Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Record Causes Row in Britain

Saudi King Abdullah's visit to the United Kingdom has caused a row among activists and even politicians for the kingdom's human rights abuses.

Human rights activists and others, such as Conservative Party leader David Cameron, have used King Abdullah's state visit to the United Kingdom this week to highlight Saudi Arabia's less than stellar (to say the least) human rights record. The Policy Exchange used the king's trip to London to accuse the reclusive regime of providing British mosques with materials which allegedly urges among women, gays and other so-called enemies of Islam. The kingdom's persecution against gays (and women for that matter) are widely documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations across the world. But the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union must walk a fine line with the Saudis because of their dependence on the kingdom's vast oil resources. This excuse does not, in any way, justify the relative silence the West has arguably shown towards these abuses. But it does highlight the broader geo-political and economic considerations that must be addressed in future negotiations.

On an arguably related note, the Jamaica Gleaner reported today that a textbook recommended by the island's Department of Education concludes same-sex partners can actually form families. Jamaica arguably remains one of the most homophobic countries in the world with routine violence and persecution among LGBT people on the Caribbean island. The Jamaica Gleaner itself reiterates this attitude in its coverage of the curriculum.

"The administrators of the prominent institution also pointed out that the teacher told her class that homosexual unions were not socially accepted," the article read.

Some observers may maintain it remains far too easy for LGBT activists (and bloggers) in so-called developed countries in Europe or North America to immediately criticize the Saudis, the Jamaicans and others who maintain these homophobic attitudes for their own benefit. This could stem from power dynamics established through colonialism, anti-Islamic sentiments and other social, political and economic factors. But the problem clearly remains. The Jamaica Gleaner's own reporting proves this point without a doubt.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Obama Controversy Continues...

Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's "Embrace the Change" tour of South Carolina has come and gone but the controversy surrounding the inclusion of self-described "ex-gay" gospel singer Donnie McClurkin continues among Boy in Bushwick readers and activists alike.

More than one source or contact flat out dismissed those who have described Obama as anti-LGBT for this (and other) rather public PR disasters. They are quick to point out Obama's extensive legal advocacy and his continued evolution on LGBT issues during his political (and arguably personal) life. This controversy arguably suggests otherwise. He can choose an openly gay singer to headline the tour as a last minute attempt to deflect controversy. But his actions will speak much louder than mere sound bites and strategic headliners. Let's hope he takes this lesson to account as the primary and caucus campaign heads into the final stretch.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Marine's Father Sues Westboro Baptist Church

I read the article in this morning's New York Times about a Baltimore man who filed a lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church for protesting his late son's 2006 funeral with particular interest. The Rev. Fred Phelps and his family, who comprise the vast majority of the extremist Kansas-based congregation, are clearly outside of what the vast, vast majority of people in this country consider acceptable. The sect, however, certainly knows how to generate publicity for itself with its very public protests against gays, lesbians, victims of Sept. 11 and even American soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

These protests are certainly heartbreaking (and obviously infuriating) for the grieving family members who must face these as they lay their loved ones to rest. Most people of good faith will not dispute this fact. But the question remains: Why does the mainstream media fail to give as much attention to Phelps and company's rabidly homophobic-driven actions. Most Americans are quick to identify themselves as patriotic despite their positions on Iraq, the Bush administration and other political hot button issues of the day. These protests clearly strike a nerve at the heart of this 'nationalistic' idealism. Gays and lesbians have long suffered heartache and suffering at the hands of this group. Perhaps it's futile to give it additional attention (as I'm doing with this blog entry). But the parallels must be drawn.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Obama's Anti-Gay Alliance?

The Human Rights Campaign, the National Black Justice Coalition and other LGBT organizations and activists have blasted U.S. Sen. Barack Obama [D-Ill.] for including a so-called 'ex-gay' gospel singer in his weekend gospel tour in South Carolina.

Gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, who claims God allegedly turned him away from homosexuality, is among those scheduled to perform in Obama's "Embrace the Change" tour. The Democratic presidential hopeful announced late yesterday that he added a gay minister to the tour in an apparent response to this criticism. This move is nothing more than an attempt to pander to a base of potentially influential voters who remain somewhat skeptical of Obama's sincerity with regards to LGBT issues.

The Rev. Irene Monroe has repeatedly blasted Obama's opposition to marriage for same-sex couples because of his religious convictions. Openly gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson has backed his campaign. Others remain somewhat skeptical. Obama is certainly charismatic with all of the right talking points and sound bites to energize a Democratic base which has clearly grown tired of the Bush administration. The question remains: Does Obama have experience (and frankly the credibility) to successfully court LGBT voters ahead of the primaries and caucuses. The answer to this question remains in doubt as this latest controversy has arguably shown.

Activists Tackle Homophobia in Sports

As a life-long Red Sox fan, I completely understand the impact sports can have on people's lives. Red Sox Nation is rejoicing today after its beloved team clobbered the Colorado Rockies at Fenway last night. But the World Series perhaps provides the perfect context in which the movement for LGBT rights can begin to address underlying homophobia and other long-standing concerns within organized athletics.

It remains highly courageous for an LGBT athletes, especially those in the pros, to come out as sources repeatedly told me for my sports feature posted on EDGE yesterday. Sports remains a significant part of many people lives in the United States and across the world. Yet it remains abundantly clear LGBT people have, by and large, been excluded by these important institutions. This needs to change!

Former National Football League defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo fought many a battle during his nine years on the professional gridiron. But Mr. Aloha reached a personal crossroads in 2002 when he came out.

The father of two is now a regular guest at gay events across the country. He sang the national anthem at the Gay Games in Chicago last summer. Tuaolo attended the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Washington gala earlier this month. But he explained to lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and hundreds of gay football players from across the country who attended the Gay Superbowl 7 opening ceremonies in lower Manhattan on Oct. 5 that his activism is personal.

"For 33 years of my life I was in the closet," Tuaolo said. "Never in a hundred years... I thought I would be here with you today."

The LGBT movement has embraced Tuaolo and other former gay athletes in recent years as it devotes more time, resources and even staff to address homophobia and other LGBT issues in sports. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation became the latest organization to join this bandwagon with the launch of its sports initiative last month.

The media watchdog chose former Sports Out Loud editor Ted Rybka to lead the program. He told EDGE in a recent interview from his New York office that the initiative is an extension of GLAAD’s overall mission.

"When someone goes on television or in the newspaper and says some outrageous item... [GLAAD has] programs to get out into the community to ensure that the coverage is fair, accurate and inclusive," Rybka said. "The sports media program is going to do the same thing in the sports media world."

The program, which remains in its infancy, will facilitate meetings with reporters and editors who write within the estimated $200 billion per year sports industry. It will also sponsor panels, such as that which featured Tuaolo and out former NFL player Dave Kopay earlier this month in New York, and other programmatic events to discuss how homophobia and other issues impact LGBT athletes. Rybka quickly concluded GLAAD’s foray into sports simply makes sense.

"Every newspaper (or every news organization) has a sports desk," he said. "It’s so important LGBT athletes and fans... are included in those."

Sports Out Loud editor Buddy Early agreed. His Phoenix-based magazine recently published its third issue. Early praised GLAAD and other organizations for their increased focus on sports.

"The more we look at these issues the better," he said. "It can only help me as a gay man, a gay sports fan and as someone who works in gay media."

Helen Carroll, sports project director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, joined the San Francisco-based organization in 2001 after it launched its own sports initiative. A former National Collegiate Athletic Association athletic director, she was featured in the documentary "Out for Change: Addressing Homophobia in Women’s Sports." Carroll has conducted sensitivity trainings for the San Francisco 49ers and has attended workshops, conferences and Final Four tournaments across the country.

She maintained WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes’ coming out in 2005 shed new light on LGBT issues in sports. Carroll added NCLR’s lawsuit against former Penn State women’s basketball coach Rene Portland for alleged discrimination against a former player because she thought she was a lesbian provided an additional opportunity for national LGBT organizations to highlight these issues.

"That [case] ended up giving us two years of really being able to put a lot of media around what is this issue; what does it look like; what it is," Carroll said. "That story really captured the attention and interest of so many people around the [United States.]"

NCLR reached a confidential settlement with Portland. Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of, conceded homophobia within the locker room remains a serious problem which he hopes the LGBT movement can begin to address through a long-term strategy.

He argued GLAAD and other organizations’ sports efforts can also tackle stereotypes of LGBT athletes.

"A lot of people - gay or straight - who hear about gay sports want to hear about sex between players, the drag queen on the sides and the funny stuff," Zeigler said. "For gay people who play the sport it is about the sport. They want to win."

Tuaolo, Swoopes, former NBS star John Amaechi, former tennis stars Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova and former Olympic diver Greg Louganis are among the small but growing number of professional athletes who have come out in recent years after their retirement. There are no openly gay male athletes who currently play in the professional leagues, however, while homophobia in sports continues to make headlines.

Retired NBA point guard Tim Hardaway sparked widespread controversy earlier this year after he told a Miami sports talk show host that he hates gay people in response to a question about Amaechi’s coming out. The NFL fined then-Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter $10,000 after he used an anti-gay slur against Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr., after a December 2006 game. And some LGBT activists criticized Swoopes for apparently downplaying her sexual orientation after she came out.

Zeigler concluded the fact gay sports issues remain largely news driven remains a challenge he hopes the movement can begin to tackle.

"When somebody comes out or when somebody says something stupid, people pay attention and then people stop paying attention when it dies down," he said. "The challenge is to get the issues front of mind for the people in power in sports all the time: permanently."

Carroll conceded it remains courageous for pro-athletes to come out. She argued, however, the growing number of LGBT athletes who currently play at the high school and collegiate level will have a positive impact in sports over the next five years.

Tuaolo remains equally as optimistic.

"It’s very important that I keep myself involved in this movement," he said. "It’s time for me to step up to the plate and make it easier for [gay athletes]."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Primary Reporting: GLBT Newspapers Keeping Tabs on Presidential Candidates on the Campaign Trail

Politics remains my journalistic bread and butter as my feature in this month's PressPassQ newsletter indicates. Stay tuned...

With less than three months to go before the first votes are cast in the 2008 presidential election cycle, the campaign continues to generate headlines in GLBT media outlets across the country.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s apparent flip-flop on gay rights, the Human Rights Campaign and Logo-sponsored presidential forum in August, and the right wing’s obsession with former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson’s position on a federal marriage amendment are just a handful of stories that reporters in the GLBT press have covered in recent months.

Tracy Baim, publisher and executive editor of Chicago-based Windy City Times, noted that her newspaper has also covered the ongoing debate over the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Peter Pace’s reassertion last month that homosexuality is immoral. This is particularly newsworthy in Chicago since Pace’s original comments about homosexuality first appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Baim expects to ramp up her election coverage as the primary vote nears. “Every week there’s something [about] GLBT, AIDS, or a civil rights topic that would make it relevant for us to cover,” she said.

She and her staff have paid particular attention to U.S. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) because of their personal ties to the Chicago area. (Obama moved to Chicago in the 1980s; Clinton grew up in suburban Park Ridge.)

Also important to Windy City Times is the fact that neighboring Iowa will hold the country’s first caucuses in early January. Freelancers provide the bulk of the newspaper’s political coverage.

David Stout, associate editor for Q-Notes in Charlotte, N.C., said his publication plans extensive coverage of the South Carolina primary on Jan. 29. Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has campaigned heavily in the Palmetto State for two reasons – he is a South Carolina native, and he won the state in the 2004 Democratic primary.

South Carolinians traditionally cast their votes on the heels of the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire. Stout was quick to praise Edwards, adding his newspaper will likely endorse the native son in the primary. Stout maintained, however, that he and his staff would continue to focus on the candidates and their records as part of their campaign coverage.

Bay Area Reporter news editor Cynthia Baird said she feels the most significant election-related stories remain the anti-GLBT positions held by the majority of the Republican candidates as well as the leading Democratic candidates’ failure to support marriage rights for same-sex couples. Baird said her newspaper has published a variety of articles, columns, and commentaries on White House hopefuls from both parties in addition to coverage of presidential debates and local fundraisers.

GLBT media and columnists have scrutinized the candidates’ records on GLBT issues even before many of them officially entered the race. Gay City News and the New York Blade, for example, reported on the controversy sparked by a leaked memo that Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) executive director Alan Van Capelle wrote to his board members urging them to withhold donations from a March 2006 fundraiser aimed at Clinton’s Senate re-election campaign. The reason was Clinton’s failure to support marriage equality for same-sex couples.

And nationally syndicated columnist Rev. Irene Monroe – who is based at New England’s IN Newsweekly – has criticized Obama for using his religion to justify his opposition to gay and lesbian nuptials on the campaign trail. In response, she endured ongoing harassment from an Obama supporter. (For the complete story, see “Columnist harassed for anti-Obama comments” in last month’s issue of Press Pass Q.)

Boston-based Bay Windows has played a pivotal role in the campaign on the Republican side. The newspaper published a series of articles late last year documenting the pro-gay overtures Romney made during his failed 1994 U.S. Senate bid as well as his successful 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Mainstream media picked up on the story, which has fed into the narrative that Romney is a “flip-flopper” on issues such as gay rights and abortion. As result, some social conservatives remain largely skeptical of his record.

Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff speculated that Romney would generate even more headlines if he does well in early caucus and primary states. “If he gains traction in Iowa and New Hampshire, well then, that’s a gay story,” he said.

Naff, who plans to launch a website dedicated to gay campaign issues by the end of the year, said his publication – based in the nation’s capital – plans to continue keeping readers informed about the candidates’ positions as the election kicks into high gear.

“We’re covering things as they develop,” he said. “[We are] really parsing [the candidates’] words on our issues to make sure their positions conform to what they’ve done in the past.”

Baim, of Windy City Times, agrees that the campaign will keep her and her staff on their toes: “Things change all the time. We’re definitely covering it as much as we can.”

Monday, October 22, 2007

A New York Weekend

Lady Liberty on a beautiful October afternoon in New York

Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry

The weather remains unseasonably warm here in Bushwick (it's 68 degrees as I write at 11:15 a.m.). My friend Enrique and I went to the Statue of Liberty via the Staten Island Ferry yesterday. I went to the Union Square farmers market on Saturday morning and later rapped 'Tennessee' with a former GLAAD colleague and his friends in the East Village. I should now probably blog about something a bit more profound now that I've bored you all with news of my weekend in the city!

Republican presidential candidates once again tried to pander to social conservatives at the Family Research Council's so-called Value Voters Summit in Washington this weekend. J.K. Rowling outed Dumbledore during a New York appearance on Friday night. Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski lost his re-election bid on Sunday after voters endorsed Donald Tusk of Civic Platform. All of these news events prove yet again LGBT issues remain squarely in the mainstream. The New York gay set can certainly shop for Marc Jacobs goulashes in the West Village on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October. Two good friends can traverse the East Village on a Sunday night in search of a perfect 40th birthday party venue for a well-known playwright. I can gossip with my roommate about reactions to my reporting... but the impact world (and local) events have certainly provide this blogger and others with fodder about which to write outside of the seemingly mundane details of our lives.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Trans-Exclusive ENDA Bill Advances

A version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act without gender identity and expression advanced in the House yesterday despite lobbying and last minute pleas from many within the movement for LGBT rights to block the amended bill. The controversy erupted late last month after Congressman Barney Frank [D-Mass.], with the apparent backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.], introduced two versions of ENDA which separated sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The National Lesbian & Gay Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality and more than 200 other national, statewide and even local organizations blasted the politically calculated move.

The Human Rights Campaign, which maintains support of the inclusive ENDA, has remained conspicuously quiet after the controversy erupted and has faced numerous criticism and even protests as a result of its own calculation. Others, such as former Washington Bladeeditor Chris Crain, have expressed support for Frank's decision to introduce two bills. What remains is a bitter (and arguably nasty) rift between the 'left wing' and the 'right ring' of the movement for LGBT rights. This debate will obviously continue as lawmakers on Capitol Hill -- and eventually President George W. Bush -- seal ENDA's fate. Transgender people must not be left behind. The movement itself has made transgender people part of its umbrella advocacy. Now is not the time for it to turn its back on them in the name of political expediency.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Caliente Cab Company Remains in the Crosshairs

This protestor joined more than 50 others outside Caliente Cab Company yesterday in support of Khadijah Farmer and her lawsuit against the popular eatery

Less than a week after lesbian New Yorker Khadijah Farmer filed a lawsuit against Caliente Cab Company in response to a male bouncer who kicked her out of the women's bathroom for being 'too masculine,' more than 50 people converged on the popular West Village eatery to protest the way the restaurant allegedly treated her. Farmer maintains she, her girlfriend and their friend were kicked out of Caliente Cab Company despite her repeated attempts to reassure the bouncer she is actually a women. This incident allegedly happened hours after more than 500,000 people attended the city's annual Gay Pride parade. The restaurant maintains it did nothing wrong but a growing chorus of activists beg to disagree... stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gays Differ on Marriage Fight

The debate over marriage for same-sex couples continues to rage within the broader movement for LGBT rights as evidenced in this feature I wrote for It's fair to maintain everyone agrees upon the principle of fairness and equality for same-sex couples. The question remains how to achieve that goal. Putting all of ones eggs into one basket is never a successful strategy as previous civil rights struggles and social movements have proven. Yet this debate will obviously continue as courts and legislatures around the country take up this highly contentious issue. Stay tuned...

As lawmakers on both coasts debate marriage rights for same-sex couples, the issue stands at the top of many LGBT activists' agendas. But not all. Some say this focus on same-sex marriage actually works against their advocacy on other queer issues.

Queers for Economic Justice Executive Director Joseph DeFelippis is critical of the recent focus on gay marriage. His New York-based nonprofit seeks more affordable housing, access to health care, employment and education for economically disadvantaged LGBT New Yorkers.

"The movement for gay marriage has been a disaster," DeFelippis said.

DeFelippis criticizes the way marriage equality advocates have framed the debate, with their talking points and other public comments.

New York transgender activist Melissa Sklarz added that the marriage debate fails to take into account the everyday reality of many LGBT people. She said she feels LGBT urbanites, in particular, are focused on more basic issues than marriage rights.

"For many people in the LGBT community, the ability to survive is always a struggle," she said. "The issue of survival transcends the issue of security."

Equality Alabama board member Howard Bayless shares concerns about basic survival. LGBT activists in his state have focused on anti-hate crime legislation since three Alabamans brutally murdered gay resident Scotty Joe Weaver in Baldwin County in 2004. Equality Alabama's primary mission is to expand rights for LGBT Alabamans, but Bayless says the marriage debate has also allowed his organization and others like it to enhance advocacy for other issues, like fighting hate crime.

"The movement's focus on marriage is providing a vehicle for us to come out at work and to our families and become active in the political process," Bayless said.

Gay marriage's history

The marriage debate began in earnest in 1993, after a Hawaiian judge ruled the ban on marriage for same-sex couples violated the state's constitution. Then-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who now chairs the Democratic National Committee, signed the country's first civil unions bill into law in 2000 after the state's Supreme Court ruled in favor of three same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses.

Connecticut, New Jersey and New Hampshire have since followed suit, while Massachusetts remains the only state where gay and lesbian couples can legally marry. The state's Supreme Judicial Court issued its landmark Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health decision in 2003, when a lesbian couple sued the Commonwealth for denying the women a marriage license. California lawmakers twice passed a marriage bill but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it in 2005 and again Friday.

Advances in the marriage rights movement, especially the Goodridge decision, have sparked a backlash. Voters in 11 states approved constitutional amendments to ban marriage for same-sex couples in 2004. Courts in New York, Washington and, most recently, Maryland have ruled against gay men and lesbians who've sought the right to marry in their respective states.

A small but significant faction of LGBT activists has questioned the efficacy of focusing on marriage. More than 250 leaders across the country urged gays and lesbians to look beyond marriage equality in the statement, "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for Our Families & Relationships," released in July 2006. DeFilippis says activists should focus their time and resources on access to health care and other efforts he concludes would generate more tangible results.

"These are more winnable fights than this one has turned out to be," he said.

Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson staunchly defends the gains gay marriage advocates have made. He dismisses criticism that same-sex marriage has been championed at the expense of other issues.

"We care about all aspects of our lives," he told in a recent interview. "We are fighting for full inclusion and equality."

Equality California Political Director Seth Kilbourn pointed out that his organization sponsored nine pieces of legislation in addition to the marriage bill Golden State lawmakers approved earlier this year. These include protections for LGBT students and a proposal to allow registered domestic partners to file joint income tax returns. Same-sex marriage rights are just one piece of Equality California's overall agenda, Kilbourn said.

"We are advocating generally for equal treatment under the law in people's lives," Kilbourn said.

Equality Maryland Executive Director Dan Furmansky conceded that efforts to defeat amendments against same-sex marriage have depleted LGBT political resources in recent years. He told in a recent e-mail that LGBT organizations "cannot afford" to focus on any single issue. Furmansky maintains, however, that the fight for marriage rights remains vitally important.

"We as LGBT advocates must keep fighting for the protections of marriage because these protections will help millions of Americans in immeasurable ways," Furmansky said.

DeFelippis and others remain skeptical.

"We have a much broader and exciting and creative vision for our families than reflected in the narrow marriage rights movement," DeFelippis said.

Monday, October 15, 2007

All Politics All the Time

I received my first taste of the political saturation which has transformed the mostly pastoral New Hampshire landscape during my trip to my home state over the weekend. A number of my parents' neighbors have John McCain signs outside their homes while a huge homemade sign outside the apple orchard where I bought apples on Saturday advertised Michelle Obama's upcoming visit. Her husband spoke to voters on a series of spots on Boston-based media markets during my stay in the South End. The primary remains more than two months away. But the political insanity has already begun in the Granite State.

LGBT issues remain at the bottom of most voters' list of key topics upon which they will base their endorsement. The Human Rights Campaign opened an office in Concord late last month in an attempt to solidify their influence on the candidates traversing through the state (New Hampshire's civil unions bill takes effect on Jan. 1). New Hampshire ranks among the most progressive states in the country but the primary, which remains an economic juggernaut for the state, remains staunchly first. Voters will almost certainly remain focused on the War, health care and the economy. Marriage (and LGBT issues in general) remain far behind despite what activists within the movement for LGBT rights may claim. Granite Staters are an independent lot who almost always view outsiders with a certain sense of skepticism (and even disdain). Activists within the movement for LGBT rights must prove themselves to New Hampshire voters if they are to be taken seriously. Anything less will result in certain failure at the expense of donors who support them and their organizations with their money.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Pink Outing in the Hub

Marriage for same-sex couples has been legal in Massachusetts since May 2004. Thousands of gays and lesbians have exchanged nuptials in the Commonwealth despite former Gov. Mitt Romney and other vocal activists who have unsuccessfully attempted to block them through proposed Constitutional amendments, legislative lobbying and even fire and brimstone speeches and rallies on Beacon Hill. My aunt, who lives in the tony South Shore suburb of Milton, is not among these figures. She professed her support for these marriages as she waited for one of her customers to return from the dressing room inside Sachs Fifth Avenue in the Prudential Center.

My aunt epitomizes the over-caffeinated woman in her early 50s who says what she wants with no apologies: In other words she's simply fabulous! Most of her co-workers at Sachs are rather obviously gay. She's friendly with them and made sure I knew which ones were gay as we chatted during my surprise visit earlier today. My aunt's unprovoked support of marriage for gays and lesbians frankly caught me off guard. I have never told her that I am gay. I did mention during our conversation today that I reported the first marriages outside Cambridge City Hall after the Goodridge decision took effect. My confession prompted her quick response before she walked me around the floor to introduce me to her fellow co-workers. National Coming Out Day was yesterday but the conversation with my aunt on marriage, which lasted less than 30 seconds, heralded one of my last 'coming outs' with my own family. It was a great outing in the Hub indeed!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Greetings from a Gloomy Boston

Today marks the first day of my annual October swing through New England. I'm working out of my friend's apartment in the South End of Boston. It's a typical cool and drizzly October morning outside. The leaves have begun to change slowly but surely despite the recent warm weather.

The last few days have been quite busy for the movement for LGBT rights. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act debate continues to rage with almost daily updates from the National Center for Transgender Equality and opposing statements from Congressman Barney Frank [D-Mass.]. Equality Alabama board member Howard Bayless won his bid to secure a seat on the Birmingham Board of Education. Khadijah Farmer, a New York lesbian who was thrown out of a popular West Village restaurant, appeared on "Today" this morning with lawyer Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. And Connecticut activists are eagerly awaiting their state's Supreme Court ruling on a lawsuit seeking marriage for same-sex couples. Journalists (and bloggers alike) will certainly remain busy over the next several weeks!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lesbian Sues NYC Restaurant After Bouncer Allegedly Kicked Her Out of Restroom

Boy in Bushwick blogged extensively in July on lesbian New Yorker Khadijah Farmer's claim against the Caliente Cab Company bouncer who allegedly kicked her out of a women's restroom inside the restaurant while she, her girlfriend and a friend had dinner after gay Pride. Farmer has now sued the West Village restaurant alleging discrimination because her masculine appearance with 'societal norms' of gender identity.

Farmer's lawyer, Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, told the Times the lawsuit is important because it could potentially set a legal precedent for cases involving sex stereotyping. The city's human rights law includes gender identity or expression but the legal argument surely matters little to Farmer as she seeks justice for what she said happened to her inside the restaurant's restroom. Caliente Cab maintains it did nothing wrong but its position that Farmer simply wants money is absurd at best. The way in which the bouncer allegedly mistreated Farmer, especially after gay Pride, remains extremely unfortunate considering the throngs of LGBT people from across the world who descend upon Manhattan each June to attend the parade. The idea of gender identity and expression may seem a far too academic concept which many people may fail to understand. Humanity and dignity, on the other hand, are basic rights to which everyone is entitled.

Monday, October 8, 2007

ENDA Debate Continues

The movement for LGBT rights remains divided over the future of a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Human Rights Campaign board member Donna Rose resigned last week with a scathing criticism of the organization's apparently neutral stance on the controversy despite their pledge to only support an inclusive bill. Former Washington Blade editor Chris Crain and others have supported U.S. Rep. Barney Frank [D-Mass] in his decision to introduce two versions of ENDA which separate sexual orientation from gender identity and expression.

The current debate remains a classic liberal vs. conservative ideological battle within the movement for LGBT rights. The addition of transgender or 'T' to the ubiquitous LGBT acronym in the late 1990s remains a rather politically charged development in the broader movement. National organizations remain committed, at least in their public statements, sound bites and talking points, to advance transgender equality as part of their overall missions. Some of their actions (or inactions) may arguable indicate their actual intentions but the reality remains: Transgender activists (vis-a-vis transgender Americans) continue to gain more visibility. The ENDA debate only confirms it.

Friday, October 5, 2007

NYC Schools to Teach Respect for All

Anti-LGBT bullying in New York City's public schools remains a serious problem which local lawmakers and activists continue to address. The Dignity in All Schools Act, which the City Council passed in 2004 despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto, has yet to be implemented. The issue remains a rather contentious one as my article in the Blade this week indicates. The 2009 mayoral election (and posturing ahead of it) remains the underlying backstory to almost anything that comes out of City Hall these days [Call me a cynic if you will!]. But this issue remains arguably one that should transcend politics because students well-being and potentially lives remain at stake.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced a new initiative on Sept. 27 to protect LGBT students in the city’s public schools from harassment and other bullying based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

The plan, already in effect, is called Respect for All and has been endorsed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. It provide two-day training sessions and other professional development workshops to teams of teachers and counselors at more than 700 middle and high schools across the city. Workshop curriculum is based on recommendations of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educators Network, the LGBT Community Center and other organizations.

Respect for All is a joint initiative with the Department of Education (DOE) and contains three broad objectives: to promote inclusion, to serve a resource to the LGBTQ students and to serve as a resource to faculty.

Quinn said DOE has already begun to implement the initiative this month. She added Respect for All sends a message that both the City Council and New York City government will not tolerate bullying against LGBT students.

“We think it’s a great step forward,” Quinn said. “We think it will be a really good resource for our schools.”

Bloomberg readily agreed in a statement.

“Our administration has zero tolerance for intolerance and we have worked to ensure that this important value—respect for others—is a part of everything we do,” he said. “This new initiative will bolster our efforts to ensure that every school offers an inclusive environment and teaches the importance of tolerance and respect.”

Klein announced the initiative to principals in a letter last week. He added the DOE remains committed to tackling harassment against LGBT students in the city’s public schools.

“Promoting respect for diversity is central to our mission as educators and leaders,” Klein said in a statement.

Phyllis Steinberg, president of the New York City chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG), praised the initiative as a positive step toward creating a safer environment for the city’s LGBT students.

“All children need a safe and secure educational environment in which to thrive [and] to ensure they achieve their full potential,” she said.

New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy chair Pauline Park is skeptical that that DOE is serious about helping its LGBT population. Park was among the coalition of activists who lobbied the City Council to pass the Dignity in All Schools Act (DASA) in 2004. The bill protected all New York City K-12 public school students, faculty, volunteers and visitors from bullying, harassment and discrimination on the basis of real or perceived race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.

Bloomberg maintained the bill violated state law and vetoed it (the New York State Senate struck down a proposed statewide DASA bill last year). Quinn, then-Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Upper East Side) and other Council members blasted the mayor’s opposition to DASA, and the City Council overrode Bloomberg’s veto in a 44-3 vote. Because the legality of the bill is still contested, it has not been implemented.

Park remains critical about the DOE because, she said, it doesn’t even follow existing state laws that mandate it fully disclose incidents of violence in general. An audit by New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who will likely mount his own 2009 mayoral campaign, of 10 city high schools found the DOE did not in fact fully disclose violence and other incidents as mandated under state law. The law doesn’t require schools to specify whether incidents are LGBT-related.

Thompson’s spokesperson, Jeff Simmons, pointed out that the Comptroller supports DASA. He added his office remains “extremely troubled” by the DOE’s apparent failure to report these incidents.

“The flawed reporting makes it difficult for parents, the public and government officials to honestly assess whether a school is safe,” Thompson concluded.

Brian Ellner, senior counsel to schools chancellor Klein, defended the DOE’s record, saying that the agency remains committed to combating anti-LGBT bullying in city’s schools.

“The Chancellor has made it abundantly clear to make sure every school system is safe for all kids,” Ellner said. “The commitment is absolute.”

Quinn remained confident in Respect for All.

“[We] look forward to continuing to work with the DOE and the [Bloomberg] administration to provide school leaders with the tools to create positive, supportive environments,” Quinn said.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Momentarily Reflection

Today is day four of my EDGE editorship and I'm finally beginning to get a feel for what to expect and how to work with my writers. My other deadlines continue unabated but my mother pitched a story to me earlier this week about her company's grant to enhance the Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project's hot line to Rhode Island and Connecticut. Parents are often... well... parents but my mother's pitch confirmed how fortunate I am to have loved ones who are comfortable with their son's sexual orientation. New York City remains a bubble in a country which remains largely uncomfortable with talking about sexual orientation (and gender identity and expression). The movement for LGBT rights arguably focuses on the political implications of these conversations without acknowledging the basic humanity behind it. My mother's pitch once again acknowledged my humanity but confirmed much, much more. Thanks Mom!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Trans Victory in Delay of U.S. Employee Non-Discrimination Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] delivered LGBT activists a hard won victory late yesterday after she postponed final debate on an amended Employment Non-Discrimination Act which does not include gender identity and expression. These activists expressed outrage over concerns among Democratic House leadership the long-sought ENDA would not pass a final vote based on trans-specific language. The debate will obviously continue as the movement for LGBT rights continues to solidify support for the inclusive ENDA on Capitol Hill. But it remains imperative transgender Americans remain part of the overall purview of ENDA despite any possible political wrangling to the contrary.

In an apparent victory for LGBT activists and their supporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] postponed final debate on an amended Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The bill has come in for criticism from gay organizations because it does not include transgender-specific protections.

The House Committee on Education and Labor was scheduled to approve the latest version of the bill on Tuesday before sending it to lawmakers for a final vote. Pelosi said in a statement that the hearing will now take place later this month.

"This schedule will allow proponents of the legislation to continue their discussions with members in the interest of passing the broadest possible bill," she said.

Pelosi’s announcement came only hours after the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Black Justice Coalition and 87 other national and statewide LGBT organizations sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to postpone debate on the amended ENDA. The Human Rights Campaign and the NGLTF also signed onto a similar request spearheaded by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

NGLTF executive director Matt Foreman applauded Pelosi’s postponement. He expressed hope an inclusive bill would pass the House during an Oct. 1 telephone press conference.

"We do believe congressional leaders want to do the right thing," Foreman said.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, agreed. She added her organization received an outpouring of support from across the country after Congressman Barney Frank [D-Mass.] announced last Thursday he would separate sexual orientation and gender identity and expression into two bills. Keisling remains confident House members will support ENDA with trans-specific protections.

"We worked like hell to get it passed," she said. "We think it can still be done."

The Senate voted 60-39 in favor of ENDA last Wednesday as part of the Defense Authorization Act while the House passed it in May.

Frank co-sponsored the bill in the House alongside Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin [D-Wisc.]. He introduced separate versions of the bill after Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders became concerned it would not withstand a final vote with trans-inclusive language. Baldwin refused to endorse the revised ENDA.

NBJC executive director H. Alexander Robinson maintained his organization would only support an inclusive bill.

"It is unconscionable for us to think we would support cutting transgender protections out of ENDA," he said.

PFLAG executive director Jody M. Huckaby said more than 12,000 members of his organizations wrote postcards to Congress over the last five days in an attempt to lobby lawmakers to oppose the amended bill. He added he will remain opposed to any attempt to remove gender identity and expression from the bill.

"It is not a strategy to leave out some of our loved ones," Huckaby said. "A strategy would keep our families together... and keep them protected."

The HRC, which is the country’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, has remained relatively quiet on the current ENDA controversy outside of a handful of critical statements published in the Washington Blade late last week. Transgender activists had previously criticized the organization for endorsing a version of ENDA without gender identity and expression. The HRC changed course in 2004 after it announced it would only support transgender-inclusive legislation.

Foreman refused to answer questions about HRC’s current strategy [Pelosi is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at its annual Washington gala on Oct. 6.]. He maintained he and other activists will continue their lobbying efforts ensure lawmakers pass an inclusive ENDA.

"We must signal loud and clear to every member of Congress: We are one community, and we demand protections for all of us, and nothing else will suffice," Foreman stated.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Price of Political Expediency

The debate and outcry over the removal of gender identity and expression from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act continues inside the movement and on Capitol Hill. The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force has scheduled a conference call later today with other organizations to discuss the current situation (and to reaffirm their positions). The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation references the controversy on its Web site while the Human Rights Campaign, which one can easily conclude has the most at stake in this debate, fails to do so.

The question remains: Will ENDA move forward at the expense of transgender Americans? Politics is more or less a series of calculated compromises designed to find the path of least (political) resistance. President Bush has already promised to veto the legislation. But the current debate highlights a number of possible truths. Some within the national movement continue their token transgender activism in the name of maintaining the image of inclusion. These figures arguably back down upon political pressure. Others -- wealthy white gay men for argument's sake -- are invested in issues which only affect them and their interests. Yet more may fail to understand the underlying oppression transgender Americans encounter on an almost daily basis.

ENDA is a step towards remedying these injustices but is certainly not the panacea some may conclude. The movement has a responsibility, however, to insure all of those on whose behalf it claims to advocate are included. These constituents certainly include transgender Americans who expect nothing less than their gay and lesbian brothers and sister. Anything less is simply unacceptable.