Monday, September 29, 2008

LGBT New Yorkers weigh in presidential debate

With today's developments on Capitol Hill and on Wall Street, it appears crystal clear the economy will dominate the remainder of the presidential campaign. This reality became evident at the first of three presidential debates held at the University of Mississippi on Friday.

New Yorkers immediately weighed in on which candidate they felt addressed the crisis and handled themselves better in the debate. It appears as though most observers quickly concluded Obama fared better than McCain, but Republicans, including the one interviewed for the below article I just posted to EDGE, indicate the former prisoner-of-war came out on top. The partisanship will only increase over the coming weeks. And it will generate even more headlines.

With the ongoing economic crisis showing no signs of easing, New Yorkers gathered in bars, social clubs and apartments on Friday night to see if either Sens. John McCain or Barack Obama would offer specific solutions during the first of three presidential debates at the University of Mississippi. Neither candidate elaborated their positions beyond their campaign trail talking points, but local LGBT partisans were quick to put their own spin on how their respective White House hopeful performed.

The Democratic presidential contender was the obvious favorite among the hundreds of people who packed the LGBT for Obama debate party at Room Service in Gramercy. McCain received a steady stream of boos, hisses, obscene gestures and proclamations. And a number of attendees even threw crumpled pieces of paper at a large big screen television as he answered moderator Jim Lehrer’s questions and responded to Obama.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn offered a pep talk of sorts before the debate.

"It’s important that all of us are in this room tonight," she said. "There is just too much at stake."

Jess Braverman, 25, of Prospect Heights, expressed shock over McCain’s continued support of private health care. She was equally critical of his economic stance.

"It was interesting John McCain’s only [instinct] was having oversight," Braverman said. "It was obviously something he said to get a reaction. He didn’t have anything solid."

She further noted health care, the economy and Iraq remain the three issues on which she will continue to focus. City Council candidate Yetta Kurland added she felt Obama adequately addressed the ongoing Wall Street turmoil.

"He has been very clear and very concise," she said.

On the other side of the aisle, a number of gay Republicans attended a New York Young Republicans-sponsored debate party at the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side. Gregory Angelo, a spokesperson for Log Cabin Republicans of New York, was quick to applaud McCain’s performance.

"John McCain clearly showed he was the better, more decisive candidate in terms of his ability to protect the American economy and our interests throughout the world," he said.

A snap poll conducted by found 73 percent of respondents thought Obama performed better than McCain in the debate. Fox News reported 54 percent of those surveyed after the debate said Obama won.

McCain and Obama are scheduled to debate at Belmont University in Nashville on Oct. 7 and at Hofstra University on Long Island on Oct. 15. Vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will square off at Washington University in St. Louis on Thursday.

Manhattan resident Bryan Kutner, 34, expressed concern Obama’s oratory style fails to resonate well with independent voters. He remains optimistic, however, Democrats will win the White House this November.

"Obama hasn’t made any serious gaffes," Kutner said. "McCain has made gaffe after gaffe."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New England Blade's swan song?

Does the ongoing saga that is the New England Blade finally have an end?

A source who contacted Boy at Bushwick yesterday afternoon pointed to a virtual laundry list of items that suggest a possibly eminent end for the troubled Boston-based LGBT weekly. He said the New England Blade's landlord served the newspaper an eviction notice to vacate its South End offices because of failure to pay rent, and HX CEO Matthew Bank rushed to the Hub to give staff what he described as a "pep talk." The source further indicated the company asked staff to wait to cash their paychecks because HX is trying to secure 11th hour capital to keep the operation going. He also said the New England Blade is two months behind in payments to its distributor.

Our friends over at Loaded Gun have also posted on these potentially terminal developments, but these reports are the latest in a series of controversies and all around bad news that have rocked the once venerable publication. These include former editor-in-large Fred Kuhr's resignation last December, continued failure to pay freelancers and other contributors as this blog has previously documented and the brouhaha over the New England Blade's publication of its "official event guide for Boston Pride" in June over strong objections from the festival organizers.

I'm not one to immediately jump to conclusions, but the controversies and all around drama that have repeatedly dogged the New England Blade since HX bought the former InNewsweekly nearly two years ago clearly indicate something is not kosher. Is it time to grab our fiddles and watch Rome burn? Perhaps we will know sooner rather than later.

Update [Sept. 25, 2008; 4:37 p.m.]: New England Blade publisher James Patterson told Bay Windows his publication is not facing eminent demise. He dismissed claims the newspaper faced eviction, but refused to comment on allegations HX Media asked employees not to cash their paychecks until sufficient capital could be located. Patterson conceded, however, the ongoing ecomonic crisis has impacted the New England Blade.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Palin censors press

The news of the ongoing economic crisis, the return of Hurricane Ike evacuees to Galveston and even Clay Aiken's decision to come out of the closet continue to garner today's headlines, but Sarah Palin's decision to severely curtail media access to her meetings at the United Nations in New York yesterday certainly garnered this writer's attention.

The Associated Press and CNN were among the outlets that strongly objected to the campaign's decision to prohibit reporters from observing meetings between the Alaska governor and Afghan President Harmad Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Campaign officials reportedly told the news organizations their exclusion was "not subject to discussion." They finally relented after CNN pulled its crew from Palin's first meeting.

Politicians routinely seek strategic photo opportunities to shore up their credentials on a particular issue and to frankly score some PR points with a strategically identified constituency. The campaign's actions, which arguably amount to censorship, only fuel questions about Palin's qualifications as vice president. They only provide journalists, pundits and political observers with even more questions about this Republican wunderkind du jour to her arguable detriment.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rutgers student speaks out on behalf of Bosnian LGBT activists

A Bosnian LGBT organization vows a planned festival will take place this week in spite of objections from a number of local political and religious leaders.

The Queer Sarajevo Festival is scheduled to begin in the Bosnian capital on Sept. 24. Members of the Sarajevo-based Association Q have organized the festival as a way to highlight LGBT culture and to raise awareness of homophobia its members contends remains entrenched throughout Bosnian society, but local newspapers quoted at least two imams and other Muslim politicians who oppose the festival because it takes place during Ramadan. A number of Serbian and Croat officials in the country echoed their opposition.

Flyers calling for the execution of festival organizers have also appeared across Sarajevo in recent weeks. An Association Q member told Amnesty International local activists remain afraid.

“We do not feel safe for ourselves or for our families,” the activist said. “Our dogs are our best protection at the moment.”

Association Q member Senka Filipovic, who is a graduate student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, spent three months volunteering for the organization in Sarajevo this summer. She denied accusations from those who contend local activists purposely scheduled the festival during the Muslim holy month.

“This wasn’t an intentional overlap of Ramadan and the festival to create some sort of provocation that Association Q has been accused of,” Filipovic said. “Ramadan is being used as a smokescreen behind it. There’s this huge amount of homophobia in general and this is just an excuse to express it in an outrageous way.”

Filipovic said she and other Association Q members received threats after someone hacked into the organization’s president’s e-mail account. She added she feels long-standing societal norms have only contributed to the controversy.

“Bosnia has always been a fairly traditional and patriarchal society, and that has definitely persisted into current times,” she said.

The country continues to recover from the civil war that killed more than an estimated 100,000 people between 1992 and 1995. Bosnia’s constitution prohibits gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination, and the country has emerged as a potential European Union candidate. Filipovic contends, however, the war’s legacy continues to have an adverse impact.

“The war had a lot to do with the fact we haven’t been able to advance too much as far as issues, such as LGBT issues, go,” she said. “The country experienced setbacks in almost every aspect of society. And it’s not surprising we’re lagging this aspect as well.”

Despite this controversy, Filipovic remains optimistic the festival will go on as scheduled. And she applauded organizers for working “under incredible stress.”

“They are so determined and brave in so many ways and have absolutely not allowed [the] negative response and the threat of violence to deter them from going ahead with the festival because it’s so important for our society—especially in this time,” she said.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New York's top Republican attends Log Cabin fundraiser

A small piece of history was made last night with New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' appearance at a Log Cabin Republican fundraiser in the East Village. This appearance marks the first time the Rockville Centre Republican has attended a gay event since he succeeded former state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno [R-Saratoga Springs] in June. New York Republicans are struggling to maintain their one-seat majority in the state Senate this November. The tide is clearly against them, Skelos' appearance before Log Cabin arguably signals the state GOP's desire to court a group of new voters.

Outside of the overt political observation, the fundraiser once again proves the diversity of partisan ideology among LGBT New Yorkers (and Americans.) Many LGBT activists and particularly Democrats are quick to criticize, pan or even condemn gay Republicans. The reality remains, however, these partisans do exist and they are clearly confident in their positions and their decision to back Republican candidates and, to some degree, the GOP. This fact was on full display in the East Village and their confidence will undoubtedly continue through Nov. 4.

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos [R-Rockville Centre] was among several GOP lawmakers who attended a Log Cabin Republicans fundraiser in the East Village on Sept. 16.

Skelos, who made his first public appearance in front of a gay audience since he succeeded Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno [R-Saratoga Springs] in June, joined state Sen. John Flanagan [R-East Northport], Assemblyman Joel Miller [R-Poughkeepsie] and other Republican lawmakers and candidates. He reaffirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage, but stressed he feels basic GOP principles will continue to unite Republicans.

"In life, we all have differences of opinion, but as Republicans we all understand... we do what’s appropriate to control taxes [and] control spending," Skelos said.

A number of Skelos’ legislative colleagues in attendance openly disagreed with his opposition to gay and lesbian nuptials.

Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward [R-Willsboro] recalled the impassioned speech she gave before the Democrat-controlled Assembly passed a bill to extend marriage to same-sex couples in June 2007. She said her vote reflected traditional GOP values.

"A vote for marriage is a very Republican and conservative one," Sayward said. "We believe government should stay out of people’s lives and let them live in quiet dignity."

Miller, who also supports the bill, agreed.

"We can’t go half way," he said. "You have to do it all the way."

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey [R-Peru] voted against the bill, but she said a meeting with her lesbian niece and nearly 20 other constituents in her conservative North Country district last summer sparked a change of heart. Duprey announced she plans to support the bill in the legislature next year.

"They spoke about their children," she said. "They spoke about their children and their relationships and the concerns they have about them."

The GOP maintains a one-seat majority in the state Senate, and political observers point to a likely Democratic takeover this November. The fundraiser raised $58,000 to support Republican incumbents and candidates in November.

Log Cabin raised $58,000 to support Republican incumbents and candidates who back both marriage for same-sex couples and the Dignity in All School Act in Albany.

The organization, however, continues to face sometimes scathing criticism from a number of gay Democrats and activists. This opposition only increased after Log Cabin Republican executive director Patrick Sammon announced his group’s endorsement of John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin earlier this month at the Republican National Convention.

Openly gay state Senate candidate John Chromczak [R-Financial District] conceded concern over Palin’s socially conservative record in Alaska. He added his decision to back the ticket goes far beyond LGBT issues.

"John McCain is well more in tune to aspects of national security than Barack Obama," Chromczak said.

Log Cabin Republicans of New York legislative adviser Jeff Cook remained confident gay Republicans will continue to have an impact in both Albany and Washington in November and after the election.

"[We] are on the front lines of making a difference in the lives of gays and lesbians across New York State and around the country," he said.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Farewell to Fire Island

Last night's sultry humidity here in the city and the abundance of people on the beach in the Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove this weekend arguably masked the fact that summer has largely come to an end. This reality finally hit me as I boarded the Ocean Beach on Saturday night to bring the last of my belongings back to Brooklyn.

People have had a myriad of reactions upon learning of the fact I spent nearly four months on Fire Island. "Gay summer camp," "fantasy" and even "prison" are some of the more colorful phrases and descriptions that came to mind. All of them are arguably true in some regard, but to describe Fire Island as a unique place is an arguable understatement. The beach remains one of the cradles of the movement for LGBT rights and other social and environmental struggles. The people who either summer on Fire Island or live there year round certainly provided an abundance of stories, experiences and even drama to keep this reporter and his colleagues busy.

The following editorial which did not make it into the last issue of the Fire Island News is my attempt to summarize the summer of 2008 and the many experiences that defined it. I wrote it on the Grove dock while waiting for the water taxi on Sunday, Aug. 24. It was fairly late in the afternoon and patrons were enjoying happy hour at nearby Cherry's while two women were fishing at the end of the dock. It was a beautiful late-summer day with a touch of fall in the air. A beautiful day to wrap up an amazing summer on the beach.

The end of the summer always presents a bittersweet pill to swallow. The nights grow a bit less balmy with each passing day and the vast majority of Fire Islanders will soon return to the mainland with a myriad of memories that defined their summer on the beach.

I will soon return to Brooklyn, but it remains an honor and a privilege to have had the opportunity to manage this season’s Fire Island News. A handful of my own myriad of memories include the annual Invasion of the Fire Island Pines, watching the sunrise over the beach at the Pines Party, the Fire Island Dance Festival and riding out a particularly nasty June squall line on a water taxi somewhere between Sailors Haven and Ocean Bay Park on the Great South Bay. Fire Island remains one of the most unique places in the world, and its people are certainly among the most interesting and dynamic.

To spend a season on the beach as an openly gay 27-year-old man is certainly one of the most amazing experiences of my life—for one I feel truly blessed. I was truly a pleasure to deliver what I hope proved a quality publication that brought the beach’s unique identity to Fire Islanders and visitors alike. Cheers to a great season and to a happy and healthy off-season.

The Belvidere in Cherry Grove

New York State Assemblyman Matt Titone [D-Staten Island], right, poses with his partner Josh after the annual Ginny Fields look-a-like contest in Cherry Grove on Aug. 2.

Drag queen diva Ariel Sinclair does her best Hillary impression at the Invasion on July 4.

Local resident protests the citations National Park Service rangers issued in the Meatrack in June.

The sailboat that moored off Cherry Grove almost every weekend this season.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sept. 11, 2008

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and I made my annual trip to lower Manhattan to pay my respects to those who lost their lives on that horrible day.

I will never forget where I was on that morning. I was in my second journalism class at the University of New Hampshire. It was a crisp late-summer day with a deep blue sky. I noticed an image the North Tower on fire on the news as I waited on line for breakfast. I didn't think too much of it as I walked to class. Less than an hour later, however, my professor abruptly dismissed us and told us "the world is falling apart." We were confused because we still did not have any tangible visual by which to go, but I will never forget those haunting and tragically prophetic words. I hurried to the nearby Memorial Union Building, where I had breakfast less than two hours before, and immediately saw a couple hundred students and staff gathered along the wall or sitting on the floor in stunned silence watching the North Tower collapsing onto lower Manhattan. This scene remains the most terrifyingly surreal thing I have ever seen in my life. My only instinctive response was to call my Mom and ask "What the hell is going on?"

I spent this morning in and around St. Paul's Chapel, which is across the street from Ground Zero. It is an amazingly peaceful sanctuary in the midst of lower Manhattan's chaotic streetscape. This sanctuary also provided refuge to firefighters, police officers and others during the days and weeks after the attacks, so it seemed fitting to commemorate Sept. 11 in a place that helped so many through some of the darkest days this city and this country has ever seen.

As I stood among a few dozen people and reporters during the first moment of silence, the one thing that struck me more than anything else was the steady stream of people walking from nearby PATH and subway stations to their jobs. One could have thought for a split second that this Thursday morning was like any other in New York. It clearly wasn't. Another thing today isn't is an opportunity to ask pointed and politically charged questions about what could have been done to prevent the attacks or to speculate on far-flung conspiracy theories as to whether the government played a role. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on Sept. 11 and they must remain the focus on this day. We as Americans owe them that basic debt of gratitude.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Yet more random thoughts from a New Yorker

Boy does it feel great to be back in the city! The past few days have felt like a long-awaited reunion with a loved one (in this case New York) whom I have not seen in several years (more like four months with a few brief interludes thrown in for good measure). Okay. Enough of the overtly-romantic Carrie Bradshaw-inspired cliches, but it remains great to be back home in the city I love after nearly four months on the beach.

A few of the random observations I noted to myself this weekend include a gaggle of gays in much better shape than I sunning themselves on the Christopher Street Pier in the post-Hanna sun yesterday, making homemade hummus for my roommate and his visiting friend from Ohio and watching gay men literally jump for joy inside Gym Bar after Serena Williams won the U.S. Open last night. Gotham is not all milk and honey, however, as the fact I locked myself out of my apartment for more than 12 hours because I failed to take the key to the outside door to my building off my key chain before heading to Krash in Manhattan. My friend Andre in Clinton Hill fortunately responded to my 3:30 a.m. text message and allowed me to crash in his apartment to the next day. I was tired and a hot mess because of the humidity, but at least Hanna's rains had yet to begin.

So there's my first New York weekend in more than four months in a nutshell. No politics. No beach. And most importantly no crazy share houses... and thanks to anyone who even remotely allowed me to indulge in a bit of Gotham romanticism a la Bradshaw!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin blasts media during RNC speech

With the seemingly endless scrutiny placed on her family and her own record in Alaska, it should come as no surprise Gov. Sarah Palin came out swinging against the media and other detractors during her prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last night. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, all former running mates against nominee John McCain, echoed Palin's sentiments before she ascended to the stage. The self-described hockey mom followed suit in a performance that arguably came straight from the Republican playbook.

"I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone," Palin said. "But here's a little flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion--I'm going to Washington to serve the people this country."

Any mother would understandably cringe and even bristle at the coverage of their 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy, but this defiant proclamation that mocked the media
arguably came across as incredibly naive. It could also reinforce the argument she does not have the experience necessary for the position for which McCain has tapped. Journalists have a job to do and, for better or for worse, that includes finding out information about a particular candidate--or in this case a vice presidential nominee--and the process through which she was chosen. Palin's record in Alaska is among the many unanswered questions that remain fair game. Let's hope journalists continue to do their jobs and uphold the commitment they have to their readers and the public who want to know who Palin really is.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fire Island to Bushwick

All good things must come to an end as the all too overused cliche goes. I will board the ferry in less than an hour and will return to Bushwick after nearly four months on the beach. I have honestly been ready to leave Ocean Beach and especially the house in which I have lived for several weeks, but it as truly been a great summer. Below is a commentary I wrote for the Fire Island News that we unfortunately did not have enough room to publish. See you on the flip side!

The end of the summer always presents a bittersweet pill to swallow. The nights grow a bit less balmy with each passing day and the vast majority of Fire Islanders will soon return to the mainland with a myriad of memories that defined their summer on the beach.

I will soon return to Brooklyn, but it remains an honor and a privilege to have had the opportunity to manage this season’s Fire Island News. A handful of my own myriad of memories include the annual Invasion of the Fire Island Pines, watching the sunrise over the beach at the Pines Party, the Fire Island Dance Festival and riding out a particularly nasty June squall line on a water taxi somewhere between Sailors Haven and Ocean Bay Park on the Great South Bay. Fire Island remains one of the most unique places in the world, and its people are certainly among the most interesting and dynamic.

To spend a season on the beach as an openly gay 27-year-old man is certainly one of the most amazing experiences of my life—for one I feel truly blessed. I was truly a pleasure to deliver what I hope proved a quality publication that brought the beach’s unique identity to Fire Islanders and visitors alike. Cheers to a great season and to a happy and healthy off-season.