Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Prop 8 Blame Game in Black and White

By Steve Charing

When compared to previous ballot initiatives in the U.S. that amended state constitutions by limiting marriages to a man and a woman, Proposition 8 was a squeaker. With a relatively thin margin of 4 % California turned back the clock on their Supreme Court’s edict and banned same-sex marriage.

Yes, it was close compared to the blowouts in the other states where gay marriage was put to a vote, and California’s passage is arguably the most disheartening to gay activists and their allies. Since the California Supreme Court ruled in May that gays and lesbians cannot be denied the right to marry based on the state’s Constitution, some 18,000 couples tied the knot. The legal status of their marriages are unclear at this point.

The recent vote sparked angry but largely peaceful demonstrations particularly in Southern California. Gays, lesbians and allies marched in the streets and protested the role of the Mormon (hardly the vanguards of traditional marriage) and Catholic churches for their oversized monetary contributions to fund anti-gay marriage advertising, often using scare tactics to win votes. Some protesters turned their anger on various Mormon Church buildings.

As the demonstrators marched, the blame game began in earnest. Gay activists not only targeted the aforementioned religious organizations and their followers, but also African-Americans for voting "Yes" on Prop 8 by the margin they did.

Blacks blamed the "No on Prop 8" leadership for failing to adequately market their message to people of color.

Southern California gays accused San Francisco gays for not turning out to the polls in higher numbers.

Even Elton John was blamed for arguing the term "marriage" in the context of same-sex couples was a turn-off to voters.

Yes, there has been more finger pointing than a Three Stooges film festival.

There is sufficient blame to go around. With the election of Barack Obama as the backdrop, African-Americans in California voted for Prop 8, i.e. for the ban on same-sex marriage, by the widest margin of any group: 70%-30% (Hispanics supported the measure by 53%-47% and Asians and Caucasians opposed it by 51%-49%). That plus the higher turnout of blacks voting for the African-American candidate was seen by some as the reason for the measure’s passage.

But according to Nate Silver, the proprietor of the exceptional political numbers-crunching website fivethirtyeight.com, the black vote did not swing the results of Prop 8 one way or the other. "At the end of the day, Prop 8’s passage was more a generational matter than a racial one," wrote Silver. "If nobody over the age of 65 had voted, Prop 8 would have failed by a point or two." Blacks accounted for only 13% of the total vote.

One can argue that the 2-point plurality by white voters against Prop 8 was too narrow to overcome conservative ethnic groups, and that allowed it to pass. It is interesting that in the aftermath of the election a group called "Join the Impact" was formed in a matter of days. It organized the recent nationwide protest of the Prop 8 debacle. This protest covered some 300 cities around the country and garnered some one million demonstrators.

Imagine if such a visible nationwide show of unity was formed prior to the election. Call it "United for Equality." Think of the impression that would have been made on the general population as well as California voters by hundreds of thousands of gays, lesbians and supporters of all stripes peacefully waving placards.

The speeches by activists, politicians, couples and clergy would have helped make the case and could have influenced those who were on the fence. Even if such an event was held just in California before the election, how things may have turned out differently.

This is all Monday morning quarterbacking to be sure. What we don’t need is to blame the failure to achieve marriage equality in California on race.

But we should address the race issues that have been embedded in the gay community for too long. African-Americans have rightly pointed to examples of racism on the part of white gays and lesbians.

White gays are correct to assail the homophobia emanating from the pulpits of conservative black churches. Consequently, the weakest link within the Democratic Party when it comes to equality for gays and lesbians are that many African-American elected officials are not on board with our cause based on their religious beliefs, which stifles progress.

This is an incredibly complex and delicate problem, and it’s not just religion-based. While many socially liberal African-Americans may be otherwise supportive of our goals, they often resent the comparison of our quest for equality to the civil rights movement. And black gays and lesbians must endure the dual cultural experiences of both homophobia and racism.

What is needed is a dialogue to find common ground and try to end the divide. That won’t be easy, but it’s worth a shot. Blacks and whites need to reach out and come together.

The spirit of Obama’s election should help. Hope is great but action is better. And it’s better than simply pointing fingers.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gay Activists Flock to City Hall to Protest Prop 8

By Steve Charing

As the clouds were building on a mild Saturday afternoon of November 15, so were the crowds. People arrived from all directions as they assembled at War Memorial Plaza outside Baltimore’s City Hall. Young, old, gay, straight, black, white, couples with children, urban, suburban, you name it, all came with a common message: Equal Rights for All.

Many of the protesters at the plaza hoisted colorful hand-made signs. Among them read: "Is my civil rights getting in the way of your Bigotry," "Divorce Kills Marriage—Not Us," and "Did We Vote on Your Marriage?"

Roughly a third of the crowd was straight and half were college age underscoring the hope that momentum will swing favorably towards equality as the younger generation moves into adulthood.

These folks gathered to be part of a speedily planned event called "Join the Impact" to protest the passage of Proposition 8 in California—the ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage. Similar rallies were held that day outside public buildings in 300 cities across the United States (including three in Maryland) which attracted around a million people as part of a national day of protest.

"Prop 8 creates a state law to single out one group of Californians to be treated differently," said Joseph King, who was one of the principal organizers of the Baltimore rally. "This is not what America is about. It’s wrong." In addition, King received invaluable assistance from Makemie Taylor, Steve Haddad and other activists.

Sean McGovern, who is planning a wedding next year with his partner Stefan Freed, was the emcee of the rally and continually stoked the sometimes-raucous crowd, reminding them that the passage of Prop 8 told us we are second class citizens and we should fight back.

In only five days time and despite an ominous weather forecast that proved to be accurate an hour and a half into the rally, the organizers were able to draw nearly a thousand protesters. King and Taylor used a variety of social networking sites on the Internet, e-mailed local activists, and urged a number of volunteers to trudge through the streets of Baltimore, Towson and other locales armed with fliers and posters to get the word out. Press coverage was ample, with crowd shots and interviews appearing on local TV news stations.

The event received support in the form of statements by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and State Delegate Victor Ramirez. Some speakers—mostly members of couples—excited the crowd by spontaneously approaching the microphone to share their personal perspectives.

Other speakers included Meredith Curtis of the ACLU; Vanessa Bowling who is president of Rainbow Soul, a Gay Straight Alliance at Morgan State University; College Park City Council member Patrick Wojahn who just returned from San Diego as part of the "No on 8" campaign; PFLAG mom Joyce Kipp; and the principal plaintiffs in the Maryland lawsuit seeking marriage equality, Lisa Polyak and Gita Deane.

While Polyak and Deane were in the midst of their speech, the clouds emptied on the rally-goers with potent fury and forcing them to disperse. Undaunted, groups of protesters later assembled on nearby street corners waving their signs as passing motorists honked in support.

"Now if we can just keep the rallies and the work going," said Sean McGovern following the rally. "No one can say that Baltimore didn't do its part!"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Discharged Soldier Discusses ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ with PFLAG Chapter

By Steve Charing

Outfitted in a sharply pressed dark suit and flashing a megawatt smile that illuminated his square jaw, former Sergeant Darren Manzella spoke before nearly 70 people at the Veterans Day meeting of Columbia/Howard County Chapter of PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Darren Manzella, 31, helped mark the event by sharing his personal story and discussing the impact of the travesty known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT)—the military’s policy that prohibits openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the Armed Forces.

Manzella is a Policy Advocate and Major Gifts Officer for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, of which he had been a client for two years. His moving soft-spoken presentation was at times somber, but it was also sprinkled with a few humorous asides and anecdotes.

“I enlisted the U.S. Army in 2002 following the attacks of 9/11 when there was a nationwide wave of patriotism,” he told the audience. Manzella, a medic, eventually deployed to Iraq in 2004 where he provided medical coverage, emergency treatment and evacuation during more than one hundred 12-hour duties on the streets of Baghdad.

While under fire, he gave medical care to his fellow soldiers, Iraqi National Guardsmen and Iraqi civilians. His care during an attack in Iraq earned him the Combat Medical Badge, and he is also the recipient of several other awards recognizing his courage and duty to service in the war zone.
It was while Manzella was serving in the Army that he realized he was gay. Sgt. Manzella had come out first to his roommate, then his other friends, and finally to his parents. Eventually his fellow soldiers and superiors knew, and their reaction ranged largely from indifference to fully supportive.

But there were exceptions. Following threats of outing and a DADT investigation by his command, Sgt. Manzella wrote in a letter that, “I don't think most people can understand how hard it is to have to hide their true self; to have to pretend to be someone that they are not; to be scared that you'll be ostracized for being different; to be told that you're wrong if you live a certain life . . . that concerns no one else but yourself. . . . I am proud of myself and of the accomplishments I have achieved in my life.”

To his surprise, the investigation into his personal life was closed, and the Army deployed Sgt. Manzella later that year for a second tour of duty in the Middle East - again in Baghdad and then Kuwait.

After receiving word that Leslie Stahl of CBS News 60 Minutes wanted to interview him in Kuwait with regards to DADT, Sgt. Manzella was conflicted. He knew that telling his story on such a public stage would likely end the career he loved.

On the other hand, this was an opportunity to help other gay and lesbian service members by publicizing the discriminatory nature of the policy in an effort to gain public support for its repeal. He decided to go through with it; the interviewed aired in December 2007.

In March of 2008 his commander at Fort Hood, Texas informed Manzella, that he was being recommended for discharge under DADT. A copy of the 60 Minutes transcript was attached to the discharge recommendation. On June 10, 2008, Iraq War Veteran and Army Sergeant Darren Manzella was separated from the military with an Honorable Discharge.

The repugnant DADT policy is responsible for the discharges of 12,000 able service members since its inception in 1993. At a time when the military is actively recruiting those with sub-standard intelligence as well as felony records to meet enlistment quotas and beef up troop levels, fully competent patriotic gays and lesbians continue to be shown the door, which impacts our efforts in the war on terrorism. Nearly 800 specialists with critical skills, for example, have been fired from the military under DADT, including several linguists who speak Arabic.

And the costs of the policy are staggering. U.S. taxpayers have paid $250 million to investigate and root out patriotic servicemen and women under DADT and as much as $1.2 billion in lost recruiting and training costs.

But the issue will always be about discrimination. “DADT impacts all families who have gay children,” said PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County chapter chair Colette Roberts. “It's horrible being told your son or daughter who is trying to serve in the military is being treated like a second class citizen, hiding who they truly are.”

Darren Manzella, who now resides in Washington, D.C. working with SLDN to continue the fight for the repeal of DADT, is optimistic that an Obama Administration will take a serious look at the policy and try to gain consensus among the military’s brass. “Polls are showing greater acceptance of gays and lesbians openly serving in the military,” he pointed out. “It is the older generation in the military who is resistant to the change.”

Indeed, more than two-thirds of civilians support allowing gays to serve openly in the military. And despite the fear-mongering about unit morale, nearly 3 in 4 troops say they are personally comfortable serving side-by-side with gays and lesbians.

Those in the packed meeting room, which included some from the chapter’s Rainbow Youth Alliance, were captivated by the compelling personal journey traveled by Darren Manzella.

“Darren's story about a small town boy who joined the military to see the world only to become a man was truly inspirational,” said Sean McGovern, a member of the PFLAG chapter’s Advocacy Committee. “It struck me funny that the one institution that discriminated against him helped him realize who he truly was and that his fellow soldiers had become honorable men of tolerance with him.”

Nothing would vindicate Darren Manzella’s sacrifice more than the repeal of the ban and the liberation of his fellow gay brothers and sisters.

To contribute to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, click

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Obama’s majestic triumph tempered by heartbreaking Election Day setbacks to gays and lesbians

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

November 4, 2008 marked a transformational day in American history. With the election of the first African-American as president of the United States, the world, all of a sudden, became closer and a bit more unified. People were rejoicing in five continents. Although supporters of John McCain and Sarah Palin understandably may not have felt euphoric when the networks declared Barack Obama president at 11:00 p.m. EDT, I sure did.

But my elation was doused not that long afterwards, as three gay marriage bans and one anti-gay adoption initiative all apparently succeeded, reminding me that the country still has not taken that next big step.

For Obama, this was a contest that will keep political scientists and book publishers busy for decades. Barack Obama, a relative neophyte with a foreign-sounding name, rose from virtual obscurity and defeated a powerful Clinton machine to emerge as the Democratic Party’s nominee. Then he took on John McCain with his vaunted military and congressional experience, the embedded racism in the country, as well as the Republican Party’s fear and smear operation to win in an Electoral College landslide. In the process, Obama turned several red states blue with surgical precision.

There was as much good luck involved as there was skill. A perfect storm of events and personalities produced raindrops filled with smiles. He mainly benefited from the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush with whom he linked to his opponent, John McCain, with relentless regularity.

McCain incomprehensibly selected Sarah Palin—the butt of numerous jokes from her obvious lack of national and international knowledge—to be his running mate. The McCain campaign failed to effectively utilize the candidate’s strengths and instead defaulted to what the Republicans seem to do best: attack. And there were no significant international crises that affected the U.S., which would have highlighted McCain’s perceived strength on national security.

Then came the financial meltdown in September that accentuated the incompetence of the Bush presidency and McCain’s bumbling response to it. Added to that, notable endorsements from Colin Powell and a series of other Republican conservatives, the full-throated support from his chief Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton and her husband, and the die was cast.

But oh that skill! Obama’s campaign, led by David Plouffe and David Axelrod, crafted a blueprint on how 21st century presidential campaigns should operate. Always disciplined, always on message, always consistent, Obama successfully presented himself as the "change" candidate at a time the country was thirsty for change.

The campaign eschewed public financing and using the Internet primarily, managed to raise almost three quarters of a billion dollars to launch what was nearly a 50-state campaign. This forced McCain, who accepted public financing, to spend his more limited resources defending his own turf. That was crucial in states, such as Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado and North Carolina.

In the end, the better campaign prevailed. And that is good news for the LGBT community.

Because now there is a much better chance for achieving non-discrimination legislation in the workplace, a Federal hate crimes bill and the repeal of the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy.

Expect to see openly gay and lesbian members in Obama’s administration; he kept reminding voters down the stretch that the country should not be split according to "gay" and "straight" among the other dividing lines in society. No other major presidential candidate ever used such rhetoric, and he repeated it to traditionally conservative gatherings in Middle America.

But those defeats on the ballot initiatives stung like nothing else has ever before. Just as national polls were indicating a gradual positive trend towards acceptance of same-sex marriage, November 4 proved to be a startling wake-up call that so much work remains. Ballot measures in Arizona and Florida resoundingly banned "gay marriage" in those states adding to the stockpile that has swollen since 2004. Arkansas voters sadly banned adoptions by gay couples. The ones suffering most from that decision are children.

But the biggest heartbreaker appears to be the results of Proposition 8 in California. While the votes have not been fully tallied at press time, the measure that would roll back a court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, apparently is heading for passage.

Proponents of Prop 8 benefited from a major influx of funding from the Mormons, the Catholic Church and other religious entities to scare voters about the idea of two men or two women marrying. Tony Perkins, president of the virulently anti-gay Family Research Council, symbolized the religious support of the measure.

Characterizing Prop 8 as more important than the presidential election, Perkins said, "We have survived bad presidents. But many, many are convinced we will not survive this redefinition of marriage."

If Prop 8 survives the counting of absentee ballots, it will mark a staggering defeat to gays and lesbians since it was the first time rights that have been won were actually taken away. While it remains unclear if the existing same-sex marriages in California will be permitted to stand, the effects of such a setback will reverberate throughout the country.

And it mars the glistening victory of hope over fear in the election of Barack Obama.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Joe the Plumber Needs to be Flushed Already

During this campaign, I never thought I'd find anyone as obnoxious as John McCain. Then came $150,000 you-betcha Barbie with her Joe Sixpack and other overdone comic strip characters. But they were BOTH topped by this goofball Joe the Plumber, er Samuel Wurzelbacher. Ick!

This is the guy McCain calls his "role model"--an unlicensed plumber who lies through his teeth and owes back taxes--who McCain would take to Washington should he prevail. That's telling. He might as well be McCain's running mate or at least replace Phil Gramm as his economic advisor using distortions from a conversation this guy had with Barack Obama. He fits in with Palin nicely. What a team!

This average Joe already has a PR agent, seeking a book deal, country music record deal and a political career. But I see him as an a-hole. He introduced McCain as a REAL American, implying Obama wasn't.

Enough of this loser. He needs to be flushed down the toilet so a licensed plumber can extricate him--or not.