Monday, June 30, 2008

AIDS Executive Gets Five-Figure Raise;
Cuts Food to Patients

My recent posts on the excessive salary of Craig Shniderman, the executive director of DC's Food and Friends, and a story in last Friday's Washington Blade, were about the 2006 IRS 990 form for the AIDS hot-meals agency showing Shniderman was compensated $334,551 two years ago for his services.

But I was even more interested in his pay level since then, so I requested the most recent IRS 990 form, for 2007, and the chief financial officer of Food and Friends snail mailed me a hard copy, which arrived today. Sorry to report that it is not yet available on the agency's web site, nor has posted it, so the only way to obtain a copy is by calling Food and Friends.

The compensation package for Schniderman last year was $357,447, giving him a raise of $22,896 from 2006.

Wanna bet he is getting even more this year?

Doesn't it make your heart all warm and fuzzy knowing at a time when people with AIDS in the Washington area are struggling to receive hot meals, nutritional supplements and juice, because of deep cuts in services at Food and Friends, the greedy executive director of the agency got a nice five-figure salary increase?

Shniderman certainly exhibits shameless avarice, but it's clearly permitted by his board of directors, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn he holds sway over who sits on the board. Is it too naive of me to say I hope his board of directors, donors and PWA clients soon rein in his greed. The well-being of many people living with HIV in the DC metro area depends on him agreeing to a salary cut, the only answer I see to avoid further reductions of food to PWAs.

Friday, June 27, 2008

(Dr. Richard Wilotski, a CDC administrator, is out of the closet.)

CDC 'Ins' Gay HIV Prevention Chief?

If it's one thing gays and HIV advocates can depend on from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's alarming new HIV infection rates for pockets of gay male sub-communities, presented in the week leading up to gay pride marches across America. The CDC skillfully ties in gay pride events with the annual National HIV Testing Day effort, every June 27, with newly analyzed and compiled infection rates, generating frightening headlines. The take home messages of the CDC and press rarely vary: fags are still fucking, HIV ain't going away, get an antibody test.

I usually don't pay much attention to the alarming drum-beat from the feds, but this year something caught my ear. The name of the new CDC boss for HIV prevention, a Dr. Richard Wolitski, is new to me and at first I thought Dr. Kevin Fenton, an openly black and gay man who happens to be CDC chief for STD/TB/HIV prevention campaigns, had left the agency and been replaced. I soon found out Wolitski has the HIV subdivision under Fenton's large agency domain, for at least six months.

A short history lesson is needed here. Back in January 2006 when Fenton's gay orientation was not being highlighted by the CDC press office, while at the same he wasn't denying being gay, I blogged on these matters. The situation back then was convenient all around: CDC and Fenton say nothing about his gay identity, and the mainstream and gay press didn't broach the subject either.

More than two-years later, nothing has changed on this score. Here we have an openly gay man in charge of a major federal bureaucracy that daily impacts upon the lives of our community, he quoted in many press accounts touting new alarming HIV stats for gays, and the matter of his sexual orientation failed to register on the radar.

Even openly gay reporter David Tuller, in his June 27 article for the NY Times, wasn't interested in mentioning Wilotski's gayness.

I emailed Wilotski to ask him directly to comment on his sexual orientation, and share with you now our brief exchange:

Sent: Fri 6/27/2008 8:44 PM
To: Wolitski, Richard (CDC/CCID/NCHHSTP)
Subject: SF gays ask: Is CDC's Dr. Wolitski gay?

Dear Dr. Wolitski,

I'm writing up something for my blog about the CDC's latest scary HIV stats for gays and bisexual men and MSM.

I'd like to note your sexual orientation, as I did when Dr. Kevin Fenton accepted his position at the CDC.

My question for you is: Are you a gay man?

A prompt reply would be appreciated.

Best regards,
Michael Petrelis

-----Original Message-----
From: Wolitski, Richard (CDC/CCID/NCHHSTP)
Sent: Sat, 28 Jun 2008 3:33 pm
Subject: RE: SF gays ask: Is CDC's Dr. Wolitski gay?

Yes, I am a gay man.

Richard J. Wolitski, PhD
Acting Director
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton RD NE (MS D-21)
Atlanta, GA 30333

From: []
Sent: Sunday, June 29, 2008 2:31 AM
To: Wolitski, Richard (CDC/CCID/NCHHSTP)
Subject: Re: SF gays ask: Is CDC's Dr. Wolitski gay?

Thanks for the rapid reply and confirmation. What is the reason why no CDC materials and no press accounts identify you as a gay man? If I am wrong about those assertions, please kindly direct me to media URLs or CDC pages that say you're gay. I think it's very important for gays at-risk of contracting HIV to know that the prime federal spokesperson on the new alarming stats is a gay man, and that he doesn't want his gay brothers to contract infections.

In a message dated 6/30/2008 6:17:24 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

There was no CDC press release other than the summary of the MMWR report that was sent out by the MMWR office. The subject of my sexual orientation never came up in any interviews. I have lived and worked as an openly gay man my entire career (both at CDC and prior to coming to CDC) and have published and spoken for many years on gay men's health, so it's certainly not an issue from my perspective.

Rich Wolitski
Acting Director
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
I believe if we had all of the gay men in positions of power at the CDC continually speaking as gay men, or in the case of Dr. Kevin Fenton, as a black gay man, the openness would have a positive influence on HIV prevention and over all gay male health.

We've had 25-plus years of CDC officials trying to affect changes in gay HIV rates, figures that have not decreased despite billions of dollars spent, and the latest alarming increase in infection stats making headlines.

Now would be a good time to try a new approach in leadership from the CDC and demand that it actively highlight its top gay decision-makers, while simultaneously getting the CDC gay administrators to tell reporters about their sexual orientation and asking news editors to provide fuller details on the federal officials directing HIV prevention efforts.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lancet: What is the Incidence of HIV in the USA?
Earlier this week I tried to find out San Francisco's latest rate of new HIV infections, for 2007, but the stats, known as the CTR figures, for Counseling, Testing and Referral, weren't posted on the DPH web site. In recent previous years, the DPH made the CTR HIV stats available for public inspection in early May.

I requested the new HIV stats and this was the terse reply from DPH:
The information you requested is being worked on. The plan is to have it finished and posted on the web by August 1, 2008.
In typical DPH "give as little current HIV stats and related info to the fags as possible" fashion, the department didn't offer any reason for the three-month delay. Consistent release of reliable HIV stats is not a top agenda item for San Francisco.

As I noted last year, the CTR HIV stats appear to be declining, despite DPH claims that the infections are stable. (Year, number of antibody tests performed/poz results.)

19,090 / 699

20,376 / 735

21,973 / 736

20,735 / 644

17,714 / 336


But enough about whatever the HIV rate is for this city, let's look at a blistering editorial in today's Lancet medical journal. Nice of the bland Lancet editors to put on radical activist hats and deplore US prevention as dismal. Is there any other way to look at more than a decade of 40,000 new infections every year? On top of this outrageous annual stat, more than 25 years after HIV/AIDS hit America, the federal government can't tell the public what the actual number of new HIV transmissions is.

Whether I'm looking at HIV stats for San Francisco or across the country, it's best at times to use a crystal ball in getting a clue about the current/recent transmission rate.

Excerpts from the Lancet, (reg. req'd.):
Last week, at a press conference at the UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS in New York, Anthony Fauci, director of
. . . (NIAID), said that the number of new HIV infections per year in the USA was closer to 50 000 than 40 000.

He told reporters: “In the United States we still have a significant problem … we have over 750 000 AIDS cases … and over half a million deaths. The very disturbing aspect of the situation in the United States is that we have about 40 to 52 000 new infections each year.”

He said that this level of new infections had stayed the same for the past 14 years and that the USA had hit a wall in not being able to get any lower.

Fauci's statements, reported by Reuters, have caused uproar, because the 52 000 figure he refers to has not yet been publicly released . . .

On Nov 26, 2007, the CDC issued a letter to advocacy groups, which stated that the information would be released in the “coming months”. The letter also stated that the data had been submitted to an academic journal for peer review and that the CDC anticipates publishing the new data in early 2008. Yet, as The Lancet went to press, nothing had been released . . .

However, as the UN's webcast of the press conference shows, Fauci does not talk about diagnoses but new infections. He says that 52 000 is a new number that will soon become an official statistic . . .

Either way, the figure shows that US efforts to prevent HIV have failed dismally. The CDC must not fail US citizens further by delaying the release of the data behind this fact.

Blade: $334K AIDS Food Bank ED Defends High Salary

If there's one thing I'm sick of in my AIDS accountability efforts, it's not the excessive compensation packages of some executives, it's how they refuse to engage in a discussion with the community about their earnings. Too often when clients, activists and reporters attempt to understand why the salaries are so elevated, the executives and their underlings say "no comment," or issue vague written statements designed to deflect attention away from the greed of agency leaders.

Joining the long list of such AIDS agencies is Food and Friends. This is from an email sent by Lisa Bandera, communications director for the food bank:

In a message dated 6/23/2008 2:15:08 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
We have no comment with respect to your recent blog entry.
It's impossible to hold an honest chat when Food and Friends is practicing the silent treatment. And that isn't their policy just for bloggers such as myself. Even the Washington Blade couldn't get the director to chat about his pay. It's not at all original for an AIDS executive to defend his compensation package with a "no comment."

But what I found newly troubling about the AIDS food agency is that they've spent agency dollars, intended for hot meals and beverages to keep people with AIDS alive, hiring a consulting firm and nonprofit experts to guide the board of directors in determining the executive director's compensation. I'd like to know how much money was spent on the outside consultants and why the board needs so much outside assistance in making a salary decision.

Supporters of Food and Friends should start asking questions about their donations, and requiring that their contributions go to meals and juices for clients, not outrageous salaries or outside consultants.

From the excellent Blade article by Lou Chibbaro:

Food & Friends, a non-profit group founded 20 years ago in a church basement, says the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration reduced its funding allocation from the federal Ryan White AIDS program by $303,000 in March, just as the group faced rising gas and food prices and a decline in private donations due to a sluggish economy.

“We are in a solid and stable financial position,” said Craig Shniderman, the group’s executive director. “But we can’t spend money we don’t have. We have no choice but to reduce some of our services.”

But Shniderman this week was criticized by prominent AIDS activist and blogger Michael Petrelis, who published information from the latest available IRS finance report for Food & Friends, which showed Shniderman received a combined salary and benefits package in
2006 of $334,551 . . .

Shniderman declined to comment on his salary, saying his organization’s board is in charge of handling those matters.

Robert Hall III, president of the Food & Friends board of directors, said in a written statement that the board sets Shniderman’s salary and benefits by retaining a “nationally recognized compensation and human resources consulting firm” and independent consults to study “national, regional and local data” pertaining to salaries for executives similar to Shniderman.

“We are fortunate that Craig Shniderman has served as our executive director for more than 13 years and we have benefited from his more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit field,” Hall said. “Food & Friends requires, and receives, from Craig exemplary leadership, planning, fundraising and management so as to meet client needs.” . . .

An announcement on the Food & Friends web site says the group has reduced its expenditures for client services by $223,000, with the hope that the reduction could be reversed if government funding cuts are restored next year.

The reduction in services will include reduced meal deliveries to family members of clients in D.C., reduced liquid nutritional supplements except for clients who are under weight or who have a crucial need for supplements, the elimination of juice from client meal bags and a reduction by 50 percent of the number of new clients the group will accept from D.C. and Virginia . . .

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

(October 17, 2005: Bush, announcing placing Muslim holy book in the White House.)

Will McCain Keep Koran in White House Library,
If Elected President?

Today's New York Times prints an article that delves into Barack Obama's complex relationship with Muslim-American voters and it jogged my memory about something to do with George Bush and the Koran.

Back in October 2005 Bush added the added to the shelves of the White House library. He announced this expansion of the library's holdings at a formal White House dinner for Muslims during the Ramadan holiday.

This stuck in my memory not just because the Worst President Ever was making nice with Muslim-Americans and placing their holy book in the people's house, that was easy to comprehend. What was jarring was the association of Bush with a library. Two entities not on the most friendly of terms.

From the transcript of his 2005 remarks:

To promote greater understanding between our cultures, I have encouraged American families to travel abroad, to visit with Muslim families. And I have encouraged American families to host exchange students from the Muslim world. I have asked young Americans to study the language and customs of the broader Middle East. And for the first time in our nation's history, we have added a Koran to the White House Library. (Applause.)

I blogged about this interesting religious and political development at the time, and noted that the mainstream media had ignored the significance of adding the Koran to the White House premises. My gut told me that hard-right pundits and conservative Christians wouldn't be at all pleased with what Bush had done, but if those political forces were aware of this, they were muted in their reaction, and the press never took note of Bush's small, but potentially controversial action.

Now, with Obama facing tough challenges and questions about his (awkward) courtship of Muslim voters, including carefully creating his general image for the voters, and not allowing two women in Muslim garb to be in the background as he delivered a speech, I think in the interests of fairness and political balance, John McCain should be asked a few Muslim-related questions.

Let's start with, if elected to the Oval Office, will he retain or remove the Koran from the White House book shelves? Has he read it and would he consult the Koran, when making policy decisions related to the Middle East region?

The placing of the Koran in the library was of such diplomatic value, and a rare chance to show the Arab world the Bush administration was not at war with Islam, that Karen Hughes, when she was running the State Department's public diplomacy office, highlighted it in talks with reporters from Muslim countries.

There's much time between now and November. All those reporters covering the presidential race need something to write about, why not ask McCain a few questions about his views on the Koran and its place in the White House.

Monday, June 23, 2008

HRC's Solmonese Breaks Quarter-Million Pay Barrier

The latest IRS 990 reports, for 2007, for the Human Rights Campaign, Incorporated, and the HRC Foundation were recently posted on, and should soon be made available on the HRC site, where earlier filings are posted for public inspection.

Combined revenue for both arms of this Democratic constituency group was nearly $37.5 million, and the master of ceremonies of the show known as HRC, executive director Joseph Solmonese, broke through the quarter million salary mark.

Given the fact I recently learned that Craig Schniderman of Food and Friends, an AIDS charity with a $6.8 million budget, was compensated $334,551, I can't say Solmonese is overpaid. Heck, he may be underpaid, if we use Schniderman's pay level as the measuring tool.

Think this complaint would look good on a t-shirt?
"More than $37 million gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender dollars flowed into the Beltway coffers of HRC recently and all I got was a lousy sticker with the ubiquitous HRC equal sign logo on it."
I wouldn't have any problems with these salary levels, or how $37 million is flushed down Democratic sewers, if there were dozens of legislative and federal programmatic accomplishments as a result of HRC's bloated operations and chic staffers, and as we all know there aren't. The best one can say about HRC's agenda is that it is a successful producer of ritzy dinners and consumer goods stamped with their equal logo.

Sometimes I think we would we be so much better off if HRC spun itself out of the political business and became an event producer with a line of products marketed to the high income bracket gays and lesbians, and a genuine multipartisan gay advocacy created from scratch.

Without further complaining and daydreaming, here are the top salaries from the 2007 IRS 990 forms for HRC:
Joe Solmonese, Executive Director

Cathy Nelson, Development Director

David Smith, Communications VP

Susanne Salkind, Managing Director

Maxim Thorne, Chief Operating Officer

Kevin Layton, General Counsel

Andrea Green, Treasurer

Mary Breslauer, Agenda Radio Program/Board Member
Click here to read the list of names and salaries from the 2006 IRS 990 filings by HRC.
(On the left, Lewis, leaning against his hubby Clark.)

Lewis & Clark: First CA Married Gays in
New York Times' Wedding Pages

Lewis Kerman and Clark Traftron, queer pioneers crossing over new political and societal territory, got hitched last week in California, and their wedding announcement in the New York Times is the first such notice for the paper of record since gay marriages began last week in this great state.

The Times didn't mention where Lewis and Clark reside, but I tracked them down at their home in Palm Springs, and spoke with Lewis over the phone about breaking new ground in the gay marriage equality battles, and at the Gray Lady.

He said they were quite elated to be the first married California gay couple to appear in the wedding and vows section of the paper. Lewis told me his partner Clark has a gay relative, and the relative and his companion tied the knot at their ceremony, making it a double wedding. Aw, is that too precious, or what? It's great to learn details like this, things that don't make it into the Times' announcement, but greatly expand humanizing the gays saying "I do."

I offered Lewis, his husband, and the other now-married gay couple, congratulations and best wishes for the future. With joyful enthusiasm flowing over the telephone wires, Lewis thanked me for calling. His final comment to me was a wish to beat back the ballot initiative seeking to amend the state constitution to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. I join him in hoping pro-gay forces rule on election day in November.

Congratulations, Lewis and Clark!

From the Times:

Lewis H. Kerman and the Rev. Dr. Clark Gregory Wright Trafton were married on Friday morning at the Riverside County Clerk’s Office in Indio, Calif. Yvonne Cruz, a deputy commissioner of civil marriages, officiated.

Mr. Kerman is 55. He retired as dean of the undergraduate business program of Rutgers in Newark and now is an adjunct professor there for the executive M.B.A. program. He teaches the same program in Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore. He graduated from Yale and received an M.B.A. and a law degree from Rutgers . . .

Mr. Trafton, 73, is a retired Episcopal priest and psychoanalyst who was interim rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Heights, Queens, from 2002 to 2005; he held the same post from 1995 to 1999 at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery in Manhattan. He was also on the staff of the Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute in Manhattan. He graduated from Iowa State University, from which he also received a master’s in mathematics. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees in divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, an Episcopal seminary in California . . .

Friday, June 20, 2008

(Craig Schniderman, Food and Friends' leader.)

Cuts at AIDS Food Bank, But Director Paid $334,551

Across the country, AIDS organizations are facing reductions in government and private funding for direct services to people with AIDS, and groups in Washington, DC, are making tough financial decisions as grants and contributions diminish.

In today's Washington Blade, veteran reporter Lou Chibbaro writes that the city's premier AIDS agency, the Whitman Walker Clinic, has sold its headquarters and is undergoing major restructuring, including by the end of the year phasing out its food bank.

The Blade further reports that the local AIDS food-delivery organization, despite its own budgetary shortfalls, will provide some aid to the clinic's patients:
Craig Shniderman, executive director of Food & Friends, the Washington area’s largest provider of food for homebound people with HIV and other diseases, said Food & Friends will step in to help clients displaced by the Whitman-Walker restructuring. But Shniderman said Food & Friends recently received a reduction in funding from the federal Ryan White CARE Act program, which will result in fewer resources for taking on new clients.

“This happens to be a bad confluence of events for the Whitman-Walker food bank to be closing at a time when we’re seeing our own financial challenges,” he said. “But we will certainly do everything possible.”
Food and Friends, on its web site, recently announced their own reduction of meals and clients they will serve:
Through the careful management of our personnel-related expenditures, we anticipate saving approximately $85,000 by December 31. We also plan to reduce various administrative, and other non-salary, expenditures by $27,000. To this we will add reduced expenditures for client services totaling $223,000. It is this last category of expenditures that are the most troubling, though necessary. [Emphasis in original statement.]
Interesting that the largest area to get cut at the agency, in the six-figure range, was client services, while personnel expenditures, received only a five-figure reduction.

I hope as Shniderman contemplates everything possible he can do to better assist people with AIDS in these dire times meet their food and nutritional needs, that he considers reducing his quite excessive compensation package. He is one of the nation's top-earners among AIDS executive directors.

The latest IRS 990 file for Food and Friends, for 2006, shows the agency had $6,782,922 in revenue, and that Shniderman's full compensation came to a whopping $334,551. That's some "non-profit" salary, wouldn't you say? See page 19 of the filing for more info.

Compare those figures with numbers in the 2006 IRS tax file for the Whitman Walker Clinic. It reported revenue of $22,377,792, while the executive director at the time. Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti, entire compensation was $169,792. Page 30 of this filing is where you'll find the source data.

On the surface, it's a real head-scratcher determining why a non-profit with a larger budget paid its top leader less than what an agency with a much smaller budget paid its executive director. It may be that Schniderman receives such an enormous salary because in addition to his executive director duties, he also puts in a lot of time fund-raising for his agency.

That may be, and there certainly could be many more reasons and justification why he should earn $334,551 in these belt-tightening times, and I'd like to hear from him and his agency if they will consider cutting his compensation and diverting the money to apples and tofu for AIDS patients.

So I called Lisa Bandera, the communications director for Food and Friends, spoke with her about my concerns. She promised to talk to her superiors and get back to me with answers, most likely early next week.

When I get a reply from Bandera and Food and Friends, I'll share it here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

July 19 SF Vigil: Stop Iran's Gay Hangings,
Global LGBT Solidarity

The anniversary of Iran's tragic hanging of two gay teenagers in the holy city of Mashad on July 19, 2005, is approaching and in preparation for the fourth annual commemoration in San Francisco of the hangings, I scoured numerous photo archives on the web for every publicly available photo from the executions.

With the tremendously huge assistance from UK gay advocate Simon Forbes, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the death of Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, I was able to gather fourteen images and reasonably determine what is happening in each picture. The results of our effort are posted below. Click here to read Simon's 67-page report on this complex case.

Many activists in San Francisco committed to participating in this year's July 19 demonstration back in the autumn of 2007 when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke in New York City and claimed, to much worldwide astonishment and outright disbelief, that there were no homosexuals in Iran.

The New York Times on September 20, 2007, linked Ahmadinejad's ignorance with the hangings of 2005:
For a country that is said to have no homosexuality, Iran goes to great lengths to ban it. Gays are punished by lashing or death if it is proved that they have had homosexual relations. Two gay teenagers were executed in 2005 in Mashad, a northeastern city.
On Saturday, July 19, gays will assemble at Harvey Milk Plaza, located at Market and Castro Streets, from 12 noon till 1 pm, to call attention to the following issues and demands:
1. Remember the hanged gay Iranian teenagers, and all LGBT victims of hatred and bigotry around the world who've suffered violations of their human rights

2. Engage in coordinated global gay solidarity

3. Abolish the death penalty everywhere, and an especially quick end to executions of minors and women

4. Oppose foreign military intervention in Iran, particularly war-mongering by U.S. politicians.
Activists in other cities are invited to organize their own protests and vigils for July 19. Actions as simple as a handful of people lighting a candle of hope in a community center or cafe, to dozens of people speaking out on the streets, are just a few ideas of what people can do on July 19 in conjunction with San Francisco.

The four goals are guiding principals and others are asked to adopt them, but there is no requirement to do so. Indeed, each city's activists will decide amongst themselves what their demands and goals are. The important thing is to be active that day, and adopt your own local agenda.

I hope to see this list of cities and actions grow larger:
July 19, 2008
City: San Francisco, CA
Location: Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro & Market
Action: Speak out
Time: 12 noon
Here are the 14 photos Simon and I were able to track down of the barbaric killings in Mashad, Iran, on July 19, 2005. Of course, if you have any others, please send them to me and I'll post them here. The images are presented in what we believe is chronological order. Crowds line up against and on top of a wall surrounding Edalat (Justice) Square, as the preparations for the killings are underway. Members of the local police force, maintain order at another part of Edalat Square. The condemned gay teenagers in the police van, being recorded and videotaped. The interviewer and camera probably are members of the press, but that is not definitively known who they are. Mahmoud Asgari is the boy on the right speaking into the microphone, and Ayaz Marhoni is crying on the left. Blindfolded and handcuffed, Asgari is forcibly escorted out of the van.,+AFP+image.jpg5. Until recently, human rights workers were unaware of this Agence France Presse photo. Marhoni has been placed blindfolded and hands-bound on the wooden ledge of the make-shift gallows on the flatbed of a truck, positioned under a swinging noose. Three security agents prepare to hoist Asgari up to the ledge. The nooses are lowered closer to the boys' necks. Asgari on the left, Marhoni on the right. Marhoni has the noose tightened around his neck by the hooded executioner, while Asgari's executioner pulls the noose down past his eyes. The noose for Asgari inches closer to his neck, as the executioner lowers it past Asgari's ears. With only moments before the truck is to drove off, Asgari and Marhoni are moved into place for death by short-drop hanging. According to witnesses who spoke to Amnesty they took 20 minutes to die. Their agony was not over in a few short minutes. This image appeared in the Quds daily newspaper, and shows the bodies swinging right after the truck has driven away, removing the platform. The banner is visible from this front angle, and it reads "EXECUTING JUSTICE = PROVIDING SECURITY." Both boys appear to be still conscious and alive at this point. The almost-lifeless rigid bodies of Asgari, left, and Marhoni, right, swing from the temporary metal girders. Viewing the execution scene looking toward the flatbed truck. From the back of the sign, in Farsi, the words "EXECUTING JUSTICE = PROVIDING SECURITY" are much more visible. A multitude of men calmly watch as Marhoni and Asgari struggle in vain from the gallows. A weeping teenage boy, said by local sources to be Asgari's brother, releases his grief. Look closely at the photos of Asgari, in his white shirt and blue pants, and you will see a striking family resemblance to the crying young man.
BAR: HRC Dinner Boycott Grows;
Dufty Hosting Potluck Protest

This just isn't a good week for the Democratic Party's gay constituency - the Human Rights Campaign. They got slammed by bloggers for lack of donations from the group's leaders to Barack Obama, and questions were again raised about the stewardship of Joe Solmonese.

Now comes a lengthy article in the latest Bay Area Reporter, all about the expanding forms of protest against the organization. One detail in the story stand out. It's a small gesture, but beautifully creative that Bevan Dufty won't be at the HRC gala. Instead, he'll be home hosting a potluck for the trannies and their supporters.

I think no matter where one falls on the ENDA and the trannies debate spectrum, many gay voters are pleased to see an ongoing coordinated effort to hold HRC accountable. Community discussion about the myriad failures of HRC may one day make it eventually deliver federal advances for gay Americans.

From today's BAR:

Calls to boycott this year's Human Rights Campaign gala dinner in San Francisco are growing louder as the national group's July 26 fundraiser grows nearer. The Washington, D.C.-based LGBT lobbyist organization upset many in the Bay Area's LGBT community last year when it backed passage of a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act stripped of gender identity protections ...

The agency has defended its position by saying that it will work to educate congressional members on the need to extend job protections to transgender employees. So far, though, HRC has refused to commit itself to only backing a fully inclusive ENDA when a new Congress is seated in 2009 ...

With San Francisco home to a large transgender community, the protest planned outside the Bay Area dinner is expected to be the largest to date, despite HRC's decision to allow attendees to opt to give their contribution to the statewide effort to defeat an anti-gay marriage amendment on the November ballot ...

Openly gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty informed Solmonese earlier this month that, in addition to not attending the gala dinner this year, he plans to host a potluck dinner for the protesters the night of the event.

"I plan to have pasta and wine at my house," said Dufty, who was part of the host committee for the dinner last year. "I called Joe since he was in town to do the AIDS ride to tell him that I was not going to be on the host committee and that I was not going to the event this year."

Last week the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club released an open letter in which it announced it also would not be taking part this year in the dinner, at which it usually hosts a table. The club did not use the word "boycott" in its letter, and instead asked community members to "forgo" HRC's gala event this year ...

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, has refused to attend any HRC events since it announced its decision on ENDA. She said she has no plans to attend this year's dinner.

"I very much hope and believe HRC will clearly and unequivocally take the position that they will only support a fully inclusive ENDA as the only possible way to move forward for our community," said Kendell. "I certainly believe they will demonstrate that critical leadership. Until they do, I am not comfortable attending HRC events."

At the same time, Kendell said she believes HRC's commitment to the anti-gay marriage amendment fight is "genuine, substantial, and enormously important" for the LGBT community to have a chance of defeating it.

"This is a sharp disagreement on ENDA among colleagues," she said ...

The protest of the HRC gala will have little impact on the future relationship between the organization and the Bay Area's LGBT community, said Luna.

"A healthy discussion is of value. It is never going to be something we hold against people," he said. "We want to make sure every voice is heard. We do think at some point in time we can move beyond this controversy so we can step up to the plate and do the hard work that needs to be done on this issue."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

(At San Francisco's City Hall on Monday, a gay guitar player sings before suffering cardiac arrest. Photo credit: Storm Bear,

Gay Suffers Heart Attack at Marriage Rally;
Hater Says "Satan Got You"

As the majority of the crowd outside San Francisco's City Hall celebrated the first lesbian wedding taking place in the historic building, a gay man suffered a heart attack and was quickly tended to by emergency medical personnel.

I don't know the man's name, but I affectionately call him Joni because I frequently see him at community vigils and demonstrations, with his guitar, leading crowds in songs of love and protest.

A few minutes after Joni led us in singing "All You Need is Love," and at about the same time Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were exchanging marriage vows, Joni collapse. I was standing a few feet away from him as firefighters began performing CPR. On another part of the sidewalk near this scene was reporter Storm Bear, from the site, who wrote this account what he witnessed:
One gentleman, a supporter dressed head to toe in leather, was playing his guitar and suddenly dropped like a tree at my feet, before I could bend down to check his pulse, cops swarmed the guy and started CPR. They were very professional.

Sadly, I think he might have died. They resuscitated him for 20 minutes and he did not respond. They started an IV of 1 liter of saline and gave him O2. About 10 minutes in, he swallowed and kinda of coughed and the crowd cheered.

It was so quick. He just fell. Within minutes he was ashen and grey . . .

The guitar player was so happy and joyful and he just dropped - reminded me of Tim Russert.

One of the Christian protesters was chanting at his body - "Satan Got You!" "What is the Devil whispering in your ear about now?"

I yelled at the guy, "If you are such a Christian, why aren't you praying for the guy dying on the concrete?" The protester replied, "God killed him for loving fags!!" The cops even stepped in and told the guy to shut his mouth.

I have no idea what the ultimate fate of the guitar player is. I have high hopes he will live to sing another day.
There is good news to report on Joni's condition. After calling and emailing numerous politicians, the fire department, local hospitals and the health department for information, my friend gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty sent me a message. Dufty found out that Joni suffered cardiac arrest, was taken to St. Mary's hospital and is in guarded condition.

Let us hope and pray Joni continues to recover and regains his strength.

And if someone knows his real name, please share it with me. When I get more information on Joni, I will post it here.

Below are photos from Monday of the homo-hater making his views known. I took a photo of police officers performing life-saving CPR on the gay community's beloved troubadour, but because of personal ethical qualms, I'm not posting it.

The hater who said outrageously stupid things, as a gay man fell ill. Photo credit: Storm Bear.

My photo of the hater, taken before the gay man went into cardiac arrest.

Monday, June 16, 2008

City Hall: Gays, Jews, Jesus,
Commies, Muslims & Heteros

The scene outside San Francisco's City Hall building, the Polk Street side, before, during and after the marriage of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon took place in the mayor's office, was the loving and wacky circus I expected this city to put on for this great leap forward for gay marriage equality. Wouldn't have missed the chance to be a witness and participant for anything, and the opportunity to snap a few photos of the hoopla. Let's go to the photos:

Oy, Jewish lesbians offering cake to a photographer.

One hateful sign rises above the crowd.

Just one of the two dozen anti-gay haters in the
horde of onlookers.

Oh, Mary! Homo Jesus is wandering the streets again!

That's me holding the solidarity sign, in a crush of people surrounding the haters, singing "All You Need is Love."

A gay man offering a rainbow flag to a hater.

Fox News commentator Jim Hammer, center, annoyed I'm taking his photo.

From the Polk Street steps, a view of the crowd.

A member of the Bob Avakian wing of the Communist Party USA, holding the sign promoting atheism.

Pro-peace mom Cindy Sheehan showing support for gays.

The crowd on the lip of Civic Center.

The queer marching band warming up for another number.

Muslim's circled City Hall with this sign on a truck.

Not sure who drove this truck, continually looping around the
Civic Center plaza.

HRC's Ads Hit SF Kiosks for Gay Pride

There are so many HIV and STD and anti-meth social marketing campaigns continually blanketing gay public space in San Francisco, assaulting the eyes and intelligence with stigmatizing messages, that I've learned to avert my gaze when walking past the ads. But yesterday, on my way church, one such ad stood out -- it showed the Human Rights Campaign equal sign logo. It was no DPH/AIDS Inc ad, but one from the nation's largest Democratic gay political action committee.

The ad above appears on a kiosk on Market Street near the old car dealership at Dolores Street.

Why is it appearing here, and what exactly is the message HRC is trying to deliver to gays in America's homosexual Mecca? Answers cannot be located on HRC's web site. They've apparently not issued a press release on their social marketing campaign.

The ad itself seems to be selling a handsome young gay male, a little bit edgy with his black leather wrist band, and his pride in being a friend, an employee and a member of HRC. And who is this dude? His name is not part of the ad, leaving him anonymous and, dare I say it, closeted.

I recall similar campaigns by other advocacy groups, touting their members, but they mentioned the member's name, sometimes also including their hometown or other individual trait. But not HRC's ads in San Francisco right now.

If gay Democratic party PACs have enough money to launch street-level educational ads, all in the cause of effecting changes in federal laws and programs for LGBT citizens, I advise them to invest their gay community dollars to run the campaign in Washington.

Gay people in San Francisco are in no need of this lame and closest HRC advertising effort, but policy-makers in the nation's capitol would benefit from such ads, especially if they were more gay-specific.

Could it be the ads are just one more way HRC's leadership circle, headed by dapper Joe Solmonese, diverts our attention from their lack of accomplishments on Capitol Hill?

Below is an ad from the Stop AIDS Project, on a kiosk located at Market and Church Streets. With so much ad clutter vying for the gay eye in San Francisco, HRC's ad does not stand out. The entire HRC ad campaign is equal to bringing coal to Newcastle.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

(A member of the Phelps clan picketing a US soldier's funeral, as bikers stand with their backs turned, counter-protesting the clan of haters.)

Rev Phelps to Protest SF's First Lesbian Marriage

Please allow me to be among the first to welcome the hateful anti-gay Rev. Fred Phelps clan of Topeka, Kansas, to gay America's city of love, San Francisco, when they arrive on June 16 to protest gay and lesbian marriages at City Hall.

Every effort should be made to help Phelps get the media attention he so desires, all the better to have him be the public face of anti-marriage equality, and for gay leaders to wisely use him to move California voters to vote against the November ballot initiative.

Phelps' hateful messages targeting gay people and American soldiers are repulsive and I believe many voters who are on the fence about the fall initiative can't emotionally associate with his rhetoric, and he can push voters to do the right thing at the ballot box for us. I'm very much anticipating dueling photos of his clan's twisted blood-lust versus images of public love from the gays streaming into City Hall to make American history.

At the time of Phelps' demonstration, inside City Hall, at the stroke of 5:01 pm, our boy-king mayor will be engaged in helping two adored grandmothers of the gay and lesbian community get hitched. From the Bay Area Reporter:
In San Francisco, partners Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who have been together more than 50 years, are to be married in a private ceremony officiated by Mayor Gavin Newsom on Monday, June 16 just after 5 p.m. in City Hall. Although it had been reported elsewhere that the clerk's office would start performing marriages for other same-sex couples on Monday, mayoral spokeswoman Giselle Barry told the Bay Area Reporter this week that Monday would be limited to Lyon and Martin, who will be the first same-sex couple married in San Francisco. The two icons also were the first to be married during the Winter of Love in 2004.
I'll be one of the multitude attending the lesbian marriage ceremony and celebration come this Monday, and I'll be sure to stop by wherever Phelps is doing his demonstration, and thank him for showing up, lending his important voice to the gay marriage cause. America in her heart does not hate fags or the soldiers, and this reverend plays a crucial role in bringing out the love America wants to express for gays and our servicemen and women in Iraq.

An excerpt from the crew announcing their June 16 protest plans:
San Francisco City Hall 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl. We have a message for you california - fags doom nations. The Lord Jesus Christ said Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Shame on you! Making a law that says men can marry each other doesn't change the standard of God. Just as when San Francisco lawlessy married fags in 2004, WBC will be there to remind you that it never has been and never will be okay to be a fag. What a bunch of hypocrites you are - why do you put any limits on who can marry? If you're not going to follow the clear scriptural standard of one man, one woman for life who do you pretend you have a standard? Why can't three men marry each other? Why can't a woman marry a dog? Why can't a man have five wives?
See you at City Hall, Rev. Phelps. And thanks ever so much for serving as the spokesman for homophobia.

Friday, June 13, 2008

HRC Leaders: $0 for Obama, $4,300 for Clinton

The leaders of the gay division of the Democratic Party, alias the Human Rights Campaign, made contributions to their favorite candidates during the primary race, and as expected by many independent gay pundits, the top recipient of their contributions was the other HRC, Senator Clinton. The presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, received nothing from the HRC leaders.

FEC records show which 2008 Democratic contenders were lucky enough to take in dollars from the top people at HRC:

Hillary Clinton: $4,300
Chris Dodd: $3,000
John Edwards: $ 750
Bill Richardson: $ 500
Barack Obama: $ 0

Who at HRC did the giving? Here's the list:

Georgie Aguirre-Sacasa, Field Director
Dodd: $2,000
Edwards: $ 750
Clinton: $ 250

Timothy S. Bahr, Fundraiser
Clinton: $250

Jennifer Brooks-Miller, Development
Clinton: $250

Raymond Deeb, HRC Atlanta
Richardson: $500

Frank November, Director of Volunteers
Clinton: $500

Martin Rouse, Field Director
Clinton: $250

David M. Smith, Vice President
Clinton: $2,300
Dodd: $1,000

Chris Speron, Development
Clinton: $500

As if it weren't enough for current HRC executives to write checks to Clinton, former executive director Elizabeth Birch's FEC file reveals she gave the maximum allowed by law to the New York senator, $4,600, in 2007.

What else is being said out in the blogosphere regarding HRC? Former Washington Blade publisher Chris Crain, who has long tracked HRC's Democratic tilt and slavish devotion to Clinton, blogged this week on how the gay group, through gritted teeth, declared its endorsement of Obama:
For an important moment like announcing a presidential endorsement, you would think HRC would pull out all the stops -- something we know the resource-rich organization usually revels in doing.

Instead, this is how the Obama nod got announced on HRC's Back Story blog:

The following is from Jason Boeckman, HRC Communications and Marketing Intern. Jason is a senior at Miami University of Ohio in Oxford, OH.

Today the Human Rights Campaign announced its support for Barack Obama in his bid for the presidency.

That's right, the Obama endorsement was communicated by an HRC college intern. The weekly message by HRC chief Joe Solmonese was likewise lukewarm, barely containing his disappointment that candidate HRC wasn't the
nominee . . .

Regular readers of this blog know that HRC the candidate was always the candidate for HRC the organization (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). So there was no chance that HRC would endorse Obama at a time when it might actually gain some leverage with his campaign -- the type of courageous move we saw from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which endorsed Obama in mid-May.

Even still, you would think HRC and Solmonese would get over their "anger and grief" long enough to do their jobs.
Um, Chris, they were doing their jobs -- remaining loyal to Clinton first, to the bitter and depressing end, and putting bold gay advocacy last. Boring HRC business as usual.

Click here to see HRC's new ad campaign targeting gays in San Francisco. Just one more way HRC squanders precious gay community dollars.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cockettes Forum at NYC Gay Center

I was back East last week visiting with my family and assorted pals, including the crazy surviving gang from the Cockettes.

For those not yet alive in the 1960s, or those who were and lived through those turbulent times but can't recall them, or anyone unfamiliar with the old gay sub-culture, the Cockettes were a gender-bending, drug-loving, sex-adoring troop of performers. Based in San Francisco, where their theatrical acts were radically altering lifestyles and social norms, many of the Cockettes now live in the NYC area.

On June 5 at NYC's gay community center, in the same assembly room where ACT UP met in its heyday, a room still not wired for air-conditioning or good ventilation, the remaining Cockettes put on a forum. They, and the fawning audience, took a fun-filled, and factually-challenging, given all the drugs and competing egos, sweaty and steamy walk down memory lane.

Click here for the Cockettes video web site, which has a history of the glam guys and gals. I hope you enjoy my photos from the Cockettes symposium:

Monday, June 09, 2008

First NYT Gay Wedding Notice With Grooms Kissing?

Since September 2002 when the New York Times first began printing gay commitment celebration notices on its wedding pages, I've tried to always read those pages on Sundays, just to see the gay and lesbian couples receive such recognition from the Gray Lady over the years.

But yesterday, the Times ran two photos of William Siroty and William Stelling accompanying a great story about their relationship and years-long courtship, and one photo shows them warmly embracing, on the dance floor, and just about to kiss. Ah, modern gay love, I thought, there for every Times reader to look at. But I couldn't recall ever seeing another same-sex couple engaged in such a display of affection in their Times wedding notice.

Can it be that in the almost-six years the paper has published commitment celebrations and wedding notices for gay and lesbian couples, that there's been no other photo of happy same-sexers smooching in the weddings section?

If you're aware of other occasions when the paper has run pictures of gay or lesbian couples locking lips during their commitment ceremony or at the reception afterward, send me the photo, or link to it. I'd like to be proved wrong that yesterday's photo was the first time two grooms were (almost) smooching in their NYT wedding notice.

(Photo credit: Jon Gilbert Fox.)