Gay activists get ready for tough sledding at Winter Olympics

Russia getting ready for 2014 Winter OlympicsU.S. gay rights activists, buoyed by their unprecedented political successes in 2013, are gearing up to make an international statement at the Winter Olympics in Russia – but know that speaking out against new antigay laws there may be more difficult than anything they faced in America, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Few Western gay rights activists will be in Russia for the Games, which are slated for February in the resort city of Sochi. For Russians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, speaking out about their fears – or abuse they’ve suffered since the laws passed earlier this year – can be deadly. There are only 11 paid gay rights activists in Russia, a country of 143 million people.

Boycotting Olympic corporate sponsors won’t happen; most of those U.S. companies are LGBT-friendly. And the U.S. State Department has told activists that if they are caught violating the vaguely defined Russian antigay propaganda law, their home government won’t be able to help them.

Nevertheless, activists like Dustin Lance Black, the Sacramento native and Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk” about slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, see opportunity. He said the campaign is “all about visibility. It’s about being present. I am telling people that you have to go.”

Faced bomb threats

“This law was constructed to silence gay and lesbian people and their allies. As we said during the 1980s: Silence equals death for this movement,” said Black, who faced bomb threats when he screened his film at an LGBT film festival in St. Petersburg in late November.

Visiting with Russian gay rights activists at that time, Black found them “to be incredibly brave. As a student of gay history, it reminded me of San Francisco in the early 1970s or Salt Lake City for the last five years. It speaks to me of a people who aren’t going to let the pendulum swing back in this manner.”

As Black and Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen corral Hollywood stars to highlight the issue, U.S.-based LGBT organizations are preparing to open a multipronged effort to pull off what they described as their own “Olympic moment” in Sochi.

Several antigay laws

They want to call international attention to several new Russian laws created earlier this year. One bans exposing minors to “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” Critics say that law is so vague that someone could be prosecuted for wearing a rainbow T-shirt or holding hands in public with a person of the same sex. Another new law forbids gay foreigners from adopting Russian children.

“It’s like we’re in the Middle Ages again over there where it isn’t safe for LGBT people to live their lives,” said Cohen, the producer of “American Beauty” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Cohen worries most about what will happen after the Games, when the international spotlight dims. That’s a focus of Uprising of Love, an organization he co-founded with Black and singer Melissa Etheridge. The growing group of a couple dozen gay and straight performers – like singer Madonna, actress Julianne Moore and actor Jim Parsons – will speak out on human rights abuses in Russia after the last gold medals are handed out.

“Our message is that the world will continue to be watching afterward,” Cohen said.

—  Steve Ramos

LGBT history and the evolution of the media

For years, mainstream press ignored the LGBT community. Thankfully, LGBT media filled the gaps

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

Editor’s note: October is National Gay History Month, and as the month begins, Rare Reporter columnist David Webb takes a look at the role the media — both mainstream and LGBT — has played in preserving our history.

If an LGBT person went into a coma a decade or so ago and came out of it today, they likely wouldn’t be able to believe their eyes when they recovered enough to survey the media landscape.

There was a time not so long ago when gay activists literally had to plead with or rant at editors and reporters at mainstream publications and television stations to get them to cover LGBT events. Even editorial staffs at alternative publications often dismissed political and cultural events in the LGBT community as unimportant to the majority of their audience.

Editors and reporters at traditional media outlets who happened to be members of the LGBT community often steared clear of gay issues to fall in line with the prevailing policies set by the publishers in the newsroom . Often, they were deep in the closet, or if not, just afraid to challenge the status quo.

I know all this to be true because as late as the early 1990s, I was engaged in legendary battles with my straight editor at an alternative publication who only wanted two or three “gay stories” per year. After the first quarter of one year I heard the editor telling another writer that I had already used up the newspaper’s quota for gay stories for the whole year.

This long-standing scarcity of coverage opened the door for the launch of gay newspapers to fill the void and the thirst for information that was coming not only from LGBT people but also straight allies, straight enemies and the non-committed in the gay rights movement.

After about two decades of working for the mainstream media and later at the alternative publication for a few years, I moved to a gay newspaper. Upon hearing about it, my former editor advised me that the job sounded “perfect” for me.

At the gay newspaper, I not only covered LGBT issues, but I also liked to scrutinize and comment on the coverage or lack thereof I observed in mainstream publications. It was, at the time, a dream job for me. I was flabbergasted to learn that no one at the newspaper had obtained a media pass from local law enforcement officials nor received official recognition at local law enforcement public relations departments.

What gay activists and enterprising journalists had come to realize was that straight people were just as interested in what our community was doing as we were. I also realized that elected and appointed public officials, civic and religious leaders, law enforcement officials and most others love media coverage, and the fact that it was a gay publication featuring them didn’t much matter at all.

As a result, gay publications across the country were providing coverage that gay and straight readers couldn’t find anywhere else. And those newspapers were flying out of the racks at the libraries, municipal buildings and on the street in front of the big city newspapers as fast as they disappeared from gay and lesbian nightclubs.

What it amounted to was that gay publications were enjoying a lucrative monopoly on LGBT news and, in the process, helping LGBT communities to grow strong in major urban areas.

It’s amazing how long it took the powers that be at the giant media companies to figure out what was going on, but they eventually did.

I would love to say that a social awakening was responsible for the new enlightened approach to LGBT issues by the mainstream media, but alas, I fear it was more motivated by dollars and cents. Publishers began to realize that those small gay publications were raking in lots of advertising revenue from car dealers, retail stores, real estate agencies and many other businesses where the owners knew LGBT people spent money.

Today, you can hardly turn on the television or pick up a newspaper or magazine without hearing or reading about something related to LGBT news or gay and lesbian celebrities and politicians. When I fired up my laptop today, I received an e-mail from the Huffington Post directing me to a story written by Arianna Huffington announcing new features that included the debut of “HuffPost: Gay Voices,” a page that will compile LGBT news stories together each day for the convenience of the readers.

With the power of the Internet and its capacity for documenting and archiving news stories, information about the LGBT community for both the present and the past will always be at our fingertips, except for those three decades between about 1970 and 2000 when the mainstream media couldn’t be bothered with us because they had no idea what a force we would one day become.

For information about that period of time we are going to have to scour the coverage of gay newspapers and magazines published before the days of the Internet, read fiction and non-fiction published by LGBT writers and encourage older members of our community to share their recollections in written and oral form.

It’s vitally important to the history of our culture that we not lose those stories, and it’s largely thanks to our communities’ own publications that we won’t.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Arthur Evans, activist who once started a VW repair business called the Buggery, dies at 68

Arthur Evans

Despite having now worked in the gay press for nearly five years, I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of pioneering activist Arthur Evans, who died Sunday at 68. Evans was involved in the Gay Liberation Front, the group that formed following the Stonewall Rebellion, and he later co-founded another group, the Gay Activists Alliance, because he didn’t feel the Gay Liberation Front was aggressive enough. Wow, has this story not repeated itself over and over throughout the LGBT equality movement? Anyway, what I found most interesting about Evans is the story of his life before becoming a gay activist. After attending Brown and Columbia, he dropped out of school and moved to Washington state, where he and a companion started a group called the Weird Sisters Partnership, homesteading a small piece of land and living in a tent. Then Evans moved to San Francisco and opened a Volkswagen repair business called the Buggery before finally heading back to New York. Evans didn’t come out to his parents until 1970 at age 28, and you’ll never guess how. From The New York Times:

Growing up, Mr. Evans had hid his sexual orientation, though he himself was aware of it at 10, he said. By November 1970, when he was scheduled to appear on “The Dick Cavett Show” with other gay leaders, he had still not told his parents that he was gay. But, by his account, he did tell them he was going to be on national television. Thrilled, they told friends and neighbors to tune in.

Mr. Evans later said he regretted his handling of the matter.

 

—  John Wright

Nevada gay households up by 87 percent

CRISTINA SILVA  |  Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — The number of same-sex couples sharing a home in Nevada nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, revealing a budding constituency in a state where voters have banned gay marriage, but embraced domestic partnerships.

Nearly 4,600 homes in Nevada were headed by lesbian couples at the end of the last decade, according to Census data released last week, while 4,724 households were headed by two male partners. The data shows that the number of gay and lesbian households in Nevada jumped 87 percent during the last decade, and about a quarter of those couples are raising children. Lesbian couples were more likely than the male couples to have children at home.

In all, Nevada had more than 9,000 households led by same-sex couples in 2010, up from fewer than 5,000 such households counted in 2000.

To be sure, same-sex couples living together remained a minuscule population among Nevada’s more than a million households. But their swelling ranks reflect Nevada’s increasingly gay friendly stance less than a decade after 67 percent of the state’s voters defined marriage as “between a male and female person.”

“Folks who are LGBT may not have been excited (before) to move here from, say California, where they enjoy a lot of legal protections,” said Michael Ginsburg, southern Nevada director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “Now that Nevada is catching up, that may not be a factor for people anymore.”

It’s also possible some of the new same-sex households reflect an increased willingness among gay couples to come out to the government, rather than actual growth. The Census doesn’t capture the overall gay population in Nevada, because it doesn’t allow single people to identify their sexual orientation.

Gay activists insist Nevada is home to many more gay couples who cohabitate, and that the 2010 Census numbers only reflect people who were comfortable identifying themselves as gay to Census takers.

“Are there even more? Absolutely,” said Candice Nichols, executive director for The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. “I don’t think it’s a clear cut view of how many same sex households there are actually are in Nevada. People don’t identify for various reasons, it just depends on their own comfort levels.”

Ginsburg said he couldn’t recall if he or his live-in partner had confirmed that they were a couple to the Census. He wondered if gay couples were not coming out to the federal government because the survey does not allow unmarried participants to identify themselves by specific terms, such as transgender or domestic partners. The questionnaire asks homeowners to identify the people sharing their roof under specific familiar categories, such as child, parent or spouse. Couples who live together but are not married may only self-identify themselves as an unmarried partner.

“You could look at those Census numbers and say, ‘Wow, there are no gay people in this state,’ which is laughable,” Ginsburg said.

The Las Vegas Valley, where most of the state’s 2.6 million people live, is home to the majority of Nevada’s same-sex households.

As with many states, Nevada has become more gay friendly in recent years, passing local and state laws recognizing the rights of domestic partners. The state Legislature passed a law recognizing domestic partners in 2009, but only after then Republican Gov Jim Gibbons vetoed it. State leaders went further this year, passing a series of laws that extended discrimination protections to transgender people and prohibited housing or employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Casino executives, the state’s business elite, have supported the pro-equality measures.

Still, overturning a gay marriage ban passed by Nevada voters in 2002 could take years because of the state’s complicated constitutional amendment process.

Nichols said marriage equality proponents in Nevada agree their best option is to wait for the federal government to recognize gay marriage.

“It’s going to be much easier for the states to say, ‘Wait a minute, the federal government finds this unconstitutional,”’ she said.

—  John Wright

Gay-rights foes try to play the victim

Anti-LGBT groups now claim they’re the ones being bullied

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — As the gay-rights movement advances, there is increasing evidence of an intriguing role reversal: Today, it is the conservative opponents of that movement who seem eager to depict themselves as victims of intolerance.

To them, the gay-rights lobby has morphed into a relentless bully, pressuring companies and law firms into policy reversals, making it taboo in some circumstances to express opposition to same-sex marriage.

“They’re advocating for a lot of changes in the name of tolerance,” said Jim Campbell, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. “Yet ironically the tolerance is not returned, for people of faith who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Many gay activists, recalling their movement’s past struggles and mindful of remaining bias, consider such protestations by their foes to be hollow and hypocritical.

“They lost the argument on gay people, and now they are losing the argument on marriage,” said lawyer Evan Wolfson, president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry. “Diversions, scare tactics and this playing the victim are all they have left.”

He added: “There’s been a shift in the moral understanding of people: that exclusion from marriage and anti-gay prejudice is wrong. Positions that wouldn’t have been questioned in the past are now being held up to the light.”

Among the recent incidents prompting some conservatives to complain of intolerance or political bullying:

• Olympic gold medal gymnast Peter Vidmar stepped down as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in May following controversy over his opposition to gay marriage. Vidmar, a Mormon, had publicly supported Proposition 8, the voter-approved law passed in 2008 that restricted marriage in California to one man and one woman.

• After coming under fire from gay-rights groups in April, the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding pulled out of an agreement with Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

• In New York, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat from the Bronx, New York City, contends he has received death threats because he opposes legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The alleged threats were cited last week by the New York State Catholic Conference, which also opposes gay marriage.

“We are unjustly called ‘haters’ and ‘bigots’ by those who have carefully framed their advocacy strategy,” wrote the conference’s executive director, Richard Barnes. “The entire campaign to enact same-sex marriage is conducted under a banner of acceptance. … Yet behind that banner of tolerance is another campaign — of intimidation, threats and ugliness.”

• Apple Inc. recently withdrew two iPhone apps from its App Store after complaints and petition campaigns by gay-rights supporters.

One app was intended to publicize the Manhattan Declaration, a document signed in 2009 by scores of conservative Christian leaders. It condemns same-sex marriage as immoral and suggests that legalizing it could open the door to recognition of polygamy and sibling incest.

The other app was for Exodus International, a network of ministries which depict homosexuality as a destructive condition that can be overcome through Christian faith.

In both cases, gay activists celebrated the apps’ removals, while the apps’ creators contended their freedom of expression was being unjustly curtailed.

“The gay-rights groups have shown their fangs,” wrote Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure turned born-again Christian who helped launch the Manhattan Declaration. “They want to silence, yes, destroy those who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Exodus International president Alan Chambers, who says he changed his own sexual orientation through religious counseling, said he was alarmed by the aggressive tactics of “savvy gay activists.”

“We have seen individuals, ministries and even private corporations that dare to hold to a biblical worldview on sexuality bullied into a corner,” Chambers wrote in a blog.

However, Wolfson said the Exodus app deserved to be removed. “They were peddling something that’s been repudiated as crackpot quackery.”

The campaign that pressured King & Spalding to withdraw from the Defense of Marriage Act case was criticized by a relatively wide range of commentators and legal experts, not just conservative foes of gay marriage.

“To think it’s a good idea to attack lawyers defending unpopular clients; I don’t have words for how stupid and wrong that is,” said Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and writer who formerly served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, the gay-rights activists involved in pressuring King & Spalding were unapologetic.

“If we made it such that no law firm would defend the indefensible, then good for us,” said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communication. “When you have people talking about the fact that it’s no longer politically correct to be anti-equality, it’s a show of progress.”

Sainz said it was important for activists to pick their targets carefully.

“We understand there are goodhearted Americans in the middle who are still struggling with these issues,” he said. “Different activists have different ways of getting to the same end, and some of those are bound to make certain people feel uncomfortable.”

Though same-sex marriage is legal in only five states, it has for the first time gained the support of a majority of Americans, according to a series of recent national opinion polls. For some gay activists, this trend has fueled efforts to make their opponents’ views seem shameful.

“Their beliefs on this issue are very quickly becoming socially disgraceful, much in the way white supremacy is socially disgraceful,” wrote Evan Hurst of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out. “They are certainly entitled to cling to backwoods, uneducated, reality-rejecting views, … but their ‘religious freedom’ doesn’t call for the rest of us to somehow pretend their views aren’t disgusting and hateful.”

However, some gay-rights supporters see the public opinion shift as reason to be more magnanimous.

“The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia,” Jonathan Rauch, a writer and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently in The Advocate, a gay-oriented newsmagazine.

“Incidents of rage against ‘haters,’ verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of anti-discrimination laws: Those and other `zero-tolerance’ tactics play into the ‘homosexual bullies’ narrative,” Rauch wrote. “The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.”

As ideological foes spar over these issues, the American Civil Liberties Union is confronted with a delicate balancing act. Its national gay rights project battles aggressively against anti-gay discrimination, but, as a longtime defender of free speech, the ACLU also is expected to intervene sometimes on behalf of anti-gay expression.

For example, the ACLU pressed a lawsuit on behalf of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, which has outraged mourning communities by picketing service members’ funerals with crudely worded signs condemning homosexuality. The ACLU said the Missouri state law banning such picketing infringes on religious freedom and free speech.

Some critics, such as Wendy Kaminer, have contended that the ACLU now tilts too much toward espousing gay rights, at the expense of a more vigorous defense of anti-gay free speech.

However, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s gay rights project, said the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech but comes into play only when a government entity is seen as curtailing speech rights, which did not occur in the Vidmar or King & Spalding cases.

“What we have there is simply the push and pull in public policy discourse … which is sometimes rough and tumble,” Esseks said. “Being stigmatized for expressing unpopular views is part of being in a free society. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Robert George, a conservative professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and one of the co-authors of the Manhattan Declaration, shared Esseks’ view on the often sharp-elbowed nature of public debate in America.

“Democratic politics is a messy business and sometimes it’s a contact sport,” said George, a co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex marriage. He suggested that those who hold cultural power, in academia, the media and elsewhere, inevitably are going to try to impose their viewpoints.

“The power to intimidate people, to make them fear they’ll be called a bigot or denied opportunities for jobs, only works if people allow themselves to be bullied,” George said. “Conservatives who make themselves out to be victims run the risk of playing into the hands of their opponents, suggesting that their opponents’ cultural power is so vast that there’s no way it can be resisted.”

To professional free-speech advocates, such as Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, the gay rights vs. free expression cases are fascinating and often difficult.

“It’s very volatile — it requires you to parse the issues very closely,” she said. “I’m of the school of thought that you should know your enemy. You need to know what people are thinking.”

—  John Wright

Ugandan lawmakers hold hearings on anti-gay bill

Supporter says death penalty provision is ‘something we have moved away from,’ but measure expected to pass if it’s voted on this week

GODFREY OLUKYA | Associated Press

KAMPALA, Uganda — A Ugandan parliament committee on Monday held a second day of hearings on a controversial anti-gay bill that attracted international condemnation for its harsh penalties. Lawmakers indicated the bill could be voted on this week.

The bill was first proposed in 2009 but made little progress after a storm of criticism over a death penalty provision in the original bill. A committee meeting last Friday was its first public airing since its proposal 18 months ago.

The bill’s author, David Bahati, told The Associated Press last month that the death penalty provision in the bill was “something we have moved away from.” The bill is now undergoing debate and negotiations, so a new version would likely be presented before a final vote is held.

One of the bill’s backers, an anti-gay pastor named Martin Ssempa, told the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee on Monday that he does not support the death penalty provision. He said instead that gays should face up to seven years in prison.

“The parliament should be given the opportunity to discuss and pass the bill, because homosexuality is killing our society,” Ssempa told the committee.

Retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo said the bill will not stop homosexuality but would instead turn Uganda into a police state and could increase the spread of HIV/AIDS because gay Ugandans would fear seeking treatment.

Senyonjo also disputed a common claim by backers of the anti-gay bill, who say school children are being recruited by gays.

“They naturally become so,” he said.

Homosexuality is highly unpopular in Uganda, and pastors in this Christian country speak out loudly against the practice. Bahati has said he thinks the bill would become law if voted on by legislators.

Gay activists say anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has increased since the bill’s introduction. More gays are being harassed because of media attention and because church leaders have been preaching for the bill’s passage.

Bahati’s original bill carried harsh provisions. The original bill would mandate a death sentence for active homosexuals living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. “Serial offenders” also would face capital punishment. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life imprisonment.

Anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality” would face seven years in prison. Landlords who rent rooms or homes to homosexuals also could get seven years.

Some, all or none of those provision could change during parliament’s negotiations.

The New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said in a statement last week that it was concerned that the “heinous” piece of legislation could become law.

“Governments, world religious and political leaders, and HIV prevention experts have all appealed to Ugandan parliamentarians to put their distaste and fear of LGBT people aside and use their better judgment,” said Cary Alan Johnson, the group’s executive director. LGBT stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.”

Johnson said the bill was being debated now to divert attention from recent political demonstrations in Uganda that have attracted police crackdowns. Human Rights Watch says security forces killed nine people in the recent marches.

Stephen Tashobya, the head of the parliament committee, said it is time legislators give the bill priority. He said a report on the bill would be ready by today and could be presented to parliament by the end of the week.

“Due to public demand the committee has decided to deal with bill,” Tashobya said. “The bill has generated a lot of interest from members of the public and members of parliament and that is why we spared some time deal with before this parliament ends.”

Frank Mugisha, the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a gay rights group, said that if parliament takes up the bill he believes it will be passed. However, parliament’s session ends this week and it is not clear if there is enough time to deal with the legislation this session.

Bahati has said the bill can be dealt with next session if parliament runs out of time.

—  John Wright

Satan is on our side

I am on an email list for LGBT journalists/bloggers/PR people, and today someone on that list pointed out a recent conducted by the “Christian” news service OneNewsNow.com.

The poll question was: “What’s the major factor that allows homosexuals – a tiny fraction of the whole population – to dictate major changes in cultural morality?”

About 7,000 people responded. Of that number, 15 percent said it’s money that lets us homos control things and warp the morals of the culture. Another 7 percent said we do it through half-truths, and 33 percent said we intimidate our way to power.

But most of them had a much simpler explanation: 45 percent of the people who responded say LGBTs are able to change the cultural morality because — ready for this? — Satan is on our side. That’s right folks, the devil helps us do it.

I went to the OneNewsNow website to check it out for myself. But I couldn’t find that particular poll. It has apparently been replaced by a new poll question, asking for people’s reactions to a decision by the Arkansas State Supreme Court, released this week, striking down a constitutional amendment, approved by voters, to prohibit lesbians and gays from becoming foster or adoptive parents in that state. I found the choice of answers to be rather enlightening: “• Voters lose … courts win; • Children lose … gay activists win; • Morality loses … political correctness wins.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that they don’t give you the choice of saying “Doing the right thing wins … Right-wingnut homophobes lose.”

Anyway, I chose “Voters lose … courts win” because it wouldn’t let me see poll results until I chose one, and that was the least offensive choice to me. With 130 responses so far, “Voters lose … courts win” trails with 20 percent; followed by “Children lose … gay activists win” with 29.23 percent and, the winner, “Morality loses … political correctness wins” with 50.77 percent.

Makes sense, of course. We all know that “Political Correctness” is Satan’s mantra, and Satan is on our side.

—  admin

‘Chiefs don’t cry, but the allergens were very high’

Dave Guy-Gainer, second from left, of Forrest Hill celebrates with Army Major Margaret Witt, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis and Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach after this morning’s DADT repeal signing ceremony. (Meghan Stabler)

We just got a call from Dave Guy-Gainer, aka “Chief,” who’s really become the face of the push to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” in North Texas over the last few years.

Guy-Gainer, a gay retired Air Force chief master sergeant who serves on the board of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was one of about 500 people who attended this morning’s signing ceremony for the bill to repeal DADT.

Guy-Gainer said he would have driven to D.C. for the ceremony if he had to, and he was the 12th person in line this morning outside the Department of the Interior.

“Chiefs don’t cry, but the allergens were very high in that room,” Guy-Gainer said. “You couldn’t help but shed a tear in there. It was just such an overwhelming feeling of weight being lifted and equality finally happening.”

Guy-Gainer said it was great to see “40 years of gay activists” assembled together, many of whom he’s met over the last decade at functions around the country — alongside lawmakers who’ve worked so hard to end the policy.

“For the first time in a long time I really said the Pledge of Allegiance with feeling,” Guy-Gainer said. “I gave a thumbs up to Sen. Lieberman and he gave me a victory sign back. … Looking at the kids around me. Dan Choi and I were talking for a while. …

“Another one was the standing ovation that [Rep.] Patrick Murphy got,” Guy-Gainer said, recounting some of his memorable moments from the ceremony. “I think he got more applause than the president. He was the real hero in this. …  He fell on his political sword for us.”

A year ago when we interviewed Gainer, he said if repeal didn’t happen in 2010, he’d “implode.” So what will he do now that it has finally happened?

“We still have transition to do. We still have to get the certification. We’ll still probably have some legal battles in the courts,” Guy-Gainer said. “There’s still more work to be done.”

—  John Wright

ELECTION 2010: Gay marriage surfaces as an issue in state races

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — This election will be the first since the 1990s without a measure to ban gay marriage on any state ballot, yet the divisive issue is roiling races across the country during a time of tumult for the gay rights movement.

In Minnesota, New Hampshire, California and New York, gubernatorial campaigns have become battlegrounds for rival sides in the debate, with the Democratic candidates supporting same-sex marriage and the Republicans opposed.

In Iowa, voters will decide whether to oust three state Supreme Court justices who joined last year’s unanimous decision making the state one of five where gay marriage is legal.

And in Rhode Island and California, Democratic candidates are seeking to become the fourth and fifth openly gay members of Congress. The Californian, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, has a husband and 4-year-old twins, and would be Congress’ first openly gay parent.

The races are unfolding on a rapidly shifting gay rights landscape, with activists elated by important court rulings, irked at setbacks in Washington and jolted by high-profile cases of anti-gay violence and bullying-provoked suicides.

The mixed emotions have been evident in recent days as a federal judge ordered a halt to enforcement of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The Obama administration says it agrees with the judge that gays should be allowed to serve openly. Yet to the frustration of gay activists, the administration appealed the ruling, saying it preferred that Congress repeal the policy.

“It’s the best of times and worst of times,” said Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay rights.

“Culturally you see a huge increase in acceptance of gays and lesbians, and in the federal courts you see for the first time a willingness to embrace the Constitution as a vehicle for securing equality for gay people,” Socarides said. “Yet in our nation’s politics, we see essentially the opposite.”

He said President Barack Obama has failed to deliver on his pledges to gays regarding marriage recognition and repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“The president made a conscious decision coming in that these were second- and third-tier issues,” Socarides said. “People were very excited by him. But he overpromised and underdelivered.”

Obama said Thursday, Oct. 14 that the military policy “will end and it will end on my watch,” but he acknowledged the constraints of the legal process.

Republicans have not emphasized social issues as much as in recent elections, calculating that dismay over the economy and frustration with the Democratic agenda will be enough to post big gains. The GOP’s recent “Pledge to America” did not call for a federal ban on gay marriage or broach the issue of gays in the military.

“Even the most conservative Republicans understand that these issues don’t work on their behalf nearly as effectively as they did a few years ago,” said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group.

Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, a major financial backer of campaigns opposing same-sex marriage, said the GOP would be unwise to soften its stance on the issue.

“We’re not saying the No. 1 issue in every state is same-sex marriage,” he said. “We are saying it’s an important issue, and Republicans abandon it at their peril.”

A look at some of the notable races:

CALIFORNIA:

The high-profile races for governor and Senate coincide with legal wrangling over Proposition 8, the ballot measure approved by California voters in 2008 that banned same-sex marriage.

A federal judge ruled in August that the ban is unconstitutional. The case will be heard before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December. Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor, supports same-sex marriage and has refused to defend Proposition 8 in court. His GOP opponent, Meg Whitman, opposes gay marriage and has pledged to defend the ban.

The Senate race has a similar split: Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer supports same-sex marriage and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina opposes it.

Proposition 8 supporters organized a bus tour across the state intended to rally Latino support for Fiorina based on the marriage issue. They also released a TV ad in Spanish highlighting Boxer’s support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE:

Last year, Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who said he opposed gay marriage, signed a bill legalizing it after lawmakers approved provisions affirming religious rights.

Lynch is up for re-election, facing a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, and the National Organization for Marriage is running ads against the governor depicting his signing of the bill as a betrayal of voters.

Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center said Lynch has a solid lead over GOP nominee John Stephen in the center’s latest poll, while voters seem relatively at ease with legalized gay marriage.

“When the economy is bad, it tends to blow social issues out the door,” Smith said. “Voters are more concerned about what’s on the table than what their neighbor is doing.”

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MINNESOTA:

There’s a similar dynamic in the race to succeed Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. GOP candidate Tom Emmer opposes same-sex marriage, while Democrat Mark Dayton and independent Tom Horner support it.

The National Organization for Marriage has run TV ads for Emmer, highlighting the trio’s stances on marriage. The ads infuriated some gay rights groups because they used the image of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs says Dayton appears to be leading, but the race is up for grabs. According to Jacobs, few voters consider gay marriage a vital issue, and Emmer has not emphasized it.

“In past years Republicans have used gay marriage as an issue to mobilize their base, to bring out conservatives,” Jacobs said. “This year they don’t need it.”

Brown, the National Organization for Marriage’s president, disagreed.

“When marriage becomes an issue, as it has in Minnesota, people understand what’s at stake,” he said. “This could be a decisive factor in governor’s race.”

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NEW YORK:

The Republican candidate for governor, Carl Paladino, was considered an underdog from the outset in his race against Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

Now Paladino’s task may be even harder after his recent entanglement in gay-related controversies. He railed against gay marriage in a speech to Orthodox Jewish leaders, then called the bumping-and-grinding at gay pride parades disgusting.

Under fire from gay rights advocates, including the Cuomo campaign, he apologized, costing him his support from a leading rabbi. Meanwhile, news reports surfaced that Paladino was once landlord of two gay clubs in Buffalo.

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IOWA:

Polls show Iowa voters evenly split on whether to oust three Supreme Court justices who were part of the decision legalizing gay marriage. If the effort succeeds, it would be the first time since Iowa adopted its current system for appointing judges in 1962 that voters opted to remove a Supreme Court justice.

The targets include Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, who said the three wouldn’t undertake a counter-campaign because they don’t want to set a questionable example for judges by campaigning and raising money.

Brown said removal of any of the justices would be a “game-changer” with national impact.

“Judges will have to sit up and take notice that they can’t just arbitrarily make up the law,” he said.

—  John Wright

Conservatives warn of backlash if Target gives in to gay pressure

MARTIGA LOHN  |  Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Conservative activists said Friday, Aug. 13 that Target Corp. won’t quell the controversy over its corporate donations if the retailer gives in to demands from the left to renounce involvement in political campaigns or to help gay-friendly candidates.

Charlie Weaver, a leader of a political organization supporting a conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, said the pressure from gays and liberal organizations on Target amounts to “thuggery.”

“This is simply an attempt to intimidate companies from doing what the Supreme Court said they’re entitled to do, exercise their free speech,” said Weaver, treasurer of MN Forward, a campaign group that got $150,000 from Target last month.

A GOP state lawmaker said the controversy, including protests and calls for a boycott by gay leaders, has put Target in a bind.

“They’re darned if they do something and they’re darned if they don’t,” said Rep. Marty Seifert, a Republican from Marshall.

Contributors to a conservative Facebook page on the controversy also warned the company of a backlash from the right.

“I will not boycott Target unless they crater to the demand of the gay activists,” said one writer. The page grew exponentially on Friday from fewer than 500 fans to more than 9,000 as the controversy moved into its third week.

The conservatives’ admonitions come as liberal groups demand that Target balance the earlier donation that helped GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer, an outspoken critic of gay marriage. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s issued a statement of apology last week, and gay and liberal organizations have been negotiating with corporate officials for an equal donation or another concession.

Protesters have kept the pressure on by rallying almost daily outside Target’s Minneapolis headquarters or its stores since the donation became known.

The flap has revealed new implications of a recent Supreme Court ruling that appeared to benefit corporations by clearing the way for them to spend company funds directly on political campaigns. Target’s donation to a business-oriented group supporting Emmer was one of the first big corporate contributions to come to light after the decision.

The retail chain has gone from defending the donation as a business decision to apologizing and saying it would carefully review its future giving.

“Target is receiving criticism and frustration from their customers because they are doing something wrong, and that should serve absolutely as an example for other companies,” said Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy for the liberal group MoveOn.org, which is pressing Target to formally renounce involvement in elections.

Criticism has also come from local government officials in San Francisco, one of the urban markets where Target plans to open new stores.

The company is in talks with the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization. The group is also demanding donations from electronics retailer Best Buy Co., which gave $100,000 to the same group backing Emmer.

Fred Sainz, the group’s vice president for communications, said he is optimistic both companies will respond. Target has long cultivated a good relationship with the gay community in Minneapolis, and its gay employees have protested the political donation.

“The repair has to be consistent with the harm that was done,” Sainz said.

MN Forward is staffed by former insiders from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration and has also backed a few Democratic legislators. The group has continued to collect corporate money after the backlash against Target, bringing in $110,000 through Tuesday from businesses including Holiday Cos. gas stations and Graco Inc., a maker of pumps and fluid handling equipment. Weaver said the group’s sole focus is job creation, not social issues.

A Target spokeswoman said the company had nothing to add to Steinhafel’s statement of apology. Emmer has said he views the Target giving as an exercise in free speech and wants to keep his campaign focused on economic issues.

Conservatives are watching to see whether Target bends to the pressure, said Kelly O’Keefe, a brand expert at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.

“They’re likely to raise the ire of a different constituency of customers and get themselves in a never-ending cycle of alienating people,” he said. “A better thing is for them to swear off any future investment in elections.”

—  John Wright