LGBTs join anti-Bush protest at SMU

Action timed to coincide with groundbreaking for Bush’s presidential library at SMU

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Bush protest
PROTESTING BUSH | About 100 people from around the country, including some local LGBT activists, turned out to protest during the groundbreaking for the Bush presidential library on the SMU grounds this week. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

While George Bush and Dick Cheney broke ground on the new presidential library at Southern Methodist University on Tuesday, Nov. 16, about 100 people from around the country gathered a few blocks away to protest.

Although only one rainbow flag was flown during the protest, members of the LGBT community were prominent among the protesters. That one flag flew from the wheelchair of Kay Lucas.

Lucas was director of the Crawford Peace House, which has since closed. That house was near the main intersection in Crawford, down the road from the Bush ranch. During Bush’s presidency, the property was the center of anti-war activity and where Cindy Sheehan staged her protests.

Sheehan became the face of the anti-war movement after her son, Casey, was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. She spoke at the rally at SMU.

Dallas gay activist Aaron Rathbun attended the rally dressed in his graduation cap and gown and held a sign on stage that read, “Bush failed us.”

“I didn’t have on any rainbow paraphernalia,” said Aaron Rathbun, “I went representing academia.”

He said he went to listen and was impressed by the array of speakers. He mentioned a CIA trainer who left the agency during the Bush administration.
Rathbun said he was impressed by the conviction of someone who would give up his career by saying, “I’m not going to do this anymore.”

He also pointed to another speaker, Col. Ann Wright, who spent 29 years in the military and another 16 years as a diplomat. She resigned her diplomatic post to protest Bush administration policy.

A march began at about 9:30 a.m. at Mockingbird Station along Central Expressway and ended on the SMU campus outside Ford Stadium on the corner of Mockingbird Lane and Airline.

Five different police forces kept protesters and counter-protesters apart. The march began in Dallas, crossed into Highland Park and ended on campus in University Park. Police from each of the three cities remained in their own jurisdictions.

SMU campus police also were on hand at the rally, which was on campus. Sheriff’s department officers guarded the groundbreaking and former administration officials in riot gear with helmets, shields and batons.

While Rathbun said he was pleased with turnout at the protest, he said it was underreported because camera crews and journalists were not allowed to come and go from the groundbreaking site.

“They were on lockdown,” he said.

Only pre-approved guests and media were allowed near the library site.

Colleen Rowley, who was Time magazine’s 2002 person of the year as one of the year’s whistleblowers and has since run for Congress, tried marching from the protest site toward the groundbreaking.

“The police looked as sad as we did,” Rowley said.

She wore all black with a white expressionless mask and the name of an Iraq War soldier killed in action hanging on a sign around her neck.

Radio host and QueerLiberaction activist Rick Vanderslice led some of the chanting and was one of the speakers. He echoed the event’s “Arrest Bush” theme.

He said that the policy institute was being built to justify the policies of the Bush administration. He said that cannot be allowed to happen and called them war criminals who should be arrested and brought to justice.

“We all know that this library is just a way for him to rewrite his own history until it becomes a fait accompli,” Vanderslice said.

He said he was struck by the age of most of the protesters.

“Everyone was middle age or older,” he said. The old anti-war hippies.”

He was curious about the absence of any SMU students at the protest, noting a few who had come from University of North Texas and even one who came to Dallas from Baylor. Only two SMU staff stood across the street to observe despite the large number who had signed a petition to keep the library off campus.

However, many SMU students who were interested in the groundbreaking ceremony were watching the event on a large screen TV truck set up nearby. Campus officials reported that a large number logged onto the Internet to watch.

Vanderslice said that the rally was a weeklong event to activate people.

“I still think there’s efficacy in protesting,” Vanderslice said. “Younger people look at protesting as an antique.”

He said the Bush administration was such an enemy of the LGBT community, more should have attended, but understood that the rally took place during the workday and a school day.

“There must be consequences for misconduct,” he said. “We must demand justice.”

“With the scope of the atrocities done, I’d like to see Bush held accountable to an international tribunal,” Rathbun said.

Many of the protesters held signs that said “Arrest Bush” and “Arrest Cheney First.” A few criticized Obama for continuing Bush’s war policies.

Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin listed a variety of Bush administration atrocities such as water boarding, denying global warming and “bombing Iraq into the Stone Age.” She said she was amazed that after he admitted some of these things in his new book, no investigation was taking place.

Sheehan explained why she had traveled to Dallas from her home in California for the protest.

“You can’t put a bloom on that lily,” she said. “He wasn’t a good person. He wasn’t a good president. We can’t let him rewrite history.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Forget about ENDA and DOMA for 2 years

The Advocate has an early piece up about what life will be like on the federal front with a Republican majority in the House and possibly even the Senate. Basically, passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act are off the table in the 112th Congress. The repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” meanwhile, is pretty iffy. But hey, who knows, we might get some changes to Social Security!!! Here’s an excerpt:

“This is going to be a real test of the leadership of the gay community,” said Christopher Barron, chairman of the Board of GOProud, a conservative gay group. “This will be a test of whether partisanship will come first or if there will be a recognition that the leadership is actually interested in delivering for their constituency.”

Barron said new opportunities to work with the Republican majority in the House would not be “sexy” but might be fecund, nonetheless, as he ticked through a list that included reworking social security, encouraging health insurance competition, and altering the tax code.

As Republicans revisit taxes and the federal deficit, Barron saw an opportunity for LGBT activists to push for optional personal savings accounts that move toward privatizing social security. From his perspective, this would help level the playing field for LGBT Americans who are currently locked into a social security system that does not allow them to pass their survivor benefits along to their partners.

“You’d be able to take a portion of your social security tax dollars and put it into a personal savings account that you could leave to your partner or really anyone that you wanted to — something you’re barred from doing today,” Barron said.

—  John Wright

LGBT activists to raise money, awareness for female workers who’ve sued Dallas Fire-Rescue

Get Equal Now is planning a “Ribbons and Roses” rally and candlelight vigil for Sunday, Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m. in front of Dallas City Hall to show solidarity with female employees of Dallas Fire Rescue who say they have faced harassment and discrimination on the job. And to raise money to pay for the rally, some women will become “kings” when they stage the “King for A Night” drag king fundraising show on Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 p.m. at The Brick.

The show will star C.D. “Jaime Fauxx” Kirven, Elizabeth “Julian” Pax, AB aka Twisher, Laura R. aka Prynce, and more. And if you want to be one of the “more,” just e-mail Kirven at cdkirven@aol.com by Tuesday, Oct. 5.

For more information, check out the “King for A Night” Facebook page. Show up with a copy of the flier below and get into the show free. Fliers will be available at businesses along Cedar Springs Road and at Resource Center Dallas.

—  admin

Mehlman’s out, but will the LGBT community forgive him his past?

Liberal activists still blame Mehlman for some of the GOP’s most anti-gay strategies, but gay Republicans criticize them for failing to ‘walk the talk’ of inclusion


Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL | Then-Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman hits the campaign trail with U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, in October 2006. Mehlman came out as a gay man last month, but many in the LGBT community have refused to welcome him into their ranks because of his past support of anti-gay politicians, like Schmidt who has consistently voted against LGBT-friendly legislation. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

On the surface, it would seem that having a former chair of the Republican National Committee, someone with close ties to a number of high-level Republican officeholders and party officials, come out as a gay man and a same-sex marriage supporter would be a real coup.

After all, who could be better at helping sway politicians and policymakers away from their anti-gay stances than a man who helped them reach their positions of power in the first place.
But when Ken Mehlman, former RNC chair and 2004 campaign manager for George W. Bush, announced last month that he is gay and intends now to be an advocate for marriage equality, he wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by the LGBT community overall.

It was during Mehlman’s tenure as Bush’s campaign manager that, LGBT activists say, the Republicans used LGBT issues, specifically same-sex marriage, as a tool to whip up fear among right-wing conservatives, driving them to the polls to give Bush a second term in the Oval Office.

Although Republican Karl Rove is widely seen as the architect of that strategy, liberal activists aren’t willing to give Mehlman a pass for the role he played in that election, when right-wingers in 11 states got constitutional amendments banning gay marriage on their ballots — and all 11 passed.

Mehlman has also previously worked as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth and as legislative director for U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio. Both Texas congressmembers have consistently voted against LGBT-positive legislation, and Smith last month announced his intention to introduce legislation this fall to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Mehlman himself acknowledged, in an interview with Marc Ambinder published Aug. 25 in The Atlantic, that if he had come out earlier he might have been able to fend off some of the GOP’s most anti-gay efforts and rhetoric. And Ambinder said Mehlman had told him previously, in private, off-the-record conversations, about working behind the scenes to “beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage.”

Mehlman told Ambiner that he had only begun coming to terms with his sexual orientation earlier this year, and that he “really wished” he had reached this point earlier in his career so that he could have fought against the federal marriage amendment pushed by right-wing Republicans in 2004, and, as RNC chair, “reached out to the gay community in the way I reached out to African-Americans.”

Mehlman, through Ambinder’s interview, asked for, if not support, “at least … understanding” from the LGBT community. But some aren’t willing to give him that, either.

Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, this week summed up the feelings of many on the left.

“He’s just another closeted gay Republican that came out. But more than that, he was a closeted gay Republican who worked against the community,” Moore said. “That’s my biggest issue. You can’t work against the community, and then come out and say, ‘Just kidding,’ and think that makes everything OK. When you have done a crime, you can’t erase it by doing community service.”

Moore said Mehlman’s new-found LGBT activism is “too little, too late.”

She said, “If there is a rosy side to this, then I’ll be happy to see it. But I don’t think it will happen. If he thought he could change hearts and minds, why didn’t he do it when he had the power to do it? When he was in a seat of power and was gay, he hid it and worked against our community. Now that he is outside that seat of power, I don’t think he will have the influence to make a real difference.”

Michael Mitchell, now president of the National Stonewall Democrats, was working with Equality Utah in 2004. The marriage amendment there, Mitchell said, “literally ripped families apart. It caused suicides. The Republican Party pushed those amendments in as many places as they could. There are people in Utah today who are still not talking to each other because of that, and I am sorry, but I implicate the Republican Party in that. And Ken Mehlman was part of it.”

Mitchell said that in his work with the GOP and the Bush campaign, Mehlman “spent a lot of time putting a stamp of approval on some really heinous policies, on pushing ways of thinking that have changed the way people treat LGBT people.”

Mitchell also noted, as have other liberal activists, that Mehlman has continued to donate to candidates and officeholders who are stridently anti-gay.

According to the website OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign contributions, Mehlman has donated a total of $20,200 to nine different political candidates, plus $5,000 to the Every Republican is Crucial political action committee, for a total of $25,200 over the past 12 months.

All nine candidates are Republicans, and of them, five are described as “hard-core conservatives” who have consistently voted against LGBT issues, by the nonprofit, non-partison website OnTheIssues.org. Granger is one of those five.

Two more of the nine were described as “centrists,” by OnTheIssues.org, and an eighth, Sen. John McCain of Arizon, is described as a “populist conservative.”

The ninth is Kelly Ayotte, candidate for the U.S. Senate from New Hampshire. Because Ayotte has not served in the Senate yet, she is not listed on OnTheIssues.org. However, in her former position as New Hampshire attorney general, she opposed efforts there to legalize same-sex marriage, and resigned her office when Gov. John Lynch signed the marriage equality legislation into law.

Mehlman made six of those 10 political contributions since Jan. 1 this year, including contributions  to Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Rep. Michael Castle of Delware, McCain and Ayotte.

His most recent donation to Granger, for $2,400, was made Dec. 10, 2009. Records on OpenSecret.org do not show any donations to Smith.

Mitchell said, “Ken Mehlman continues to give money to conservatives who are working against the best interest of the LGBT community. How quickly can a tiger change his stripes, is my question.

“Yes, he’s come out. I applaud him for that. I am sure he has a bit of influence still in the Republican Party, and if that shifts the debate and takes gay rights off the target list for the Republicans, then that’s great,” Mitchell added. “If Ken Mehlman can help accomplish that, then bully for him. But I think there’s a lot of making up he has to do.”

The gay Republican view

But those on the opposite end of the LGBT political spectrum said this week that those who continue to condemn Mehlman and refuse to accept him into the LGBT activist community are, in effect, cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

“I say, let’s move forward and bring about reconciliation,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans. “Yes there are a lot of folks within the broader LGBT community that are not happy [with Mehlman over his previous work with the GOP]. That’s understandable. But I say to them, remember where you were at certain stages of your own coming out process.

“I am not discounting the past. We shouldn’t ignore it. But I would offer a gentle reminder that we preach to people to come out … . Not every person in the LGBT community is a Democrat.”

Cooper said he sees “something cannibalistic” in the way LGBT liberals have been attacking Mehlman since he came out, and suggested that to “continuously vilify Ken could delay those conservative young gay Republicans in coming out themselves. … People are on record now saying stuff about Ken that could be used against our community, and this is coming from bloggers and advocates in the community who have a record of calling for tolerance and reconciliation. That stuff is out there now. You can’t just hit delete.”

Cooper also said LGBT liberals shouldn’t castigate Mehlman now for donations he made at a time when he wasn’t out as a gay man, either publicly or to himself. And, he added, Mehlman’s continuing donations to Republican candidates will help keep open doors of opportunity.

“Look where he’s going now,” Cooper said of Mehlman. “I know he has reached out to Log Cabin and to other entities to say, ‘This is what I want to do moving forward. Tell me where I can be the most helpful.’ We would be foolish to refuse that.”

Cooper compared Mehlman’s situation to his own experience. Cooper worked in the Bush administration, and has also worked for Republican legislators such as Rep. Iliana Ross-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican from Florida. Although he was not closeted during those years, Cooper said, “There were people I worked with who didn’t know I was gay because I didn’t lead with that. But I never hid that part of me.”

Now, because of the relationships he built with those lawmakers in the past, Cooper said he has a better chance of making headway toward swaying their positions on LGBT issues. As does Mehlman.

“Both of us has a certain amount of credibility with the conservatives. Since I took this job [with Log Cabin] three months ago, there have been people I have met with that I know the only reason I even got in the door is because I have that ‘R’ next to my name, or because they remember me from past working relationships. And getting in the door is the first step,” Cooper said.

He also said that activists who refuse to work with or support candidates who don’t vote with the LGBT community in every instance are making a mistake.

“There are Republicans who are supportive on [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] but they are not going to vote with us on marriage. Are we supposed to throw away any chance of making progress on at least one issue because somebody isn’t with us on every issue,” he said. “People like [U.S. Rep.] Pete Sessions and [U.S. Sen.] John Cornyn [both of Texas] who have told us, ‘We’re not going to be 100 percent with Log Cabin. But let’s start talking about where we do concur, and move forward from there.’ That is a vast shift. And [Mehlman] helps push that it even further forward.”

Cooper recalled one visit to a member of the Texas delegation in Congress who asked him, “When did you become a gay?” That prompted, he said, “a serious conversation” about the fact that sexual orientation is not a choice.

“If [Mehlman] can do the same thing with the people he knows, even better. That’s why it is important to come out. That chips away at the argument that sexual orientation is a choice, that it’s deviant and only a small subset of society. The more people who come out, the more it shows how diverse the LGBT community is. And [Mehlman] being out and available to answer those kinds of questions can only help.”

Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, was even more adamant.

“I think it’s great that [Mehlman] has figured out who he is and that we now have a high-profile advocate” in the Republican Party, Schlein said. “I am disappointed but not surprised that people in the gay community are giving him so much grief about what happened before. They blame him for things that happened when he was not out, even to himself, and things that he probably had no real say in. Sometimes even the RNC chairman just has to be a good soldier and execute the strategies that other people have laid out.”

And while Cooper offered “a gentle reminder” to those on the left to think about their own coming out process, Schlein was much less gentle.

“They yearn to talk about inclusion. They yearn for acceptance, and they yearn for grace. But when it’s time to show that acceptance and grace to someone else, they don’t walk the talk,” he declared.

“Anyone who would criticize [Mehlman] for what he did before he was out needs to remember what they did before they were out, what it was like for them. If you want acceptance and tolerance and inclusion, then you have to actually practice acceptance and tolerance and inclusion. I say there is a lot of hypocrisy coming from the left.”

Neither Granger nor Smith, nor any of the aides in their offices, returned calls from Dallas Voice seeking comments for this story.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Argentina legalizes gay marriage

Argentinian president supports bill that passed the Senate

Rex Wockner  |  Wockner News Service wockner@panix.com

PROTESTING THE INEVITABLE | Members of Catholic groups protest outside Argentina’s Congress against a same-sex marriage bill in Buenos Aires on Tuesday, July 13. On Thursday, July 15, senators voted to pass the measure, making Argentina the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in the early morning hours of Thursday July 15, with a 33-27 vote in the Senate, with three abstentions. The vote came at 4:05 a.m.

The Chamber of Deputies had approved the bill in May, and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner strongly supports it.

“The bill has passed. It is law. The executive power will be notified,” the Senate president said as the vote was displayed on an electronic board in the chamber.

The debate lasted nearly 15 hours.

“The result sparked euphoria among the [LGBT] activists who, despite the polar wave that grips the city, held a vigil in the Plaza of the Two Congresses,” said Buenos Aires’ Clarín newspaper after the vote.

The website of Argentina’s main gay political group, la Federación Argentina LGBT, was kicked off the Internet and replaced with a “Bandwidth Limit Exceeded” notice.

Evan Wolfson, head of the U.S. group Freedom to Marry, applauded the vote. “Today’s historic vote shows how far Catholic Argentina has come, from dictatorship to true democratic values, and how far the freedom to marry movement has come, as 12 countries on four continents now embrace marriage equality,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas