Sunday, January 31, 2010

SF DPH: Gay STDs Declined in 2009

Officials at the Department of Public Health on Friday released two new reports pertaining to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and drops were seen for 2009 figures in certain key categories. When reading the new year-end stats, remember that they are preliminary and are likely to change, once all late reports from labs have been turned in. Still, the declines are well worth noting.

From the editorial note of the December 2009 monthly STD report, emphases mine:

In 2009, increases were noted for chlamydia in San Francisco, while reported gonorrhea and early syphilis declined compared to 2008. Overall reported chlamydia increased from 4,120 to 4,169 (1.2%) while rectal chlamydia increased in 2009 from 666 to 740 cases for an 11.1% annual increase.

Reported gonorrhea declined 9.8% from 2,008 cases in 2008 to 1,812 in 2009. Additionally, rectal gonorrhea among men declined from 465 cases to 457 – a 1.7% decline.

After a sharp increase in early syphilis seen in 2008, early syphilis declined in 2009 by 4.2%; from 547 cases to 524.

SF DPH doesn't say why there's an increase of rectal chlamydia, but the rise is probably due to increased testing.

That rise is countered by the drop in male anal gonorrhea and syphilis, key markers for gay male STDs, and these falling stats, IMHO, show healthy sexual practices among gays. Those practices include regular screenings for infections.

Also in the prelim 2009 stats are these HIV numbers from the City Clinic testing center. There was a 17% jump in HIV tests performed, from 4,446 to 5,370, but the rate of positive test results fell by 10%, from 98 in 2008 down to 89 in 2009.

If HIV stats fall at a major testing venue, even when there's a significant surge of tests administered, it's a sign of more good news for controlling and preventing HIV.

We all know that SF DPH wastes no time sounding alarms when there's even a hint of an increase in gay HIV, gonorrhea or syphilis figures, and unfortunately, never gets around to saying anything positive about falling stats. That silence is on full display right now. Health officials in Gay Mecca might one day develop a few tools of positive reinforcement for good sexual behaviors, like offering praise for sagging stats.

SF DPH last week also released the December 2009 quarterly AIDS surveillance report, and similar falling prelim stats, were reported for AIDS diagnoses and deaths.

From the new AIDS report:

Year
Diagnoses/Deaths

2000
555 / 348

2001
513 / 322

2002
495 / 323

2003
559 / 301

2004
477 / 305

2005
469 / 313

2006
430 / 288

2007
438 / 211

2008
392 / 172

2009
193 / 132

The figures will, of course, evolve due to delays in reporting, but even taking into account delays, the trends here continue to slide downward.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Clinton's Town Hall at State Dept:
What About Gay Staff's Partners?


I'd like to applaud one HRC, that being Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for holding a town hall meeting for the department's employees. She held the frank discussion on January 26, and a transcript and tape of it have been shared on the department's site.

One comment related to gay and lesbian staffers, and their partners. On the video, you'll see Clinton deal with this at the 30:00 mark:

[State Department facilitator]: Our next sounding board entry comes from Selim Ariturk, an economic officer in Azerbaijan. He says, “Madame Secretary, gay and lesbian staff worldwide have been so heartened by the wonderful changes you have made since you took office. I can’t tell you how much it means to me when I look at my HR records and finally see the word ‘family member.’ More than any of the financial benefits, those two words say so much about the kind of atmosphere you have set. Thank you so much for all you have done. Many of us still face problems coming home to the U.S. with our partners, and I wonder if you could help us by talking to Congress about the challenges we face. Thank you for your consideration and thank you again for all you’ve done.”

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, and thanks to everyone who has supported and embraced this policy change. I’ve met with people across the world at every – just about every post I’ve visited, which are a lot by now. And we will continue to follow up on issues that arise, but we’re very proud that the State Department led the way on this.


Always good to see gay matters raised with Secretary Clinton, and recent changes benefiting the partners of gay staffers are a step forward. That being said, I would have liked for the gay staffers to also have also asked her about the U.S. applying stronger pressure on Uganda, Malawi, Jamaica and other countries where the human rights of gay people are violated.

And I wish Clinton had used the "g" and "l" words in her reply, and also offered specifics about what the department will do regarding follow up. Nice to have her vague assurances, but details are required.

Regarding the other HRC, that being the Human Rights Campaign, they could learn a valuable lesson from Clinton's town hall this week, along with President Obama's public forum a few days ago in Tampa, Florida, where he was asked about gay marriage.

HRC leaders, starting with Joe Solmonese at the top, should follow the Obama and Clinton examples of holding free-flowing public exchanges with the public they serve. Click here to read my suggestion to Solmonese back in November to hold town halls.

If our President and Secretary of State can host town halls, why can't the Human Rights Campaign?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Trans/Gay Picket at U.S. State Dept
Over Honduran Murders

Adrienne Pine is the Latin American democracy activist who helped organize the DC component to this week's actions by gays and trans people over recent murders of gays in Honduras. She has posted pics from the January 27 early afternoon protest at the entrance to the U.S. State Department in Washington, where a dozen activists held a vigil and waved signs for an hour.

Key to organizing the action were members of the DC Trans Coalition, which posted a comprehensive rallying cry for the January 27 demonstration. Check out their site and much gratitude to the trans organizers for the successful action. Big thanks to all who made it happen.

Adrienne sent along some thoughts on our actions in Berlin, DC, and San Francisco:

It sounds like the State Department is hearing these protests, given the lip service they've been giving to LGBTI human rights. I think it's up to us to remind them that the LGBTI community in Honduras is not just fighting to protect themselves, but rather is leading a resistance movement against an Opus Dei military dictatorship that puts people in any non-normative category at risk, a resistance they are particularly suited to lead because they know and understand the threat more immediately than almost anyone else in Honduras. It's not a fight for security; it's a fight for real democracy.

Here are the pics from Wednesday's DC protest:


Activists stand vigil at the entrance to the U.S. State Department. The woman second from the left, holds a sign with a photo of Walter Trochez.


Also at the entrance, protesting for LGBT Hondurans and against the new president, Porfirio Lobo.


Opposite the entrance, activists attracting attention.


Peter Tatchell's Birthday Was This Week

For decades, gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has waged too-many-to-count actions to make the world a better place to live for gay people around the world.

Peter has ceaselessly carried out his important work, showing that change is possible without lots of money or people required. He's also performed his unique and heroic duties with good humor and a positive outlook, even in the face of severe homo-hatred and occasional physical assaults by enemies.

I've had the pleasure of working with Peter over the years, and view him as friend and valuable, shining example of how to engage in global activism and solidarity work.

However, Peter has withheld from me some crucial information about his personal life that I didn't know until this week. He's was born under the Aquarius zodiac sign, just like me. Click here to read his extensive bio.

Peter was born on January 25, 1952, in Australia, and this week he told me he hit the 58-year-old mark. I don't know what 58 equals in gay years, but congratulations are in order no matter what Peter's physical age is.

Happy birthday, Peter, and keep up the good fight!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

SF Vigil for Honduran
Gays and Democracy


Today was inauguration day in Honduras, and Porfirio Lobo was sworn in as the country's new President. To mark the occasion, gay and democracy advocates took to the street in solidarity with Hondurans. For two-hours this morning, 14 activists staged two vigils at the Honduran consulate in San Francisco's historic Flood Building on Market Street.


The first vigil took place first, when five gay and HIV/AIDS activists went to the consulate's office, only to find it closed for the special day. We spent half an hour in the hallway, talking with people from other offices on the 8th floor. We snapped a few pics and thought to leave a message for the workers, when they return tomorrow.



Our signs with Walter Trochez's visage were taped to the consulate's door, and a few were slipped under it. A small way to express our concern for the gay citizens of Honduras, especially those who've been murdered, and for the full protections of human rights protocols for all Hondurans.



The remainder of the morning was spent engaged in a vigil and flyer-distribution in front of the office building housing the consulate. Members of the Bay Area Latin American Solidarity Coalition, BALASC, including several seniors born in Honduras whose families have suffered harms by rightwing forces over the years. Click here to learn more about the orgs that comprise BALASC, and its multi-faceted political agenda.

This Saturday, January 30, starting at 4 pm, BALASC is holding a town hall meeting with Jose Luis Baquedano, an Honduran labor and political leader active in anti-coup efforts. That meeting is at the Center for Political Education, located at 522 Valencia Street, between 16th and 17th Streets. Stop by to learn more about pro-gay and pro-democracy forces in Honduras.

And big thanks to all the wonderful folks who came out today, on just two-days' notice, to stand in solidarity with gay people in Honduras, and that nation's democracy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Germans Protest Honduran Gay Murder;
Vid, Pics, Report




Gay organizer Chicago Rose is distributing a wonderful video, short report and stark photographs from an action earlier today in Berlin. The demonstration focused on several gay and democratic concerns, including the unsolved and unprosecuted murder of Walter Trochez, a young gay man and AIDS advocate, who opposed the coup. Here is the written report:

Approximately 200 people participated at some point to the demo today, during a Berlin cold snap -10 degrees celsius. [Brrrr. That is 14 very cold degrees Fahrenheit. -michael.]

The demo started in front the Department of Foreign Affairs (German State Department) and moved through the main streets during rush hour, escorted by a LGBTI drum choir yelling, "STOP HOMOPHOBIA!"

Hundreds of flyers were handed out to the bystanders calling for an end to the human rights violations in Honduras and non-recognition of the government which takes office January 27th.

The German Green Party and the Linke (Left) Party were present with representatives. The demands from our rally were handed over to the FDP party personnel after we arrived in front of the office.

The spirits and camaraderie was high, the activists, some with possible frost bite made their voices heard and we will continue to do so.

Many thanks to all show braved the freezing weather in Berlin, to show up and protest. And these are some pics from the protest:






Don't forget there will be actions happening on tomorrow in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. For more information on those protests, please read this post from yesterday.
I'm 64 in Gay Years: Still Need Me?

Technically speaking, I'm 51-years young today. But in gay years, I'm really 64. Look, as a gay man who survived sex, drugs and rock 'n roll in late 1970s San Francisco and then the 1980s in New York City, I deserve to add a few years to my age. Plus I wanted a reason to reference the Beatles' "When I'm Sixty-Four" classic song.

What are the most important presents I'm receiving today? From myself, I've received the gift of another day of no cigarette smoking. I quit the tobacco habit in July 2008 and it's a breathe of life to be cigarette-free.

The other great gift is my partner Mike Merrigan, my life-mate almost 15 years, who every day shares his love and happiness with me. I am blessed that Mike continues to make me laugh and smile, even when my sometimes crazy life becomes skewed or hard-edged.

The lads from Liverpool famously asked these questions, that lovers everywhere ask themselves:

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

My hus-bear has never locked me out when I've come home that late, and he still needs and feeds me, as I metaphorically turn sixty-four. Who could ask for more?

Btw, today is also Ellen Degeneres' birthday. She's turning 52 today. Happy birthday, girl!

Monday, January 25, 2010


Berlin, DC, LA, SF: Protests This Week

Over Gay Honduran Murder
(Walter Trochez)
On January 27, Honduras will inaugurate Porfirio Lobo as the new President of the country, and gays in three cities will mark the occasion demonstrating on behalf of human rights protections for LGBT people and pro-democracy forces in Honduras. Since the military coup of June 29, 2009, many other transgender and gay people as well as opponents of the coup government have been murdered. Our solidarity and compassion go to the family members and friends of those murdered.

Gay activists are particularly concerned that no has been arrested and charged with the assassination of Walter Trochez, a 26-year-old gay man and HIV/AIDS advocate, killed on December 13, who worked with human rights organizations against the coup leaders.

Here is the information for the actions this week. Activists will share images of the protests shortly after they occur:

Berlin, Germany
Contact: Chicago Rose
Phone: +49 (0)30 / 577 08486
Date: Tuesday, January 26
Time: 3 pm
Action: Rally in front of the Foreign Office
Location: Werderscher Markt 1

Los Angeles, California
Contact: Suyapa G. Portillo
Email: Suyapa.Portillo (at) pomona (dot) edu
Date: Wednesday, January 27
Time: 5 pm to 7 pm
Action: Rally at Honduran consulate
Location: 3550 Wilshire Blvd.

San Francisco, California
Contact: Michael Petrelis
Email: mpetrelis@aol.com
Phone: 415-621-6267
Date: Wednesday, January 27
Action: Meeting at Honduran consulate
Location: 870 Market Street

Washington, DC
Contact: Adrienne Pine
Email: adrienne@quotha.net Phone: 202-652-5601
Date: Wednesday, January 27
Actions: TWO rallies at the State Department
Time:8-9am (for those of you who work 9-5)
&
Time: 1-2pm (to catch press at daily briefing)
Location: 23rd and D Streets NW

Gay and human rights activists in other cities are encourage to stage similar public actions this week in solidarity with LGBT and pro-democracy citizens in Honduras. A list of Honduran embassies around the world can be found here. And the locations of Honduran consulates in the United States are posted here.

The organizers of the actions in Berlin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, are making the following demands:

1. An independent investigation into the murder of gay and HIV/AIDS activist Walter Trochez, and full prosecution of those responsible for his death.

2. The support of Honduran human rights activists and the LGBT community against homophobic and transphobic violence in Honduras and throughout the world.

3. The non-recognition of President-elect Porfirio Lobo, elected under undemocratic circumstances, whose inauguration is scheduled to take place on January 27, 2010 – by the U.S. government!

4. The termination of the cooperation of the U.S. Government with the plebiscite government and coup d'├ętat allies.

Please support and participate in the upcoming demonstrations, or plan your own!
Missing Kids CEO's
Pay = $1.3 Million

(Ernie Allen, left, and KY Attorney General Jack Conway.)

According to a startling story today in the St. Petersburg Times, the director of a leading missing children org is raking in a hefty salary, nicely north of $1 million. As longtime readers know, I believe Gay Inc and AIDS Inc orgs have over-paid the top executives and assistants, but I can safely say none of those executives have crossed the million-dollar threshold.

There really isn't enough scrutiny of the nonprofit groups and their stewardship of both public and private dollars raised for charitable work, so let's offer a hearty round of cheers to reporter Susan Taylor Martin for her excellent work. She did what many more reporters and bloggers need to do more of: comb IRS 990 filings and look at an org's salaries.

I encourage everyone to regularly check the GuideStar.org site, where IRS 990 reports are available for free, and follow the nonprofit money.

Excerpts from today's terrific St. Petersburg Times accountability story:

In many ways, the National­ Center for Missing and Exploited Children is a quasi-government agency.

Mandated by Congress, the center has access to the FBI's missing, wanted and unidentified persons files. It operates tip lines for the Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It gets more than half of its money from U.S. taxpayers.

Yet the Virginia-based center, with regional offices in Florida and three other states, is a private nonprofit organization exempt from federal salary caps. And that has enabled the center's president, Ernie Allen, to command a salary among the highest in the nonprofit world.

In 2008, the latest year for which records are available, Allen made $511,069 as head of the center and its international affiliate. He also received $787,126 in deferred compensation and underfunded retirement benefits, as well as $46,382 in nontaxable benefits — a total of $1,344,567. [...]

That's some chunk of "nonprofit" change. To view the center's IRS 990, click here, then read page 7 of the filing.

On top of breaking the news about Allen's excessive salary and total compensation, reporter Martin also delved into an effort to subject this nonprofit to the FOIA statutes. FYI, I am very supportive of applying FOIA laws to nonprofits receiving federal dollars. Federal sunshine should follow federal dollars. More from the story:

Unlike the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, the center is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. But it should be subject to it because of its quasi-governmental status, contends a medical researcher who was labeled an "abductor'' on the center's Web site in 2005, after he left the United States with his daughter. [...]

"If the center is going to continue playing the role it does today, there's not a question in my mind that it should be subject to accountability and transparency through the FOIA process," says Berin Szoka of the Progress and Freedom Foundation in Washington.

Though this article is not specifically about anything gay or AIDS related, our communities should pay attention to it, because we could learn a few lessons about compensation and fiscal stewardship of our institutions, starting with asking if our executives are making too money.
Solmonese Speaks at Sundance;
Bowling for Equality
(At a January 24 panel in Park City, Utah, HRC's executive director talks to a crowd of movie fans. Photo credit: Getty Images.)

The top honcho at the Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese, was unable to attend Rep. Tammy Baldwin's congressional hearing on Friday regarding the Anti-Homosexuality Bill pending in Uganda's Parliament. He was also not present at a protest in December at Uganda's embassy in Washington. Solmonese is not known for engaging in grassroots political activities.

But he sure has time and interest in attending glamorous entertainment functions. Remember how he skipped traveling to New Hampshire in January 2008 during the all-important presidential primary, and instead jetted out to Hollywood for the premiere of the new season of the "The L-Word"?

This past weekend, Solmonese made sure to get his butt to the Sundance film festival and appear on a panel. I guess efforts to repeal Don't Ask/Don't Tell and enact the Employment Non-Discrimination Act are progressing nicely, and there isn't a damn thing for Solmonese and HRC to do on DADT and ENDA in Washington. Snark, snark.

I read today over at AmericaBlog that Senate leaders have not kept a promise to gays to hold hearings on DADT. No need for Solmonese to stick around DC this weekend, or perhaps the early part of this week, and deal with moving a gay agenda forward in Congress and with the Obama administration. The leader of America's largest gay political advocacy org is more interested hitting the red carpets of Sundance.

Before we gays expend significant energy criticizing politicians in Washington screwing us yet again, let's remember the obscenely lame leadership coming from Solmonese and HRC.

By the way, HRC's support committee in San Diego is organizing for their second annual bowling for equality event. Click here for more info, and here is the image for this HRC action.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


SGN: US Meets Gay Hondurans
Over Walter Trochez Murder

In early December a young gay Honduran, Walter Trochez, was assassinated and no one has yet been arrested or charged with his murder. Honduras suffered a coup back in June and this coming week, President-elect Porfirio Lobo will be inaugurated as the country's new leader.

The Seattle Gay News ran a story by reporter Mike Andrew on January 22, updating readers on the latest efforts by the U.S. embassy in Honduras to have Trochez's murder properly and independently investigated. American diplomats are apparently also meeting with gay Honduran leaders.

From the SGN article:

The US State Department has called on the Honduran government to investigate the murder of Gay activist Walter Trochez, US Embassy officials in Tegucigalpa told SGN on January 13.

Speaking with SGN by phone on condition of anonymity, an embassy official said, "The United States believes a thorough investigation into the killing of Walter Trochez and an investigation by the de facto regime of all allegations of human rights violations are important steps to achieving the goal of a return to democratic order in Honduras." [...]

In an article published on November 16, 2009, Trochez named nine people murdered since the June 28 coup, most of them Transgender people. Other Honduran activists subsequently identified six more victims, again mostly Transgender.

Trochez was also an active member of the National Resistance Front opposing the coup, and it is widely believed in Honduras that he was assassinated by the regime. [...]

US embassy officials also revealed to the SGN that the US ambassador in Honduras has had frequent contacts with the Honduran LGBT community, both before and after the Trochez murder.

"Ambassador [Hugo] Llorens met on December 17 with members of the Gay community to express his concern about the killing of Mr. Trochez and the U.S. Embassy has expressed concern about the Trochez murder and other human rights violations to the special prosecutor for Human Rights and to the Honduran police," an embassy official said.

"Over the past several years, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa has maintained a strong and supportive dialogue with the Honduran LGBT community and on a number of occasions has discussed the community's concerns with the Honduran authorities," the official added. [...]

A new Honduran president, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, was elected on November 29, 2009, and is due to take office on January 27. Zelaya and his supporters have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the election, but the US has indicated it will recognize the Lobo government. [...]
Foreign Office Withholds
Gay Uganda Files

I have filed an appeal with the Foreign Office, seeking both more information on the records found responsive to my request and release of the records, potentially with select parts redacted. One simple fact that should be provided is the number of pages located, assuming records found were in paper format.

The letter below was received on Friday and has piqued my curiosity about what the UK diplomats are doing about the gay Ugandan crisis and what is being said to government leaders in Kampala:

Thank you for your request for information which we received on 23 December 2009, requesting information relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons in Uganda dated between January 1 2009 and the date of your request.

I can confirm that the FCO holds information that is relevant to your request. However, the FCO has decided not to disclose the information you requested. The information you requested is being withheld as it falls under the exemptions under section 35 (1) (a) (formulation of government policy) and sections 40 (2) and 40 (3) (requests for the personal data of a third party) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Some of the information you requested has been withheld under exemption 35(1) (a) (formulation of government policy) as it formed part of briefing on recent policy on a sensitive issue. The FCO considers that there is a general public interest in greater transparency in the decision-making process in order to ensure government is accountable to the public. However, with regards to section 35 (1) (a), for the effective formulation of government policy, the Government requires a clear space, immune from public view in which it can debate matters internally free from the pressures of public political debate. This information is withheld due to the need for officials to be able to conduct rigorous and candid risk assessment of their policies and programmes including their pros and cons without there being premature disclosure which could close off alternative options. This would have a negative impact on the quality of decision making, which is clearly not in the public interest. We have judged that in this case, the public interest in maintaining this exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

We are also withholding the information you have requested under Section 40 (Personal Information) as the information is personal data relating to third parties, the disclosure of which would contravene one of the data protection principles. In such circumstances sections 40(2) and (3) of the Freedom of Information Act apply. In this case, our view is that disclosure would breach the first data protection principle. This states that personal data should be processed fairly and lawfully. It is the fairness aspect of this principle which, in our view, would be breached by disclosure. In such circumstances s.40 confers an absolute exemption on disclosure. There is, therefore, no public interest test to apply.

If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision, you should write to me. You have 40 working days to do so from the date of our response. [...]

Please contact me if you have any queries about this letter.

Lewis Clark
Africa Directorate
(East Africa and Great Lakes)
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
London, UK

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jamaican Police Arrest Suspect in
UK Gay Diplomat's Murder


Back in September, I helped bring attention to the murder of John Terry (above), the United Kingdom's honorary consul in Jamaica who was openly gay. In late December I wrote an update on the case, noting that no one had been charged in Terry's death. That has thankfully changed.

Today an article in the Jamaica Observer reports that the Jamaican police force has apprehended a suspect. I'll continue to monitor the Jamaican press, as this case moves into its next phase:

POLICE yesterday nabbed a suspect in the murder of British diplomat John Terry.

The suspect, a 23-year-old security guard, was picked up at his workplace in Montego Bay, St James, early yesterday morning. [...]

In a press release, Assistant Commissioner of Police Les Green said the arrest was the result of intensive work.

"Our detectives have worked long and exhaustive hours in putting together the evidence which led to the arrest today. We are extremely pleased with the progress we have made thus far but our work is not yet done. There are some matters still to investigate and other persons to interview, but we are well on our way," Green said.

Terry's nude body was found at his home in Mount Carey, St James, by his gardener in September last year.

He appeared to have been beaten with a blunt object and his body was wrapped in a sheet.

A post-mortem revealed that he was strangled to death. [...]

Gay rights advocates labelled the Terry murder a hate crime and called for Britain and the European Union to cut aid to Jamaica.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Swedish Paper's Photo Policy:
Penis Yes, Lesbians No

A gay conservative blogger buddy of mine who I met through organizing global protests in July 2006 on the one-year anniversary of Iran hanging two gay teenagers, Christopher Aqurette, runs a blog from his home in Sweden, written in English. This week he wrote about a local daily's refusal to print a photo of three lesbians in an erotic and tasteful studio-posed shot:

One of Sweden’s largest newspapers, Sydsvenska Dagbladet, refuses to publish this picture of three lesbian women. However, only a few days earlier, the same newspaper published a picture of an erect penis. The newspaper spokesperson motivates the decision with concern for gay people. I suppose it is better for gay people not to be seen in public than for gay-rights organizations to have their campaigns published for everyone to see. Good gays hide in the closet.

The ad is part of a lesbian visibility campaign from the RFSL, Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, one of the oldest gay orgs in the world.

(Too sexy for the Swedes?)

I can't see any female genitalia in the image, can you? What could the Swedish editors be thinking is so objectionable with this photo?

After looking for the penis picture Christopher reported ran in the paper and not finding it, I asked him for the link to the article. He replied:

On January 14, the newspaper Sydsvenska Dagbladet ran an article illustrated with a "penis picture" by artist Andres Serrano. (It only appears in the paper edition.) I didn't really think much about it at the time, but when I later learned that the same newspaper refuses to print the picture of the three semi-naked women I thought it a bit odd. This is not normally a newspaper afraid of nudity, but now it said no to paid advertisement for a health campaign by gay-rights group RFSL because of this quite harmless picture. In a way, it was a good thing. The campaign got more attention because of this.

I scanned the picture for you. It was published in the paper edition on January 14. The online edition of the article is here.

Many thanks, Christopher, for doing me this favor. Now I can share with everyone the penis image that was acceptable to the editors.

(I think all dailies everywhere should run tasteful photos of penises, and lesbians showing skin.)

The world could do with more photos of lesbians loving each other appearing in newspapers, and I would like to see American gay groups follow the lead of the Swedes and create social marketing campaigns featuring lesbians nurturing and touching.

And the prudish Swedish editors should be reminded of one of the most iconic woman-loving-woman images of the modern age. It's from the great Ingmar Bergman's classic film "Persona," made in 1966, and is in the same class as the RFSL photograph.

(Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson.)


BBC Rejects FOIA for
'Kill Gay Ugandans?' Files

Gays around the globe were outraged in December when the editors at the British Broadcasting Corporation posed an online question: Should Uganda debate executing gays? It was incredibly difficult to think any respectable mainstream media outlet would seriously question a country considering executing Jews or blacks or other minorities, but the BBC's gay-related angle showed just how worthless gay lives can be at times to ratings- and online traffic-driven news editors.

I filed a UK Freedom of Information Act request with the BBC in December for any files on what led to the question popping up on their debate page. Since the debate wasn't proper news reporting, nor did it involve the gathering of facts, I thought the FOIA would apply without any exemptions. I was wrong.

As you can see in the reply from the broadcaster's FOIA office, they're claiming exemption because what I've requested pertains to "journalism, art or literature."

Oh, please give me a break. The debate was far from journalism. It was a naked homophobic effort to create a controversy and attract eyeballs and traffic. The rejection is BBC-speak for "we royally messed up and will do all we can to prevent transparency that would show how we arrived at our dumb debate decision."

Here is the BBC's letter:


UK Foreign Office Releases
27-Pages on Gay Jamaica


In response to a Freedom of Information Act request I filed in late December with the UK Foreign Office for any files on Jamaican gay issues during 2009, 27-pages responsive to my request were located and released to me.

The pages show how the Foreign Office responded to a handful of queries about homophobia in Jamaica. I was fascinated by the over all quickness of the replies, the strong commitment to work on behalf of global gay issues, and the sharing of the detailed protocols guiding British diplomats in addressing the human rights abuses of gay people.

Click here to read all of the pages released to me, and below is a copy of a letter from the Foreign Office explaining its approach working on behalf of protecting the human rights and security of gay Jamaicans:


Monday, January 18, 2010

Straight Ugandans, DC/NY Actions
& The Anti-Homo Bill


Thanks to the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance blog maintained by Rick Rosendall, I was made aware of two upcoming actions later this week regarding general human rights issues in Uganda. The GLAA blog shared info from a news release put out by the Ugandans in Diaspora org, touting a march in DC on January 22 that starts at the Uganda embassy, and a rally on January 23 at the country's UN mission in NYC.

I was concerned gay Ugandans and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that mandates the death penalty for homosexuals were omitted from the straight diaspora Ugandans, and contacted via email. The first response from them was the email below, then a follow up phone call with two of the straight Ugandans:

Thank you for your response and concern. Contrary to the contents of your email, you are invited to our events in DC and NYC. Actually, we invited all the human rights advocates/groups whose contacts we had, especially from their past involvement in Ugandan issues at home and abroad.

The DC/NYC events will be the 4th and 5th in our current global wave of anti NRM and Museveni demonstrations since September 2009, already scheduled to be held at regular intervals till 2011.

We send out GENERAL invitations to groups and individuals that we know/deem to be concerned about the plight of democracy and human rights in Uganda, or those that are located in the cities where our event may take place since the first pro-Independence/anti-colonialism demonstrations were held by our very own grandfathers in 1953 in London, UK.

By practice, we don't highlight 'A SPECIFIC ISSUE or VICTIMIZED GROUP at any given demonstration, since we try to be as inclusive (agenda and participants) possible. That's why we do not even design or hand out signs to be held but instead encourage participants to bring their own signs/placards to highlight their own issue(s), if they so choose. [...]

Michael, we welcome you and all those concerned about human rights and democracy in Uganda to participate in our demonstrations this month and in the future. [...]

Yours,
Deogratias Kawunde Miti
Coordinator

In our phone chat, I explained to Kawunde and his colleague Fred Kambugu that it was not helpful in reaching out to American gays to omit any reference to the plight of gays in Uganda and the need to address the anti-gay death penalty bill. They replied that they want to reach out to all people concerned with human rights in their country, to which I said, giving specifics would help reach different constituencies.

My suggestion was that they draft a new announcement, stressing the need to protect the human rights of all Ugandans, to mention gay citizens, women, people with HIV/AIDS, and that the terrible pending legislation be addressed at the protests. Kawunde and Fred they would put out an update about the agenda for the actions, and that gays would be mentioned.

We spoke briefly about the February 4 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, and the expected participation of David Bahati, the author of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was first reported at the BoxTurtleBulletin site last week. Kawunde and Fred expressed interest in any peaceful protest planned at the breakfast, and I promised them that if I heard of any individual or advocacy org getting some action organized, I would share the info with them. Has anyone in DC stepped forward to start the organizing process? Lemme know, if they have.

I look forward to more communication with straight Ugandan human rights advocates, helping to make sure their demonstrations this week include gay concerns, and that there is a collaborative effort in Washington that pulls together a truly fabulous action at the National Prayer Breakfast, focused on gay human rights in Uganda.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

OC Register: Grade D to Obama
Over Don't Ask/Don't Tell

Dena Bunis is the Washington bureau chief for the Orange Country Register, and her paper just posted her latest column to the web. It's a report card for President Obama's first year in the Oval Office. Bunis graded Obama on ten issues, from healthcare reform to Wall Street accountability, immigration reform and other matters of national concern, and the grades were spread out from C minus to A.

But only one issue received a D grade: Don't Ask/Don't Tell.

When I saw that, I had to do a double-check to make sure I wasn't mistakenly reading a weekly gay newspaper. We would expect the gay press to give the President a lousy grade on Don't Ask/Don't Tell, and that wouldn't shock anyone.

In this case, we have the Republican-leaning daily newspaper, in one of the most conservative areas of the country, bestowing a grade of D on the President over his promise to lift the ban on gays in the military. If this isn't a sign that the political culture, including from the right, has shifted on the matter of putrid discrimination against soldiers based on irrelevant sexual orientation, and that the ban must be lifted, then I don't know what is.

I wonder if the leaders at the Human Rights Campaign have any plan to exploit what Orange County Register has printed on the President's first report card, bolding added:

Promise: "Obama will work with military leaders to repeal the current [Don't Ask, Don't Tell] policy and ensure we accomplish our national defense goals." Barackobama.com

And in an open letter to the Gay and Lesbian community in February, 2008, Obama said: "I have also called for us to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell."

Action: None.

"I will end 'don't ask, don't tell,' " Obama said at the March 9, 2009 annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights advocacy organization. But Obama gave the group no timetable for ending the ban, which must be done by Congress. And he acknowledged that the gay community is upset. During the campaign he never said when he would call for the ban's repeal.

"I appreciate that many of you don't believe progress has come fast enough," Obama said. "Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach."

But it's well known that ending this policy is opposed in the halls of the Pentagon and Democratic leaders in Congress have also not pushed it.

In an interview on Fox News on March 29, 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he and Obama were pushing that promise "down the road a little bit.''

Grade: D

Kudos to Bunis and the OC Register.
HRC Leader's White House Meetings
With Axelrod, Jarrett & Gaspard

(Hilary Rosen, DC power-lesbian and HRC honcho.)

Two key gay bloggers yesterday expressed concerns and pointed criticism over White House and Gay Inc moves this week, regarding potential action lifting or easing the Don't Ask/Don't Tell ban on open gays serving in the military. From John Aravosis in DC:

The second big thing we learned in the NYT piece was that the Pentagon is considering whether to segregate, "separate but equal" style, gay troops, giving them separate showers and barracks, among other things. [...]

The Times article also references a secret gay meeting that took place this week to discuss the repeal of DADT. We've spoken to people who attended that meeting, and here's what we know.

The meeting took place this past Wednesday in Washington, DC. Approximately 20 people were in attendance, including representatives from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the Palm Center, the Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers United, and the Center for American Progress.

From North Carolina Pam Spaulding got worried about these developments in Washington, some of the gay players involved, and she wrote:

Now I'm kind of concerned that Big Gay is out there issuing ultimatums on our behalf, because I'm sure you don't want to see our movement go down in flames when the Obama admin and Congress jerk us around again -- and there are no repercussions of significance.

I think it's ironic when the gay netroots have been calling for action for a long time (The "No Excuses" theme regarding action on our issues was not created in HRC's shop, btw) and have been chastised endlessly for the lack of patience -- "he's only been in office __ months." Well now our leaders are pissed, (and, now many progressives as well) about getting the shaft by Congress and the White House. They are late to the game.

The worries of Aravosis and Spaulding got me thinking about what role, if any, out lesbian and veteran DC powerbroker Hilary Rosen might be playing in the DADT effort among gay orgs. Rosen wears many influential hats, and is a top honcho at HRC, where she is a member of the HRC Foundation's board of directors. When she speaks, Gay Inc snaps to attention.

My curiosity about any of her visits to the White House was piqued and I searched the visitors' logs available through the White House's blog. Records are current up to December 30, 2009. Rosen's name appeared in the logs five times:

Vistor: ROSEN HILARY B
Date: 2009-03-11
Total People: 5
Visitee Name: JARRETT VALERIE [Senior Adviser, Office of Public Engagement]
Description: Blank
Location: Old Executive Office Building

Visitor: ROSEN HILARY B
Date: 2009-03-12
Total People: 18
Visitee Name: AXELROD DAVID [Senior Adviser]
Description: COMMUNICATIONS MESSAGE MEETING
Location: White House West Wing

Visitor: ROSEN HILARY B
Date: 2009-03-20
Total People: 3
Visitee Name: GASPARD PATRICK [Director of the Office of Political Affairs]
Description: Blank
Location: White House West Wing

Visitor: ROSEN HILARY B
Date: 2009-09-21
Total People: 2
Visitee Name: BOOKEY NATALIE [First Lady's Staff Assistant]
Description: Blank
Location: White House East Wing

Visitor: ROSEN HILARY B
Date: 2009-09-28
Total People: 1
Visitee Name: OFFICE VISITORS
Description: Blank
Location: White House East Wing, Room 100

I'm not sure what Rosen spoke to the White House officials about, but an AP wire story in late November provided info on one of the meetings she attended:

Demonstrating the political element of the health care debate, the records show that senior adviser Axelrod held what was described as a "communications message meeting" on March 13 with 18 people, including prominent Democratic strategists Brad Woodhouse, the party's communications director, and his predecessor Karen Finney; Steve McMahon, a campaign veteran and media strategist; Hilary Rosen, the former top lobbyist for the music industry; Jennifer Palmieri of the liberal Center for American Progress, John Edwards' former press secretary and a veteran of the Clinton White House; Maria Cardona, a specialist in Hispanic outreach at the Dewey Square Group; and Simon Rosenberg a founder of the centrist New Democrat Network.

Without question, Rosen has and wields quite a bit of power in many elite circles in Washington. My question is, given the anxiety of Gay Inc leaders over a window of opportunity to force the President to address and solve the problems of the gay military prohibition, a window that is slowing closing, is Rosen lobbying the White House about this?

After decades of having no faith in HRC as an effective org, ready and able to step on the toes of Democratic Party leaders and top White House advisers, I fear that Rosen and HRC are not pulling out the stops this weekend and next week on Don't Ask/Don't Tell. If there is evidence Rosen, HRC and others are putting real pressure on the White House, I'd like to see it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cleopatra Wolfson's Denial:
2009 'Winningest Year' for Gay Marriage

It's quite telling to see how blase some Gay Inc orgs that opposed the Olson/Boies Prop 8 lawsuit are this week. Either the orgs are deathly fearful of the lawsuit, or think ignoring it will make the outcome of it less dangerous to the survival of Gay Inc. Should we prevail with Judge Vaughn Walker, a flood of questions and accusations will assault the orgs, and threaten their continued existence.

Consider this one example of the yawning approach to the trial. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force hasn't posted a single release or official statement on the historic court proceedings. Not on their blog, and nothing on their opening page's news column. Um, is it too much trouble for this org to show the least bit of enthusiasm, or call some, _any_, attention to the trial?

Maybe I shouldn't be too harsh on the NGLTF. They are trying to occasionally put out comments from their executive director on important matters. After all, today, after many long months of other groups, foreign governments and activists speaking out and organizing to stop the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, the task farce has finally issued a weak statement, urging forceful U.S. action.

Over at Evan "Cleopatra" Wolfson's org, Freedom to Marry, their blog has been linking to the coverage others are providing of the Prop 8 trial, with no fresh news or analysis from the org.

But in his relentless campaign of denial about serious setbacks, a release from Wolfson today touts all the supposed greatness of the state-by-state approach to gay marriage, which has produced 33 losses at the ballot box, and the California Supreme Court last year upholding Prop 8, and the loss of gay marriage in Maine, along with the failure to secure gay marriage in New York and New Jersey, Wolfson wants us to believe the past year or so has been our best ever.

I will admit we suffered deep disappointments in those states, while also acknowledging good steps forward winning gay marriage in Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont, but I would in no way define the past 12-16 months as our "winningest."

From Wolfson's release, heralding the hiring of new staffers and an in-the-works expansion of the org's web site, emphasis added:

The expansion of Freedom to Marry comes at the dawn of a new decade and follows 2009, the winningest year yet in the movement to achieve the freedom to marry for gay couples, a year which once again showed that momentum is on the side of marriage equality.

Freedom to Marry’s new staff and new capacity will harness this momentum and work to continue to build and maximize it in order to keep advancing toward the freedom to marry nationwide.

Look for a new and enhanced website in February that will feature the new capacities of Freedom to Marry to support and mobilize non-gay and gay people committed to ending the exclusion from marriage and fulfilling America’s promise of liberty and justice for all.

I want the bold federal challenge of the Prop 8 trial to win for a whole lotta reasons, starting with the recognition of gay couples and love, and also for a very personal reason. A victory with the lawsuit could put an end to some of the mindless and rigid, not to mention losing, way of thinking at Gay Inc and their whole approach to securing equal rights, as exemplified by this release. In addition to despising the discriminatory laws against gays that I want wiped from the law books, I also loathe the timid, small, go-slow methods of Gay Inc.

In this week, when optimism is rampant over the trial and all of its implications, can anyone really give a damn and think Wolfson hiring more staff and gussying up his web site, with his Orwellian outlook on the recent multi-state losses, is a recipe for success?

Please, Judge Walker, do the gay movement a huge favor. Render a decision agreeing with the plaintiffs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Native Americans Mad at Obama
Over Quiet Apology

A controversy been bubbling in Native American communities regarding the White House's hush-hush approach to an official apology to those communities. An expansive story in the Indian Country Today publication lays out the situation among Indian leaders, and details candidate Obama's promise versus his muted heralding of the apology from the Oval Office.

So while gay leaders were lauding the inclusion of the hate crimes legislation into the defense spending act in December, in my opinion a political crumb to our community that would do much genuine good to deter bashings and murders against us, Native Americans were getting their own crumb -- the apology language.

For both gays and Native Americans, there's unhappiness with the Obama administration delivering on promises and it would benefit both constituencies to find common ground, and mount collaborative efforts targeting the president to take more concrete actions for both groups.

From the Indian Country Today article:

Is an apology that’s not said out loud really an apology? What if the person expressing the apology doesn’t draw attention to it?

Those are questions that some tribal citizens are asking upon learning that President Barack Obama signed off on the Native American Apology Resolution Dec. 19 as part of a defense appropriations spending bill. [...]

The version signed by Obama became watered down, not making a direct apology from the government, but rather apologizing “on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native peoples by citizens of the United States.” [...]

Even with the more general language, the apology is historic, but the White House has made no announcements to date about it. Nor has Obama expressed an apology to any tribes or Indian citizens, despite saying on the presidential campaign trail that he thought an apology was warranted. [...]

So, by signing the document as part of the defense spending bill, did Obama fulfill the resolution? Or, does he have an obligation to say the apology out loud and to let tribes know he signed the resolution?

According to White House spokesman Shin Inouye, there are “no updates at this time” on how Obama might proceed.

Inouye also confirmed that a press release was issued by the White House regarding the president’s signature of the defense appropriations bill, but not one on the apology resolution – nor did the defense release mention that the apology was part of that legislation. [...]

Chris Stearns, a Navajo lawyer and former Clinton administration official, believes Obama will call attention to his signing of the resolution at some point, but there are political realities: First, this is a congressional resolution shepherded by Brownback, so Obama might want to let him take the lead; and second, this is an election year, if Obama were to make a big deal out of an apology, it could be painted by opponents as a weakness or political correctness.
Jamaican PM's Four Letters
Condemning Anti-Gay Violence

Bruce Golding, the prime minister of Jamaica, has sent four terse letters to several non-governmental organizations since February 2008, the latest from March 2009, condemning violence against gay persons. I obtained the letters after filing an Access to Information request with the Office of the Prime Minister, for any files related to gays and assaults or murders.

This week 61-pages of assorted correspondence to or from Golding in the past two-years related to gays were released to me, in electronic format. Much of what was released were documents submitted to him from NGOs, asking for action on behalf of gays, and a handful of anti-gay letters from homophobes.

On the one hand, it is significant the prime minister of this living hell for gay people has expressed in writing his repudiation of the violence against our brothers and sisters. On the other hand, he goes out of his way to extend hostilities to the NGOs and, by extension, to the gays of Jamaica.

It is revolting to read in his note to JFLAG that he equates homosexuality with bestiality, incest and bigamy. He'd make an expert witness for the defenders of Prop 8 at the federal trial underway in San Francisco right now, but I digress.

As far as I can tell, of the three NGOs to receive letters from him -- JFLAG, HRW, MCC -- only Human Rights Watch publicized its exchange with Golding, and published the text of his reply on their web site. Kudos to HRW for this act of transparency. Would be laudable for JFLAG and MCC to follow HRW's example, and show the community how they have engaged Golding.

I've typed up his letters, making his words suitable for cutting-and-pasting, and am also sharing images of the actual letters made available to me. A word about capitalization and irregular use of quotation marks in the text. I copied the text exactly as it appears in the letters.

Here are the four letters from Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding:

28 February 2008

Dear [HRW HIV/AIDS Human Rights Programme],

I refer to your letter of 27 February regarding the violent attack on a group of men at a house in Mandeville.

This clearly a criminal act and is to be condemned and prosecuted.

The matter is being investigated by the Police with a view to apprehending the perpetrators and placing them before the Court.

[GoogleDoc image of letter here.]

14 March 2008

Dear [Metropolitan Community Church/Sarasota, FL],

I refer to your letter of 18 February.

Like all well-thinking Jamaicans, the government condemns all acts of violence against homosexuals. The recent incident in Manchester to which you refer is clearly a criminal act that must be condemned and every effort made to apprehend the perpetrators and place them before the Court.

Jamaica faces an unacceptable level of violent crime including murder. A tiny minority of these victims happen to be homosexuals or persons who might have been targeted because of their homosexuality.

We will continue our efforts to combat all forms of violent crime whether they are motivated by hostility to homosexuals or perpetrated for other reasons.

[GoogleDoc image of letter here.]


[Letter to JFLAG. Click to enlarge.]

2 June 2008

Dear [JFLAG Programmes Manager],

The position of the Government regarding violence against gays and lesbians is unequivocal. It is to be condemned, discouraged, investigated, prosecuted and punished with vigour and determination.

However, the dialogue regarding the "rights" of gays and lesbians refuses to engage the issue of cultural values of a society and the extent to which these must inform the laws that regulate society.

I accept that universal principles must transcend societal prejudices. The UN Declaration of Human Rights has sought to enumerate these principles that must prevail over a society's norms. Beyond that, however, we enter upon dangerous waters when we seek to transform personal choice into "rights" and seek, through the enactment of legislation, to impose those "rights" on a society to which it is repugnant. While the protection of the minority is a cardinal obligation of any democracy, the interest of that minority must be consonant with the universality of that which is to be protected.

Part of the weakness of the gay lobby is its implicit claim to exclusivity. If gay rights are to be recognized and enshrined, why would similar recognition and endorsement not be applied to other expressions of personal choice which the society considers to be unacceptable, for example, incest, bigamy or bestiality? What makes these expressions of personal choice different from homosexuality? Are these "personal choices" not communalized by the cultural norms that define the Jamaican society?

Until these issues are addressed, the dialogue will remain inconclusive.


3 March 2009

Dear [HRW LGBT Rights Program],

I refer to your letter of 19 February.

The Government and the Party that forms the government have publicly disassociated themselves from the comments made by Mr. Ernest Smith.

The Government respects and will continue to uphold the freedom of association specifically provided in our Constitution. It repudiates violence or intimidation in any form against homosexuals or any other person and will continue to enforce the laws which prohibit such acts.

The Government has a duty to protect the rights of all citizens as provided in our Constitution and the laws which emanate therefrom.

[GoogleDoc image of letter here.]


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pugno Sweats, Schubert Close Up;
Day 2 Prop 8 Trial Pressers

My butt was not down at the federal trial today. I stayed home, caught lots of rest, drank pints of water, and caught up on a lot of the fantastic coverage -- Tweets, blogs, gay papers, AP wire -- from the first day's proceeding. Davina Kotulksi from the Marriage Equality USA org took advantage of my press pass, and sat in Judge Walker's courtroom on Day 2.

I did make down to the federal courthouse for the late afternoon pressers, and snapped lots of pics. Caught the last ten minutes of today's court hearing, chatted with the other writers, before each side spoke to the press.

Something struck me with awe at our opponent's presser, and I must correct a belief I expressed yesterday. I said I believed homosexuality was on trial, not same-sex marriage, in and of itself, and that was how I felt after our lawyers, Ted Olson and David Boies, questioned our heroic plaintiffs. I was wrong.

Now, after listening to one of the lead opposing lawyers, the ProtectMarriage.com counselor Andrew Pugno, proclaim the alleged disaster of our side's expert witnesses today, I see homophobia on trial. The irrationality of Pugno's remarks at the presser rang loud and queer in my ears.

Whether it's Charles Cooper or Pugno explaining their legal strategy and arguments, they transport me back a century or two.

Since the plaintiff side held the first presser, I'll start with their pics:


Chad Griffin, originator of the suit; lawyers Theodore Boutrous, Therese Stewart

Chad Griffin

The other side:

After reading a statement, defense attorney Andy Pugno wipes the sweat off his brow

Yes on 8 consultant Frank Schubert

Some of the media folks:

LA-based reporter Karen Ocamb, covering for her blog LGBT POV

Scott Shafer, is blogging for KQED's California Report

Davina Kotulski's posts are at Bilerico.com

The assembled members of the press and blogosphere
Straight Man Posts Pro-Gay
Comment to State Dept Blog

Last May I found an incredible essay on the web about the murder and torture of Iraqi gays, written by Johnny Simpson, a straight writer from New Hampshire. He called the dire situation faced by homosexuals in Baghdad as a holocaust. On my blog, I called him a blowhard from the right, he saw my post, liked it, appreciated my upfront nature, and thus began an online friendship between us.

I heard from Johnny today, because he read my recent post, asking readers to share gay-specific comments and recommendations at a State Department blog, where the question of what the department should place at the top of the 2010 agenda is under debate. This is his note, explaining his action on behalf of global gays:

Took your recommendation and posted an entry at State's blog on LGBT rights, particularly in the Middle East where they are basically nonexistent. Even linked my interview of Arsham Parsi of IRQR to put a human face on it. To tell the truth, be it Republican or Democrat administrations, I have been quite unhappy my entire adult life at the American government's pathetic lack of addressing human rights issues for diplomatic, political or economic expediency. That is not who we should be as a nation or a people, not by a country mile.

Anyway, did as you asked. Haven't been following a lot of LGBT issues lately as I'm busy wrapping some personal writing projects, but I do check in from time to time. Glad to see you're still at it. For all of the LGBT blogs I've come in contact with the past two years as I've reported on the LGBT horror shows in Iran and Iraq, I believe your blogging and reporting is some of the best out there. You have no fear going where most gay advocates fear to tread. Even though I'm straight, I like men with big balls, LOL! You got 'em :)

Sure enough, Johnny has made pro-gay human rights remarks at State's Dip Note blog, and I extend thanks to him for taking the time to lobby our federal government to take more actions on behalf of gays worldwide. I like straight men such as Johnny, especially when they advocate for the dignity and protections of gay people abroad. Thank you, Johnny.

But he's not the only person who has visited the Dip Note post on 2010's agenda for the State Department. Ten comments on gay matters have been posted there, including messages from the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. I am grateful to all who've left gay-related messages for our diplomats to read and believe the notes will improve the department's responses and actions regarding gay human rights.

I implore you to cruise on over to the Dip Note post, and submit new comments on foreign gay issues. It is incumbent upon all of us, regardless of sexual orientation or political party affiliation, to use State's public diplomacy tools and wage a campaign for the gay citizens of our small world.

Click here to share your thoughts with America's diplomatic corps. Do it for gay Ugandan, Malawians, Iraqis, Russians, Jamaicans, Hondurans, and all the rest of our brothers and sisters.

Monday, January 11, 2010

PDAs Galore:
Prop 8 Trial Begins

Today was the start of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger lawsuit challenging California's Prop 8 initiative that bars same-sex couples from marrying, and I was there. Be sure to read other gay bloggers' reports and the accounts from traditional media folks, for the legal details and maneuverings. My report of impressions and observations is presented as a personal record of a few things I saw, and what I felt today:

Million Dollar Smile

At the vigil and speak out organized by Marriage Equality USA, before court began, I saw my friend state Sen. Mark Leno, and his million dollar smile was as confident as ever. He had an attitude that other friends also possessed -- confidence and cautious hope. The boldness of the lawsuit and its game-changing nature brought optimism to a lot of battle-weary gays in San Francisco today. I think there is tremendous unity to see the case deliver a sorely-needed win.

PDAs, Part 1

There was much disappointment over the Supreme Court's decision against airing the proceedings on YouTube among the crowd of media folks and general public waiting outside courtroom 6 on the 17th floor, but it disappeared once we all got situated and large sections of the room were aglow from all the PDAs, personal digital assistants, laptops, and other electronic gadgets.

Judge Walker entered at 9:07 am, and history-making began. There's a palpable beat of early-in-the-day eagerness, as so many observers are making notes on paper or a device. Through my opera glasses, I see that Walker is looking very dapper, sporting a great haircut, a burnt orange/red tie down the middle of his chest, nicely offset by crisp white shirt and rich black robe.

Lawyer v. Lawyer

Ted Olson launched into his opening statement at 9:26 am, and it hurt emotionally having to listen to his master arguer's intonation as he recounts a small piece of the demonization and discrimination gay Americans have suffered. Sure, I've heard such words many times in my years, and it never gets easier swallowing our pain, but I am ready for a big unapologetic legal challenge made on gays' behalf to end a huge part of the discrimination. Go, Ted, go!

Two words come to mind as opposing attorney Charles Cooper presents his opening arguments: hesitant speaker. Coming after the wonderful preparation, smoothness and expert delivery of Olson, Cooper was a letdown. Damn hard to sense much of his self-confidence.He also gets too jittery at the lectern. His central point is that marriage must and does equal procreation. Huh? That's going to be his argument? We should easily win, if it is.

Whole Lotta People

I can't recall what was under deliberation at 10:45 am, but I had to know how many people were present in the courtroom at that very moment. Standing up for a rapid scan, I counted everyone at the plaintiffs' and defendants' tables. Then tallied up all the other folks surrounding the tables, the judge's staff, and the packed rows for the press and public. Total number of individuals at that time: 148.

Hollywood powerbroker and longtime friend of the gay community, Rob Reiner, occupied one of the seats reserved for plaintiffs' side. He'll always be Meathead from "All in the Family" to me, and he'll always have my genuine thanks for all he's done for gays and liberal causes in California over the decades. We gays could use a few more menschs like him at our side, as we battle for an end to anti-gay discrimination.

PDAs, Part 2

After a break, the first witness, plaintiff Jeff Zarrillo takes the stand. His voice is dry and cracks when he says the man he wants to marry is the love of his life. I want to cry for him. He shed a few tears and quickly wiped one away with his right hand, after getting anxious speaking about his relationship and life as a gay man.

David Boies is the consummate avuncular questioner, and even with his gentle prodding, I sense a foundation is being laid down to deal with the issue underlying the gay marriage question, the question of homosexuality itself, and that is what is really on trial here.

As Zarrillo approaches his row to return to his seat, his partner stands up, steps into the aisle, put his hands on the sides of Zarrillo, then smooches him on the lips, with his eyes open and full of love. This is the key moment, for me, summing up what is at stake here. It is the love and right to PDAs, public displays of affection, and lots of other public benefits and things, for gay Americans.

All of the plaintiffs won my full admiration and respect for their roles in this historic matter, and I feel they handled themselves with poise and pride. I can begin fathom all of the pressure they must be under, as key players in this drama.

Here they are opening up their private lives, all to benefit the entire gay community, and I can't wait to hear more of their stories once the case is over. I thought the coolest and most assured plaintiff was Kris Perry, who lacked nervousness and defensiveness.

Perry also engaged in a public display of affection when she passed her partner in the aisle. Their kiss and quick embrace were another moment of pride. This was just a small moment in an enormous legal battle, but a telling one for me about the integrity and humanity of the heroes in court today. Despite all the legal and media pressure in the courtroom, these gay folks didn't for one minute forget their love, or the need to show it.

Most Annoying Person of the Day Award

It comes as no surprise, but I'm giving this award to opposing attorney Charles Cooper. He worked my last nerve today with his irritating and at times impatient rocking in his plush leather chair, while the plaintiffs testified. Can't the man control his restlessness and show some respect, not just for who is testifying, but for the dignity of the court and the importance of the full proceedings?

If Judge Walker had asked for public comment on courtroom behavior, I would have told him to instruct attorneys to keep their need-to-rock jitters in check.

One-Day Hiatus

I'm taking a break from the trial on Tuesday. The courtroom was incredibly stuffy and lacking in ventilation today, which may be why I'm a bit under the weather now.

Before I left court, I met up with Davina Kotulski. She is married to Molly McKay, and they're both heavily involved with Marriage Equality USA. Kotulski has my media pass, which is transferable to colleagues, and she'll be in the courtroom tomorrow, covering the trial for this blog.

I'm more than happy to share the good fortune of the court's media pass with the good fighters, and fellow bloggers, from Marriage Equality USA.

UPDATE:

Check out my pics and short report from Tuesday's two pressers held by leading attorneys for each side.