Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections on 2010

Well, it's New Year's Eve.  I'm sitting here in my living room with my husband and two basset hounds as the fire burns in the fireplace.  What else can I do but reflect on the LGBT news of 2010?

1. Without a doubt, the biggest news in the US was the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  That was, as Joe Biden said about the health reform law, a big @#$^#@@## deal.  And it was.  We shouldn't forget that.  But we also shouldn't forget that the United States was way behind over 25 countries in allowing LGBT people to serve their countries.  Yes, the repeal of DADT was wonderful.  It was also very late.

2. Support for same sex marriage seemed to gaining momentum.  Recent polls reflect that the gap between supporters and opponents is closing.  (One poll even has supporters in the lead.)  This is good news.  It's hard to imagine a sea change in the opposite direction.  The far right will need to find another adversary to rally their troops and raise cash.  I've always felt that the anti-gay hysteria from the right wing was a direct result of the end of the Cold War.  They needed to find another enemy to raise money.  Enter homosexuals.

3. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party has at times been very vocal in its displeasure about President Obama.  This was especially true of those supporting a repeal of DADT.  While President Obama and Press Secretary Gibbs were at times offensively dismissive of this activism, it was activist pressure that ultimately changed the policy.  What I have learned this past year is that while I am happy that Obama is president, and while I will almost certainly vote for him in 2012, it remains an unfortunate truth that the real movers and shakers of any equality movement are for the most part, the very folks who are seeking equality.  An extraordinary exception to this is the remarkable leadership Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has shown in the fight for LGBT rights.  Now that Ted Kennedy has passed away, Gov. Patrick is the only straight politician who I trust to defend my right to full citizenship in this country.

I'll post some more thoughts later.  For now, Happy New Year to all!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A War on Christmas?

I don't know about you, but I was pretty angry when, after President Obama noted that Congress might have to work through Christmas, some Republicans balked, saying that this was another example of "The War on Christmas."  Wow.  I started thinking about the people -- many of whom, I assume, are Christians - have to work on Christmas Day (which President Obama wasn't even proposing):

            • Nurses
            • Fire fighters
            • Police
            • Soldiers
            • Doctors
            • EMT workers
            • Servers/cooks in restaurants
            • Toll workers
            • Workers in convenient stores
            • Gas station attendants

Are you kidding me?  If these people have to work during the holidays, why are you the exception?  Or are you just trying to promote the idea that our president isn't Christian? (And, of course, it shouldn't matter if he isn't Christian.)


Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Few Thoughts on the Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal

Well, it has finally happened.  DADT has been repealed after 17 years.  This is a big deal.  It is heartening to know that the Senate, the House, and the President did the right thing.  If DADT wasn't repealed before January 1, chances were slim that Congress would have done anything for the next few years, since the Republicans will control the House come January. 

The media coverage has been fascinating.  Because events in history tend to be simplified, I'd like to pose a few questions and comment a bit about some of what's in the newspapers this morning:

• The vote to repeal was 65-33, with (according to the media) 8 Republican senators siding with the Democrats.  But the story is more complicated than that.  There were, in fact TWO votes on DADT.  The first one was by far the highest hurdle because we needed 60 votes for that to pass.  This was the vote to bring the question to the floor for debate.  That vote was 63-33, with six Republicans siding with Democrats.  If this failed, there would have been no repeal.  The second vote -- the one that actually repealed the policy -- only required 51 votes, a simple majority.  My question: two Republicans voted against bringing the question to the floor but then voted to repeal a few hours later.  What was going on here?  Did these two Republicans, once having been oppositional, suddenly change their minds?  Or were they thinking, "Well, now that it's settled I'd better be on the right side of history"?  I hope history makes it clear that when it counted, they were on the wrong side.

• I've been very critical of Joe Lieberman on this blog, but he was a real leader on the repeal, opposing his buddy John McCain every step of the way.  Hats off to him.

• John McCain is turning into a parody of himself.  Some of his vehement arguments to any repeal DADT simply defied logic.  For example, he claimed that DADT was working and that there was no harm done in the implementation of the policy.  Setting aside the terrible harm done to all gay people in the military, how can he say that the discharge of over 15,000 service people was not harmful to military preparedness?  Keep those videos of him turning red with fury as he addressed the Senate.  They'll be helpful examples of bigotry in the future.

• It was great that DADT was repealed, but we shouldn't forget that another bill, the Dream Act, that would have also made the United States a more prefect and fairer union, failed a few hours later.  This bill would have provided a path to citizenship for people who had no say in their arrival in this country: children.  And the proposed path to citizenship was a challenging path indeed: high school graduation, college education, background checks, a five year wait, and on and on.  Then these young people could have applied for citizenship.  But a minority of senators ruled the day.  It did not get the 60 votes needed to bring the question to the floor of the Senate.

So we stop and say, "Yes! DADT is over!"  But we also take stock of what else needs to be done.  The Dream Act.  The Defense of Marriage repeal.  And so much more.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hats off to Steve Jobs

Here are excerpts from a story MSNBC is reporting:

Steve Jobs is now the target by a group angered by Apple pulling a pro-heterosexual marriage app from the App Store for the iPhone, with the group calling Jobs "Big Brother," and releasing a video that portrays Apple's CEO as sinister as Kim Jong-il.

(Me writing here: the application was much less pro-hetero as it was anti-gay.  The fact the straight marriage group called Jobs Kim Jong-il suggests just a weeeeee bit of hostility and anger not associated with most folks who are straight and would like to get married.)

Here's some more:

"He's (Jobs)  made billions taking on Big Brother," intones the narrator in the the video by the National Organization for Marriage, which says Apple supports apps with causes, "provided Jobs agrees with them ... like apps with the right to abortion and gay marriage," and then the camera pans across shots of apps in the App Store, including "Oh My Gay Stars — Gay Marriage in the US" and a voter guide by Planned Parenthood.

 (Me again.  Okay, The National Organization for Marriage has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Also... don't these Tea Party types, these conservatives, these get the government off our backs types  FAVOR  private companies being able to make their own choices?  Would the National Organization for Marriage happily change their organization to except gay marriages?)

But here are some more details about the app that Apple rejected:

The National Organization for Marriage is taking up for the "Manhattan Declaration" app and movement, which condemns same-sex unions. The app was yanked from the App Store recently after receiving petitions from gay rights activists who found it to be offensive. (Me again.  Dah!)

The Manhattan Declaration group describes itself as "prominent Christian clergy, ministry leaders, and scholars," which released the 4,700-word declaration in the "defense of the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and religious liberty" in November 2009. The iPhone app asks four questions of its users, including "Do you believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman?"

"Although Apple has not communicated directly with Manhattan Declaration officials, a public relations representative from Apple told media that the app violated Apple’s developer guidelines by being 'offensive to large groups of people..."

Bottom line, NOM folks: you don't have a  right to spew your venom via a private corporation.  Conservatives that you are, I'm surprised you don't know that by now.

Thank you, Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beyond the Pale

Here’s some news I got from John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay of AMERICAblog.

The head of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, had the nerve to claim today that US troops will be killed and maimed if Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed:

"I don't want to lose any Marines to distraction. I don't want to have any Marines that I'm visiting at Bethesda (hospital) with no legs," he said.

Are you kidding me?  Are we now going to accept that officials can say with immunity that gay soldiers will cause the death and mutilation of others?  This seems to me beyond the pale.  Shame on you, General Amos.

Please, President Obama.  Do something.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thank you, Frank Rich

The New York Times

December 11, 2010

Gay Bashing at the Smithsonian

EACH Aug. 4, my wife Alex and I visit a church to light candles for two people we loved who both died tragically on that day two years apart — my mother, killed at 64 in a car crash, and Alex’s closest friend from graduate school, killed by AIDS at half that age. My mother was Jewish but loved the meditative serenity of vast cathedrals. Alex’s friend, John, was a Roman Catholic conflicted by a religion that demonized his sexuality. Our favorite pilgrimage is to an Episcopal church, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, not as some sectarian compromise but because of its AIDS chapel, a haunting reminder of the plague that ravaged that city’s population, especially its gay men, some time ago.

What helps give us some solace is the chapel’s mesmerizing altarpiece. It was the New York artist Keith Haring’s last completed work in the weeks before his death by AIDS at age 31 in 1990. Titled “The Life of Christ” and radiant in gold leaf, it crowns its anguished panorama of suffering with a pair of angels ascending to heaven — all rendered in Haring’s whimsical, graffiti-inspired iconography. Even as he was succumbing to a ruthless disease that had provoked indifference and cruelty rather than compassion from too many of his fellow citizens, Haring, somehow, could still see angels. You needn’t be a believer to be inspired by the beauty of his vision. 

Not every artist struck down by AIDS could hit so generous a note. Such was the case with David Wojnarowicz, a painter, author and filmmaker, who, like Haring, was a fixture of the East Village arts scene in the 1980s. When his mentor and former lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, fell ill with AIDS in 1987, Wojnarowicz created a video titled “A Fire in My Belly” to express both his grief and his fury. As in Haring’s altarpiece, Christ figures in Wojnarowicz’s response to the plague — albeit in a cryptic, 11-second cameo. A crucifix is besieged by ants that evoke frantic souls scurrying in panic as a seemingly impassive God looked on.

Hujar died in 1987, and Wojnarowicz would die at age 37, also of AIDS, in 1992. This is now ancient, half-forgotten history. When a four-minute excerpt from “A Fire in My Belly” was included in an exhibit that opened six weeks ago at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, it received no attention. That’s hardly a surprise, given the entirety of this very large show — a survey of same-sex themes in American portraiture titled “Hide/Seek.” The works of Wojnarowicz, Hujar and other lesser known figures are surrounded by such lofty (and often unlikely) bedfellows (many gay, some not) as Robert Mapplethorpe, John Singer Sargent, Grant Wood, Thomas Eakins, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Andrew Wyeth and Haring. It’s an exhibit that would have been unimaginable in a mainstream institution in Wojnarowicz’s lifetime.

The story might end there — like Haring’s altarpiece, a bittersweet yet uplifting postscript to a time of plague. But it doesn’t because “Fire in My Belly” was removed from the exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery some 10 days ago with the full approval, if not instigation, of its parent institution, the Smithsonian. (The censored version of “Hide/Seek” is still scheduled to run through Feb. 13.) The incident is chilling because it suggests that even in a time of huge progress in gay civil rights, homophobia remains among the last permissible bigotries in America. “Think anti-gay bullying is just for kids? Ask the Smithsonian,” wrote The Los Angeles Times’s art critic, Christopher Knight, last week. One might add: Think anti-gay bullying is just for small-town America? Look at the nation’s capital.
The Smithsonian’s behavior and the ensuing silence in official Washington are jarring echoes of those days when American political leaders stood by idly as the epidemic raged on. The incident is also a throwback to the culture wars we thought we were getting past now — most eerily the mother of them all, the cancellation of a Mapplethorpe exhibit (after he died of AIDS) at another Washington museum, the Corcoran, in 1989.

Like many of its antecedents, the war over Wojnarowicz is a completely manufactured piece of theater. What triggered the abrupt uproar was an incendiary Nov. 29 post on a conservative Web site. The post was immediately and opportunistically seized upon by William Donohue, of the so-called Catholic League, a right-wing publicity mill with no official or financial connection to the Catholic Church.
Donohue is best known for defending Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism by declaring that “Hollywood is controlled by Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.” A perennial critic of all news media except Fox, he has also accused The Times of anti-Catholicism because it investigated the church pedophilia scandal. Donohue maintains the church doesn’t have a “pedophilia crisis” but a “homosexual crisis.” Such is the bully that the Smithsonian surrendered to without a fight.
Donohue’s tactic was to label the 11-second ants-and-crucifix sequence as “anti-Christian” hate speech. “The irony,” wrote the Washington Post art critic, Blake Gopnik, is that the video is merely a tepid variation on the centuries-old tradition of artists using images of Christ, many of them “hideously grisly,” to speak of mankind’s suffering. Those images are staples of all museums — even in Washington, where gory 17th-century sculptures of Christ were featured in a recent show of Spanish sacred art at the National Gallery. 

But of course Donohue was just using his “religious” objections as a perfunctory cover for the homophobia actually driving his complaint. The truth popped out of the closet as Donohue expanded his indictment to “pornographic images of gay men.” His Republican Congressional allies got into the act. Eric Cantor called for the entire exhibit to be shut down and threatened to maim the Smithsonian’s taxpayer funding come January. (The exhibit was entirely funded by private donors, but such facts don’t matter in culture wars.) Jack Kingston, of the House Appropriations Committee, rattled off his own list of exaggerated gay outrages in “Hide/Seek,” from “Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts” to “naked brothers kissing.” 

It took only hours after Donohue’s initial battle cry for the video to be yanked. “The decision wasn’t caving in,” the museum’s director, Martin E. Sullivan, told reporters. Of course it was. The Smithsonian, in its own official statement, rationalized its censorship by saying that Wojnarowicz’s video “generated a strong response from the public.” That’s nonsense. There wasn’t a strong response from the public — there was no response. As the museum’s own publicist told the press, the National Portrait Gallery hadn’t received a single complaint about “A Fire in the Belly” from the exhibit’s opening day, Oct. 30, until a full month later, when a “public” that hadn’t seen the exhibit was mobilized by Donohue to blast the museum by phone and e-mail.

The Post’s Gopnik has been heroically relentless in calling out the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery for their capitulation. But few in Washington’s power circles have joined him, including the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents — a gilded assembly of bipartisan cowardice that ranges from Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, to Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. This timidity has been particularly striking given that the city’s potentates gathered to bestow the Kennedy Center Honors last weekend on the choreographer Bill T. Jones, whose legendary artistic and personal partnership with Arnie Zane came to a tragic end when Zane was killed by AIDS at age 39 in 1988.
It still seems an unwritten rule in establishment Washington that homophobia is at most a misdemeanor. By this code, the Smithsonian’s surrender is no big deal; let the art world do its little protests. This attitude explains why the ever more absurd excuses concocted by John McCain for almost single-handedly thwarting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are rarely called out for what they are — “bigotry disguised as prudence,” in the apt phrase of Slate’s military affairs columnist, Fred Kaplan. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has been granted serious and sometimes unchallenged credence as a moral arbiter not just by Rupert Murdoch’s outlets but by CNN, MSNBC and The Post’s “On Faith” Web site even as he cites junk science to declare that “homosexuality poses a risk to children” and that being gay leads to being a child molester.

It’s partly to counteract the hate speech of persistent bullies like Donohue and Perkins that the Seattle-based author and activist Dan Savage created his “It Gets Better” campaign in which gay adults (and some non-gay leaders, including President Obama) make videos urging at-risk teens to realize that they are not alone. But even this humanitarian effort is controversial and suspect in some Beltway quarters: G.O.P. politicians and conservative pundits have yet to participate even though most of the recent and well-publicized suicides by gay teens have occurred in Republican Congressional districts, including those of party leaders like Michele Bachmann, Mike Pence and Kevin McCarthy.

Has it gotten better since AIDS decimated a generation of gay men? In San Francisco, certainly. But when America’s signature cultural institution can be so easily bullied by bigots, it’s another indicator that the angels Keith Haring saw on his death bed have not landed in Washington just yet.