Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Everwood’s Coming Out Scene Hits the Mark

By Steve Charing

If you are reading this column, you would most likely appreciate how traumatic the coming out process can be—even if your personal experience was event-free. For most lgbt people this significant step is fraught with all kinds of potential downsides: alienating the person you’re talking to is prominent among them. It is especially dicey if you are divulging your sexual orientation to a family member or perhaps to your best friend and mentor.

The latter was the case during a recent TV episode of Everwood, a family drama series shown locally on the WB54. The character of Kyle (played by Steven R. McQueen—grandson of actor Steve McQueen) is a 15 year-old moody, talented, piano-playing loner who was taken under the wing of series regular Ephram Brown—also moody and about age 19 (played by Gregory Smith, pictured). Ephram sees himself in Kyle when he was that age, and offers to tutor the boy for free to help him get into Julliard.

During the episode, Kyle was resistant to attending a school dance and also blew off one of the school’s hottest girls. His initial lack of interest prompted Ephram to discuss the situation with his gym-obsessed roommate Reid (played by the hunky Justin Baldoni) who suggested that Kyle may be gay.

Ephram was disturbed by that prospect, but was quick to tell Reid he is not a homophobe. He just doesn’t want the boy to be even more alienated. To test the hypothesis that he may be gay Ephram pressed Kyle hard to attend the dance and offered to chauffeur him back and forth. He was hoping, of course, that Kyle would have a great time and have a babe on each arm. Reluctantly Kyle attended, and one would think he was heading to death row by his negative demeanor.

When Kyle left the dance early, alone and angry, Ephram saw the pain Kyle was experiencing and felt guilty for pushing him into this situation. By now the audience has assumed Kyle had to be gay; he may as well have worn the rainbow flag on his shirt. But wary of the gay tease that was put forth in the case of Reid earlier this season, I was wondering if this was yet another maneuver by the writers.

The denouement occurred whereby Ephram confronted a teary-eyed Kyle in the boy’s bedroom following the traumatic dance experience. Before Kyle could finish the sentence that made the admission, Ephram helped him out by saying the g-word: "There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being… gay."

Kyle then questioned, "Why do I have to be something I don’t want to be? Why can’t I pretend it’s not there?"

Ephram responded, "Then you’d be lying to yourself and denying to yourself the entire life you deserve. For what?"

He went on, "Listen to me. The sooner you can accept who you are, to be okay with it, the better off you’re gonna be, the happier you’re gonna be."

When Kyle admitted that he doesn't want to give people "another reason to hate me," Ephram assured him, "Right now, you're the only one that hates you."

OK, this is fiction, so what is the significance of this story line? First off, the show’s creator Greg Berlanti is openly gay. Through the four years of Everwood’s run, very few plot lines have touched on lgbt issues. Perhaps this one was near and dear to Berlanti’s heart; maybe he related Kyle’s experience to his own. It could be that Berlanti wanted this included, as this could be the final season for Everwood. The merger between UPN and the WB could spell doom for many of the current series.

Secondly, the show is viewed by a predominantly young audience—mainly teens and those in their twenties watch this critically acclaimed drama.

"Kyle’s coming out on Everwood will have a great impact on young people," Damon Romine, Entertainment Media Director of GLAAD told OUTloud. "Gay teens need to see that they are not alone, which is why our visibility is so important." He added, "Kyle's feelings of isolation and confusion are something many gay teens experience, but Ephram stepping up to be an ally and a friend sends a great message to straight and gay viewers alike."

Indeed, for young gays and their allies, this episode hit the mark.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Is ‘Immigration’ the GOP’s ‘Gay Marriage’?

By Steve Charing

The thing about election wedge issues is that they don’t always have to originate from opponents. They can be self-inflicted, as is the case with the smoldering issue of immigration.

‘Gay marriage’ was a wedge issue imposed on the Democrats during the 2004 presidential campaign. The Karl Rove-designed Republican game plan was to drive a wedge among the Democratic voters, primarily splitting African-American and Catholic Democrats from other socially progressive voters in the party by diverting the main issues of the day to the fear of ‘gay marriage.’ The scare tactic was used in states that had constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage on the ballot and was fostered in churches to help arouse anti-gay sentiment. It was most evident and crucial in the battleground state of Ohio.

The incendiary anti-gay rhetoric spewed from these pulpits led to increased higher voter turnout by religious conservatives. This strategy worked sufficiently, many believe, to help George W. Bush carry Ohio and ultimately the election. And, of course, America, if not the world, is paying the price.

The newest wedge issue is immigration reform. This time, it wasn’t one party driving a wedge into the opposition’s faithful. The Republicans are doing it to themselves and are deeply divided on the best way to handle the immigration “problem” with a significant number parting ways with the President himself.

For business owners, many of whom identify with the GOP, undocumented workers (illegal immigrants) provide a ready pool of cheap labor that allows businesses to increase profit margins. These immigrants frequently work on jobs that Americans have no desire to perform—especially at low wages. They include low-skill agricultural jobs, custodial services, child-care, hotel and restaurant services, landscaping and other necessary but financially unrewarding jobs. Supporters argue they are essential for economic growth and keeping inflation in check.

Social conservatives (read: bigots who prefer America to be white, Christian, immigrant-free, English-speaking, and heterosexual), want to deport the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants already here in the name of security. They complain the undocumented workers are changing the identity of America, taking jobs away from Americans, and holding down wages. These conservatives are overwhelmingly Republican.

The House of Representatives passed a harsh bill that would not only sanction detainment and deportation of illegals and authorize the building of a wall along the Mexican-U/S. border but would also penalize anybody, including medical providers, who had offered assistance or services to these new “criminals.”

President Bush assumed a middle-of-the-road position for once and supports the enforcement of border security as well as to institute a guest worker program for those immigrants who are already here in order to pave the way for ultimate citizenship. The Democrats, for their part, are more closely aligned to the President’s plan than to the House’s severe version.

Following a debate in the Judiciary Committee, the Senate then took up the highly controversial question and attempted to pass a bipartisan compromise agreement that virtually mirrors the President’s position. However, it collapsed and failed under the weight of procedural and other amendments, which had been originally disallowed based on the earlier agreement.

Both sides pointed fingers at each other for the failure to enact immigration reform prior to recess with Bush, who is rapidly losing credibility among America’s citizens, blaming the Democrats. Many political observers believe that the matter won’t be taken up again before the mid-term congressional elections in November.

Regardless of which version eventually passes and is signed into law, it will likely cause hardships for gay immigrants. According to an article appearing in the Washington Blade, “many immigrants who are wading through the lengthy documentation process, including those … who overstayed a visa or asylum seekers who lack proper identification documents, are detained in county jails and immigration detention centers.”

Immigrant rights advocates reported widespread abuses and humiliation at these facilities that are directed towards gay immigrants, especially those with HIV, or transgendered individuals. Increased problems will arise if more detainees are thrown into the mix, which would happen under the proposed bills. Unfortunately, a solution is not on the horizon, and only 16 countries offer immigration to same-sex couples—the U.S. is not among them.

From a political perspective this will be yet another hot-button issue with which Republicans must grapple. Amidst steadily declining poll numbers that are causing normally cocky Republicans to be extremely nervous, many are already splitting up over the war in Iraq, the Administration’s failure to exercise fiscal restraint, the Dubai ports deal, the CIA leak, the DeLay ethics probes and the Abramhoff scandals. Now along comes immigration reform to further exacerbate the divide—not just between Congress and the White House, but within the GOP per se.

Millions of illegal immigrants poured through the streets throughout America to protest expulsion. These are stirring images and invoke strong emotions from those who want to show compassion to a group that has been productive in the workforce and those on the opposite side of the chasm who would rather send them all home.

The Republicans have touted the recent inroads they have made with the Hispanic community. But this issue will likely scar the GOP, not only because Latinos will see the Republican hard liners as anti-Latino, but will also incur the wrath from moderates and independents who are wondering where the compassion went from ‘compassionate conservative.’

The opposition to strict reforms is oddly diverse, as strange bedfellows have been formed when Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and evangelical Christians were aligned in forgiving current illegal immigrants. This forgiveness is the wedge itself: the A-word—Amnesty.

‘Gay marriage’ was a successful tactic to divide Democratic voters in selected states. But immigration—a wedge issue that the GOP must cope with—is broader and deeper. A recent AP-Ipsos poll shows that Americans are as much concerned about the immigration dilemma as the economy.

The growing concern over illegal immigration and the fate of the 11 million men, women and children already here will not wane as a result of Congress’ trepidation to address reforms until after the election. The Republican-led Congress, although split over this issue, cannot duck the controversy because the public demands a solution. And with such polarization within the GOP itself, politically this is their ‘gay marriage’ and deservedly so.

DeLay's departure won't save the GOP

Letter Published in the Baltimore Sun--April 10

The Republicans are whistling in the graveyard if they actually believe that Rep. Tom DeLay's bowing out from Congress prior to the election will mitigate the Democrats' assault on the "culture of corruption" that embroils the GOP ("DeLay's decision fuels GOP concerns," April 5).

Mr. DeLay's public explanation for his departure was tinged with his signature bitter partisanship. The fact remains that he is leaving Congress because of a tightening noose that will undoubtedly strangle him as the legal process unfolds.

The Democrats will and should highlight the hypocrisy and corruption of Mr. DeLay, as well as other affected self-righteous Republicans who were hellbent on impeaching President Bill Clinton.

Yes, politics is local, as GOP leaders like to point out. But one hopes that the electorate will clean house this year and in 2008, as they correctly come to their senses and realize enough is enough.

Steve Charing

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Crossing the Red Line

Why the NHL may be the first major league to embrace a gay male player

By Steve Charing

Philadelphia Flyers goon Donald Brashears perhaps said it best: "This game is gay now." Of course, his absurd comment was in response to penalties, a fine and suspension levied against him in response to a punching incident. But was his comment that farfetched? Could hockey be the first major male team sport that is, um, gay?

Other sports don’t seem to hold out immediate promise. We have heard the rumors and innuendoes (and wishful thinking), as well as the vehement denials concerning major league baseball players. Precious few have come out but only after their careers ended. The same could be said for pro football. And with public homophobic denunciations through the years by hoop players, it is more unlikely that one would come out in the NBA.

No active player possessing Jackie Robinson-like courage has stepped out onto the field of play in uniform as an openly gay man. No man thus far has been willing to battle the potential distractions, threats and shunning from teammates, opponents and fans to weather the storm.
For gay men, this has been a daunting barrier. The epitome of the macho culture in organized sports does not create a hospitable setting for an openly gay athlete. This paradigm needs to be broken, but where?

Why not hockey. Brashears already provided the opening. And with the Stanley Cup playoffs are on the horizon, a coming out story would add more spice to the sport that is still reeling from last year’s lockout. So, has anyone considered ice hockey as a fertile area for a gay man to come out?

You can be forgiven if you are shaking your head about now. After all, which sport is more macho than hockey, and which sport can boast more macho players? If you had ever seen Eric Lindros without a shirt you can swear the NHL oozes testosterone along the ice sheet.

Some of the hottest male athletes are hockey players if you discount those with more stitches than teeth and those whose noses resemble San Francisco’s Lombard Street.

But it’s not a stretch to suggest that hockey can handle an outwardly gay player. For one thing, look around the NHL and see where some of the franchises are located: Vancouver, San Jose (a spit away from San Francisco), Los Angeles, Sunrise (Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area), Tampa, Atlanta, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Columbus, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago, three in the New York area, Boston, Montreal and Toronto. Think of it: every one of these venues has a large, viable gay population and a fabulous gay scene. The gay fans would raise their sticks in jubilation if they had a gay hockey hero to worship.

These are happening cities, and they showcase hot ice skaters, albeit padded and helmeted, with long hard sticks in their hands banging each other against the boards and shouting. "Get the puck outta here!" Some even get called for "charging"—a gay retail habit. As for endorsements, what can be more appealing than a gay hockey player touting an Armani scarf in Boston? Or modeling Speedos in Sunrise?

Hockey, more than any of the "big four" professional sports, has an international flavor. To be sure, baseball is signing Asians and Latinos in increasing numbers, and basketball has ventured into the European and African continents to lure human high-rises to the league. But the NHL has the largest percentage of non-Americans playing. And this is a good thing, especially if a gay player chooses to come out.

Canadians and Swedes, for example, are far more progressive than Americans are when it comes to accepting gays. Several European countries (and Canada) have legalized same-sex marriage, and many have established equal rights for gays. All those who had been liberated form Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other Eastern European nations who play hockey in the NHL know all too well the shackles of oppression. It can extend to gay oppression. These players appreciate their newly found freedom. Only in America is there a hang-up when two men kiss as a greeting.

Moreover, hockey players are better equipped to withstand any possible harassment from coming out because they generally give as well as receive. Players of this ilk are not easily intimidated.

A recent Sports Illustrated poll indicates that hockey players are for more willing than their counterparts in the other major sports to embrace an openly gay teammate. Just about 80 percent of 346 surveyed said they would—nearly 20 percent higher than baseball players.
Assuming the poll is reliable, that’s a huge statement regarding the attitudes of hockey players.

Baseball, football, basketball—those sports have balls but the players don’t. At least not in coming out of the closet. Maybe in hockey the puck will stop here.