Friday, August 29, 2008

John McCain taps Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as VP

Less than 24 hours after Barack Obama became the first black person to accept a leading party's presidential nomination, Republican rival John McCain stunned observers--and arguably political insiders--by tapping Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

McCain made the announcement in Dayton, Ohio, moments ago, and Palin introduced herself and her family to those inside the auditorium and the country. The McCain clearly wanted to tap into the potentially lucrative women's vote this November--and perhaps wanted to court Hillary Clinton supporters who may remain disenchanted with Obama's nomination. The question remains, however, who is Palin and what is in her closet. She has denied any wrongdoing, but state lawmakers launched an investigation into the matter.

Palin's conservative credentials have also come under close scrutiny. Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese was quick to criticize her support of a state constitutional amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples that passed in 1998 and her opposition to an Alaska Supreme Court decision that mandated the state to extend benefits to the partners of its gay and lesbian employees--even though her veto essentially provided these benefits.

"America may not know much about Sarah Palin, but based on what our community has seen of her, we know enough," Solmonese said.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan further criticized Palin for her stance against abortion.

"John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate proves just how rigid and extreme his administration would be when it comes to a woman's right to choose," she said.

McCain's decision to choose Palin is certainly historic, but a number of serious questions, including whether she has enough experience for the job, remain. She has a lot to prove in the next two months.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Democrats officially nominate Obama for President

After the longest presidential campaign in American history, the Democrats have formally nominated Barack Obama as their party's nominee for president. Former First Lady Hillary Clinton symbolically led the charge just moments ago that put an end to the roll call.

The history I just witnessed on ABC News cannot be understated. The camera panned to a woman of color in the audience who was wiping tears from her eyes as Clinton spoke. That image speaks for itself! Obama has become the first person of color nominated to head a major political party's presidential ticket. Today is one of which all Americans should be proud!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back on the Beach

Tomorrow marks the last deadline day for the Fire Island News this summer, and I'm honestly feeling a bit bittersweet at the prospect of returning to Bushwick in a little more than a week. The season out here is always far too short, but all good things I suppose must come to an end...

At any rate, I returned to Fire Island around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. Roughly the same thing greeted me upon my return to Ocean Beach: hordes of sun hungry day trippers flocking to the beach, the neurotic woman who owns the house in which I live and delayed water taxis. Another day in paradise as the Phil Collins song goes! One unwelcome development, however, occurred very early Sunday morning as I walked home from the dock. A group of stoned "youths" noticed a woman running to catch the last ferry. They joked for her to stop and then proceeded to tell me to keep on walking. One added the additional caveat that "I had better keep on walking."

I immediately began to make remarks back at them. I was exhausted after less than three hours sleep the night before and I had less than zero-tolerance for this stupidity. I refuse to tolerate homophobia in my personal life--and Ocean Beach is certainly no exception. I walked up to a Suffolk Police truck and began to point out the group of kids, but the officer quickly responded they had another call with which they had to deal. A busy night in Ocean Beach I suspect, but perhaps homophobic stupidity is not something they find particularly important...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

... at the NLGJA convention in Washington

The common theme of a number of previous postings is the need to leave Fire Island for at least a few days in order to appreciate it even more. And my participation in the annual National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association convention in Washington certainly falls into that rather predictable pattern.

I just moderated a panel with Gay Wired Media editor Ross von Metzke, Advocate editor-in-chief Jon Barrett and Dallas Voice news editor John Wright. The conversation and accompanied questions from the audience were productive. And the feedback on my performance certainly brought me full circle in terms of my previous work history (those in the know are extremely familiar with what I mean!) These conferences, if anything, are a great opportunity to network with colleagues and to meet new contacts, friends and potentially more... as much as time allots of course!

Participants continue to arrive and the first welcoming event is less than an hour and 10 minutes away. Let the networking commence!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More random ramblings

Boy in Bushwick is actually at home today as he prepares to attend the annual National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Convention in Washington. Congressman Ron Paul is on the "Brian Lehrer Show" right now, American gymnast Shawn Johnson finally won her gold in Beijing and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's resignation has observers pondering the future of the country's (and the region's) stability.

I celebrated my 27th birthday on Fire Island this past Saturday with a number of cocktails and toasts, a dinner with friends in the Fire Island Pines and other activities I care not to disclose on this blog. More than 3,000 people packed the beach in the Pines on Sunday for the third annual Ascension Party to benefit both the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Fund in the Sun Foundation. The weather was beautiful and I quickly found myself dancing among the hordes of hot Chelsea boys, their admirers and even a Manhattan judicial candidate. This feat was amazing considering I had less than three hours of sleep the night before (again think back to those other activities I care not to disclose on this blog.)

My time on Fire Island is quickly coming to a close. The last issue of the Fire Island News hits the beach next Thursday, and the reality of returning to Brooklyn once again is fast approaching. All good things must, unfortunately, come to an end, but perhaps it came far too soon?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Local Democrats gear up for convention, general election

With the Democratic and Republican conventions two weeks away, local politicos continue to gear up to support their respective candidates and to continue to campaign on their behalf this fall. An article I wrote for both EDGE and the Fire Island News this week details these desires... and the fact it will become all politics all the time once again.

With the Democratic National Convention less than two weeks away, Democrats and activists from across the five boroughs are slated to travel to Denver.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea], state Sen. Tom Duane [D-Chelsea], City Councilmember Rosie Mendez [D-Lower East Side] and United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten are among the nearly two dozen LGBT delegates to the convention. Doctor Marjorie Hill, chief executive officer for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, New York Transgender Rights Organization director Melissa Sklarz and political wunderkind Corey Johnson are among those who will travel to Denver as part of a variety of DNC committees.

In addition to preparations to attend the DNC, local, state and even national politicians have made several trips to Fire Island this summer to court potential voters and raise funds for their campaigns.

Democratic National Committee [DNC] Chair Howard Dean made his annual appearance in the Fire Island Pines on Sunday, Aug. 10, to attend a fundraiser for the Democratic Party. The former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate appeared alongside openly gay Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank and DNC Treasurer and Pines resident Andy Tobias.

DNC officials had yet to tabulate the amount of money raised at the fundraiser as of press time, but Dean urged attendees to support Barack Obama this November.

"We are responsible for maintaining our own democracy-not me, but you," he said. "I believe our country is worth fighting for and this is what it’s all about."

Dean blasted President Bush on a whole host of issues that include the economy and the detention of terrorism suspects held at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. He added he feels alleged torture and other interrogation techniques used against these detainees have further jeopardized the country’s reputation abroad.

"That is the fundamental shame of what the Bush administration has done to our country and the world," Dean said.

He further criticized the administration for the way he feels it has mismanaged the War on Terror.

"We are not safer," Dean said. "We have lost 4,000 people. We are not winning the war in Afghanistan."

Dean also discussed LGBT rights. He signed the country’s first civil unions law in 2000 as governor of Vermont. These unions, domestic partnerships and marriage for same-sex couples are now legal in Massachusetts, California and more than half a dozen other states.

"The extraordinary thing has been since 2000, when George W. Bush took office, one state had marriage equivalency-mine," Dean said. "Now there’s nine. That’s amazing."

He further criticized presumptive Republican Presidential nominee John McCain. Frank specifically referred to the landmark Lawrence vs. Texas decision that overturned the country’s remaining sodomy laws in 2003 as he stressed he feels voters should elect Obama.

"It is almost certain the next president will reshape the Supreme Court," he said. "We can’t afford John McCain."

New York Sen. Charles Schumer agreed. He appeared alongside U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell [D-Wash.] at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Aug. 2 that raised more than $120,000. The DSCC’s mission to elect a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate by supporting candidates in Alaska, Colorado, Mississippi, New Hampshire and other battleground states.

Press was not allowed to attend the fundraiser, but Schumer, who had endorsed Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, told WNYC reporter Amy Eddings in an Aug. 7 interview he feels Democrats are poised to pick up a significant number of Senate seats this November.

"The wind is clearly at our back," he said. "People want change." Schumer further conceded a number of former Clinton supporters remain upset the former First Lady will not garner her party’s nomination. He avoided a question about whether he feels Obama would choose Clinton as his running mate. Schumer did add, however, he remains confident the former First Lady will continue to support her former campaign trail rival.

"[She] knows how important it is to take back the government," he said. "These seven years of George Bush have been a disaster."

Schumer and Dean are not the only elected officials and other politicians who have stumped for votes and money on Fire Island this summer. Long Island Congressman Tim Bishop [D-Southampton] held a fundraiser in the Pines in late June, while Brookhaven Town Supervisor Brian Foley, who seeks to unseat long-time incumbent state Sen. Caesar Trunzo [R-Brentwood] and Brookhaven Town Councilmember Tim Mazzei have also raised money on the beach in recent weeks. And openly lesbian New York City Council candidate Yetta Kurland is scheduled to hold a fundraiser in the Pines on Aug. 24.

State Assemblywoman Ginny Fields [D-Oakdale] held one of the more unique Fire Island political events on Aug. 2 with the second annual Ginny Fields look-a-like contest at Heaven n’ Earth in Cherry Grove.

Lola Galore and the partner of openly gay state Assemblyman Matthew Titone [D-Staten Island] proved imitation is really the most sincere form of flattery.

"Ginny doesn’t have a purse or a clutch," Titone’s partner pointed out as he dubbed himself Ginny from the Block. "She has a suitcase. That’s what this is all about."

State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer [D-Far Rockaway], a candidate for Queens Borough President, and Islip Town Councilman Gene Parrington also joined Titone and Fields. It quickly became clear, however, Galore had won the competition.

She reflected upon her hard fought victory.

"I’m just here to celebrate with Ginny," the 2007 Cherry Grove Homecoming Queen said. "I love her and I want to support her."

Fields added she felt flattered by the local queens’ efforts. She feels it remains important to make time to connect with her island constituents and to learn about the issues.

"It’s terrific to have an elected official set their feet on the sand and boardwalks," Fields said.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

HRC's Joe Solmonese discusses ENDA, Obama on Fire Island

There remains often intense debate within the movement for LGBT rights as to whether the Human Rights Campaign actually advocates on behalf of LGBT Americans--or is even a relevant force on Capitol Hill and around the country. The organization is, for better or for worse depending upon a person's perspective, remains the largest LGBT organization in the United States with an estimated 800,000 members and a $40 million annual budget.

HRC President Joe Solmonese was quick to point out this fact during our recent interview in the Fire Island Pines. We discussed, among other topics, Barack Obama, the prospects of marriage for same-sex couples in New York and the continued fallout over his decision to endorse a trans-exclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act last fall. The full article from EDGE is below.

Known among many as one of the cradles of the movement for LGBT rights, both the Fire Island Pines and neighboring Cherry Grove routinely draw some of the country’s most influential activists and elected officials. And Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese is the latest to make the trek to the beach.

He spoke to several supporters in the Pines on Aug. 9. Solmonese stressed one of his organization’s biggest priorities are to elect Barack Obama, pro-LGBT candidates in both the U.S. House and Senate and to secure marriage for same-sex couples in New York and other states.

"This is critical," he said.

Solmonese told EDGE in an exclusive interview earlier in the day he feels Fire Islanders remain a critical force in the movement in New York and around the country as activists in the state and around the country expand their efforts to extend nuptials to gays and lesbians.

He asserted their influence will only increase as the state and others move towards the possibility of allowing marriage for same-sex couples in the coming years.

"Someone may be here in the Pines and visiting from [Los Angeles], but the fight for marriage equality is about the next step towards marriage," he said. "It’s not just about New York."

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick overturned a 1913 law on July 31 that prevented gays and lesbians from other states from marrying in the Commonwealth. California became the second state to allow nuptials for same-sex couples to marry after a landmark state Supreme Court ruling took effect in June.

Anti-LGBT organizations successfully collected enough signatures to place an initiative on the ballot this November that would prohibit marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Solmonese expressed confidence this issue will not galvanize the electorate as it did during the 2004 Presidential election. He pointed to Iraq, the slumping economy and high gas prices as the issues on which he feels voters will focus.

"The electorate is so [singularly] focused on these issues and it won’t allow a candidate to change the subject," Solmonese said. "That’s good news."

He further criticized presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain for his opposition to the federal hate crimes bill and other pro-LGBT legislation. Solmonese stressed he feels Obama would work to ensure their passage if elected to the White House.

"Barack Obama is the key to all that happening," he said.

Appointed to head the HRC in March 2005, Solmonese’s most controversial decision remains his endorsement last fall of a version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act without transgender-specific protections. More than 350 LGBT and allied organizations from around the country formed the United ENDA Coalition as a direct challenge to HRC’s decision. Solmonese maintains a trans-inclusive ENDA simply did not have enough support on Capitol Hill.

He conceded the subsequent debate over ENDA has been challenging for not only his organization but the entire movement. Solmonese maintained, however, the HRC remains committed to securing Congressional support for a trans-inclusive bill.

Solmonese further categorized United ENDA’s mission as "trying to kill the bill." Solmonese added more trans people have come to the HRC to see what they can do to help advance a trans-inclusive version of the bill.

He conceded, however, ENDA still faces a difficult road.

"Our community needs to understand... nothing gets done in a one- shot deal," Solmonese said. "That’s never been a way we’ve built complex and sweeping legislation in this country."

Despite persistent criticisms over its ENDA stance, Solmonese remains confident the HRC continues to have a positive impact on the lives of LGBT Americans. The organization counts roughly 800,000 members and has an annual budget of $40 million. And Solmonese said his membership remains enthusiastic about HRC’s mission and work in Washington and around the country.

"It’s important to remember these 800,000 [people] who continue to respond to what we ask them to do," he said. "There’s an awful lot of people who support us."

Solmonese further maintained a positive outlook towards his organization and its mission.

"Despite all the chatter... in the community, we remain singularly focused on the work ahead," he said.

Monday, August 11, 2008

An August Weekend on Fire Island

It's Monday morning and the predicted downpours have so far failed to materialize over Fire Island. The sun is out and a slight September-esque breeze is in the air--a perfect bookend to a very busy weekend.

Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean made his annual appearance in the Pines yesterday alongside DNC Treasurer Andy Tobias and openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank [D-Mass.]. Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese opened his fundraising pitch at a Saturday evening event with a reference to our interview in the harbor the previous morning. An underwear party at the Ice Palace, a breast cancer benefit in the Grove and Jack Schlegel's annual hat party in the Pines were among the other events that rounded out an extremely packed calendar.

The paper's second to last deadline is tomorrow. My birthday is this Saturday, and that serves as a personal reminder the summer is almost over. A lot has happened here on Fire Island in the three months I have been here--controversial citations issued by National Parks Service rangers in the Meatrack, more than 100 rescues on local beaches due to high surf and rip tides and even a performance by Broadway diva Bernadette Peters. What a summer it has been!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Author reads new book on trans kids on Lower East Side

Transgender and gender variant youth continue to gain more visibility in the media as a result of the high profile murder of Lawrence King inside his Oxnard, Calif., middle school and other crimes that have taken place across the country. This trend is not to say there are those who have a more positive experience or transition, but these young people continue to face innumerable problems as my article in EDGE New York about author Stephanie Brill's book "The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals" details.

There remains an extremely significant amount of ignorance and misunderstanding surrounding the transgender and gender variant experience. Brill told me one of the main reasons she and her colleague, Rachel Pepper, decided to write the book is because of the apparent lack of information available to parents and other family members of these children. She further stressed society needs to make some fundamental changes to accept these children as who they are. "The Transgender Child" certainly provides an opportunity to begin the process to achieve these goals.

With transgender and gender variant children gaining more visibility through the national media, Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper decided the time was right to detail the struggles with which these young people and their families struggle.

"The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals" examines a variety of topics that include how to identify a trans child, parental acceptance, response from teachers and classmates, medical and even legal issues. Brill held a reading at Bluestocking Books on the Lower East Side on Sunday, Aug. 3, in addition to singings and other events across the city to promote the book. She told EDGE in a recent telephone interview her work with trans and gender varient children through Gender Spectrum and other organizations motivated her to write "The Transgender Child."

"Through that work, I realized parents were struggling in isolation without access to information to help their children," Brill said.

She further described "The Transgender Child" as the first-of-its-kind book to offer resources and other information for the thousands of families she said are raising trans or gender-variant children. Cleis Press released it on June 1, but Brill reaffirmed her belief the increased publicity surrounding these issues only solidified her desire to write about them.

"It’s a great combination," she said.

Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks are among those who have either profiled trans or gender variant youth or examined the variety of issues they face on their programs over the past year. Brill contends Lawrence King’s murder inside an Oxnard, Calif., middle school in February and other cases, such as the death of Angie Zapata inside her Greeley, Colo., apartment on July 17, highlight the need for "greater cultural understanding" of trans or gender variant youth.

"We [societal] need to make some fundamental changes in allowing all members of society to be safe in who they are," Brill said.

Brill further stressed the perspective she brings into the book comes from love and acceptance-or a love-based philosophy.

"I really want everybody to be accepted for who they are and not have to hide or be afraid of being a target or being a target just because of who they are," she said. "We are a nation devoted to individuality and personal expression on many levels, and this is another level that needs to be accepted for children. This is just part of the normal expression of humanity."

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Monday, August 4, 2008

An 'away-cation' from Fire Island?

There comes a time towards the beginning of August when locals and seasonal residents alike begin to grow extremely weary of the influx of day trippers, weekenders and other temporary visitors who descend upon Fire Island each weekend. The thought of taking an 'away-cation' from the beach this week became an increasingly alluring thought as I waited for yet another late water taxi to take me home to Ocean Beach on Sunday morning. It was 3:30 a.m., and I was beat from a busy day covering a variety of political and LGBT fundraisers in the Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove--the beach is certainly a fantastic place to spend the summer, but rest assured of the fact I actually work to earn this privilege.

The thought of returning to Bushwick (yes, Bushwick) for a few days firmly planted itself into my mind until I woke up this morning to a refreshingly cool breeze and a crystal clear blue sky. The beautiful early-August morning quickly changed my mind, and I have delayed my Fire Island 'away-cation' by at least one day. I continue to earn my keep as a journalist-on-the-beach, however, in case anyone is at all curious.