Friday, April 30, 2010

Ann Rostow, Bay Times:

HRC = Complacency

The much-deserved criticism against America's largest professional gay advocacy org, HRC, isn't letting up. The latest issue of Bay Times contains lots of very right-on truths from longtime columnist Ann Rostow about the org and our community's growing impatience with the Obama White House and Congressional Democrats.

My one question after reading Rostow's column is this: What will it take for HRC executives to realize many gays are no longer tolerating Gay Inc business as usual? If they were ever to become the fierce advocates we need them to be, unafraid to publicly push our friends, HRC might find some netroots and grassroots activists ready to watch their back.

Excerpted from Rostow's current opinion piece:

But the main story of the week, and indeed of the past year, is the increasing tension between the gay grass roots and the established infrastructure that we all now like to call “Gay Inc.” The tension, erupting as it did after our Prop 8 defeat in 2008, has festered with the inaction of the Obama administration juxtaposed with apparent complacency from the Human Rights Campaign.

Recently, we have seen activists cuff themselves to the White House fence, interrupt a Senate House subcommittee meeting, heckle Obama and protest at the offices of Nancy Pelosi and John McCain. [...]

Look. We have just spent eight years under a right wing GOP administration, and six of those years featured a GOP congressional majority. Before that, we spent another six years with Republicans in charge of Congress under a Democratic president who saw fit to sign into law the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We now are “enjoying” two years of Democrats in charge of both the legislative and the executive branches of government yet one of those precious years has slipped by with no results save the relatively useless symbolic victory of the Hate Crimes bill.

Next year we will either have a smaller majority in Congress or, God forbid, we will have the GOP back in command. Obama’s reelection campaign will start up in 18 months, along with a centrist political caution that will make 2009 look good.

So this year is it. The Human Rights Campaign had a decent enough excuse for lack of results over the last two decades. And let’s call the first half of 2009 a kind of warm up period for the Obama administration and Congress. [...] But enough is enough. Where is ENDA? Why are we waiting until 2011 to repeal Don’t Ask?

And why isn’t the Human Rights Campaign pissed off?

Emphasis mine. Let's hope one of the hundreds of folks who work at HRC's headquarters in DC reads Rostow's column, and answers that question. I'd sure like to know what the heck it will take for HRC to get a spine transplant and incorporate even a small portion of the legitimate anger in the community into their work.

Why does Obama continue to support Don’t Ask and DOMA in federal court briefs? Why is he capable of condemning the new Arizona immigration law, and even pledging to look into whether or not he can sue to overturn it, while telling us, on the other hand, that he is obliged to defend anti-gay laws even though he disagrees with them in principle. Yes, I know Arizona’s law is not federal. But the point is, his administration could be doing a lot less to enforce Don’t Ask and DOMA. [...]

If HRC was livid about the wasted time, the lengthy commission on Don’t Ask, the briefs backing DOMA, the general apathy that characterizes this administration’s gay rights posture, then I’d be more sympathetic. But they are apologists, not activists.

Again, the emphasis is mine. It would not take all that much re-engineering for HRC to end their butt-kissing and engage in some butt-kicking.

Obama’s hospital visitation order was quite welcome. But it feels like a small scrap of presidential largesse that we are expected to snap up with subservient gratitude. Then we can sit on our haunches with big sad eyes and droopy tongues and whine quietly for the next tidbit while the sand in the short hourglass of political opportunity continues to shift.

Well, enough ranting. There are some barks and growls out there, however. Maybe if they get loud enough someone will throw us a tenderloin.

We should be so lucky.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

HRC: Harry Wieder = 'Awful Body Odor'

(The late gay/AIDS activist Keith Cylar, on the left, and Harry Wieder, right, peeking at his meat-and-potatoes. This fab photo ran in Outweek's 1991 swimsuit issue. Photo credit: Michael Wakefield.)

Grief is never easy to process, today there's been lots of tears about the tragic loss of my friend Harry Wieder. He was a much-beloved man who crossed the boundaries of several communities. He was killed late Tuesday in NYC by a taxi driver who didn't see him crossing the street.

As I grieve, I find it impossible to obey normal rules for the Insiders/Out listserv operated by my friend Mike Rogers in DC. The listserv's cardinal rule is what is posted there, stays there and can't be shared. Well, I'm violating that rule and will happily suffer the consequences of being thrown off the listserv.

The dignity of Harry and his incredible life, demand that I speak out over obscene b.s. from Marty Rouse, a longtime top leader for the Human Rights Campaign.

Here's his message:

Marty Rouse <> Apr 29 12:06AM

Harry Wieder. I remember 3 things most of Harry, that have not been shared already (and I say this with affection): his awful body odor; his fondness for sexual innuendo; and his deep nasal voice. You could hear and smell Harry coming. And he always made me smile.

Marty Rouse
National Field Director

What a lousy way to show affection. Of all the things to say, at any time -- never mind within a day of Harry's accidental death, HRC's Rouse not once, but twice mentions Harry's smell.

Marty Rouse may have an important job and make a lot of money -- more than $170,000 a year -- but he'll never stand as tall or have the integrity of Harry Weider.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BAR: GLAAD Prez Barrios
Won't Disclose Salary

(The $300,000 GLAAD man? Photo credit: Jane Philomen Cleland.)

Reason number 666 why Gay Inc is rancid, undemocratic and ought to be dismantled? Another unelected gay leader whose org rakes in millions of community dollars annually rejects transparency, this time over his salary, which he won't reveal. Like politicians, it must become required that every leader of every Gay Inc org reveal their current salary.

That is, if they're the least bit interested in quieting a wee bit of the outrage in the activist community directed at Gay Inc over a growing list of failures, the most current of which are DADT about to be retained and ENDA passage highly questionable.

We as a community should be outraged at the GLAAD board co-chairs, John Hadity and Susan Mindell, and the other members of the board of directors, for pushing this garbage from their ED on us. Either we have full salary transparency for GLAAD's prez, or we continue to malign and discredit this org, for their willful arrogance.

Kudos to Matthew Bajko for getting this excellent accountability story into print. Here is my favorite sentence, coming after a lengthy discussion about the prez's potential way-more-than-quarter-million salary:

He said he is willing to live with that "price of being activists" at a time when bloggers and others online are quick to judge GLAAD and its work.

I'm sure he is. From the BAR story that hits the streets and bars tomorrow:

Jarrett T. Barrios began work as president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation September 7, 2009. Nearly eight months into the job, what Barrios is earning at the helm of the LGBT media watchdog agency with a budget of $8 million remains a mystery to the public.

During his first interview with the Bay Area Reporter since being hired, Barrios last week declined to disclose the actual amount of his compensation.

He did boast that he had reduced his salary between 10 percent and 15 percent and "took a big pay cut to come work for GLAAD." He also noted he takes the bus, flies coach, and "I don't take per diem reimbursements."

But when pressed on what the nonprofit's board set his salary at, rumored to be between $300,000 and $350,000, Barrios said he was not obligated to disclose the figure.

"What is my salary at? That is actually not public information," said Barrios, 40, a former Massachusetts state lawmaker. "I will tell you I decreased my salary when I got there by about 15 percent, 10 percent." [...]

Barrios said he would not disclose his salary information prior to the filing of the agency's 2009 tax forms, which he said would be done May 15, because the number may not be fully accurate as he is reimbursed for certain expenses and the final total would be reflected on the tax return. The figure, however, would only be for the nearly four months he worked at GLAAD last year and not his full yearly salary.

Of course, there was one demanding voice raising questions and demanding answers yet again from Gay Inc:

Last fall Michael Petrelis, a San Francisco gay activist and blogger, criticized GLAAD and Barrios for not revealing his salary. In his interview with the B.A.R., Barrios suggested that the majority of GLAAD's donors are not concerned with knowing his compensation figure until the agency releases its annual report.

Yes, that may be the concern of the donors, but when GLAAD speaks it does not say it is advocating only behalf of its donors. It speaks for the community, which in and of itself is a good damn ethical reason for this org to get with the transparency or do us all a favor and go out of business. And make no mistake about it, GLAAD and its partners in Gay Inc are businesses. Why do you think it is called Gay Inc?

Harry Weider Killed in NYC Accident;
Gay, Jew, Dwarf, Leftie was 57

As I write this, my eyes are cloudy with tears, over the loss of my friend Harry Weider. He was killed last night in Manhattan.

I met Harry back in the day at ACT UP meetings and many times, he would bark at me: "Petrelis, get on your knees and hug me." He was physically small, and said his size deprived him of affection big people get all the time without a second thought. But for Harry, you'd either have to bend over to embrace him, kneel down to do so.

In November 2008, when my partner Mike took us to NYC and New Jersey to see family and pals, we ran into Harry in the lobby of the Public Theatre on Lafayette Street. One must climb 5-6 steps from the entrance to reach the elevated lobby, and I was standing up there, when I saw Harry amble his body and crutches through the door.

He began his routine and I joined him at his side. He cracked a smile seeing me, curious to know what play I was going to. Before answering, I demanded a hug from Harry on the stairs, which he of course gave me, then made it to the top.

Once there, I said, "You know, that is probably the first time I didn't have to get on my knees to share a hug with you." We both chuckled, my Mikey soon showed up, and without any prodding, got down on his knees and hugged Harry. It was the last time I saw my friend.

Life is unfair and Harry was dealt some not-so-kind cards, but damn, he didn't let a thing stop him from leading a full and happy life. It's really rotten Harry was taken from us like this.

Harry, rest in piece, my friend. You were loved.

Here's the sad email announcement I received a short while ago:

We unfortunately have some sad news to report this morning. Well-known community activist Harry Wieder was killed last night, after a taxi struck him as he was leaving CB3’s monthly meeting at P.S. 20. Wieder had been trying to cross Essex Street when the accident happened. Emergency crews arrived on the scene almost immediately and transported Wieder to Bellevue Hospital, but attempts to resuscitate him failed.

Wieder was a longtime member of Community Board 3, as well as an activist for gay rights and the rights of the disabled. In an email message, CB3 Chair Dominic Pisciotta said, “I will miss Harry terribly. He contributed so much to the Board and you could always count on him being at nearly every meeting. He loved serving the community and most of all fighting for it.”

Community board members rushed into the street moments after the accident, and several of them went to Bellevue to be by Wieder’s side.

On Wieder’s Facebook Page, he described himself as a: “Disabled, gay, Jewish, leftist, middle aged dwarf who ambulates with crutches…” He was a true Lower East Side personality who definitely made his mark. In Betty Adelsen’s 2005 book, “The Lives of Dwarfs: Their Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation,” she wrote of Wieder:

He has gained both fame and notoriety. In 1993 New York Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote a Runyonesque article about Wieder, inventing some details, but capturing his combative, roguish nature and his penchant for truth.”

You can read a longer excerpt from the book here. Funeral and memorial plans are still pending – we’ll let you know when we have that information. CB3 has canceled tonight’s scheduled meeting of the waterfront subcommittee.

Wieder was 57.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NYT: Anti-Gay Prop Sigs; HBO Trashed;
15-Hour Fassbinder Film

So I'm a little late in getting around to reading the lead editorial in Saturday's New York Times, The Court and Free Speech, but it's never too late to call attention to the paper endorsing full electoral transparency, in a case before the Supreme Court related to gay Americans:

The court has two more important free speech cases coming up. One raises the question of whether people have a right to keep their identities secret if they signed a petition to put a referendum against same-sex marriage on the ballot. Putting an initiative on the ballot is an important governmental act, and we hope the court does not decide that there is a right to do so anonymously.

In other homosexual news of note in the increasingly Gay Lady, openly gay actor Leslie Jordan was profiled recently, and shot his Southern mouth off about the nasty fights he had a cable giant:

In 2008 HBO canceled the show ["12 Miles of Bad Road] after six episodes were shot but before any were broadcast, a result for which Mr. Jordan blames his controversial character — a hustler-chasing gay man named Kenny Kingman — and the conservative attitudes of HBO executives.

“I thought, ‘Why can’t you have a gay character that likes hustlers?’ ” Mr. Jordan said. “I stood in that room with HBO and said: ‘What is the problem? Just because he’s not muscle-bound and adopting a Chinese baby?’ ”

One last bit of recent gay-related content from the Times, this time about the great film director and dead-before-his-time bad-boy Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and the running time of one of his masterpieces. A review about a 1973 movie he made for West German TV that recently premiered at MoMA said:

And perhaps the most prophetic aspect of this film ["World on a Wire'] is that, like Fassbinder’s 18-hour “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” it demonstrates how thoroughly and uncompromisingly cinematic television can be.

I saw all of the restored version, with the epilogue, when it was shown over four Thursday evenings in 2008 at the SF MoMA, and can say all the critical accolades bestowed on it over the years is justified. Well worth the time invested for this cineaste, but the Times made a mistake.

The film is only fifteen-and-half-hours long, not 18-hours as claimed by the critic A.O. Scott, who himself, in a 2007 rave of the restored "Berlin Alexanderplatz" starting to travel the film archive circuit, made mention of the correct running time.

Even at 15-plus hours, the time just flies by watching Fassbinder's account of German hustlers and low-lifes before the outbreak of WWII, and if you ever get the chance to watch the film, be prepared for an amazing film.

Monday, April 26, 2010

2009: HRC Leaders Visit

the White House 88 Times

Let's sunshine as many visits as possible by Human Rights Campaign leaders to the White House since President Obama became Commander-in-Chief.

I searched the White House visitor logs for the names of current and former HRC executives, staffers, members of the regular board, and the HRC Foundation board.

Just to get a small picture of what it is exactly HRC people do that is supposed to be worth the $40 million annual budget. Maybe also learn who had access to the White House last year, as the logs are current only through December 2009.

Visits only tell us a very limited amount of interactions between the Obama aides and HRC. There is plenty of communication through other means, including socializing and meetings outside the White House grounds.

By my estimation, HRC folks made at least 88 visits to the White House last year. A goodly number of HRC honchos were invited for a bill signing or reception, but there were also a significant number of times HRC leaders were there for serious business. And we know more visits have taken place since January 1, driving that 88 figure even higher.

This skeptic asks: What are we gays getting from all of HRC visits to the Obama White House? Would the folks listed below be willing to sacrifice their access to the White House, if it meant waging a hardball fight to win lifting Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

If someone out there can clue me to some answers to the above questions, I'd appreciate the info.

From the White House visitor logs:

Name: Joe Solmonese
Visits: 12

Name: Hilary Rosen
Visits: 10

Name: Ty Cobb
Visits: 8

Name: Terry Bean
Visits: 7

Name: David M. Smith
Visits: At least 7, maybe more.

Name: Vic Basile
Visits: 5

Name: Brian Moulton, Robert Raben
Visits: 4

Name: Allison Herwitt, Harry Knox
Visits: 3

Name: Phil Attey, Michael Palmer, Donna Payne, Judy Shepard, Mary Snider, David Stacy
Visits: 2

Name: Elizabeth Birch, Ken Britt, Marjorie Chorlins, Stampp Corbin, Darrin Hurwitz, John Isa, Dana Perlman, Elizabeth Pursell, Marty Rouse, Susanne Salkind, Meghan Stabler, Cuc Vu, David L. Wilson
Visits: 1
Truth Wins Out = $190,000

Wayne Besen for a number of years served as the spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, and since 2006 he's been executive director of the Truth Wins Out org and web site, full of blog entries, press releases, vids and opinion columns.

TWO, according to its IRS 990 filings, is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting positive public opinion regarding the treatment of gay people. I worked with him for a short while last spring on the boycott of Jamaica tourism and beer.

And when I recently checked out the latest IRS 990 for HRC, I also read the three most recent 990s for TWO, and was shocked to see its latest budget was a healthy six-figures. Here is what I learned from the tax filings.

In 2006 TWO's revenue was $74,403, and Besen earned $12,000. For 2007 the revenue was $76,961, and his salary was $32,500. Then in 2008 revenue went up to $190,759, while Besen's compensation was a robust $66,000.

While I'm not sure TWO's agenda requires $190,759, or that it's accomplishing much for the larger gay community, my opinion is of no import to those who fund Besen's work and org.

The 990s don't require any nonprofit to divulge who donated to them, but since I was familiar with the list of grantees from the Haas Jr Foundation, where former NGLTF honcho Matt Foreman is the program director for human rights, and the Arcus Foundation, where another former NGLTF leader, Urvashi Vaid, is the executive director, I knew that TWO gets significant funds from those foundations.

At the Arcus site, TWO is shown to have received $60,000 in 2008 and $40,000 in 2007. The Haas Jr site lists a grant of $35,000 in 2009 to the org.

I'm presenting this info simply to bring some transparency to TWO, which is receiving some nice chunks of change from gay friendly foundations. Also, seeing the interconnectedness of the key players here, formerly from NGLTF and HRC, to my eyes looks like more of Gay Inc folks taking care of each other, quite nicely too.

Do we really need TWO and all the other similar orgs, raking in robust six-figure budget, without a whole lotta achievements to show the community?
Stonewall UK: HRC's Solmonese,
Colleagues Popped In For Visit

[UPDATED - See below.]

Last Tuesday, I sent an email to Stonewall UK, the British version of HRC, asking about HRC's Joe Solmonese visiting London, as the American President and U.S. Congress were grappling with important gay issues. After the Washington Post revealed that he was in London, I wanted more info on why he was traveling overseas. Oddly, neither HRC nor Stonewall UK had, or have, anything posted to their sites about Solmonese's jaunt abroad.

This is the note I received this morning from Ben Summerskill, leader of Stonewall UK:

Dear Michael, if I may,

Thank you for your enquiry. Joe and a couple of colleagues did pop in to see us the week before last.

Best wishes

Oh, so Joe popped over with colleagues, huh? I wonder if that means HRC staffers and/or members of the various boards of the org.

Stonewall UK's release on their Equality Dinner omits any mention of Solmonese, but I notice in the comments sections, some criticism of how the UK gay org spends its money and some folks wondering what good the org does. Criticism we hear over here regarding HRC.

Kevin Naff, editor over at the DC Agenda, also raises questions about Solmonese's travel to the UK at this moment in the battles over Don't Ask, Don't Tell and ENDA. In an excellent piece about a lame town hall with several gay leaders in Washington last week, Naff writes:

Solmonese joined by phone from London, where he was stranded by the Icelandic volcano ash cloud.

No one on the panel asked Solmonese the question that many audience members were buzzing about: Why was he in London during this critical period for securing the final votes to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? Was the Senate Armed Services Committee holding a British retreat that we don’t know about? [...]

Good questions, Mr. Naff. Do let me know if you receive some answers from the folks at HRC.


Soon after I posted the above, Summerskill sent a much fuller reply to my concerns. Thank you, Ben Summerskill, for the additional info:

Hi Michael

I'm not quite sure if it is, but if it is helpful:

(a) On Joe's visit we discussed our current 'gays in the military' status. I don't know if you know but Stonewall secured full rights for gay people to work across the UK military in 2000. Stonewall has recently been working very closely with the British Army, Navy and RAF in supporting gay personnel, and with senior officers such as the Chief of the UK General Staff, and we shared some of this background, and our lobbying experience on it.

(b) We also discussed the current employment situation in the UK and how we had secured it. Again we are (happily) now in the position that any employment discrimination at work - whether it be bullying or in promotion or pensions provision etc - is unlawful in Britain. We shared with Joe how we had secured those provisions and are now embedding them with almost 600 major employers employing about 5 million people (one in five of the GB workforce) between them. Joe was clear that the ambition of HRC and US campaigners is to secure a similar situation in the US.

(c) If it's of any help I understand that the trip and stay of Joe and his colleague were funded by one of our supporters who invited them to visit us to gain intelligence on (a) and (b) above and to be guests at the Equality Dinner to see an overseas example of fundraising. Obviously, Joe is best placed to confirm this for you.

(d) As far as publicity is concerned, as well as Martina and Gareth Thomas (who's one of the best known rugby players in Britain) we had a number of members of the (UK) cabinet and shadow cabinet present including Harriet Harman (effectively our Deputy Prime Minister) and also a number of other ministers, such as the Europe minister. We also had members of the House of Lords (including Conservatives), CEOs from a number of FT-SE 100 companies, British TV stars and a string of British artistic celebrities such as Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Beryl Bainbridge and also artists well known in this country such as Maggi Hambling and Kobi Israel.

I can only apologise profusely if, in light of the above, we have caused offence by failing to mention Joe as a campaigning figure from overseas. I can assure you that absolutely no offence whatsoever was meant to America, or equality campaigners worldwide, or to HRC. If any such offence has been caused, please accept my most profound regrets.

May I also say how much I admire the work you've done personally over so many years. It is an inspiration.

Very best wishes


Sunday, April 25, 2010

KGO: School Wants Jones to
Return Harvey's Bull Horn

Over at KGO-TV's web site, veteran reporter Lyanne Melendez has posted the vid and a text version of her story from Friday night's broadcast, about local school kids trying to get a piece of homo-history returned to them. The problem? The massive ego of Cleve Jones.

I guess because he's been so busy organizing the 435 captains in every Congressional district that he promised would emerge from his October march on Washington, he hasn't had time to properly get Harvey's bull horn assessed, insured and placed in the hands of more than one control queen in Palm Springs. Snark, snark.

Kudos to Melendez for picking up on this story, which was initially written up in the Bay Area Reporter by Matthew Bajko. From KGO-TV:

A fight over a piece of San Francisco history heats up. It started with the filming of the movie about the late supervisor Harvey Milk. [...]

After being elected to the Board of Supervisors, Milk gave the bullhorn to [Cleve] Jones. He kept it at his home for several years until November 27, 1996.

Soon after, the bullhorn was given to a group of students from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in the Castro District, until it was borrowed for the movie "Milk" and never returned. [...]

Jones told ABC7 from his home in Southern California, "the bullhorn belongs to me, I lent it to the school and I took it back."

Jones added the display case is not a safe place to keep something irreplaceable and meaningful like Milk's bullhorn. [...]

"I certainly understand why he would want it, but I think the reason we at the school want it is just because we teach the kids civil rights, we teach the kids social justice and that bullhorn did represent a call to justice," Harvey Milk Academy parent Heather Bornfeld said.
Defaced ACT UP 'Kissing Doesn't Kill'
Poster Donated to SF Library

(The section of the poster that was slashed with a marker.)

(Tim Wilson is presented with the poster, which was donated on April 15, in front of the entrance to the San Francisco Public Library's History Collection.)

Human see, human do. I've been looking lately at the collection of the late writer Randy Shilts' papers and other gay records at the main library at Civic Center Plaza, and was reminded of the importance to donate important artifacts to either libraries or gay historical societies. Thanks, Randy, for leaving your papers in a central, easy-to-access location. I recently followed the example of him and so many other gay people, and I gave a piece of our history to San Francisco's gay collection.

For a number of years, I had a damaged version of that famous activist poster, one that had been defaced not out of hate, but out of unrelated anger, from a local city-operated clinic. After spending time poring over homo-historical records and talking with the friendly and super-informed librarians, I asked if they would be interested in accepting the poster, and the answer was yes.

The library already has a clean version of the poster, along with many other materials from early ACT UP/San Francisco, but the library accepted the damaged version because it was so prominently on view in the Castro, at a public clinic doing its damnedest to keep people with AIDS alive and the negatives uninfected, for many years. The marring was not hate-driven, but still it shows just one more of the diverse reactions and attacks people and institutions have made against the image.

Many thanks to Tim Wilson of the library's History Center for his friendly assistance, helping me look at files, and for accepting a small gift, from the activist community and our health care partners at Health Center 1.

Excerpted from this week's BAR:

Longtime gay and AIDS activist Michael Petrelis last week donated a mounted, defaced ACT UP poster to the San Francisco Public Library.

The poster contains the phrase, "Kissing Doesn't Kill: Greed and Indifference Do" and features three couples kissing. The couples are same-sex and opposite-sex and "very diverse,"Petrelis said [...]

Petrelis said that for many years it was on display at the main entrance to Health Center 1 on 17th Street. A few years ago, however, he noticed it was missing and asked what happened. According to Petrelis, he was told that an angry client with apparent mental issues defaced the poster with a red marker. [...]

Petrelis retrieved the poster, preventing it from being thrown in the trash, and held on to it for a few years.

Tim Wilson, the processing archivist for the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the library, confirmed that Petrelis had donated the poster on April 15. Wilson said that it would go into the poster collection at the center.

Petrelis said he hoped that other people with historical items would consider donating them to the library or the GLBT Historical Society.

What historical objects or papers do you have in your closet or filing cabinet, or down in the basement? Ask your local gay historical org or ordinary historical society or public library if they'd be interested in your items. There is every reason to properly archive, study and access our homo history and the artifacts of our lives.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Toronto Bathhouse Throws in the Towel

I'm sorry to see this gay bathhouse is all washed up, and I bet lots of men who visited the establishment over the decades are gonna miss the joint.

Gay sexuality is always evolving, and even with the advent of the web and easy online cruising, there is still a strong need for bricks-and-mortar venues where we can gather for sexual pleasures and socializing.

From an Xtra! column by James Dubro:

On April Fool’s Day, a hand-written note appeared on the red door of Club Toronto reading simply, “Closed forever.” It was no joke. After 37 years as a bathhouse, the large brick house at Mutual and Carlton streets is being gutted to make way, according to the landlord, for an upscale swingers’ club.

When it opened in the summer of 1973 as the Club Baths, it offered a unique blend of sexual and social interaction for gay men.

“It was a great place to be in the 1970s and ’80s,” says former regular Freddy Strickland, a retired meat inspector. “It was my home away from home — movies, saunas, meeting interesting people and relaxing in the whirlpool. It was one of the most important places for me then.”

This is just too special. A meat inspector was an habitue? I'm sure there were plenty of others. ;-)

“What many people don’t realize was that for many closeted gay men, Club Toronto was as much social-psychological refuge as it was a place to get off,” says Rick Stenhouse, who worked at Club Toronto in 1973. [...]

[Founder Peter] Maloney raised the money to open the Club from US Club steam bath owners Jack Campbell and Ray Diemer. [...] But it was Maloney’s unique idea to offer a social outlet — an area where people could sit, have coffee and talk. It was a simple but revolutionary concept. [...]

But Club Toronto will forever remain in our collective memory for its many innovations and achievements, not least of which was successfully fighting the cops after decades of harassment and prosecution.
Obama Omits Gays from Safe-Schools Reform;
HRC Sees No Problem

(Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President, helps raise funds for GLSEN in May 2009.)

The Bay Area Reporter this week published a story by Dana Rudolph, headlined "Bullying of LGBT youth not a priority, which discusses two efforts at the federal level to help gay students. The first is legislation introduced a year ago:

A bill introduced in May 2009 by Representative Linda Sanchez (D-California) would provide such anti-bullying measures. Known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act [SSIA], it would require schools that receive federal funds to implement and report on anti-bullying programs. It would define bullying as hostile conduct based on someone's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, among other attributes. [...]

A spokesman for GLSEN, Daryl Presgraves, said in an interview that the SSIA is "our biggest priority right now on a federal level." [...]

Sounds like an important measure that could directly help diminish harassment of gay kids in schools, something a liberal, Democratic President would fully support, right? Not so fast:

But when Obama released his Blueprint for Reform of No Child Left Behind, through a DOE document that details the administration's proposal, it contained no mention of the provisions of the SSIA. [...]

The personal security of gay youth was omitted from the blueprint, because of our fierce advocate in the Oval Office. And what about Obama getting behind another Act that potentially could assist gay kids?

[Obama's blueprint] also included no mention of the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill introduced by Representative Jared Polis (D-Colorado) in January. The non-discrimination act would prohibit discrimination – including harassment – on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program or activity receiving federal funds. [...]

Some background on what an openly gay White House press officer had to say in February about the Act, is in order. From Fox News:

Asked if the Obama administration supports the measure, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said: "While we have not reviewed this specific legislation, the President believes that every child should learn in a safe and secure school environment."

The message, right out the gate for the Polis measure, is that the White House doesn't have the time nor the interest to read the legislation, much less lift a finger to advance it. Nice to know what he believes, but how about Obama spending capital to create that environment for gay students?

Surely the nicely compensated professional homosexual lobbyists in Washington will waste no time deploring the invisibility of safety matters for gay youth in the President's educational reforms. Not exactly:

Despite the absence of safe-schools provisions in Obama's proposal, GLSEN spokesman Presgraves said he is optimistic.

"Obviously, this is just a blueprint," he explained. "As the 'Blueprint' will continue to expand and become the actual language for the reauthorization, at that point is when we'll definitely do everything we can to ensure that [the Sanchez and Polis bills'] language are part of the reauthorization." [...]

This fool may be optimistic, and that is what we can expected from the co-opted GLSEN folks, thanks to the fact that their former leader, the silent and invisible Kevin Jennings, has a cushy federal appointment. No way can we expect this org to forcefully put our educational concerns first, even as more gay kids commit suicide driven by harassment in school.GLSEN is one more gay org out for access, not advancement at any cost.

The GLSEN executive director, Eliza Byard, is one more gay leader attending functions at the White House, and I don't expect her org to jeopardize that access, by criticizing the administration. Such criticism could also cost GLSEN the next time it wants Dr. Jill Biden to address the crowd at their gala fundraiser.

Don't expect the HRC to kick Obama's butt over the omissions either. Back to the BAR story:

Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, agreed.

"Certainly, would it be preferable for there to be a strong, explicit signal going into this process from the White House? Sure," he said. "But I don't know that we should see this as a problem right out the gate." [...]

According to visitor logs, Moulton visited the White House for four meetings last year. He's probably been back in the new year, but the White House has yet to release visitor logs for 2010. Regardless, I wouldn't expectHRC's top legal lobbyist to say a word that might curtail or end his access to the White House, all because Obama is yet again proving he is not our fierce advocate for gay youth safety.

Kudos to the BAR and writer Dana Rudolph for an enlightening piece about Gay Inc business as usual in Washington.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

HRC's Veterans Day Meeting
at White House with Messina

The Advocate's Washington-based reporter Kerry Eleveld posted a story late Wednesday about the White House and professional gay advocate strategizing over plans to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell:

Yet just days after the January 27 [State of the Union] speech, White House officials convened a meeting on February 1 with LGBT advocates in which they said the policy would not be included in the president’s recommendations for this year's Department of Defense authorization bill, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the meeting.

“It was a definitive shut-down from [Jim] Messina,” said a source, who was present at the meeting and agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, referring to the White House deputy chief of staff. “He said it would not be going into the president’s Defense authorization budget proposal.” [...]

Eleveld today posted a follow up piece, in which a gay lobbyist who was at the February 1 White House, Robert Raben, gave his interpretation of what transpired.

My curiosity was piqued about that February 1 meeting, which included David M. Smith, top political strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, so I checked out the White House disclosure section for visitors' logs. Based on the last White House post, from March 26, regarding the logs, I don't believe records after December 31, 2009, have been disclosed.

Still, using White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina's last name, I searched the logs, to see if anything showed up disclosing the names of everyone who was at that February 1 meeting, and found nothing of relevance related to that meeting.

However, the search revealed that on November 11, 2009, which is Veteran's Day, Messina held a meeting with Joe Solmonese and David M. Smith of HRC. From the White House disclosure section:

Location: WH WW [White House, West Wing]
Date: 2009-11-11
Time of arrival: 14:45:00
Time of departure: 15:41:00

Location: WH WW [White House, West Wing]
Date: 2009-11-11
Time of arrival: 14:45:00
Time of departure: 15:41:00

Looking over all such records for Messina, no other names are shown for anyone else attending that meeting that lasted almost one-hour.

What was discussed at the meeting? Did HRC leaders and Messina agree on a plan for DADT repeal, a plan we see today that isn't delivering a transparent, winning strategy to lift the ban on open gay people in the U.S. military? How would Solmonese and Smith characterize the November 11 sit-down?

Thanks to the White House's transparency on visitor logs, we know about this meeting. Now if we could only get more info on it from HRC, I'd applaud their effort to give the gay community a look at how HRC lobbies the White House on our behalf.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BAR: Kevin Jennings,
Safe-Schools Czar, Falls Short

Back in early December, I blogged about Kevin Jennings, longtime leader on gay kids and schools issues, and as is my habit, I posed a pointed question. In the larger context of tremendous silence from him, I wrote:

He was appointed to that job in early May, and while the right has used him as punching bag for homo-hatred, the left, including Gay Inc orgs, has come to his defense but his supporters have failed to disseminate facts about what he's accomplished in six months on the job.

What measurable goals has he met that are helping students, both gay and straight? [...]

I also raised the possibility that he got his federal position, in part, due to his good standing as a gay Democrat, one with a few bucks to throw into campaign coffers:

In his last year at GLSEN, Jennings earned a whopping $273,574 salary. During 2007, his pay was $255,448, and for 2006 he was compensated $175,000. Over those years, his total compensation came to $704,022.

That kind of salary allowed him to donate $26,300 to Democratic Party candidates and committees since 1998, according to FEC records. Included in that amount is the $6,500 he's given to Obama. [...]

For my troubles, I received an angry note from Steve Hildebrand, the wonder gay for the Barack Obama for President campaign:

When the hell are you going to shut the fuck up? Why don’t you start supporting gay activists instead of questioning people’s integrity all the time? Kevin Jennings is an incredibly honorable, qualified individual – and yes, Michael, he worked very hard during the 2008 campaign.

I’m not sure who appointed you to be the gay police. But if you want to help advance gay rights, I’d hope you would start supporting gay leaders who do this work honorably. If you have real proof that people are acting inappropriately, unethically or improperly I do hope you will point those things out. But unless you have some kind of proof, I wish you would stop questioning people’s actions and motives based solely on your own angry agenda. [...]

Jeez, what would I have to be angry about, after more than thirty years of watching, and waiting, for good gay Democratic Party stalwarts like Jennings and Joe Solmonese and Hildebrand and too many others to name, to finally get their damn friends in elected office to enact pro-gay laws and repeal the discriminatory ones?

Since Hildebrand obviously didn't get my memo that I alone appointed myself to be the gay police, or, at least one cop on the Gay Inc accountability beat, I'll clue him into something a long time ago: I'm not impressed with the like of him or Jennings, and they cannot automatically count on my support.

That being said, fast forward to Thursday's Bay Area Reporter and the highly critical editorial by Cynthia Laird, echoing my questions from five months ago:

After almost a year in the position, however, we're skeptical that Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network and a former teacher, is up to the task.

Our unease is bolstered by the fact that Jennings has yet to give an interview to the LGBT press; [...] Since April 2009, several young students have committed suicide because they were harassed and bullied by classmates, but Jennings has not been seen (or heard) on this issue, arguably one of the most critical for safer schools, which is the primary focus of his job. [...]

This is where Jennings should enter the picture and his silence – as well as the silence from the Education Department in general – is deafening. We haven't heard one comment from him about these cases of youth suicides or of the bullying that is reportedly to blame for the deaths. [...]

Great BAR editorial, so far, but there is one very troubling passage in it that is simply not true:

Just as striking as Jennings's silence is the complicity of the LGBT community. This includes executives at the national LGBT organizations, as well as the LGBT bloggers who routinely criticize them. Progressive bloggers have been extremely critical of the country's largest LGBT organization, but they haven't questioned whether the openly gay people in the administration are effective. Instead, they rant about the anti-gay attacks on Jennings, which is a fair point; but why not go beyond the standard response – and taking the bait dished out by the right – and ask what the heck is Jennings doing? [...]

As I've shown with citing my December 2009 post asking that very question of Jenning, I was not part of the complicity Laird and the BAR say exists. My voice was the lone critical voice, questioning again the lack of accomplishment of a Democratic gay leader, and my thick skinned rebuffed Hildebrand's browbeating. Silence was not my m.o. on Jennings.
State Dept: Why the Vatican is Omitted
from Human Rights Reports

Two years ago, I blogged about the omission of the Holy See from the State Department's annual human rights report, and made note that even though we recognize it as a sovereign state and treat it like any other state we have formal relations with, the U.S. exempts the Holy See from important reports. One report is about human rights practices, and the other pertains to trafficking in persons.

I recently got around to asking the department for some answers, and sent an email to a knowledgeable source at the agency, who can't be named:

I am trying to find the reasons why the State Department excludes the Holy See from the annual human rights and trafficking in persons reports. The US recognizes the Holy See as a sovereign state, we exchange ambassadors, and there is a US embassy in Rome for our ambassador to the Holy See.

Yet when it comes to treating the Holy See like any other state when compiling these annual reports, the Holy See is omitted. Not only that, but no explanation from the State Department is posted on the reports' pages, detailing the reasons for the omission.

Please tell me why the State Department does not include the Holy See in either the annual human rights or trafficking in persons reports, and, if there is a department page that explains the omission, I'd appreciate if you would share the URL for it.

This is an excerpt of the reply I received:

According to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-195) Section 116 (d) as amended, the Department of State reports on all countries that 1. Receive U.S. assistance, and 2. Are members of the United Nations.

The Holy See is a Permanent Observer of the UN, not a full member, and it does not receive U.S. assistance.

Therefore, it is one of the few countries we have diplomatic relations with, but do not report on.

This is part of the response I sent to the State Department:

A few follow up questions are in order, for me. Are there any other nations or states we recognize that are also omitted from the reports, and, if so, which ones? Can you state that the Holy See is the only sovereign state omitted?

We don't have formal relations with Iran, Cuba and North Korea, and I don't believe they receive assistance from us, yet their records on human rights and human trafficking are included in annual State Department reports. Why is this the case?

Then the State Department source wrote back to me:

Iran, Cuba, and North Korea are all UN members. We do have relations with Cuba (there is an embassy in Havana), and we have relations with Iran and North Korea through surrogate countries even though we don’t have a presence in the country. Therefore, we report on them, and other countries in similar situations. The main point to take from this is that even if we don’t have a presence in the country, if they are UN members, we report on them.

If advocates wanted to lobby to include the Holy See, it would be through Congress—our reports are Congressionally mandated. The Department could technically choose to report on the Holy See as a policy matter, but that is unlikely.

I stand corrected about U.S.-Cuba relations, however, I wish to point out the U.S. doesn't technically have an embassy in Havana. We have an Interests Section down there, that is housed in the former U.S. embassy, according to the agency's page on the section, but I digress from my concerns about the Vatican omissions.

Now would be an excellent moment in time to revisit our diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and consider amending Congressional mandates for the annual human rights and trafficking in persons reports.

As we gays well know, the Vatican actively works around the world to deny us legal protections, never leaving us alone to live our lives free from discrimination and it has a lousy record also on the rights of women and their health care services. I want to see the Vatican's anti-gay, anti-women and anti-choice work rated and included in the human rights reports.

At the same time, I don't know if moving priests across international borders, at times to avoid criminal prosecutions, qualifies as trafficking in persons, or if the Holy See has in any way aided, abetted or engaged in such trafficking of children or adults. It very well may not be, and if that is the case, then it should be noted in the annual trafficking reports.

Click here to peruse the department's page on the Vatican, which includes this assessment of its current agenda, under the U.S.-Vatican relations section, written in March, emphasis mine:

Holy See priorities for 2010 include freedom of religion and protection of Christian minorities; inter-religious dialogue, particularly with the Muslim world; aid for developing nations; protection of the environment; peace as a means of solving political problems, particularly for the Middle East; defense of the traditional family; and nuclear nonproliferation.

I'd say another priority for the Vatican is confronting myriad priestly sexual abuse scandals involving children and adolescents, and I object to the State Department blithely mentioning "defense of the traditional family." That defense explicitly attacks and demeans the dignity and value of gays everywhere, and gay and other alternative family structures.

There is much about U.S.-Holy See relations to make me uncomfortable, and to hope for a more critical look by Congress at the relationship.
MIA at ENDA Hearing?

A House committee hearing was disrupted today by members of GetEqual, who demanded action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was not on the official agenda for the Congressional representatives. Click here to read the Dallas Voice coverage, including the news release from GetEqual, along with pics and a vid.

Missing in action at the hearing? The usual Gay Inc suspects: GLAAD, HRC and NGLTF.

The handsomely compensated executive directors, along with their staffers, could honestly say that since ENDA was not part of the hearing's agenda, there was no reason to be there. I would disagree.

As we see with GetEqual's recent zap of President Obama and six gay military vets arrested at the White House fence, a little bit of noise and proud uppity-ness can put our gay issues on the political and media agenda, when our issues were not expected to come up. It's called good leadership when members of a minority community, after decades of empty promises from Democratic Party pols, force our issues to be addressed and reported on.

Now, I'm not saying the A-gays running the show at Gay Inc orgs need to act up along with the GetEqual activists at every Congressional hearing where ENDA and its markup should be on the agenda, but I would occasionally like to see executives and staffers from GLAAD, HRC and NGLTF at least pressing the flesh, in a nice way, with the representative.

Why can't these orgs, which boast of employing an array of diverse tactics on behalf of gays, find a creative way to put ENDA on the agenda, whether the pols like it or not? Sure, we need the diplomatic A-gay approach of Gay Inc, but that shouldn't be the only tool in their lobbying toolbox. I would like to see Gay Inc staffers showing up at Congressional hearings such as today's, and at least bearing witness to the non-addressing of ENDA.

Asking these orgs to get creative in order to win some legislative equality is probably too much to ask for, but how about GLAAD, HRC and NGLTF, using their vast media resources and contacts to at minimum inform as many people as possible about the activism of GetEqual?

If there is one thing I know for certain, when Gay Inc cranks up their p.r. machines, they can generate a lot of attention from Democrats and the mainstream media. We need them to use their media and political lists to get the word out about the part of the gay community that is proud to act up.

Yesterday we didn't hear a peep of acknowledgment from Gay Inc over the zap of Obama and the White House civil disobedience. Sadly, the silence over those actions is compounded by today's silence from GLAAD, HRC, and NGLTF about the hearing disruption.

What are the orgs touting today? For HRC, it's that Miss Indiana supports repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell. At GLAAD, they're reporting that "America's Next Top Model" is on TV tonight. That is more important to tell people about, instead of how real activists are push a gay agenda forward in DC?

And the NGLTF actually has posted something today about ENDA. It's a letter to Congress, signed by more than 200 gay executives and others, and it contains one sentence:"Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act NOW." And not one word is said about today's disruption.

What is the reason for the mute approach of Gay Inc regarding the activism of GetEqual? Are the orgs embarrassed by the activism? Do they fear loss of access to the White House and Democratic Party leaders, if they even acknowledge the anger and the activism of GetEqual? Could the silence be because they are scared A-gays will stop donating and attending Gay Inc galas?

The impossible dream is that GLAAD, HRC and NGLTF become the fierce advocates we need them to be.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

FBI: No Records on
Cardinal O'Connor or Marcial Maciel

The feds have responded to two more of my FOIAs for files on leading Catholics, both deceased and of a controversial nature, of the past few decades, in this case Cardinal John J. O'Connor, once the Archbishop of New York City, and Marcial Maciel, a conservative Mexican prelate accused of many sexual abuse crimes, who visited the U.S. and died in Texas.

The FBI found no records responsive to my FOIA request, and I believe it's smart to report on the absence of the files on either Catholic cleric. The best way to find out if the feds had any reason to investigate leading dead Catholics is to file a FOIA.

Here are the letters from the FBI. The one on Maciel is first, followed by the one for O'Connor:

Silence of the Lame: Gay Inc
Mute on Obama, WH Zaps

Why am I so critical of the Gay Inc orgs GLAAD, HRC and NGLTF, other than the usual reasons of they have miserably failed to deliver much-promised change and fierce advocacy?

It is for things like their silence today over the courageous disruption of activists from the GetEqual org last night demanding President Obama spend some political capital repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Click here to check out LA reporter and blogger Karen Ocamb's comprehensive coverage, with lots of text, some pics and vids, of the action.

Then there is the same silence from the orgs regarding the arrest today of six gay military personnel, both veteran and current active, at the fence of the White House. Click here for some mainstream news coverage, and here for blogosphere coverage.

Here we have two glorious activist zaps, on both coasts, pushing the envelope to have our supposed fierce advocate and friend in the White House make good on his various promises to our community, made when he was campaigning for the Oval Office, and neitherGLAAD, HRC nor NGLTF can be bothered to issue statements on the action. Yet not a single word, as of 3:30 pm SF time as I write this, from GLAAD, HRC, or NGLTF on their respective web sites about zaps.

However, all three orgs today distributed statements mourning the death of African American pioneer and civil rights and women's advocate Dorothy Height, who also supported the gay rights struggle for equality. Check out the releases from GLAAD, HRC, and NGLTF noting the passing of Height.

I think it's great the Gay Inc orgs recognize the importance of Height's tremendous advocacy work for all Americans, but is it asking too much of the orgs to also be able to make statements on the same day about the importance of the advocacy of today, being carried out by gays?

It's inexcusable that these orgs are silent about the GetEqual zaps against Obama in Los Angeles and arrests at the White House.

Monday, April 19, 2010

WaPo: HRC's Solmonese Speaks in London

Let the record show, that in the midst of gay America attempting to finally secure legislative employment non-discrimination protection and a lifting of the ban on open gay people in the military, our Dear Leader, one Joe Solmonese of the Worst. Gay. Democratic. Group. Ever., was off in jolly ol' London town.

Does Solmonese think Prime Minister Gordon Brown or the Parliament of the United Kingdom, or the gay British org he spoke to, have influence over ENDA or DADT? Why on earth is the leaders of the largest gay org in the United States, at this crucial time for gay Americans, jetting off to London?

This bit of infuriating news is from an excellent profile, and I say not just because I'm quoted, of Solmonese by Lonnae O'Neal Parker in Tuesday's Style section of the Washington Post:

But when the [hospital] directive was issued, Solmonese, currently stuck in London because of volcanic ash, says he couldn't fully give himself over to joy, because he knew it would be followed by strong critical reaction. [...]
From London, where he spoke to a British gay rights group, Solmonese muses about how fraught victories in the gay community can be. How understandably emotional the debate can get when people feel their full rights as citizens are so very long past due. He says he tries to put aside that emotion when he's trying to get to the heart of a lawmaker's resistance.

Of all the things in the profile, this nugget stands out the most. I'd like to know why it was so important for Solmonese to be in London for this talk of his. It reeks of Geoff Kors and Lorri Jean going on vacation at crucial points in the Prop 8 campaign in 2008.

If Solmonese doesn't have something to do in Washington on ENDA enactment and DADT repeal, can't he find a way to make himself useful on those matters from somewhere, anywhere, on U.S. soil?
Puff Profile on ACLU's Gay ED Romero

Before he was selected in 2001 as the leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero's name was one I was extremely unfamiliar with. Since his appointment, I've come to associate his name with controversy and dissent -- within the ACLU structure. I yawned at the fact that this liberal org hired an ambitious, young and gay executive director, because Romero had no gay advocacy track record that anyone was aware of.

But I paid close attention when it was revealed in 2004 that in order to accept grants from the Ford Foundation and other, Romero had advised and quietly agreed to troubling language guiding the funds that the ACLU wound "not promote or engage in violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state." Sounds like trampling on free speech rights, to me, and it was so odd the head of the ACLU would consent to it.

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend Mike brought home a hard copy of the April issue of California Lawyer, with an essentially puff profile on Romero. Many of his serious civil libertarian and organizational missteps are mentioned, while the writing crackles more than it should for a legal magazine:

If Romero's arrival at the national office had been the opening scenes of a Hollywood movie, you would have rolled your eyes at the setup. On September 4, 2001, Romero became executive director of an institution synonymous with defense of the Bill of Rights. [...]

By contrast, Romero in 2001 was practically a kid: 35 years old, energetic and skinny, with faint acne scars. Squint your eyes slightly and he still looks to be about 19.

In an organization heavily represented by patrician WASPs and Jews, Romero was an outsider from a working-class Puerto Rican family. And he is openly gay. Despite support from outgoing executive director Ira Glasser, Romero was eyed with suspicion by some of the Old Guard. The kid seemed too soft, not ready for the hurly burly of the national office. [...]

When he arrived, Romero says, "I didn't know the national security issues. I didn't even know what the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was." But he quickly got up to speed, rallied his stunned and somewhat frightened staff, and mounted a counterattack. [...]

The narrative of the profile, both regarding Romero's personal upbringing and resume and his bumpy tenure at the helm of the ACLU, is one of overcoming big obstacles and moving upward. I would have liked the writer to exhibit deep skepticism about the supposed new warm fuzzy feelings from some previous detractors or former critics.

More than cursory butt kickin' related to Romero would have served California Lawyer magazine, and general readers such as myself, better.

Speaking of holding Romero and the ACLU to the highest ethical standards, Wendy Kaminer, one of his detractors and a former board member, in her blog over at the Atlantic web site, in late March brought attention to more recent missteps by Romero:

For the ACLU's sake, I hope it has very good lawyers representing it in what TPM accurately calls a potentially explosive investigation of ACLU's alleged involvement in outing CIA officers to the 9/11 defendants [...] .

Patrick Fitzgerald has been appointed to lead the investigation, and Isikoff writes, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero has confirmed that the ACLU "hired private investigators to track down CIA officers involved in aggressive interrogation tactics. 'It would be an essential part of any defense to cross-examine the perpetrators of torture,' (Romero) says, adding, 'To our knowledge, the 9/11 defendants were not told the identities of the CIA officers.'"

This is an astonishing and incredibly reckless admission. First, if you're under investigation by Patrick Fitzgerald you should probably exercise your right to remain silent, or, at least, clear any statements with your attorney, as I imagine Romero, a law school graduate, has belatedly learned. [...]

Clearly, there is no love between Kaminer and Romero, and I'd love to hear what she has to say about California Lawyer's look at Romero and his leadership. I'll keep an eye on her blog, in the hopes she weighs in on the puff profile.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One Sentence Began U.S.-Vatican Relations;
Helms Was Lone Objector

All the news lately about the corruption of Vatican leaders over recent decades, as Catholic priests worldwide were actively protected from local prosecutions and canonical investigations, got me wondering how and when the United States recognized the Holy See as a sovereign state.

I mistakenly thought there was a treaty between the two, and I've learned that the president has the authority to appoint an ambassador under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, with no treaty necessary.

The Catholic Historical Review, in a fascinating, lively and lengthy article from October 2009, explained the very complicated history between the U.S. and the Vatican. The key focus was how formal relations were established in the early 1980s, under President Ronald Reagan:

The first step that had to occur was for Congress to repeal the 1867 law that prohibited the expenditure of funds for a diplomatic mission to the Holy See. On June 30, 1983, Representative Clement Zablocki (D-WI), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced just such a resolution (H.J.Res.316). Several factors motivated Zablocki to pursue this course of action.

First, in June 1981, at the funeral of Cardinal Stefan Wyszinski of Warsaw at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Zablocki was irked that [American envoy to the Vatican WilliamWilson] was not seated with the other ambassadors. Second, many countries had already established diplomatic relations with the Holy See, including several communist ones. [...]

This particular Senate amendment was added to the State Department appropriations bill on September 22, 1983 (S.1342), which subsequently passed by a voice vote on October 20.

In November the Senate-House conference committee met on the State Department bill, hammered out the differences, and submitted the bill to the Senate and House for a final vote. The bill was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president on November 22, 1983.

Repeal of that 1867 prohibition took a single, very long sentence:

Public Law 98-164
Sec. 134.

In order to provide for the establishment of United States diplomatic relations with the Vatican, the Act entitled "An Act making Appropriations for the Consular and Diplomatic Expenses of the Government for the Year ending thirtieth June, eighteen-hundred and sixty-eight, and for other purposes", approved February 28, 1867, is amended by repealing the following sentence (14 Stat. 413): "And no money hereby or otherwise appropriated shall be paid for the support of an American legation at Rome, from and after the thirtieth day of June, eighteen-hundred and sixty-seven.

Thus began America's unfortunate and formal diplomatic recognition and reciprocity with the Holy See.

Establishing relations meant we needed to exchange ambassadors, and a member of Ronald Reagan's California kitchen cabinet, William Wilson, was nominated for the position. In February 1984, after rudimentary Congressional hearings, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, and little debate, Wilson's appointment was endorsed by the Senate, except for one holdout:

''I just can't bring myself to vote for any ambassador to the Holy See,'' said Senator Helms to the Foreign Relations Committee as he cast the only vote against Mr. Wilson, a California entrepreneur and friend of President Reagan. Helms said he opposed recognizing anything ''other than another government.'' [...]

''My only regret,'' said Helms, ''is there was not a full-fledged discussion'' when the Senate passed the law that permitted establishing diplomatic ties with the Holy See. [...]

I'm horrified to write these words, but I wish Helms had succeeded. He was such a homo-hater without an ounce of compassion for people with AIDS, who I will always loathe, but on this single foreign matter, I agree with Helms that America should not have created diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

There also should have been robust debate in Congress over all of the ramifications of diplomatic recognition of one religious sovereign state, that went beyond the popularity ratings at the time of Reagan and Pope John Paul II.

A lawsuit challenging the establishment of diplomatic recognition, exchange of ambassadors and expending of federal funds to operate a Vatican embassy, was filed by Americans for Separate of Church and State, et al.

In a 1986 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, dismissed an appeal by the plaintiffs after a lower court rejected their claim to legal standing:

Applying the teaching of these [earlier] cases, we hold that the "direct and palpable injuries" alleged by the plaintiffs are legally insufficient to establish standing to challenge the funding and diplomatic-recognition actions of which they complain. [...] The district court did not err in dismissing the complaint. The judgment appealed from will therefore be affirmed.

Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Holy See have operated rather quietly since then, and as I far as I know, there have been no other legal or Congressional attempt to re-think or reject American recognition of the Vatican.

Now would be a good time to examine the factors behind our diplomacy with the Vatican, and to ask if and how we may want to adapt our relations to the concerns of today.