Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Homophobia Remains Alive in New York City

One can easily conclude New York City remains the most diverse city in the world. Diversity, as I have pointed out in previous blogs, remains a source of strength which binds the vast majority of New Yorkers together. Homophobic incidents to which I have witnessed in the more than three years I have lived in the city temporarily blemished this reality. My roommate's experience with a Brooklyn cabbie who directed anti-gay rhetoric towards him is an unfortunate addition to this list of incidents.

I have never experienced anti-gay sentiments in Bushwick despite the once maligned neighborhood's reputation. I did witness a man accost a man whom he thought touched him on a particularly crowded L-train morning commute a couple of years ago. I also routinely heard drunken 20-somethings call each other "fags" as they stumbled passed the Ocean Beach house in which I lived during the summer I reported on Fire Island. These two incidents are certainly juvenile but highlight homophobia's continued presence in even the most apparently progressive cities. Last October's murder of Brooklynite Michael Sandy, the anti-gay attack against performer Kevin Aviance and other high profile murders and assaults remain stark reminders of the manifestation of these attitudes. New York City remains a relatively safe -- and arguably fabulous -- place to be openly LGBT. Progress, on the other hand, needs to continue in even the most celebrated LGBT Meccas.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Anti-Terrorism Agreement Raises More Concerns

President George W. Bush and his administration remain arguably the movement for LGBT rights' perfect villain. He maintains his support for the long-shot proposed Federal Marriage Amendment to secure his dwindling socially conservative base. The White House continues to support abstinence-based curriculum to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. Bush also maintains his solid support [and taxpayers' money] for faith based programs. These three things are only a small portion of the many reasons to which LGBT activists and their supporters point as the motivation behind their opposition to the current administration.

The Washington Post reported yesterday the United States and the European Union will soon begin to share personal information about trans-Atlantic airline passengers. The paper further indicated sexual orientation may be among the data collected. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff defended the program as an "essential screening tool" in the American government's ongoing fight against terrorism. Others will certainly disagree in light of the [perceived or actual] terrorism threat. This proposal will provide anti-Bush and arguably anti-Republican activists within the movement for LGBT rights yet another source of ammunition to advocate against the administration's agenda. This rhetoric has almost grown tired in recent years because it frankly does not carry the impact it once did. This program, however, raises many questions about the lengths to which this administration will go under the guise of anti-terrorism. Activists will certainly demand answers to these concerns as details of the program emerge.

Friday, July 27, 2007

More NYC Prides Run Into Trouble With Police, City

Pride season in New York certainly had its fair share of problems as organizers, activists and even average LGBT New Yorkers complained about permit denials and even alleged New York Police Department misconduct. Politicians, who always seem more than willing to curry favor with a potentially influential voting block, tend to dismiss any criticisms in the name of positive assessments and messages. This scenario played out as I examined these issues for a feature story in this week's New York Blade . Some pointed to terrorism concerns as motivations behind this year's events while others quickly assumed homophobia was a key factor. Both are potentially valid concerns but city bureaucrats created an unfortunate situation this year which threatened to tarnish an event important to a significant portion of the city's population -- and their constituency. The debate about who is to blame will certainly continue as next year's Pride celebration already approaches.

This time last summer, People of Color in Crisis was preparing for its annual Pride in the City events when it ran into a different kind of crisis. The National Park Service notified the group of new regulations, which according to POCC, would have limited its attendees and the health services it offers. After state and city lawmakers intervened, the main festival took place as scheduled at Riis Beach in Far Rockaway, Queens, drawing about 5,000 people.

This summer, more Pride organizers and activists across the boroughs have complained that that permit denials, city bureaucracy and even the New York Police Department put a damper on many Pride celebrations. The situation has lead many to question the reasons behind the sudden crackdown and bureaucratic red tape.

Queens Pride co-chair Daniel Dromm, who plans to launch his own 2009 City Council bid, said that the current situation results from two factors: homophobia and fears of terrorism.

He doesn’t believe city residents view the Pride events as dangerous or as a public nuisance that requires stricter regulation.

“I don’t think LGBT festivals are at the top of the list of people’s priorities,” Dromm said. “There may be some concerns around terrorism… I don’t really buy that 100 percent because these things can be policed.”

Dromm recalled no problems with city officials and police at the Queens Pride this year.

Bronx Pride 2007 chair Chanel Lopez, on the other hand, said she and her colleagues encountered numerous problems as they tried to stage their event in Barretto Point Park in Hunts Point on June 16.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that Bronx Community Pride Center executive director Lisa Winters complained to local politicians that Parks Department officials harassed vendors and others who attended Bronx Pride.

Lopez affirmed these allegations. She further speculated some officials may have objected to safe-sex messages and HIV testing in the park.

“I believe they had an issue with this type of event going on,” Lopez said.

Gays & Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered (GLOBE) also faced logistical problems with their annual Pride march in the predominately Latino-neighborhood in Brooklyn after the NYPD initially denied their permit because of a shortage of available officers to monitor the event.

GLOBE executive director Dee Perez said she feels homophobia was not a factor in the department’s decision. She expressed outrage, however, at the conduct of two NYPD officers she said mocked marchers after the June 16 march.

“There were some cops laughing and giggling, and I know it was toward us because a couple of girls were acting like themselves,” Perez said. “It made me feel disgusted because they’re there to uphold the law and to protect us.”

Allegations against the NYPD’s tactics during Pride season are nothing new. The Audre Lorde Project and other organizations protested the arrest of two people last June after they tried to re-enter the city’s Pride parade down Fifth Avenue.

During the City Council’s annual Pride commemoration late last month, members of the Radical Homosexual Agenda and ACT UP protested the NYPD and a new regulation that mandates a permit for gatherings of more than 50 people.

They criticized City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s perceived role in the legislation’s passage as they unfurled banners reading “Stonewall was not a permitted action” from the balcony inside the City Council’s chambers.

Openly lesbian Council Member Rosie Mendez (D-Lower East Side) voted against the new regulations. Perez also expressed her frustration with the potential 2009 Mayoral candidate. She said that Quinn failed to support her fellow LGBT New Yorkers.

“When you get elected to a higher position, you somehow forget where you come from,” Perez charged. “She [Quinn] could have done a lot more… she’s out in the Puerto Rican parade waving flags and stuff but when it comes to the LGBT parade she’s under the radar.”

Lopez said that local politicians need to do more to prevent problems during Pride season.

“Politicians should have done more,” she said. “They probably would have thought if they helped out, people would have thought they were gay or something.”

Quinn was quick to defend the way she and her staff worked with various Pride organizations. She told the Blade in a prepared statement her office is currently working with Bronx Pride organizers and Parks Department officials to schedule a meeting next month to discuss their concerns.

Quinn did not respond directly to other specific criticisms or allegations. She added, however, she and her staff will work to secure future Pride celebrations run smoothly.

“We are proud to have worked with community based organizations throughout the city to ensure a successful Pride season this year,” Quinn stated. “My office will continue to assist organizations with their events to ensure they are safe celebrations of our community’s pride.”

Tensions between bureaucracy and Pride planners came to a head—and made headlines—well before Pride month. In late April, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Community Assistance Unit denied Heritage of Pride’s permit application to relocate the annual PRIDEfest from Washington Street in the West Village to Eighth Avenue in Chelsea. HOP organizers canceled the event despite Quinn, state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Chelsea) and other politicians and activists’ efforts to urge the CAU and the NYPD to reconsider their decision.

CAU commissioner Patrick Brennan told the Blade in a previous interview the city could not accommodate an additional event in a different location.

HOP media director Dennis Spafford disagreed. He said the West Village location presented safety concerns and other logistical issues, such as the lack of amenities, for the hundreds of thousands of people who traditionally attend the street festival each June.

PrideFEST’s cancellation sent shockwaves across the city. Some activists accused city officials of homophobia while others added concerns about terrorism – and a moratorium on approval of new street festivals which took effect in 2003—factored into their decision.

Spafford dismissed allegations of homophobia, adding that “hard line politicians” forced HOP organizers to cancel PRIDEfest. “It was definitely a political game,” he said. “We’re all New Yorkers and we want to work with city officials and city government to produce these events.”

So what about People of Color in Crisis’ Black Pride events planned for next week, Aug. 1–5; have they experienced new or recurring problems with the Parks Department? POCC executive director Michael Roberson said he expects this year’s event will go off without a hitch.

HOP and other Pride organizations concede this year’s problems have forced them to re-evaluate the way they plan future Pride events. Spafford added he hopes organizers, politicians and bureaucrats alike can come together and find a solution.

“We’re going to work with these people, with city government, and come to a solution,” he said. “This year we created a dialogue—a conversation—and we will continue to carry it on.”

LGBT New Yorkers Boycott Caliente Cab Company

The arguably inevitable boycott of the Caliente Cab Company restaurant in the West Village continues more than a month after a bouncer allegedly confronted lesbian Khadijah Farmer while she used the eatery's restroom. The Queer Justice League picketed the restaurant on July 15. The group plans to hold a second protest on Sunday to renew their calls that LGBT New Yorkers boycott the Caliente Cab Company until Farmer receives a formal apology.

Farmer's case continues to receive widespread coverage in New York's mainstream, LGBT and even Spanish media. Her lawyer, Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, has filed a complaint with the city's Commission on Human Rights on his clients behalf. He is also considering a lawsuit against Caliente Cab Company after negotiations with their counsel produced little progress. This case remains a sad irony in part because the alleged discrimination took place hours after more than 500,000 people took part in the city's annual Pride parade in Manhattan. The restaurant continues to disregard the serious allegations Farmer has made against it. Activists are right to demand action against the eatery and to show discrimination has no place in New York.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle's Homophobic Comments Raise Tourism Questions

Gay activists in South Florida and across the country continue to condemn Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle for comments he made to the Sun-Sentinel earlier this month in reference to a proposed automatic toilet on the beach which he argues would deter 'homosexual activity.' The newspaper further reported Naugle claimed Broward County leads the country in new AIDS cases involving men having sex with men. The mayor further speculated whether local tourism officials should court gay tourists who frequent Fort Lauderdale and surrounding areas in droves.

Naugle's comments are certainly insensitive and arguably border on the outrageous. Activists are certainly justified in their outrage as their mayor represents one of the most popular destinations for gays and lesbians in the country. National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman pointed out the $1 billion these visitors contribute to the local economy during a "Flush Naugle Rally" outside Fort Lauderdale City Hall on Tuesday.

"Sadly, Mayor Naugle's comments do more than embarrass any thinking person," he said. "They are a stain on each one of you. They are a stain on every person in Broward County."

Foreman's categorization is correct but many Fort Lauderdale businesses that benefit from pink tourism dollars have begun to question the potential impact Naugle's comments will have on their bottom lines. Activists in Fort Lauderdale and arguably around the country will determine how to apply additional pressure on the mayor. They could call upon him to resign or call upon city officials to launch an investigation into his conduct. Activists could also call upon gay and lesbian tourists to boycott the city until Naugle steps down.

Groups on the Jersey Shore and other pink vacation areas have faced similarly difficult choices in recent years as to how they chose to respond to homophobic elected officials and discrimination in their backyards. Those in Fort Lauderdale are now at a similar crossroads as they formulate a response to these outrageous comments which have tarnished the reputation of the South Florida gay Mecca.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gay Media Struggles to Cover International News With Limited Resources

One can very easily conclude that the majority of Americans' perspective on world events remains sadly myopic in scope. More than half of people who live in this country do not even have passports. So the question the media -- both mainstream and LGBT -- must answer is how does it report on events outside the United States based on the reality of many of their readers, viewers and listeners.

I examined this question in Press Pass Q's feature story this month. The attacks against Pride marchers in Moscow in late May, the continued systematic oppression and even death of gay men in Iraq, Iran and other countries across the Middle East and gay rights advances in Latin America are a sampling of the LGBT-related stories which have made international headlines over the last year. Editors and even writers are quick to point out that those who consume their product have a keen interest in what happens overseas. The reality, however, remains that many of these outlets simply do not have the resources to adequately cover these stories. The United States is certainly not immune to events beyond its borders. The September 11 terrorist attacks shattered this illusion forever. Newspapers and other media outlets continue to curtail their international coverage due to the general malaise of the industry, cost cutting and other factors. The need to cover overseas story remains vitally important as the world becomes increasingly smaller and more inter-connected. The current state of this coverage, however, will continue to raise more questions about what reporters and editors decide to cover and the thought processes behind these decisions.

Violent attacks on Pride marchers in Moscow. Gays systematically jailed and murdered in Iraq. Civil unions in Mexico. Those are just some of the international stories involving gays that made headlines this year.

The question for many in the GLBT media, however, is how to cover such stories from around the world without the resources to do so. Beyond that, are readers even interested in international gay news?

San Diego-based freelance journalist Rex Wockner provides many GLBT publications in the United States with international coverage. And many more rely on the Associated Press and other newswires.

On the other hand, Sirius Satellite Radio’s OutQ employs correspondents in Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Israel, and other countries. And in the print world, Gay City News contributor Doug Ireland, for example, routinely covers overseas news for the New York-based weekly.

While he lives in New York City now, Ireland lived in France for 10 years and cultivated a network of contacts among human rights activists around the world. Paul Schindler, editor of Gay City News, said Ireland is, therefore, able to supply him with original copy each week.

Sirius OutQ News Director Tim Curran said he feels his listeners remain interested in international coverage. A recent survey of the radio outlet’s website featured stories from Russia, Thailand, Canada, Uganda, Kenya, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom in addition to domestic coverage. Curran proudly pointed to this coverage — and in particular his coverage of Moscow Pride in May — as proof of Sirius OutQ’s commitment to international news.

“I deliver those stories because I think people are interested in them,” he said. “I don’t think ‘Dateline Moscow’ is a turnoff for a gay audience if it’s a gay story that’s interesting and illuminating of their lives.”

Curran conceded, however, that GLBT media could improve coverage of international stories if they had more resources.

“Given the resources gay media have – they’re nothing like the New York Times, the Washington Post or CNN – [they] do a pretty good job,” Curran said. “They do make an effort to bring stories in from all over the world. … But with more resources, a better job could be done.”

Tammye Nash, editor of the Dallas Voice, located not all that far from the Mexican border, agreed. Her coverage remains focused on the Metroplex, North Texas, and neighboring states. The Dallas Voice also ran a series of articles last summer examining the impact the immigration debate has on GLBT immigrants.

Nash added that she periodically covers Mexican stories, such as the civil unions bill signed into law earlier this year in the state of Coahuila, due to the large number of people of Mexican descent who live in Texas. She said she would like to cover more of these stories, but a lack of staff and resources limit her newspaper’s scope.

“Other than me, I have two writers on my staff on the news side,” Nash said. “We have to rely on some outside sources like Rex Wockner, like the Associated Press. … We just have to make priorities about where we are going to put our efforts.”

George Baker, editor of Seattle Gay News, regularly uses these sources for the bulk of his international coverage. He added that he covers Canada, in part, because of the Emerald City’s proximity to the Canadian border and Vancouver. Baker said his readers remain less interested in Vancouver than in Canada as a whole.

Canada is one of a handful of countries to have legalized marriage for same-sex couples, while Russia, Israel, Iran, and other nations have made headlines in recent months due to violent clashes during Pride events and outright oppression of their GLBT citizens.

One of the big international gay news stories this year so far concerned Iranian police arresting more than 80 people in early May at a birthday party in the city of Isfahan. Both Wockner and Ireland reported extensively on this raid, along with the plight of gay Iraqis whom police and fundamentalists within the war-torn country continue to target. According to Gay City News’ Schindler, openly gay U.S. Rep Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and out lesbian U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) referenced Ireland’s reporting in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to demand an investigation of these reports.

Schindler said he feels the GLBT media – like mainstream outlets – largely ignore international stories until they become “a flash point in our own lives.” Schindler added, however, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks proved the media can no longer ignore overseas news.

“The world is increasingly connected,” he said. “We cannot dodge any bullet, nor from an ethical standpoint can we afford to ignore the huge majority of the world and of GLBT peoples who do not live in the [United States].”

Baker, in Seattle, agreed. He said GLBT media have a responsibility to report these stories.

“If they are hanging or beheading gay men in Saudi Arabia or Iran, the story needs to be told,” he said. “[Gay media are] shaping it and putting it in the foreground. We can’t leave it up to a handful of activists somewhere crying in the wind.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

Gays Invading the Straight Hangouts

Another weekend reporting on Fire Island has come and gone. It's pouring as I prepare to go home to Bushwick but a New York Times article on the so-called "Guerrilla Gay Bar" which recently set up shop on Venice Beach grabbed my gay saturated mind. The article described in detail how a group of around 70 gay men set up their beachside shop -- and rainbow flag -- among the bodybuilders, bicycle riders and tourists who stroll the famous beach. The group adds its mission remains to overcome the boredom they say perpetuates so-called gay culture in West Hollywood and other traditional gay hangouts.

"There's a place for gay bars, but we feel gay people have become so segregated that some of them don't go out into the wider community anymore," "Guerrilla Gay Bar" organizer Matthew Poe said. "We want to suggest that the world is bigger than West Hollywood."

This notion is certainly nothing new as groups in San Francisco, New York and other places have proven over the years. So-called gay culture continues to permeate mass media -- and mainstream society -- through the "L Word," "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," "Sex and the City" and other cultural and pop culture phenomenons. Many activists within the movement for gay rights and others may question whether these programs distort the reality in which the majority of LGBT people live. Others may have significant investments within these pink cultural creations. The debate will certainly rage on. But who can deny the potential guilty pleasure of dozens of gay men spontaneously setting up their various pink accountrements in a traditionally straight refuge? It certainly flips the tables a bit in the broader scheme of cultural interaction and examination.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Senator Clinton Cancels Campaign Stop at Gay-Owned Businesses

Senator Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] cancelled two scheduled campaign appearances at gay-owned businesses in West Virginia [Mountain Medical and the Guest House at Lost River] less than a week before they were slated to take place. Mountain Medical Inc., President Renee Lohman, whose corporation was to host the Democratic Presidential hopeful, told the Washington Blade that Clinton's campaign cancelled the appearance earlier this week before a fundraiser failed to raise the required $150,000 benchmark. Her officials further cited logistical problems, such as the lack of an nearby airport, as reasons for the cancellation. They denied the decision was based on any anti-LGBT sentiment within the campaign.

"The fact that the Guest House at Lost River caters to the LGBT community played no role in our decision-making process," her campaign said in a statement.

Candidates need to court more conservative votes during the primary and caucus season. Clinton is certainly no different. A significant number of potential LGBT voters remain suspicious of Clinton and her perceived defection to more conservative positions. I speculated in a previous blog she would not want to have a New York Times headline 'Clinton Courts Donors in Gay Resort Mecca' in relation to a possible Fire Island Pines appearance this summer. Perhaps the same conclusion is at play in West Virginia as she seeks to position herself as an attractive candidate to more socially conservative Democrats. Clinton is certainly a highly intelligent politician who calculates almost every move. She should remain vigilant, however, as to how her actions, such as the abrupt cancellation of events at two gay-owned businesses, will play out among skeptical LGBT Americans.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Day to Remember

The Empire State Building [center] and the Midtown Manhattan skyline obscured in haze yesterday afternoon from the roof of my apartment building in Bushwick

Manhattan skyline from my roof on a clear day [May 23, 2007]

This morning I have decided to take a temporary break from the usual commentary about the movement for LGBT rights in order to reflect upon the previous day's events. Thunder, torrential downpours [and a rather frantic Milagro and Alegria] literally jolted me out of bed around 6:30. I immediately ran around the apartment to shut the windows to avoid any unnecessary floods only to wait nearly two hours to open them again to let fresh air back in. I almost never use air conditioning so it was certainly a challenge to say the least!

The weather eventually cleared enough to allow me to run a couple of errands in the city. The Weatherbug icon on my laptop indicted more than two inches of rain had fallen onto Bushwick in less than three hours. A number of subway lines in Brooklyn and Queens had flooded. It was quite the mess! I returned home a couple of hours later, around 12:30, and began to work on a number of stories assigned to me. I took my customary afternoon siesta and awoke around 5:30. I turned Channel 7 on and Bill Ritter, somewhat frantically, interrupted the broadcast around 6:15 with news of an explosion in Midtown Manhattan. I immediately thought it was a terrorist attack but it turned out to be a violent -- but thankfully non-terrorism related -- steam pipe explosion. I climbed up to the roof of my building to see any possible smoke. The city skyline was almost obscured in haze but I did see a white plume of steam rising from the East Side through the pollution. In the end, one person unfortunately died from a heart attack as a result of the explosion and a number of blocks around Grand Central remain closed. Gotham certainly tests the will -- and endurance -- of those who choose to live and visit it. Yesterday's events certainly proved this reality.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New York Post Continues to Offend

The New York Post once again solified its position as an 'equal opportunity offender' with its latest Sean Delonas cartoon.

Nobody in the movement for LGBT rights -- especially in New York -- should express shock that the New York Post continues to maintain its status as an 'equal opportunity offender.' The conservative tabloid struck yet again yesterday with a Sean Delonas pokes fun at the recent Miss New Jersey Amy Polumbo scandal with a cartoon which depicts former Garden State Gov. Jim McGreevey in a bikini, high-heels, tiara and sash holding a threat letter as a man in a bedroom waits in the background.

One can easily conclude Delonas' cartoons are tacky at best -- or outright offensive at worst. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation concluded the latter and issued an Action Alert to its constituency late yesterday. The Post published two Delonas' cartoons last October which poked fun at former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley [R-Fla.] and the New Jersey Supreme Court decision which led to the Garden State's civil unions law. Both cartoons depicted McGreevey and GLAAD responded after a flurry of complaints.

I was the organization's Northeast Media Field Strategist at the time and heralded many of these calls. I also brought these complaints to the attention of the Post to little avail outside a pledge to publish letters in a future edition of the Post. New York activists created GLAAD in 1985 in response to the tabloid's sensational coverage of people living with HIV and AIDS. One can argue it is refreshing to see the self-described media watchdog go after the Post. I fear, however, the tabloid's executives and even editors will not listen to an LGBT organization. LGBT New Yorkers will almost certainly call upon their brothers and sisters to boycott the Post. They will even criticize GLAAD for not being proactive enough in its approach to deal with the tabloid. Perhaps now is a time for the movement for LGBT rights to think outside of its narrow box as it strategies how to address this continued offense.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Faith Remains Dominant Issue for Movement for LGBT Rights

The movement for LGBT rights has long struggled to counter the prolific anti-LGBT rhetoric of anti-LGBT leaders of faith and religious congregations across the country. The Human Rights Campaign, the National Lesbian & Gay Task Force, Freedom to Marry, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Empire State Pride Agenda are among the national and statewide LGBT organizations which have invested resources and even staff into their efforts to highlight LGBT-affirming people of faith.

This blogger and other reporters and commentators have repeatedly noted these efforts in their articles and postings over the years. Openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire remains the figurehead of a small but growing number of LGBT leaders of faith across the country. They continue to gain visibility among local, regional and even national media outlets as issues of faith. The recent death of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell proved this trend as Larry King, Anderson Cooper and other journalists proved with their in depth coverage of his impact on American politics and religion. The question remains, however, as to the whether these efforts actually bring about change. Americans, as a whole, continue to become more tolerant -- and accepting -- of LGBT people as this blogger as repeatedly concluded in previous entries. The movement for LGBT rights is correct to capitalize on this trend with these efforts. The United States remains a nation of deep faith. People often cultivate their perceptions of people while in the church, synagogue, mosque or temple. The movement for LGBT rights must continue to "infiltrate" these religious institutions if it seeks to continue the change it has already begun.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards Continues Gay Rights Stump

Elizabeth Edwards continued her gay rights stump -- perhaps on behalf of her husband, Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards -- this past weekend as she again reiterated her support for marriage for same-sex couples at the Human Rights Campaign annual gala in San Francisco. Edwards also used the dinner as an opportunity to blast President George W. Bush's opposition of the federal hate crimes bill in the context of a Sacramento man who died earlier this month after a group of men attacked him because they thought he was gay.

"This president talks a lot about good and evil and the need to seek out evil doers," she said. "He doesn't seem to recognize the evil in hate crimes. The right to live without the fear of being murdered for whom we love is not a special right."

The U.S. Senate is slated to debate the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 later this week to the almost universal praise among local, regional and national LGBT organizations. Edwards, for her part, came out in support of marriage for same-sex couples last month in San Francisco at a pre-Pride breakfast. Her husband reportedly expressed surprise at his wife's position. He opposes marriage for same-sex couples but both Edwardses maintain their overall support for LGBT people. Is Edwards' appearance in San Francisco another example of political courtship with a potentially influential voting block? Of course! Politics remains a cynical entity as candidates continue to criss-cross the country in search of support and lucrative donors in what has already become the most expensive Presidential campaign in American history. Activists should thank Edwards for her appearance in San Francisco and her pro-LGBT overtures in recent weeks. The proof of this new found support, however, remains in the campaign's actions in the months leading up to Iowa and New Hampshire. Candidates continue to make blanket statements, issue good sound bites and talk a good talk on their stump. Voters, on the other hand, need to demand specifics from those who seek to sucede the current administration.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Progress on Gay Rights, But not AIDS

More than 15,000 people took part in the annual LGBT Pride celebration in Boquerón, Puerto Rico, early last month [Photo courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano]

This feature for EDGE focuses on the state of the movement for LGBT rights on Puerto Rico. I was frankly surprised to learn about the debate around marriage for same-sex couples which continues to take place on the Caribbean island. The lack of resources -- and bureaucratic red tape and even corruption -- to treat HIV/AIDS on Puerto Rico, however, remains a highly unfortunate disgrace to the shame of all those involved. Many Americans may not even realize the island is part of the United States. It lacks Congressional power but it maintains a bicameral legislature and a governor who functions in the same way as his colleagues do on the mainland. Puerto Rico Para Todos President Pedro Julio Serrano remains proud of the progress his homeland continues to make in terms of LGBT rights. Yet there remains much to be done as he and others both on the island and in the United States proper continue to raise awareness of the many issues which LGBT Puerto Ricans must combat.

Puerto Rico Para Todos President Pedro Julio Serrano beams with pride--and determination--each time he talks about his Caribbean homeland. He even brought this enthusiasm to Puerto Rican lawmakers charged with revising the American commonwealth’s civil code in April as he testified in support of marriage for same-sex couples.

"Equality is inevitable," Serrano stated.

Serrano, who works for the National Lesbian & Gay Task Force in New York, remains the leader of the small but growing movement for LGBT rights on the island. Serrano founded Puerto Rico Para Tod@s in June 2003 as a way to combat homophobia and to raise awareness.

The island, which, like the rest of Latin America is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, was annexed by the United States since the Spanish-American War. Its status has been a sore point, with some wanting statehood, others independence, but the majority seemingly happy with commonwealth status. The political indefiniteness of the island extends to much of its attitudes, which veer between liberal Democracy and Latin absolutism.

Serrano’s work with Puerto Ricans is an integral part of the Task Force’s overall mission, he said. If anything, Puerto Rico Para Tod@s; focus has expanded. "At first it was about visibility and education and educating people about who we are... and now it’s about the political process," he told EDGE in a recent interview from his office in Lower Manhattan. "These are all steps towards justice for LGBT Puerto Ricans.

A handful of Puerto Rican politicians have begun to express their support for LGBT rights as Serrano and his allies continue to lobby local lawmakers. Attorney General Roberto Sánchez Ramos declared in March that denying gay and lesbian couples marriage licenses may violate Puerto Rico’s Constitution. Albita Rivera, a Democrat who represents San Juan in the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, the state Legislature’s lower house, became the first major local politician to march in an LGBT Pride parade last month. She joined thousands who attended festivities in the southwestern city of Boquerón.

Puerto Rico’s anti-hate crimes laws include sexual orientation and gender identity. The territory decriminalized homosexuality in 2005 and the University of Puerto Rico became the first governmental institution to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation the same year. The academic institution also extended benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees.

Serrano proudly points to these events as proof that Puerto Rico continues to become a more accepting society. He concedes, however, that the majority of lawmakers on the island remain homophobic. He cites the influence that the Pro-Life Association of Puerto Rico’s President Carlos Sanchez and other social and religious conservatives continue to maintain.

Serrano further concluded this opposition remains a significant hurdle that Puerto Rican activists need to overcome.

"The most challenging thing locally is to convince politicians there is no political cost for being for fairness and for standing on the side of fairness," he said. "We have started to convey that, but we have not convinced politicians yet."

Activists on the island also suffer from a lack of financial resources. The NGLTF, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Freedom to Marry are among U.S. gay rights organizations that devote their time and resources to Puerto Rico. The New York-based Latino Commission on AIDS and the Puerto Rican Initiative to Develop Empowerment regularly use their connections with local activists and politicians to advocate in support of various issues on the island.

These organizations held a press conference at New York City Hall early last month to draw attention to the plight of hundreds of people with AIDS in Puerto Rico who routinely wait to receive essential medications and other treatments due to bureaucratic red tape and mismanagement of Ryan White Act funds. Puerto Rico has one of the highest percentages of people with AIDS in the United States

Latino Commission on AIDS Executive Director Dennis deLeon wrote a letter to Health Resources and Services Administration Associate Director for HIV/AIDS Dr. Deborah Parham in February to ask her to intervene on behalf of Puerto Ricans with AIDS.

"The situation is at such a crisis point where the well being of patients are being jeopardized," he wrote. "They are asking you to institute a system for dispersing funds via a respected third party... that completely bypasses the government which has proven unreliable to put it mildly."

Senator Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y] and U.S. Rep Nydia Velazquez [D-N.Y.] have also pressed officials to address these problems.

PRIDE Chair Luis Robles said he and his organization, like many gay "Neuyorquinos" (New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent), feel obliged to support Puerto Rican activists because of their close familial and cultural ties. He added he remains alarmed at the current situation on the island.

"There are waiting lists... hundreds of people lack medication," Robles said. "I feel very strongly [that] what happens on the island happens to me."

Lisbeth Meléndez-Rivera of the National Stonewall Democrats further described the waiting lists for HIV/AIDS medications as a disgrace. She was born and raised around Caguas in central Puerto Rico. Meléndez-Rivera added that like Serrano, she is motivated to support LGBT Puerto Ricans out of a sense of pride for her homeland and an obligation to support native efforts.

"For some of us like [Pedro Julio] and I who grew up there, it’s an issue of both national pride and concern for friends who live there," Meléndez-Rivera said. "There’s a symbiotic relationship that exists for those of us who live in the duality of Boricuas and live in the United States that we feel bonded to."

New York-based activist Andres Duque countered that animosity between Puerto Rican and Neuyorquino activists does exist. He concluded, however, that if anything that means that national organizations in addition to GLAAD should devote even more time and resources to support efforts on Puerto Rico.

"If you ask anyone who’s a leader in the gay community in the United States what is the next state or commonwealth to codify same-sex relationships, nobody would say Puerto Rico," Duque said. "It’s shocking to me there’s not more support from organizations in the United States... to make a push."

Meléndez-Rivera agreed. She praised Rivera and other straight allies who continue to support the LGBT rights. Meléndez-Rivera also mocked those politicians, religious leaders and others who fail to resolve the HIV/AIDS crisis and continue to oppose any LGBT rights on Puerto Rico for what she sees as hypocrisy.

"I don’t kill; I don’t steal; I believe in God; I don’t lust over my neighbor’s wife," Meléndez-Rivera said. "We see these folks judging us in two months from now caught because they are committing fraud, because they are committing adultery, because they have totally wasted the confidence of their constituency."

Serrano remains unfazed despite. He confidently predicted the island will grant marriage to same-sex couples within 10 years. Serrano asserts, however, the Puerto Rican government need to catch up with the majority of their constituents he argues support LGBT rights.

"Puerto Rican culture has been very welcoming and inviting of LGBT people," he concludes. "It’s up to the law to catch up with the Puerto Rican people."

Bums on Display for a Cause in the Pines

One of the many reporter perks on Fire Island is he received unrestricted access to some of the most fun -- and decadent -- parties on the island. This blogger covered the first annual Fashion for Football fundraiser this past Saturday in the Fire Island Pines for the Fire Island News and EDGE Publications. It benefited the New York Gay Football League, the Ali Forney Center and the PFLAG Esera Tuaolo Scholarship... Did he mention gay football players stormed the runway in little more than AussieBum speedos? This blogger hung out with GLAAD President Neil Giuliano, WNYC reporter Richard Hake, former Empire State Pride Agenda staffer Chris Cormier, OutSports co-founder Cyd Zeigler and others between shots of tequila and interviews with the models. Gay men can indeed play football in the Pines and elsewhere!

The boys from Down Under - or rather New York City, Los Angeles and Florida--raised more than $14,000 for a number of gay charities and organizations as they took to a makeshift runway in a covered-over pool in a home in Fire Island Pines. On Saturday, July 7, in little more than Aussie Bum Speedos and a smile, models strutted their stuff in the first annual (but we certainly hope not last) "Fashion for Football" fundraiser.

Nine members of the New York Gay Football League [NYGFL] proved who the real jocks are as they captivated and titillated the more than 200 people who turned out to the fashion show with their catwalk prowess and chiseled physiques. Ubiquitously gay jokes about football players also flowed freely as attendees jockeyed for position around the pool before the show began.

NYGFL Chair Jonathan Bloom told EDGE in a pre-fashion show that the Pines provides a perfect venue for this type of fundraiser. The fashion show provides an opportunity for "athletic supporters" to come out and support their favorite team or player, he added.

"This gives the experience of [a] football league to the gay community," Bloom said. "This gives gay men a chance to socialize on an athletic level."

Model and NYGFL member Rory Ray agreed. The Los Angeles native said that Fire Islanders continue to show their support and generosity for the league as it continues to increase in popularity.

"It’s a good way to raise money for a good cause," Ray said. "Gay people can also be athletic. It’s important not to bind ourselves to specific stereotypes."

Fourteen teams and two conferences make up the NYGFL. The organization will host Gay Superbowl 7 in New York later this year in which 20 teams from across the country are expected to participate.

The fashion show also raised money for the Ali Forney Center, a Manhattan-based organization whose mission is to end homeless among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and the Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays [PFLAG] Esera Tuaolo Scholarship, named in honor of the retired defensive lineman.

Fashion show coordinator Derek Reyes stressed that both the Gay Superbowl and the Pines fundraiser demonstrated to gay men that they too can play football and be part of a team. "A lot of them [the players] played in high school," he said. "They now play in an openly gay league. It’s almost like a fraternity."

Many at the fundraiser readily agreed. Some conceded, however, the draw of gay football players in skimpy swimsuits was something which they simply could not resist. "Rafael was the absolute hottest," Jodie said as she and her husband Dave admired one of the models along the edge of the pool. "I wish I could see him again."

Pines resident Keith said he felt particularly drawn to the couple who embraced and kissed after they took to the runway. His friend Joe added the models had a profound effect on him.

"It makes me want to learn how to play football," he said.

Senator John McCain's Continued Campaign Missteps

It remains no secret to political pundits and observers U.S. Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.] continues to struggle in his quest for the White House. He laid off a number of staffers earlier this month due to disappointing fundraising totals, two key advisors and campaign officials resigned earlier this week and police arrested his Florida campaign co-chair, state Rep. Bob Allen [R-Merritt Island], on July 11 after he allegedly offered to perform oral sex on an undercover male officer for $20.

This incident vaguely parallels the Congressional page scandal which brought down former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley [R-Fla.] last Fall. It is a potentially sensational story at best but it highlights, however, the plethora of negative headlines McCain continues to endure. His steadfast support of the war in Iraq and of the proposed immmigration bill which died in Congress surely continue to cut into what support he may have had among rank and file Republicans. Allen's arrest will certainly do nothing to curry additional support among social conservatives to whom McCain must appeal if he hopes to maintain any real hope of receiving the GOP nomination next summer. The Republican legislator will certainly launch a vigorous defense as he fights these allegations. McCain, on the other hand, has a much steeper hill to climb if he hopes to salvage a campaign which once held such promise.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Vitter's Discretions Continue to Come to Light

This blogger wrote yesterday about U.S. Sen. David Vitter [R-La.] and his acknowledgement of a propensity to use the services of alleged D.C. madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey. The New Orleans Times-Picayune added more fuel to this potentially explosive fire earlier this week with a report the social conservative -- and so-called defender of family values -- frequented a Big Easy brothel before voters first elected him to Congress in 1999.

"Canal Street Madam" Jeanette Maier told the newspaper Vitter spent time with several women at her New Orleans brothel. This revelation -- and other local and statewide media reports -- prompted the National Lesbian & Gay Task Force to issue a press release yesterday which blasted Vitter as a hypocrite for his sponsorship of the Federal Marriage Amendment and other anti-LGBT legislation.

“It is the pinnacle of hypocrisy for Senator Vitter to be thundering about ‘family values’ and the ‘sanctity of marriage’ and doing everything possible to deny the freedom to marry to same-sex couples while apparently paying for sex behind his wife’s back," NGLTF Executive Director Matt Foreman said. "If his wife and family want to forgive him, fine, but this far surpasses a personal transgression. He owes all Americans, particularly those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, an apology.”

Vitter, as this blogger noted yesterday, is certainly not the first social conservative to taint himself with scandal. His now public discretions remain, however, the pinnacle of hypocrisy in light of his Congressional career arguably built upon an anti-LGBT agenda. Vitter made an attempt to come clean sort-of-speak with his public apology earlier this week but his 'family values' and pro-sanctity of marriage credentials remain significantly -- and perhaps irrevocably tainted -- by this scandal. He has a huge hill to climb if he seeks to reclaim any of the platform he once enjoyed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Washington Hypocrites

Washington remains a city ripe with potential -- and actual -- hypocrites who will potentially sell their mother's soul in support of their own political aspirations and agendas. U.S. Sen. David Vitter [R-La.] can now count himself among those guilty of doublespeak after he confirmed earlier this week his phone number was on D.C. madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

Vitter is certainly not the first -- nor the last -- politician to find himself tainted by scandal. The Louisiana Republican's latest trials, however, require added scrutiny because he built his career upon his efforts to 'plant himself on the moral high ground' as New York Times reporter Adam Nossiter wrote today.

Vitter remained a fervent supporter of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman in the United States Constitution. He confirmed this view in a letter to the New Orleans Times-Picayune last year.

"I'm a conservative who opposes radically redefining marriage, the most important social institution in human history," Vitter wrote.

Vitter also championed anti-immigration, anti-choice and other socially conservative positions. This blogger wonders out loud, however, how his wife Wendy has reacted to his very public disclosure and his high-profile hypocrisy. So much for Vitter's so-called traditional marriage and family values platform.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Scholars Question Evangelical Legacy Post-George W. Bush

It remains almost routine for scholars, academics and other observers to question the future of a specific movement on the eve of the eminent departure of one of it's most prominent figureheads. President George W. Bush remains a prominent Christian -- a man of deep faith if you will -- but University of Virginia religion professor Charles Marsh wrote in his new book "Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity" the faith has become distorted to accommodate political and ideological agendas.

Marsh primarily examines how the majority of American evangelicals enthusiastically supported Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 despite condemnations from the late Pope John Paul II and a myriad of other Christian leaders across the world. He added "people in the United States who call themselves Christian must organize their priorities and values on a different standard than partisan loyalty." Indeed; the evangelical movement by and large has woven itself into the core fabric of the Republican Party over the last three decades. The results of this relationship remain crystal clear for LGBT Americans -- support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, opposition to the federal hate crimes bill currently before Congress, endorsement of abstinence only sex education programs and overall resistance to other social progressions in this country. One can easily conclude the American people flatly rejected this ideology last November. It will take much more than a democratic take-over of Congress and a new President, however, to erode the power the evangelicals have constructed over the last 30 years. Their credibility overseas may remain in doubt but their influence among the faithful in pews and congregations across this country remains strong. The progressive movement cannot hide its own head in the sand about this reality.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Political Summer Share Dominates Agenda

Politicians at the local, state and national level all use the Fourth of July picnics, parades, barbecues, commemorations and other events to mark American independence to solidify their connections in their districts -- and to secure a plethora of good photo ops and sound bites about the various issues of the day. Presidential hopefuls are no exception. Many criss-crossed the country and even the world [U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton [D-New York] and husband Bill toured Iowa while U.S. Sen. John McCain [R-Arizona] made yet another trip to war-torn Iraq] This blogger spent the holiday on Fire Island as a reporter for the Fire Island News and garnered a plethora of gossip about the Pines and the Grove that could surely fill multiple gossip columns.

A number of sources confirmed Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean will once again make his annual pilgrimage to the Pines in early August. The initial question was whether Clinton would join the former Presidential candidate as he courts wealthy gay partisans. This appearance remains highly unlikely -- imagine how socially conservative Democrats in the Bible Belt would respond to a New York Times headline 'Clinton Courts Donors in Gay Resort Mecca.' Dean's annual visit to the Pines sends a rather calculated but powerful message his party wants to bring gays and lesbians into the fold. The DNC's platform fails to support full marriage for same-sex couples at the federal level. Partisan rhetoric will surely build on Fire Island in the weeks leading up to Dean's visit. One can argue, however, attendees should seek an explanation of this platform -- and perhaps a reassurance in support of LGBT rights -- if they want to become more than a lucrative Rolodex in the much larger political jigsaw puzzle.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Drag Queens Invade the Fire Island Pines

Hotel heiress -- and recent jailbird -- Paris Hilton, troubled actresses Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie, American Idol judge Paula Abdul, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes with daughter Suri, the late Anna Nicole Smith and Glory Hole Estefan were among the Hollywood A-list in various states of drug and alcohol rehab -- or intoxication -- who joined the more than 300 drag queens who took part in the 32nd annual Invasion of the Fire Island Pines yesterday on Fire Island. This annual event began in 1975 after Panzi and her cohorts challenged the late-John Whyte to serve drag queens at his bars in the Pines. She dedicated the Invasion's latest installment to long-time Cherry Grove resident Bill 'Violet' Silver who passed away in May from AIDS complications.

The event always carries a sense of poignancy among the various coifs, headdresses and overall poor taste of Invasion-goers. The group who dressed as the Rutgers University women's basketball team and fired shock jock Don Imus would have taken the cake if child actress Dakota Fanning had not flaunted her bottle of Hennessy and other socially taboo subjects. The Malibu Tropical Banana Boys and Princess Anastasia Beaverhausen, among others, certainly provided good eye candy to this blogger and others. This event remains one of the most fun stories on which I have ever reported. Irreverence remains a lost art in this country. The queens who invaded the Pines again remind us all of the need to let our hair down for a touch of eccentricity -- and mascara -- in our lives.

American Idol judge Paula Abdul works the pre-Invasion runway with her white sunglasses

We don't serve no onion rings! This ain't Burger King!

Connie Lingus and Ali Italia of Cherry Grove Airlines prove their customer servicing skills outside of Sip n' Twirl in the Pines

Princess Anastasia Beaverhausen shakes little more than her tail feather

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Thoughts of a Brooklynite on Fire Island

Yesterday morning marked the first time in nearly a year since I stepped foot onto Fire Island. I wrote for the Fire Island News two summers ago and my former publisher asked me to return to the beach once again to cover the ubiquotously gay enclaves of Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines for the remainder of this summer. I reconnected with several old friends -- Jack and Rita Lichtenstein, Gary Clinton, Barbara Ann Levy, CJ Mignorelli and Marco Herrera and Porsche. I also hung out with WNYC reporter Richard Hake, Jack Schlegel and even Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation President Neil Giuliano in the Pines. I won't bore readers with any additional resemblances of a gossip column but it was simply wonderful to return to such a wonderful place after so much time away. Fire Island certainly has its share of drama, personal egos and questionable business [and personal] practices. There remains, however, an energy which simply does not exist in most other places. It is equally wonderful to reconnect with old -- and new -- friends and have a second opportunity to write on the beach once again.

Monday, July 2, 2007

New York Restaurant Allegedly Throws Lesbian Out After She Used the Women's Restroom

Manhattanite Khadijah Farmer, her girlfriend and their friend were among the more than half a million people who packed the city late last month to attend New York's annual gay Pride march. She told reporters, however, their day turned sour after a bouncer at the popular Caliente Cab Company escorted the trio from the West Village restaurant after he mistook Farmer for a man while she used the women's restroom

"The bouncer burst into the bathroom," Farmer told reporters at a press conference earlier today outside the Caliente Cab Company on Seventh Avenue South. "He started banging on the stall door... it was horrifying."

The restaurant declined to respond to Farmer's allegations despite their past support of a number of local LGBT organizations. Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund Executive Director Michael Silverman represents Farmer. He told reporters he and his client may consider legal action against the Caliente Cab Company if the restaurant does not respond to their demands -- adopt and enforce a policy which bars discrimination based on gender identity, expression and sexual orientation; train staff to comply with various New York public accommodations law and compensate Farmer herself. This case remains highly ironic due to the fact it allegedly took place after New York's annual gay Pride parade. The Caliente Cab Company remains clearly on the defensive as it faces reporters' questions about why the bouncer allegedly targeted Farmer and the overall nature of the restaurant. Answers to these questions will almost certainly continue to unfold over the next few weeks if and/or when the restaurant decides to respond to these allegations.

Khadijah Farmer, 27, speaks to reporters outside the Caliente Cab Company restaurant in New York's West Village during a July 2 press conference. She alleges a bouncer escorted her, her girlfriend and another friend from the restaurant after he said she was too masculine to use the women's restroom. [Photo courtesy of 1010 WINS]

The Marriage Vows of Presidential Candidates

Political candidates provide journalists, bloggers and other interested parties with a plethora of folder upon which they can speculate [and actually report] under their bylines. The Fire Island News published this blogger's op-ed on how the Presidential candidates stack up on marriage for same-sex couples. It is loosely based on previous articles for EDGE I had written on the same topic. Democratic candidates continue to stake their claim to LGBT voters in the months leading up to the first caucuses and primaries as they seek to sew up various constituencies. This reality should not come as any surprise to observers and pundits alike. The candidates themselves, for the most part, continue to fail to fully explain to their LGBT supporters -- or potential supporters -- why they do not support full marriage for same-sex couples. The majority of LGBT voters are almost certainly not one track voters but one can easily argue they deserve an honest explanation of their positions on marriage and other traditionally LGBT issues.

Another season on beautiful Fire Island has arrived. The Pavilion remains closed but kings and queens in the Grove prepare for their annual Invasion of the Pines – and there so happens to be a presidential campaign already kicked into high gear.
United States Sen. Hillary Clinton, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and more than a dozen other Presidential wannabes on both sides of the aisle have already tossed their names into the race. Political junkies and perhaps journalists, such as yours truly, continue to rejoice in this Presidential smorgasbord even though the first caucuses and primaries are more than six months away. Gays and lesbians are no exception.

Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards announced last month Democratic fundraiser David Mixner and other gay and lesbian operatives and activists had endorsed his campaign. Not to be upstaged by her former Senate colleague, Clinton’s campaign announced days later openly lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other community bigwigs had endorsed the former First Lady’s bid for the White House. Gay and lesbian Republicans, for their part, seem drawn to back Giuliani at this very early stage.

Edwards, Clinton and Giuliani all support gay and lesbian rights to a degree. All three, however, fail to support full marriage equality unlike fellow candidates U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich [D-Ohio] and former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel [D-Alaska]. Gays and lesbians are certainly not one-issue voters. They, like the majority of Americans, concern themselves with the Iraqi quagmire, the environment and the overall incompetence of the current administration in addition to marriage. This political hot potato, however, remains an important issue to which many gay and lesbian voters will pay attention. The obvious question remains why these voters would back a candidate who fails to support full marriage equality for same-sex couples.

American politics remains a highly cynical blood sport but there are some politicians who actually keep their promises to their supporters. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer introduced a marriage equality bill in Albany late last month after he promised gay and lesbian supporters and advocacy organizations he would during last year’s campaign. New Hampshire and New Jersey lawmakers made a significant step towards full marriage equality in recent months with the passage of civil union bills in their states.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback [R-Kansas], former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, among others, have predictably begun to use these advances to attempt to rally their socially conservative base to strengthen their own Presidential aspirations. President George W. Bush himself successfully used this divisive tactic to rally his base during his re-election campaign in 2004. He tried to use it again last summer with his public support of the Federal Marriage Amendment but it was nothing more than a smokescreen to deflect attention away from his own administration’s failure. The majority of voters rejected this tactic and delivered the GOP a stinging defeat less than six months later.

Log Cabin Republicans President Patrick Sammon told this writer in a May interview the GOP must reject divisive politics if they have any hope to maintain control of the White House. Democrats largely opposed the FMA but their party assumes gays and lesbians are a natural part of their constituency. Many, including some Fire Islanders, continue to raise money for and work on behalf of Democratic candidates on the local, regional and national stage. But these supporters must not give Democrats a ‘blank check’ on the issue of marriage.

New York gay media reported extensively on the controversy sparked last year after a leaked memo from Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan Van Capelle suggested his board should not donate to Clinton’s re-election campaign because she was ‘a complete disappointment’ on marriage equality. Equality California last November refused to support U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election campaign because she did not support full marriage for her gay and lesbian constituents. These two examples certainly challenged the status quo. The movement often fails to call out candidates who fail to support full gay and lesbian equality despite their claims to the contrary.

But the candidates themselves need to come clean to their gay and lesbian supporters despite the movement’s own political agenda. They too often rely upon slick sound bites, carefully crafted messages and self-serving campaign appearances in the Pines and elsewhere to create the illusion of support. Party operatives soak them up but a same-sex couple who wants to marry on Fire Island, for example, deserve to know why a candidate does not support their right to marry or supports the FMA and other discriminatory legislation. This direct accountability remains all too rare and gay and lesbian supporters who fail to ask candidates to explain their positions become nothing more than a lucrative fundraising rolodex.

The political season has certainly arrived with a bumper croup of candidates who all want to become the next President. Gay and lesbian voters on Fire Island and elsewhere have a crucial role to play in the election’s eventual outcome. But they need to hold the candidates to account on marriage if they hope to maintain their seat at the political table.