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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Friday, August 31, 2007

Assessing impact of ‘Toilet-Gate’

Craig scandal reinforces stereotypes as pro-gay bills advance in Congress.

By Steve Charing

Following the revelation of Senator Larry Craig’s toe-tapping toilet tango, the blogosphere and the gay press lit up with cries of hypocrisy on the part of Sen. Craig in particular and conservative Republicans in general.

They demanded to know how a man who spent his public career opposing rights and equality for gays and lesbians could be caught engaging in homosexual behavior. How can the party that professes to be morally correct at every turn and preaches righteousness to everyone else produce yet another wayward officeholder?

Oh, to be sure, there was enough hypocrisy to cast a thick layer of dye over the red states. Sen. Craig’s laughable denial that he is not gay and never was gay is the starting point. It was obviously so important to reassure the citizens of Idaho and the nation that the lowest of the low—being homosexual—is something he is not, and he repeated it three times during his lame press conference.

He accused the Idaho Statesman, the largest newspaper in the state, of pursuing a witch hunt even though his sexuality has been the subject of rumors for a quarter century. Yet, if the Statesman’s disclosures and conclusions were untrue and the facts incorrect, why didn’t Sen. Craig file a lawsuit for libel?

Then the hypocritical Republican members of Congress and some presidential candidates argued that since Sen. Craig had pleaded guilty to a crime, he is not worthy of holding office. The fact that President Bush in an earlier life pleaded guilty to drunken driving must have eluded them.

Immediately the Senate Ethics Committee planned to look into the matter. "I think it's important for Republicans to step out right now and say, 'No, this behavior is not going to be tolerated,’" Rep. Pete Hoekstra said.

Indeed, Republicans were swift to throw Sen. Craig overboard prior to the investigation because of this type of sexual behavior, but made no such effort to toss Sen. David Vitter whose phone number appeared on an escort service list. Apparently, heterosexual sex scandals, unless it involves someone whose name is Clinton, aren’t as nefarious as homosexual scandals.

Yes, there was plenty of hypocrisy, and a lot of gay activists took joy in seeing such a wretched foe squirm on the hot seat. But what is needed was for the gay media and leaders to step forward and stem the tide of assumptions sweeping a naïve nation that restroom sex is a routine activity for gay men.

News talk shows delved into the culture of restroom sex or sex in public places like parks. They tried to cover it from a legal, social and clinical point of view. But regardless of what was said during the chatter, the perception is that this type of activity is popular among gay men.

It is true that gay men do participate in these activities particularly when there are limited alternative options where sexual liaisons may occur. Or they do it for the thrill of seeking anonymous, risky sex. Police and other authorities will tell you, however, that half, if not more, of these encounters take place with otherwise straight men who are married and seek male sex partners on the down-low.

As with Sen. Craig, these men consider themselves to be straight but engage in homosexual sex. They are, for the most part, closeted homosexuals living a predominantly heterosexual lifestyle. And like Craig, they do not consider themselves to be gay; they simply enjoy sex with other men.

This scandal unfortunately elevated the subject of tawdry, public restroom sex to a national level.

With important legislation, such as ENDA and Hate Crimes swirling around in Congress and the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" gaining some traction, the last thing gay men need is for this episode to fan the stereotype flame that they will go anywhere—including public restrooms—to meet total strangers for sexual encounters.

As was the case with the Mark Foley congressional page scandal last year, which led a skeptical and uninformed public to believe that gays are child-molesting predators, the fallout from "Toilet-Gate" could also be damaging. The gay media and activists responded swiftly by reporting that the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 98 percent of male pedophiles are heterosexual.

Once again, we need to move swiftly and effectively to quell the stereotype and do some damage control.

Monday, August 27, 2007

What Will the GOP Do?

With Karl Rove out the door, the election issue of "gay marriage" in ‘08 may have gone out with him

By Steve Charing

The architect of cynicism, Karl Rove, abandoned the floundering Bush administration, and this may be the first positive news to come out of Washington, D.C. since the Capitals signed Alexander Ovechkin. His departure, under a cloud of legal questions, is welcomed across-the-board.

Rove’s goal of long-term GOP domination failed. Bush’s key domestic agenda tanked. The 2006 election was a debacle. And the president’s approval rating stuck in low gear with an unkind legacy awaiting him. But most important, at least for progressive Americans, the divisive Rove can be legitimately blamed for the election and re-election of George W. Bush.

As the chief political strategist and advisor to President Bush, Karl Rove, an agnostic, used fear tactics in targeting the "faith community" to seduce evangelicals and other religious and social conservatives to the polls in 2004 and vote for Bush. In doing so, he and his minions beat on "gay marriage," and consequently, gays and their families, like a war drum.

Rove oversaw the placement of constitutional amendments in eleven states so that the lightening-rod issue of gay marriage would be a key component of the 2004 election campaign. Besides appealing to religious Protestants, Rove used it as a wedge issue to divide otherwise dependable Democrats who were socially conservative, such as many African-Americans and Catholics. Radio ads, fiery sermons and distorted printed literature were the means used to alarm and divide Americans.

This strategy was successful in that all eleven states passed amendments banning same-sex marriage. It may have contributed to Bush’s crucial victory in Ohio—a significant battleground state—as evidenced by the fact Bush defeated Kerry by a slim 51 to 48 percent margin, but the amendment banning same-sex marriage passed by a much greater margin, 62 to 38 percent. This suggests that conservatives were drawn to the polls in greater numbers, with the anti-gay marriage voters more likely to vote for Bush.

As we head deeper into the 2008 presidential campaign, which has already been in full swing for months, the likelihood of same-sex marriage becoming a significant factor is quite dim. Even the wicked Rove, had he stayed on to be major player, would have likely put the issue on the shelf to some extent.

Much to the despair of many gay activists, all but two Democratic candidates have been careful not to publicly support the "M-word," though they favor strong civil union arrangements with all the Federal rights and benefits that would accrue to any married couple. By avoiding the overt advocacy of same-sex marriage, they keep the bull’s-eye off their backs on this issue.

The general population, led by younger voters, is trending slowly towards supporting some form of gay union. Most still disapprove of same-sex marriage probably because of religious beliefs, but there is some movement towards equality. And it is important to state that the number of people who identify as "intensely religious" in a Pew Research Center survey has declined significantly during the past four years.

Add that dynamic to a recent CNN poll indicating that such social issues as abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage are on the back burner in the minds of voters. They see the war in Iraq, terrorism, health care and education as more pressing matters.

It’s now been years since "activist judges" tried to redefine marriage in Massachusetts, and with the Bay State possessing the lowest divorce rate in the country, nobody could claim that same-sex marriage has adversely affected the institution.

The Republican candidates during the primary season all oppose same-sex marriage. But rather than trying to scare the voters on that issue and beating up the Dems since the front runners already oppose it, they are directing their energies to the absurd term "Islamofascism" and frightening the masses about illegal immigration. These are the bread and butter issues for the GOP during the 2008 campaign.

Immigration, excessive spending and the mismanaged war in Iraq have riled conservatives and divided the Party. It is pointless, therefore, to try to unify the GOP on gay marriage when the chasm is so deep on these other more pressing matters.

And if Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Dems’ nominee, the Republicans will have a huge arsenal of darts to throw at her. Gay marriage? Oh, that’s so 2004!

Just as the Republicans centered their 2004 strategy on post-9/11 and to a lesser degree, gay marriage, the Democrats will make the 2008 election about Bush-Cheney and the war in Iraq although neither of these two villains will be on the ballot. Health care, education, the environment, energy independence, terrorism, globalization, immigration and myriad other issues will dominate the discourse.

Gay marriage is expected to recede as a hot-button subject. The Democratic-controlled Congress will not entertain another bid for a Federal Marriage Amendment, which should douse any demagoguery on the issue. Few if any states plan ballot initiatives to amend their constitutions this time around as most that are inclined already have them. In Maryland, though, it is still an open matter pending the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

As the campaign heats up during the primaries and then on to the general election, strategists for both parties will survey what’s most on voters’ minds and what would be a winning formula for victory. It is unlikely the GOP will pull gay marriage out of their bag of tricks given the other dominating issues.
Moreover, as a result of the gay escapades of former Republican Congressman Mark Foley coupled with the recent toilet incident involving Republican Senator Larry Craig, the GOP would be better served if they don't sound the "gay" alarm bells or even bring up the subject.

And I believe even Karl Rove would have thought the same if he remained in the game.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Straight Eights Cruisin’ Down the Road for 25 Years

By Steve Charing

While driving down Route 1 in the Savage-North Laurel area in Howard County on the afternoon of August 19, I spotted a parking lot at a strip mall that featured an array of vintage cars.
There was a ’55 Chevy, a ’66 Ford Galaxie, a ’62 Chrysler Newport, a ’61 Buick Electra, a ’68 Ford Mustang and a host of other various models and years.

Was this a car show? No, it was a monthly gathering of members of a regional lgbt car enthusiasts club called the Straight Eights—an ironic term for an lgbt group that stemmed from a pre-1950’s engine configuration that featured eight cylinders in a single row. It is a fast-growing club with over 170 dues-paying members that serves the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area.

A couple of dozen members of Straight Eights on this sprinkly day parked their cars on the open parking lot outside PW’s Sports Bar and Grill, a convenient location which has evolved into the only gay bar in Howard County. (They usually draw far more but the wet weather apparently kept some folks and their cars home.) The monthly event, which began this past May, occurs on the third Sunday at 3:00 p.m. It is called a "Cruise-In" and attracts current and new members from all over the region.

They come to ogle other members’ cars from the exterior finish and features to the interior upholstery and accessories. They network, share stories and tips and socialize in an informal atmosphere that includes downing a couple of drinks and perhaps a meal inside PW’s.

"We welcome car nuts seeking to celebrate their common love for automobiles of all types, from vintage to contemporary, in an accepting atmosphere," according to their website.

The Straight Eights was started in 1982 by three guys who placed an ad in the Washington Blade seeking others who share their love for cars. Slowly but surely, the club expanded to their peak total today as more and more gays and lesbians in the DC-Baltimore region sought an outlet for their passion for cars while finding an alternative to the usual bar scene.

Club vice-president Howard "Smitty" Smith, of Prince George’s’ County and a member for eight years, said that membership increased by a whopping 50 during the past two years alone as the group is increasing its visibility. Indeed, the Straight Eights have appeared in Baltimore’s Pride festival as well as DC’s Capital Pride and Black Pride events and have also been "out" at various bars.

The Straight Eights (representing Baltimore-Washington) is one of 28 regional lgbt car clubs in the U.S. that are under the umbrella organization, the Lambda Car Club International. The LCCI is the largest collector car club for gays and lesbians in North America with a membership of over 2,000.

"We offer a comfort zone for gays and lesbians to be themselves and who have a passion for cars," says Jim Byers of Washington, D.C., the affable president of the Straight Eights. "Straights are welcome, too," he points out and emphasizes that "diversity and acceptance will be the expectation and not the exception."

"We’re open to lgbt car-lovers of all areas of interest—vintage, exotics, ‘tuners,’ hot rods, sports cars, or just an enthusiast’s passion for things automotive." Byers adds, "You don’t need to have a classic car or any car to join us."

The club’s newsletter, Car Talk, stokes interest further by providing useful information and photos and offers buying and selling opportunities for members by placing ads.

Smitty, the vice-president who owns an auto repair shop not far from PW’s, says the group has members with varying degrees of mechanical aptitude skills. "Some do their own mechanical work and others ask me to change their light bulb. You don’t have to be a mechanic to enjoy the Straight Eights," he explains.

To offer variety and broaden its appeal, the club organizes a wide range of activities that are not necessarily car-related. There had been a recent trip to the Masonic Temple in Arlington, Virginia, and last year members enjoyed a tubing excursion on the Rappahannock River in West Virginia.

Closer to home, Towson’s Tom Lalley, the Straight Eights treasurer, adds that the group has visited the Baltimore Museum of Industry and the Visionary Arts Museum on Federal Hill and enjoyed cookouts at Patapsco State Park.

There have also been tours of car restoration shops to whet the appetite for those who see cars as more than just transportation.

The Straight Eights’ big annual event, however, is the Beach Ball held in Rehoboth Beach. Each regional club from the LCCI puts on an annual weekend car show called an Invitational with the Beach Ball being the Invitational for the Straight Eights.

This Invitational will also serve to commemorate the Straight Eights Silver Anniversary. It features a free Collector and Vintage Car show presented by its members at Grove Park on September 22 from Noon until 3:00 p.m. The park is located at Rehoboth Avenue at Shaw Circle, and the entire public is invited to attend.

Of course, the car show is the main component of the Beach Ball Invitational weekend. The other events that weekend, including an awards banquet, are designed for members only and will take place at the Atlantic Sands Hotel. Beach Ball is expected to draw over 140 LCCI members and nearly over 100 collector cars from all along the East Coast.

Says President Jim Byers, "Expect to see Rehoboth Avenue transformed into a sea of projectile hood-ornaments, sparkling chrome, and tail-fins in candy-store hues."

For more information about the Straight Eights, cruise over to their website at http://www.straight8s.org/.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Good Riddance, Karl Rove

Bush’s brain’ exploited gay families for political gain at election time.

Friday, August 17, 2007

by Steve Charing

KARL ROVE, THE principal political strategist for President Bush, has decided that he must spend more time with his wife and son and will step down from his White House post at the end of the month. That was the official reason given. He is leaving under a shadow of legal and ethical questions and is least partially to blame for the huge political defeat of the Republicans in 2006.

In bailing, Rove is joining the growing list of other top officials who have wisely found lifeboats to escape the sinking ship known as the Bush administration.

Of course, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was forced out following the 2006 elections because he would never leave on his own accord. Someone high up in the administration must have concluded that the dismal showing for the GOP last November may have had something to do with the mismanaged war in Iraq. That person may have been Rove, who reviews significant policy decisions through the lens of politics.

Rove gained his national reputation for orchestrating the successful 2000 and 2004 election campaigns of George W. Bush. Dubbed “the architect,” Rove’s strategy involved stoking the emotions of religious and social conservatives and luring them to the polls.

He estimated that some 4 million evangelicals, who mostly vote Republican, failed to participate in the presidential election of 2000. A light went on above Rove’s head when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in early 2004 that barring same-sex couples from marriage violated the state’s constitution. Same-sex marriage had, in fact, become a reality to the consternation of social conservatives.

ROVE SAW THE opening, and he would cynically use the court’s decision to frighten America about the ramifications of gay marriage. He had indeed discovered the right tool to prod the evangelical voters to come out and vote for the incumbent president who vowed to protect the sanctity of marriage and to define it as a union between a man and a woman.

To capitalize on the lightening-rod issue of “gay marriage,” the nefarious Rove oversaw the placement of amendments that would ban same-sex marriage on the ballots of 11 states during the run-up to the 2004 election. Some of these were crucial “battleground” states like Ohio. The thinking was if they can motivate the religious conservatives on this issue, they would flock to the polls to vote against gay marriage and continue to vote Republican on the rest of the ballot.

Rove succeeded in this endeavor aided by his shameless use of scare tactics. He helped to get the message out by spreading fear, such as the notion that gay marriage would ultimately lead to marriage with animals, multiple partners, etc. This hyperbole was expected to resonate with an ill-informed population.

Anti-gay marriage rhetoric spewed from the pulpits of America’s churches during the height of the 2004 campaign, especially in the amendment states. When the preachers weren’t denouncing gay marriage, printed literature was offered to the congregations warning them of the consequences.

AND ROVE WASN’T satisfied with simply fomenting anti-gay attitudes among the evangelical Protestants. His message was also aimed at creating a furor among Catholics.

Rove, moreover, designed a cynical campaign to use gay marriage as a wedge issue among Democrats by alarming African Americans in particular. Radio announcements on African-American stations were heard in Detroit, for example, that warned that gay marriage would lead to men kissing near their houses.

Many political analysts believe (although there are no clear data to support it) that Ohio landed in Bush’s column because of the gay marriage issue and Rove’s management of it. The fact that the amendment was on the state’s ballot attracted many more social conservatives to the polls than might have otherwise participated. It could have been the deciding factor.

Rove was as much known for utilizing fear than any other component of election strategy.

In promoting fear of same-sex marriage, Karl Rove did not hesitate to exploit gays and their families to win an election. As he bails from the White House, his legacy will be a dark, cynical stain he left on our community.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

At Least the Dems Showed Up

by Steve Charing

The historic HRC/LOGO Visible Vote ‘08 forum that took place on August 9 did not break any new ground as far as the content was concerned. But it was the first time a forum that dealt almost exclusively with lgbt issues was televised and appeared on the Internet live.

"Tonight was an important night in the fight for equality for GLBT Americans," the Human Rights Campaign, a co-sponsor, said in a statement following the forum. "We pulled the curtain back a bit and gave all Americans a deeper look inside the candidates' core beliefs about the issues that affect our community."

Six of the eight Democratic candidates for president appeared in an informal, almost talk show-style setting in West Hollywood. The only two who did not were Sen. Joe Biden and Sen. Christopher Dodd who had scheduling conflicts. All Republican contenders were invited, and they all declined.

The event was seen on LOGO—the event’s other co-sponsor—an all-gay cable network that reaches some 26 million homes.

Each candidate was interviewed separately by a panel consisting of HRC president Joe Solmonese. Lesbian singer-composer Melissa Etheridge and Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart and was given approximately 15 minutes to field questions. The moderator was journalist Margaret Carlson.

Prior to the forum, some gay journalists and bloggers were whining about the composition of the panel. In particular, they targeted Etheridge, citing more "qualified" and "experienced" individuals who might grill the candidates with strong follow-up questions and forcing them to respond directly.

But Etheridge not only acquitted herself well during the two-hour forum (as did the other panelists), but she provided two of the more dramatic moments during the exchanges.

In a question posed to a seemingly uneasy Governor Bill Richardson (NM), Etheridge asked if he believed homosexuality was a choice. He said it was, and after being given an opportunity to clarify or perhaps reverse his response, he made a foolish comment that he is not a scientist. The gaffe proved to be a low moment for Richardson as the 200 invited guests in the audience groaned. Afterwards, his campaign released a statement that said he did not believe people choose to be gay. A little late, I’m afraid.

The other significant exchange occurred when Etheridge was telling Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that she had great hopes for her husband when she came out at his inaugural gala in 1993. But during his presidency she charged that gays were "pushed under the bus." Mrs. Clinton rejected that and defended her husband’s record on lgbt issues.

The questions, however, focused mainly on same-sex marriage, employment discrimination, health care, and the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, although an excellent question concerning homophobia in the African-American community was asked of Sen. Obama by Mr. Capehart. Mr. Obama said he has addressed this issue with black ministers. All of the candidates stated their desire to end "don’t ask, don’t tell" and support ENDA—the federal employment non-discrimination act that is poised for a vote in Congress.

While Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel—two long shots for the nomination—were unabashed supporters of same-sex marriage, the other four could not bring themselves to share that position. They backed civil union arrangements with the full slate of federal and state benefits that legal marriage would bring, but they could not simply agree to "same-sex marriage," almost apologetically and were not clear in providing a good reason.

But I can help them out. They want to win the general election should they capture the nomination. The country isn’t quite there yet for same-sex marriage according to recent polls. And although I believe that Clinton, Obama and Edwards deep down are personally sympathetic to the cause, for political reasons they cannot state directly they support gay marriage if they have any hopes of winning. Maybe in a couple of election cycles down the road candidates will.

These contenders understand the consequences of such a stance as the Republicans will distract the nation from their own horrendous record over the past eight years and scare Americans as they did in 2004 about an issue that truly doesn’t belong in the presidential campaign. Even Bill Richardson, who has been tagged by most gay pundits and bloggers as the loser in this forum, admitted he would do only what is "achievable."

The lack of full-throttle support for same-sex marriage by the leading candidates have angered many gay activists.

But the contemptible gaggle of Republican candidates declined to appear at the forum, and it was wise of them to make that decision from a political perspective. The main reason is they had nothing to gain.

For one thing, they have anti-gay positions on virtually all lgbt issues. They will not win over any gays or lesbians based on their records or stances. The other reason is if they are perceived in any way to be supporting the notorious "gay agenda," they would have a tough time during the primaries where the conservative base is largely unsympathetic to gay causes.

At least the Democratic candidates showed up and gave thoughtful answers to very pointed questions—often being put on the spot. The gay vote constituted only 4 percent of the total cast during the 2004 election, and of that, 73 percent voted for John Kerry. Yet these candidates rightly see the value of the gay vote during the primaries as large voter turnout from gays and lesbians could affect the outcome, and gays frequently make disproportionately more campaign donations.

Nonetheless, this forum illustrated the struggle for politicians to deal with same-sex marriage even in front of a friendly audience. The candidates distinguished themselves from the Republicans, but with the exception of Kucinich and Gravel, they did little to separate themselves from their fellow Democratic opponents on this issue.

Friday, August 03, 2007

War Wastes Funds as Our Bridges Age

Letter published in Baltimore Sun--August 6, 2007

My heart goes out to the families of the victims of the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis ("Bridge Collapses," Aug. 2). According to engineers, there are nearly 150,000 other bridges in the U.S. that are experiencing structural deterioration in various degrees mainly as a result of their age and unforeseen increased traffic stress placed on them.

A recent report from the Federal Highway Administration estimates it would cost $188 billion to repair and rehabilitate all the structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges in the country. But that money cannot be found because we are mired in a ridiculously costly war in Iraq that, according to projections, may ultimately cost the taxpayers over $1 trillion.

The horrible incident in Minneapolis highlights the fact that our tax dollars are being misspent on this futile war, which was launched ostensibly to protect the American people. even as many needed infrastructure repairs have been deferred because of lack of funds.

Steve Charing
Cllarksville, MD