Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Town Clerks Resigning Not a Trend

There are 932 towns in New York each with a town clerk, according to the New York State Town Clerks Association.

Two clerks have resigned rather than sign marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples. A third who officiates at weddings in addition to her clerk duties has said she will no longer officiate, but will sign the forms. 

So, two divided by 932 gives .002 percent. That’s not a trend, it’s a hiccup.

On a related subject. There's a New York State Town Clerks Association?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Day at City Hall

Harry Jackson at City Hall on June 14

David Tyree is the former wide receiver who is best known for the late fourth quarter catch in Super Bowl XLII that set up the Giants’ game-winning touchdown. But when Tyree appeared at a June 14 rally opposing same sex marriage on the steps of the Big Apple’s City Hall, he was silent. All the trash talking was done by the civic and religious leaders who organized the event.

The Rev. Joseph Mattera, the senior pastor at Brooklyn’s Resurrection Church and the leader of a coalition of evangelical churches in the New York City area, quarterbacked this rally, but the star was Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior pastor at Hope Christian Church in Maryland. Jackson is the leading African-American voice opposing gay marriage.

Jackson’s argument is that esbian and and gay couples have no legitimate claim on marriage and that those couples are a threat to the broader American society. 

“What we have today is a group of people trying to hitch hike on or highjack or take the legacy of the real civil rights movement and make it their own,” Jackson told the crowd of roughly 50 after first describing his father’s experience with racist violence. “Most African-Americans are incensed by this thus we find in every state a huge majority of African-American voters have voted against same sex marriage.”

The bishop’s compelling story about his father notwithstanding he does not own the rhetoric, principles and practices that were used in the civil rights movement.    

A variation on that theme was picked up by Chuck Stetson, a founder and managing director at PEI Funds, an investment firm, and a longtime opponent of gay marriage. In his view, allowing a subset, lesbian and gay couples, of an already small group, the broader community, to wed privileges them and somehow punishes everyone else in America.

“What are we doing this for?” Stetson asked rhetorically. “We’re doing this for three percent of the population and we are disadvantaging 97 percent.”

Married heterosexual couples, of course, enjoy some extraordinary federal tax advantages and other benefits that are not currently provided even to gay and lesbian couples who married in the five states and the District of Columbia where such unions are legal. Stetson’s analysis turned reality on its head. Nor does the US Constitution limit the rights contained in that document to groups of a certain size. No doubt the Mormon Church is grateful for that.

The madness began after the formal Q&A ended. Mind you, my bright yellow press pass was hanging around my neck. That I was asking questions, always respectfully, and taking pictures throughout the event was apparent to the participants. They knew I was a reporter.

Rev. Duane R. Motley, a senior lobbyist at New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, the conservative group that is leading the opposition to same sex marriage in New York, eventually asked what media outlet I was from. I said “Gay City News” and he quickly responded “We’re not against homosexuals. I have a lot of friends who are homosexuals.”

I never know what to make of that. Perhaps I should I say “Your wife’s hairdresser isn’t your friend.” Many on the right have taken to using that line, but no homosexuals have stepped forward to claim these conservatives as their BFFs. Perhaps I should insist on meeting these friends. Or maybe it is better to not know.

Once I had identified myself as a reporter from Gay City News, two very nice, but stern women hauled a third woman named Gretchen in front of me. I seems that Gretchen, 43, was raised by her mother and her mother’s female partner.

“My mother, she did the best job she could do, but the truth of it really was I was confused,” Gretchen said. “In my heart, I was confused...I was rejected from my father. My father wasn’t around.”

Gretchen reported having been sexually molested by two older girls when she was four or five and having lesbian relationships. It was not until Gretchen “found the love of my soul,” or Jesus Christ, that she was healed though not entirely. Gretchen allowed that she is still a “hot mess.” How is her relationship with her mother today?

“I speak to her all the time,” Gretchen said. Her mother found God 26 or 27 years ago when Gretchen was a teenager and her mother has been married to the same man since then. Gretchen was not there for the wedding because she had run away from home.

I did not want to delve deeply into Gretchen’s psyche, but it looked like this home was generally unstable. I took a shot. Would she attribute her hot messiness to her mother having been a lesbian or would she say there were multiple influences?

“I would say there were multiple,” Gretchen said. The two nice, but stern ladies who brought Gretchen to me stood by listening to the interview. They did not look happy with the answers. Gretchen was done, but I was not.

I began to leave the plaza in front of City Hall when my path was blocked by a tall well-dressed man who was carrying a Bible. I did not ask for his name or affiliation. He began to talk to me about genitalia, “fecal material,” prison rape, and how all of this was terribly confusing to young men. What confused me was that I was there to try and glean how the conservatives saw the expected gay marriage vote in Albany playing out. I told this man twice that that was my purpose. He was not interested. He kept on about genitalia, “fecal material,” prison rape, and confusion until he asked what media outlet I was from.

“Gay City News,” I said. The man shook my hand and bolted. Sometimes being from the gay press gets you in a jam and sometimes it gets you right out.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Can Someone Please Explain?

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in Brooklyn Pride 

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid marched without incident in the Brooklyn Pride Parade on June 11. As the clip above shows, the group received the same cheers that every other group marching in the parade received because that is how onlookers behave at pride marches -- they cheer loudly and for everything.

I saw one man grimacing and he appeared to give a quiet “Boo” as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid went marching by, but he looked as if he was not enjoying any part of the parade so I cannot say he disapproved of any specific group. I was struck by one thing.

Michael Lucas, the owner of Lucas Entertainment, a gay porn studio, has aggressively and successfully, sort of, kept Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from meeting in Manhattan’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center and previously he got the Siegebusters Working Group, another organization that opposes Israeli government policy towards Palestinians, tossed out of the Center.

The working group held regular meetings at the Center beginning in August 2010, but when it planned a March 5 party to mark the end of Israeli Apartheid Week, Lucas threatened a donor boycott. The Center barred the party and banned Siegebusters from any further meetings there.

On May 25, the Center allowed Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to rent space for three meetings and the group met at the West 13th Street building for the first time on May 26. Threatened with another donor boycott, the Center pulled that approval on June 2 and announced an “indefinite moratorium” on renting to groups that “organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
I was struck by one thing on June 11. Lucas and the folks who joined him in pressuring the Center to give these two groups the boot prevented them, or tried to, from meeting and talking among themselves. When I asked Lucas if he had any plans to challenge the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in the gay pride marches in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, he said “I don’t care. They can do whatever the hell they want.”

So it is beyond the pale for these groups to meet quietly, but perfectly acceptable for them to carry their message to what will have been hundreds of thousands of people by the time they are done marching in the June 26 pride march on Fifth Avenue? So the objection is what? I remain confused.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Remembering Rudy

Police and marchers struggle at 1999 pride march.

Police arrest at 1999 pride march.

A protester at the 1999 pride march.

“New York City will again be the capital of the world,” Rudy Giuliani promised in his first mayoral inaugural address that was delivered in January 1994. In his second such address in 1998, he said “We are the undisputed capital of the World.”

Of course, that made him the world’s mayor. That hubris was classic Giuliani. He had the dumb luck to be elected New York City’s mayor just before the national economy began to grow dramatically and crime across the nation began to fall precipitously.

With regular press conferences touting the drop in crime in the city or boasting of job growth, Giuliani never failed to associate himself with these trends despite having nothing to do with the former and very little do to with the latter.

“Here’s the reason why you should vote for me,” Giuliani said at a 1996 press conference held at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, with members of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. “You shouldn’t vote for me because you are gay and lesbian...You should vote for me because I’ve reduced crime in this city more than any other mayor in history and made New York City the safest large city in America. You should vote for me because since I’ve been mayor of New York City you’ve had 102,000 more jobs in New York City.”

Giuliani was gearing up for a second mayoral run in 1997. As he appears to be considering yet another run at the White House, following his failed effort in 2008, it is worth recalling his eight years in office and what he did and did not achieve.

When Giuliani spoke at that first inaugural, the national unemployment rate was at 6.7 percent. Four years later, it was at 4.7 and fell to 4.3 percent by December of that year. Nationally, unemployment was at 4.2 percent when Giuliani left office and had ranged from 3.9 percent to 4.1 percent since October of 1999.

New York did not do as well. The state rate was 7.1 percent in January of 1994 and fell to 5.4 percent by the end of that year. By January of 1998, unemployment was 8.5 percent in New York City and it fell to 5.1 percent by January of 2001 when Giuliani left office.

Still, the economy did improve. What did Giuliani do? As with everything else in his tenure he squandered the opportunity to reduce the size of city government when the economy was good and New Yorkers could find jobs in the private sector.

In a classic Republican move, Giuliani cut taxes instead and went on a borrowing binge. The city-funded debt grew at an average annual rate of 6.6 percent during the 90s, according to a report from the state comptroller. By 2002, the city’s debt burden was more than twice “the average of the nation’s 56 largest cities,” that report said. Giuliani also pandered to the city unions by growing the size of the city work force to the largest it has ever been.

While the decline in crime in New York City was impressive and sustained, it began under David Dinkins, who held City Hall right before Giuliani, and it was seen across the nation which puts the lie to Giuliani’s endless promoting of the idea that he was uniquely responsible for that reduction. Those low crime rates have continued under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and we have not been subjected to quarterly press conferences with Bloomberg preening before some graph that illustrates the fall.

With crime falling and the economy growing came a chance for greater comity in New York City. Not, apparently, when it was Giuliani time. The mayor effectively unleashed the police department on the city and on New Yorkers of color in particular. There were 61 police shootings in 1994, a number that was down from the highs of the 70s and 80s. Those numbers began to decline late in Giuliani’s first term and continued down in his second term to 19 in his last year in office.

In the more notorious instances of police brutality, the killings of Patrick Dorismond and Amadou Diallo and the assault on Abner Louima, Giuliani could not bring himself to be decent and always managed to pour more fuel on what were already incendiary situations. His relations with New York City’s gay community were little better.

Giuliani angered some in the gay and lesbian community by launching a crusade against the sex clubs, bathhouses, and porn shops that were favored venues for sex among gay and bisexual men. (I had a whole lot to do with that, but I will let others rage on that topic.) He later successfully pursued a city law that limited where porn shops could operate.

His efforts to dismantle what is now called the HIV/AIDS Services Administration, the city agency that enrolls people with AIDS in food stamp, Medicaid, housing, and other entitlement programs, resulted in Housing Works, an AIDS group, successfully suing City Hall to stop the cuts. The City Council also enacted local laws that imposed a number of mandates on HASA operations. Giuliani also opposed efforts to teach effective AIDS education in city schools and his response to anti-gay violence was seen as insufficient.

In his 1997 mayoral race, 56 percent of self-identified lesbian and gay voters favored Democrat Ruth Messinger, who was certain to lose, over Giuliani though only 40 percent of the white gay voters backed Messinger.

So it was that in 1998 Giuliani was briefly run out of the city’s annual gay pride march by a group of demonstrators who blocked his path on Fifth Avenue. Police made 20 arrests for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The demonstrators wore tee-shirts with slogans reading “Rudy Get Out Of Our Parade,” “Kids Need AIDS Ed Now” and “Stop Lying About Queer Bashing.” The group chanted “Quality of life is a lie, you don’t care if people die” and “Giuliani, you’re a mess, you’re a bigot in a dress.”

The next year, Giuliani responded as only he would. In the 1999 gay pride march, Giuliani was guarded by uniformed police officers who marched along the sides of Fifth Avenue and roughly two dozen plainclothes officers, identified by the yellow sweat bands on their wrists, who kept pace with the mayor on the sidewalks. The large police presence further inflamed passions.

“I find it ridiculous that on a day that is supposed to be a celebration...that we would be threatened with arrest,” Joo-Hyun Kang, then the executive director of the Audre Lorde Project, told me then. Kang said she had been threatened with arrest three times. As I spoke with her on Fifth Avenue, Allan Hoehl, then the police department’s chief of the Manhattan South division, instructed her to move along. When Kang asked that he not touch her, Hoehl warned that the next time he touched her she would be under arrest.

Giuliani was marching with the Log Cabin Republicans that year and they made the mistake of stepping into the middle of the parade’s People of Color contingent. As groups in that contingent tried to pass Giuliani, police jostled with them on the sidewalks and on the avenue. At West 37th Street, police arrested one marcher on the sidewalk as she tried to join friends marching in front of Giuliani. As the woman was being rushed by police down 37th Street, a friend of hers was arrested as she tried to intervene. Both women were charged with disorderly conduct.

As he moved into the 30s and 20s, the anti-Giuliani sentiment seemed to grow stronger. Boos, profanity, and cries of “Rudy Get Out” came more frequently. When he was introduced at the 23rd Street reviewing stand any cheers could not be heard above the booing.

The protests continued during a later press conference as roughly one dozen members of Fed Up Queers chanted “Rudy Get Out” as the mayor spoke.

“The man has attacked us during his entire term,” Brownie Johnson, a Fed Up Queer, told me. “He does not belong here. He does not belong in our parade.”

He does not belong in the White House either.

Monday, May 16, 2011

If This is Love Then Who is the Pervert?

Rev. Ruben Diaz (in white hat) at May 15 rally

As he spoke to a crowd of roughly 2,000 at an anti-gay marriage rally held outside of the Bronx Borough Hall building, Rev. Ruben Diaz took a moment to address the small group of counter demonstrators who gathered in a park directly across from building.

“We all respect you,” Diaz said on May 15. “We respect you and we love you...So you guys over there, listen. There’s no hatred in my heart.”

This is the kinder and gentler rhetoric employed by conservatives who know that Americans are fed up with the insults and slurs that right wingers aim at the lesbian and gay community. Like so many of his peers, Diaz, a Democratic state senator who represents part of the Bronx, has a record that belies his comments.

In 1994, Diaz wrote an editorial in Impacto, a Spanish-language newspaper, that said that athletes coming to New York City to participate in the Gay Games that year would spread HIV.

“Some of the gay and lesbian athletes are likely to be already infected with AIDS or can return home with the virus,” he wrote. Diaz objected to the Clinton administration waiving the ban on HIV positive travelers entering the US. He appeared at a City Hall press conference with other conservatives to condemn the Gay Games.

“These Gay Games will teach our young adults and children that homosexuality is okay,” the UPI quoted Diaz saying at the press conference. “There is nothing more obscene. This kind of behavior is biologically dangerous. Homosexuality is a sin against God's laws and therefore is not acceptable.”

Diaz was joined at that press conference by Mary Cummins, a Queens conservative who led a 1992 attack against the Children of the Rainbow curriculum because three pages in that 430-page teacher’s guide referred to positive representations of gay men and lesbians.

In 2003, Diaz sued to halt city funding of the Harvey Milk School in the West Village. That school serves lesbian, transgender, bisexual, and gay youth who have been subjected to violence and harassment in other schools.

“My goal is to let the mayor of the city of New York, the chancellor, and the school system know that it is wrong what they are doing,” Diaz said at a 2003 press conference held outside of Manhattan Supreme Court. “It is segregation. They are showing preference and they are leaving my children, my Spanish children, my black children behind.”

Then, as now, 75 percent of the students at the Harvey Milk School are African-American and Latino. Diaz was joined by Rena Lindevaldsen, an attorney with the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, a group that defends “traditional families, sanctity of life and religious liberty,” she said.

“I think you can sum it all up by saying that in New York City the Department of Education is literally taking from the poor, those who are in the poor, failing schools and giving $4.0 million to those who are going to be in a newly renovated, expanded and fully equipped school,” Lindevaldsen said. “They are taking from the poor and giving to the rich.”

At that time, the majority of students at the school were poor and 10 percent were in foster care. The school also complied with all local, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws.

The Liberty Counsel opposed overturning the Texas sodomy law in Lawrence v. Texas, a US Supreme Court case that overturned state sodomy laws, it fought recognition of civil unions in Georgia and Connecticut, and the group opposed adoption by gay men and lesbians in Florida.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gay Marriage Opponents Rally in the Bronx

The rally

The march

Rev. Ruben Diaz (l, in white) and Brian S. Brown (r)

Roughly 2,000 people turned out for a Bronx anti-gay marriage rally that was sponsored by Rev. Ruben Diaz, a Democratic state senator who represents part of the Bronx, and two Spanish-language Christian radio stations.

“The message of today is even more powerful because you have come out in the rain,” Diaz told the crowd that gathered outside the Bronx Borough Hall building.

About 1,500 people marched from 149th Street and 3rd Avenue in the Bronx to the rally site where another 500 were waiting. The march was led by a band from the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, a lay Roman Catholic group. Joining Diaz at the front of the march was Brian S. Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.

Diaz called for a referendum on marriage in New York noting that Americans have consistently voted against the lesbian and gay community on such ballot initiatives.

“In every state, including California, the people have rejected marriage between a man and a man and a woman and a woman,” he said at the May 15 event. “Let us vote. Let the people decide.”

A consistent theme that ran through the march and rally was that the participants do not hate gay men and lesbians.

“We all respect you,” Diaz said as he pointed to the small group of counter demonstrators who were standing in a park across from the building. “We respect you and we love you...So you guys over there, listen. There’s no hatred in my heart.”

His granddaughter was among the counter demonstrators and she joined Diaz as he spoke.

“My granddaughter loves me and I love her,” Diaz said as he hugged and kissed her.

Brown told the crowd that they were defending not only marriage, but their religious freedom.

“They have shut down Christian adoption agencies,” Brown said referring to two Roman Catholic adoption agencies that closed rather than place children with gay and lesbian parents. “This is a question of civil rights. It’s a question of our civil rights...I ask you today to stand up for your civil rights.”

Saturday, May 14, 2011

His Excellency Tells a Little Lie

Archbishop Timothy Dolan

In a May 13 post on his blog, Archbishop Timothy Dolan was less than honest with the thousands of adherents who live in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. As New Yorkers, and plenty of folks who live outside the state, are contesting an effort to enact same sex marriage here, Dolan weighed in. He recalled encountering a protest when he was the archbishop in Milwaukee.

“This frenzied group, taunting the people as they left Mass, were rabid in criticizing the Catholic Church, especially her bishops, for our teaching that homosexuals deserve dignity and respect,” Dolan wrote. “They waved placards explicitly quoting and condemning #2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which affirms the dignity of those with same-sex attraction, and warns against any form of prejudice, hatred, or unjust discrimination against them, and insists that homosexual acts, not persons, are not in conformity with God’s design.”

This tale was meant to present Dolan and the Roman Catholic Church as respecting and defending homosexuals. Unfortunately for Dolan, #2358 does not say what he claims it says. Here is the catechism in its entirety.

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

The observation that homosexuality is “objectively disordered” refers to the 1986 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican office that was headed at that time by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. That document said that homosexuality was “a more or less strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”

Ratzinger did write that violence against “homosexual persons” is “deplorable,” but he was just as clear about who was ultimately responsible for that violence -- gay men and lesbians.

“But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered,” Ratzinger wrote. “When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”

The Ratzinger letter cited the 1975 “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics,” which described homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered.”

The Roman Catholic Church, like many on the right, has found that the harsh rhetoric its leadership once used when discussing the lesbian and gay community is deemed objectionable by much of the public. Dolan is necessarily forced to spin, but in his church what the Vatican orders is the law. Dolan cannot believe what he wrote on May 13.