January 30, 2002
Winter Olympics First To Welcome Gays
The Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, next month will be the first to open its arms to the gay community.
Organisers of the 2002 Winter Olympics have actively gone out to get the gay community involved. The Salt Lake Olympic Organising Committee (SLOC) invited two members of the community, Michael Marriott and Laura Milliken Gray to the group’s "Volunteer Work Group" to get gays involved.
" Mike[‘s] and my appointment to the Volunteer Work Group shows a new level of inclusiveness for the gay and lesbian community in Utah, as well as nationally and internationally. Utah’s growing gay and lesbian community is energetic, well organised, and is participating positively in the Olympic games and in Utah at large," Gray told Canadian gay site, 365gay.com. "Gay men and lesbians are volunteering their time at the games, opening their homes for the famillies and partners of Olympic athletes, and are serving on a SLOC committee. Our community has arrived and has taken its place at the table," Marriott added.
(Ed note: this is a long way from 1984 when the intenational Olympic committee went all the way the the US Surpeme Court to prevent gays from calling their new sports event the ‘Gay Olympics’ . Instead it was renamed the ‘Gay Games’.)
February 4, 2002
Latino gays are finding life a little easier (in Southern California)
by Yvette Cabrera
They come from a culture that prefers to keep their sexual orientation hush-hush–the type of suffocating environment where townsfolk point fingers and cluck disapprovingly because a person is gay or lesbian. It’s a culture that sends them fleeing from Latin America, into what they believe will be the welcoming arms of U.S. society.
" All the messages about gays in Latin American countries are negative messages," says Juan Martin Castillo, bilingual project coordinator for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, of Orange County. Hispanic gays are ostracized by a macho culture that dictates men should be strong, silent, sexually potent partners with the opposite sex but certainly not the same sex, Castillo says. They are told they are sick, they are sinners and they are going to hell. They even face resistance from Catholic teachings, which disapprove of homosexuality, he says.
" They come fleeing from their sexual orientation. They come as if to hide here because in their countries they aren’t accepted," says Castillo, also the HIV programs coordinator at the Delhi Community Center in Santa Ana. So imagine their disappointment, their anger, their frustration in finding the same resistance among U.S. Latinos. Back in the 1990s, I met playwright, poet and performing artist Luis Alfaro during a performance at my college. I was impressed by his in-your-face humor and candid observances of life’s ironies. But most of all I felt the deep pain he projected after being rejected by the Latino community because he was gay. Later, as I followed his career, I would recall Alfaro’s sadness when I read of other artists calling Alfaro a plague on the Latino community. How could our culture, based on a religion that preaches acceptance, cast out a brilliant artist? The rejection wasn’t limited to Alfaro. For many years, though Latino gays and lesbians worked in our midst, lived in our neighborhoods, I saw other Latinos deny their existence, turn them away, close the door.
That is, until, recently. Last fall, Showtime’s "Resurrection Blvd.," a drama about an East L.A. Mexican family, featured an episode about a Latino coming out of the closet. "Saliendo" or "Coming out," as the episode was titled, revolved around Tommy Corrales (Doug Spain) and the Thanksgiving weekend where he revealed to his parents that he is gay. Last month, PFLAG of Orange County, which for 20 years has facilitated the coming-out process for gays and lesbians, held its first regular meeting for Spanish-speaking members. It’s the first PLFAG en Español in the nation. And just a few weeks ago, on his Saturday-afternoon radio talk show "Café California," host Cris Franco moderated a debate on gay and lesbian marriage rights, featuring an all-Latino panel. Describing the topic as unmined territory, Franco says he was inspired to do the show, having never seen the topic broached from the Latino perspective and in English. "We find ourselves in an American society where it should be all right to talk about these things," Franco says. "But our culture is still with us, which is the purpose of Café California."
Latinos, he says, aren’t like Irish or Italian immigrants. Because of the proximity of Latin American countries, there is a constant influx of new immigrants who keep the culture alive. "Even though we’re being inundated by American culture, we still hold on to our culture," Franco says. Case in point: An electronic e-poll conducted by Café California and the Web site LatinoLA.com (http://www.LatinoLA.com) asked Southern California residents, "Do you find American Latino culture to be more, less, or equally accepting of homosexuals than the U.S. predominantly Anglo culture?" The results: 9 percent said American Latino culture is more accepting; 75 percent said it was less accepting; and 16 percent said it was equally accepting. There are many Latinos who would agree with Franco’s panelist, Art Pedroza Jr., a Republican activist in Orange County, who spoke against teaching about homosexual issues in our schools. But as Franco also points, more and more Latinos are beginning to speak up and counter the Pedrozas of the community by teaching tolerance of sexual orientation. He received many e-mails from viewers who expressed the need to break down the walls of silence.
The cultural barriers may take generations to overcome, but as Joshua Stern, writer and supervising producer for "Resurrection Blvd." discovered, even just placing the issue in the open helps overcome the silence. After a special screening of the episode at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Stern says several gay Latinos approached him and told him the show was like a replica of their own lives. A few teens also confided they were going to watch the show with their parents to gauge their reaction. The episode’s inspiration came from creator and executive producer Dennis Leoni, whose brother was gay and died of AIDS. Stern says he tried not to end the episode with a conveniently wrapped conclusion. "It was quite a fissure within this ("Resurrection Blvd.") family that they will have to deal with this season, and ending it that way to me spoke to real life," Stern says. (Homosexuality) is not a topic that’s easy for anybody, in any culture, to talk to with their parents."
February 13, 2002
Rabbis in the Middle On Homosexual Issues Conservatives Debate Ordination of Gays
by Alan Cooperman
Three hundred and fifty rabbis from the Conservative branch of Judaism are in Washington for a convention this week, and a bunch of them have slipped off to the movie. Not the movies. The movie: "Trembling Before G-d," a documentary about gay male and lesbian Orthodox Jews that has caused a furor in the Orthodox community in the United States but ultimately may have more impact on the much larger Conservative movement.
The rabbinical word of mouth is very good. "Poignant," says Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. "Very touching," says Rabbi Kassel Abelson, chairman of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. "Very powerful," says Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism in Bel Air, Calif. They should know, because all three are major players in the long-running debate within the Conservative movement over whether to ordain gay men and lesbians as rabbis and perform commitment ceremonies for gay couples.
Homosexuality is not a hot issue for the other main branches of American Judaism, the Orthodox and Reform. At theaters in Baltimore and some other U.S. cities, Orthodox protesters have denounced "Trembling Before G-d," along with homosexuality in general, as an abomination. Orthodox rabbis, with very few exceptions, are not bending on this question. The Book of Leviticus forbids homosexuality, and that’s the end of the matter. The Reform movement, on the other hand, already ordains gay men and lesbians as rabbis.
Many Reform rabbis also perform commitment ceremonies. That leaves the Conservative movement to struggle – alone among Jewish groups, though in plenty of company with Methodists and other Protestant denominations – with its orientation toward sexual orientation. Leaflets advertising "Trembling Before G-d" are piled on the registration desk for the convention, held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Conservative movement.
Founded in 1902 by Solomon Schechter, a Romanian-born Jewish scholar, the movement claims 44 percent of all American Jews who belong to synagogues. Reform congregations account for 46 percent and Orthodox for fewer than 10 percent. Gay issues are not on the convention’s agenda. But most evenings this week, Conservative rabbis wearing knitted yarmulkes in a blaze of colors – red, white and blue now vies for popularity with the Israeli flag’s light blue and white – stroll or taxi from the Marriott down Connecticut Avenue to Visions Cinema to see "Trembling Before G-d."
The documentary, which filmmaker Sandi Simcha DuBowski took six years to put together, is an emotional portrait of Orthodox Jews who have been shunned by their families and religious communities because they are gay. The Conservative rabbis are quick to point out that this is not the problem their movement faces. More than a decade ago, they adopted a resolution welcoming gays into Conservative synagogues, abhorring violence against homosexuals and supporting their full civil equality.
" Within our movement, there is no excommunication of gays and lesbians. They are accepted as individuals," Abelson says. "The question is, do we ordain them as rabbis, and do we sanctify this type of relationship?" What "Trembling Before G-d" contributes to this debate is heartfelt testimony that there are Jews who are both traditionally observant and homosexual, and who cannot give up either their Judaism or their sexual orientation, even though some try. Why can’t such a person be a rabbi?
In a hallway outside a ballroom where other rabbis are discussing "the synagogue of the future," Schorsch, the seminary chancellor, looks pained – and gives two answers. "One is practical: There is no doubt that such a step would fracture the movement, and in a very severe way. If you want to see the end of the Conservative movement, that’s the step to take now," he says. The other reason, Schorsch says, is "theoretical." It would require a major break from Halakha, or Jewish law, as understood for many centuries. "For me, personally, it raises the question of whether you can be politically liberal and religiously conservative," he says. "You will find many Conservative Jews supporting domestic partnership and gay rights, but the movement is different."
Schorsch acknowledges that the majority of students at his seminary favor ordination of homosexuals. "They come from American universities and they reflect those values–multiculturalism and no discrimination, a reluctance to make distinctions," he says. Dorff, the California rabbi, is one of the prime movers for change. As a young rabbi in 1973, he first counseled a gay man who was also an observant Jew. "We talked for three hours, and he gave me an education about what it is like [to be gay and religious], and for the first time, maybe the only time, in my life, I was suddenly ashamed of my tradition," Dorff says. Dorff and a few other Conservative rabbis have tried to find a way to reconcile homosexuality and the Bible. In 1989, Rabbi Bradley Artson of Los Angeles wrote a rabbinical opinion arguing that loving, monogamous homosexual relationships did not exist until the 19th century. In biblical times, Artson wrote, homosexual relationships were of three types – cultic, oppressive or licentious – and that is why Leviticus condemned them.
Today, he said, Judaism should judge homosexual relationships just as it does heterosexual relationships, and approve those that are loving and monogamous. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards debated that opinion, and several opposing ones, for two years in a series of meetings that Dorff calls "the most gut-wrenching discussions I’ve ever had." Ultimately, the committee of 25 rabbis rejected Artson’s argument but approved four other opinions, including one by Dorff, who argued that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice for most gays. "I said the God I believe in is not so cruel as to create people who can never have legitimate sex in their lives," he recalls.
In a consensus document, however, the committee decided that Conservative rabbis should not perform homosexual commitment ceremonies and that seminaries should not "knowingly" ordain gay men and lesbians. The result, Dorff said, is a "don’t ask, don’t tell" situation in which several students have gone through the seminary and later, after ordination, have revealed their homosexuality. The movement has not tried to remove them, although in at least one instance it refused to place such a rabbi in a permanent job, and he ended up leaving the rabbinate.
The conservatives among the Conservatives argue that the majority of rabbis feel the issue has been settled. "It is an ongoing subject of debate, obviously. But I do not sense a tremendous or even widespread push to change the traditional position," said Rabbi Joel Meyers, the Rabbinical Assembly’s executive vice president and top staff official. Meyers notes that several of the Orthodox rabbis who appear in "Trembling Before G-d" expressed "compassion and caring" for gays, but that none suggested changing Jewish law. "They didn’t see a way out of this, and neither do we," he says. "We may be dealing with an issue that only generational change will affect."
February 12, 2002
" Wedding bells for Adam & Steve-what is "created equal"?
by Richard McPike
From Vermont to California, and Germany to the Netherlands, a battle is raging for equality. A topic of great contention poses questions that cut to the core of what is meant when Americans say they believe in fairness and the concept that all men are "created equal."
The issue at hand is gay marriage and the movements to legalize it. In April 2001, the Netherlands became the first nation to offer civil marriage to all its citizens, though Denmark and Norway have long had marriage-like institutions for same-sex couples. Germany followed suit last August. And of course, in the United States, there’s Vermont, home of the gay civil union (a marriage by any other name). It is time for the rest of the United States to follow Vermont’s lead.
As we move into the 21st century our nation must cast away this one last "acceptable" bigotry and offer the legal recognition and protection present in heterosexual marriages to all Americans. Even as progressive nations and communities around the world move forward on this issue, members of America’s intolerant fringe are seeking to warp the Constitution to block gay relationships from ever gaining any sort of recognition.
But the problem with movements like the Federal Marriage Amendment is that there are no good arguments in favor of continuing America’s current discriminatory practices and countless arguments in favor of changing them. A decade ago, this was a non-issue. The very idea of allowing gay Americans to marry would have been absurd. It is a statement to the rapidity with which gays are moving into America’s mainstream that this subject has so quickly come in from the cold.
And now that the issue is here, all Americans must decide where they stand, either on the side of equality for all or on the side of continued discrimination. From a libertarian standpoint, there is no issue to debate. All arguments against extending recognition to long-term gay relationships hinge on either religious presuppositions (which have no business being used to create laws) or dire warnings of the destruction of modern society should gays be allowed to wed (which is just hysterical nonsense). The archconservative movement that decries the idea of recognizing gay unions tends to base much of its position upon particular denominations’ interpretation of the Christian Bible. Religion is a good thing. Like marriage, it is a stabilizing institution within society. Everyone should have a religion; but no one should try to force their religious beliefs on the rest of the nation, which is what Christian fundamentalists aim to do when attempting to force the government to deny gay relationships equal legal recognition.
Given the facts that not all Christian scholars agree that the Bible condemns homosexuality and that Jesus never even mentioned the topic (but did condemn the common fundamentalist problem of divorce), one has to wonder why people like Jerry Falwell expend so much on time and energy on this issue at all. Anti-gay marriage activists also like to raise the specter that allowing gays similar legal and fiscal protections as married straight Americans would undermine "normal" marriage and perhaps even "recruit" more gays.
Of course, in a world where the divorce rate is close to 50 percent, one must wonder how the institution could possibly be debased any further. In fact, the argument can be made that gay marriages could be more resilient than the current heterosexual equivalent. Since access to the institution would be a hard-fought victory, there’s a good chance gays who marry would be far more willing than straights to stick it out through thick and thin.
In Denmark, where a marriage-style institution has been available for years, the "divorce" rate for Adam and Steve is only 20 percent of that for Adam and Eve. And as for the extension of marriage rights being an attempt by gays to "recruit," one would hope that by now the myth that being gay is a chosen condition would have long since faded. Homosexuality is an orientation, not a choice, as any gay person you ask would gladly to tell you. And wouldn’t they know better than anyone? And let us quickly dismiss the nonsense extremist Christians spread about gay marriage leading to the legalization of incest or pedophilia. Gay marriages would be between two non-related consenting adults, which is not true for incestuous or pedophiliac relationships.
That some anti-gay activists even attempt to correlate these situations strains their credibility beyond the breaking point. The argument for gay marriage is very simple: the government should not be involved in deciding who people love or with whom they can spend their lives. And if the government is going to provide special legal and tax benefits to one group (long-term heterosexual couples), it is incumbent upon it to make such benefits available to all. That’s what "equal protection" is all about. To do anything less is to enshrine bigotry within our legal code, and no nation claiming to be democratic can allow such an inequity to persist. America prides itself on being a nation that is accepting, a place where people are judged by the content of their character, not labels affixed to them based on race, religion or (increasingly) orientation. The fact that gays and lesbians are increasingly moving into the mainstream is a testament to the progress of America’s tolerance.
But cloistered communities are very different from conventional society, and as gays and lesbians enter the mainstream it is in everyone’s best interest to provide as many mechanisms as possible to imbue gay life with the stability, recognition and dignity we have previously reserved only for straight life. Chief among these mechanisms is the institution of marriage.
Gay marriage would help stabilize gay culture as it becomes mainstream, and thus benefit all Americans. And as for the Christian fundamentalists, let them teach what they will about homosexuality. The same laws that prevent them from forcing their beliefs on the rest of the nation prevent the government from forcing them to recognize or perform gay weddings. Separation between church and state goes both ways. In the end the issue comes down to the simple fact that, despite any religious qualms, it is the duty of our government to equally protect all people in this nation. Regardless of race. Regardless of religion. Regardless of sexual orientation.
February 25, 2002
Mormon Family Values Include Gay Son
Mormon Family Values: David and Carlie Hardy were the perfect Mormon couple building the perfect Mormon legacy in their mecca, Salt Lake City, Utah. Then they found out their son was gay.
by Katherine Rosman
David and Carlie Hardy were the perfect Mormon couple building the perfect Mormon legacy in their mecca, Salt Lake City, Utah. It was 1995 and David, then 42, received simultaneous boosts in his professional and religious life: As an in-house attorney, he had taken a private startup company public so successfully that he was now able to open his own solo practice. At the same time, he had been called to serve as a bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose ministry is drawn from its membership. Carlie, 41, was fulfilling her religious destiny as well by giving birth to and then raising six children strictly within the LDS’s rules.
To affirm the family’s devotion to the church before David’s new hectic schedule began to keep him from home, the couple took a pilgrimage with their three eldest children. Mom and the kids retraced the footsteps of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem as described in the Scriptures, and then met Dad in France, the country where he as a young man had served the two-year proselytizing mission required of all devout Mormons, and more recently had spent countless days lobbying to bring the 1998 winter Olympics to Salt Lake City. The trip culminated in Austria, where Carlie had studied on an exchange program from Brigham Young University. There, in a garden in the hills above Salzburg, the family’s bliss was shattered.
Judd, the Hardys’ 13-year-old son, confided to his father that he feared he was "same-sex attracted," the LDS euphemism for homosexual. In Mormondom, homosexuality is literally unspeakable; there is no greater taboo in this institution, in which even relatively benign substances such as caffeine are forbidden.
" My world just caved in," David recalls. He told his son what he had been taught by the church – that same-sex attraction was infinitely "curable," merely a phase.
Upon returning to Salt Lake, David drove straight to his church office. By this point in his life, he well understood that the church often preached to its members through speeches long ago delivered and transcribed into LDS-issued pamphlets – many of which are actual doctrine. He needed to find the instruction regarding same-sex attraction. At the office, he located a handful of pamphlets addressing the issue, all of which contained fire-and-brimstone language like "Homosexuality Is Sin: Next to the crime of murder comes the sin of sexual impurity." David had read the pamphlets many years back, but rereading them while conjuring the image of his devout son, he became increasingly upset. He shoved the pamphlets deep into a drawer and focused on "curing" Judd.
That was seven years ago. Since then, David and Carlie Hardy have gone from being obedient, God-fearing church members to vocal, angry gay-rights activists who have willingly ostracized themselves from the only community they had ever known. In opening their house to outcast gay teens, and their mouths to the media, they have risked their relationships with their friends and relatives, and – if it is "God’s one true Church," as LDS members believe – their eternal souls.
Publicly, the church loves the sinner but hates the sin. "People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians," remarked LDS president Gordon B. Hinckley. "My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God."
As former insiders, the Hardys contend that the church establishment is obsessed with good press and intent upon creating an image of a mainstream Christian religion–a goal it plans to pursue as the television networks cast their soft-focus lenses on Salt Lake City during the winter Olympics this February. The Hardys, meanwhile, are determined to let the world know what lies behind the church’s rhetorical niceties. David Hardy scoffs at Hinckley’s profession of tolerance. "We were forced to make a decision that no parent should be forced to make," he says, "to abandon one’s child or one’s faith."
David Eccles Hardy and Carlie Judd Hardy are Mormon Royalty, an LDS terme d’art indicating that they descend from important historical and modern lineage – Carlie’s great-grandfather, Heber J. Grant, served as prophet and president of the church during the early twentieth century, and both David and Carlie have ancestors who were original followers of LDS founder Joseph Smith.
The Hardys married in 1975, just after David completed his missionary service. He earned a law degree and began a steady rise in the corporate world of Utah’s burgeoning tech sector. Carlie oversaw their children’s immersion in the church – before-school Scripture study, Eagle Scouts, religious classes, community service, all in addition to the regular Sunday services. As with all faithful LDS members, they gave 10 percent of the family’s pretax income to the church.
Judd, the third child and oldest son, was a slight, fair-haired boy with noteworthy devotion to the church and its gospel. But he was different from other boys in his neighborhood. "Despite my hours coaching him, he was utterly uninterested in sports and ‘boy games,’" his dad remembers. Instead, Judd liked to play with his sisters’ dolls and to perform songs. David and Carlie secretly worried about their son’s effeminate mannerisms but tried to ignore their concerns. The idea of having a son with "same-sex attraction" was too shameful to consider. "A Mormon mother is told to have kids and stay home," Carlie explains. "There is nothing left for a mother’s self-esteem. You are judged on how your family turns out."
So when Judd came out to David in Austria in 1995, and David shared the information with Carlie, they did what they had always done – they turned to the church. They enrolled Judd in a stint of reparative therapy (which purports to counsel people in "overcoming" their homosexuality). They remained stoic as they read the research attributing homosexual tendencies to an overbearing mother and emotionally unavailable father.
One of the pamphlets they found advises church leaders on how to act if a member confesses same-sex attraction. It reads, "God has promised to help those who earnestly strive to live his commandments," and it says members should be reassured that for those who repent enough, "heterosexual feelings emerge." This pamphlet is only available to leadership. An average member receives more explicit instruction, like that in the text of a speech given by a former president and prophet: "Satan tells his victims that it is a natural way of life; that it is normal; that perverts are a different kind of people born ‘that way’ and that they cannot change. This is a base lie…. it were better that such a man were never born." The Hardys were most disturbed by the writings of Boyd K. Packer, an apostle second in line for the church presidency whose public words constitute doctrine. In one oft-cited speech, Packer endorsed violence as a response to a perceived homosexual advance. "You must protect yourself," he preached.
The more Carlie and David turned to the church for help, the more its practices frustrated them. They were outraged to learn that church funds were being diverted to support movements in Hawaii and Alaska aimed at keeping same-sex marriage illegal. Meanwhile, their young son was asking his parents to disconnect their cable and Internet service so that he would not be tempted by any alluring images of men. He was fasting and praying so that he could live within the boundaries of the church, yet doctrine labeled him a servant of the Devil.
In early 1999 David was reaching his breaking point and asked to be released early from his role as bishop. Soon after, Carlie attended an annual interview with the family’s local ecclesiastical authority, D. Miles Holman. (Citing clerical requirements of confidentiality, Holman declined to comment.) Carlie told Holman that total loyalty to the church’s principles was increasingly difficult for her and that she was uncertain she could encourage a lifetime of celibacy for Judd. "I don’t think it would be healthy for my son for me to suggest that he never have any intimacy," she recalls telling him. According to Carlie, Holman told her there was only one solution: Judd had to remain celibate for his life, and she and David should keep his "problem" a secret. "He said, ‘Hey, isn’t this homosexual issue easy?’"
Carlie walked out to her car and turned on her mobile phone. It rang immediately. One of her children said, "Mom, where have you been? We just had to take Judd to the hospital." After sitting through an LDS lesson on Sodom and Gomorrah, Judd had gone home and slashed his wrists.
The suicide attempt, says Judd, now a sophomore studying theater at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, "wasn’t [done] out of despair as much as it was [done] almost out of duty. It felt to me as if I was in this loop that I couldn’t end. The church wanted me to change, and I couldn’t get past that. And I couldn’t change, and I couldn’t get past that…. It was a quick resolution before doing the damage of falling into a life of sin. I believed too strongly in the church and the church’s values, and I placed those above my own life." Whatever it represented for Judd, for David and Carlie the attempt signaled that they could no longer rely on guidance from the church. "We were faithful members," Carlie says, "and then we ran into this situation and no one was there for us." They told Judd there was nothing wrong with him, that he was not going to have to choose between affection or damnation, and they yanked him out of church activities.
Although they experienced massive spiritual and emotional turmoil, they still could not fathom formally separating from the LDS – "anathema," David describes it – so they continued to take Judd’s three younger brothers to church. One day in early 1999 James Hardy asked his mom to call a family meeting. Carlie remembers that her son said, "I don’t understand, you keep saying that Judd doesn’t have to go to church because he’s gay and that’s an extenuating circumstance. But don’t you think the fact that I have an older brother I honor, respect and look up to, and this is a church that doesn’t have a place for him – isn’t that an extenuating circumstance?" He said, "It is for me and I won’t be going back." That was the watershed moment, Carlie says. "All of a sudden David and I looked at each other and said, "You know what? We’re not going either. If this is an organization that will not support this amazing individual who is our son, Judd Eccles Hardy, then we will not be going either."
It was October 2000, the eve of the church’s semiannual General Conference, for which clergy and members from around the world descend upon their religious capital to reaffirm the authority of the church leadership. David Hardy stood nervously in his office, a nineteenth-century carriage house just eight blocks from LDS headquarters. He and Carlie had invited the local print, television and radio media for a press conference unlike any other held in Salt Lake City in recent memory. They were going to speak out publicly to decry church policy. "I was scared witless," says David. "I don’t think a former bishop has ever done anything like that before."
The Hardys had also invited more than a handful of their peers, members of Family Fellowship, a support group for current and former Mormon parents of gay children. But except for the four lapsed Mormons who attended, the Hardys stood alone. (Since LDS members believe God literally speaks through the church’s prophet and president, dissent, or support of dissenters, is tantamount to heresy.)
" We are here today as members of the LDS church and parents of gay children," David began. He had already dispersed to the various reporters copies of the pamphlets that, he asserted, promote violence against homosexuals. He pointed out that the church had reissued literature condoning violence as a response to homosexuals at the same time that Russell Hendersen, an LDS member, was being tried for the murder of Matthew Shepard (the church has since excommunicated Hendersen). David asked that Packer or a church spokesman avow or reject the language in the pamphlets – the only existing church literature directly addressing homosexuality.
After David finished his remarks, he and Carlie answered a few questions before the swell of reporters walked to the LDS administrative building in pursuit of a church response. (A spokesman issued a statement later that evening: "These are individuals who are children of God. We love them; we respect them. This church is a church of inclusion, not exclusion, and we welcome them and want them to be a part of the church.")
The Hardys’ public criticism of the church has caused rifts between them and relatives, friends and colleagues – and has created tension for their eldest daughter, who remains active in the church. But even as their community banishes them, they continue in their quest to compel the media and, they hope, the church to acknowledge the struggles associated with being a homosexual in a community of Saints.
They do so in several ways. First, they fund diverse cultural fare in otherwise archconservative Utah. Last year they financed local stage productions of The Laramie Project, which focuses on the aftermath of Shepard’s murder (a film adaptation debuted last month at the Sundance Film Festival), and Confessions of a Mormon Boy, a one-man show detailing actor/writer Steven Fales’s journey from marriage and fatherhood to reparative therapy and excommunication. (Confessions opens Off Broadway next fall.) They also open their home for three hours on the first Sunday of each month to young Mormon men and women struggling to confront their homosexuality – and any heterosexuals wanting to show support. Carlie is also planning a series of mountain retreats for those dealing with issues involving homosexuality in themselves or in their families.
Along the way, they have achieved a certain visibility in the press. Last Easter the Salt Lake Tribune published an Op-Ed piece by David; that same month, the CBS affiliate ran an interview with Carlie after she and David spoke at a candlelight vigil remembering the "Mormon Gay Suicides." In August they landed significant mention in a Newsweek article on gays and the Boy Scouts. Their squeaky-clean image has helped. "If there were a propaganda center in the church, this is the family they would choose," says Doug Wortham, a board member of Unity Utah, a gay and lesbian political action committee. "It’s a pretty rare story to find a family like this," he says.
As for the Hardys’ most vocal goal, an official endorsement or condemnation of the pamphlets, they’ve just recently succeeded: Harold Brown, the church’s official spokesman on homosexuality, said of the pamphlets to The Nation, "I wouldn’t even want to suggest that they were outdated or not in use." However, he says, "If you [take] the whole context of what has been written in the church, I think you’ll find it’s a voice of love and concern for people…. What we teach are the standards of morality that we believe will lead to happiness." (Boyd K. Packer was not available for comment.)
Brown says no amount of press attention or activism is going to influence God to change the rules regarding homosexuality–as when He outlawed polygamy in 1890 or gave equal rights to blacks in 1978. "Being black is not a sin," he explains. "Being immoral is."
The Hardys do not appear deterred. Their work fighting for the acceptance of gays is, in a sense, their new ministry; clearly it has helped fill the void created by their exit from the church. Judd is proud of his parents’ commitment. "They’ve stopped talking about Christianity and charity and religion," he notes, "and they’ve started practicing it." At the same time, their activism irks him because he wants to be known by the world for what he does with his life, not for what happened to him in the past.
Honoring Judd’s wishes, his parents ask his permission before speaking to the press. Usually, Judd rolls his eyes and then obliges them. Despite the unusual circumstances, there is something familiar about this dynamic–he is a regular kid, annoyed and embarrassed by his parents.
To Carlie and David, that is a blessing.
February 25, 2002
Boomerang in Suppressing Gay Art
by Holland Cotter
In 1933 a young New York artist named Paul Cadmus was hired by the Public Works of Art Project to produce paintings. The only requirements were that the pictures be portable and deal with American themes. What he painted was "The Fleet’s In!" a cartoonish vignette showing sailors on shore leave carousing in Riverside Park with a bevy of picaresque women – some of whom could be men in drag – and at least one flamboyantly effeminate man.
When "The Fleet’s In!" appeared in an exhibition of federally financed work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington in 1934, naval officials went ballistic, and it was yanked from the show. Once out of sight, though, the picture became sensationally visible. It was reproduced in newspapers and magazines across the country. Cadmus was a star who got considerable mileage out of inviting and evading questions about the homoerotic drift of his work.
The Cadmus episode was one of who knows how many examples of art with a homosexual content provoking repression. Sometimes censorship is effective: art is destroyed, artists are reduced to concealment or silence. But in other instances it backfires, causing an image to get wider attention than it would ever have if ignored and encouraging further subversive art.
A handful of such cases from the Cadmus episode to recent assaults on the National Endowment for the Arts are the subject of a smartly written, intensively researched and vigilantly argued new book, "Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in 20th-Century American Art" by Richard Meyer, an art historian teaching at the University of Southern California.
The book had its source in a doctoral thesis, but for the most part it wears its scholarship lightly. Whether analyzing a painting or the words of a political speech, Mr. Meyer comes across as a cool but engaged observer. Most important, he’s a good storyteller, and he has fascinating stories to tell.
From Cadmus he leaps to Andy Warhol in 1964 when he finished a commissioned piece for the facade of the New York State pavilion at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow. The work, "Thirteen Most Wanted Men," was a mural-size composite of enlarged police mug shots, mostly of young and good-looking accused felons. Almost as soon as it was installed on the pavilion, it was painted over and obliterated.
Fair officials said that Warhol had been disappointed with his work and wanted to replace it. Warhol, cagily diplomatic, floated out an equally dubious story: some of the men depicted had been cleared of criminal charges, so the piece was no longer "valid." Secretly he blamed the fair’s president, Robert Moses, for the defacement. Others said that Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller had found the mug shots out of tune with the fair’s "Olympics of Progress" spirit.
What nobody, including Warhol, mentioned was the implicit homoeroticism of the work. From a gay point of view, the looming, unsmiling male faces conformed to a classic model of sexual "rough trade." Who were these men really "wanted" by? Presumably Warhol himself, whose homosexuality was widely recognized but who chose not to acknowledge it overtly while he was shaping his art career.
Robert Mapplethorpe built a reputation precisely on the explicitly gay content of his photography, which came under aggressive political attack in the 1980’s. But here, as with Cadmus, censorship brought rewards. When the hapless Corcoran abruptly canceled a Mapplethorpe show in 1989, the story was reported as a scandal, and the artist became a household name. A year later he died of AIDS. By then the epidemic had generated both a gay activist movement in which Mapplethorpe himself showed little interest and a flood of identity-based art, which became a target of political and religious groups.
Mr. Meyer concludes his book with one of the most powerful figures from those years, the artist and writer David Wojnarowicz. Wojnarowicz sued the American Family Association for libel when it circulated edited versions of his art to church leaders and Congress. He won the case and was awarded a single dollar in damages, which he insisted on receiving in the form of a check. He intended to collage it into a future work, providing concrete proof that repression sustains what it seeks to destroy. All of Mr. Meyer’s stories, including this one, are complicated, and he presents them that way. His nuanced take on Mapplethorpe, an apolitical artist cast in the role of martyr, is astute. And when he touches on the subject of the commodification of a "gay lifestyle" and the conservatism that it has spawned, he enters territory that needs serious, hard-nosed exploration.
The book’s major flaw is its almost complete omission of women. Mr. Meyer acknowledges this up front, saying that lesbian artists have a distinctive history – it is, in fact, a history of forced invisibility – which requires a full-scale study of its own. Fortunately, such a study was recently initiated in "Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History" by Harmony Hammond (Rizzoli International), an invaluable, episodic survey of work since 1970.
In writing about AIDS and the 1990’s at the end of his book, Mr. Meyer’s scholarly composure wavers. Like anyone who had a personal stake in that time, he has feelings that are still raw. Wojnarowciz’s transcendently outraged art clearly moves him deeply. Pernicious right-wing blather makes his blood boil. This is good, because censorship is still with us. In a footnote on Page 333 of "Outlaw Representation" we learn that just after the book had gone into production, the London office of Oxford University Press told Mr. Meyer that one of its illustrations – Mapplethorpe’s picture of a nude boy named Jesse McBride – would likely run into censorship trouble in Britain. After Mr. Meyer insisted that the picture be kept in, the London office not only refused to distribute the book in Britain or any other foreign market but also severed all formal and legal ties to it, making Mr. Meyer’s work an important part of the very history it records.
March 6, 2002
Pride & PrejudiceUSC’s transgender students face stereotypes and discrimination as they pursue their education and personal identity
by Esme Bermudez
Contributing Writer Shauna Madrigal lost all of her straight male friends when she returned to USC after the summer of 1999. Her male colleagues seemed uncomfortable around her and she was shy about walking in the quad. Just months before, Shauna Madrigal had been Sean Morrow.
She returned to the engineering department as a woman. She took her chances, knowing her gender change would make life more difficult. "I never had any thoughts of going back," said Madrigal, a computer science major. "I just thought ‘I want to be me, and this is more me than it’s ever been before.’"
Madrigal is one of an estimated 30 transgender students on campus. Although organizations such as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Assembly and the Center for Women and Men supported them, transgender students often face discrimination and stereotypes. Support for transgender USC students has not been automatic. It wasn’t until three years ago when a transgender student asked the Center for Women and Men for support that the office began actively working with them, said Elizabeth Davenport, assistant dean for student affairs and director. The office had previously offered help, but no one contacted them.
The center also offers services for gay and lesbian students. In 1999, the GLB Student Assembly added the "T" when transgender students asked to be included. According to most members of the transgender community, the term encompasses cross-dressers, men who behave like women, women who behave like men and generally anyone whose gender identity does not conform to gender norms set by society. It includes those who are considering a sex-change operation, those who have been operated on and those who do not plan to have an operation.
There are several types of transgender people. Some dress like women, others take hormones and others have sexual reassignment surgery. Some are straight, others are bisexual and others are gay. Some are feminine, while others maintain masculine characteristics.
When Madrigal returned to school after transitioning into a woman, one professor she worked with understood, asking "OK, what do we call you?" Another professor she worked for, who was on sabbatical at the time, refused to address her gender change, would not return her calls and did not answer her e-mails, Madrigal said. The professor eventually told her he could no longer support her research, she said. "I’ve been fired twice by straight white men who can’t stand who I am," Madrigal said. "I wanted to sue for discrimination." After Madrigal told the department she planned to file a complaint with the state labor board, her tuition was reinstated and she was paid for her last month of work six months later, she said. The professor fired her strictly because of her gender change, she said.
Madrigal began dressing in her mother’s clothes when she was 8 years old. At night, she would go to bed as a boy hoping she would wake up as a girl the next morning.
Many people assume that transgender people have sex-change operations, but the surgery is relatively unimportant, said Lauren Steely, a graduate student who transitioned to female a few months before starting at USC last fall. In the past, transgender people were categorized as either pre-operation or post-operation, but now a large number of people in the transgender community are "no-operation." "The surgery is just the icing on the cake," Steely said. "It’s pretty insignificant. Who really looks down there? Maybe a handful of people are going to know what’s between your legs, but for the vast majority of people it doesn’t make a difference." Steely may consider surgery in the future, but is concerned with how involved and how expensive it is. For now, she is more interested in being out and being able to express herself however she wants, rather than worrying about what is between her legs.
Madrigal makes a point of not telling people what her genitals are to force them to deal with her at face value. Pronouns are extremely important to her, and when people use "he" or "him," it is like hearing nails on a chalkboard, she said. "Gender doesn’t equal genitals," Madrigal said. "People only ask if you’ve had surgery when they question whether you’re transgender. That is what is used as the defining point, but gender is based on social issues. "When you see a girl, you know it’s a girl because she has breasts, no facial hair, and her name is Mary. You just assume she has a vagina although you never see it."
When Madrigal was a man, she felt attracted to women, but did not get much attention from them. Looking back, Madrigal said she thinks it was because she acted too feminine as a man. She began dating other men, but was not happy with being a man herself. Since her transition, she has dated men and women.
Gender and sexuality are separate issues, said Mary Andres, clinical psychologist for Student Counseling Services. "How you feel about yourself is different from who you are sexually and (who you are) erotically drawn to," Andres said. "Just because (transgender people) are changing one aspect doesn’t mean they have to switch the other." Steely, who identifies herself as bisexual, said she generally prefers women but does get hit on by both sexes. When she was a man, she was only attracted to women, but after her transition she began to feel attracted to men as well. "Going through a gender change makes you realize how superficial gender is, and knowing that, gender is not part of my criteria anymore of who I can be attracted to," Steely said. "In general I am attracted to the person, not the gender role."
Some male-to-female transgender people are expected to act very feminine in order to pass as women. Steely, however, said that not all transgender people fit into the box of what a girl is expected to be. "I’m not really girly," Steely said. "That’s just not me. I dress really butch. Some days I try to pass (as a woman) and it feels good, but other days I don’t. I’m just trying to express how I feel that day." Male-to-female transgender people, who Madrigal refers to as "trannies," do not fit into a girl box, stay home, bake cookies and join the PTA, Madrigal said. She said although she is a woman, she holds on to some of the male characteristics she was brought up with. "Today’s tranny will step outside the box and say, ‘I want to be me,’" Madrigal said. "A lot of my feelings and attitudes aren’t stereotypically female."
Society does not easily accept challenges to gender norms, Davenport said. Everyday tasks that most people take for granted, such as using the bathroom, are sometimes obstacles facing transgender students. "(Students) should go through their day and imagine what it would be like if (they) had to be the other gender," Davenport said. "There is no reason for why there should be separate bathrooms for different genders. At home we all share the same bathroom, but in public we are forced to decide which bathroom to go to – female or male." Madrigal said when she first transitioned she was afraid she would not be able to pass as a woman. She said she would hike across campus to use the women’s restroom on the second floor of Topping because she knew it was usually empty. Steely said she was not passing too well one day, and a woman in the bathroom gave her an odd look as she was washing her hands. "She looked at me and said ‘Mm-hmm,’" Steely said. "I wanted to tell her, ‘I don’t bite.’"
Madrigal and Steely said that, overall, other women have been very understanding and have not had any bad experiences with them. The media tends to portray a negative image of what transgender is, Andres said. During gay pride parades, for example, the cameras focus on flamboyant people and pull away from those who look like the boy and girl next door. This focus has left some with an incorrect impression that most transgender people are drag queens, she said. Madrigal lives in West Hollywood and said although prostitution exists in her community, she is offended when cars stop her and assume she is a prostitute.
Biology Versus Preference
There is much to learn about the biological basis of transgender before it is fully understood. Early childhood rearing may be a factor, and there are a few biological theories that attempt to explain what causes people to be transgender, said Irving Biederman, professor of psychology. "When the fetus is in the uterus, it’s washed in a bath of hormones, " Biederman said. "If it’s a female fetus and testosterone is released, although it may be XX, it may become lesbian. It could eventually affect the person’s sexual preference." Ruth Wood, assistant professor of cell and neurobiology, said research on whether people are born transgender remains unclear. "In a very small minority, we may know because there could be an endocrine imbalance that may pre-dispose the individual," Wood said.
" In most cases though, we don’t know because most who are transgender don’t have an imbalance, and the only way we know they are transgender is because they say they are transgender." There must be a biological reason for why people are transgender, Madrigal said. She compared them to those who are intersex – people who have traits of both male and female genitalia. "My opinion is that some transgender people are born mentally intersex," she said. "We are hard-wired to be a certain way, and your mind doesn’t always agree with your body. You have to change one, and since you just can’t change your mind, you have to change your body."
Steely said she thinks transgender does not have a biological basis and is more of a choice. "Gender is not an intrinsic part of you, it’s something you perform," she said. "It’s just changing the performance, it has little to do with biology." Steely said that although some male-to-female transgender people would get depressed if they were forced to live as a man, she would not. Although she has been happier since becoming female, she would have been content living as a man if her transition had not been possible.
Madrigal named herself after Anna Madrigal, a transsexual character in Armisted Maupin’s "A Tale of the City," whose assumed name is an anagram for "a man and a girl." "(Anna Madrigal) was a very open minded and kind landlady, and had a very easy elegance and grace that I admired," Madrigal said. She said that the first day she came to school as a woman was one of sheer terror because she thought her 6-foot-2 height, size 12 shoe and big hands would make her a target. She thought traffic would stop and people would point at her. "When you first start (to be a woman full-time), you feel like a teenage girl going through puberty all over again," Madrigal said. She usually assumes that after people have talked to her for a few minutes, they will know she is transgender.
However, she has been hurt on occasions when she sees a lightbulb go off over someone’s head and that person feels uncomfortable and walks away, she said. "I don’t mind if people are curious, but there is no good way to tell them," Madrigal said. "I can’t walk up and say, ‘Hi, my name is Shauna, and I’m transgendered.’ It is OK to be curious and ask questions. It is OK to talk to me about it. I find it hard to tell people that it is OK."
Now, after nearly three years, Madrigal said she feels fairly comfortable on campus. "Most of the students and staff have not been a problem," Madrigal said. "As long as I am dealing with people who are not connected to the ‘Boys Club’ that is the college of engineering, mostly things are quite normal. For the most part, I’m just another girl at school."
March 28, 2002
A Pakistani is Gay-Bashed in Smalltown, USA: Among the ‘American Taliban’
A Pakistani immigrant’s rosy view of freedom-loving Americans is shattered when he was frank about his homosexuality and was viciously attacked in the small Midwest town he was coming to call home.
by Ahmar Mustikhan
Piqua, Ohio – The happiness, the relief, the triumph in knowing you are out of harm’s way: only those who have escaped imminent injury by crossing borders or oceans to America can understand my elation upon reaching this land.
Though not American, I was truly proud to be in America. "Yes, children of decent fathers can turn out to be weirdos," the intelligence officer from Pakistan’s dreaded Inter-Services Intelligence agency had said to me outside my apartment in Karachi. His meaningful smile told me that Pakistan’s premier spy agency, angry over my writings against the nation’s nuclear and jihadi follies, had begun blackmailing me over my gay sexuality. Soon afterwards, I escaped to U.S. safety after winning a journalistic fellowship.
Barely 10 months later: "Jesus Loves All." A Protestant, I carried the handwritten pink placard at a nearly 1,000-strong rally of a religious leader in the local football stadium. Then, as the clerics and the gathering looked on, I spun the placard to its other side: "Gays, Lesbians Bisexuals, Transgendered and Blacks." Perhaps such in-your-face protest was wrong, but I felt justified in my anger: I went to the "religious crusade" after being badly wounded in a gay-bashing incident.
The featured speaker, whom I will not name here, lamented that "America is becoming the drug and homosexual capital of the world." I was incensed all over again; why put a person’s sexuality in the same dirty basket as drug addiction?
Imagine a man who for half of his 40 years suffered with silent shame over his same-sex preference in a Pakistani society of medieval values. I even got married, in part to conform to societal norms, but mostly to challenge my orientation and try to return to the mainstream. No dice. So in America, in celebration of my newfound personal freedom, I decided to come out of the closet. I no longer hid that I was gay. I felt safe.
But I discovered that Taliban-style attitudes are not restricted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. They exist tenaciously in American towns like this one. Sometimes tolerance prevails in small towns; other times the dark fears and hatreds of the "American Taliban"–vicious fundamentalists–are resurgent. "This town once had the reputation of being a little bit like San Francisco," said one resident, Ray C. Others agreed, recalling more live-and-let-live days. Just a block from a statue of the town’s founder had sat the town’s openly gay bar, Water-on-Main. Outside stood a statue of a female pink poodle, which relieved its bladder male-style – with one leg raised.
Those days are gone. Today, gay-bashing seems to be acceptable, and out of fear, many people here remain in the closet.
I am leaving Piqua with some fond memories, but also with a police report, and the emotional and physical scars it outlines. An officer writes of coming to the department’s lobby to hear of an assault. "Upon arriving, I made contact with Ahmar Khan … Four white males in a sports car had seen him walking and had yelled ‘hey faggot’ at him. Mr. Khan, who is openly homosexual, advised that the four males had then stopped, exited the vehicle, and one of the subjects, a white male with a muscular build, struck him in the face with a closed fist." The operation at the local hospital lasted more than two hours. My jaw was broken in two places. For 50 long days I was on a liquid diet, unable even to eat Gerber’s baby food. Those who attacked me have yet to be brought to justice.
Before leaving Pakistan, I imagined white Americans were the embodiment of liberty. Whenever I had thought of America, I thought of freedom, and when I thought of freedom, I pictured white Americans–the Founding Fathers, all U.S. presidents to date, most in Congress. And I had considered that small towns like this one must be "pure America" – standing for freedom of speech and expression since most here are white. My mistake. I don’t mistrust all white Americans now, nor all small-town Americans. I’m just much, much more careful. And I’m moving to Las Vegas.
PNS contributor Ahmar Mustikhan (email@example.com) is a dissident Pakistani writer who came to the United States on a fellowship from the Society of Environmental Journalists.
April 5, 2002
From outside the movement, Latina lesbians push for change
by Rhonda Smith
As the 36-year-old president and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Insitute, Ingrid Durán personifies the trend among Latina lesbians to work on gay civil rights issues through organizations with a broader focus than simply gay rights. Ingrid Durán believes politics can be polite, and progress is measured in inches, not miles. So perhaps that’s why the president and chief executive officer of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute is not as well known in the gay civil rights movement as other more vocal leaders. "I’m one of those people who believes things have to be done in baby steps. You have to spoon feed people things slowly," the 36-year-old lesbian said. "You can’t just bang them over the head and say, ‘Hey, you need to address this issue,’ because you won’t get anywhere."
She contrasted her style of activism to that of Mandy Carter, a longtime gay civil rights activist and another lesbian of color, who opted for what Durán termed a "confrontational" approach during the debate several years ago on the Millennium March on Washington. "To me, that doesn’t get you very far," she said. "My approach is to work through the system." During those Millennium March debates, Carter literally cursed and cried to focus attention on a movement she said lacks diversity and increasingly is being led by white gay men and lesbians. Durán, a California native who completed four years in the U.S. Marines, chose instead to serve on the board that organized the Millennium March. "I was sitting back and listening and did all my bickering to the board," she said.
" I wanted to see if I could make any inroads." In retrospect, however, Durán said Carter correctly characterized the problems. "In the end, when you saw who was coming on stage at the March, there were only a few people of color. And we had to fight to get the ones that we got up there," Durán said. "Those are some of the things that disturbed me. It just solidified for me the fact that we’re still an afterthought – as Latinos, as people of color. We’re still not looked at as part of the discussion." Outside the movement This perception of being excluded has often led Durán and other Latina lesbians to do their advocacy work for the gay civil rights movement at organizations that focus on issues beyond gay civil rights issues. "My work has always been through NOW," said Olga Vives, a 55-year-old activist originally from Cuba. Vives was elected Action Vice President for the National Organization for Women during the group’s national conference last summer. She describes herself as "a mother of three, an immigrant, a lesbian, a Hispanic, an organizer and a Midwesterner."
Before moving to Washington, D.C., to assume her latest role with NOW, Vives was a women’s rights advocate in Illinois for decades. Vives said Latina lesbians face unique cultural issues that can make their fight for social justice sometimes seem removed from the traditional gay civil rights struggle. "In the Latina community, there are issues that are very different in the sense of the roles of women and how lesbians are viewed," she said. "In that respect, I think there continues to be a need to dialogue among ourselves about the best way to advance our civil rights as Latina lesbians. "Many of us are mothers," Vives added, noting that she has two children from a heterosexual marriage and one with her lesbian partner. "Some of us come from very conservative families.
Many were underground in our own countries. So while we are all united with the gay community, we also have our own set of challenges that are unique to our group." Ingrid Rivera, the former senior field organizer for the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative at the Policy Institute of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force in New York City, echoed Vives. "Latina lesbians come with multiple identities, and because the GLBT movement has been predominantly white, we come into it not only with a queer analysis but also we have to think about racial and, at other times, economic as well as class issues," said Rivera, who recently resigned from NGLTF to work as a consultant. "Race, economic and class issues are not factored into the queer movement."
Building gay/Latino bridges
Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay political organization nationwide, has approached Durán, among other gays of color, to ask if they can help HRC strengthen its political ties to coalitions of color on Capitol Hill and beyond. "There is a need for GLBT people of color to be part of this movement, and they are," Stachelberg said. "There is shared responsibility on all sides of our movement to insure that their voices are raised and heard." Durán, who came out publicly in 1994 while working on Capitol Hill, was promoted last October to her current position at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a national nonprofit and non-partisan organization that focuses on developing young Latino political leaders. The institute is an arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
In that post, she said she has worked to get Hispanic Congress members to address issues related to HIV/AIDS. Her hope is that CHC members might also be supportive on federal legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. HRC was a sponsor in 2000 of the institute’s annual fund-raising gala, and Durán said the gay political organization had agreed to do so again in September 2001. But the gala was canceled because of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11. Durán said HRC officials have expressed interest in working with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute beyond being an event sponsor. The hope is that HRC can build stronger ties with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, like they continue to do with the Congressional Black Caucus. "I said, ‘If you guys need some help, I would be more than happy to open some doors,’" Durán said.
Leader, Latina, lesbian
Openly gay attorney Rudy Fuentes, president of Melange Global Consulting and a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 52-member board of directors, said the board voted unanimously last September to promote Durán to her current position. She had been the institute’s executive director. "There are many gay and lesbian leaders in the Latino community and beyond who are not openly gay," Fuentes said. "But Ingrid enjoys strong support from different congressional members on the board as well as from board members in the private sector and non-profit organizations." Durán has a direct and honest approach, Fuentes said. "She has a lot of integrity, so people not only like her but respect her opinion," he said, "and are confident they can depend on her reasoning and her vision."
When Durán was director of the Washington, D.C., office of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), from 1996 to 1998, she helped convince the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 30 national and regional Latino organizations, to allow the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Organization to become a member. "When people in the Latino community think of Ingrid, they think ‘leader,’ ‘Latina,’ and maybe, ‘lesbian,’" said Arturo Vargas, NALEO’s executive director. "For the most part, [her sexual orientation] does not appear to be an issue." Another Latina report "Hispanic gays in hemisphere rally in Dade County, Florida", from the Miami Herald, can be read at: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/living/columnists/steve_rothaus/4246684 .htm
April 14, 2002
News Analysis: No Easy Solution to Sexual-abuse Scandal Rocking the Roman Catholic Church
Scandal: It’s not just celibacy policy, or homosexuality, or secrecy behind crisis. But all three play a role.
by Larry B. Stammer, Times Staff Writer
The sexual-abuse scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. has prompted calls for reforms that often blame the crisis on a single issue: Celibacy. Or homosexuality. Or secrecy. Or imperious bishops. But what has made this scandal more intense and prolonged than its predecessors is the complex way each of these issues interlock.
The complexity explains why the scandal has outraged and energized such a wide range of church constituencies: Liberal Catholics believe the church can be healed by permitting married priests and the ordination of women. Ardent traditionalists who link homosexuality to sexual abuse see the scandal as a sign that the church must return to a holiness grounded in fealty to traditional teachings. Still others call for a democratization of the church so that bishops, who answer only to Pope John Paul II, will be held accountable by their dioceses. "We’ve had so much institutional culture shock that the deeper [question] is where to go from here," said Dennis Doyle, a church historian and professor at the University of Dayton i n Ohio, founded by the Marianist teacher order.
The current scandal has struck with unprecedented breadth and fury. In the last three months scores of priests from coast to coast and three bishops around the world have resigned, been fired or asked to retire. So volatile is the debate that rational discussion is impaired. "We are in a dangerous period. . . . Everyone inside and outside the church, wants to find simplistic solutions," wrote Father Stephen J. Rossetti, president of the St. Luke Institute, which treats sexually abusing priests, in the upcoming issue of the Jesuit magazine America. The church’s dilemma lies at the intersection of celibacy, homosexual and secrecy.
What one often hears is that if an offending priest had a healthy sexual outlet – in other words, a wife – he wouldn’t turn to minors for sexual gratification.
But to suggest a direct correlation between celibacy and the sexual abuse of minors is both facile and specious. Study after study demonstrate that pedophilia, an attraction to pre-pubescent children, and ephebophilia, an attraction to post-pubescent youths, more often involves heterosexual men who are friends or relatives of their victims.
In such cases, the abusers suffer from what psychologists call arrested psychosexual development. They are sexually immature. Often they have difficulty relating to and negotiating with adults. In other cases, they may have experienced feelings of abandonment and low self-esteem.
In other cases, heterosexual men have been known to molest boys, not necessarily because of latent homosexual feelings, but because they were molested when they were young. These are but a few explanations of a complex pathology. Nonetheless, celibacy can introduce added tensions in the life of a priest who is not psychologically healthy or emotionally mature.
In years past, many priests who later became offenders had moved directly from high school seminaries to graduate seminaries without the usual life experiences common to most other young men. Once in seminary, their sexual maturity was further impeded as the church inculcated its future priests with the value and necessity of celibacy. Celibacy is seen as a way of "donating" oneself completely to God and to those to whom the priest ministers as an "icon of Christ." Seminarians have been known to surreptitiously explore their sexuality, but several priests said in interviews with The Times that they didn’t want to risk their future ordination by getting caught. They waited until after they were ordained. (None of these priests are known to have ever been accused of sexual abuse of minors.)
Celibacy is difficult under the best of circumstances. Richard Sipe, a former priest who has closely studied the issue, reports that at any given time only 50% of priests are celibate. Over a priest’s lifetime, only 2% are consistently celibate, Sipe says. Though his figures are disputed by many in the church, few argue that celibacy requires at least two essential factors to work: an authentic spirituality, and nonsexual intimacy with good and trusted friends who may or may not be in the priesthood. One who has underscored this is Father Donald B. Cozzens, the president-rector of Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Cleveland.
" Paradoxically," Cozzens told The Times, "the safest path to an authentic life of celibacy is not to eschew friendship because it’s a threat, but to enter into honest relationships that are intimate without being sexual." Yet for a priest who is not emotionally mature or psychologically healthy, relating to adults and sharing intimate details of his life may be a daunting challenge. He may inappropriately turn to youths to fill his needs for love and intimacy.
In years past, most seminaries did not address issues of human sexuality. That is changing. Most of the priests caught up in the latest scandal are older men, many of them retired. That may be a hopeful sign that more comprehensive psychological screening of seminary applicants and a fuller discussion of sexual issues may be paying off. But there is no foolproof psychological test to ferret out pedophiles or ephebophiles.
Many of the recent cases of priestly abuse that have stunned the nation involve post-pubescent boys. Some church critics argued that if homosexual priests were purged, the problem would decline. This suggestion feeds on an old and disproved stereotype that gay men are more likely to molest youths than heterosexual men. Here, again, experts and leading bishops say retarded psychosexual development, not sexual orientation, is the problem.
Few deny the enormous contributions that priests who are gay continue to make to the life and ministry of the church. It is often said that were they suddenly to leave the scene, the church would be thrown into a crisis. Its current priesthood shortage would be compounded many times over. Nevertheless, the presence of what is widely viewed as disproportionate numbers of homosexuals in the priesthood has, in some critics’ minds, changed the culture of the church. If present ordination trends continue, Sipe predicts, a majority of priests will be homosexuals by 2010.
Theology school president Cozzens said that, based on 36 years in the priesthood, estimates that at least 20% of priests have homosexual orientations are probably understated, although he could not say what the higher figure should be. Whatever the percentage, bishops in the past have quashed suggestions that the church undertake polls to find out just how many of its priests are homosexual. It is an issue they simply do not want to deal with. The church does ordain homosexuals. It was long thought that a man’s sexual orientation was irrelevant since all priests, straight or gay, are required to live a celibate life.
But gay priests face dilemmas unknown to heterosexual clergy. The church teaches that a homosexual orientation is "objectively disordered" and that homosexual acts are "intrinsically evil." More recently, the pope’s Vatican press secretary, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said the church should not ordain homosexuals and even suggested that the ordination of current homosexual priests may be invalid.
Gay priests learned long ago to remain in the closet. Most feel they could not possibly "come out" to their parishioners and expect to keep their jobs. The tension created by their decision is only part of a culture of secrecy that has bedeviled the church.
Secrecy, not sexual orientation, is responsible for the depth of the current crisis. Catholics outraged by the sexual abuse at least understood how a priest could fall. But they could not countenance the secrecy of some of their bishops, who knowingly shuffled sexual-abuser priests from parish to parish and left parishioners in the dark. Though the bishops no doubt believed they were protecting the church from scandal, in retrospect most now realize they did greater damage by not firing wayward priests and being more open with their parishioners. Their most frequent defense has been that psychologists advised them that priests who molested adolescents could be successfully treated. Resentment of secrecy in the church has given more spirit to long-running contentions among reformers who have called for a bigger voice for the laity in the American church and demanded more accountability from bishops. Other denominations allow churches to hire and fire their clergymen and elect their bishops, but the Catholic hierarchy has zealously guarded those prerogatives.
The secrecy argument leads not only to discussion of accountability but also to the question of whom the church allows to be priests. Liberals argued that women and married men would not have stood for the secrecy of sexual abuse. Nor, they say, would the church’s progress in addressing the problem have been so uneven.
" If there were women priests and women bishops and married bishops, the likelihood of this happening in the first place would be close to nil," said Terrance Sweeney of Encino, who left the priesthood to be married. "Men and women who were in positions of authority in the church, who had young children, simply would not have tolerated this. They would not have tolerated the secrecy." Bishops dispute that. In the last decade, most have put sexual-abuse prevention policies into place, and they have toughened them over the years.
Yet leaders of abuse-victims groups believe it took outside pressures – among them tougher criminal laws requiring the reporting of sexual abuse and costly settlements with victims – to force the church to act.
April 19, 2002
Study shows older gays face increased violence
by Jessica Van Sack, Globe correspondent
As the first generation of largely open gays grows older, they may face an unforeseen risk of violence, according to a new study that shows a steep rise in the number of hate crimes against gays over 45. The overwhelming majority of last year’s 143 victims of anti-gay crime were middle-aged and 14 percent were over 65 according to an annual statewide report released yesterday by Fenway Community Health, a Boston-based public health agency. Twenty-one of last year’s victims were senior citizens, compared with one in 2000.
As people of all sexual orientations age, they can become more isolated and easier targets of violence, said Emily Pitt, coordinator of the Violence Recovery Program at Fenway Community Health. Although as gay people age, it is sometimes easier to keep sexuality discreet, older gays are often victimized, Pitt said, because the homophobe didn’t recognize them as gay, felt deceived, and lashed out. Rev. Joyce Crowder, 66, an openly gay Jamaica Plain resident, knows of several elders who have suffered harassment, and speculates that a perception that senior citizens aren’t supposed to be gay makes them more likely to be victimized.
Also, she said, older gays have a tendency to let down their guard. "I, personally, always make it a point to look people dead in the eye and basically say ‘if you bother me, you’ll get more than you bargained for,’" she said. Pitt said she has seen multiple cases of anti-gay crimes against the aging–she has counseled older gays harassed by neighbors who saw them with their partners, others who have been shouted at in public, and some who have been beaten. Pitt said elderly victims usually have a delayed reaction, and don’t realize until days later how the incident affected them. Often elderly victims become inexplicably depressed, and begin losing sleep and crying sporadically before they realize they’ve been truly hurt. "It’s an assault on a person’s identity, and it goes right to the heart of that person," Pitt said.
Members of the Transgender Aging Network, GLAAD, Boston Aging Concerns, and other advocacy groups said this is the first study of its kind to find such a significant increase in anti-gay crimes against the aging. The concept of being openly gay and elderly has been untested until now, advocates say. The report includes crime statistics, reports filed with Fenway Community Health, and incidents logged at some workplaces. According to the study, the severity of all anti-gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender attacks is increasing in the Commonwealth, with a 43 percent rise in the use of weapons in 2001. Those figures contrast significantly with nationwide trends, which saw a 19 percent decrease in the use of weapons in hate crimes. People who have been victims of any hate crime should call Fenway Community Health’s Violence Recovery Program at 1-800-834-3242. . Jessica Van Sack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 21, 2002
Some gay black men are keeping a deadly secret
by Denise Hollinshed Of The Post-Dispatch…Jennifer LaFleur Of The Post-Dispatch Contributed To This Report.
When Horace Virgil Grandberry died in 1992 at age 35, his friends and family said he had suffered a heart attack. But his mother, Lorene Grandberry, knew better. In truth, Horace Grandberry died of complications from AIDS. The irony is that Grandberry, of Webster Groves, was a counselor and founder of a support group in St. Louis for blacks with AIDS. But Grandberry kept his illness and the fact that he was a homosexual a secret. He feared that what had happened to others would happen to him — that friends and associates would shun him or make him an object of derision.
The secret that the Grandberrys kept was not only sad, but telling. Many gay and bisexual black men – maybe most – keep their sexual orientation a secret. Some are living what they call the "down low" lifestyle. Down low men have sex with other men, but, in order to keep up appearances, they also maintain relationships with wives or girlfriends. Some men do not use condoms. And though much research remains to be done, some experts believe this may be a significant factor in the increase in HIV infections among African-Americans, and particularly in women.
They point to these findings from the Centers for Disease Control: * Thirty percent of black men between the ages of 23 and 29 who have sex with men are HIV-positive, according to a survey conducted in seven cities. * The same study found that among black men 15 to 22, one in six who had sex with other men also reported recently having sex with women. * Sixty-four percent of all women who get new HIV infections are African-American.
Even so, it may be a stretch to say that the down low phenomenon is only a problem among African-Americans. Figures also show that many whites and Hispanics hide their sexual orientation from their sex partners. "There’s very little research here," says John L. Peterson, a researcher from Georgia State University who has studied AIDS in African-American communities. But Peterson and others say that blacks who identify themselves as gay face huge social pressures. Lorene Grandberry said her son told her he tested positive for HIV when he went to the hospital with symptoms 18 months before his death. She believes her son may have known even sooner but was either too afraid or too ashamed to tell anyone. "He went to his grave telling me he didn’t know until he was tested in the hospital," she said softly. "He acted just as surprised as me when the doctor told him. He probably just didn’t want me to know."
Erise Williams heads the organization that Horace Grandberry founded, Blacks Assisting Blacks against AIDS. Williams said he understood why Grandberry kept his disease and the fact that he was a homosexual a secret. "He didn’t want that to be a barrier in terms of his efforts to get the word out about HIV prevention, because even people today think HIV and AIDS is a gay disease," he said. Once that connection is made, Williams and others say, those who could most benefit from the educational effort will run the other way. "It’s sad," Williams said of Grandberry’s death. "The very organization he was trying to create, he wasn’t able to take advantage of because of the homophobia." Fear of ostracism Homophobia – the irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals – has deep roots throughout the world. But in America, the fear of ostracism may be greatest in the black community, where masculinity is especially prized.
That machismo is seen by many analysts as a reaction to the oppression African-Americans suffered as slaves and later as second-class citizens. Consequently, many African-Americans who have same-sex relationships are reluctant to come out as gay. In fact, few blacks identify at all with the word "gay." It’s seen as effeminate and white. Many blacks are reluctant to admit their sexual identity even to themselves. That’s the view of Jamal Bey, manager of a San Francisco AIDS group for African-Americans. And that can be a barrier to safe sex, Bey said. In an interview with WebMD, a medical news Web site, Bey said: "For some men, putting on a condom is entering into a thought process – ‘I am actually having sex with another man; I am conscious of what I am doing.’" Bey believes that’s why so many African-American men engage in unsafe sex. Keeping up appearances Tyrone Howze, 51, a project director at Blacks Assisting Blacks against AIDS and father of two, said he had lived on the down low for many years while married. He said he had sex with other married men, deacons and others who appeared to be leading the "straight" life.
Keeping up appearances was essential, Howze said, especially for those where the church played a central role in their lives. With homosexuality regularly condemned from the pulpit, few black men risked being openly gay. "A lot of people have lost their relationship with their family, children and other folks," he said. "They can even lose their membership in church." Under those conditions, Howze asked: "What man in his right mind would come out?" When Howze told his wife about his affairs with men she at first offered support. "She felt we could work through it," he said. "Black women have been conditioned to believe that if they have a good man to stay with him whatever it takes. She loved me, and I loved her." They went through Christian counseling that he said never worked. "My desire and needs were strongly for men," he said. "That was the thing that sent (the marriage) spiraling to divorce." Howze said he was forced to come out and tell his family of his secret lifestyle. He declined to discuss just what had provoked him to do so.
Numbers spur concern. The mounting number of AIDS cases among African-Americans in the St. Louis area has spurred concern and discussion. In the St. Louis region, which includes the city and six Missouri counties, 4,113 people had been diagnosed with AIDS by the end of 2000. While blacks made up about 20 percent of the region’s population, they accounted for 64.6 percent of the cases. That compares with 46.2 percent in 1994. In the five Illinois counties in the St. Louis area, 523 people were diagnosed with AIDS by the end of 2000. Blacks accounted for 44.7 percent of the total.
Nationally, more than half of new HIV infections occur among blacks, though they represent only 13 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Funeral home director Carl Officer, the former mayor of East St. Louis, says he has been staggered by the number of young men and women with AIDS that he has buried and the condition their bodies are in when they arrive at his facilities. "This is genital genocide," Officer said. "It is a very serious, painful, expensive, debilitating way to die. I’ve listened for the last couple of weeks to what biological and chemical terrorism could do. In many cases those are perhaps a mercy killing in comparison to dying of AIDS. "If we don’t accelerate our education and resource efforts, we stand to lose an entire generation and future generations," he said.
To that end, an increasing number of organizations are bringing in speakers to talk about such issues as the down low lifestyle. One of the most provocative is J.L. King, an activist, educator and author. King was a guest speaker at a recent HIV prevention workshop for local health professionals. The workshop was sponsored by the St. Louis City Health Department. King, who is a divorced father of three adult children, spent many years on the down low. And he aimed his message at African-American women. "If you know your man is having sex with another man, leave him, because he is not going to stop," he said. "I feel so scared for sisters who are now dealing with the invisible black man. We will continue to lose sisters because men will not come out."
King believes that down low men are so deeply into denial about their sexuality that they are unable to hear messages about safe sex. White gay men have their own churches, clubs and bars, where the word can be spread openly about disease prevention, King says. It doesn’t work that way among down low blacks, he said. "It’s the eye contact" Billy Nelson, 44, is bisexual. He took a reporter to a straight nightclub in Olivette to show how down low men make connections with other men. By day Nelson goes by another name and is a white-collar businessman who has worked a federal government job for 19 years. He is a good-looking man, 6 feet 2 inches tall, slender with a cocoa complexion. He wore a blue, short-sleeved dress shirt and dark pressed slacks. Nothing about his appearance advertises that he is gay. "Mannerism has nothing to do with it," he said shifting his eyes in the direction of a tall slender man he said was "too dainty." "It’s the eye contact," he said.
" It’s just more of a sense that someone’s watching you. Most won’t say anything. It’s a certain vibe you feel. You know when you walk across the room and you see them looking at you. Sometimes they are with their woman. They (women) think they got a real man. They just don’t know." Men on the down low tell more lies and have sex more often than anyone, he said. Coming out, being honest with partners about your sexual orientation, is too risky. "We can’t break down those barriers," he said. "It’s not something I would come out and tell anybody," he said.
Shame and disgust
In the face of down low behavior, Dana Williams, director of HIV prevention and outreach at Blacks Assisting Blacks against AIDS, said, African-American women need to exercise caution in their relationships with men. The prevailing view among many African-American women, she said, is that AIDS is a disease afflicting gay white men – that their men, if not monogamous, are sleeping only with women. Culturally, African-American women don’t address the issue of sexuality in general and bisexuality in particular, Williams said. "That’s why the rate (of HIV infection) is so high. We have to start asking questions about our partners. He may tell you or he may not. You have to make decisions if you want to put yourself at risk of HIV," she said. Many women who learn they have been infected by their male lovers feel shame, humiliation and disgust.
Many did not want to give their name when talking about their experience. Lee, a mother of two, is one example. Her boyfriend had been in and out of prison. She believes he could have been infected with HIV in jail or through intravenous drug use. Lee learned she was HIV-positive in 1992. The disease became full-blown AIDS in 1994. Today, she takes more than 30 pills a day to stay alive. "I learned to live with it and am dealing with it on a daily basis," Lee said. "I think it’s sickening for a man on the down low who won’t be upfront, knowing what’s going on out there." She stressed the use of condoms, whether a person is gay or straight. "I don’t know one black, red-blooded man that’s going to tell his woman he’s bisexual or that he has been messing around," she said. Lee’s advice to women is, "Just be aware. Don’t be ashamed to bring out a condom. If a person doesn’t want to use a condom, then let him go. There are plenty of fish out there for us to catch and one who will be OK with using one." .
Reporter Denise Hollinshed: E-mail: email@example.com; Phone: 314-340-8172
April 15, 2002
Things are gradually improving for gay Vietnamese-Americans in California
by Anh Do, The Orange County Register
Alex Hoa had read the story, about hundreds of homosexuals swarming a hotel in southern Vietnam, staging a parade that a Communist-run daily dubbed a "monstrosity." The spectacle was "highly frenzied." The dances drew crowds to the city of Long Hai, viewing men who look like women in "very revealing" clothes and strutting fashion-model-style, after surgery at Thai clinics that charged up to $10,000, said the newspaper called Thanh Nien.
Cheers were wild. "It was an abnormal phenomenon," the publication wrote this month, "and this is foreign to our country’s tradition. "This monstrosity," it went on to say, "poses a headache for officials in charge of culture and education." Why continue to write this? I ask Hoa, active for more than a decade in Orange County’s Gay Vietnamese Alliance.
Friends going back to Vietnam every year tell him that accepting the political identity of lesbians, bisexuals, gays and the transgendered is a new concept. There is a desperate need for public role models to speak for the voiceless who are proud of who they are, north to south. In our community here, total tolerance is still a dream.
But the local scene is more open as he and others step up to promote social and networking opportunities in which participants can express their individuality. Just in the past couple of years, Vietnamese nightclub-goers have seen a more visible presence of gays in the audience and on stage. The magnetic Brigitte Thuy Tien, chanteuse at area hangouts like Moulin Rouge, Music City, Can’s, Majestic and MVP, charms listeners with her French songs, translated from old tango tunes. They applaud her as a male performer in glamorous gowns.
Diem, the weekly entertainment magazine, publishes ads for social and health services at the Orange County Gay and Lesbian Center. It also printed a full-page notice for Cafe Tinh Trai, a support group for Vietnamese gays that meets each Sunday and is sponsored by the Asian Pacific Aids Intervention Team.
Mimi News, a bilingual monthly, profiled Sabrina, a popular Vietnamese transsexual, in its March issue while Hop Luu, a literary journal, recently published a poem by Le Nghia Quang Tuan, celebrating sexual intimacy between two men. More and more, ethnic radio and television debate gay issues in talk shows. "The general perception is that it’s no longer a silent taboo, that homosexuality is not a physiological disease," said Hoa, in his 40s. "I believe the public has recognized my peers, that we are part of the Vietnamese Diaspora.
As for their acceptance, it’s only a partial embrace. The initial moral judgment persists." And so do the myths, he adds, that gay Viets are "artistically inclined," doing well only in "beauty-oriented businesses." Vietnamese, singer Brigitte says, "could even be more advanced, more tolerant, but they’re influenced by the conservative American population. That can affect their way of thinking." So the crooner chooses songs from the 1950s and ’60s and tries to please the crowd. "It’s a way to educate people. We’re not bad, and we’re never boring," says a laughing Brigitte, 32, a French-language graduate of California State University, Fullerton.
To make more strides, GVA members say perhaps they can set up a booth at Tet festivals or man a table on weekends outside the Asian Gardens Mall, the most visible landmark in Little Saigon. They want to reach young, Americanized Vietnamese who flood chat rooms and are coming out at an earlier age than the previous generations. Yet gay Viets lack an issues forum, activists say.
There is no lobby group working solely on their behalf, they have no political representation. Even the Asian Pacific Aids Intervention Team in Garden Grove trying to help has not been able to go into high schools, where officials preaching abstinence will not allow them to interact with students in gay-straight alliances. Nolan Same, the group’s youth advocate, says the Vietnamese, like many Asians, "would rather not talk about homosexuality, which they view as a dishonor. The young people know it’s something you just don’t bring up. You’re raised to put your family first and to follow their wishes." And many parents come from the old country, where the government considers being gay an "ill" and blames it on bad Western ideologies.
Homosexuality is not a crime in Vietnam, but such men and women are seen as "sick" people ruining local morals. "My husband and I have been told this, time after time, it’s sort of like brainwashing," says a mother from Fountain Valley who is learning to accept her daughter’s gay orientation. She isn’t surprised by the newspaper story published about Vietnam’s gay parade, but she is surprised that there aren’t more outlets to help Vietnamese gays in Orange County. "I suppose this attitude may not change soon, but the push has to start and it has to start here."
Anh Do is a staff writer for The Orange County Register. Write to her at The Orange County Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
April 19, 2002
Univerity of Texas Gay Fraternity Will Become Official This Fall
by Boun Hornatsby
Austin – As the largest and one of the oldest universities in the U.S., the University of Texas at Austin houses more than 50 fraternity and sorority organizations, yet there has never been an openly gay, Greek organization. Until now, that is. Last fall, a group of eight guys came up with the idea to begin UT’s first all male, progressive, gay, curious, bisexual, Greek organization. To give their idea structure, the students collaborated with the only other gay Greek organization in Texas, University of North Texas’ Delta Lambda Phi (DLP) chapter, Alpha Tau.
The men returned to Austin with hopes of beginning a UT chapter that would flourish into a valid organization in UT’s Inter Fraternal Council. Nationwide, the Greek system is designed for undergraduate students to enhance their college experiences by making enduring friendships, improving leadership skills and participating in service projects. Founded in 1986 by Vernon Strickland III of Georgetown, D.C., the idea of a progressive fraternity was well received, but the buzz following this idea quickly died. Three DLP chapters branched off from this idea and the University of California at Los Angeles was the first school to pledge a university-based DLP class in 1987, called the Gamma chapter. Similar to other Greek constitutional laws, DLP values fraternal tradition, but also vows to create traditions of their own.
The DLP’s statement of purpose says, "The foremost principle and ultimate goal of Delta Lambda Phi National Fraternity is to nurture a spirit of Brotherhood among gay, bisexual, questioning, or otherwise progressive men; and thereby enhance their lives through dignified and purposeful, social, service and recreational activities." UT’s DLP President, Victor Bolton, says, "I was shocked to find out that no one started a DLP chapter or even tried before. Not because of UT, but because of the liberal population of Austin. Austin is known for having a more open view of sexuality in general and is considered ‘gay-friendly’ by Texas standards – so I found it shocking. As for the IFC, I do not know if they are ready for this or will be accepting."
According to Executive Director of the IFC, Matt Mackowiak, the IFC does not participate in discriminatory activities against other Greek organizations and welcomes DLP. Mackowiak says, "Types of members, whether gay, straight, or ethnic are not an issue and would not be debated when being considered to be a part of the IFC." The IFC allows one Greek organization to be inducted per semester and requires that the fraternity seeking induction must be nationally recognized. "Personally I would love to at least petition for a position in the IFC. We’re still a colony right now, and I’m excited seeing the Alphas and Betas pass their tests and get initiated/inducted," says DLP secretary, Danny Orrell. "We still have a long ways to go, such as get our constitution and by-laws written up, plan for next semester’s rush, etc. But again, it’s not so much my personal goals as it is the entire colony’s. We’re all in this together, and only together can we accomplish anything of use at all."
But how will other UT Greeks and the rest of the student body react to an openly gay fraternity on campus? Brian Perry, UT Faculty Advisor of the IFC, says it may be too early to tell. "I think that it is impossible to determine how such a large, diverse group of people will react to Delta Lambda Phi. My hope is that they will be welcomed and supported. The organization has successfully installed over 20 chapters across the country, so that leads me to believe that the response should be supportive because it demonstrates a definite need for the group.
Like any fraternity, I believe that Delta Lambda Phi will hold the potential to help students who are looking for a way to share brotherhood, social, academic, and community service experiences." So far, the DLP members have met their goals in recruiting and inducting their first pledge class this spring. From Jan. 12 through Feb. 2, DLP designed their version of Rush Week, a time when prospective pledges mingle with existing organization members in hopes of receiving a bid to join the group. Rush activities included a kick-off party, games, movies, coffee, bowling, and brunch. As rush week drew to an end, DLP members began making decisions and casting votes on which students impressed them the most. With 15 seats available, the decision ultimately rested on which men displayed the most interest in the group, leaders say.
DLP members measured interest level on how many rush events the prospects attended and how friendly they were with other prospects and existing DLP members. Rush coordinator, Edward Frick says, "It is important that prospective pledges have some kind of rapport with current members and other prospective pledges so that there’s no drama." Indeed, DLP set guidelines on avoiding situations that could lead to drama. For example, DLP has a "hands off" policy, which means that its members are prohibited from sexual contact with each other. Frick adds, "If members were allowed to engage in sexual activities with each other, then that would defeat the whole purpose of brotherhood. Sleeping with people who are supposed to be your family can only lead to unnecessary grief and anguish. We’re not about that."
In addition, DLP’s statement of purpose further emphasizes traditional ideals of brotherhood with, "Delta Lambda Phi draws upon the traditional collegiate model of a Greek-letter fraternity to foster these extraordinarily strong bonds of friendship. Indeed, this bond does extend beyond mere friendship – it can only properly be described as Brotherhood." With hope and determination to last at UT, DLP members eagerly await to see what lies ahead of them. Bolton says, "A year from today, this organization will still be fledging. We should have successfully received chapter status and be on our way to permanency, but we’re still very new.
The organization will have grown significantly." The journey to the success of DLP is indeed a long one, but despite whatever events the future might have in store for DLP, members and pledges say they are enjoying themselves and growing closer as brothers each day. By the end of the fall, the diversity-conscious University of Texas at Austin will be home to Texas’ second gay fraternity.
Boun Hornatsby is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin and a DLP colonist.
May 24-30, 2002
LGBT Students’ Voices From Near and Far Countries at City College of San Francisco
by Ji Hyun Lim, AsianWeek Staff Writer
Shyly approaching the podium, Michiko,* with short, cropped brown hair bravely stood and recited "With My Heart" – a poem about her relationship with her deceased grandfather. Stuttering and nervous, she spoke softly, but then confidence overcame her and she commanded the room. Then she re-recited the poem in her native Japanese. The audience burst into applause. On May 16, the City College of San Francisco hosted a reading by students in the English as a Second Language (ESL) class called Voices from Near and Far, in the Rainbow Room at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community (LGBT) Center in San Francisco. Nearly three months old, the LGBT Center on Market Street has been the home base for these ESL classes that cater to a LGBT population. "We wanted to create a space for LGBT ESL students to talk openly," explains Rick Kappra, ESL instructor for City College and advocate for LGBT awareness.
"We wanted a place where they could feel comfortable to talk about their partners up-front without changing genders. We need to get the word out that there is a class like this." The 10-member class – five of whom are Asian – range in age from 20 to 38. The free class meets four times a week for two hours. Michiko, 26, who lives in Albany, expressed relief to have found a safe space to be open about her sexual orientation. "I have always had to lie about looking for a guy," Michiko explains. "The Center is a space about where I can talk about what’s really going on."
Kappra points out that many of his students encounter similar feelings of alienation from their families or friends who may not accept their sexuality. Many of the students are closeted to friends and family, and requested discretion about their being LGBT. The ESL class allows students to express this side of themselves through poetry, short stories and nonfiction. "Most [students] are political asylees [sic]," Kappra explains. "Some countries like Malaysia have poor human rights records – especially LGBT human rights. [Students] fear being jailed, tortured or imprisoned." Andrew Lam, a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and former ESL student, came to the U.S. from Vietnam when he was 11 years old but confesses that there are still words that he can’t pronounce correctly, and certain Vietnamese words still have power over him the way English words do not.
He read a story called "Show & Tell" from Watermark: Vietnamese American Prose and Poetry to a crowd who hung on to every word of his unique tale of childhood friendship with an immigrant student. Bringing insight about cultural differences, playground dynamics and deep feelings – his story was entrenched with pain, love and loyalty. "Reading and writing and expressing yourself is always important, regardless of your orientation or ethnicity," Lam says. "You write and read your work as a way to connect to others and hope to show your humanity and to remind others of theirs."
Spoken word poetry reader Johnnie Pratt, another guest speaker, expressed the need to support the "talented people from abroad who enrich American society." Says Lam: "My impression of [ESL students] is that many are struggling to express their individuality and are struggling to find a voice. And I can certainly identify with that. We all could."
* Name was changed to protect identity . The ESL class meets at the LGBT Center, 1800 Market St., For more information, contact Rick Kappra at email@example.com.
May 26, 2002
About a Boy Who Isn’t–Transgender Youth
by Benoit Denizet-Lewis
Another report (4500 words) about transgender youth–a girl living as a boy–from the New York Times Magazine May 26, 2002, can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/26/magazine/26BOYGIRL.html
June 23, 2002
A new world for gays– how the world has changed in the past year for the LGBT community
by Dave Ford, Chronicle Staff Writer
The modern-day collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, born during the Stonewall riots of June 1969, is turning 33 this year, and therefore really ought to watch the diet and hit the gym a little more often, don’t you think? Here it is, June again, the Gay High Holy Days.
As with any birthday, one asks the deep questions: Who am I? What have I done in the past year? Where am I going? This mesh tube top and thong underwear – are they really me? Or shall I just spend the entire LGBT Pride Parade naked? Speaking of which, the theme of this year’s parade is "Be Yourself, Change the World," which sounds suspiciously like "Be Yourself and Make it a Bud Light," the marketing campaign that the beer uses in the gay community. It is no doubt only coincidence that the beer is one of five principal parade sponsors (as is The Chronicle).
But let us not cavil. Instead, let’s be ourselves and change the world – when, that is, we’re not changing our outfits (again). At the same time, let’s examine how the world has changed in the past year for the LGBT community.
The overshadowing event was, of course, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. They felled the World Trade Center towers, smashed a hole in the Pentagon and led to lives lost aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County, Pa. Four passengers on the flight, according to cell phone conversations they had with loved ones, planned to confront their hijackers. One of those was San Franciscan Mark Bingham, a gay public relations executive. The press was slow to pick up on the fact that Bingham was gay, even as multiple stories circulated about the three other men, their wives and their children. It was an unfortunate oversight: The press and society can still overlook lesbian and gay lives even when those lives, like Bingham’s, contain acts of heroism.
Some press accounts of this year’s Catholic priest scandal also dropped the ball. A few reports conflated "gay" with "child molester" (the priests in question largely abused boys). Doing so momentarily reinforced the outdated notion that gay men want sex only with children and teenagers. Subsequent reports, however, shed important light on how the church’s policies regarding homosexuality – and sexuality in general – were due for a second look and a possible overhaul.
Advances in lesbian and gay domestic-partner benefits were the unintended consequence of the notorious Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller dog-mauling trial in March. San Franciscan Diane Whipple, killed by a Presa Canario dog owned by Knoller and Noel early last year, was in a seven-year relationship with Sharon Smith, a Charles Schwab executive. Smith last year filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Knoller and Noel – a case a California judge ruled could come to trial despite Smith’s not being Whipple’s legal spouse. That case, and Smith’s very public stance in filing it, helped Assemblywoman Carole Migden push a bill through the California Legislature last fall granting to lesbian and gay couples 15 rights theretofore accorded only to heterosexuals. (Smith’s civil suit has yet to go to court.) Still, many lesbians and gays watched the Knoller-Noel criminal trial with disgust. Knoller’s attorney, Nedra Ruiz, already famous for her nutty courtroom antics, shocked some with her baldly anti-gay comments. She disrespected Smith by accusing her of lying during testimony, and publicly accused gay San Francisco prosecutor James Hammer of playing to the gay community in an effort to sway jurors.
In the land of entertainment, where being nutty is a way of life, gay men continued this past year to show up on television – and in more sexually frank and complicated characterizations than ever. Oh, sure, on network shows, gay men still played the lovable neighbor – or, in the case of Will on the NBC hit "Will & Grace," the sexually neutered gay man eager to be a potential sperm donor and/or sex partner for his best straight female friend. (Great.) It was on cable that queers appeared to be more or less human – and a coveted marketing demographic. (Duh.) Viacom this year announced the establishment of an all-gay cable channel, which suggests to the cynic that Judy Garland will live in perpetuity – as will, one can only hope, Paul Lynde and Richard Simmons.
Chasing the ratings gods, Showtime earlier this month announced a two-year re-up for its runaway hit "Queer as Folk." That show proves that young lesbians and gays have the same concerns as anyone else: taking drugs, getting laid and looking fabulous in a middlebrow soap opera of a life. The rough-hewn FX cop drama "The Shield" featured a character struggling with conflicts between his emerging gay sexuality and his strict Christian views. All that and tongue kissing – yow. Then there was critical (and ratings) darling "Six Feet Under," HBO’s show for those with a taste for fine writing, not to mention embalming fluid. On the show, a comfortably gay Los Angeles cop breaks up with his closeted lover; when the latter finally comes out, the pair hook up again. By the end of this season, they were living together – and considering adopting the cop’s sister’s child. All that and sweaty, half-naked bodies.
But the world – both on television and off – remains imperfect. Rosie O’Donnell "surprised" one and all with her well-orchestrated coming-out announcement on "Primetime Live" in March. But her support of lesbian and gay adoptions wasn’t enough to stop, for example, a Michigan judge from recently barring "second-parent" adoptions. So although the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities have made gains in the past year, much work is left to be done. Being a coveted market demographic and seeing a few improved media representations in no way substitute for the hard work necessary to ensure establishment of equal gay rights. That struggle can be picked up again as soon as we’re done wishing ourselves happy birthday this week. But listen: We’re in our 30s now, so just one piece of cake, OK? .
E-mail Dave Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 20-27, 2002
Rally ’round the fag: The sorry fate of queer politics since September 11, 2001
by Michael Bronski
There was never any doubt that the events of September 11 would change politics in the United States. And they have. Just ask President Bush – widely ridiculed every day of his presidency up to September 10 and now considered by a majority in the polls to be doing a competent, even an excellent, job. But few could have predicted that the terrorist attacks’ effects on the gay-and-lesbian-rights movement would be so, well, perverse. The public conversation about gay rights has always had an edge of the unexpected to it; in the mid 1990s, for example, even Barry Goldwater, whose 1950s-style conservatism led him to attack the integration of public schools, actually supported lifting the ban on queers in the military.
But over the past few months, there seems to be a new shocker every day. Consider a June 11 piece by Nicholas Kristof, a liberal op-ed columnist for the New York Times. In "The End of an Uncivil War," Kristof observes that the "historical mutual sneering" between universities and the military is coming to an end. He suggests that we would all benefit if ROTC were welcomed back to colleges and universities, after having been banned from many campuses during the war in Vietnam.
The trouble with this argument is what he makes of the more-recent past, for while some schools began reinstating ROTC in the 1980s, gay student activists revived the anti-ROTC issue by claiming that the US military’s anti-gay stance violates the non-discrimination polices of many universities. (They were so successful that three years ago Congress retaliated by passing an amendment to the Solomon Amendment, which prohibited federal aid for work-study in certain graduate programs in schools that had banned ROTC.) So what does Kristof have to say about this? "At Harvard, many students and faculty members are hostile to military and R.O.T.C. training because the military discriminates against gays. It’s a fair point," he allows, "and the discrimination is worth fighting. But it was the American military that deposed the Taliban, the most viciously anti-gay regime in the world, one that executed gays by knocking over walls on top of them. America’s military does discriminate against gays and is a bastion of anti-gay attitudes, but it has also done more for gay rights – albeit in Afghanistan – than all the gay organizations in the Ivy League put together."
Is he serious?
Never mind that America’s military played a role in helping the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan in 1986; or that one of the first bombs to be dropped on the Taliban strongholds in Kabul carried the message hijack this fags, scrawled by patriotic and presumably heterosexual soldiers; or that the devout Muslims of the Northern Alliance are probably no better disposed toward "gay rights" than the Taliban. Kristof’s notion that gay rights have been advanced by the US military is downright Orwellian: the US military has never done anything with the purpose of promoting "gay rights."
An argument – on political or even moral grounds – can be made, if one were so inclined, that American universities should welcome ROTC back onto their campuses. But Kristof’s odd justification for doing so adds little to the discussion. But it’s not fair to single out Kristof alone. The deeply conservative underpinnings of his argument – which sets up the fall of the Taliban as a strike for gay freedom and implies that our increasingly intrusive government and stronger military are the solution to gay oppression – was already gaining wide currency in the gay-and-lesbian movement before his silly column was published. Just nine months after the September 11 attacks, it’s already become a cliché to note that the US has seen a blossoming of patriotic fervor. The offspring of fear and pride – terrible parents for both politics and social-justice campaigns – this patriotic revival has captured Americans’ imaginations in every corner of our society, including Gay America. That was clear this month when Gay Pride celebrations across the country could have just as easily been called American Pride.
Take Boston, historically a site of radical gay politics, where the theme of Pride this year was "Proud of Our Heroes." The cover of Bay Windows’ Pride supplement featured four police officers standing in front of a rainbow flag and an American flag over the headline GAYS AND LESBIANS ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE LAW FOR ALL OF US. More telling, though, was the piece inside the paper’s main section, about Mayor Tom Menino’s participation in the parade, titled PRIDE HOLDS NO MORE CONTROVERSY. It is, indeed, a brave new world.
Nowhere is this twisted logic more apparent than in the extraordinary response by gay writers, most of whom were conservative-leaning to begin with, to the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, the openly gay, right-wing candidate for Dutch prime minister who was killed by an animal-rights extremist on May 6. Fortuyn made a name for himself in his left-leaning country by taking strong stands against Muslim immigration and cultural pluralism, while supporting his country’s traditionally progressive stands in favor of euthanasia, reproductive rights, and gay rights. He cleverly cast his anti-Islamic campaign in progressive language: he was against Muslim immigration because, he claimed, a rising religious Islamic population would threaten gay rights as well as other traditional personal freedoms of the Netherlands. Mainstream Holland saw through his rhetoric.
After failing to win a role with any of the established political parties, he joined the ultraconservative, hard-line, law-and-order Livable Netherlands Party. His association with the party didn’t last long: he was banished for inciting racial hatred against Muslim immigrants. He then began his own party, List Pim Fortuyn (LPF); in recent elections, 83 percent of the Dutch electorate rejected LPF. What flopped in Holland – Fortuyn’s racist politics – has held curious appeal for gay American conservatives, who have eulogized Fortuyn as a harbinger of leaders to come: politicians who can defend gay rights, or even be gay, while taking a hard line against liberal, or what they term "politically correct," sentiments.
In a recent column, Bruce Bawer, author of A Place at the Table (Poseidon, 1993), perhaps the definitive statement of gay conservatism, cast Fortuyn as a gay hero who "cherished Dutch freedom – cherished it so much that he refused to close his eyes to the serious challenge it faced from forces within his country’s growing Moslem community." Pim’s poster-boy status for gay conservatives is on display at the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org), a Web site that publishes essays on gay topics, mostly by conservative writers, and runs Bawer’s column. Currently, its front page features a boxed section highlighting articles about Fortuyn, most of which claim that the American media has purposely misrepresented Fortuyn’s politics. " Pim Fortuyn: The Trouble with Labels," by Paul Varnell, for instance, objects to the fact that Time, that bastion of radicalism, referred to him as a member of the "far right." He goes on to claim, somewhat incredibly, that what appeared to be Fortuyn’s fairly conventional European racism was in fact a staunch defense of pluralism, especially of gay rights and feminism. Dale Carpenter’s "Why a Dead Dutch Politician Matters," which notes that "a writer for the New York Times accused [Fortuyn] of ‘modernized fascism,’" makes much of fact that Fortuyn hated to be compared with Jean-Marie Le Pen, whom Carpenter singles out as "the continent’s true neo-fascist and racist."
There is no doubt that Pim Fortuyn adhered to a brand of seemingly contradictory politics, at least to American political ears (we can’t even have a public conversation about legalizing marijuana for medical purposes). But what these gay conservatives never mention is Fortuyn’s basic political style – what political analyst Doug Ireland, in a May 27 piece for In These Times, describes as "politics as theater, in which he accentuated his eccentricities as a base to launch his appealing, simplistic slogans [such as] ‘Holland Is Full.’"
Fortuyn may have ascribed to a wide range of political positions, but at heart he was a demagogue who appealed to base fear and resentment: a tradition that is well established and accurately labeled as right-wing and fascistic. Perhaps tellingly, of all the gay-conservative blather that’s been published to date about Fortuyn, we’ve yet to read about one of the most notable aspects of their hero’s public life: he was a defender of adult-child sex. According to The Scotsman of May 12, 2002, Fortuyn’s views on the topic were well-known. In 1999, Fortuyn wrote in Elsevier, a Dutch political magazine, that "pedophilia is just like hetero and homosexuality. It is something that is in the genes. There is little if anything that you can do about it or against it. You are who you are … sooner or later the proclivity makes its irresistible appearance."
Now, attitudes about sex between adults and younger people are quite different in the Netherlands – where the age of consent is 12 – than in the US. But the fact is that, in view of gay and straight conservatives’ position on this issue, their lauding of Fortuyn clearly serves other, non-gay-related political agendas. As Michelangelo Signorile pointed out in "Canonizing Pim Fortuyn" in the New York Press on May 20: "It seems to me that the conservatives’ interest in legitimizing Fortuyn … [lies in] elevating the entire issue of regulating and barring Arabs and Muslims, and perhaps even rounding up such people here. Fortuyn is their dress rehearsal."
Perhaps the most scary aspect of all this is that – as Richard Goldstein argues in "Fighting the Gay Right" in the current issue of the Nation – the conservative right is the only gay voice allowed access to the mainstream press. One of Varnell’s pieces on Fortuyn, for instance, was picked up by the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal.com and flagged on its "Best of the Web" feature. Is it any wonder that Nicholas Kristof can write his column in the New York Times and still look like a liberal? Hey, next to some of the writers posted on the Independent Gay Forum, he really does sound like a liberal.
Popular mythology holds that the country pulled itself together in the aftermath of September 11, taking care of the victims of the terrorist attacks in generous and democratic fashion.
But this simply isn’t true. The September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, created and funded by Congress, refuses to grant clear status to the surviving partners of gay and lesbian victims of the tragedy. While allowing them to file for compensation, the commission insists – in what is clearly a pre-emptive move intended to avoid a deluge of right-wing criticism – that compensation can be granted to gay and lesbian survivors only if individual state law acknowledges gay and lesbian relationships. It was a stunning, and sobering, decision. At a time of shocking national calamity, our Republican-led government felt obliged to go out of its way to display its antipathy and contempt for the very core of the family values it ostensibly serves. We’d all be better off if Bush and his minions had asked themselves what Jesus might have done before they acted.
As this sickening episode in American politics shows, there’s much work to be done to secure equality under the law for queers in America. Our savior is not going to be a Pim Fortuyn-esque demagogue who embraces right-wing ideology while cloaking himself in the sheep’s clothing of liberalism, nor will our equality be realized if gay people happily embrace a virtually normal strand of patriotism. And contrary to what Nicholas Kristof would have us believe, the standard for gay rights in the United States is a lot higher than not having a stone wall toppled on us. The power of the gay movement – as with the power of most movements formed by people who are excluded from citizenship and political empathy – has always lain in the courage to criticize and challenge existing social arrangements from the outside. In a perverse way, Kristof’s arguments, the rise (and fall) and Pim Fortuyn, and desperately patriotic flag-waving at Gay Pride events are all important signs – telling us how far we still have to go. .
Michael Bronski is the author of The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom (St. Martin’s, 1998). He can be reached at email@example.com
June 30, 2002
Noodle magazine caters to gay Asian Americans New magazine for gay Asian Americans Noodle publisher hopes to increase understanding, visibility
by Vanessa Hua, Chronicle Staff Writer
When San Francisco publisher Max Lau told his family about Noodle, his new Asian American magazine, his father, Lau Tin-Sek, praised the name. In Chinese culture, the strands symbolize long life. Left in the closet was the fact that the magazine focuses on gay Asians. Lau, so public in his activism, had not yet come out to his father.
Sexuality, gay or straight, can be a taboo subject in Asian and Pacific Island families. Then his father, after searching out the magazine online (www. noodlemagazine.com), learned what Lau and Noodle were all about. But his father surprised Lau: He told him that Chinese philosopher Confucius said sexuality is natural – so there’s nothing wrong with being gay.
Creating that opening for understanding is what Lau, 30, seeks to do with Noodle. With this niche-in-a-niche magazine, Lau wants to increase visibility for this community, which he says lacks representation in gay, Asian American and mainstream media. The premier issue features an article about comedian and gay icon Margaret Cho, poignant and humorous coming out tales, a piece on a Asian club drug dealer and fashion photos of buff Asian models.
Noodle hits news stands as gay Asian Americans are starting to gain recognition. This year, for example, the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is highlighting queer Asian cinema. Lau timed the magazine’s launch to coincide with June gay pride celebrations around the country. This weekend, Noodle is making a big promotional push in San Francisco and New York. "It’s about time we found a space for a gay Asian magazine to show our fabulousness – and the pain and anguish of being rendered invisible," said Eddie Jen, 27, who writes Noodle’s last-page column, In the Rear.
Noodle is charging into a bleak media landscape. Magazine advertising is in a two-year slump. Last year, national magazine advertising revenue decreased 4. 9 percent to $16 billion, while ad pages totaled 237,613, down 11.7 percent from the previous year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Pioneering AMagazine: Inside Asian America folded after its January/February issue, leaving a hole in ethnic media. Online community Web site Click2Asia – which bought the English-language AMagazine in 2001- shut down earlier this year, taking the publication with it. AMagazine struggled in part because the publication broadly positioned itself to attract the 10.6 million Asian and Pacific Islanders living in the United States, a group composed of distinct cultures and languages.
Most U.S. Asian ethnic media are geared toward immigrants and written in their native language, according to Kang and Lee, an Asian American marketing firm in New York. A niche publication such as Noodle, with its clear-cut consumer market, low costs and moderate ambitions, has a chance of surviving, said Jeff Yang, founder of AMagazine and now chief executive of Factor Inc., an Asian marketing company in New York.
Supportive Subscriber James Bae, 40, of San Francisco subscribed to Noodle to support his community. "We have been a body without a head," said Bae, marketing director of Gay Asian Multicultural Exchange, a new activity league in San Francisco. "Now we are coming out with a big smile." Noodle, which had an initial print run of 15,000, retails for $4.95 and is available at independent bookstores and the Borders chain. The magazine has been a best seller at A Different Light Bookstore in the Castro. Noodle caters to a large portion of the shop’s customer base and fills a void in gay magazines, said store manager Holly Bemis. Dragun, a Toronto quarterly, closed after five issues.
Oriental Guy features Asian male erotica. Trikone, a San Jose black-and-white quarterly about South Asian queer issues, has a circulation of about 1,000. Noodle and other niche publications can encourage more stories to come out in mainstream media, said Sandip Roy, editor at Trikone and Pacific News Service, a San Francisco news wire. They show there are enough important stories to fill an issue – with even more to come. "This is the laboratory," Roy said. Last fall, Lau decided to bring to life his dream of a gay Asian magazine. He and his friends invested more than $20,000 in the venture. Lau read all he could about the magazine business, from printing to advertising and art direction. He also enlisted volunteer writers, photographers and designers, drawing upon Asian American talent.
He and many of his small staff share a vision born as students at UC Berkeley, where Lau founded the university’s first queer Asian American student group. On Wednesday, Noodle staff met in the magazine’s snug Market Street office to plan for this weekend, when they will pass out thousands of free copies, take down names and e-mails and plug subscriptions at pride celebrations.
Born in Brazil, Lau moved to the Bay Area as a teenager. At 6 feet 2 inches, Lau would seem imposing except for his wide, friendly smile. His fleshy nose and ears bode good fortune, according to Chinese tradition, said sister Cecilia, 28. Lau comes from a tight-knit, entrepreneurial family. His sisters founded Ficarre, a successful accessories company in Los Angeles. Restless after graduating from college, Lau researched the Asian diaspora in Brazil, worked at his sisters’ company and at a job placement center in Palo Alto, and lived in New York before returning to the Bay Area. He is now a girls volleyball coach at University High School in San Francisco. On-The-Job Learning Lau is learning as he goes. When the magazine removed the "bill me later" option on the Web site, subscriptions dropped. Although his sisters ran their company on a cash-on-delivery model, Lau discovered that allowing future payment lures more magazine readers. Boosting subscriptions will be important if Noodle is to attract advertisers that will fund the magazine’s continued existence and expansion plans. The first issue has free ads for community organizations and businesses that in return help promote the magazine.
For example, Frameline, which puts on San Francisco’s gay film festival, flashes Noodle advertisements on its screen. Lau says he can prove to advertisers that gay Asians are a viable market. After all, he mused, Asians represent half the world’s population, with an estimated 10 percent of them gay. In California, the median household income of Asian Americans is $54,862, higher than the $46,561 in the population overall, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. In the Bay Area, 326,949 people of Asian descent make up 22.6 percent of the region’s population. "No one magazine can represent a community so huge," Lau said. "But we’ll do as much as we can. This is what we have." .
E-mail Vanessa Hua at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 30, 2002
Ten years later, gays’ battle for acceptance is far from over
by C.W. Nevius
In February 1992, I was covering the Winter Olympics in France. And, I am sure you will be surprised to hear, after a hard day of viewing world-class ice-sliding, a group of us journalists retired to a public house for a bit of recreational elbow bending. Stereotypes are always to be distrusted, but if someone said American sportswriters, the picture that pops into mind is probably correct. We were a group of white males, mostly conservative, with a fashion sense that ran the gamut from blue jeans to white socks.
At some point that evening, we came around to the topic everyone was discussing then – the shocking announcement in 1991 by Los Angeles Lakers superstar Magic Johnson that he had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Johnson announced that he was retiring from professional basketball immediately. Soon, as it often did in those days, the mention of AIDS led to a discussion of the gay lifestyle. Although this was a group from all over the United States, the majority seemed to be from Middle America. When they heard that a couple of us were from San Francisco, they peppered us with questions.
I always have one memory from those days. My wife was working in an office where the staff was perhaps 50 percent gay men. And it has to be said that there was one clear difference from any other work environment–funerals. It seemed we were always going to funerals for young gay men. Some of them went so quickly. I’d meet them at the staff Christmas party and before the next December rolled around, they were gone. It was incredibly sad.
The other sportswriters listened with deep interest, as if I were relating the tale of a trip to a strange and faraway land. One by one, they all said the same thing: Not only were they sure that they did not know a single gay man or woman, to their knowledge they had never spoken to anyone who was gay.
Two points: First, of course, they were delusional. And second, it is inconceivable that we would have that conversation today. At the time, the accepted stance was to feign ignorance. Talk about "don’t ask, don’t tell." This was "don’t even think about it." To admit that we did might activate some strange brain wave that would rock the foundations of our straight male beliefs. And obviously, that’s exactly what happened. Gay activists may complain about the slow pace of change. They certainly know more about it than I do. But from the perspective of a white-bread American male, the shift in perception has been epic. I’d like to have seen someone tell us in that bar in France that in 10 years, one of the top 10 shows on television would be "Will & Grace." I’d like to have heard someone try to convince us that advertisers would attempt to target the gay demographic. Or that last week’s TV special on the kids’ cable channel Nickelodeon, "My Family is Different," would attract the highest ratings ever for a "Nick News" show and generate more than 100,000 e-mails, phone calls and faxes. It all would have shocked us 10 years ago.
But there’s an unpleasant kicker to the story. To me, the most unexpected outcome is the change in the younger generation. This is the first group to grow up with the consciousness of a gay lifestyle. And yet, particularly in middle school and high school, there is a powerful undercurrent of hate and bias toward gays. Ugly slurs come up constantly. Any boy, for example, who doesn’t fit the accepted norm may be taunted as "gay."
We would never tolerate such affronts if they were racially motivated. Why is it so common, and accepted, from the most gay-aware generation ever? Sometimes it seems as if that bar in France was a million miles away. And sometimes it seems like we never left. . E-mail C.W. Nevius at email@example.com.