Friday, June 29, 2007

Gay New Yorkers Question City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea] made history last January as the first woman -- and first lesbian -- elected to head the City Council. She could also make history as the first openly gay mayor of New York if she declares herself a candidate to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One can also easily argue Quinn has become a Democratic wunderkind of sorts with her increasingly active role in U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Some of her gay and lesbian constituents, however, have become increasingly unhappy with Quinn since she took the helm of the City Council.

A number of New York activists have expressed their displeasure with the former Anti-Violence Project head to me in informal conversations over the last couple of months. A group called the Radical Homosexual Agenda even protested Quinn during the City Council's annual LGBT Pride commemoration event last week. Gay City News chronicled these tensions in an expansive feature in this week's issue. Long-time activist Allen Roskoff told Duncan Osbourne Quinn's support of a bill which would require bars and nightclubs to install cameras and scan customers' identification caused outrage among club land impresarios. The article also detailed the most recent clash over the New York Police Department's new regulation which requires a permit for events in which 50 or more people will attend.

Some activists may surely question Quinn's seemingly close relationship with Bloomberg -- a stark contrast to that of her predecessor Gifford Miller -- despite a series of scathing statements against the mayor after he opposed the Equal Benefits Law and appealed New York State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan's 2005 ruling which found the state's Domestic Relations Law unconstitutional. Quinn clearly rose through the ranks of New York LGBT activism through her work with state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea] and the Anti-Violence Project. She now enjoys a citywide platform upon which she can expand her agenda as speaker and possible mayoral candidate. Quinn certainly has benefited LGBT New Yorkers through her visibility and activism over the years. For better or worse, however, they are now only part of her overall constituency as head of the City Council.

New York City Council Speaker -- and potential 2009 mayoral candidate -- Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea] speaks during the City Council's annual LGBT Pride commemoration at New York City Hall on June 20.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Are Gays More Racist Than Straights?

I had an IM conversation yesterday with the man I am currently dating about racism within the gay community. The exchange stemmed around racial insults from the previous evening at an Uptown bar but the incident seemed to confirm a theory close [gay and straight] friends inside and outside the movement have relayed to me over the years: gay men are more racist than their heterosexual counterparts.

Theories are sometimes not based in fact but my numerous experiences within the movement for gay rights -- and life -- sometimes force me to conclude otherwise. One of the most racially insensitive people I have ever met is a former University of New Hampshire classmate who routinely sought to put his own agenda above the other students, administrators and even local activists. The collective movement for gay rights often sends a similar message through its efforts [or lack there of] to stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic within communities of color, to support activists in Bushwick and other predominately neighborhoods of color and to remedy other problems within these populations. This inaction could stem from a lack of knowledge or resources. Yet it remains a highly unfortunate fact some gay man choose to oppress their brothers and sisters of color through their continued racist and discriminatory ideals. These gays, one can certainly argue, have no right to inflict this harm because their local, state and national governments continue to stigmatize and discriminate against. There is certainly no easy solution to remedy racism within the gay community but a sad irony remains.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Young People Continue to Moderate to the Left

Poll results published in today's New York Times confirms young Americans increasingly support marriage for same-sex couples and continue to lean to the left in terms of their political ideology. The poll found 68 percent of those between the ages of 17 and 29 favored marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples as compared to 60 percent of all adults surveyed. [The poll, rather interestingly, found 43 percent of those between 17 and 29 polled feel gay men and lesbians can choose their sexual orientation.]

Political realities and movements for social change never exist purely in black or white as this poll's results indicate. The larger issue remains, however, that young Americans continue to moderate their positions on marriage for same-sex couples, abortion and a host of other issues at the expense of social conservatives who continue to push their anti-gay, anti-choice agenda. This blogger is 25 so he fits within the polls demographic. Student loan payments, access to quality health care, economic and environmental sustainability remain important issues for him -- and dare he venture for many young Americans as well. Times continue to change. The reality of life sometimes dictate the issues about which people care as they enter the voting booth or decide which Presidential candidate to support in the primary and caucus season. These results simply confirm this trend.

Monday, June 25, 2007

New York City Celebrates Gay Pride

More than half a million New Yorkers -- and visitors -- lined Fifth Avenue, West 8th and Christopher Streets in the Village to celebrate the city's pink heritage. Congregation Beth Simchat Torah Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Metropolitan Community Church Founder Dr. Troy Perry served as grand marshals as parade organizers sought to highlight LGBT-affirming faith leaders. Organizers and attendees also celebrated the New York State Assembly's passage of a bill which would extend marriage to same-sex couples.

This blogger marched along with the New York Blade in cowboy boots and a wide grin. The weather was perfect. The music was good. Pride was great aside from a former boss who very publicly disappeared into a group of people after he saw this blogger talking with his current employees. New York remains a relatively easy place to live as a gay man aside from personal politics and egos. The throngs of New Yorkers who lined Fifth Avenue yesterday to celebrate the city's pink history seemed to confirm this reality as they celebrated the community or simply came out to have a good time on a beautiful early summer day. The parade itself seemed more low key than in past years. Perhaps this evolution is a positive development. Perhaps it's a signal the parade will return to its roots of celebrating gay pride and LGBT New York's collective accomplishments -- and pride in itself. New York has certainly evolved since the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and most LGBT New Yorkers can certainly agree upon that fact. Happy pride!

Young and old thanked those lawmakers who supported the marriage for same-sex couples bill last week in Albany

Parade goers, such as this man along Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District, cling to light poles to celebrate their pride

From above: Venezolanos against President Hugo Chavez and bisexuals against U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were among those who showed other forms of activism along the Fifth Avenue during Pride

Friday, June 22, 2007

NYC Mayor Bloomberg's Party Switch Intrigues Gay Politicos

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg provided gay politicos with their story de la semaine as he announced his defection from the Republican Party. The mayor -- and oft-speculated 2008 presidential candidate -- surprised few insiders with his announcement. He regularly bucked the GOP and clashed with President George W. Bush on numerous occasions. Gay Republicans downplayed the announcement about which this blogger wrote for EDGE yesterday. They will almost certainly have to re-evaluate their support of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over the next few months as he continues to move to the right. Let the political shell game continue!

The fallout from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s very public defection from the Republican Party on Tuesday, June 19, continues to unfold, with some possibly important repercussions to the LGBT electorate. Speculation as to whether the gay-friendly mayor will enter the 2008 presidential campaign has gone into overdrive. Most pundits agree Bloomberg’s announcement came as no surprise but they, along with some observers, say his decision amounts to a bombshell for gay Republicans.

Log Cabin Republican Executive Director Patrick Sammon told EDGE he was disappointed--but not surprised--by Bloomberg’s decision. Sammon downplayed the impact the billionaire’s move would have on how his organization would work within the Republican Party. "We certainly think he’s been a strong leader for New York and we wish him the best of luck as he leads the city," he said. "Mayor Bloomberg is a strong ally for gay and lesbian people."

Log Cabin Republicans routinely courted Bloomberg’s support after he declared himself a Republican in 2001. The former Democrat repeatedly bucked President George W. Bush and the GOP with his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Log Cabin Republicans also vigorously endorsed Bloomberg’s 2005 re-election campaign. Then-Executive Director Patrick Guerriero cited the new York mayor’s support of pension and domestic partner benefits for same-sex partners of city employees when he made the endorsement.

Guerriero also cited Bloomberg’s overall record during his first term in office.

"Mike Bloomberg has delivered more jobs, less crime, accountability for our schools and a culture of respect for all New Yorkers," he stated. "These are core Republican issues and the reason why the New York City Chapter is proud to be working to re-elect Mike Bloomberg this fall."

Current New York City Council Speaker (and probable 2009 mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea] joined a chorus of other Democrats and gay activists who blasted Bloomberg’s decision to appeal state Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan’s 2005 ruling that found New York State’s Domestic Relations Law unconstitutional.

Quinn also blasted the mayor after he fled a lawsuit to block the Equal Benefits Law, which would have mandated that any company doing business with the city anywhere in the country in excess of $100,000 annually had to provide its’ employees’ same-sex partners the same benefits as employee’s legal spouses. The bill, which passed with a huge majority of the City Council, could have a galvanizing effect on domestic-partner agreements nationwide, given the city’s clout and huge budget.

Despite these inconsistencies, WNYC-FM Radio Host Brian Lehrer said Bloomberg’s defection may hurt gay Republicans efforts to moderate their party. "When one of the voices that gays and other Republican moderates have within the party [leaves the party], the Republican Party is in effect a lost cause for pursuing those issues," said the pundit. "It weakens the cause."

Democratic political strategist Dorie Clark agreed. "I would hate to be the head of Log Cabin Republicans right now," she said, adding that Bloomberg "is socially progressive and fiscally conservative, which is a dying breed among Republicans." Gay Republicans who may have wanted to support a possible Bloomberg candidacy face a difficult choice in the months leading up to the first presidential caucuses and primaries, according to Clark.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has garnered support from gay Republicans; but he, along with U.S. Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the other major GOP candidates have expressed their opposition to marriage for same-sex couples, the federal Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" as they court their party’s socially conservative base.

Lehrer sees gay Republicans shying away from Giuliani due to his recent overtures to the right. "I don’t think Giuliani would be a reliable defender or promoter of gay rights because he is taking a different tack than Bloomberg," he said. "Gay Republicans need another candidate [or] politician to look to for support."

Clark said Bloomberg’s announcement shows social conservatives continue to dominate the GOP. "The main way Mayor Bloomberg’s leaving the Republican Party affects the presidential field is it showed the GOP has taken a sharp turn rightwards," she said. "Moderates no longer feel welcome."

Melissa Sklarz, the transgendered former president of Gay & Lesbian Independent Democrats, a New York political club, told EDGE Bloomberg never did not have much impact in the Republican Party. Sklarz added, however, voters may gravitate towards his mayoral record if he seeks the White House. "He has accomplishments, good and bad, that will appeal to people," she said. "He has accomplishments to back up his campaign."

New York City gay political activist Dirk McCall believes Bloomberg will, in fact, announce a candidacy but that it would make little difference within the national GOP. "Bloomberg has always been different from other Republican leaders," McCall said. "All the Republicans are standing against us for the most part; it doesn’t really change the calculus."

Sammon agreed that Bloomberg’s departure remains a possible harbinger of his future aspirations. "The impact is only to the effect that here’s a guy who has half a billion dollars to spend on a campaign," Sammon concluded. "Obviously that could impact the whole race."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

New York City Council Honors Hate Crimes Victims

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea] paused to remember Michael Sandy, Rashawn Brazell, Eddie Garzon and other victims of anti-LGBT hate crimes during last night's annual City Council LGBT Pride event at City Hall. Perhaps the most poignant moment came as Rashawn Brazell's mother, Desire Brazell, emotionally accepted a plaque from Quinn and City Council Member Rosie Mendez [D-Lower East Side] for her work to establish a memorial scholarship in memory of her murdered son.

"This is another example of a family in tragedy who came together," Quinn said before she honored Brazell and Larry Lyons. "This is another example of people who could have let themselves be defined as victims who defined themselves as survivors."

Pride remains a time to more or less celebrate the LGBT movement and LGBT Americans themselves. Debate continues to rage as to whether this annual pink fete remains relevant in 21st century gay America. Quinn and her City Council colleagues chose to remember those who lost their lives because of hate violence in their city. Pride also presents gay New Yorkers a reminder they are not immune to discrimination -- and even persecution -- simply because they live in the city. Everyone has a responsibility to stand up and to work to end these horrendous atrocities. Desire Brazell herself served as that stark reminder last night.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New York State Assembly Passes Marriage Bill

The New York State Assembly handed gay activists the latest in a series of marriage victories late last night after they passed a bill which would allow same-sex couples to marry in the Empire State. Lawmakers endorsed the bill in an 85-to-61 vote. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's sudden announcement he had left the Republican Party pushed this historic vote far onto the back pages [The New York Times buried the story as part of an overall legislative round-up article].

The New York State Court of Appeals stung the Empire State Pride Agenda, Lambda Legal, Marriage Equality New York and other activist organizations [and gay New Yorkers for that matter] last July after it ruled against multiple lawsuits which sought marriage for same-sex couples. The State Senate, led by Republican Joseph Bruno, will almost certainly fail to take up this issue before it leaves for its summer recess at the end of this week. Most activists surely recognize that reality despite their public statements and press releases in praise of the progress last night's vote represents. The Assembly's support, however, remains a historic step forward in New York State which gives activists a definite shot in the arm days before the city's Pride march.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bushwick Celebrates Gay Pride

This story in EDGE, as indicated by this blogger's previous posting, made him more proud to live in a neighborhood in which the LGBT community continues to make a difference. Gentrification continues to transform Bushwick into one of New York's more popular artist havens. This transformation has had a significant impact on the community which has called Bushwick home for generations. The impact of gentrification remains the cliche New York story in many ways. It, however, must be told because of the real people and real lives it continues to impact.

On Saturday, June 16, gay men, lesbians, transgendered and straight allies took to the streets of one of Central Brooklyn’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods to proclaim their presence and declare their pride. More than 60 residents joined activists and others to march through the heart of Bushwick in the neighborhood’s second annual LGBT Pride celebration.

Organizers postponed the march after they said the New York Police Department did not give them the proper permits. Gays & Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered founder Dee Perez, who grew up in the neighborhood’s Hope Gardens housing project complex, told EDGE before the march she hoped to send a powerful message to local residents. "We have to let them know we call this our home," she said. "We are letting folks know June is Pride month and Bushwick should be proud too and stand up.

Perez and GLOBE members joined "Make the Road by Walking," a grassroots Bushwick-based organization that advocates on behalf of the poor and immigrants, and TransJustice in a route down Knickerbocker Avenue toward Maria Hernandez Park. Shoppers along the bustling thoroughfare seemed at times confused at the sight of a Pride march through their neighborhood.

Perez remained unfazed. "I want folks to see there is an LGBT community here," she said. "It’s important we have things like this--marches, centers and groups--not just in Manhattan and in Park Slope."

Manny Rodriguez, like Perez, has lived in Bushwick for most of his life. He proudly pointed to those who took part in the march--lesbian mothers of color, transgender Latinas, gay men, and White women--as proof of how the neighborhood continues to change. "To have a march to show people we are here and we are not going anywhere is great," Rodriguez said. "This shows... things are getting better."

The predominantly Latino neighborhood suffers from an identity crisis of sorts despite the gentrification that has transformed many parts of Bushwick in recent years. Spiraling crime and the urban decay that blighted many Brooklyn neighborhoods ravaged Bushwick during the 1960s and 1970s, exacerbated by the white flight from these formerly largely Jewish, Italian and Northern European immigrant neighborhoods. Looters and arsonists torched dozens of businesses along Broadway during the post-blackout riots in 1977; like Brownsville, the area never recovered.

Then came Billyburg, as Williamsburg is now affectionately known among the boho elite that has taken over the neigborhood.

Chased out of the spiraling prices for apartments in the East Village, then the Lower East Side and now Alphabet City, trendy Manhatttanites took the hipster highway, the L subway train, to Bedford and colonized the former mean streets of Williamsburg. By the late 1990s, the former Irish, Hispanic and Hasidic denizens of the hardscrabble neighborhood were confronted with coffeehouses, nightclubs and fusion restaurants.

As Williamsburg became more and more expensive, the boundaries of the neighborhood spread into Bushwick, which developers and real estate agents have re-named East Williamsburg and even Wyckoff Heights--especially areas along the newly automated L-train. The new gentfrying immigrants are now spending seven figures for newly constructed condo lofts along Wyckoff Avenue and neighboring streets. Northeast Kingdom, a restaurant which opened in 2005, Wyckoff-Starr, a coffee shop which opened last October, and a handful of other businesses have opened to cater to this influx of artists, hipsters and priced-out Manhattanites.

Bushwick resident Ben Nelson moved into the neighborhood earlier this year from Crown Heights. He told EDGE he occasionally sees gay and transgender people outside his Jefferson Street apartment. Nelson said he feels more comfortable in Bushwick as a gay man than in his former neighborhood. "The neighborhood as a whole doesn’t seem to respond negatively towards gay people," he said.

A recent upsurge of gang violence has caused renewed concern among Bushwick residents. The NYPD arrested 32 young people, dubbed the Bushwick 32 by the media, last month as they walked to the subway to attend a slain gang leader’s funeral on Coney Island. Perez said that a 17-year-old was murdered earlier this month near her home. "You see this shit happen right in your face," she said.

This writer, who has lived in Bushwick since 2004, was mugged last summer as he walked home from the L-train. Perez cautioned, however, against the categorization that Bushwick is more violent than other neighborhoods. "This [violence] is everywhere... not just in Bushwick," she said. "You hear it happening in Jacksonville, Florida, and in your neighborhood."

Rodriguez agreed. He added Bushwick has indeed become safer since the early 1990s due to local efforts. "The neighborhood started to clean itself up before the lofts and condos went up," he said.

Rodriguez concluded, however, gentrification now itself poses a greater threat to local residents "Five years ago, I could have rented this apartment across the street for $600, $700 or $800," he said as he stood outside Make the Road by Walking’s Grove Street offices before the march began. "Now it’s $1,200, if that. I never thought I would see that in this neighborhood. A lot of people here are struggling day to day to pay rent and other bills."

East Williamsburg resident Francey Russell said the perceived threat of violence may deter Manhattanites and others who may want to visit or live in Bushwick. She added, however, that the area’s relatively affordable rents will continue to lure people into the neighborhood.

Nelson agreed. "Bushwick is starting to mirror the East Village quite a bit," he said. "There’s a very diverse crowd of bohemian artist types. The gay people here are more like the East Village type as opposed to Chelsea."

Perez conceded more gay Manhattanites, Williamsburgers and others will continue to move into Bushwick as it become a more attractive place to live. She told EDGE, though, her work will continue. "You should feel safe in the community where you go home," Perez said. "You shouldn’t have to take the train 40 minutes away just so you can be in an area stereotypically where it’s supposed to be safe."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bushwick Shows Its Pride

More than 60 people turned out in Bushwick this past Saturday for the neighborhood's second annual LGBT Pride march. Bushwick certainly does not carry the same weight as the Village, Chelsea, Park Slope and other traditionally gay neighborhoods in the city but Gays & Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered organizer Dee Perez told this blogger its time Bushwick residents to step up and show they are out and proud of who they are. Pedestrians and other onlookers seems a bit confused frankly to see the march pass them along Knickerbocker Avenue. It's message, however, ran loud and clear.

GLOBE organizer Dee Perez marches down Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick during the neighborhood's second annual Pride march

Members of Make the Road by Walking and other local residents joined the march as it passed through Bushwick's bustling commercial district

Friday, June 15, 2007

Happy Father's Day! Gay Dads Celebrate

This feature I wrote for EDGE this week is one of the more enjoyable stories I have written over the last few months. I always enjoy listening to parents talk about their children. The stories and experiences they share with their sons and daughters are precious. The thing I took from this story is gay parents have the same concerns as the vast majority of parents in this country have. They want to protect their children. They want their children to attend good schools. They want to create an environment in which their children can thrive. Sometimes this fact gets lost in pro-gay and ant-gay rhetoric.

As parents and their children prepare to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday, Steve Sokoll beams with pride each time he talks about his 10-year-old son Max and 6-year-old daughter Rosie. Sokoll and his partner, Ira Sheres, live with their children in suburban Philadelphia. The child psychiatrist is quick to joke about how much of a doting parent he is. Max and Rosie have spent much of their young lives at Walt Disney World, Provincetown and other vacation hot spots.

"They have a wonderful indulgent life--as all children should have," Sokoll said.

Gay parents continue to become more visible in cities and towns across the country. The 2000 U.S. Census estimated that 22 percent of gay couples have at least one child under 18 in their home.

Chevy Chase, Md., resident Terrance Heath and partner Richard Imirowicz adopted their son, Parker, four days after he was born. Heath said he never expected he would become a father,but quickly added that his son’s adoption remains a defining moment in his life. "When I was growing up, I thought it would never be a possibility for me," Heath said. "To be a parent is an amazing thing for me."

Heath said Parker’s first steps, first words and other early milestones are the things he enjoys the most as a parent. A particularly memorable moment came as Parker called his parents Daddy and Papa for the first time.

"The relationship we have is so different than I had with my own father," Heath said. "One of the things I swore when I became a parent is my kid will never have to worry for a minute about whether he has my love or my acceptance."

Mark (he asked EDGE not use his last name) lives with his partner Joe and their 10-year-old daughter Emma live in Manhattan and have a house in the Hamptons. He laughed as he fondly recalled a recent visit to a clock store with his daughter. The fourth grader wanted to buy a clock she liked for Father’s Day. Emma lamented the $1,000 price tag one night as her father tucked her into bed. "There is no way I can afford it," Emma said. "I really would love to get that for you for Father’s Day dad."

Mark added this moment with his daughter highlights the importance of Father’s Day. "In a household with two fathers, it’s an important day for us," he said. "We try to make Father’s Day a great day. We try to make it a special time."

Sokoll agreed. "It’s completely corny because everyday’s Father’s Day," he said. "I spent time with two of my favorite people in the world."

LGBT organizations have increasingly used gay parents to lobby legislators in support of marriage for same-sex couples and other issues in recent years on the state, national and local levels. The birth of Mary Cheney’s son Samuel late last month has brought same-sex families to the forefront. So has former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey’s contentious custody dispute with his estranged wife. The governor is now living with a male partner and has asked to share custody. His wife maintains that their house is not suitable, citing a picture of a man as part of the evidence. The very public battle has highlighted some of the issues that can arise in even the most apparently enlightened households when one of the partners comes out.

Family Founder James C. Dobson sparked outrage among gay activists late last year after he used Cheney’s pregnancy to criticize gay and lesbian parents in an op-ed in Time magazine. Concerned Women for America Policy Director for Cultural Issues J. Matt Barber and other anti-gay leaders and commentators made similar criticisms shortly after she gave birth.

"In order to create the artificial scenario under which homosexuals can have a child, the natural reproductive process must still occur, but it... always excludes at least one of the ’partner,’" he wrote. "The process must take place under very artificial circumstances well outside the bounds of God’s clearly ordained family construct."

The Child Welfare League of America, the American Psychological Association and other social and psychological organizations vigorously dispute these claims.

Mark scathes at any accusation he and his partner are bad parents because of their sexual orientation. "It is very insulting to every single parent and to everyone who doesn’t have a traditional family," he said. "The majority of children raised in this country are not being raised by biological parents or with both parents in the household. It’s insulting when these groups take a swipe at gays being able parents."

Heath echoed Mark’s sentiments. "My son has two parents who love him, who wanted him very much and who planned for him and who are actively involved and engaged in his live," he said.

Sokoll said he and his partner work hard to protect their children from anti-gay rhetoric. Sokoll added his family functions like any other family. "We don’t want our kids to be hurt," Sokoll said. "We want our kids treated fairly and with respect."

Heath noted he sometimes feels as though other parents watch how he interacts with his son. He, like Sokoll, said he feels like any other parent who raises their child. "I have to learn how to say, ’Screw ’em and let them think what they want to think,’" Heath said. "A kid is going to be a kid. A parent is going to be a parent."

The children themselves usually intuitively understand the relationship and, unlike too many grown-ups, have no problems with it.

Mark pointed to a supermarket clerk on the East End of Long Island, where he maintains a second home, who questioned his daughter’s explanation that she had two dads after she scanned a cake with Joe’s name. Emma politely but firmly told the clerk about her family arrangement again as Mark stood nearby.

"It was completely over this woman’s head," he said. "I was so proud of her [Emma’s] sense of self and who she is."

Massachusetts Lawmakers Defeat Proposed Marriage Amendment

A collective applause [and a huge sigh of relief] broke out among activists and same-sex couples across the Commonwealth -- and the country -- yesterday after Massachusetts lawmakers soundly defeated a proposed amendment which would have banned marriage for same-sex couples by a 151-45 vote. The move came more than three years after the landmark Goodridge decision took effect and after more than a dozen similar Constitutional Conventions produced little more than political posturing and delay.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and other anti-gay politicians, activists and organizations who spearheaded this proposed amendment suffered a stinging defeat yesterday. Gay activists succeeded to lobby lawmakers to vote against the proposal. Democratic operatives walked away happy with a long-sought solution to this potential political powder keg they felt could hinder their chances to reclaim the White House next November. Same-sex couples in the Commonwealth could finally rejoice with the reassurance their marriages remain safe. The long-running political, social and activist drama of the past three years hopefully came to an end with yesterday's vote. The anti-gay forces will certainly continue to make noise about how they feel the vote denied Massachusetts voters their say. The sky did not fall upon the Commonwealth on May 17, 2004, and yesterday's vote only confirms that reality.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Massachusetts Lawmakers Slated to Again Debate Marriage

Beacon Hill lawmakers could decide the fate of a proposed Constitutional amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples once and for all today with yet another scheduled Constitutional Convention to decide the matter. The ConCon is the third in six months to address the future of the proposed amendment. It appears, however, it may not survive today's vote if lawmakers actually hold one.

Governor Deval Patrick, House Speaker Sal DiMasi [D-Boston], Senate President Therese Murray [D-Plymouth] have joined MassEquality and other advocacy organizations in recent weeks to lobby legislators to vote against the proposed amendment. United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-California] and other high-ranking Democrats have also urged lawmakers to put this issue to bed as they seek to gain control of the White House next November. It appears as though these efforts have succeeded if the press reports are true. This long-running political drama could potentially come to an end today if lawmakers vote against the proposed amendment. Activists in the Commonwealth and across the country will certainly hold their breath as the ConCon begins.

Update [3:07 p.m.]: Lawmakers defeated the proposed amendment in a 151-45 vote. It will not go before voters next November.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pentagon Proposed 'Gay Bomb'

The U.S. military remains a bastion of conservative masculinity in an ever-evolving society. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is official policy within the American armed forces despite the efforts of Log Cabin Republicans and other organizations and politicians. The news the Pentagon once proposed the construction of a so-called 'gay bomb' is more ironic than Paris Hilton's uber-dramatic return to jail.

A San Francisco television reported late last week researchers at California State University in Berkeley uncovered a plan to use hormones to disable enemy soldiers
through instant homosexuality. The plan reportedly added the hormones would cause enemy units to break down because soldiers would act upon their same-sex desires. The thought of soldiers who consummate their attraction fills this blogger's fantasies time and time again but the notion Pentagon seriously considered this plan raises some interesting [and downright hilarious] questions.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staffs Chair John M. Shalikashvili, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen and other former military brass and politicians continue to urge the Pentagon to either re-examine 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' or to repeal it. Israel, the United Kingdom and other countries now allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. The armed forces remain, by and large, a paternal entity dominated by heightened masculinity. The so-called 'gay bomb' incorrectly implies people can change their sexual orientation. The thought of a so-called 'gay bomb' was based on radical science at best. The plan, however, confirms the Pentagon's obsession over homosexuality at the expense of other far more important issues one can argue it continues to neglect.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Nuptially Speaking

This blogger officially welcomed his new brother-in-law into the family yesterday as more than 120 people from across the country gathered in Bedford, New Hampshire, to attend his sister's wedding. The weather held out well. The food was amazing. Guests celebrated the new husband and wife as they prepared for their two week honeymoon in Hawai'i. The day was simply splendid!

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch signed a bill into law earlier this month to allow same-sex couples who live in the state to enter into civil unions. The legislature in neighboring Massachusetts is slated to debate the future of a proposed Constitutional amendment to ban marriage for gay and lesbian couples this Friday. Oregon and other states have made steps towards full marriage equality this year. All of these advances remain vitally important to not only the movement but to the couples who seek the same rights and privileges as their heterosexual brothers and sisters. This blogger questioned extensively whether he would make a political statement in support of this effort. The answer to this question became clear almost immediately. Yesterday was not a day to stand on a soapbox. Yesterday was a day to celebrate the relationship of his younger sister, her spouse and to celebrate the start of a hopefully long life together.

Some activists may decry this decision as another example of selling out the cause. Others may say this decision represents personal cowardice at the expense of the broader fight for marriage equality. So be it. Sometimes it is necessary for activists [and the movement] to step back for a few minutes [or hours] and simply enjoy a wedding or a commitment ceremony for what it is. Commitment, love and devotion remain universal values of which some seem to loose track in the fight for marriage equality. Activists and the movement as a whole should not stray from these universals as they move forward this cause. It is the only way to succeed... congratulations Beckie and Pat!

Boy in Bushwick [right] with his sister Beckie after her nuptials in Bedford, New Hampshire

Friday, June 8, 2007

ABC Does Not Renew Isaiah Washington's Contract

The Associated Press reported late yesterday ABC did not renew actor Isaiah Washington's contract for another season on the popular medical drama 'Grey's Anatomy.' Washington faced scathing criticism from gay rights organizations [and fellow cast members] after he used a homophobic slur during a post-Golden Globes press conference to deny he had used one against out co-star T.R. Knight during an off-set scuffle last Fall. The actor publicly apologized for his outburst and appeared in a long-awaited anti-homophobia PSA late last month as promised.

Washington appears genuinely sorry for his comments and the broader impact they have had. The movement -- the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network in particular -- continue to milk these comments for all their worth in their efforts to combat hate speech. These efforts are noble. Washington remains a high profile figure and his work on this issue provides an opportunity to change more hearts and minds. Perhaps he will continue his anti-homophobia work with the movement post-'Grey's Anatomy.' It remains unclear. This blogger, however, remains very eager to see the movement's 'official' response to ABC's decision.

Activists Protest Russian Vodka Company

This blog is a few days late but a number of New York activists poured Stolichnaya vodka down the drain in front of the Russian consulate in Manhattan earlier this week to highlight continued violence against gay and lesbian Russians. Anti-gay protesters attacked gay activists and European MPS in Moscow late last month as they attempted to deliver a petition to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov that would have allowed a gay Pride celebration. Protesters said their action highlighted the Russian government's culpability in this violence and broader discrimination against its gay and lesbian citizens.

A number of activists have questioned the rationale behind the protest against Stoli because of its support of the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund and other LGBT organizations and causes in the United States. These questions are fair. The fact remains, however, the Russian government's record with regards to gay rights remains appalling as the world saw last month in Moscow. Stoli is a responsible corporate citizen. Gays love their alcohol. This week's protest will hopefully draw upon others to demand change from the Russian government.

From left: Activist Gilbert Baker pours Stoli vodka down the drain as Brendan Fay holds a sign outside the Russian consulate in Manhattan on June 5 [Picture courtesy of]

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Nebraska Police Arrest Fred Phelps' Daughter

To give Fred Phelps and clan a shred of attention feeds exactly into their twisted ideology and antics. The Associated Press, however, reported Bellevue, Nebraska, police arrested Shirley Phelps-Roper outside a protest of a soldier's funeral yesterday because her 10-year-old son trampled the American flag. Phelps-Roper is a lawyer. She and her family clearly know how to use the legal system to defend the right to propagate their homophobic hate speech across the country. They also know how to stage good photo-ops and to generate good sound bites for reporters. Her arrest, however, marks the first time authorities have arrested a member of the Phelps family during their protests. The charge stems from a 1977 Nebraska statute against desecration of the flag. The symbolism of the arrest marks a long overdue rebuke to their hate. Activists -- and any descent American for that matter -- will obviously continue to drown out their dribble at every turn. But the Bellevue, Nebraska, police succeeded to silence Phelps-Roper for at least one day to the applause of almost everyone.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Going to the Chapel [or the Justice of the Peace]

Boy in Bushwick will start a temporary hiatus from today through June 11 because this blogger will be attending his sister's wedding and related festivities. The blog will contain periodic postings through this period. It will return to daily updates on June 12.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Queens Pride Celebrates City's Diversity

This blogger joined thousands of other New Yorkers across the border -- in Queens -- to attend the 15th annual Queens LGBT Pride celebration festival yesterday. A gaggle of potential mayoral candidates and other upwardly mobile politicians kicked off the march down 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights. Gay Men's Health Crisis, Marriage Equality New York, Chueca Bar in Woodside and dozens of other local and citywide organizations, community groups and lesbian and gay bars also marched to a distinctly Latino flair. Queens remains the most diverse county in the United States. This diversity was certainly on display in the borough yesterday as Colombians marched alongside Argentinians, South Asians, Irish, Catholics, Jewish and Puerto Ricans. The crowd along the parade route also reflected this rich cultural heritage as Jackson Heights residents, many of whom brought their children, applauded the politicians and organizations who passed through. This parade reminds this blogger as to why he feels so fortunate to live in a city where diversity is viewed as a strength and not as a politically correct weakness. Happy pride!

From left; New York City Council Member Rosie Mendez [D-Lower East Side] and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea] march in the 15th annual Queens LGBT Pride parade

Marilyn Monroe continues to inspire many a queen in Queens

Amor a la mexicana

Friday, June 1, 2007

Presidential Hopefuls Pressed on Gay Issues

Political speculation remains an art form which never seems to go out of style as indicated from this article I wrote for EDGE this week. It remains a safe bet the candidates -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in particular -- will continue to face difficult questions about their own records on gay rights as they outline their positions with their target constituents in the coming months. All of this political posturing will certainly provide journalists and politicos alike a multitude of new headlines and topics to discuss around the water cooler.

With the 2008 presidential campaign in overdrive, candidates from both sides of the aisle continue to stake out positions on marriage equality, hate-crimes legislation, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and other issues as they court potential voters and donors across the country. Although the first primaries and caucuses are more than six months away but skeptics, gay activists and even some politicos have already pressured White House hopefuls to define or further explain their positions on gay rights.

Former North Carolina Senator and Democratic hopeful John Edwards went on the defensive late last month after the Washington Post reported he told Democratic strategist Bob Shrum in 1998 he is "not comfortable with those people" in response to a question about gay rights. Edwards quickly dismissed the comments but has publicly maintained his opposition to marriage for same-sex couples.

Senator Hillary Clinton and other Democratic presidential hopefuls--as well as Republican former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, considered the most gay-friendly of the GOP major candidates currently in the race--also oppose marriage for same-sex couples. New York public radio host Brian Lehrer told Edge that the North Carolina native’s tone on this issue remains different than other candidates. He speculated this difference could help Edwards attract moderate voters.

"Edwards does own his personal discomfort with gay marriage in his public statements," he said. "He says he’s just not there yet unlike [other] Democrats who just say they’re not for gay marriage. This avoids getting him too far out in front of the population."

The Democratic National Committee platform officially calls upon each state to define marriage. It also opposes the FMA. The majority of Democratic candidates continue to tout their party’s line in their stump speeches and public statements on the issue.

"That federalist dance is pretty much what the leading Democratic [candidates] are doing on gay marriage," Lehrer said. "They say they oppose legal gay marriage but oppose a Constitutional ban and the Defense of Marriage Act."

As the political editor of Rollcall, a magazine that exclusively covers Capital Hill, Josh Kurtz has been watching the developing races with a knowing eye. Democrats often moderate their positions on marriage and other potentially divisive social issues which could polarize target constituencies, he said, adding that candidates cannot appear too liberal if they hope to garner support from moderate voters.

"Democrats have to move to the left during the primary season but move to the center during the general election," he said. "At this level, candidates are walking a kind of tight rope. They have to find themselves as close to the center as they can get."

Among Republicans, social conservatives continue to challenge former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s previous statements in support of gay rights. Romney famously described FMA supporters as "extremists" during his failed campaign to unseat popular incumbent Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994. The former governor heavily courted gay and lesbian Republicans during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Romney later expressed support for the FMA after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its landmark Goodridge decision to allow marriage for same-sex couples in the commonwealth. He spearheaded the campaign in support of a proposed Constitutional amendment in the state but observers agree his own record presents a significant challenge to his campaign as he continues to position himself as a viable conservative candidate.

"It’s already a liability for his campaign," Kurtz said. "To get elected in Massachusetts, he had to present himself as a moderate on social issues. He is running away from that record as fast as he can."

Lehrer agreed. He said Romney has lost credibility among social conservatives as a result of his apparent flip flops on gay rights, abortion and other issues. "A huge challenge for him is the way he’s done a full 180 on a number of things," Lehrer said. "He has a lot of explaining to do on a lot of issues."

Social conservatives continue to question Giuliani’s record in light of his opposition of the FMA, a bill he signed into law in 1998 which extended benefits to same-sex partners of city employees and other aspects of his political and private life. Among other things, Giuliani famously shacked up with an affluent Manhattan gay couple when he moved out of the mayoral residence during a break-up with his second wife.

Kurtz said this scrutiny appears to have had little impact on the former mayor’s campaign. "Giuliani has been a little more adept at walking the right rope than Romney has," he said. "He hasn’t had a whole sale 180 degree turn on some critical social issues."

Candidates will continue to outline their positions as the first caucuses and primaries approach. Observers said the majority of voters will pay less attention to these issues during this campaign cycle. They added this dynamic could change if a state court issues a pro marriage for same-sex couples ruling or if New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg or another potential third party candidate enters the race. Bloomberg, a Republican, has very publicly bucked his party’s platform by advocating for gay marriage.

Lehrer concluded, however, that social conservatives and other potential voters will continue to focus on Iraq, health care and other issues and the candidates’ positions on them.

"Because of the gravity of the world situation and what Americans perceive as an existential threat to the country [and to our democracy], the gay marriage issue should recede in importance for people on the right this year."

New Hampshire Governor Signs Civil Union Bill

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch made history yesterday as his state became the first in the country to sign legislation to extend civil unions to same-sex couples without legal proceedings or the threat of judicial intervention. Civil unions remain unequal to full marriage for same-sex couples. This blogger, however, remains immensely proud of lawmakers in his home state who did the right thing for their gay and lesbian constituents.

Granite Staters take immense pride in their 'Live Free or Die' mentality which places immense value in limited government interference in their personal lives. Social conservatives will certainly use this mantra to challenge the law in the public square. The Union Leader will almost certainly run sensational editorials that mourn the collapse of so-called traditional marriage before the law takes effect on January 1, 2008. Gays and lesbians in New Hampshire, at least, now have a seat closer to the table than they did before Lynch signed the bill.

Film Sparks Controversy Among Transgender Activists

This article I wrote for the Blade this week examines the controversy surrounding lesbian filmmaker Catherine Crouch's film "The Gendercator." Transgender activists both here in New York and across the country continue to blast the film as transphobic and insensitive. Most of these activists readily concede they have yet to view Crouch's short. Yet it has succeeded to spark dialogue about gender identity and societal norms.

Transgender activists have called for NewFest to remove the short film “The Gendercator” from its lineup. They claim lesbian director Catherine Crouch’s controversial piece portrays trans people as “monsters” and presents the gender issue as one-sided.

An LGBT film festival in San Francisco pulled the film after similar complaints last month. But Basil Tsoikas, artistic director of NewFest, New York’s annual LGBT film festival, said the film will be screened as planned on June 2 and 4.

“We’ve received calls both pro and con, from both trans and not trans,” Tsoikas said. “Most people we have heard from have not seen the film. You need to see a film before you can decide.”

According to Crouch’s web site, her 15-minute film “The Gendercator” features lesbian Sunshine Sally (Emily Wood) who, after celebrating in 1973 the victory of Billy Jean King over Bobby Riggs, falls into a mysterious slumber and awakes in 2048 in a world where butch women and sissy boys are no longer tolerated. Strict sex roles and gender expression are enforced, and the protagonist must then choose one gender and follow its rigid constraints.

Filmmaker Crouch described the work as a “satire about female body modification and gender.”

“More and more often, we see young heterosexual women carving their bodies into porno Barbie dolls and lesbian women altering themselves into transmen,” Crouch wrote. “Our distorted cultural norms are making women feel compelled to use medical advances to change themselves, instead of working to change the world.”

“To create a science film where transgender people are monsters clearly demonstrates transphobia of the worst kind,” said Pauline Park, chair of New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy. “I am a bit surprised and disappointed they decided to screen Catherine Crouch’s film.”

Park said she wants NewFest organizers to pull “The Gendercator” from the festival. NewFest’s Tsiokos acknowledged her and other activists’ concerns. He said New Yorkers have not responded to the film the same way Bay Area activists did; at San Francisco’s Frameline fest, 160 people signed a petition to stop the screening.

“We don’t find it to be hate speech,” Tsoikas said of the short movie. “We feel people should see the film. We didn’t make the film, but we will allow people to see it. We encourage it.”

Crouch agreed. She said she wanted to create a film that raises important issues.

“Women seem to like it and want to talk about issues and how they are feeling about body modification today in all countries around the world,” Crouch said. “I want to talk about it and hear about it and learn more, and I was thinking people would too—they are and they do.”

Park dismissed these arguments. She opposes censorship but said that New York activists need to hold NewFest organizers responsible for the films they choose to show during the festival.

“NewFest is a community organization, and like all community organizations it needs to be held accountable for the decision it makes,” Park said.

“We are not doing this for controversy,” said NewFest’s Tsoikas. “The short is by a lesbian filmmaker and is from her point of view. None of our films will represent everyone’s point of view. I’m sure if you point to any other film, there’s going to be controversy.”

The Indianapolis-based filmmaker described the outcry over her film as bizarre. “It has been accepted in about six film festivals, and then this came out of the blue,” said Crouch. “This is very surprising. I want people to pay attention to the film, but I don’t want it to appear to be negative.”

Crouch’s film is playing along with a group of shorts screening together under the banner Twisted Love.
“The Gendercator” will continue to spark debate within activist and filmmaking circles as Crouch herself implies on her web site. She said people can come to their own conclusions once they see her film.
“People are going to take it in based on their own life experience,” Crouch said. “[The film] is based on my own life experiences and my own story.”

“The Gendercator” plays as part of the Twisted Love collection, 10:30 p.m. June 2 and 3:45 p.m. June 4, at AMC Lowes 34th Street Theater, 312 W. 34th St. NewFest runs through June 10,, 646-290-8136.