Friday, September 28, 2007

A Transgender-Exclusive ENDA?

The collective movement for LGBT rights barely had time to celebrate the historic passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Senate before details emerged that House Democrats have reportedly proposed dropping gender identity and expression from the bill. The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Parents, Friends & Families of Lesbians and Gays, the Anti-Violence Project and other organizations immediately blasted the proposal in an hastily prepared statement.

"If media reports from the last 24 hours are accurate, it is unconscionable that Congressional leaders would rush to a decision to strip protections for transgender people at the same time as states across the nation are adding these protections at an unprecedented pace," it read.

The Washington Blade first broke this possible development on Sept. 26. The Human Rights Campaign expressed its deep disappointment over the alleged move but did not comment beyond that in an interview with the paper yesterday. The HRC faced scathing criticism after it initially refused to endorse a trans-inclusive ENDA. It changed course in 2004 after transgender activists protested outside their Washington headquarters.

The apparent discomfort over a trans-inclusive ENDA reflects a broader concern among the so-called movement for LGBT rights that its leaders, many of whom are wealthy white gay men, include the T [transgender people] at their collective table merely to appear inclusive. This cynical concern is reflected among many activists here in Bushwick, in New York and elsewhere with whom I regularly speak. The movement contains a myriad of hard-working, passionate and persistent activists who remain deeply committed to the advancement of fairness and equality. The current debate will highlight who stands with transgender Americans or who simply delivers good sound bites to appear inclusive.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

GOP Candidates Shift to the Right

Politics seems the bread and butter of my writing these days as this article for EDGE clearly indicates. It focuses on former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and others who have largely abandoned their previous pro-gay overtures on the campaign trail. Candidates, especially on the Republican side, certainly veer to the right in the months leading up to the first caucuses and primaries. But the question remains: Will this strategy actually work? The answer to that query remains largely in doubt.

Leading Republican candidates seem to have one thing in common: They’re all eager to highlight their credentials as social conservatives. And the first item on that list almost always is that mysterious "gay agenda."

Although the first caucuses and primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire still loom more than four months away, observers maintain that the GOP White House hopefuls are falling all over themselves to establish--or re-establish--their conservative bona fides. In the case of at least a few of them, that means apparently backtracking form previous pro-gay stances that, they fear, are coming back to haunt them.

Primary among these former pro-gay politicians are former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Of the two, Romney arguably has the most to lose. He continues to position himself as the leading conservative GOP candidate despite apparent flip-flops on the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" military ban, the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and especially same-sex nuptials, which roiled the state during his last years in office.

Log Cabin Republican president Patrick Sammon told EDGE in a recent interview from Boston that the GOP remains largely skeptical of Romney because of his flip-flops on gay rights, abortion and gun control. He added these arguably politically calculated strategy will ultimately fail.

"You can’t trust what he says," Sammon said. "Mitt Romney is trying to use the Karl Rove playbook from 2004... and that’s a strategy for defeat in the general election."

Romney has had a lot of explaining to do to the party’s right. He described supporters of a Federal Marriage Amendment that would write a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage as "extremists" during his failed campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994. And Romney even famously proclaimed he would advocate for gay rights more than the long-time Democratic incumbent, who was and is one of the most pro-gay senators in Washington.

Romney heavily courted gay Republicans during both his Senate his gubernatorial campaigns. He handed out pro-gay fliers throughout Boston’s Back Bay and South End neighborhoods during the city’s 2002 Pride celebrations that read, "All citizens deserve equal rights regardless of their sexual preference."

Romney all but abandoned these public statements after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its landmark Goodridge ruling which extended marriage to same-sex couples in the Commonwealth. He largely spearheaded Beacon Hill rallies and other efforts in support of a proposed Constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.

These efforts failed earlier this year after they did not garner sufficient legislative support. But that hasn’t stopped him.

Romney has brought his message onto the Iowa campaign trail, where he launched a radio ad last week which highlights his support for the FMA. The spot further points out that Romney remains the only leading GOP candidate who supports the proposed amendment.

"As Republicans, we must oppose discrimination and defend traditional marriage: one man, one woman," he said in the ad.

The spot debuted just days after a Polk County judge found the Hawkeye State’s ban on marriage for gays and lesbians unconstitutional (a decision that was quickly stayed, but not before one couple did, in fact, tie the knot). Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson [R-Tenn.] all oppose the FMA.

Romney, who has campaigned heavily in Iowa, continues to court the state’s influential conservative voting bloc ahead of its caucuses early next year.

The Log Cabin’s Sammon said that his organization will not endorse any candidate until the caucuses and primaries are over. He did, however, applaud Giuliani’s gay rights record.

The former federal prosecutor maintains his opposition to gay and lesbian nuptials on his campaign Web site but activists applauded Giuliani in 1998 after he signed the city’s domestic partnership bill, which extended benefits to same-sex partners of city employees, into law. The former mayor’s personal travails, however, remain New York tabloid fodder.

He moved into a wealthy Manhattan gay couple’s apartment after he and his second wife Donna Hanover separated. Giuliani made even more colorful headlines after he tried to seduce real estate mogul Donald Trump while in drag during a 2000 charity event.

Social conservatives took note of the former mayor’s gender-bending but Sammon once again defended his record.

"The tone of his campaign is one on focusing on core Republican issues and not divisive social issues," he said. "He’s trying to unite all Republicans."

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, applauded Giuliani’s gay overtures during an interview with the Washington Post last month. But he and other gay activists criticized him in April for his opposition to a New Hampshire bill which extended civil unions to same-sex couples. Giuliani sparked further controversy in June after he appeared to back away from previous statements in support of the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" during a debate held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.

Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson remains highly critical of Giuliani and other GOP presidential hopefuls. He announced in an e-mail last week that he would not endorse Thompson’s campaign because of his positions on marriage, campaign finance reform and other traditionally conservative issues. Dobson took a similar stance against McCain earlier this year because he opposes the FMA.

Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire said marriage--and gay issues in general--will not receive much attention during the campaign. He added Romney and Giuliani’s apparent shift to the right is a politically calculated strategy that could potentially backfire.

"They don’t need one more issue on which to cross the base," Scala said.

Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Brad Luna agreed. Social conservatives suffered a stinging defeat at the polls last November after former U.S. Sens. Rick Santorum [R-Penn.], George Allen [R-Va.] and other anti-gay incumbents lost their re-election bids. The gay rights movement quickly spun the results as a rejection of their anti-gay rhetoric. Luna further pointed to the FMA vote last June as an attempt to deflect attention from what he described as the Republican Party’s own failures.

" Their stance on these issues is not guided on some held deeply held belief but rather political expediency," he said.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, remained particularly critical of Romney and Giuliani. He also singled out Democratic candidates who fail to support marriage for same-sex couples on the campaign trail.

"Inauthenticity and evasion actually harm candidates," Wolfson said. "This is true whether they are a Democrat or a Republican."

Sammon remains optimistic. He maintained attempts to drive social conservatives out to the caucuses and primaries will fail.

"If James Dobson isn’t happy; then that’s definitely a good sign for our side," he said.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Iranian President Mocks Reason at Columbia

Provocative, rambling and even stupid are three of the many adjectives pundits and observers used to categorize Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's long-anticipated speech at Columbia University in New York yesterday. He implored the need for more research with regards to the Holocaust while he denied his country's alleged development of nuclear weapons. But Ahmadinejad truly mocked reason with his denial of homosexuality.

"In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country," he said through a translator. "In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon; I don't know who's told you we have this."

Really Ahmadinejad? The 'petty and cruel dictator' lost any shred of potential credibility as evidenced by the immediate laughter and jeers which broke out among the audience. The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Campaign immediately weighed in to condemn the Iranian President's comments while newspapers, radio, television and even blogs carried the sound bite around the world. The question remains, however, as to whether anybody remains surprised that Ahmadinejad would make such a preposterous claim. Probably not. He has repeatedly denied the Holocaust, he advocates for the destruction of Israel and even yesterday he maintained women enjoy unparalleled freedom inside his country. Ahmadinejad's denial of homosexuality is an abomination to many within the movement for LGBT rights and within human rights circles -- and should be labeled as such. His categorization arguably remains nothing more than the latest of a series of statements which do little more than mock reason and intelligent thought.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Appears on a Global Stage

New York City remains abuzz today with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University. A vocal faction of New Yorkers -- and commentators across the country -- have expressed disgust at the notion that a so-called sponsor of state terrorism would have an opportunity to appear, let alone speak, on American soil. Others welcome Ahmadinejad's appearance as a rare opportunity to directly hold him accountable for his regime's many human rights abuses.

Tehran continues to persecute LGBT Iranians at an alarming rate the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and other media outlets have documented over the last several months. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly sparked outrage over his Holocaust denials, his country's nuclear ambitions and his regime's alleged support of Iraqi insurgents. American anti-Islam sentiment and the legacy of the Iranian hostage crisis, among other things, continue to provide obvious folder to vilify Ahmadinejad's government. The Iranian president remains a pariah on the broader global geo-political scene. His visit to New York, however, provides the world (an Iranians themselves by virtue of association) an opportunity to hold him accountable for his human rights abuses on a worldwide stage.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Health Care Emerges As An Electoral Issue

All things apparently come up politics these days as the presidential campaign kicks into high gear. Health care is certainly no exception but the question among many LGBT activists remains: How does HIV and AIDS factor into this equation? Most quickly conclude the current administration's policy with regards to the epidemic in this country has failed as I detailed in this article for yesterday. The candidates on both sides of the aisle have, for the most part, failed to address the epidemic in their stump speeches and various health care proposals. An estimated 1.2 million people live with the virus in this country while more than half lack access to basic health care. The math arguably speaks for itself.

As health care continues to emerge as a dominant domestic issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, a coalition of activists and organizations across the country has called upon the federal government to reform its overall AIDS policies.

More than 100 HIV-prevention and public health agencies released a statement Sept. 18 calling on Washington to implement a "successful national AIDS strategy."

The document urges the federal government to increase funding for programs specific to gay men, people of color and others disproportionately affected by the virus. It calls for "ambitious and credible" prevention and treatment goals in addition to the expansion of research initiatives.

The Gay Men's Health Crisis and AIDS Action spearheaded the creation of the coalition to coincide with the campaign. The coalition distributed copies of its recommendations to candidates on both sides of the aisle last month, but the content became public the same day U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., unveiled her long-anticipated health care plan during a campaign stop in Iowa.

Clinton's proposal does not include AIDS-specific proposals, but campaign spokesperson Jin Chon told in an e-mail that the senator's plan reflects her commitment to fight the epidemic.

It "will be particularly important for people with HIV/AIDS," he wrote. "Hillary Clinton's plan will make sure that all Americans living with HIV and AIDS have access to the health insurance they need."

Not to be outdone by his Democratic rival, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina announced a number of specific recommendations earlier this week to fight the domestic AIDS epidemic. These include the expansion of Medicaid to cover people with HIV, the repeal on federally funded needle exchange programs and the creation of a Cabinet-level position to coordinate domestic efforts to reduce new infections among blacks and Latinos.

Robert Bank, chief operating officer for the Gay Men's Health Crisis, applauded these efforts. He added that the campaign provides an opportunity for his group and others to shine a renewed spotlight onto the epidemic.

"We saw this as a synergistic moment to catch the country's interest in AIDS once again, through demands to the presidential candidates to do for America what Congress requires of other countries," Bank told "It is critical to say to this new president that what we have is not good enough."

Nearly half the estimated 1.2 million people with HIV and AIDS in the United States lack access to health care. Bank added that a lack of mental health and other psycho-social services aggravate the problem.

"That's too high for a country that has absolute access to the best medication in the world to treat this disease," he said. "We are a country that has access to the best treatment for AIDS, and we have half a million people who are not getting it."

AIDS Action executive director Rebecca Haag, who is also a member of Clinton's LGBT advisory committee, echoed Bank. She applauded the Bush administration's efforts to combat the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and in other parts of the developing world. Haag quickly concluded, however, that the White House has largely failed to address the epidemic in the United States.

"We don't think we're doing a very good job in this country in addressing our own AIDS crisis," she said.

AIDS has remained a political hot potato since the Centers for Disease Control made the first diagnoses in New York and San Francisco in 1981. Clinton specifically addressed the epidemic's toll among young black women during a debate held at Howard University in Washington in June.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., opposes the Bush administration's abstinence-only approach to HIV and AIDS prevention. He has remained largely silent on how to specifically address the domestic AIDS epidemic.

A number of black LGBT activists remain critical of Obama's apparent overtures to the black church, the broader evangelical movement and other religious institutions. He raised more eyebrows in December with his appearance alongside GOP presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., at the annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church in southern California.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, on the other hand, continues to address the AIDS epidemic on the campaign trail. He attended the dedication of the Wall-Las Memorias AIDS memorial in Los Angeles this month. Richardson, who created New Mexico's first commission to review state HIV and AIDS policies during his governorship, has also indicated he would appoint his vice president to lead the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other Republican candidates have remained all but silent on the issue.

Haag said the candidates will continue to promote their health care proposals as the first caucuses and primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire draw closer. She remained adamant that HIV and AIDS should be part of any comprehensive plan.

"We are asking them to commit that under their presidency they will lead the nation to solve this crisis," Haag said.

Bank agreed.

"At a minimum, any presidential candidate who would be seriously considered for leading this country should address -- publicly -- the crisis of AIDS in the United States," he said. "If that person who has the privilege of leading this country talks about AIDS, then AIDS becomes a serious issue."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Health Advocates Ponder How to Curb Rising HIV Rates Among Young Gay Men

The fight against AIDS continues to dominate my journalistic palette with this latest story for EDGE which chronicles reaction to the New York City Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene report which indicates a spike in new HIV infections among young gay and bisexual men. Black and Latino men under 30 showed disproportionately high numbers of new infections in comparison to their white counterparts. The causes are arguably obvious: poverty, racism, homophobia, machismo and even the Spanish-to-English language barrier. The first cases of what became known as AIDS appeared in gay Meccas across the country in 1981. The epidemic has evolved, and more importantly, devastated countless lives and even communities over the last quarter of a century. Something certainly needs to be done to reduce new infections through new and innovative intervention, prevention programs and other initiatives. The stark reality remains, however, is that the epidemic continues to disproportionately impact young gay and bisexual men of color with little end in sight of significant changes to current policy don't take place. People's lives remain at stake. They will remain at stake as long as the status quo continues.

More than 25 years after the Center for Disease Control reported the first cases of a mysterious cancer and pneumonia appearing among gay men in New York and Los Angeles, HIV conversion rates are skyrocketing among young men who have sex with men (MSM).

On Sept. 11, the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene released a report that found new HIV infections had risen 33 percent among MSMs under 30 years old. The report, which covered the years 2001 to 2006, indicated that twentysomethings and younger account for nearly half of all new diagnoses reported in the city.

Officials added that the epidemic continues disproportionately to affect young MSMs of color. More than 90 percent of MSM under age 20 diagnosed with HIV in 2006 in New York were either black or Latino. Black MSMs received twice as many diagnoses as their white counterparts, according to the report. Latino MSMs were 55 percent more likely to contract the virus than gay or bisexual white men.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden said every neighborhood except suburban Staten Island experienced an increase in new HIV infections among MSMs under 30 since 2001. Perhaps not surprisingly, he reported that the most gay-friendly neighborhoods in Manhattan--Harlem, East Harlem, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen--saw the most significant increases there. In Queens, a semi-suburban area of the city, there was a 49 percent increase.

"We’re headed in the wrong direction," Frieden said in a statement.

Theories abound to explain the upsurge in new infections among young gay and bisexual men. These include so-called AIDS amnesia among those born before the epidemic broke in 1981, ineffective safer-sex curricula in public schools and the growing popularity of barebacking (sex without condoms) in the gay porn industry and in young MSMs.

Frieden did not acknowledge any of these possible causes. He did, however, urge MSM to reduce their number of sexual partners and to use more condoms. "We must ask all New Yorkers to accept some responsibility for helping our young people protect themselves," he urged. "We cannot drift backward."

Even as public health officials continued to sound the alarm, this report only confirmed a stark reality many HIV prevention activists and others continue to see on the ground. The Centers for Disease Control released the findings of a controversial--and some argue hyped--2005 study which concluded 46 percent of black MSMs in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco were HIV positive. The report further said gay and bisexual men of color were twice as likely to contract the virus than other MSMs.

Michael Roberson, executive director of the Brooklyn-based People of Color in Crisis, bluntly scoffed at those who expressed surprise at these statistics. He added the lack of local, state and federal funding specific to black gay and bisexual men remains what he called "genocide by neglect."

"Those of us who do this work and those of us who are black and have sex with men are not surprised," he told EDGE. "I don’t know why it’s a shock."

Roberson might find support for his thesis in inner cities like Detroit, where blacks are a large majority. The Motor City, long mired in decline, suffers from Michigan’s highest HIV and AIDS rates. Hank Millbourne, deputy executive director of AIDS Partnership Michigan, blamed poverty, a lack of health care and even low literacy rates for enhancing the epidemic’s spread in Detroit.

Milbourne further singled out the Bush administration’s abstinence-based HIV prevention initiatives as an additional and glaring failure to reduce new infection rates among young gay and bisexual men in his city. "There’s a whole political climate that works against us," Millbourne said.

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, of the national LGBT advocacy organization Unid@s, agreed. The Austin, Texas, activist added immigration status and even the Spanish language barrier pose additional hurdles to many gay and bisexual Latino men who seek access to health care, prevention programs and other services.

Victoria Arellano’s death in a Southern California federal detention center in July highlighted the plight many immigrants with HIV and AIDS face. Immigration & Customs Enforcement officials allegedly denied the transgendered Mexican national an antibiotic necessary to curb the virus’ many side effects.

Her family plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against ICE in the coming weeks. Many activists point to Arellano’s death, the hundreds of Puerto Rican men with AIDS who languished for months on waiting lists in the American territory earlier this year to receive medications and other cases they feel highlight bureaucratic neglect that only enhances the epidemic’s devastating effects.

Roberson further singled out homophobia within the Black church and other social institutions. "It’s amazing that the neglect that continues to happen with black gay men," he concluded. "When this data is released it’s like ’Oh my God its crazy. What are we going to do.’"

The United Fellowship Church remains the largest denomination within the black church to minister to the LGBT faithful. Many congregations operate HIV and AIDS ministries and other related outreach across the country. Millbourne said other churches outside the UFC have begun to follow suit but he remained somewhat skeptical.

"They can’t come as saviors because they’ve talked about these people," Millbourne said. "They need to come with bowed heads and an apology on their lips."

As the chief executive officer of New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Dr. Marjorie Hill heads the nation’s largest private AIDS service organization. She sees the elimination of homophobia within the Black church as a key component of what her organization and others need to do in order to curb the epidemic among young gay and bisexual men of color. Traditional prevention and outreach initiatives must continue in addition to efforts to eliminate societal and especially cultural stigmas, she added.

Millbourne would only add that the Black church, HIV-prevention organizations and especially young MSM themselves all share a responsibility to reduce new infection rates. "Everybody’s got to own a piece of this," Millbourne said.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Maryland Court Rejects Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

A divided Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday against eight same-sex couples and a gay widow who sought the right to marry in their state. The court, in a 4-3 decision, upheld Maryland law which maintains marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. It added current law does not deny gay and lesbian couples their Constitutional rights through the denial of marriage.

The decision overturns Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock's January 2006 ruling which found the marriage ban for gay and lesbian couples unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals ruling, which obviously came as a shock to those who sought marriage in their state, remains part of a much more broad trend that indicates judicial strategies to secure full marriage for same-sex couples by and large have failed. Massachusetts remains the only state where gay and lesbian nuptials came about through a direct judicial mandate and that ruling sparked a widespread backlash that stung the movement for LGBT rights to the core during the 2004 presidential election.

Fast forward nearly four years and the situation has certainly evolved. Connecticut's civil unions law took effect in October 2005. New Hampshire lawmakers passed a nearly identical bill earlier this year which is slated to take effect in January. Senator Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] and other Democratic White House hopefuls have expressed support for civil unions -- or even marriage for same-sex couples in a handful of cases. Lawmakers in California, Vermont and a handful of other states, such as New York, have debated the marriage question in various forms over the last few months. Same-sex couples should certainly have the right to marry if they choose. The movement for LGBT rights arguably has a responsibility recognize the current political and judicial climate which exists in most states if it hopes to secure tangible advances on this issue. It also must manage expectations among those who tirelessly devote their time and energy to expand marriage rights in this country. Nothing happens within the bubble that often is the movement for LGBT rights. Judicial defeats, such as that which took place yesterday in Maryland, are certainly no exception.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

HIV Prevention and the Hillary Affect

Senator Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] finally released her long-awaited health care platform at a press conference in Iowa. The White House hopeful, who remains all too aware of the political debacle she led during her husband's first administration, appeared more nuanced as she again urged universal health care for all Americans. Her critics predictably criticized the plan as Hillary care, Part II, but a coalition of more than 100 organizations coincidentally used Clinton's announcement to urge her and other presidential candidates to address ending the epidemic in their health care platforms.

One can easily argue that continued bureaucratic wrangling -- and even neglect -- has enhanced the virus' impact in this country. People of Color in Crisis executive director Michael Roberson described this as 'genocide by neglect' in a recent interview to describe AIDS' devastating impact among communities of color in which he and his staff work. [Bushwick has one of New York City's highest rates of HIV and AIDS] The lack of local, state and federal funding for appropriate prevention and outreach efforts is another facet of this multidimensional problem while underlying poverty, racism, homophobia and even machismo add fuel to the fire. The epidemic is more than 26-years-old. It remains a devastating plague which continues to ravage entire communities and even countries around the world.

So-called special interests will obviously continue to seek to influence the policy agendas of those who seek to win the White House next November. It remains unclear as to rather this coalition of HIV prevention organizations will succeed in their mission. The problem of HIV and AIDS remains an issue which the candidates need to address much sooner than later because lives remain at stake. Let's hope Clinton and her counterparts shed light on this critically important issue.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Larry Craig's Continued Titillation

Soon-to-be former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig [R-Idaho], to the deep chagrin of the movement for LGBT rights, continues to titillate gay and straight audiences alike as details -- and even stories -- about his June arrest in a Minneapolis airport restroom continue to emerge. The latest salvo in this salacious saga came with an Associated Press article yesterday which found travelers in the busy Northwest hub want to see the now infamous men's room. Las Vegas police arrested OJ Simpson after an alleged botched robbery over the weekend but Craig's alleged toe-tapping is indeed far more interesting.

Perhaps the social conservative's abrupt fall from grace remains an all too tragic spectacle of which Americans simply can not get enough? Perhaps there remains an 'ick factor' which causes instant repulsion from those who view gay sex as an abomination? Perhaps those in the Heartland simply have too much time on their... um... hands? I will stop the early morning speculation at Craig's expense. The one certainty that remains, however, is that more details will emerge from this baffling case. Craig maintains he plans to fight his plea. He also seeks to clear his name. It's arguable too little, too late on both fronts but the movement for LGBT rights will undoubtedly continue to wish the former GOP stalwart will simply ride into the Idaho sunset once and for all.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Panel Dissects Racism, Poverty & AIDS in Post-Katrina Forum

The legacy of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast remains one of this country's most embarrassing failures more than two years after the storm made landfall. Large swaths of New Orleans remain uninhabitable. New Orleanians continue to suffer poverty, racism and overall bureaucratic neglect as they attempt to rebuilt their homes and their lives. Politicians continue to point fingers at each other for their collective failures before, during and after Katrina. Panelists discussed the impact of these realities last Thursday at the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York as it relates to the spread of AIDS in the Big Easy and the Big Apple. I covered the forum for both EDGE [see story below] and the Blade but I left the forum shocked and angry. How could the United States fail an entire region? The panelists arguably answered that question loud and clear as they laid out possible solutions to this decades-long neglect of one of the country's most culturally rich regions.

Before August 2005, Jimmy Chase, like others in New Orleans, went to his job every day, in his case as a New Orleans AIDS Task Force peer support specialist. Then came Hurricane Katrina, and, like everyone else in the Big Easy, his life became much more complicated. But Chase’s attempts to return to normal in the wake of America’s greatest natural disaster was made even more difficult by the fact that he was living with AIDS.

Chase evacuated his apartment on the city’s West Bank just before Katrina barreled down upon the city in 2005. He returned to New Orleans nearly six months later. Chase has since moved into his own home and remains an outreach worker.

But he quickly points out he remains more lucky than other New Orleans residents. "I went back because I have a job and I have a house," he said. "I was fortunate to go back."

Chase has also lived with AIDS since 2002. He shared his experiences at a panel in New York City. Chase was one of four panelists who participated in the "Lives at Stake--Poverty, Race and HIV-from New Orleans to New York" forum at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ offices in Chelsea. The conference coincided with the second anniversary of Katrina’s landfall. The panelists sought to examine the intersection of a disaster like Katrina, AIDS, and poverty, racism and homophobia.

Katrina only exacerbated many problems that already existed in New Orleans, Chase said. Only 20 percent of New Orleanians remain uninsured, but rents--where people can find housing at all--have increased 45 percent since the storm. The lack of an extensive public transportation system and other basic infrastructure are continuing to plague his clients at the AIDS Task Force.

"Katrina really affected minority communities," he said. "When the news says New Orleans is back, that’s just in the tourist area."

Louisiana was already suffering disproportionately from the AIDS epidemic. The state has the third-highest rate of new HIV and AIDS infections in the country. The number of cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases also ranks among the highest in the United States. Chase said his agency and others in New Orleans, meanwhile, are struggling to meet the needs of their clients because the federal government continues to slash their funding.

"We’re fighting an uphill battle on top of Katrina," he lamented. "The agencies are doing the work but their hands are tied because of the funding loss."

Break the Chains seeks to reform federal and state sentencing guidelines for drug-related offenses. Executive Director Deborah Peterson Smalls was more pointed in her assessment of the city’s problems. She believes lawmakers failed New Orleanians of color long before Katrina.

"What really happened is not because of a hurricane," she said. "We have to remember what happened there were levees breaking, the flooding of the city. The majority of disasters that affect our community are not natural but political."

Smalls further argued that what she described as the "racialization of poverty" continued to impact disproportionately people of color, not only in New Orleans, but also New York and other major metropolitan areas. "The ultimate goal of all racist policies is to produce premature death," Smalls argued. "These policies are designed to destroy us."

Dr. Mindy Fullilove, professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York, knows something about what AIDS has done to low-income communities. She began researching the impact AIDS has had on New York’s historically black and Latino neighborhoods way back in 1986. She also accused bureaucratic neglect, racism and more recently gentrification of enhancing the epidemic’s impact among people of color.

"Sept. 11 and Katrina help us understand it," Fullilove said. "What happens in New Orleans happens to us; what happens in New York happens to them."

New York City Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene HIV Prevention Specialist Chris Jacques sees post-Katrina gentrification in New Orleans as mirroring Brooklyn, Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. Over the last three decades, minorities in New York have been pushed aside for wealthier residents. The argument was buttressed by a just-released U.S. Census report that showed that, for the first time in decades, the influx of whites to New York City increased, as did the number of blacks leaving.

"Public health is personal," Jacques said. "The notion someone will come to save you is jive. It is accomplished through day-to-day and minute-to-minute decisions you make for yourselves and for your family." He advocated taking personal responsibility for health maintenance. But he hastened to add that community-based organizations, public health advocates and bureaucrats alike have a responsibility to advance the well-being of their various constituents.

"This business of organizing to maintain our communities is real," he said. "We need to organize and conduct our business in a way that tells people to put health on their agenda."

GMHC organized the forum after Chezia Carraway toured New Orleans’ lower Ninth Ward in May during the HIV Prevention Leadership Summit. The Women’s Institute associate director for HIV Prevention & Community Development told EDGE that her visit to the devastated neighborhood evoked memories of Sept. 11. The tour also brought home how much poverty contributes to the spread of AIDS. "It’s not enough to stop HIV and AIDS but to rebuild communities," she said.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

GLAAD After New Post-Again-For 'Toe Tapping'

I have to acknowledge my former GLAAD colleagues for their recent consistency in their attempts to hold the New York Post accountable for their arguably homophobic and clearly sensational coverage of many LGBT-related stories. I wrote this story for EDGE earlier this week after the media watchdog criticized the tabloid for its use of 'toe tapping' to describe former CNN Headline News anchor Thomas Roberts in relation to an alleged Manhunt profile in which he posted explicit pictures of himself. Gossip is gossip until proven otherwise but the question remains as to whether GLAAD's efforts to go after the Post will actually generate any concrete results. Many activists have blasted the media watchdog for their apparent lack of protocol to the Post -- or at the very least a slow response to problematic coverage. Others remain highly skeptical. These points of view arguably remain valid. The question remains, however, as to whether attempts to reign in the Post are worth the time. New York activists founded GLAAD in 1985 in direct response to the tabloid's highly problematic coverage of the AIDS epidemic so the media watchdog has an added charge, if you will, to handle this situation correctly.

The New York Post, which is a must-read for many Manhattanites for its Page Six gossip coverage, has landed itself in hot water for a perceived anti-gay slur. It’s far from the first time the newspaper, which has positioned itself as a national tabloid in the tradition of London’s Sun and News of the World--both also owned by press lord Rupert Murdoch--has been cited for its coverage.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD is up in arms over the Post’s description of an openly gay former CNN Headline News anchor in an article published in Page Six on Sept. 7. The gossip column reported now Insider co-host Thomas Roberts posted explicit pictures under his profile on the popular gay cruising site Manhunt. Manhattan blogger Kenneth Walsh had posted them on his blog Kenneth in the 212. The pictures contain full-frontal and nude back pictures but do not display the man’s face.

GLAAD took issue with the tabloid’s description of Roberts as a "toe-tapper." The term refers to outgoing U.S. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who was arrested last month by undercover police in a Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport restroom for allegedly soliciting sex. The police officer reported an elaborate ritual for soliciting sex that involved Craig putting his foot into the officer’s stall and tapping his foot, an action that quickly became fodder for late-night comics.

GLAAD Director of Media Strategy Paul Karr told EDGE in a prepared statement that the Post continues its homophobic reporting through the use of the slur. "What we’ve got is a paper that’s stuck wallowing in the prejudices of the 1980s," he said. "The stereotypes the Post clings to so desperately might have seemed novel two decades ago, but today they’re just vulgar, cheap and tired."

Rubenstein Public Relations, the high-powered New York firm that serves as the Post’s and Murdoch’s New York mouthpiece, did not return EDGE’s requests for comment.

The Post has a long history of tempestuous relations with the gay community. In fact, it helped contribute to the founding of GLAAD itself. New York activists founded GLAAD in 1985 in response to what they deemed the tabloid’s homophobic and salacious coverage of the AIDS epidemic in the city.

GLAAD further blasted the Post last October after it published two cartoons by Sean Delonas, the cartoonist whose viciously satiric jabs usually appear on Page Six. One featured openly gay former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey comforting former Florida Congressman Mark Foley with the caption "Look on the bright side Foley, you’ll have a best-selling book." Another featured a veil-clad man holding a sheep outside a marriage license window following the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling that extended civil unions to same-sex couples in the Garden State. (There was no explanation as to what the relevance was, since the sheep was not a ram, and thus female, as many bloggers pointed out.)

GLAAD also named the Post one of its 2006 Anti-Gay Defamation Offenders in a list it released on January 3. These efforts seemed in vain, however, after the tabloid published yet another Delonas cartoon in July that featured McGreevey threatening Miss New Jersey Amy Polumbo in light of the blackmail scandal which nearly forced her to surrender her crown.

The media watchdog again publicly criticized the Post, but a number of activists and even media professionals remain highly skeptical as to whether these efforts have generated tangible changes in its coverage of LGBT-related stories. Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute categorized the tabloid as the "worst of the worst" of what she described as "frat house humor" in an interview with EDGE.

She quickly added GLAAD and other organizations face an uphill battle each time they publicly criticize the Post. "I seriously doubt the Post is going to change," McBride said. "They’ve identified a market and this use of language and treatment of sexual orientations fits within that identity."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11

Boy in Bushwick remembers those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Presidential Candidates Continue Voting Block Courtship

The latest in a series of Presidential debates and forums took place last night in Coral Gables, Florida, with the first-ever Spanish language confab which attracted the majority of the Democratic White House hopefuls. The forum, sponsored by Univision and moderated by Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, almost certainly provided politicos with a welcome distraction to Britney's so-called comeback train wreck at MTV's Video Music Awards in Las Vegas. The mere fact the moderators posed the questions in Spanish clearly indicates the growing influence Latino voters have during election cycles. It also highlights the lengths the Democrats will go to appeal to a wide range of so-called special interest groups for the sole purpose of securing votes.

The so-called pink vote remains a viable voting block [and lucrative source of campaign funds] in cities across the country. Last month's forum in Los Angeles clearly demonstrated the growing influence of LGBT voters within some political circles. The argument remains, however, these candidates will construct the right messages and use the correct sound bites to further attract pink supporters at the expense of specific answers as to why the majority of them fail to support marriage for same-sex couples and other issues important to many LGBT voters in this country. The nuances of politics remain many in the realm of a Presidential campaign. Voters, however, should arguably demand specific answers from candidates who seek their money and most importantly seek their vote. Spanish-language and LGBT specific forums score good PR points with those constituencies to which the candidates seek to reach out. One can conclude these constituents deserve more than simply prepackaged sound bites, photo-ops and rhetoric about the issues of the day.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Boy in Bushwick Does Gay Manhattan

Allow me the temporary indulgence of a moment out on the town [in Carrie Bradshaw's $400 Manolos]. I took a break from journalism this past Wednesday to audition for, of all things, a gay dating reality show which is slated to air on Lifetime in the fall. Two straight middle aged women, who were obviously ecstatic to talk with a 20-something gay man, quizzed me on everything from my ideal partner to what I look for in a man. I kept telling myself how ridiculous this scene was but in a strange sense the experience made me contemplate my self-admitted disastrous dating record in New York. Perhaps something good will come out of this out-of-Bushwick experience if you will.

Following the interview, my friend Dean and I attended a Perry Ellis underwear party at Lotus in the Meatpacking District. We waited outside on West 14th Street for nearly half an hour before the doorman let us enter the club. Dean and I enjoyed cranberry vodkas but quickly concluded the party was a bust. Fashion Week was in full swing but the crowd, the lack of air conditioning and the overall nature of the party motivated us to make an early exit at around 8:30. Manhattan remains a reality completely within its own aura regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. One can easily conclude its allure is highly overrated in more ways than one. The opportunity remains, however, for those who want to take part in Carrie's uber-fabulous social and even dating life.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Immigrant Advocates: LGBT Groups Aren't Doing Enough

The immigration debate within the movement for LGBT rights continues as this article I wrote for EDGE earlier this week. Blogger Jasmyne Cannick sparked widespread outrage last April with her assertion that equality for LGBT Americans should come before equality for immigrants. The movement almost universally condemned her comments but the door remains ajar for accusations of hypocrisy on this issue. Its leaders are quick to point out that they care about LGBT immigrants and LGBT bi-national couples but their own record on these issues, one can conclude, indicates otherwise.

Less than six weeks after an HIV-positive Mexican transgender woman died in federal custody, a forum that included a prominent member of Congress took place in New York that illuminated the plight of LGBT immigrants and bi-national couples.

The forum took place at the LGBT Community Center in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, Aug. 28. More than 150 people attended the event, which was co-sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and the New York-based group Immigration Equality. New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler [D-Lower Manhattan] was among five panelists who called upon the federal government to lift what they maintain are unfair and discriminatory laws.

"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."

Nadler wrote the proposed Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) that would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their foreign-born partners to immigrate to the United States. He reintroduced UAFA earlier this year. U.S. Sen. Patrick Lahey [D-Vt.] followed suit in the Senate. All of the Democratic presidential candidates support UAFA.

Opponents maintain the bill would provide a back door to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. Some even claim UAFA opens the door to increased fraud. HRC Senior Counsel Cristina Finch quickly dismissed these arguments. "It’s an excuse," she said at the Aug. 28 meeting. "It has something to do with homophobia and not seeing our relationships as the same as heterosexual couples."

Gay Men’s Health Crisis Assistant Director for Research and Federal Affairs Nancy Ordover agreed. She co-chairs the Lift the Bar coalition that seeks to end the long-standing ban on HIV-positive immigrants from immigrating into the country. President Bush announced on World AIDS Day last December that his administration planned to review this policy.

Ordover delivered a blunt assessment of the White House’s announcement. "It didn’t do anything for HIV-positive immigrants," she said. "Nor did it promise to."

The immigration debate remains an issue with which the movement for LGBT rights continues to struggle. Immigration Equality remains at the forefront of efforts to highlight LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants while the HRC, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force are among the national organizations that have devoted resources and even staff to advocate for these causes.

Bienestar, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and Equality California were among the organizations that joined the Mexican American Defense & Education Fund (MALDEF) and other pro-immigrant organizations at a vigil in Downtown Los Angeles late last month to pay homage to Victoria Arellano, 23, who died in a Southern California federal detention facility. Her family and fellow detainees claim Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) denied her necessary HIV medication. She was the third detainee to die at the San Pedro facility since 2004.

An ICE spokesperson confirmed to EDGE in a previous interview that more than 60 others have died in its detention facilities since 2004. Arellano’s family plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal law enforcement agency.

Some within the LGBT rights movement, such as Glenn Magpantay of the Gay and Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY) maintain that gay groups have failed to advocate on behalf of LGBT immigrants. "On the whole, our community has done squat on immigrants and LGBT immigrants," he told EDGE after the New York forum. "Gay immigrants are at the door of our community. We need to stand up and speak out."

Argentina-born filmmaker Sebastian Cordoba agreed. His documentary "Through Thick & Thin" chronicles seven bi-national LGBT couples who share their personal stories about their struggles with the American immigration system. Cordoba, who now lives in Brooklyn, hopes his film sparks renewed interest and activism in the LGBT movement. "This is something Americans should be fighting for," he said.

George Wu, of the Washington-based Asian American Justice Center, and MALDEF Staff Attorney Eric M. GutiĆ©rrez agreed as they answered audience questions during the forum. GutiĆ©rrez conceded these issues often pose challenging questions. Activists within both the LGBT and immigration rights movements need to put aside their differences if they hope to secure significant changes to the current immigration system, he said: "We need to join forces. At some point you have to stop saying that’s us and that’s them."

Ordover also embraced this message. "If it’s not good for immigrants, it’s not going to be good for LGBT immigrants or HIV positive immigrants," she said.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Craig Reconsiders Resignation

Senator Larry Craig [R-Idaho] threw a potentially damaging monkey wrench into the GOP's breathlessly quick purge of him from the party late yesterday after a spokesperson announced he plans to reconsider his resignation. The social conservative announced his resignation on September 1 after his arrest inside a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport restroom in June.

Former U.S. Rep Mark Foley [F-Fla.], U.S. Sen. David Vitter [R-La] and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens [R-Alaska] are among the Republican lawmakers who have tarnished the GOP's reputation with scandals and other improprieties over the last year. The Republican leadership knows full well the GOP could suffer another stinging political defeat next November that could very well result in their loss of the White House. It's decision to quickly distance themselves from the Craig scandal clearly indicates it remains highly sensitive to the impact additional bad publicity could have on their future aspirations. The question remains, however, as to whether the GOP practiced hypocrisy in its decision to purge Craig from its ranks.

Vitter remained in office despite the revelation his phone number appeared in a reputed Washington madam's black book. Stevens remains in office despite serious allegations of corruption and patronage lobbied against him. Foley quickly resigned after ABC News reported he sent illicit e-mails to a Congressional page. Craig followed suit but he appears to have changed his mind. He continues to send very mixed messages about the reasons he plead guilty to a charge in addition to his actual sexual orientation. His reconsideration remains, however, a serious problem which the GOP, rather foolishly perhaps, thought it had eliminated.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Summer That Was

The summer of 2007 is unofficially over. Fire Island's seasonal residents once again have their pristine sands to themselves. The city's annual Fashion Week kicks off this week while I finally rode the Cyclone at Coney Island this past weekend before developers erect condos at the possible expense of Astroland. Summer, especially August, remains a relatively slow news cycle. Journalists and their editors and producers often scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill their newscasts, broadcasts or issues. This summer, however, generated a number of LGBT headlines that kept the movement for LGBT rights on its. Below are five stories which kept this blogger and others busy this year.

1) Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig [R-Idaho] resigned over Labor Day weekend after a Washington political newspaper reported the socially conservative lawmaker, who repeatedly voted for the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment and other anti-LGBT legislation, plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge after Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport police arrested him in a bathroom for alleged leud conduct in June. Craig repeatedly maintained he is 'not gay' but the broader movement for LGBT rights, which by and large ran far away from this story, certainly thinks otherwise.

2) The majority of Democratic presidential candidates participated in a largely historic forum sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and Logo last month in Los Angeles. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson stunned the audience with his initial assertion that sexual orientation remains a choice while the majority of his counterparts who participated in the forum stuck to their talking points and sound bites about equality and fairness for all Americans. Many activists questioned the lack of journalists from LGBT media outlets in the confab while others blasted the forum's overall format and even content.

3) New York City activists expressed outrage in various manifestations after the city denied Pride Fest's permit applications to relocate its annual street fair to Chelsea. The Radical Homosexual Agenda and other LGBT organizations staged a protest at the New York City Council's annual LGBT Pride commemoration in June. New York's annual Pride march attracted more than half a million people despite the controversy surrounding Pride Fest's cancellation.

4) An Iowa court ruled late last month the prohibition of marriage for gay and lesbian couples violated the Hawkeye State's Constitution. Tim McQuillan and Sean Fritz remain the only same-sex couple to tie the knot before Polk County District Judge Robert Hanson suspended his own decision on August 31. Iowa continues to draw both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates ahead of its first-in-the-nation caucuses early next year [or later this year]. The impact of this ruling should remain minuscule outside of social conservative circles despite the fact it remains the latest salvo in the broader initiative to secure marriage for same-sex couples.

5) The ejection of a lesbian from a popular New York restaurant following the city's LGBT Pride parade in June sparked widespread outrage among local activists. Khadijah Farmer, 27, said a bouncer at the Caliente Cab Company in the West Village ejected her from the women's restroom after he said she was actually a man. The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund joined Farmer, her parents and others in a press conference outside the eatery on July 2. The Queer Justice League and other activists boycotted Caliente Cab Company following the alleged incident.

What do you think are the top LGBT news stories from the summer of 2007?