-chief to suspend the gay discharge process through an executive order.

But only Congress can make a permanent change, by overturning the 1993 law that established the current policy -- which stipulates that gays and lesbians can serve in uniform only if their sexual orientation remains secret.

And so far, virtually no Republicans in the House of Representatives or Senate have expressed a willingness to overturn the law, while many conservative Democrats are also considered wary of doing so.

Obama aides have said the president still plans on acting on his campaign pledge to work for the law's repeal but have outlined a very deliberative process of study and consultation with the top military brass that could take months, if not years.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, asked about the policy last week, made it clear that he believes it is ultimately up to the Congress to reverse it and that the administration has few options unless it repeals the law.

"Until the law is changed, our ability to change the policy is extremely limited, if not nonexistent," Gates said.

Still, those who back repeal say the nation cannot afford to wait until 2010 or 2011, contending that thousands of qualified personnel needed in a time of war have been kicked out of the military unnecessarily, including those will skills such as foreign language proficiency that are in short supply.

"...Our country's national security will continue to suffer if action is delayed," the lawmakers, including four members of the Massachusetts delegation, told Obama today.
The Advocate reports that the administration gave its standard canned response when asked to comment about the letter:

The White House has responded to an inquiry from The Advocate about a letter sent from 77 House members Monday urging President Barack Obama to take immediate action to stop the investigations of "don't ask, don't tell" violations.

"President Obama remains committed to a legislative repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which he believes will provide a durable and lasting solution to this issue. He welcomes the commitment of these members to seeing Congress take action," read the statement.

When it comes to LGBT equality, Pres. Pricktease is all talk. And it's starting to sound more and more like he's got this sound byte on his voice mail. Which number do you push to get through to a live president?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Diva Alert! Cher to Star with Christina Aquilera in New Film

(From Variety) In what will be her first movie star role in a decade, Cher is set to join Christina Aguilera in “Burlesque,” a contemporary musical for Screen Gems. Steven Antin will direct from a script he wrote that was revised by Susannah Grant (Daily Variety, May 4).

Aguilera will play an ambitious small-town Iowa girl with a big voice who comes of age in a neo-burlesque club on Sunset Boulevard that’s run by Tess (Cher), a former dancer who struggles to keep the club open and gives the young girl a chance to shine.

Cher will sing onscreen. While her voice has been heard in many films, “Burlesque” will mark the first time she’ll be seen singing in a film she stars in. Cher last starred in “Tea With Mussolini” in 1999.

Roanoke Rallies for Equality

We may not yet have our Pride festival in June, but there is an event this weekend that will give the Roanoke, Va. LGBT community the opportunity to show its Pride and make a statement.

There will be a Rally for Full Equality on Sunday, June 28th at 1:30 pm at the Franklin Rd. entrance of Elwood Park in downtown Roanoke.

Scheduled speakers include Sen. John Edwards (D. Va.), Rev. Joe Cobb of Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge, Len Rogers of The Stonewall Society and Rev. Steven Stanley of Christ Episcopal Church.

Don't wait until September to show the world Roanoke has Pride. I'll be there talking to people, taking pics and looking for stories.

My "Pride During Pride Month" poll is posted. Make your voice heard by casting your vote on the right side bar.

If you've got stories, pictures or information about upcoming LGBT events in or around the Roanoke region that you'd like to see on Rev. Steve's Cyber-Pulpit, email me at rev.stevescyberpulpit@yahoo.com

Carson Sidekick Ed McMahon Dies at 86

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ed McMahon, a fixture on U.S. late-night television for 30 years as the full-throated announcer and sidekick for Johnny Carson on NBC's "The Tonight Show," has died at age 86, KNBC television reported on Tuesday.

The veteran TV personality, best known for his nightly introduction of Carson in a deep, booming voice with the drawn-out line, "Heeeeeeeeere's Johnny!", died at a Los Angeles-area hospital, said KNBC, the Los Angeles affiliate of the national TV network NBC.

McMahon's 1980's talent show, Star Search helped launch the careers of Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O'Donnell and out Broadway star Sam Harris. Look for Rosie and her big, poofy mullet in this Star Search promo from 1985.

Obama Invites LGBT Advocates to White House

(From the New York Times) As advocates for gays and lesbians intensify their criticism of the White House, President Obama has invited some of their leaders to an East Room reception next Monday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the 1969 Greenwich Village demonstrations that gave birth to the modern gay rights movement.

The White House has not publicized the reception, and officials did not respond to e-mail requests for comment. But gay leaders from here and around the country said they had received either telephone calls from the White House or written invitations to the event, and were told Mr. Obama is expected to speak. (The Rev.: The White House has now publicly confirmed the event.)

Some said it would take more than a reception to change their view that Mr. Obama has not been aggressive enough in pursuing gay rights. As a candidate, Mr. Obama campaigned to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law barring gay marriage, and ‘’don’t ask don’t tell,’’ the military policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly. But advocates have accused him of dragging his feet.

“What’s going to change the way the community is feeling is seeing the introduction of a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’’ said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, a Boston-based advocacy group, referring to two policies Mr. Obama pledged to overturn. She said gay rights advocates want to see “a president who is fulfilling the promises he made on the campaign trail.’’

Monday, June 22, 2009

Judy Garland: The Voice That Launched a Revolution

Forty years ago today, singer/dancer/actress and the diva by which all others are measured, Judy Garland died in her London hotel room of an accidental overdose of prescription sleeping pills.

My straight friends sometimes ask why the gays are so fascinated by Judy. Maybe it was her powerful voice that she belted from her petite frame and filled concerts halls to the rafters. She stood barely five feet tall, but she was a giant of an entertainer. Maybe it was her ability to come back time after time when everyone had written her off.

As a child, her family had been run out of her midwestern home town when her father was accused of taking indecent liberties with a young man. She had two gay husbands and and gave the world Liza Minelli, who also had (at least) two gay husbands. For whatever reason, we loved her and she loved us.

The Stonewall Riots took place on the evening following her funeral. Today on the 40th anniversary of her death, I'm posting her final TV performance on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" which aired December 17, 1968.

Why We Celebrate Pride in June

Okay, I haven't totally run out of ideas yet, even though I've posted this video from Varla Jean Merman before. I'm re-posting "Revue Your History" because it tells the story of the Stonewall Riots - the reason we (should) march every June- better than I can. It's funny, educational and most importantly, I love Varla Jean.

The first time I ran this video, I received an e-mail from a young man in Isanbul, Turkey asking me if I had a copy of the lyrics, because his english isn't very good and he wanted to know what the lady was saying. I wrote him back and told him I didn't, but gave him the URL for Varla's web site and the e-mail address of her agent. We think we have it bad here in the good old USA because we can't get married. At least we don't live in fear of being thrown into a Turkish prison. Happy Pride Month!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

REPOST: To Roanoke Pride, Have Some Pride in Yourself!

When I first posted this article last week, I had no idea that I was opening a can of worms. Since then, Ive been busy talking to people around Roanoke's queer community to get a better understanding of how they feel about what's being done and not done locally to continue the fight for LGBT equality.

I've also been promoting the blog and conducting a survey to see if there is any support for having our Pride Festival held in June. It's too soon to draw a conclusion and I'll continue with my polling until I have a large enough sample. I plan to bring the results to the Roanoke Pride Committee to see what their thoughts are. I'll post the results when I've got the final tally.

What I can report is that in between the gossip and "don't tell anyone I said this, but...", I found that queer Roanokers are hungry for more. More activism, more involvement, more than Sunday Socials and political apathy. I guess that's where I come in.

There are lots of LGBT stories, big and small, to be told in and around the Roanoke Valley, so I have my work cut out for me. I'm reposting this article for those I spoke to tonight at Roanoke's premier dance club -- of any kind, gay or straight -- "The Park". They weren't aware that there was a locally produced web presence for their community. Well, they do now. Lots of work to do.

The Rev. To Roanoke Pride: Have Some Pride in Yourself!

When I moved to the small southern city of Roanoke, Va. fifteen years ago from the DC metro area, I was a little nervous about being an openly gay man in the bible belt. I'd never been here before, but my when my boss announced that the company was relocating, I decided to come along. I needed a change of pace from the DC mentality, where people judge you based on who you know and what you can do for them.

I needed a fresh start and putting five hours of travel time between me and my family, who redefine the word "dysfunctional", seemed like a good idea. Three or four coworkers were making the move as well, so there was a built-in support group. I settled into a very nice apartment with mountain views, a pool, clubhouse and tennis courts. With a cost of living roughly a third lower than the DC metro area, I could never have afforded to live like this up there.

Eventually, I found the only two gay bars in town on Salem Ave., an area downtown that most people stayed away from after dark. I met people, made friends and found that Roanoke had a large LGBT community. They even celebrated Gay Pride every year - in September.

When I asked around as to why not June, the consistent answer was that people from Roanoke like to travel to other cities like DC, New York or Atlanta for the bigger celebrations and nobody would be around to attend the more modest hometown event if it were held in June.

This year - the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots - Roanoke Pride celebrates its 20th year, but not in June, which Barack Obama so gratuitously proclaimed as Pride Month.

Roanoke's gay community suffers from a terminal case of low self esteem. As long as they can party on the weekends at their two small-town gay bars and engage in their Internet hook-ups, queer Roanokers are content to sit in the back of the bus, not make waves and let the Pride Parade pass them by.


Where's the Pride? It's not about waving a rainbow banner and putting on your best leather chaps or dressing up like a dime-store Diana Ross and dancing in the streets to "I'm Coming Out". Pride comes from within. It's about standing up to your detractors and saying, "I'm just as good as you."

We're fighting for equality here, people!

An article in yesterday's (Saturday, June 13) Roanoke Times profiled the founders of "Pride in the Park", our local LGBT event. In its own way the paper was trying to be timely by showing just how far our city has come in its tolerance for diversity. But the timeliness of the piece was shot down by the very group the story was about.

I can almost hear the phone conversation between the reporter and the spokesman for the event planners:

Roanoke Times: "Hi, I'm (reporter) from the Roanoke Times. We're putting together a story about Pride month. I'd like to ask you a few questions about this year's Pride in the Park."

Roanoke Pride: "Wow, that's great! We have a lot of really fabulous things planned for this year. Did you know it's our 20th anniversary? By the way, we hold it in September, not June."

RT: "Oh? Why is that?"

RP: "Well, with so many bigger, better Pride events being celebrated in bigger, better cities, we felt we'd have a bigger, better turn-out in September, when nobody had anything bigger and better to do. Besides, it'll give the locals three months to forget that they had to travel 5 hours or more by car, rent an over-priced hotel room and pay way to much for everything they ate just to celebrate Pride during actual Pride Month."

RT: "Oh. Well, I'm sort of on a deadline and my editor really wants a local angle on the whole 'Pride Month' thingy. We'll just play that part down. I promise to write something again in September." (Dammit, I'm never gonna get out of this one-horse town! There goes my freakin' Pulitzer!)
Now don't get me wrong. I know some of the people who got Roanoke Pride started 20 years ago and they are to be commended for their hard work and dedication. But the days of "Pride-on-the-down-low" are over.

This next part is directed specifically to the organizers of Roanoke Pride:

Every June I'm reminded of the movie "Field of Dreams". If you build it, they will come!

Have some real pride in yourselves and your community and celebrate Gay Pride in June. Give Roanoke's sizable LGBT community a reason to stay in their own home town and still feel like they are part of the larger fight for equality. So what if New York, DC, Philadelphia and all the other cities put on a better show! Our local events may be smaller, but we have nothing to be ashamed of. That is the whole point of Pride, after all.

I went to my first Pride at age 18 in Washington, DC in June, 1978. I drove in from the Maryland suburbs, met up with my friends and we made our way across the city to DuPont Circle. The parade wasn't very long. The floats were thrown together on the cheap with crepe paper and poster paint. Marching bands lead the way followed closely by drag queens waving to the crowds, perched on the back seats of convertibles. The DC Gay Men's Chorus strutted their stuff and sang their little hearts out. Then came the PFLAG contingent, followed by the roar of the motorcycle club, "Dykes on Bikes". There were no corporate sponsors and the Washington media never acknowledged that the event even happened.

The post-parade festival was held at a dirty, dusty elementary school playground covered with broken glass and assorted drug paraphernalia. There were no celebrity guest speakers and the music was performed by local bands.

The only politician who showed up was DC Mayor-for-life Marion Barry, who addressed the crowed over a tinny loudspeaker, saying, "there are two things every politician loves, money and votes, and ya'll got both." Truer words were never spoken. (Thirty-one years later and he still wants our money and votes, but is actively working to make sure we can't get married.)

Every local effort starts small. Some get bigger over the years and some don't. Small towns all over the U.S. hold their own Independence Day celebrations every July 4th, even though a much bigger, better fireworks display can be seen up the road. You do your best with what you've got.

Roanoke Pride has come a long way in its twenty years due to the hard work of a small group of people. It is something we can all be proud of. It is time that Roanoke's LGBT community takes it's place among cities of all sizes by holding our Pride celebrations during Pride Month.

(Read the response from Roanoke Pride's committee chair Karen Gray here.)

Why the Gay Rights Movement Has No National Leader

(From the New York Times) Every so often, the American social order is reshuffled. And that upheaval is typically accompanied by a prominent face.
Frederick Douglass became the face of the black abolitionist movement.

A century later, Martin Luther King Jr. played that role in the civil rights movement. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem became the spokeswomen for the modern women’s movement.

Yet the gay rights movement, which is about to enter its fifth decade, has never had a such a leader despite making remarkable strides in a relatively short period of time.

Gay people have no national standard-bearer, no go-to sound-byte machine for the media. So when President Obama last week extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, there was no alpha gay leader to respond with the movement’s official voice, though some activists criticized the president for not going far enough.

Until 1973, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. Today, same-sex couples can marry in six states. How did a group that has been so successful over the last generation in countering cultural prejudice and winning civil rights make it so far without an obvious leader?

One explanation is that gay and lesbian activists learned early on that they could get along just fine without one. Even in the movement’s earliest days following the violent uprising at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village 40 years ago this week, no singular leader emerged. Some historians believe this is in part because it was — and still is — difficult for the average American to empathize with the struggles of gay people.

“The gay movement has always had a problem of achieving a dignity or a moral imperative that the black civil rights movement had, or the women’s rights movement claimed,” said Dudley Clendinen, who co-wrote the book “Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America” and now teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University. “Because this movement is fundamentally about the right to be sexual, it’s hard for the larger public to see that as a moral issue,” he said.

By contrast, the moral authority that leaders like Dr. King, Ms. Friedan and Ms. Steinem could claim — and the fact that Americans did not look at them and imagine their sex lives — made it easier to build respectability with the public.

Another reason for the absence of a nationally prominent gay leader is the highly local nature of the movement. Unlike the civil rights and the feminist movements, the gay movement lacked a galvanizing national issue.

In the 1950s and 1960s, black activists pushed for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and asserted their rights in the courts in cases like Brown v. Board of Education. Feminists campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.

“Betty and her group wanted to do it from a more top-down approach,” said Daniel Horowitz, a professor of American studies at Smith College who wrote a biography of Ms. Friedan. “You go to Washington and you lobby members of Congress. In fact, she talked explicitly about the N.A.A.C.P. as her model, and the N.A.A.C.P. had achieved its goals primarily through Supreme Court cases.”

Many gay activists pursued a different approach, focusing on issues pertinent to their local communities. Though he has achieved celebrity status of late, Harvey Milk was a mere San Francisco city supervisor, without much in the way of a national profile, when he was assassinated in 1978.

City councils and state legislatures are where domestic partnership laws and legislation extending anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians originated. In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. And of the six states that now allow same-sex marriage, three — Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont — legalized the practice through a vote by the state legislature, without prodding by a court.

“The issues of gay rights are mainly state issues, so the focus for activism is going to be on the local level,” said David Eisenbach, a lecturer in history at Columbia University and the author of “Gay Power: An American Revolution.”

The shifting legal and political environment that has confronted the movement over the years has also made it difficult for a singular leader to emerge.

After the Stonewall uprising 40 years ago, the goal was to persuade society to stop treating gays and lesbians like social deviants.

That movement for equality was later overshadowed by efforts to combat AIDS in the 1980s and early 1990s. And AIDS itself is a reason leaders were hard to come by. “AIDS wiped out a whole generation,” Mr. Eisenbach said. “What you have is a vacuum. And that still has not been filled.”

As the AIDS crisis was contained, gay activists shifted their focus in the late 1990s and early 2000s to laws about discrimination, hate crimes and domestic partnerships. Successes on those issues were due in large part to gay rights groups that rose up at the local level and learned to work with local lawmakers.

Until 2003, few even contemplated that gay couples would be able to marry. Then Massachusetts’ highest court ruled that gay couples had that right under the state’s Constitution, ushering in a whole new phase of the movement. Activists on the state and local levels were already well in place and found themselves positioned to wage the campaigns for same-sex marriage — as the recent successes in the Northeast have shown.

“They see dispersal as a great thing, that it’s better not to have a concentration or too much attention overinvested in one individual,” said David J. Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has written about the civil rights and women’s rights movements.“The speed and breadth of change has been just breathtaking,” he added. “But it’s happened without a Martin Luther King.”

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pride 2009 Around The World: Maspalomas, Canary Islands

Marching in Syracuse for Gay Rights

ABC News On Campus reporter Michelle San Miguel blogs:

A sea of people carrying rainbow-colored umbrellas paraded down the streets of downtown Syracuse Saturday as marchers celebrated the 21st annual Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Pride Day. The estimated crowd of nearly 700 people attended the event despite the overcast and rainy weather.

The festival began in front of City Hall, as Syracuse Common Council President Bea Gonzalez read a statement from Syracuse Mayor Matthew Driscoll. Shortly after, a rainbow flag was raised above the cheering crowd. This year marks the eighth year the flag was raised in front of City Hall. Before that, there was widespread disagreement about whether the flag should be erected downtown for hundreds to see.

Grand marshals Amit Taneja and Adrea Jaehnig of the Syracuse University LGBT Resource Center led the parade’s “Equality…Nothing More” themed-celebration. Members of the LGBT community and their allies paraded through the streets carrying signs that read statements such as “All families deserve equality” and “Who voted on your marriage?”

Minnie Bruce Pratt, a Syracuse University Women’s and Gender Studies professor, said she remembers in years past when people used to wear paper bags over their heads during similar marches because, if recognized, they could lose custody of their children and lose their jobs.

Angry Gay Democrats Pull Support For DNC

(From CBSNews.com) The Obama administration's decision to file a controversial brief on behalf of the Defense Of Marriage Act appears to have been the last straw for many gay and lesbians who were once enthusiastic supporters of the administration as well as the Democratic party.

Politico reports that the National Stonewall Democrats is the latest group to pull out of a June 25 Democratic National Committee fundraiser because of the Obama administration’s defense of DOMA and lack of action on gay issues.

The group said is "incredibly disappointed" in the party for a variety of reasons, including a perceived lack of support.

"The DNC has traditionally provided materials for the many Pride parades and festivals around the country to help educate the LGBT community about why the Democratic Party is the Party for full LGBT equality," National Stonewall wrote in an e-mail, according to Politico. "This year, we were informed that we would not be receiving any materials or support for producing materials for the various nationwide Pride activities. These decisions were very disappointing."

The e-mail also cited the DOMA brief as a reason to pull out of the fundraiser.

"The members of the Board and our membership put our hopes, our dollars and our time into ensuring the election of Barack Obama because we believed that he supported us. To now have his Administration refer to our relationships in the same terms used by our long time enemies such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson hurts on so many levels," National Stonewall wrote.

The government's pro-DOMA stance has already prompted many other high profile gay rights supporters to boycott the fundraiser.

Among them, as Newsweek reported Wednesday, is Vermont Senate President Peter Shumlin. As an early Obama supporter and leader of the marriage equality bill in Vermont, Shumlin was expected to be an honored guest at the event.

"I am shocked and disappointed at the level of insensitivity that the Department of Justice has shown towards gay and lesbian couples and their families," Shumlin said in an e-mail to Newsweek. “My disappointment in this has led me to the regrettable decision not to be a participant in the DNC event."

Shumlin also said he believes that the Department of Justice and the government's action will not only alienate the LGBT community but perpetuate stereotypes and discrimination as well. He expressed hope that Mr. Obama will "actively support" marriage equality.

The recipient of the National Stonewall Democrats' e-mail, the DNC's Tom Petrillo, responded with a short statement encouraging a continued relationship between the two groups. Petrillo pointed to the fact that the DNC plans to support a Stonewall activity later this year.

San Francisco Asks Court to Overturn Prop 8

(From the San Francisco Chronical) San Francisco has asked a federal judge to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriage, allying the city with a lawsuit that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

In papers filed Thursday night in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office argued that Proposition 8 was motivated by hatred of gays and lesbians and violates their constitutional right to be free of discrimination.

Although sponsors of the November ballot measure said they were trying to promote traditional marriage and protect children, "excluding same-sex couples from marriage does nothing to advance those goals," Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart said in the 49-page brief.

Prop. 8's "real aim (was) harming gays and lesbians and expressing moral disapproval of them," Stewart said.

In arguing to throw out Prop. 8, Stewart cited the Supreme Court's 1996 ruling that struck down Colorado's ban on state and local gay-rights measures and said a law motivated by hostility toward gays and lesbians is unconstitutional.

A year after ruling that same-sex couples had the right to marry, the state Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8 last month, ruling 6-1 that voters could amend the California Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Four days before that ruling, two same-sex couples represented by Theodore Olson and David Boies, attorneys for opposing sides in the 2000 Bush vs. Gore presidential election case, challenged Prop. 8 in federal court.

The suit claimed the measure violated equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution. Gay-rights groups that challenged Prop. 8 in the state court had avoided making any federal constitutional arguments to keep the case away from the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, where a ruling upholding the law would set a nationwide precedent against same-sex marriage.

San Francisco, which also took part in the state Supreme Court case against Prop. 8, has become the first of the state court plaintiffs to file in support of the federal court suit. Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and lawyer for same-sex couples in the state court case, said Friday that his organization may take the same step.

The federal suit is "going forward, and we certainly want it to succeed," Minter said.

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