Good Christian belle

Gay ally Kristin Chenoweth talks about her new country music CD (she adores Dolly!), queers … and the right way to be a Christian

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO KRISTIN | The performer has conquered stage, recording, TV … and uniting gay rights with her faith.

Kristin Chenoweth doesn’t get miffed very easily. But when she does, watch out. Last year, after Newsweek published a commentary on the inability of gay actors to play straight roles, she wrote an extensive letter to the magazine, calling the article “horrendously homophobic.”

But Chenoweth’s allegiance to the gay community goes back to growing up in Oklahoma — a place she returned to for her latest album, Some Lessons Learned, the first of four where the opera-trainer singer fully embraces her country roots.

We had lots to talk about when we caught up with Chenoweth, on a dinner break from shooting her upcoming series, Good Christian Belles. She discussed her history of dating gay men, her opinion on Michele Bachmann’s support of gay conversion clinics … and being a little bit wicked.

— Chris Azzopardi

………………………..

Dallas Voice: Your character’s name on Good Christian Belles is Cockburn — Carlene Cockburn. Chenoweth: I can’t wait for my family to hear that one. Are you kidding? I was like, “Wait a minute…!” But I just think the most important thing for me as an actress, because of the lines that come out of my mouth, is to just have to speak them and keep going, because they’re so funny and her name is so funny and the whole thing is just so great. I love it.

Does your character have anything in common with April Rhodes, who you play on Glee? Probably not on paper, but they’re both pretty outlandish people. Carlene, though, is the antithesis of April.

You grew up in Oklahoma, so country music is your roots. How is your new album a reflection of that? It’s so funny, because I get asked, “Why a country album now?” But that’s how it all began for me. Of course, why would anyone know that? It’s not something I’ve been talking about a lot, but it’s the music I grew up listening to. One of my biggest influences is Dolly Parton, and when you look at the history of songs in musical theater and in country, they’re both usually great storytellers.

I know just how lucky I am to do this kind of music. Getting to go to Nashville and sing this music that feels like home to me was a real gift, and one that I don’t take lightly.

The song “What Would Dolly Do?” reminds me a lot of Dolly herself. I co-wrote that. [Producer] Bob Ezrin asked, “Who’s had the biggest influence on you country music-wise?” I said, “Dolly, without question.” And he said, “How would she approach it? Let’s think: What would Dolly do?” I said, “Bob, why aren’t we writing that song?”

There’s something about her that I feel very attuned to. There’s only one Dolly. I’m not comparing myself, but I’m just saying her spirit and the way she looks at life is pretty similar to me. And the cover I did of hers [“Change”] is actually a very emotional thing and it reminded me — of course, how could I ever forget? — what an amazing songwriter she is. You know, I didn’t do a lot of covers. I did two covers, one of Carrie [Underwood] and one of Dolly’s, and I just love both of them. I love their music, I love their spirit — everything they stand for.

It makes total sense, because, to me, both you and Dolly epitomize happiness. Oh my god, thank you. That’s the biggest compliment you could give me.

So, being so happy… what pisses you off? Oh, gosh! I don’t really get mad that often. But I’m not going to lie: When I do, there’s a quiet that comes over me that is a little like whoa, and that happens when I don’t feel other people are prepared or doing their job or pulling their weight. I come from a family where my dad came from nothing and worked hard to get where he is, and he said, “Work hard, play hard, Kris,” and I guess that’s kind of been my motto in life. So when I see people squandering opportunities or having a sense of entitlement, that really makes me crazy. Because I don’t understand it. It’s not a world I get.

One thing that does make you upset is homophobic people. I don’t like that, you’re right.

Your letter in response to that Newsweek column said it all. Why was it important to address your feelings on that issue? To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen. I was on Broadway doing Promises, Promises, and I read the article and I actually thought it was pretty irresponsible. I’m not even talking about whether a person agrees with being gay or not, I’m talking about artistry and gay

actors trying to play straight. It just made me mad, because I thought, “Well, I’ve played a prostitute, does that mean I am one? No.” I just thought it was a little bit of a bullying thing, and I honestly prayed about it — no kidding, I prayed about it.

And by the way, I’m a big fan of the magazine, which is why I was so bummed. But I think that they felt bad and hopefully there’s been some discussion about it and some learning, because that’s what we’re here to do on this Earth, to learn our purpose. Well, one of my purposes in this life — since I’m a believer and a Christian — is to help people realize that not every Christian thinks that being gay is a sin.

To reinforce your point, you made out with your Promises, Promises co-star Sean Hayes at the Tonys last year. It might’ve been a little jibe. It might’ve been a little one! Ha!

What was it like to make out with a gay man? Was that your first time? Well, let’s face it, my high school boyfriend is gay, so I don’t think it’s my first time making out with gay men! I bet a lot of women don’t even know they’ve done it! And Sean Hayes is just a darn good kisser, what can I say?

Wait, so you dated a gay man in high school? Yeah, and I’m like, “Well, that’s why we were such a great couple!” He didn’t pleasure me in any way but he helped me pick out my prom dress!

Was he one of the first gay people you knew in Oklahoma? Yeah. I want to tell you something I know about myself: When I was in the second or third grade, I first heard the word “dyke,” and it was in reference to a girl in our school who was very, very tomboyish. I didn’t really understand what the word was, but I knew I didn’t like the way it was said. And for some reason I’ve always been drawn to the person that was alone, and I don’t mean to make me sound like I’m Mother Teresa, because I’m not. But I’ve always been drawn to people who felt left out or different, and maybe it’s because, I too, felt different and unique. People would not think this of me, because there’s this perception of me that, “Oh, life’s been perfect and things have come so easily.”

But let’s face it: My speaking voice is very interesting. Yes, I was a cheerleader but I also wanted to do all the plays, I was in renaissance choir, and, I too, felt a little bit like an outsider. I was always drawn to people who felt that way, too. And sure, some of them were gay and I never did understand — I guess the word is fear.

God made us all equal. He made me short, he made someone gay, he made someone tall — whatever it is, it’s not a sin; it’s how we’re made. And that’s the way I feel about it. It flies in the face of a lot of what Christians believe, but as I’m finding out there’s a lot of Christian people who think the same as me. So that’s my deal, and I think we should not be careful of the unknown but rather accepting and loving of it.

As someone who’s Christian and supports the gay community, how do you feel about the pray-away-the-gay program that Michele Bachmann supports? [Long pause] You know what, you can have your opinion. One of the great things about being in this country is we get to freely say what we believe. I just don’t happen to agree with that. Though I like the “pray” part!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

The lost art of cruising

‘Electro-tricks’ may be quicker and easier, but half the fun of the hook-up was working at it

Hardy Haberman | Flagging Left

I don’t get out much — at least to the bars. First of all I don’t drink anymore, and second, I am not really looking to hook up with anyone since I am in a very nice relationship.

I do, however, occasionally meet friends out for the evening or for a special event.

When I do go out, it is most often to our local leather bar, the Dallas Eagle, and I often indulge in a little people watching. I like to watch the crowd, the way people interact with one another, the ebb and flow of what was once a favorite past time of gay men: cruising.

What surprised me was the lack of that particular gay art going on.

First, let me say this is not a reflection on the Eagle; it’s a fine, first-class leather bar. What I noticed is something I have seen in other cities as well, and it bothers me a bit.

Now for those who might not know, cruising is a delicate dance men used to perform when looking for a partner, playmate or just trick du jour. It usually began with some long, slow looks, occasional subtle signals like a nod, the touch of the brim of a cap, a purposeful second glance or even just a slight change in body language.

If two people read the signals, and actually respond, it might proceed to sending over a drink — or a more direct approach. Often before actually making contact, you would ask a few friends if they knew the man in question, and for the leather scene that would also entail asking if anyone knew more intimate details: Was he a safe player? What was he into?

Of course, we also had the hanky code. It was a more direct and cut to the chase way to let folks know what you were seeking.

I won’t go into the details here, but the basics were: Hanky in the left pocket meant you were a top, and hanky in the right pocket meant you were a bottom.

Still, even with outward signs, there was an art to the whole endeavor. If done correctly, it had an element of seduction in it and all the sexual energy that went with it.

Sadly, I don’t see much of that going on anymore.

What I do see is guys checking their smart phones. Looking a little closer, I see them using Grindr, checking Recon and texting.

That’s when I realized what happened to cruising: It has gone the way of the dodo.

What was once a face-to-face encounter that actually took some time and energy is now a fast, down-and-dirty, “check a few profiles and text enough contacts until you pull a winning number” routine.

The whole cruising experience has become an electronic booty call with no mystery, no romance and no effort.

Oh yes, it is much more efficient. You can select from the variety of “neck-down pictures” and body statistics, like you were choosing a download on Amazon.

Find Mr. Right or at least Mr. Right Enough for Now, text a few lines, set a time and bingo! Insta-trick!

All very high tech and painless. No face-to-face rejections, no appallingly awkward moments. Just on-line chat and, essentially, “booking.”

It would seem to me that applications like Grindr and sites like Recon and CraigsList have replaced the whole cruising experience, and though it might be much more efficient, it really changes to atmosphere in the bars.

The heady sexual tension that used to permeate gay bars has given way to guys and gals on their smart phones texting or cruising — the web. One bar in Florida even has a screen where patrons can text directly to the screen, sort of a visual “shout out” for all to see.

Inevitably, the whole electro-trick phenomenon has spawned something totally unexpected. My partner commented on the subject of this column and suggested there should be an Angie’s List for Grindr.

I was surprised this morning when, while researching this piece, I found something very much like that.

Douchebagsofgrindr.com may just be a parody, but if not it offers some insight into the whole process. Personally, I find it kind of crass, but then I find the whole “electro-trick-speed-dating-booty-call” app thing crass.

It makes me long for the days of actually having to spend a little time to pursue and attract and seduce someone you were interested in. Try that now and I suspect you’d just get accused of being a stalker.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.Blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Latin flair

comedy
MUY FUNNY | Dan Guerrero works for laughs while being gay and Latino in his one-man show.

Before he could write ‘¡Gaytino!,’ Dan Guerrero first had to find his roots

rich lopez  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Growing up gay and Latino can be a tough hand to play. In a culture that revels in religion and machismo — hell, the word “machismo” is Latino — coming out poses pitfalls.

But Dan Guerrero lucked out. With some artsy upbringing by a musician dad and a not-so-practicing Catholic background, Guerrero’s closet was easy to open. In fact, it was harder for him just to be Hispanic.

“Los Angeles never made me feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I fell in love with musicals in junior high. I wanted to hear Julie Andrews in Camelot! Who gives a rat’s ass about mariachi?”

His dad might have given one. He was famed musician Lala Guerrero, the father of Chicano music who popularized the Pachuco sound in the 1940s (the beats most associated with Zoot suits and swing dancing). While Guerrero appreciated his father’s legacy, he established his own identity by moving to New York to become an actor. That didn’t work out so much, but becoming an agent did.

“It was kind of by accident, but I ended up being an agent for 15 years,” he says. “I got into producing and I loved it.”

Although he stepped away from performing, Guerrero finds himself back onstage Friday and Saturday at the Latino Cultural Center with ¡Gaytino! The autobiographical one-man show is part comedy, part cabaret, with Guerrero recounting in lyrics and punch lines his experiences growing up gay and Latino, life with father … and having to rediscover his roots after moving back to L.A.

“The main reason I did the show is, I wanted to know more about my dad and my best friend. I was already fabulous,” he laughs. “So I don’t think of this as my story. I wanted to embrace his legacy and celebrate him and our lives, but also tell of being a born-again Hispanic.”

In L.A., Guerrero rediscovered his heritage. While still working in entertainment, he noticed a lack of Latinos behind the scenes. He started a column in Dramalogue to change that, interviewing actors like Jimmy Smits and Salma Hayek and producing shows that spoke to Latin audiences.

And then came ¡Gaytino!

“Well, the word itself hit me first so I trademarked it. Then it was madness as I set about writing it,” he says.

When the show debuted in 2005, Guerrero hadn’t performed in 35 years. He was a different man, no longer a young buck with nothing to lose and untarnished optimism. He was a behind-the-scenes producer and casting agent. He was — gasp! — older.

“I remember thinking, ‘What am I gonna do? What if I forget my lines?’ I’m an old codger,” he says. “But I got onstage and it was like I had did it the day before. Performing is just part of who I am.”

With his successful day job (he once repped a young Sarah Jessica Parker), a healthy relationship (32 years this November) and irons in many other fires, why bother with the daunting task of writing a show and carrying it alone?

“It still feels like I’m breaking into show business. At least when you’ve been around as long as I have, you can get the main cheese by phone,” he answers. “But really, I had something I wanted to say and I love doing it. I’ve been lucky to stay in the game this long but it’s not by accident; it’s all been by design.”

What he loves isn’t just doing his show, but how it pushes positive gay Latino images. He’s dedicated this chapter in his life to that. Guerrero now feels parental toward the younger generation — maybe because he has no children of his own.

“I do feel a responsibility and not just to younger people, but to all,” he says. “For ¡Gaytino!, I first want them entertained, but I hope audiences will leave more educated about some Chicano culture and history and Gaytino history.”

……………………………………

QUEER CLIP: ‘BEGINNERS’

screen

 

Beginners is such a dreadfully forgettable and generic title for what is the year’s most engaging and heartfelt comedy, you feel like boycotting a review until the distributor gives it a title it deserves.

Certainly the movie itself — a quirky, humane and fantastical reverie about the nature of love and family, with Ewan McGregor as a doleful graphic artist who, six months after his mother dies, learns his 75-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer) is gay and wants to date — charts its own course (defiantly, respectfully, beautifully), navigating the minefield of relationships from lovers to parent/child with simple emotions. It’s not a movie that would presume to answer the Big Questions (when do you know you’ve met the right one? And if they aren’t, how much does that matter anyway?); it’s comfortable observing that we’re all in the same boat, and doing our best is good enough.

McGregor’s placid befuddlement over how he should react to things around him — both his father’s coming out and a flighty but delightful French actress (Melanie Laurent) who tries to pull him out of his shell — is one of the most understated and soulful performances of his career. (His relationship with Arthur, his father’s quasi-psychic Jack Russell, is winsome and winning without veering into Turner & Hooch idiocy.) But Plummer owns the film.

Plummer, best known for his blustery, villainous characters (even the heroic ones, like Capt. Von Trapp and Mike Wallace), exudes an aura of wonder and discovery as the septuagenarian with the hot younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic, both exasperating as cuddly). As he learns about house music at a time when his contemporaries crave Lawrence Welk, you’re wowed by how the performance seethes with the lifeforce of someone coming out and into his own. His energy is almost shaming.

Writer/director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film suffers only being underlit and over too quickly. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to spend more time with these folks.

—Arnold Wayne Jones

Rating: Four and half stars
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Guest Column: The freedom to marry is denied to Ben & Danny on Valentine’s Day

Note from Lurleen: On Valentine’s Day 2011 Ben Crowther and Danny Canham joined dozens of other LGBT couples in over 13 states taking part in GetEqual’s direct action “drawing attention to the fact that loving couples – some of whom have been together for decades – are still living as second-class citizens without the right to marry.”  I asked Ben and Danny to describe their experience and they kindly agreed.  Here is their story in their own words.


On Valentine’s Day, two students marched down to the local courthouse in Bellingham, WA and demanded they be given a marriage license. As expected, they were denied and turned away, but not without giving bystanders a show first.

As the Washington State Co-Lead of GetEQUAL, Ben Crowther started hearing about Valentine’s Day protests several weeks ago. The stories and plans of other activists from around the country and the energy, passion, and creativity he heard from them inspired him to organize an event where he lives in Washington. The night before the action was to take place, he asked who among his friends wanted to try and marry him the next day.

His friend, Danny Canham, volunteered to be his partner in crime. While Danny doesn’t view marriage as a necessity for equality or something that should be aspired to, actions for equality are still actions for equality. No matter the cause, even if one doesn’t believe in marriage equality specifically this was an action worth participating in.
While neither intends to get married in the near future, they want the opportunity for this to be available in the future. Additionally, institutional inequality is inherently damaging because it establishes a system wherein some identities are designated as inferior.

That afternoon, Ben and Danny met to plan their action. Together they filled out their application for a marriage license. As they reviewed the application, Ben noticed the gendered language of the form and quickly decided to correct it so the form read “male” and “fe male.” They alerted their friends and reporters from the campus newspaper and within an hour were headed to the courthouse.

Knowing the reality that they would be rejected, Crowther and Canham approached the demonstration to prove a point. They wanted to challenge the state office, forcing them to justify the law while simultaneously showing how ridiculous it was. Further, they aimed to raise awareness of this as an important issue. As they learned from reading the article in the school paper the next day, this was the first time the Whatcom County state auditor had had a same-sex couple apply for a marriage license in her 23 years.

Entering the Licensing Office with an entourage of media in tow and forms in hand, they took their place in line. A county records clerk called them forward, and as they explained their intent to apply for a marriage license, the clerk became uneasy and explained that Washington does not allow same-sex couples to marry. The clerk suggested that they instead apply for a domestic partnership, which offers all the state benefits of marriage. When they questioned the value of domestic partnerships and demanded to know why they were excluded from marriage, the clerk quickly called in the state auditor.

By this point, others in the office were taking notice of the fuss being made at the counter, their heads peaking over cubicle walls. The state auditor approached the counter. When Ben asked why the pair couldn’t get married that day, she urged them to speak to the state legislature attempting to remain polite as possible while clearly becoming increasingly frustrated.

Ben immediately pointed out that she was the one who ultimately decided whether or not they would walk away with a marriage license that day. As the person in a position of authority at the moment, she was the one saying no, and he would be approaching the legislature regardless.

When she made the argument that she was not legally allowed to give them a marriage license, Ben countered with the fact that she was under no obligation to follow a law that is unconstitutional under multiple court rulings specifically that stating laws against marriage equality are against the constitution. Ben made similar arguments to President Obama at a protest before the fall elections when it was first ruled that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was unconstitutional.

He asked how she would react if they were an interracial couple. Would she deny them in that instance even though it has been ruled unconstitutional? He was met with the same lines. Talk to the legislature to change the laws, talk to the Secretary of State office about getting a domestic partnership. The problem with domestic partnerships is that they create a separate but equal system that is inherently flawed. If it were actually equal to marriage, there would be no reason for different names.

He brought up the point that even if he and Danny had been together for 20 years, regardless of their relationship, they would still be denied access to the 1138 Federal rights associated with marriage, simply because they both had penises. Yet he could have married Eliza Chan who Ben only known for about a week simply because she has a vagina. Comically, he stood between Eliza and Danny saying “marriage” and “domestic partnership” as he stepped from one to the other.

After one final question, Ben wished the room a happy Valentine’s Day and walked out the door. He was told later that as the debate escalated, a security guard had entered the office.

Outside, they were asked what they would have done if the auditor had granted them a marriage license. Both approached the action presenting themselves as a hypothetical couple, the idea being to bring light the failures within the system not to actually get married. Had they been offered, they would have accepted the license, being the first same-sex couple in state history to have received a license.  
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  David Taffet

Guest column by Sara Beth Brooks: ‘Discussing Asexuality & Creating Change’

This is an interesting topic; one we have not discussed on the Blend before (that I can recall). I look forward to hearing your comments. — Pam

Discussing Asexuality & Creating Change

By Sara Beth Brooks

When I signed up online to attend last year’s Creating Change conference in Dallas, I was asked to fill in my sexual orientation. I checked “queer,” but that isn’t wholly accurate; Asexuality wasn’t listed as one of the orientations that you could select.

Throughout the 2010 Conference, I found and bonded with several other asexual LGBT organizers. Each of us expressed concern about the lack of discussion about asexuality at the conference, so we went as a group to the feedback session when the conference ended. I stood up and spoke about the fragmentation of the asexual community, and how useful it would be to collect that demographic at registration so that we could connect to each other. Another person got up and talked about how he’s seen the evolution of LGBT language over time to include the transgender community, and now he hopes it will be no different with the asexual community.

The group of us exchanged information and agreed to get together to submit curriculum for next year’s conference. We recruited David Jay, a preeminent voice in the asexual community, to help create and co-present a workshop which was tailored for the LGBT activist audience.

While we were organizing last summer, a letter surfaced on the internet from an asexual youth, Andi (read the full version here):

“From three o’clock that evening to basically ten o’clock at night I was grilled over my involvement with the Asexual and LGBTQAXYZ communities. After about three hours, I confessed I was asexual. At about five hours, I gave them links to all my account. By the end of the night, almost every account I have online had been purged of asexual references…”


What you don’t know (unless you’ve already clicked through) was that prior to hir parents finding out that ze was asexual, Andi was the visionary leading the charge on what would become the most successful asexuality project of last year, Hot Pieces of Ace. Andi, who prefers gender neutral pronouns, goes on: “Ever since that day, the internet connection from my personal computer has been cut off…. I am no longer allowed to see certain friends… Church service, which I used to enjoy, has become a prison sentence of sorts. I am required to sit next to them during services, and they have to witness my daily prayers and bible readings… My mom is always bringing up just how natural sex is, or “trying to make me feel like a girl” by buying me frivolous things that I never wanted… I love God, and I try to love my parents, but it’s hard.”

Andi’s story is not unique; it serves as solemn reminder of the need for support for asexual youth. Partially in response we built a second workshop about creating safe space for youth to talk about asexuality, called “Asex Positive.”

In September, both workshops were submitted for the 2011 conference. My orientation was asked when submitting the workshops and again I picked queer, because asexuality was nowhere to be found. I was (and am) disappointed that the Task Force did not provide asexuality as an option in their drop-down menu choices this year.

If you attended Creating Change, you did not see these workshops on the schedule. Both were rejected. Despite our best efforts there wasn’t anything at Creating Change this year about the asexual community. Asexual organizers have been excited to engage with LGBT organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force but they have been hesitant to invite us to the table.  We don’t really understand why that is.

There is a lot of crossover between our communities (I make a full case for including asexuals in the LGBT community here). Asexuals often experience a feeling of being different in puberty and have a coming out process that is similar to the LGBT one. There are many transgender and gender non-conforming people, including youth, among us. We talk about our relationships outside of the hetero-normative scope. Many of us identify with the queer movement.

It’s time for the queer movement to be discussing asexuality. We hope that organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force will include our curriculum at conferences like Creating Change in the future. We’re excited that a workshop by another presenter was accepted to the Western Regional LGBTQIA Conference in Berkeley this spring and we look forward to more opportunities to work with the LGBT community toward our common goals.


Sara Beth Brooks is a student and activist based in Sacramento, California. She helps produce Asexual Awareness Week which happens in the fall. You can reach her via twitter @sarabethbrooks. For more information about asexuality, please visit the Asexuality and Visibility Education Network at www.asexuality.org.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  David Taffet

Guest column by Kerry Eleveld – The False Choice: ENDA v. Marriage Equality

I asked Kerry Eleveld, editor at Equality Matters, if I could repost this excellent piece because it’s chock full of tasty and timely points for us to chat about in the coffeehouse, so many thanks to EM’s Richard Socarides for letting me share it here.  –Pam

The False Choice: ENDA v. Marriage Equality

By Kerry Eleveld

A potentially divisive debate is emerging among some LGBT activists that sets up a false choice between pushing for employment nondiscrimination protections or marriage equality at the federal level. I roundly reject the notion that this is an either-or proposition. As a community, we can and should work on both issues over the next two years. But it’s fair to say that while I personally believe these two issues are equally as important, they are not equally situated, and therefore the strategies we must employ to advance them are distinctly different.

Let’s start with a brief overview of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) — which would prohibit employers from firing people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity — from my perspective as a reporter who covered the issue closely over the last two years.

First, regardless of why we failed to pass ENDA in the 111th Congress, the fact is that we didn’t even get a committee vote in either chamber on the bill in one of the most heavily weighted Democratic Congresses in recent memory. Many people underestimate just how devastating that looks to legislative operatives and lawmakers outside our community. They don’t care about the panoply of explanations for why the vote didn’t happen, they only know that it didn’t and that means that either we couldn’t muster the votes or the Democratic leadership did not want to see this bill debated on the floor.

Second, although I have asked a good number of questions about ENDA and its prospects for a vote, I still can’t tell you why it never happened. Meanwhile, I can recall with decent clarity nearly every twist and turn of the battle to pass “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) repeal. This is not due to a bias on my part, but is rather indicative of the fact that no one seemed willing to talk with any specificity about what was or wasn’t happening with ENDA.

And here is where our community’s analysis must begin — we need to have an honest conversation about our inability to discuss ENDA and transgender issues. Last year, when I asked people in our advocacy groups, staffers on the Hill, and lawmakers about the prospects for passing ENDA, I most commonly got no information or misinformation.  As the bill continued to languish and the House committee vote was continually delayed, my questions were increasingly met with indignation and wholesale assurances that all was going according to plan. But ultimately, all I found was a brick wall when it came to identifying the hurdles.

Meanwhile, many in our activist community leveled hostility at any entity that relayed bad news about the legislation’s progress. When the Washington Blade reported a story in January 2010 entitled “Filibuster Threat Makes ENDA Unlikely In 2010″ in which several anonymous sources sounded the alarm bells about ENDA’s chances, it immediately drew shoot-the-messenger recriminations from people who criticized the story for using unnamed sources. This illustrates just what a lighting-rod issue this has become for LGBT activists — instead of holding the powerbrokers in charge of the legislation accountable, activists were vilifying reporters who were trying to disseminate intelligence about the bill’s state of play. And this is precisely why journalists were often forced to use anonymous sources on the topic — no one seemed willing to speak on the record with any real candor about the topic.

More below the fold.

This has grave implications for our ability to develop a strategy around ENDA and successfully move the bill. If members of the LGBT community are incapable of having a forthright conversation about the obstacles to passing this bill, what does that mean for lawmakers and their ability to discuss the issue?

This is a problem, folks. Not just for our elected officials, not just for our groups, but for our community as a whole. We all have a stake in ENDA — it would provide critical protections for the full breadth of the queer community — but the battle over transgender inclusion in 2007 has left us with so many scars that people are afraid to speak up for fear of the backlash.

Of course, some discussions are beginning to happen now, but I don’t believe we have really illuminated the problem yet. I have heard people suggest that we had enough votes to pass the legislation in the House but never got that vote because the clock ran out. Some have also hypothesized that DADT repeal and health care sucked up too much time in the schedule to leave room for ENDA.

From my perspective, this cannot possibly be the whole story. If we truly had the votes in the House and yet failed to move the bill through committee to the floor, then that was a serious strategic misstep even if it would have stalled in the Senate. Bills live and die by momentum. They get a chief sponsor and then more sponsors and then a committee vote and then a floor vote. And maybe they don’t pass both chambers one Congress, but if they make it through one, they are better poised to pass through both next time around.

So if we did have the votes and our advocates (lawmakers and groups included) didn’t press the issue, that was a critical error. And the idea that there just wasn’t room in the calendar because of DADT and health care seems like a red herring as well. Health care was completed in the House in March of 2010. Attaching “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal to the Defense authorization bill took place two months later in May, but that was it — the House had the votes and was ready to go, they were mostly waiting on the Senate Armed Services Committee to line up the votes. So something doesn’t add up.

Rather than pointing fingers here, I am simply pointing out that we are miles away from having the full story about ENDA’s demise and I don’t see how we can possibly expect to develop a strategy around an issue that we can’t seem to discuss in full candor.

I said at the outset of this piece that ENDA and marriage equality were not equally situated. Though both issues are about creating safety nets for people who need to protect themselves and their families, they are not as equally ingrained in the public consciousness. Similar to the issue of DADT, same-sex marriage has been percolating as part of a national debate since the early ’90s when a Hawaii court ruled that gay couples might have the right to marry. Marriage is a concept everyone understands and the American public has watched the marriage equality battle rip through nearly every state in the country — some fights being more high-profile than others.

If you asked the vast majority of Americans right now whether same-sex couples can get married, most of them would have a frame of reference for the question, regardless of whether they answered the question correctly. But if you asked them whether LGBT people can be legally fired, my guess is that few of them would have ever even considered the question. My own personal experience of talking to reasonably well-informed straight allies is that many have no idea people can still be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation in 29 states or that transgender individuals can be fired in 38 states.

Although the marriage issue has been painted by some as an elitist concern pushed by wealthy donors, a New York Times article last month revealed new Census Bureau data showing that cities like San Antonio, TX and Jacksonville, FL have the highest concentration of gay couples raising children in the country. Demographers also found that black or Latino gay couples were twice as likely as whites to be raising children. While we cannot definitively say all those couples want to get married, it is undeniably true that they and their families could benefit significantly from the protections provided by marriage.

And they could also benefit from the protections provided by ENDA.

This is exactly why we must work on both issues simultaneously. But ENDA requires a serious two-year lobbying strategy at the very least. My sense from talking to Hill staffers and, in some cases, members of Congress is that many lawmakers still don’t know how to broach transgender issues and, quite frankly, have more questions than answers on the matter. The House is undoubtedly further along than the Senate, but work is badly needed in both chambers.

Meanwhile, high profile court cases regarding both the Defense of Marriage Act and the Constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry will continue to provide opportunities for advocates to advance the conversation around equal marriage rights. It would be an absolute mistake for our community not to capitalize on stories that will already be making mainstream headlines in order to sway public opinion and push our political allies. We must strive to frame this issue to our advantage because antigay forces are already redoubling their efforts against us.

ENDA and marriage equality are simply not an either-or proposition. Fortunately, the resources required to advance each of these issues at the federal level share similarities but don’t infringe on each other. And choosing between them is not an option.

Kerry Eleveld is editor at Equality Matters, a campaign for full LGBT equality. Eleveld previously served as Washington Correspondent for The Advocate for the first two years of the Obama Administration.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  David Taffet

Guest column by Jake Goodman: A Coalition Gathers in Brooklyn: Hate is the Abomination (Not Queers)

A Coalition Gathers in Brooklyn: Hate is the Abomination (Not Queers)

by Jake Goodman

This past Thursday, a broad coalition of Jewish and queer New Yorkers gathered on in sub-freezing temperatures for a protest march through the heart of the Jewish neighborhood in Flatbush.  The event, titled “In God’s Name,” was organized by grassroots activist group Queer Rising – of which I am a proud member.

“In God’s Name” turned out to be one of the most powerful, effective events I’ve experienced.  I’d like to take a moment to explain why.


Why We Fight:  October 2010

Who could forget October 2010?  Suicides by queer youth made headlines every day.  Young people faced harassment, terror and shame so extreme that they felt compelled to take their own lives.  At the same time, reports of hate crimes against LGBT people surfaced.  In New York City alone, gay men were attacked in Chelsea and at the historic Stonewall Inn, of all places.  Most horrifying to me, in the Bronx a group of kids ages 16-23 calling themselves the Latin King Goonies tricked, trapped, then tortured three men for being gay.  

On October 10th, at the very height of this violent epidemic, NY gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, in an anti-gay speech written by Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the infamously homophobic fringe rabbi of Flatbush, Brooklyn, said,  ”I don’t want [children] brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equal valid and successful option.  It is not.”   I watched, mortified, as the media repeatedly replayed the video of ultra-Orthodox Jews applauding and approving this inciting speech.

In that moment, the link between anti-LGBT rhetoric and the recent rash of suicides by queer youth became tragically clear for me.  Radical-Right religious and political leaders, role models to many, spew hateful speech that strips queer people of their humanity and dignity.  Others hear this rhetoric (aided by an ill-informed media machine) and internalize it as tacit permission to enact violence onto individuals who are, not to mince words, called abominations.

The fact that such vitriol was coming from the mouth-or rather, the pen-of someone who purported to be a spokesperson for my religion was beyond the pale.  As was stated by the always-eloquent Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), “As Jews, we are horrified at the anti-LGBT bigotry coming in the name of Judaism at many of our youth, Jewish and non-Jewish.  We want religion to be a force of liberation, not a force of oppression.”

How We Fight: Building Coalition “In God’s Name”

When planning “In Gods Name,” we had a choice.  Initially, we wanted to do an action that directly attacked Rabbi Yehuda Levin on his home turf, shaming him for his vicious homophobic rhetoric, accusing him of having blood on his hands for the deaths and wrecked lives of people who listened to and internalized his words.  After speaking with many people within diverse Jewish communities (Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Reform, unaffiliated, queer), we quickly realized this was not the right tack to take.

Yehuda Levin is a fringe rabbi.  Despite the picture the media paints, he has very few actual followers-maybe 14?-and we do not want to elevate him.   Oftentimes, protesters simply compare homophobic Jewish leaders to Hilter, inciting a community that is hyper-sensitive to attacks of anti-Semitism and dashing any support that might otherwise exist. Finally, and most importantly, what would an angry protest accomplish?  We would have made our point, sure, but what would change?  Nothing.

So we decided instead to build a coalition. We communicated with over 100 rabbis from every denomination.  We visited support groups for ex-Orthodox gay Jews.  We partnered with other organizations and communities that were doing related work.  We mobilized both Jewish and queer organizations to collaborate.

In the end, the success of “In God’s Name” can be measured by who showed up:  people of every sexual orientation, Jews of every denomination (including the unaffiliated), non-Jews, atheists, old people, young people, white people, Latino people, African Americans.  Rally speakers included a lesbian rabbi (Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum), an Orthodox rabbi (Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum), an Israeli nonprofit executive (Idit Klein) and a gay union leader (Stuart Appelbaum).  We were endorsed by synagogues large and small, queer and AIDS-related activist groups, hospitals, arts youth groups, community centers, etc.

Together, in solidarity, we demanded an immediate end to anti-LGBT rhetoric spoken “in God’s name.”  We vowed that we would no longer stand idly by when we personally heard such hateful speech.  We proved that there is strength through community.  This community will rise up again and again, growing larger and more diverse, into a mass movement affirming that HATE IS THE ABOMINATION: NOT QUEER PEOPLE.

In God’s Name – Hate Is the Abomination from David Wallace on Vimeo.

Endorsing Partners:  Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), Keshet, Storahtelling, Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Jewish Chicks Rock, Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives, Nehirim, The Power, Project ACHIEVE & Columbia University Medical Center

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Guest column by Jim Neal – DADT: Behind the Scenes

Friend of the Blend, former U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal (D-NC) wanted to share his latest piece on DADT with the coffeehouse. It’s a peek behind the political curtain…

DADT: Behind the Scenes

By Jim Neal

Given my overexposure to US politics and the lessons gleaned from my unsuccessful candidacy for the Senate in 2008, I now get to be soothsayer of sorts. I advise clients on how certain legislation of interest is likely to exit the Congress. What I do is piece the mosaic together in a similar fashion to how a detective investigates a murder.

The public, even most of those supposedly in-the-know, often don’t grasp the dynamics of political inside baseball. The best illustration is how people interpret roll call votes. The overwhelming majority of pundits and activists assess a politician’s vote on a piece of legislation with the strict constructionism of a Justice Scalia. In reality, roll call votes are quite deceptive and misleading. Today’s murder of DADT by the Senate is a case in point.

A strict interpretation of the 57-40 roll call vote to proceed to debate over repealing DADT suggests that if Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.) and Blanche Lincoln (D- Ark.) been present and voted Aye- bumping that tally to 59- then Senator Scott Brown might have felt pressure to get in line, given his expressed public support for repeal of DADT and upcoming re-election bid. That scenario seems all the more probable given the biggest surprise of the day. Senator Susan Collins (R- Maine), who had agreed to support repeal of DADT only in the event that four days were allotted for a full debate, apparently abandoned that position and voted in favor of repeal.

That yarn is simply not the reality. The cloture motion was doomed from the moment Speaker Reid impulsively decided to bring the vote before the Senate today. Here’s the real skinny as best I can piece it together.

Senator Collins did not soften her conditions. She was able to make a symbolic Aye vote because she knew — as did others — that she had cover from her Republican colleagues, either or both of Senators Murkowski and Brown. In turn, Speaker Reid cared less about how the arch-conservative Senator Manchin voted. It didn’t matter. The Speaker wanted to clear the docket and get DADT out of the way. Other legislation in the pipeline takes priority, namely the tax cut bill and ratification of the START Treaty.

As for Senator Lincoln, she was at a dental appointment . What has gone unsaid is that she also wasn’t aware that Speaker Reid was bringing the cloture motion before the Senate today. That is the only reason she wasn’t present. She wasn’t needed. If she were, the  vote would have been delayed.

With that as a backdrop, the drama will now move forward with a stand-alone bill to repeal DADT to be sponsored by Senators Lieberman, Collins and Udall (D- Colo.). Using a Senate procedure known as Rule 14, Speaker Reid can bring the legislation directly to the floor and bypass the Armed Services Committee.

Any hope of repealing DADT under a prospective Lieberman bill will require very tight coordination and communication between Senators Collins, Lieberman and their caucuses. Clearly there will have to be ample time allotted for GOP Senators to excoriate the legislation. However, this bill has no future if the Senate does not stay in session beyond December 17th as is currently planned.

Most Senators are anxious to get home and open Christmas presents and toast the New Year. They need to consider the peoples’ business first. Given that the President has effectively ceded control of the Senate calendar to the GOP via his so-called compromise framework on tax cut legislation, Democrats have no choice but to roll with the punches. That will require Speaker Reid to keep the Senate in session for as long as it takes. Only then might Senator Collins- with Senators Murkowski and Brown covering her back- take center stage as the Diva of DADT.

I hope that I will hear the Lady from Maine sing by the end of this session. Talk about an operatic production….

Follow Jim Neal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JNealNC

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Guest column by David Mixner – DADT: The Ultimate American Tragedy

DADT: The Ultimate American Tragedy

by David Mixner, Live from Hell’s Kitchen

My policy generally is not to write or speak while angry. Anger has a tendency to blur my ability to think rationally. But quite honestly at this moment I have no desire to be rational. The failure of the United States Senate to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” yet again is an American tragedy. Yesterday, our elected officials continued their path of shame on this issue by failing to join the rest of the civilized world in allowing members of the LGBT community to serve their country honorably. What a disgrace.

Despite efforts to make this vote about procedures and politics, every one of us know this vote was about freedom and justice. Most importantly it was about the right of every American citizen to serve their country with honor and dignity.

Absolutely pay no attention to those who talk about procedures and the need for more debate. That is just total nonsense and doesn’t hold up no matter how you examine it. These senators have had nearly 18 years and over 14,000 discharges to figure out this policy. They have had their impact study. The Pentagon has signed off in favor of changing this policy. There have been numerous hearings and more information disseminated on this issue than any sane person can consume in a lifetime. Those who hold up the smoke screen of procedures are hiding behind a cloud of politics are simply cowards or homophobia – or both.

Make no mistake about it. Those are the only two options at this stage.

First the White House with support of our national organizations have made a horrible strategic mistake in not voting on this issue in the first year of the Presidency. They should be held accountable in some form. We would have not had Senator Kirk (R-Ill), Senator Manchin (D-WVa) or Senator Brown (R-Mass) voting “no” because all those votes would have been “yes” from the previous senators who held those seats. Those votes would have been Byrd (D-WVa), Burris (D-Illinois) and either Kennedy/Kirk (Democrats from Massachusetts). That would have given us sixty and maybe even an extra vote or so.

Second, thank you for Senator Susan Collins for being the sole vote from the Republican Party. You gave us a lot of grief in leading up to the vote but in the end you did the right thing. And despite my differences with Senator Lieberman, he deserves enormous thanks for fighting hard for the passage of DADT. He has not given up yet and there is still an outside shot we might succeed.

Third, there should be a special place in hell for Senator Brown of Massachusetts and Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. Both represent states that are overwhelmingly for repeal of DADT. The LGBT community and our allies should throw everything we have to defeat them in the next election. Fight Back USA? Like Fight Back New York we should hand them their walking papers. No one should contribute any funds to any group that will contribute to Democratic Senator Manchin of West Virginia. We should never forget his betrayal. Finally Senator Lincoln was at the dentist. I guess every reason we challenged her in the primary proved to be true.

Fourth, the vote was a cloture vote and not one on DADT. Why don’t we add it as an amendment to the President’s compromise keeping the Bush Tax Cuts and let us filibuster until it is added and passed! Let the Republicans explain to the CEO’s why their hatred of the LGBT community is holding up their tax breaks. Let’s give them hell. Let’s fight back and not roll over one more time and take another blow to our dignity and honor.

America had another dark moment in its history yesterday. However, the LGBT community will never give up no matter what the odds, how dark and how many obstacles placed in our way. We will fight in the courts. We will fight in the streets. We will fight at the ballot box. We will fight in our neighborhoods, schools and religious institutions. This much is certain – we will fight and we will win. Nothing you can do will stop our inevitable march to freedom.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Coulter Vomits Up Another DADT Column

“Maybe we could have an all-gay service! They’d be allowed to wear camouflage neckerchiefs (a la Paul Lynde) and camo capri pants. To avoid any sexual harassment claims, they’d have to have their own barrack, which we could outfit with a dance club, a cosmo bar and a counseling center called ‘The Awkward Place.’ Their band would mostly play show tunes, and soldiers captured by the enemy would be taught to reveal only their name, rank and seasonal color analysis (‘I am Private First Class Jeffrey Smith, and I’m a ‘winter.”) They wouldn’t be allowed in combat, however, for the same reason women aren’t – it takes them too long to get ready.” – GOProud’s BFF Ann Coulter, writing for World Net Daily.

Joe. My. God.

—  admin