Ken Mehlman inspiring? Not to me

Hardy Haberman
Flagging Left

Why honor a man who spent years not just hiding in the closet, but working with those who oppressed his LGBT brothers and sisters?

In a move that has stunned a lot of folks, Out Magazine has named Ken Mehlman one of its 100 most inspiring people of the year. I was stunned not just by Mehlman’s inclusion in the Out 100 list, but the use of the word “inspiring” to describe him.

Let me explain.

Ken Mehlman was campaign manager for the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush. You remember him?

He was the president who threatened to veto the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in existing hate crimes laws. And he was the president who supported the federal Marriage Protection Amendment, a heinous law that — luckily — failed to pass.

Then, from 2005 to 2007, Mr. Mehlman served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee. During that time, he supported the Republican Platform, which included opposition to same-sex marriage.

Well, maybe that’s water under the bridge. But I have to say, I do not find Mr. Mehlman in any way inspiring.

What is inspirational about a man hiding in the closet, actively working against LGBT rights on perhaps the largest scale imaginable?

What is inspirational about a man who served as the guiding force of a Republican Party that stepped up its use of anti-gay rhetoric and propaganda to motivate the most conservative of its members?

What is inspirational about a man who, when he finally decided to come out at 43, assembled a team of strategists to make his coming out as painless as possible?

Now to be fair, since he has opened his closet door, Mehlman has gone on record as supporting many LGBT causes. He even lent his support to the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Good for him. But Out Magazine’s criteria for their selection is “the extraordinary power of the individual to inspire and motivate by example.”

What kind of example has Mehlman set?

From what I can tell, his example is this:

• Stay in the closet as long as you can, and do anything necessary, even if it means supporting people who actively work to discriminate and inflict suffering on the LGBT community.
• Do anything necessary to gain power and wealth and influence for your own gain, then once you are well situated, carefully come out while offering support to the same people you helped oppress.

• Come out once there is little danger of your actions hurting your own personal wealth or celebrity status.

• Lastly, make a grand show of your compassion and support for LGBT causes with sufficient effort and cash to buy your way into prominence as a gay icon.
Harsh words? You betcha.

Here is the deal: I understand just how difficult it is to come out, every LGBT person does. We have not reached a time when coming out is simple and non-traumatic.

I also understand how everyone comes out at their own pace. For me it was a process that took several years, starting when I was 18 and continuing until I was 20.

During that time I was conflicted and confused and sometimes hid my orientation. But I never actively tried to oppress my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Still, giving Ken the benefit of the doubt, maybe he didn’t realize he was gay until 2010. Whatever his story, I have sympathy for him in his personal struggle, but absolutely no sympathy for his active participation in the oppression of LGBT people and the encouragement of homophobic smear campaigns which stepped up the level of hatred and discrimination in our country.

Maybe I need to take a page from the fundamentalists’ creed, and “love the sinner, hate the sin?” The problem with that is I would still be “hating,” and that’s not going to help anyone.
I don’t hate Ken Mehlman; I just find him a very sad person who may or may not be trying to atone for his past behaviors. That is a very human struggle and one we all face at one time or another. To do that with grace and humility might be something truly inspiring.

For that, I will wait and see.

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 November, 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

The dangers of conversion therapy

Southern Poverty Law Center, Truth Wins Out join forces to shine a light into the darkness of those who try to change others’ orientation

Imagine being told your lifetime of thoughts and feelings were unacceptable, and that what you think and feel in the future would need to be remolded to conform to what others consider acceptable.

That’s the reality of conversion therapy, an unscientific methodology rooted in conservative Christian philosophy that is designed to reorient homosexuality to heterosexuality.

Conversion therapy is condemned by all major medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling groups. Yet fundamentalist religious leaders advocate its widespread practice to “cure” homosexuality. They recommend this treatment for both adults and for gay and lesbian teenagers, who are often forced into the therapy against their will.

Opposition to conversion therapy is strong in the LGBT community, and it gained even more momentum recently when the Southern Poverty Law

Center and Truth Wins Out joined forces to launch a coordinated campaign to counter proponents of the controversial therapy.

David-Webb

David Webb - The Rare Reporter

The prestigious civil rights group — SPLC — and the LGBT rights organization — TWO — scheduled a series of community meetings in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for former patients of the therapy to share their stories. One of the campaign’s goals is to seek help from community activists and elected leaders in monitoring and evaluating local conversion therapy programs.

For most people, the notion of conversion therapy achieving any measure of success would probably be laughable if it were not so destructive to those who are exposed to it. Critics of the therapy warn that individuals who undergo it often suffer anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts — in addition to retaining their sexual orientation.

The radical therapy is reminiscent of unscrupulous scientific experiments from previous decades that horrified the world when they came to light. In those events groups of scientists in the U.S. and other countries carried out hideous psychological and medical experiments using as their subjects prisoners, orphans, mental patients, minorities and other powerless people.

Through my work as a journalist I have met several individuals over the years that underwent conversion therapy. Without exception, all reported the therapy caused them more anguish than they felt before receiving it.

One person — who was raised by a domineering, Bible-obsessed mother — was sent from his East Coast home when he was in his 20s to a conversion therapy treatment program in, of all places, San Francisco, the gay capital of the U.S. It’s not difficult to figure out what happened there.

The group of like-minded individuals in the program reportedly had the time of their life when the lights went out at night, and at one point they went over the wall to see the sights of Baghdad on the Bay.

Again, the lack of logic is humorous, but the therapy left the young man and his family, which had expected him to return home “cured,” more troubled than ever.

In subsequent years he engaged in the abuse of alcohol and illegal substances, promiscuity and criminal activity.

His mother drifted into a state of denial and, even though her son contracted the HIV virus, she maintained that he did not engage in sex with other men.

The last I heard, the man was still allowing his mother to run his life, which she has dedicated to ensuring would not include the company of a male partner.

In another case, a man in his 30s sought help from a counselor whose facility was located on the campus of a large mainstream church. Placing his trust in the counselor — in part because he supposedly was a straight, married man — the patient participated in a bizarre treatment program that involved the patient removing his clothes during the sessions. The “treatment” eventually progressed to the counselor instructing the patient to perform oral sex upon him.

Eventually, the patient came to his senses, reported the counselor to law enforcement officials and filed a lawsuit against him. The patient suffered severe psychological problems as a result of the contact with the counselor, but he recovered through the help of a traditional counselor who helped him accept his sexual orientation.

The last time I heard from the patient he was attempting to get on with his life as a gay man and had met someone with whom he was trying to bond.

The files of Truth Wins Out are full of stories of unscrupulous conversion therapists who masquerade as professional counselors, when in fact they are what the organization’s founder, Wayne Besen, refers to as “quacks.”

Besen has also cornered advocates of conversion therapy who claim to be “ex-gay” in gay bars and exposed others as frauds because they still engage in homosexual activity.

The influence of the powerful Southern Poverty Law Center — which is best known for its work in waging successful legal fights against violent white supremacist groups — will likely help Besen spread his message to an audience that he might not have otherwise reached. The nonprofit group’s Teaching Tolerance project has received high praise for its outreach.

As regards religious leaders who recommend conversion therapy, they are doing neither the individuals nor their families any favors. Coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation — for both gay men and lesbians and their family members — is challenging enough without the interference of religious leaders who apparently are less concerned with the welfare of the individual than they are in demanding observance of antiquated religious laws.

For gays or lesbians attempting to deny their sexual orientation, it might be useful to learn a lesson from the legions of people who have already struggled with the same issue and finally came to realize that a person’s basic nature cannot be transformed.                                              •

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 November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

3 men arrested in Cyprus for gay sex

Members of the European Parliament calling for the release of the three men include, from left, Eleni Theochaurus, Ioannis Kasoulides, Michael Cashman

As those of us here in the U.S. continue our fight for things like marriage equality and employment nondiscrimination laws, we should remember that are LGBT brothers in sisters in other places are still fighting for the right not to be arrested.

The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights reports that three men in Northern Cyprus, which is under the control of Turkey, have been arrested and jailed for more than five days now for “conspiring to have a sexual intercourse against the order of nature.”

If the men are convicted, they could be imprisoned for up to five years.

According to the Intergroup on LGBT Rights, one of the men is former Cyprus Finance Minister Dr. Michael Sarris. The other two were not named.

The Intergroup on LGBT Rights notes that Northern Cyprus is the only remaining territory in Europe where homosexuality is illegal, and that laws criminalizing homosexuality are a breach of the “European Convention on Human Rights,” which is in force in Cyprus.

Eleni Theocharous and Ioannis Kasoulides, Cypriot members of the European Parliament have called for the men’s immediate release, saying in a written statement that “Consenting adults have the right to engage in sexual intercourse with people of the same sex.”

Michael Cashman, another member of the European Parliament and president of the Intergroup on LGBT Rights, added, “The criminalisation of homosexuality has no place in the 21st century.”

—  admin

Reaching industrial-strength level of crazy

As right-wing anti-LGBT rhetoric  gets further ‘out there,’ we must step up to counter it

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association

 

Hardy Haberman
Flagging Left

I guess it wasn’t enough that the right-wing crazies tried to equate homosexuality with pedophilia, now they have come up with the argument that giving LGBT people equal rights is an assault on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Funny, I never remember asking anyone to change their religion or to stop speaking, no matter how crazy they are.

I hold freedom of speech very near and dear to my heart. In fact it is one of my core values.

And religious freedom? Well you have the right to preach and believe anything you want, until you begin advocating violence against other citizens.

That is where the whole issue of LGBT rights breaks down for the far right. If they are not “free” to advocate outright physical assaults on LGBT Americans, they somehow feel it is impinging on their freedom.

Does this sound a lot like the anti-abortion crowd who advocate murdering doctors and blowing up clinics? Though they would be the first to deny it, they are cut from the same cloth.

Funny how these same folks are among the first to point fingers at all Muslims and cry “Terrorists!” In fact our friend from north of the border, Rep. Sally Kern of Oklahoma, has actually said that LGBT people are more dangerous than terrorists.

I really see all this as another attempt to re-frame the issue of LGBT rights by the right wing. They know that opinions in America are changing, and as a recent poll showed, even here in Texas an overwhelming majority of registered voters support expanded civil rights for LGBT Texans.

It is a rising tide and it scares them, and so they crank up the rhetoric.

Bryan Fischer, a mouthpiece of the American Family Association drove the point home with this gem delivered at the recent AFA-sponsored Values Voters Summit, attended by all of the main Republican presidential candidates:

“I believe we need a president who understands that just as Islam represents the greatest long-range threat to our liberty, so the homosexual agenda represents the greatest immediate threat to every freedom and right that is enshrined in the First Amendment. It’s a particular threat to religious liberty… .”

Now, if you have trouble understanding this strange equation, “LGBT rights = no religious liberty,” then let me explain the twisted logic.

The far right believes:

• We are a Christian nation, but only the fundamentalist, fire-breathing born-again variety of Christian.

• “Free speech” means “the right to attack, abuse and in general deny rights to anyone other than predominately white Christian Americans.” (See above for definition of “Christian.”)

• Limiting the ability to discriminate against LGBT people, particularly in areas that involve legal representation and equal rights, is a limit on free speech.

• Granting LGBT people equal legal rights “will end Western Civilization.” (That is a quote from Liberty Council’s Mat Staver.)

And so with this kind of logic it’s easy to see how we LGBT folks are such dangerous threats.

Now, take it a few steps further — which Bryan Fischer is more than willing to do — and go after the recent “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. Fischer’s vivid imagination comes up with this whopper:

“And so, I’m predicting that things are about to get very ugly in the United States military for people of faith. We are going to see principle-driven officers, one after another, are going to become victims of systematic hate crimes. This is going to be a pogrom; this is going to be virtual genocide, military genocide, career genocide for people of faith in the military, perpetrated by the homosexual lobby.”

Now we have indeed reached the level of “industrial-strength crazy,” and it’s time we take a stand against it.

First of all, the idea that the American Family Association (a recognized hate group) can actually somehow have a lock on what it means to be “people of faith” is beyond laughable. It’s time liberal, progressive Christians came out of the closet and began reclaiming the word “Christian,” before it is too late.

Secondly, the idea that all the major candidates for the GOP presidential race showed up at an event staged by a hate group should put to bed forever the idea that the Republican Party is a big tent, unless that tent is for a fundamentalist revival.

Third, it’s time we realized that not only are these folks nutty, they are dangerous, and though it is easy to laugh at them, we need to take them seriously.

To do otherwise is just plain crazy.

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 October 14, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Kaleidoscope joins the fight for equality

New London-based advocacy organization is getting a warm welcome from British politicians and the international media

Phyllis Guest
Taking Notes

As Pride celebrations continue around North Texas, a new London-based LGBT organization is getting off to a sensational start.

Kaleidoscope International Diversity Trust has clearly been in the works for some time; it already has an attractive website, KaleidoscopeTrust.com, with a mission statement, backgrounders, personal stories, donation options and a newsletter free for the asking.

Kaleidoscope — the instrument, not the organization — was named by its 19th century Scottish inventor, Sir David Brewster, who combined three Greek words: kalos = beautiful, eides = form and scopos = watcher.
It seems a fine choice of organizational name, for LGBTs are beautiful in our variety, formed by countless influences, and ever so watchful.

Kaleidoscope — the organization, not the instrument — made BBC World News and thus, the local NPR station very early the next day, when two of its founders were interviewed.

One was an American who works in the United Kingdom, the other a Nigerian who has asylum in the U.K. The interview was brief and quite straightforward, ending with both men acknowledging how far their adopted country has come in terms of LGBT rights and recognitions, but asserting it still has far to go. For while the U.K. recognizes domestic partnerships, the American must fly home to New York to marry his guy, and the Nigerian must fight prejudice against his color and his sexuality.

Yet Kaleidoscope’s welcome by official Britain could scarcely have been warmer.

On Monday, Member of Parliament and Minister for International Development Alan Duncan issued a statement welcoming the Kaleidoscope Trust, labeling it “outrageous that people across the world are still subject to arrest, detention or even death” because they are LGBT, and reminding the world that the U.K. had in March 2011 “published an action plan” aimed at fighting discrimination worldwide.
(Not incidentally, MP Duncan is gay and a Conservative and lists his partner in official biographies.)

That’s not all. Kaleidoscope’s launch merited a House of Commons reception “hosted by Speaker John Bercow MP,” the organization’s honorary president. Plus its director is Lance Price, a prominent journalist who worked both for the BBC and for the Labour government of Tony Blair.

Joining them in praising Kaleidoscope were Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour Party leader Ed Milliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

Amazing to hear competitive politicians speaking with one voice. But then Bercow, Cameron, Milliband and many of their colleagues are Oxford “old boys.”

The outlier, Clegg, graduated from Cambridge; perhaps he is allowed into the club because he speaks four languages.

On its website, Kaleidoscope uses a quote from Chinese philosopher Confucius and another from United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, plus a speech Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave to a U.N. panel on decriminalizing homosexuality.

Its theme: “This wave of hate must stop.” And in Britain, MPs, straight media stars and gay rights activists are lining up to support the group.
Far and away the cutest and — if his BBC comments were an indication — the most charming is Bisi Alimi. He studied theater at the University of Lagos until he was expelled for being gay and was the first Nigerian to announce his sexuality on TV, after which his family threw him out, his bosses fired him and many strange people threatened to murder him outright. Now he is studying at an English university and works with a number of human rights/gay rights groups.

By contrast, the most appalling of gay rights activists is London-based “pastor” Rowland Jide Macaulay. For some reason, Kaleidoscope chose to include Macaulay’s essay, “Leave My Father Alone,” on its website.

His main points were that Nigerians should not criticize his father’s love of him, the gay son, and that his father still disapproved of him. Then Macaulay wrote this: “At least we agreed that homosexuals cannot be compared to thieves, prostitutes, drunkards and robbers, but to dwarfs and people with physically (sic) disability.” (Feel free to object online; I did.)

Further, as coverage of the Kaleidoscope kickoff pointed out, “At present, homosexuality is illegal in 76 countries [and] at least five countries — Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania and Sudan — have used the death penalty against gay people.” (I’d say more; think of the treatment of LGBTs on much of Asia’s mainland and on nearby islands.)

In any case, Kaleidoscope has work to do at home and abroad. But the Guardian of London reported that it “intends to leave U.K. gay rights campaigning to the long-established advocacy group Stonewall.”
Stonewallers and other progressives, are we up for the fight? What can we do here in Dallas? Remember: On Jan. 27, 2011, mere hours after his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama proclaimed, “LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights.”

Yes. Sure. But the fight for human rights is ongoing because, as George Orwell knew, some of our fellow humans will always believe that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
We’re among the others.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Florida state senator introduces domestic partner registry bill

Florida Sen. Eleanor Sobel

Florida State Sen. Eleanor Sobel — a Democrat from Hollywood in Broward County near the southern end of the state — has introduced legislation that would create a statewide domestic partner registry and add “partnership” as a relationship status option to all state forms, according to an email today from Florida Together Federation.

Senate Bill 166 is slated to be heard in the Florida Legislature’s 2012 session, beginning in January.

In a written statement, Sobel — described by Florida Together officials as a longtime ally of the LGBT community — said that a “majority of Americans and Floridians support recognition for same-sex relationships,” and that it “no longer makes sense for the state to have just one category — married and everyone else.”

Michael Kenny, executive director of Florida Together, said that LGBT rights advocates are thrilled to see Sobel introduce the bill, but he acknowledged that there is still a long way to go.

Kenny said, “Having a bill filed is a long, long way from creating law. But as they say, even the longest journey begins with a first step and we are proud to have Senator Sobel start this journey with us and for us.”

Florida Together Federation is a statewide organization that brings together local LGBT groups in the state to share resources, skills and information in the battle for LGBT equality.

—  admin

A critical moment for Turkey’s LGBT community

Amnesty International pushes for much-needed protections in new constitution — and you can help

Guest.Phyllis.2PHYLLIS GUEST  |  Taking Note

The upheavals of autocratic governments that started in North Africa and spread eastward into Asia have been — and are still being — well documented.

One nation about which we have heard less is Turkey. But that may soon change.

On July 29 The New York Times reported: “Turkey’s top military commanders resigned en masse on Friday.” This is perhaps the most surprising event since Gen. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk assumed power in 1923 and began converting Turkey into a secular state. Politicos quoted in the Times suggested the mass resignation was a last-ditch effort by the military to regain the power it has lost over recent years. Most thought the generals’ Hail Mary pass would fail.

Already, the nation has begun changing in various ways. So, now’s the time for those of us in the U.S. LGBT community to help it change for the better.

Next month, Turkey will draft a new constitution that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says will protect “everyone’s lifestyle, belief, language, culture and ideas.”

Not so, says Amnesty International USA. To date, according to AIUSA’s press releases and related emails, the suggested wording does not include any protections for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons. For sure, Turkey’s current laws and customs do not protect LGBTs. Discrimination against Turkish members of our community is so widespread that it includes virtually every aspect of life: employment, education, housing, health care, public services, even credit ratings.

And Turkey’s LGBTs suffer more than discrimination. They are often berated, beaten or imprisoned by the very police and military that should be protecting them.
Failure to recognize LGBT rights flows from the top. One minister recently said the 21st century is too soon to offer LGBTs protection. Another said homosexuality is “a biological disorder, a illness and should be treated.”

Amnesty International’s recent report, “Not an Illness, Not a Crime,” has a cover photo of thousands of people — LGBTs, family members, and other supporters — marching through Istanbul last year with the rainbow flag.

But it also documents all manner of discrimination. One of the most startling is that military service is mandatory, but “gay men are deemed unfit for the military … and proof of military service is often a prerequisite for employment.” Even more startling: Gay men who seek an exemption from the military “must prove their homosexuality by showing photos of themselves having sex” or by submitting to a medical “examination.” How unspeakable is that?

Another grim aspect of life in Turkey is that LGBTs feel they have to “conceal their sexual orientation … [particularly] lesbians and bisexual women.” By law, women are supposed to have equal rights, but because in practice they have less economic, political and social power, “they experience grossly unequal treatment.”

Worse still are the circumstances of transgenders. Their families frequently throw them out; the police harass, jail and attack them; and city authorities force them to live in squalid and/or inconvenient locales. The AIUSA report includes interviews with transgenders who have suffered terribly. The most painful stories are of transgender women who cannot find lawful employment and, to keep body and soul together, become illegal sex workers, thus exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases and to violence by their customers and the police.

In Istanbul, yet another issue poses real and immediate danger to transgenders. The district of Tarlabasi, which the AIUSA report states is the only area in which transgender women can live “relatively comfortably,” is undergoing urban renewal. Some of the historic buildings are to be refurbished and others are being torn down to make way for expensive new homes. While homeowners expect to be offered some teardown compensation and relocation monies, renters — including virtually all transgender women — will get nothing.

Finally, the right to seek asylum is a problem for LGBTs in Turkey. Whether they are Turkish by birth or have fled to Turkey because of even more severe persecution in a nearby nation, asylum-seekers and refugees usually wait several years to have their cases resolved. Meanwhile, they are “dispersed” to smaller Anatolian towns and cities where residents are even more conservative.

I would have thought that Turkey’s long effort to join the European Union would have encouraged … ummm … tolerance. I would have been wrong. But Amnesty International has mounted an urgent campaign to add LGBT protections to the new Turkish constitution.

If you want to join the fight for LGBTs’ constitutional equality in Turkey, just Google “AIUSA Turkey.” The new report and other materials come right up. Also, you can join the AIUSA effort to support equality for LGBTs in Turkey and elsewhere by contacting Amnesty International’s Dallas Group 205. Write to Dr. Rick Halperin, SMU AI, P.O. Box 750176, Dallas, TX, 75275; email him at rhalperi@mail.smu.edu; or call his office at 214-768-3284.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

—  John Wright

DADT advocate Justin Elzie speaks at RCD

Being all he can be

Justin Elzie may be a happy man right now. As “don’t ask, don’t tell” comes to an end, his work wasn’t in vain. Named Marine of the Year in ‘93, he was discharged for coming out on national TV. He sued, won and has been advocating for LGBT rights in the military. He comes to Dallas to discuss his work in fighting for DADT’s repeal.

DEETS: Resource Center Dallas, 2701 Reagan 2 p.m. RCDallas.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Best bets • 07.29.11

Friday 07.29

Lady looks like a dude
What is poor Victoria thinking? Dressing up as a man who performs as a female entertainer? Clearly a struggling artist will do anything to get by. Uptown Players presents the musical Victor/Victoria where Victoria becomes the toast of Paris as Victor but now has to deal with the mobster who is getting a little too attached.

DEETS: Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. 8 p.m. $30–$40. UptownPlayers.org.

………………..

Saturday 07.30

Being all he can be
Justin Elzie may be a happy man right now. As “don’t ask, don’t tell” comes to an end, his work wasn’t in vain. Named Marine of the Year in ‘93, he was discharged for coming out on national TV. He sued, won and has been advocating for LGBT rights in the military. He comes to Dallas to discuss his work in fighting for DADT’s repeal.

DEETS:     Resource Center Dallas, 2701 Reagan 2 p.m. RCDallas.org.

………………..

Thursday 08.04

Just a hot mess
Do we love Ke$ha because she’s the sloppy mess we wish we could be? It’s a brilliant act to come off as a drunken slacker and a blonde bombshell. See how she does it this week on her Get Sleazy Tour with LMFAO and Spank Rock.

DEETS:     Gexa Energy Pavilion, 1818 First Ave. 7:30 p.m. $30–$65. Ticketmaster.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Students for a Democratic Society forms at El Centro

STUDENT RADICALS | Deante Toombs, left, Stephen Benavides, standing, and Brashad Lewis helped revive the ’60s anti-war group SDS on college campuses in the Dallas area. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

LGBT rights are now a central issue for the anti-Vietnam War group revived in 2006

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Students at El Centro College and UT Arlington have organized new chapters of Students for a Democratic Society, and the group has popped up on as many as 90 college campuses around the country.

The reincarnation of SDS, a major force in the antiwar movement during the Vietnam era, began in 2006.

At the Equality March for LGBT rights held in Downtown Dallas on June 25, members of SDS marched for gay rights and spoke at the rally at the JFK Memorial. All of the SDS members participating were straight.

Brashad Lewis does public relations for the local groups and plans to start a group on a Tarrant County College campus that he’ll attend in the fall.

He said the group hopes to bring the national convention of SDS chapters to Dallas or Arlington in October. They’ve submitted their bids and will hear back soon.

But organizers say that should the Dallas bid win, one minor obstacle stands in the way: The El Centro group is currently without a faculty advisor.

Stephen Benavides, a graduate student at UTA, said that he was at El Centro and a Dallas County Community College officer motioned for him to come over and then assaulted him with a police baton.

Benavides said that a complaint has been filed.

Then four days later, the faculty advisor to the group abruptly quit.

Deante Toombs, an El Centro student, said that to reserve rooms for the conference, the group needs to be recognized, but finding another faculty advisor should be no problem.

Benavides said that the advisor at UTA is a former SDS member from the ’60s with tenure and has no fear of reprisals.

But he said that the incident at El Centro shows that the group is being followed and members being targeted despite the peaceful history of SDS.

In another incident, SDS organized a protest of cuts to teaching staff and financial aid and increased class size. Protesters planned to meet at Rosa Parks Plaza near El Centro. Rather than the peaceful demonstration planned, marchers were met with DART police on bicycles blocking entrance to the square. Marchers used streets and sidewalks instead and paraded on downtown streets to protest the cuts.

Toombs said that LGBT equality is a central issue for SDS.

“SDS stands in solidarity with issues affecting minorities, gays, women,” Toombs said.

“It’s 2011,” Benavides said. “Are we still having problems with this now?”

He said that’s why the group participated in the Equality March and may march in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.
Toombs said that the group is being targeted differently than it was in the ’60s. Then the FBI infiltrated with agitators to get information while trying to break the groups up through dissention.

Today, they’re being threatened with prosecution under the Patriot Act as if they’re a terrorist threat.

In addition to local campus issues, the original SDS organized nationally to protest the Vietnam War. Benavides said that local issues — LGBT rights, cuts in school funding — are important to SDS groups across the country, but the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya are why they came together.

Lewis said the attacks from campus police, reportedly instigated by federal authorities that want SDS disbanded, are using the divide and conquer method.

Toombs said that the group at El Centro has protested peacefully and exercised its right of free speech.

What has surprised him is the power the name still holds 40 years after the original group officially folded.

SDS is the model for all types of student groups based on causes that followed over succeeding decades — women’s rights, LGBT rights, AIDS, civil rights, environmental issues. These groups worked on a shoestring budget and used direct action to demand certain results. Without Facebook or the Internet to interact, SDS held annual national conventions to meet each other and exchange ideas.

At a convention in 1969, SDS officially ended, but a number of local campus groups lasted into the early to mid ’70s to continue protesting the war and to work on local campus issues.

Best known among early SDS organizers was Tom Hayden. Hayden later went on to serve in the California Legislature and ran for governor and mayor of Los Angeles and was a U.S. senator. But he is still best known as the first husband of Jane Fonda. At the time, Fonda was known more for her antiwar activism rather than her acting.

Bernadette Dohrn, another well-known SDS member, founded the radical wing known as the Weather Underground with her husband Bill Ayers. Dohrn is now an associate professor of law at Northwestern University School of Law, but during the early ’70s, she was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

Still, most of the actions of the group were peaceful. They staged draft-card burnings to protest the war. They did sit-ins to take over campus administration buildings. They marched and rallied.

Benavides said that if they took over a campus building today, they’d send in the SWAT team.

But Benavides, Toombs and Lewis have fashioned their campus groups on the model of the peaceful wing of the group.

“Education is a right,” Benavides said.

Toombs said that discrimination can’t be tolerated.

But none proposed any violent action to achieve their goals.

On July 27, SDS is sponsoring a conference on Islamophobia and the New McCarthyism at UTA. They’re working on a women’s conference in August and hope to host the national convention in October. David Taffet, who wrote this article, was a member of SDS at SUNY Albany in the early 1970s.

—  John Wright