Friday, May 29, 2009

California Quake

The court decision was a setback, but it will make us focus on a better strategy.

By Steve Charing

As recently as 10 years ago, few thought that "gay marriage" would ever be at the forefront of a national dialogue.
At the time, the LGBT community and allies were reeling from the failed effort to allow openly gay and lesbians to serve in the Armed Forces. We were trying to nudge a bill through Congress that would provide anti-discrimination protections in the workplace for gays and lesbians. And we were attempting to enact legislation at the state and local levels to protect the gay and lesbian community from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

That was our agenda a decade ago.

It all changed on May 17, 2004, when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that the state constitution couldn’t limit marriage to heterosexual couples. The issue of same-sex marriage was all-of-a-sudden thrust near the top of the national debate when conservative religious groups and others went ballistic.

Ballot initiatives in 11 states to ban gay marriage popped up like spring dandelions. All passed. Many believe that the controversy generated enough evangelical voters in Ohio to tip the election to George W. Bush in 2004.

Accordingly, gay activists were unprepared for this war compared to the more organized and better funded religious right. Our side depended largely—but not entirely—on having the courts remedy what has been seen as violation of the equal protection clause in many of the states’ constitutions as well as the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Fast-forward to the recent California Supreme Court ruling by a 6-1 vote that disheartened the LGBT community and supporters by upholding the iniquitous Proposition 8 outcome that resulted from the November 2008 ballot measure. Although the approximate 18,000 couples who married prior to the election result were permitted to retain their status, the disappointing, but not necessarily surprising court decision, prompted an angry backlash from marriage equality advocates.

The ruling highlighted the fact that the judicial system, while helpful in many cases, cannot totally be counted on to make same-sex marriage a reality. This energy generated from the decision will be channeled in California to appeal to the voters again and essentially reverse the outcome of Prop 8.

That’s the correct strategy.

Hopefully with better leadership of this effort it will be successful. A new coalition needs to come in and work with clergy of all religions to alleviate concerns and to emphasize that civil marriage is what is being sought—not religious blessings.

These leaders should reach out more aggressively to the African-American community to highlight the similarities between the civil rights movement and what gays and lesbians are seeking.

And why not take advantage of the many PFLAG chapters in California to allow representatives speak to senior citizen groups and educate them on the true meaning of family values? More than any other demographic, seniors accounted for the largest percentage of those who supported Prop. 8.

It’s far more expedient to file a suit in a court and hope that the judge or panel of judges issues a favorable decision. The judicial system is supposed to be our safety net. But what if that fails, then what?

We need to go back to the fundamental process of building grass-root support and having dialogues with key groups that are persuadable. Let’s take that approach, even if it requires a few years, and allow the issue to be decided by the legislatures, if not the voters, per se. Elected officials, more often than not, follow the will of the people.

The work is made easier when more and more gay folks come out. You would be surprised as to how many people support our efforts who would ordinarily not side with us. Steve Schmidt, the chief campaign strategist for none other than John McCain, comes to mind. His sister is a lesbian.

This would be a violation of the aphorism, don’t let the rights of a minority be put up for a popular vote. But that may be the best route to take in the long run. In California, for example, we cannot change the minds of the justices, but we can change the voters’ minds if an effective strategy is crafted and executed. And that could reverse the results; after all, we only lost by 4.5 points back in November.

To underscore this strategy, a bunch of lgbt advocacy groups including the ACLU are urging others to refrain from filing federal lawsuits because as they see it, the Supreme Court does not have the make-up at this time to rule favorably on a same-sex marriage case.

There are others, however, who believe that going to court is our best course of action. Lawyers Theodore Olson and David Boies—adversaries in the Bush v. Gore case following the bungled 2000 Florida vote—are leading the way.

A blogger on
LGBT Rainbow Links supports this approach by writing, "Either you go full steam ahead in war or just sit on the sidelines and lick your wounds. That's the trouble with ‘our society’ when it comes to the ‘LGBT leaders’ and time to put up or shut up, they fall to the wayside like a bunch of weak little mice."

But he adds, "You want gay marriage, you want equal rights, then be prepared to get down in the trenches and get dirty. Take the battle where it should have gone before."

And that battle is taking it to the people, which is the best strategy. File the suits in the courts anyway, but win the people over, too.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Did Adam Lambert Fall to Homophobia?

By Steve Charing

To American Idol fans, the showdown between Adam Lambert and Kris Allen presented a marked contrast in singing styles, appearance, culture, sexual identity and yes, talent. To the LGBT community and its supporters, the heavily favored Lambert offered the first real chance of a gay American Idol winner and to happen so close to the upcoming Pride celebrations.

Clay Aiken had a good chance of winning in Season 2 but curious phone line snafus from his home state of North Carolina that impeded the voting process kept him from the crown. But Aiken came out of the closet years afterwards, so it would be conjecture that had he won, he would be considered a gay American Idol.

Adam Lambert did not pronounce publicly on the show that he is gay. Rumors and photos swirled around the Internet that reinforced the speculation that had resulted from his eyeliner make-up, painted black fingernails, blue-black hair and his earrings. Add that to his ability to reach those impossible high notes and the jury came in with a verdict.

All he said on the subject was, "I know who I am. I’m an honest guy, and I’m just going to keep singing." Usually straight guys in response to such a question would be a bit more direct.

Thus, for all practical purposes, the country saw him as the gay contestant. But did that account for his upset loss that embittered so many of his fans?

In his Newsweek Pop Vox blog, Ramin Setoodeh offered several reasons for the outcome, including the gay factor. He mentioned that the judges were so much in Adam’s camp that there was a backlash among certain voters. He pointed out that "tweens" were enamoured with Kris Allen, and they are the ones with the energy and text messaging tools to vote and vote and vote.

Then there was the Christian factor. Although Adam never professed his religious beliefs, Kris and third-place finisher Danny Gokey—both who are married—were very up front about their faith and their work with the Christian church. Many Idol viewers are from rural America and small towns and cities where the Christian population is heaviest. They see the program as family-friendly, and that may explain why most of the previous winners came from the south.

Regardless of sexual orientation, Adam’s appearance and style probably did not wear well with these folks. So the theory goes that when Gokey was eliminated, his voters jumped on the Kris bandwagon. And that was fueled by Christian blogs who labeled Adam as the devil and pushed hard for Kris.

Then there was the voting and its questionable rules. The prevailing rumor is that Arkansas—Kris’ home state with a population of less that 3 million people—managed to cast 38 million out of the total 100 million votes using computerized auto redial features and heavy texting.
If this is true, I’m happy that Arkansas has such technical skills, but it clearly skews the choice for an American Idol. It is noteworthy that the producers did not reveal the final voting breakdown. Why not full disclosure unless they see it as a controversy they prefer to avoid.

Although many have used the alleged "screeching" in Adam’s performances as the reason for voting for the rather bland but likeable Kris Allen, I don’t buy it. Virtually every voice coach and singing expert I’ve read said that Adam’s ability to reach such high notes pitch perfect is amazing, and definitely not a screech. "Tracks of My Tears," "Mad World," "If I Can't Have You" were performed brilliantly and without the so-called screeching.

No doubt all of these contributed to the outcome. Adam’s perceived sexuality, however, was becoming the more talked about subject. The finals pitted the soulful, straight, conservative, married Christian youth leader versus the flamboyant, gay, Broadway-rocker type. Leading up to the finale, the question among journalists and bloggers was, Is America ready for a gay idol?

Despite many denials from Christians and other fans of the show that sexual orientation was not an issue in their preference, we still see an awful lot of the following. This is an (unedited) example by one who was listed as White Pride 71 on MSN’s American Idol Message Board:

This is American Idol! Kris should have won. He has the great american values. He is someone parents will be happy to have their kids look up to. And most important he can really sing, not just yell and scream. If adam (alice) wanted to win he (she) should have kept his boyfriend at home and in the closet! But no he wanted to shove his queer devil lifestyle into our faces. Now he has learned that America does not want that fairy boy as a idol!

Did homophobia bring Adam down? It was a combination of reasons, but clearly homophobia was among them.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Party Poopers

More Dems must get on board if we are to achieve progress.

By Steve Charing

It’s not that often in recent history that the Democratic Party would have so much dominance at both the Federal and state levels. And they achieved that status mainly by default.

The Republicans of late have been in a free-fall with no signs of reversal in the near future. The incompetence and hard-line dogma of the Bush-Cheney years have exacerbated the dwindling popularity of the GOP especially since the time they chose to invade Iraq without any provocation.

Then the economy faltered big time and the GOP response was the knee-jerk demand for tax cuts—their panacea for all of our economic ills. Throw into the mix the religious conservatives’ requirement imposed on Republican elected officials that they maintain rigid opposition to choice and same-sex marriage despite the public’s evolving mood on these.

Only a quarter of Americans now identify as Republicans, and that number is about to get worse as more African-Americans, Latinos and younger people become eligible to vote and replace the older, more conservative voters down the road. The GOP will continue to be essentially a white, Southern, evangelical party.

Will this shift from a strong two-party system help us to achieve LGBT rights? On the surface one would think it could. Democrats have always been more sensitive to our issues and the last bastion of moderate Republicans tends to be supportive. But we have problems within the Democratic Party, and that’s problems with a “P” and that stands for “Pastor.”

To be sure, there are conservative Democrats such as Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller who oppose civil unions, much less same-sex marriage, and skittish Democrats like Governor Martin O’Malley. But the key to achieve partner recognition and legal protections for transgendered individuals resides at the pulpits of African-American ministers who are overwhelmingly Democrats.

A number of Democratic African-American lawmakers are either ministers themselves or have strong ties to black preachers. Virtually every poll indicates that African-Americans oppose same-sex marriage at a significantly higher rate than the rest of the population. They tend to be religious and socially conservative, and their ministers denounce homosexuality from the pulpits using the very same Bible that at one time was used to justify slavery and racial segregation.

This is not helpful. Senator Anthony C. Muse (D-Prince George’s) and a pastor in his own right, has been seen by lgbt activists as an impediment to pushing the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act out of the Judicial Proceedings Committee in addition to his apparent opposition to transgender protections.

Delegate Emmett C. Burns (D-10, Baltimore County) [pictured], also a pastor, has been a vocal, unapologetic opponent of lgbt rights. He doesn’t want to see gays “sashay” to the alter. Accordingly, he earned a fat 0 out of 100 from Equality Maryland’s legislative LGBT-rights scoring system.

Delegate Frank Conaway, Jr., a Democrat, whose district 30 includes such LGBT-populous areas as Hampden, Remington, Mount Vernon and Charles Village incredibly said that allowing civil marriage for gays and lesbians will open the floodgates to the state having to recognize polygamy. After some letters and phone calls from angry LGBT constituents and allies, he apologized.

Nonetheless, during the 2009 General Assembly, Del. Conaway slowed up passage of the inheritance tax bill benefiting same-sex couples by introducing an amendment—later defeated—that would have defined domestic partner as “an individual of the opposite sex with whom another individual has a child in common.”

Even in Washington, D.C., former mayor Marion Barry, who was one of the early gay rights supporters, did an about face by voting against a bill in the City Council that would recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. “All hell is going to break loose,” Barry predicted. “We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this.”

Despite Barry’s pronouncement, this is not to suggest that Democrats opposing our rights are all African-Americans or that all blacks are against us. Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery), for example, was the chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee this session that bottled up the Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill by not allowing an up and down vote in committee where it died.

On the other hand, African-American Senator Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-District 45 in Northeast Baltimore) was once an opponent of gay rights when he was a member of Baltimore’s City Council. Lately, he had stated that the issue of same-sex marriage should not be tied directly to the religious aspects of marriage. Raised as a Southern Baptist, Sen. McFadden explained his position "evolved" and had heard the same arguments before in places where blacks could not marry whites. "Discrimination in any form is unacceptable," he said.

Clearly we must reach out to our opponents to achieve success. And many of them are Democrats. Governor O’Malley and others must display the courage to help lead the fight. African-American preachers need to stop spewing anti-gay venom from the pulpits, recognizing that discrimination at any level is wrong. And Republicans should re-think their intransigent positions on LGBT issues before their party falls off the cliff.

For more discussion about this issue, listen to this NPR program.