Friday, August 31, 2007

Gays Discuss Immigration, U.S. HIV Ban

More than 150 activists and LGBT New Yorkers gathered at the LGBT Community Center in Lower Manhattan earlier this week to discuss immigration and other-related issues which continue to effect LGBT people and LGBT bi-national couples. The movement for LGBT rights loves to hold these forums as a way to show their constituency that they remain focused on any given issue. I covered this forum for the Blade and for EDGE and the panelists discussed this issue from their various point of expertise. The challenge remains, however, how to move beyond the choir who clearly understands the importance of rectifying problematic policies and laws against their brothers and sisters. Good sound bites, talking points and public appearances are simply not enough in many peoples' perspectives. The movement arguably needs to acknowledge this discontentment as it continues to struggle how to reach beyond the LGBT choir.

As immigration continues to emerge as a hot button issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, it also remains a principal concern of the country’s LGBT community.

During a local forum about same-sex immigration rights, the United State’s ban on HIV-positive immigrants garnered much discussion. And Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced his continuing support of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). The bill allows gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-national partners for green cards.

“Unfortunately same-sex couples who are committed to spend their lives together are not recognized as families under current federal law,” Nadler said. “The law should never be unnecessarily or gratuitously cruel. I am confident that we will succeed because this is a matter of basic fairness and compassion.” Nadler first introduced the bill in 2000, then reintroduced it in May of this year. It has 84 co-sponsors; the sponsor in the Senate is Patrick Lahey (D-Vt.).

About 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples live in the U.S. today, according to a Human Rights Watch report titled “Family Values.” This number represents about 6 percent of all gay couples in the country, according to Immigration Equality.

The immigration forum was held Tuesday, Aug. 18, at The LGBT Center on West 13th Street. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Immigration Equality sponsored the event. In addition to Nadler, panelists included representatives from Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Asian American Justice Center and Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).

In the audience was Argentina-born filmmaker Sebastian Cordoba, who filmed a documentary “Through Thick & Thin,” which chronicles seven bi-national couples tackling the immigration system.

“This is something Americans should be fighting for,” said Cordoba about the UAFA. He hopes the film sparks renewed activism among LGBT activists and everyday people.

About 20 countries allow some sort of immigration benefit for same-sex couples. All the major Democratic presidential candidates support the UAFA.

Immigration opponents contend that the UAFA is a step toward legalize marriage for same-sex couples. They also claim the UAFA provides an opportunity for undocumented immigrants to fraudulently enter the country. Both Nadler and HRC Senior Counsel Cristina Finch dismissed these claims. “It’s homophobia and not seeing our relationships as the same as heterosexual couples,” HRC’s Finch said.

The recent death of an HIV-positive Mexican transgender immigrant in a Southern California federal detention center in July has sparked renewed interest among some LGBT activists in the HIV ban.

The White House announced on World AIDS Day last December that it would review the federal government’s long-standing ban against HIV-positive foreign nationals from entering the country. GMHC assistant director for research and federal affairs Nancy Ordover, who also co-chairs the Lift the Ban coalition, said the administration has failed to act on its own proposal.

“It didn’t do anything for HIV-positive immigrants,” she said. “Nor did it promise to.”

Immigration Equality remains at the forefront for many LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants. But not everyone within the LGBT movement thinks this is a priority.

Blogger Jasmyne Cannick sparked widespread outrage last April after she suggested in a column published in The Advocate that LGBT Americans should receive equality before immigrants. George Wu of the Washington-based Asian American Justice Center, Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund Legislative Staff Attorney Eric M. GutiƩrrez and other panelists disagreed.

“We need to join forces,” GutiĆ©rrez said. “Stop saying that’s us and that’s them.”

Ordover pointed to what she described as the parallels between immigration and LGBT-specific issues. “If it’s not good for immigrants, it’s not going to be good for LGBT immigrants or HIV positive immigrants,” she said.

Glenn Magpantay of the Gay and Pacific Islander Men of New York was more blunt. He criticized the LGBT movement for what he described as its continued inaction on behalf of immigrants.

“Our community has done squat on immigrants,” Magpantay told The Blade after the forum. “Gay immigrants are at the door of our community [and] we need to stand up and speak out.”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Conservative Commentator Sparks Outrage With Apparent Support of Anti-Gay Violence

The fine folks [and former colleagues] over at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have certainly been quite busy lately presumably working behind the scenes with media professionals after news of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig [R-Idaho]'s arrest inside a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport restroom. The media watchdog most recently took on commentator Tucker Carlson and his network after he appeared to condone anti-gay violence during a similar incident he said happened to him in Washington in the mid-1980s.

GLAAD posted Carlson's comments and his subsequent statement on its Web site. One can easily conclude from his own statements that he appears to condone anti-gay violence from his masculine if not slightly aloof perspective. He clearly enjoys to push buttons as he and his guests have proven. Carlson's attempt at so-called humor resonates reasonably well with his target audience of white and presumably heterosexual viewers. The question remains whether to elevate Carlson's comments through a very public -- and messaged -- alert geared to respond to LGBT outrage and questions about a group's continued relevancy or to not respond [and further alienate an already suspicious community]. There is no easy solution in this case but to simply change the channel is not an option.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Craig Scandal Continues to Unfold as Movement Struggles to Respond

The fallout from the developing scandal surrounding U.S. Rep. Larry Craig [R-Idaho] continues to unfold as several of his own colleagues, such as GOP presidential hopeful John McCain [R-Ariz.], have begun to call for his resignation. Craig, who has been subject to persistent rumors about his sexual orientation, vehemently declared his heterosexuality during a press conference in Boise, Idaho, yesterday afternoon as his wife Suzanne stood by his side. This clearly defensive denial clearly indicates to many activists that the social conservative either remains deeply in the closet of self-loathing or continues his desperate attempt to deflect the firestorm which has engulfed him and tarnished his decades long career in politics.

The question remains, however, as to how the movement for LGBT rights will respond to Craig's guilty plea and the broader issues surrounding it. The movement remains highly uncomfortable with the idea of outing people against their will. This discomfort emerged during the scandal that surrounded former U.S. Sen. Mark Foley [R-Fla.] last fall. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has issued two statements since the scandal first broke earlier this week to condemn Craig, who repeatedly voted in favor of anti-LGBT legislation, as a hypocrite and to blast the GOP for the apparent double standard it maintained after U.S. Sen. David Vitter [R-La.]'s phone number appeared in a Capital madam's lists of clients. The Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have remained notably silent despite problematic mainstream media coverage of his plea and subsequent fallout. The scandal surrounding Craig will undoubtedly continue to dominate headlines over the next few days. The movement, on the other hand, will continue to struggle with its collective response to what has become the latest titillation to come out of the Beltway.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Scandal Rocks Yet Another GOP Lawmaker

Washington is abuzz with news that Minneapolis police arrested a conservative Republican lawmaker in June as he traveled through the city's airport. The Roll Call reported U.S. Sen. Larry Craig [R-Idaho] plead guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge earlier this month after a plainclothes police officer, who was investigating reports of sexual activity, arrested him inside a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport restroom. The Web site reported he paid more than $500 in fines and court fees. The court also sentenced Craig to one year probation.

Craig has championed so-called traditional marriage and other socially conservative causes throughout his more than three decades in politics. Idahoans first elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1990 but he has faced persistent questions about his sexual orientation. Mike Rogers of BlogACTIVE reported last October that Craig was known to frequent restrooms at Washington's Union Square. These allegations are just that -- allegations -- but the charges to which he plead guilty in Minneapolis indicate he is the latest in a series of political hypocrites who seem to use the LGBT community to score points with their anti-LGBT supporters.

National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman implied this exact sentiment in a statement he released after news of the arrest first broke.

"What's up with elected officials like Senator Craig?," he sarcastically asked. "They stand for so-called 'family values' and fight basic protections for gay people while furtively seeking other men for sex. Infuriating pathetic hypocrites. What more can you say?"

The movement for LGBT rights remains clearly uncomfortable with these stories as the absence of statements on the Human Righs Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation clearly indicates. These politicians are, for better or worse, what they are -- hypocrites. The movement perhaps serves its self-professed constituency better if it highlights these public digressions within the context of its stated objectives of fairness and equality.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Treacherous Fire Island

This past weekend marks the end of my reporting on the beach this summer. The cast of characters remains more than interesting but the legions of small insects which literally attacked my feet on Friday night, the two hour walk down a fog enveloped beach from Davis Park to the Fire Island Pines and the remnants of a stubborn summer cold made this weekend a bit more challenging than most.

Last week's developments -- the alleged Suffolk County Police assault against legendary DJ Susan Morabito at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove and the tragic GHB overdose of a 31-year-old man in the Pines -- were among the stories about whose aftermath Fire Islanders continued to talk. Overhyped parties and the ever-present drunken barely legal gay man made themselves clearly visible as I undertook my journalistic duties this weekend on the island. A friend and I joked to ourselves that Fire Island remains a reality largely foreign to our daily lives. In many ways this reality remains a highly interesting [if manufactured] comedy that one simply cannot turn down. The movement for LGBT rights claims the Pines and the Grove as an all important cradle. This fact cannot go understated. But the reality remains, however, Fire Island, by its very nature, continues to assert itself as an escape which allows its visitors and residents to enjoy themselves in fantasy, hedonism and more.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Answers Sought in Pos Detainee's Death

Victoria Arellano was a 23-year-old Mexican transgender woman who died last month while at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Southern California. Her case clearly demonstrates the plight of many LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants face in this country as I indicated in this story posted on the today. The movement for LGBT rights in Southern California and across the country continue to urgently raise the profile of her death and the broader issues associated with it. Journalists are trained not to interject themselves into the story. I must say, however, this story is one of the most disturbing cases on which I have reported during my more than four year career within and outside the movement for LGBT rights. ICE clearly has some explaining to do.

As immigration emerges as an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, the death last month of a Mexican transgender woman in federal custody has sparked outrage among LGBT and immigrant activists.

Victoria Arellano, 23, died July 20 in the intensive care unit of a San Pedro, Calif., hospital. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials detained the undocumented immigrant in May after she entered the country for the second time.

Arellano's death was the first of three at ICE detention facilities across the country in recent weeks, the Washington Post reported.

Arellano's family and the Latino advocacy group Bienestar plan a vigil Monday in Los Angeles. Her death and the movement's overall response to it reflect the broader immigration debate among LGBT activists at the local, state and national level.

Arellano, who was HIV-positive, first came to the United States as a child, the Los Angeles Daily Journal reported. She had worked at a West Hollywood supermarket and volunteered at a Hollywood drug and alcohol abuse treatment facility.

ICE officials routinely denied Arellano the antibiotic dapasone and other necessary medications to treat HIV-related side effects, published reports indicate. Her mother, Olga, and her fellow detainees at San Pedro confirmed these accounts to the Daily Journal and other publications this month.

ICE's decision to house Arellano in a male facility in San Pedro was particularly problematic, said Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.

"Clearly she was someone who was openly transgender and presented herself as a female," Silverman said. "There are a whole host of reasons to suggest abuse and outright refusal to provide care at play."

ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley did not respond to these specific allegations but told in a statement that her agency provides adequate health care to its detainees, spending more than $98 million on the purpose each year

"ICE's foremost priority is ensuring the safety and security of all those in its custody," Haley said. "All facilities used by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain aliens must comply with rigorous standards that exceed those imposed by the federal Bureau of Prisons."

"These requirements reflect the agency's commitment to maintain safe, secure and humane conditions for aliens in ICE custody," Haley said.

But Haley confirmed that at least 63 detainees, including Arellano and two others held in San Pedro, have died in ICE custody since 2004.

"This case exemplifies what we've been saying for all these years: Immigration is in fact an LGBT issue," said Coral Lopez, Bienestar's communications manager. "Victoria's unfortunate death demonstrates why we need to be working in coalition on these issues."

"Unfortunately it's not an isolated incident," said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality. "It just shows while people are in immigration detention, people are just warehoused and not cared for."

National Gay & Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman was more blunt, blasting both the agency and the federal government for their immigration law enforcement policies in a statement to

"It's pretty obvious what led to this -- fear and loathing of a person who was HIV positive, transgender and an immigrant," Foreman said. "We should be ashamed of our government and the violence it inflicts with our tax dollars."

The Human Rights Campaign, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Lambda Legal are among the groups that have used their resources to highlight the issue. Some within the LGBT movement, however, have questioned this strategy.

Blogger Jasmyne Cannick sparked widespread outrage in April 2006 after she argued that LGBT people should receive equality before immigrants. More than 50 activists from across the country condemned Cannick's comments in an open letter that The Advocate published a week after it ran her column.

"We reject any attempts to pit the struggle of multiple communities against each other," the statement read. "This strategy has always been used to divide oppressed groups from coming together to work in coalition."

Neilson believes Arellano's death provides the movement with yet another opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of many LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants in federal custody.

"These folks are often just in the shadows," she said. "A lot of our own are caught up in the net and subject to particular vulnerabilities."

Silverman agreed.

"This particular case points to policy changes that are needed," Silverman said. "The movement and various organizations in the movement need to put pressure on the government and ICE to come clean about what happened here."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Love/Hate Relationship with the Media

One can easily argue the movement for LGBT rights maintains a tenuous love/hate relationship with both mainstream and LGBT media. Newspapers, radio and television stations, on-line media and other outlets provide activists and organizations a very efficient opportunity to get their respective messages out to their various target audiences and constituencies. These same activists and organizations, on the other hand, bite the proverbial hand that feeds them if reporters document less than flattering news about their activism, misquotes them or commit other journalistic digressions.

Friends Andres Duque and Pedro Julio Serrano, president of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, blogged earlier this week about homophobic statements El Nuevo Dia reporter Jaime Torres falsely attributed to popular Puerto Rican singer Melina Leon. Another Boy in Bushwick reader expressed concern about an article the Sun-Sentinel published which questioned whether Fort Lauderdale LGBT activists actually support the addition of gender identity and expression to Broward County's anti-discrimination statutes. He discounted the South Florida newspaper's account as "very misleading and actually false in many of its statements." He further assured readers that local activists remain committed to the inclusion of transgender people in its collective advocacy.

These two cases certainly highlight this contentious relationship to which I can attest as a journalist and a former activist who has worked within and outside the movement for LGBT rights for more than four years. The media remains a crucial tool which activists and organizations continue to use. It has a responsibility, however, to report LGBT-related stories accurately without sensationalism or interjection of personal perspectives and feelings. One can easily conclude this theory sometimes does not manifest itself in how media professionals choose to report on these issues.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dog Days of Summer

New Yorkers by and large abandon their city during the last two weeks of August. They escape to the Hamptons, Fire Island, the Catskills or the Jersey Shore to enjoy the last vestiges of summer before September arrives and brings us all back to the hustle and bustle. I too find myself in this mentality as I scrape the bottom of the barrel, sort of speak, for blog entries relevant to the movement for LGBT rights.

Today is a rainy and particularly cool August day here in Bushwick. I find myself at the local coffee shop nursing a hot chocolate. A man died of an overdose this past weekend in the Fire Island Pines. The Suffolk County Police Department apparently roughed up DJ Susan Morabito at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove during the same period. I successfully pitched an article on the tragic death of Victoria Arellano last month in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in San Pedro, California. I also began to plan a return trip to the Dominican Republic with my friends Paul and Doug in November. My friend David in Santo Domingo told me via e-mail yesterday the city escaped Hurricane Dean relatively unscathed outside of minimal damage along the oceanfront due to the storm surge. Life continues for this gay New Yorker despite the mass exodus which has left the city more quiet and tranquil than normal.

Monday, August 20, 2007

LGBT Media Summit Ready to Go

Hundreds of journalists and media professionals from across the country will gather in San Diego next week to attend the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association's annual confab and LGBT Media Summit. I previewed the gathering for PressPassQ this month but the larger question remains: Does LGBT media remain viable?

LGBT media remains notoriously dysfunctional in its operation and arguably with its lack of ethics. I can certainly attest to my own experiences first hand. Cathy Renna of Renna Communications desribed this constant question during our interview for this story. She worked for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for more than a decade and has insight onto the industry most others simply do not. She said LGBT media often publishes LGBT stories which mainstream media simply does not. Renna added this medium allows her and her communications colleagues to reach their target audience. Both of these facts justify LGBT media's continued relevency. It will certainly continue to evolve, however, as media in general remains in a sort of crisis.

As the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) makes final preparations for its convention in San Diego, organizers hope the fourth annual LGBT Media Summit slated for Aug. 30 will provide attendees the opportunity to compare notes and share ideas about the industry and how to improve it.

CBS News on Logo executive producer Court Passant, Advocate editor Anne Stockwell, BoiFromTroy blogger Scott Olin Schmidt, and Human Rights Campaign director of media relations Brad Luna are among the more than two dozen journalists, media professionals, and activists from across the country who will discuss gay press coverage of GLBT conservatives, the impact of the continued consolidation of GLBT media, and a host of other topics.

Summit co-chair Libby Post, whose syndicated “Lesbian Notions” column appears in GLBT publications across the country, said the summit provides GLBT media an opportunity to grow and expand their influence. (Post’s column is syndicated by Q Syndicate, co-publisher of Press Pass Q.)

Renna Communications managing partner Cathy Renna will join five others on a panel that will focus on how GLBT media interact with public relations professionals. The former Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation staffer said the summit provides her and her colleagues a great opportunity to interact with journalists who cover GLBT issues. Renna added the panelists themselves reflect the larger debate around GLBT media's relevancy.

"The need for GLBT media is a question that's always being asked," she said.

San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Pat Sherman will discuss mainstream media's increased coverage of GLBT stories and the impact it has among traditionally pink media outlets. Sherman further expressed optimism that media professionals from both sides of the journalistic aisle will leave the summit with concrete suggestions on how to improve their GLBT-specific coverage.

"We want mainstream media to cover [our] issues," he said. "Now the challenge becomes how do we not become irrelevant. … Competition makes us stronger within gay media and mainstream media."

NLGJA held its first LGBT Media Summit at its 2004 convention in New York. Board president Eric Hegedus said the confab provides a unique opportunity for media professionals to discuss issues that he feels continue to impact both GLBT and mainstream media.

"These are topics that need to be discussed in open forums," he said. "We're giving everyone a chance to talk about what's important today, and what will be down the road."

Post agreed. "I'm hoping – as the Media Summit has been in past years – [it will] bring GLBT media people together in a setting where they can share their professional best practices and work together," she said. "It is an opportunity to help the GLBT media grow and move ahead."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Straight Allies Join Gay Causes

Straight allies remain arguably the most under appreciated activists and supporters within the movement for LGBT rights. Alex Shoor, Jamie Curtis, Carisa Cunningham, Jack Lichtenstein, his wife Rita and legions of other remain the movement's most valuable assets in terms of its continued efforts to court straight hearts and minds as my feature for EDGE this week indicates. I had the pleasure to talk with these allies about their choice to join an often politicized and even turbulent movement ripe with personal egos, turf-building and other unfortunate personal and professional attributes. They remain committed to a cause that, in many ways, remains larger than themselves. The movement, and all LGBT people across the country who strive for change, should express their gratitude and appreciation to them.

The decision to become a full-time activist was easy for Alex Shoor to make. The southern media field strategist for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Vanderbilt University alum joined the media watchdog in September 2005. Describing gay rights as "one of the major social movements" of his generation, he wanted to be a part of history in the making.

"As a progressive striving for a more just America, I cannot stand by and watch clearly discriminatory laws and practices perpetuated against LGBT Americans," Shoor told EDGE in a recent interview from GLAAD’s New York offices. "I just felt a calling to be part of the movement for LGBT equality."

Ordinarily, someone taking a job at a gay advocacy organization would hardly rank as worthy of note. But Shoor has a quality that makes him stand out from the pack.

Alex Shoor is a heterosexual.

Perhaps what makes Shoor so remarkable is that he is becoming, well, not all that remarkable. In fact, Shoor is just one of a growing number of straight allies who have joined the ranks of the movement for LGBT rights in recent years.

While the movement continues to struggle with thorny questions of how to court straight people (and lawmakers) to support marriage for gay and lesbian couples, LGBT hate crime legislation and other political, legislative and movement priorities, people like Shoor may become more critical to getting our point across to the wider world.

Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays remains the face of this increased LGBT-straight alliance within the movement. It claims more than 200,000 members and over 500 chapters around the world. The Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and other organizations have followed suit with initiatives, campaigns and messages tailored specifically to straight allies and potential donors.

PFLAG Senior Field & Policy Coordinator Jamie Curtis joined the Washington-based organization in May 2003 after she learned how many of her friends struggled with family members after they came out or suffered discrimination. She has become the chief architect behind the Straight for Equality campaign PFLAG plans to launch in October.

Curtis, like Shoor, was quick to point out she feels the fight for LGBT equality affects everyone. "Whether gay or straight, this is an important issue facing our generation," she said. "I wanted to be on the right side looking back."

Long-time Fire Island Pines resident Jack Lichtenstein readily agreed. He and his wife Rita have summered in the predominantly gay resort off the South Shore of Long Island since the early 1960s. Since that time, the Lichtensteins have become prominent contributors to a number of gay organizations, including Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, which came about in large part thanks to Jack Lichtenstein’s seed money in the 1970s.

Today, the couple continue to maintain a busy philanthropic schedule with their financial support of Lambda Legal, the Point Foundation and other LGBT organizations.

Lichtenstein proudly pointed out his activism began in the pre-Stonewall era. The Suffolk County Police Department arrested dozens of gay men during raids in the Pines and neighboring Cherry Grove, which galvanized the traditionally tranquil hamlets through the late 1960s. The police held these men on sodomy, indecent exposure and other charges in a jail in nearby Patchogue on the mainland until Lichtenstein and others raised money to bail them out.

"I realized there was a need in the gay community for gay rights advocacy," he said. "That put me on the map, so to speak."

Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defender Communications Director Carisa Cunningham joined the movement in 1987 after she accepted a job at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which employs many nongay specialists and office workers. Cunningham conceded that the thought of a career among gay Gothamites initially attracted her to the agency. The reality of the burgeoning AIDS epidemic, however, soon set in.

"That experience--working in AIDS in New York City in 1987--was just transformative and life-changing for all of us who were there at the time," she said. "I met a lot of courageous, smart and determined people who I wanted to continue to work with."

Cunningham arrived at GLAD’s Boston office in 2004. She remains instrumental in the agency’s groundbreaking judicial advocacy across New England. Cunningham quickly points out that her colleagues and plaintiffs, such as Massachusetts resident Rhiannon O’Donnabhain, who sued the Internal Revenue Service after it refused to allow her to list sex-reassignment surgery as a deductible medical expense on her federal income tax return, have become additional inspirations to her work in the region.

"Seeing a really courageous plaintiff standing up there and telling her story in very difficult circumstances and watching some really smart attorneys at work is really wonderful," Cunningham said. "I can’t really beat that in terms of job satisfaction."

There are no official statistics to indicate exactly how many straight allies work within the movement.

Shoor admitted one of his initial challenges was to figure out how he, as a straight man, could relate to his colleagues at GLAAD and others with whom he comes into contact. A gay activist allayed those concerns with a simple compliment during January 2006 media training in Savannah, Georgia.

"I feel really humble to be part of the movement and to be accepted by so many LGBT folks with whom I work," Shoor said. "The LGBT community has allowed me room to grow."

Curtis painted an equally positive picture. "I have been very lucky and have found a very supportive place and a lot of supportive people in the movement who are very happy to have me," she said.

Cunningham faced initial skepticism from some gay men during her GMHC tenure. She pointed out; however, that her GLAD colleagues have not subjected her to questions about her heterosexuality.

"Nobody here has asked me what do straight people think," Cunningham quipped.

Obvious jokes aside, straight allies will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role within the movement for LGBT rights. NGLTF Executive Director Matt Foreman told EDGE in a statement these allies remain a vital component of his and other organization’s advocacy.

"Straight people are incredibly effective in winning other straight people over to our side," he stated. "They speak with fervor and rock-solid conviction, and can never be accused of speaking from self-interest or playing a victim."

Curtis further expressed hope the movement will continue to reach out to more potential straight allies as it seeks to further advance its agenda.

"We try to let them know they are welcome in [the movement]," Curtis said.

Lichtenstein, still active as a lawyer, agreed. "The protection of civil rights is not relegated to any group of folks," he said. "Every group that protects and fights for our civil rights should be dear to all of our hearts. That’s our motivation."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Garden Staters Favor Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

Boy in Bushwick officially turns 26 today as he further embarks upon his mid-twenties journey. The movement for LGBT rights, however, charges on with a study Garden State Equality released ahead of the sixth month anniversary of the law which extended civil unions to gay and lesbian couples which found most New Jersey residents favor same-sex nuptials.

The Zogby survey polled 803 Garden State voters. It found 63 percent would support lawmakers' decision to extend marriage to same-sex couples. The survey also reported 61 percent of New Jersey voters said they feel marriage will become a reality for gay and lesbian couples in two years. Some activists within the national movement for LGBT rights discredit Zogby but GSE Chair Steven Goldstein understandably praised the results.

"Regardless of whether any public official supports marriage equality or wants to maintain the state's failed civil unions law, no official in New Jersey can credibly say that marriage for gay couples is a divisive issue in the state," he said.

Failed? Activists on the ground in New Jersey continue to maintain the civil unions bill is one step towards eventual marriage for same-sex couples. The 2008 presidential candidates, especially those who see New Jersey as a lucrative prize in the primary process, may disagree as U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York indicated during last week's Logo debate in Los Angeles. This poll certainly provides Goldstein and his supporters ammunition with which they can use to lobby lawmakers after this November's local elections. The debate, however, will obviously rage on as other states debate this issue.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

GLAAD Decides to Include LGBT Media in Annual Media Awards

In a significant policy shift, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation will allow LGBT media to submit nominations for its annual GLAAD Media Awards. GLAAD President Neil Giuliano stated his organization's board approved the change in their June meeting as a way to reflect continued changes within media.

"With the expansion of cable channels and niche programming, LGBT created and consumed media is more readily available than ever before," he said. "Our Board has decided to incorporate LGBT media submissions into the existing competitive categories. We welcome the opportunity for LGBT media to submit their journalism and programming for consideration."

Giuliano's statement further details GLAAD's rationale behind its decision to exclude LGBT media in the late 1990s but fails to acknowledge here! Senior Vice President of Corporate and Marketing Communications Stephen Macias' very public criticism of the organization's previous policy earlier this year. This brouhaha significantly tarnished GLAAD's credibility among many activists and benefactors within the movement for LGBT rights. The organization remains hyper-sensitive to its perception and image within its various constituencies. The board's decision is a direct attempt to repair GLAAD's damaged reputation among these various stakeholders.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Perfect Villain: Karl Rove Resigns

The Bush administration's chief political strategist and architect, who remains one of the Democratic Party's favorite villains, disclosed in an interview published in today's Wall Street Journal he will resign from the White House at the end of August. Pundits have already speculated his departure marks the effective end of the unpopular second-term incumbent's administration. Others have even speculated Rove's resignation signals an opportunity for Republican presidential hopefuls who continue to distance themselves from Bush and his overall unpopularity.

One can easily conclude Rove's relevance within the Bush administration had diminished after the GOP lost control of Congress last November due to the war in Iraq's growing unpopularity and growing discontent with what many Americans concluded was the Bush administration's overall incompetence. Democrats and especially figures within the movement for LGBT rights love to point out Rove's leadership in the effort to use marriage for same-sex couples as a wedge issue in the 2004 presidential election. It worked during that political cycle but it appears Iraq will overshadow any attempts for a repeat on this issue.

Rove's direct involvement in this strategy and the overall politics of the Bush administration over the last seven years cannot go understated. His time, however, came to an end as the country continues to look beyond his boss and long-time friend's administration's conclusion next November.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Boy in Bushwick Recaps LGBT Debate

Democratic presidential candidates sought to highlight their pink credentials during the first LGBT-specific debate last night in Los Angeles which aired on Logo. The format bordered on clunky with rather predictable questions about marriage for same-sex couples, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other LGBT hot topics of the days. The candidates, for the most part, stuck to pre-packaged sound bites and to a broader degree the Democratic National Committee's official platform. The confab, however, did mark a historical milestone for the movement for LGBT rights because it marked the first time White House hopefuls took part in an LGBT-specific forum during any campaign cycle. That said; below are some more memorable points from the evening.

- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson candidly and rather stupidly told singer Melissa Etheridge he believes homosexuality is a choice. She initially thought he misunderstood the question but he rather quickly tried to deflect attention away from his gaffe. "I'm not a scientist," Richardson nervously responded. "It's... it... I don't see this as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and lesbians as people. I don't like to categorize people or answer definitions like that perhaps grounded in science or something else I don't understand."

- Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina applauded his wife Elizabeth's direct challenge to conservative columnist Ann Coulter last month. "What Ann Coulter does is the worst kind of political discourse," he said. "It is intended to go to the lowest common denominator of the American people and divide us." Edwards further admitted his previous and current struggles on marriage for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues. He bridged this personal introspection to his broader 'two Americas' message which continues to resonate with many potential voters.

- U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois echoed the movement for LGBT rights' broader strategy not to compare its charge to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. "I'm always very cautious to get into comparisons of victimology," he said in response to a question Margaret Carlson asked on the possible similarities. "The issues faced by gays and lesbians today are different than the issues faced by African Americans under Jim Crow."

- Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska remained steadfast cheerleaders for LGBT Americans and the host of issues about which they care. "I stand for full equality," Kucinich said. "This is really part of the American tradition."

- U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York once again emerged as the Democratic front runner. The ties between her and the movement for LGBT rights appeared loud and clear. Logo even panned away from her as she prepared to kiss Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Joe Solmonese on the cheek as she walked onto stage. Hilary Rosen, who has endorsed Clinton's campaign, also co-produced the forum. Clinton once again came out in favor of civil unions. She further blasted President Bush and the GOP in yet another partisan attack. Clinton concluded, however, the Democrats with her in the White House will continue to advance the cause for LGBT rights. "We have made it very clear in our country we believe in equality," she said. "How we get to full equality is the debate we are now having."

Howard Dean Plugs Dems' Core Values At Fire Island Pines

Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean's appearance in the Fire Island Pines each August remains something of a political rite of passage for island politicos and those who enjoy to report on them as I wrote in the New York Blade and others for EDGE and the Fire Island News this week. The decision to bar reporters from the fundraiser was irksome in the context of previous coverage but it remains a politically and financially savvy decision for Dean to appear in the wealthy gay resort. The DNC clearly wants to court pink donors and potential LGBT voters as they seek a triumphant return to the White House next November. Their prospects remain well in light of growing GOP opposition due to President Bush's continued policies in Iraq and an overall malaise with his administration and his party. Politics remains, if anything, a game. Dean's appearance in the Pines is simply yet another move in that evolving strategy of pink courtship.

With the 2008 presidential campaign heating up faster than New York in August, Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Howard Dean made his sixth-annual Fire Island Pines pilgrimage on Sunday, Aug. 5, to headline a DNC fundraiser at philanthropist Brandon Fradd’s bayside home.

The Fire Island News and other media outlets had covered previous events, but this year, reporters were barred.

At the fundraiser, Dean reiterated his party’s support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and other LGBT-specific legislation to the more than 75 people who paid $250 to attend the event.

The former Vermont governor and 2004 gubernatorial candidate said that Democrats need to talk about equality and other universal values that would resonate with straight voters.

“We’re developing a core message that we can run on anywhere in the country based on our core values of fairness, toughness and fiscal responsibility,” Dean told the Blade in a pre-fundraiser interview.
Dean used this platform to further highlight the DNC’s 50 State Strategy. The plan seeks to help Democrats win local and statewide elections during this election cycle. Dean also applauded Democratic presidential candidates who he maintains continue to support LGBT rights in comparison to their Republican counterparts.

“They are putting into action our party’s commitment to promoting equal rights and protections for every American,” he said. “You don’t see that kind of leadership from Republicans in Washington or many other places.”

Dean criticized President Bush and the majority of GOP candidates for their continued support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would define marriage as between a man and a woman, despite Congressional inaction on the proposal last June.

The DNC’s platform opposes the FMA but calls upon each state to define marriage.

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska remain the only two candidates among the crowded Democratic field who have endorsed same-sex marriage equality.
Empire State Pride Agenda executive director Alan Van Capelle and other LGBT activists have criticized U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and other Democratic front runners’ failure to support gay and lesbian nuptials.

National Gay & Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman opined in a blog earlier this month that Clinton, along with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, remain largely silent on marriage and other specific LGBT issues.

Dean did not respond directly to these criticisms. Instead, he pointed out that the Democratic presidential hopefuls continue to uphold the DNC’s platform on the campaign trail.

“The fact is every single Democrat running for president supports expanding real, specific rights for LGBT people,” Dean said.

The DNC’s Pines fundraiser is the latest indication of the party’s active courtship of LGBT donors and potential LGBT voters at this relatively early stage of the campaign.

The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are more than four months away but New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and dozens of other LGBT politicians and activists have already made their allegiances known.

Foreman conceded that Democratic presidential candidates support LGBT issues more than the majority of those from across the aisle. He added that a fundraiser in the Pines allows Dean to connect with a historical constituency within the Democratic Party.

Foreman concluded, however, LGBT donors have a responsibility to hold the candidates responsible for their positions. “They can look them in the eye and tell them what they expect,” he said. “We don’t have to wait until after the election for a candidate to deliver.”

Dirk McCall, a gay political activist based in Astoria, Queens, agreed. He applauded Dean’s efforts to reach out to LGBT Democrats since he took the DNC helm in February of 2005.

McCall concluded that Democratic White House hopefuls need to take stronger positions if they hope to expand their support among pink voters and donors.

“They can’t be wishy-washy on our issues,” he said. “We deserve better than that.”

Dean maintained his core messages of equality, fairness and change. He said that Pines residents and other LGBT New Yorkers will continue to play a pivotal role in this current election cycle as the DNC seeks to return a Democrat to the White House in 2008.

“We are raising money to elect a Democratic president,” Dean said.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Democrats Take Part in First LGBT Political Debate Tonight

Yesterday's tornado -- a twister Mom! -- in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, overshadowed the growing excitement over tonight's LGBT. Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Joe Solmonese, Washington Post Editorial Writer Jonathan Capehart and Grammy-winner Melissa Etheridge will ask the Democratic candidates questions during the forum hosted by Logo and the HRC.

The candidates will almost certainly face difficult questions about their records on LGBT issues. Senator Hillary Clinton, for example, may face questions about her continued failure to support marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, on the other hand, may have to explain his 'maricon' comparison that came to light in June. Some pundits and activists may conclude tonight's confab may produce more feel-good sound bites and blanket statements in support of equality for LGBT Americans. Others may speculate actual fireworks may erupt between the candidates who participate as they seek to secure the pink vote. Yet more may conclude the movement's own inbred politics and infighting may come to the surface. All of these scenarios remain a possibility. The fact remains, however, the debate marks a significant milestone for the whole movement for LGBT rights and to an equally important extent LGBT Americans.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Tensions with Park Police Marks Pride in the City

These tensions between Pride in the City and the National Parks Service seem almost routine as indicated in an article I wrote for EDGE Publications late yesterday. Pride in the City remains New York's premiere Black gay pride celebration. Thousands of Black gay men from across the Five Boroughs and even the country gather in Brooklyn and Queens each August for the four-day festival. There remains bad blood between both organizations. Former People of Color in Crisis Executive Director Gary English's allegations against the NPS remain serious. New York City Council Member Letitia James argues, however, this groups and others in Kings County must enhance their power and sphere of influence. This task is easier said than done but one can quickly conclude it is necessary in the hopes of preventing further tensions in the future.

Less than a week after more than 2,000 black gay men from across the country attended Pride in the City’s annual Jacob Riis Beach party in the Rockaways, organizers once again blasted the National Park Service for alleged restrictions they placed on the event, which is held at the national park named for the turn-of-the-century photographic crusader against slum conditions on the Lower East Side.

PITC spokesperson Keith Forest told EDGE that NPS, which oversees the popular beach as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which extends through the Rockaways into Jamaica Bay, abruptly banned tents on the strand for HIV testing and other exhibits. He added that officials mandated cooler searches to prevent alcohol consumption on the beach.

Former People of Color in Crisis Executive Director Gary English confirmed these allegations. He alleged that NPS officials had issued a permit which limited attendance to only 1,500 people--way fewer than would show up or were anticipated. English further alleged that Park authorities used dogs to prevent urination in the bushes due to the lack of adequate restrooms on the beach.

He concluded this alleged harassment amounts to discrimination. English further speculated it stems from previous tensions between organizers and the NPS.

"All of this is driven by homophobia and racism," English said. "There was not one complaint from neighbors. There was not one complaint from beach goers. People have gotten along together."

The Brooklyn-based People of Color in Crisis, which fights HIV among black men who have sex with men, organizes the four-day annual festival. It is held around the city at various clubs, bars, parks and other venues across Kings County (Brooklyn) and the Rockaways (on the southeastern edge of Queens). This controversy is the latest in a series of clashes between English and PITC organizers, on the one side, and the NPS on the other.

Lisa Eckert, superintendent for the Jamaica Bay Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, notified POCC in a letter less than a week before last August’s beach party that NPS officials had denied their permit application. She cited failures to limit attendees to 1,500 and to remove trash from the beach in addition to boardwalk obstruction and other violations in her agency’s decision.

’This is harassment,’ said an organizer of the Park Service. ’This is a reprisal.’"A [Special Use Permit] resulted in the violation of a number of NPS policies and conditions that were stipulated in the event SUP," Eckert wrote at the time.

English vehemently denied these allegations. He also refused to relocate tents to an adjacent field and limit attendance to less than 200 people as Eckert requested in her letter. Queens Congressman and potential 2009 New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, New York City Council Member Letitia James, a Democrat who represents Fort Greene (a neighborhood popular with black gay men), the New York Civil Liberties Union, and other local politicians and activists quickly intervened on behalf of POCC.

NPS officials eventually bowed to the pressure and allowed the party to take place as planned. Eckert was unavailable for comment as of deadline.

English, on the other hand, said NPS officials retaliated after PITC successfully challenged last year’s permit denial. "This is harassment from last year because we won and we stood up against them and made them back down," he said. "This is a reprisal."

James acknowledged the ongoing tension between PITC and the NPS in an interview with EDGE earlier this week. She said neither she nor her staff received complaints from PITC organizers or attendees. James concluded, however, that this latest controversy highlights the need for POCC and other groups to expand their work and influence.

"They have to get more political and recognize their own strength," she said. "It should not be limited to an event at a beach party but it should be extended to lobby on behalf of the needs that are unique to the black gay community."

English further concluded that U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] and other politicians can do more to prevent what he described as future harassment. "They can stop this," he said. "They have the power to stop this."

Monday, August 6, 2007

Extreme Ends of the Movement for LGBT Rights

Another weekend of reporting on Fire Island has come and gone. I am much more tan [if that's even possible], I made new friends in the Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove and attended more than a handful of parties and fundraisers. This scene comes only four hours after I wake up in Bushwick and board the Long Island Railroad to a completely different reality. Ali Forney Board Chair and Water Island resident Kyle Merker incorporated this message into the comments he shared during an interview about the organization and it's work with homeless LGBT youth. Fire Island contains many generous and charitable people who continue to give their time and energy to a number of worthwhile causes within and beyond the movement for LGBT rights. The beautiful [and luxurious] island, however, serves as a stark contrast to the reality in which the majority of LGBT people live.

"It's very easy when you are on Fire Island -- going to the beach, swimming in your pool -- to remember not everybody has it as good as we do," Merker said in the context of the homeless youth for which he and his fellow board members and staff continue to advocate. "There are kids who are less fortunate. They are our kids."


From left: Sonia Cantore, Carson Kressley and DJ Lina entertain Pines residents at an Ali Forney Center fundraiser in the Fire Island Pines yesterday.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Pride and Promises

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in 2005 released the findings of a study which found 46 percent of gay Black men surveyed tested HIV positive. This statistic remains a shocking example of the epidemic's disproportionate impact on gay and bisexual men of color. This blogger examines new initiatives to curb HIV and AIDS among these populations in the cover story in the New York Blade. Activists and Pride in the City organizers spoke about new and innovative ways to curb the epidemic. These initiatives, one can easily conclude, are needed as HIV and AIDS continues to ravage these communities.

From left: NBGMAC Chair Rudy Carn and New York City Council Member Letitia James [D-Fort Greene] discuss ways to curb the impact of HIV and AIDS among Black gay men in the city.

This weekend, Pride in the City organizers welcome tens of thousands of LGBT people of color to Brooklyn and the Rockaways for a four-day festival of cultural events, picnics, dances and galas.

But the Pride event is more than a time of communion and fun. The newly formed National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (NBGMAC) and other activists view Pride in the City as an important chance to highlight new initiatives to curb the rates of HIV and AIDS among Black gay men.

NGBMAC has been two years in the making. It was in March 2005 that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released results of a five-city study that found 46 percent of black men were HIV positive, making them twice as likely to be infected than other gay or bisexual men.

According to the data, African-Americans account for 12 percent of the U.S. population but comprise 47 percent of all HIV cases.

“There was a national need to respond to numbers like that,” said People of Color in Crisis Executive Director Michael Roberson, “particulaly to do advocacy around black gay men.”

“Anytime you have rates that big, you’d think you’d need money to specifically target that population,” Roberson said. He explained that government money is usually put under the umbrella “people of color,” which could include blacks, Latinos, Asian-Pacific Islanders and heterosexual women.

The NGBMAC addresses the crises specifically to black, gay men. On Wednesday, Aug. 1, health-care officials and activist joined members of MGBMAC at a town hall meeting at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott Hotel to discuss the crisis.

The NBGMAC called upon the federal government to support local prevention and testing efforts. It also advocates for mental programs for Black gay men, initiatives to combat homelessness among LGBT youth and renewed efforts to combat HIV-associated stigmas and discrimination.

NBGMAC chair Rudy Carn, who also co-founded the Atlanta-based National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities, Inc., said the coalition seeks to overcome the many divisions and conflicts, which he feels have hindered previous collaborative efforts. He added the NBGMAC responds to a more basic need.

“The coalition came about because we as gay men saw too many of our brothers dying,” Carn said.

Leo Rennie of the District of Columbia Department of Health agreed. He and other NBGMAC members met with CDC officials in August 2005 to present specific recommendations in response to the agency’s study. Rennie lamented the CDC has yet to respond. He added, however, the agency’s failure to act only confirms NBGMAC’s charge.

“It [is] two years later and we have not gotten a response out of them yet,” Rennie said. “That’s a shame; that’s sad, and that’s why we formed the coalition.”

POCC’s Roberson praised the coalition as innovative. He said the federal government must earmark more money and resources to address the epidemic’s continued impact among black gay men in New York and across the country.

“Nationally, the amount of money allocated for HIV specific [issues] is not enough,” Roberson said. “When we look in comparison to terrorism and HIV dollars we spend globally, we are not taking care of home at all.”

Roberson and POCC helped create of the Coalition of Responsible Entrepreneurs in May as a way to use New York’s bar and club scene to reduce rates of HIV infection through party outreach, prevention campaigns and HIV testing at clubs.

“Last year, one of things we noticed was historically, the blackgay promoters didn’t work collaboratively together to have good parties,” Roberson said. By working with the promoters, he explained, the group could do more HIV prevention outreach.

This year’s Pride in the City event is the pilot for a new HIV awareness campaign called “Tonight, I promise.” Roberson explains that “patrons wear a ban that says, ‘Tonight I promise…’ To love myself, to engage in safer sex, maybe drinking less, taking less drugs, doing this harm reduction thing.” When people pay to attend the events, they receive one of the bans. Roberson hopes that HIV testing and prevention work will soon be carried out within New York’s many clubs and parties.

Eighteen promoters from across the city have joined the CORE in the weeks leading up to Pride in the City. Ricky Day of the Party Promoter Coalition said the confab allows safer-sex and prevention messages to reach a much broader audience.

“The way to good health is to love yourself,” Day said. “Health and harm reduction are an important part of the coalition. Without self-love, there won’t be any of us left to party.”

One of CORE’s goals is to register 10,000 black gay men to vote by August 2008; another goal is to make New York the epicenter for Black gay culture.

Roberson argued that gentrification also has a direct impact on the rates of HIV and AIDS among black gay men. Specifically, he said, the more restaurants, gyms, bars, clubs and other establishments that cater to black gay men, the more healthy the men will be.

“We need to be able to do that and do that in a collaborative way,” Roberson said.

New York City Councilmember Letitia James (D-Fort Greene) and Gay Men’s Health Crisis Executive Director Dr. Marjorie Hill, Ph.D., whose agency has faced tough questions about its own HIV prevention work in recent weeks, were among those present who praised both the CORE and the NBGMAC.

Others expressed skepticism. Calvin Clark, co-owner of Langston’s Lounge, a Brooklyn bar popular among black gay men, expressed frustration at what he described as a lack of concern among many Black gay men about the impact HIV and AIDS continues to have. He further speculated a return of the high-profile ACT-UP protests of the 1980s and early 1990s as a way to highlight the epidemic’s continued impact among black gay men.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Clark said. “We ain’t squeaky enough.”

George Bellinger of the Hunter College School of Social Work questioned whether the coalition itself could bridge gaps between young black gay men and safer-sex and prevention messages.

“Young people don’t have to talk about HIV,” Bellinger said. “They take their meds, they go to the party and look fabulous.”

Bellinger added he feels Black gay men must begin to openly discuss HIV and AIDS if they hope to turn the tide against the epidemic.

Carn agreed that the response to the epidemic among black gay men remains painfully slow at times. He concluded, however, the NBGMAC will continue to make a difference.

“Too many people think the disease is over—it’s not,” he said. “It is our time. We need to take this and move forward. We can do this. We can save our brothers’ lives.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

To Support [Or Not Support] Transgender Rights?

The status of support for transgender rights almost always raises questions about whether the broader movement for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights actually advocates on behalf of their gender non-conforming brothers and sisters. Some activists maintain the movement includes transgender Americans in its acronym of constituents as a way to claim they advocate on behalf of the entire LGBT community. Others conclude the push for transgender rights is the next chapter of a social movement that began nearly 40 years ago. Even more people say the movement for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights must do much more to support transgender people and their rights.

These three arguments only add folder to the broader conversation about the status of transgender rights. Activists in Massachusetts, New Jersey and other states have raised these questions in the context of the recent campaigns to advance marriage and civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. The [Fort Lauderdale] Sun-Sentinel reported today local gay and lesbian activists appear divided on whether to support the inclusion of gender identity and expression to Broward County's anti-discrimination laws. Many of these activists staged a protest last month against Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle for anti-gay comments he made in reference to proposed automatic toilets on local beaches to curb what he described was 'homosexual' activity. The Sun-Sentinel reported, however, some fear a potential backlash if the anti-discrimination proposal moves forward. This position begs the question: do they actually support transgender rights? These activists would almost certainly maintain, at least in public, they do. Their apparent questions about the impact of this proposal may prove otherwise to those who advocate on its behalf.