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.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pastor Platt’s Exposition of The Views of Baptists, Relative to the Homosexual Population of the United States

Pastor David Platt

When David Platt, the pastor at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, cited the Bible and argued that homosexuality is wrong, he opted for an old rhetorical device. He applied the reasoning used by “those in the homosexual movement to describe or justify homosexual desires or actions” to “pedophilia, more specifically homosexual pedophilia,” Platt said in a 2008 sermon.

“After all, the pedophile argues, we both enjoy this, how can it be wrong?” he said. “Jesus never spoke against. He welcomed children to himself...I am part of a persecuted minority and as a result I am all the more deserving of civil rights.”

Platt asked his audience “Are you convinced? You say ‘Of course not. It’s against the law.’” Then, after pausing for dramatic effect, Platt said “Ladies and gentlemen so was same sex marriage two months ago in California.”

The 32-year-old Southern Baptist pastor never explained the point he was making other than to say “Please hear me, I am not equating these two things completely together, but I am showing us in scripture and practically in our lives that causation does not imply justification.”

The transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay community has never said that causation implies justification, but that is the advantage of a sermon. The pastor states all the facts and reaches the conclusion without presenting alternative views or opposing voices.

Platt still has problems. The first is that he apparently cannot distinguish between sex between consenting adults and sex between an adult and someone who is younger than any state’s age of consent. The gay, transgender, lesbian, and bisexual community sees a difference in those relationships.

The North American Man Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA, was founded in 1978. That political and social group had support within the broader community, but it also met with resistance that grew louder and more strident with the passing of time. Today, NAMBLA, which never had more than 1,200 members and a few thousand dollars in the bank at any given time, is a shadow of its former self and its members do not even try to associate with queer community groups.

Platt’s bigger challenge is his Furman problem as in the Rev. Dr. Richard Furman. In 1814, at the first Triennial Convention of the American Baptists, Furman was elected president of that denomination. He was also the first president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and served in that office from 1821 to 1825. In 1845, a schism, largely over the morality of slavery, led southerners among the American Baptists to form the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination that Platt belongs to.

In 1822, Denmark Vesey, a former slave, was accused of organizing a slave rebellion in South Carolina. Authorities in that state arrested, tortured, and tried Vesey and roughly 100 co-conspirators. Thirty-five, including Vesey, were hanged and 40 were shipped out of the US.

Historians debate whether Vesey ever planned a rebellion. It was common across America in the 19th and early 20th centuries for authorities or mobs to manufacture charges of insurrection or rape of a white woman by a African-American man as a pretext for responding with lynchings or other forms of violence.

In 1822, John L. Wilson, then the governor of South Carolina, asked Furman if he would recommend that the state establish a “Day of Public Humiliation and Thanksgiving” to commemorate its having avoided this rebellion. Furman responded affirmatively and offered a fullthroated defense of slavery. His source for that defense was the Bible.

“The result of this inquiry and reasoning, on the subject of slavery, brings us, sir, if I mistake not, very regularly to the following conclusion -- That the holding of slaves is justifiable by the doctrine and example contained in Holy writ; and is, therefore consistent with Christian uprightness, both in sentiment and conduct,” Furman wrote.

“That it is also the positive duty of servants to reverence their master, to be obedient, industrious, faithful to him, and careful of his interests; and without being so, they can neither be the faithful servants of God, nor be held as regular members of the Christian Church,” Furman wrote later in the 19-page treatise titled “Rev. Dr. Richard Furman’s Exposition of The Views of Baptists, Relative to the Colored Population of the United States.”

Does Platt believe that Furman was correct? Furman’s authority was the Bible, the same good book that Platt cited in his attack on homosexuality. If Platt does agree, he has endorsed slavery and he has no moral authority to preach on any topic. If he does not, then he must concede that the Bible can be used by vile people to serve immoral ends. Having conceded that, he must explain how his congregation can distinguish between right Biblical teaching and wrong Biblical teaching. He must also concede that there is a very real possibility that his teaching on homosexuality was as wrong as Furman’s on slavery.

Platt is not a minor player in the denomination. He will nominate Brian Wright, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, to his second term when that group meets in June in Phoenix and he was selected to deliver this year’s convention sermon.

Platt’s Furman problem is shared by every member of the Southern Baptist Convention. That denomination defended slavery and segregation for over 100 years. It remained silent in the face of the brutal violence that was visited upon African-Americans. Its muted 1995 apology for that has done little to heal the wounds caused by that history. It remains a predominantly white denomination.

In contrast, the bisexual, transgender, lesbian, and gay community has thoroughly and completely repudiated NAMBLA and yet Platt employs the device of the homosexual as pedophile to argue against gay marriage.

It is no surprise then that it is always galling to be the subject of a lecture on morality and sin from a member of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Conservative Pastors Admit to Gay Slurs, Don't Expect An Apology

The standard position among evangelicals has been that they hate the sin of homosexuality, but love homosexuals. James MacDonald, the pastor at Chicago’s Harvest Bible Chapel, has ended that posturing by admitting to what every person in the transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual community has known for years.

“I grew up in a culture, high school, college, certainly, certainly in college, even young men in ministry where there was a lot of joking about homosexuality,” MacDonald said to five other pastors during a discussion. “Oh you fag, oh you this, oh that, gay jokes all the time between the brothers.”

MacDonald brought these conservative and influential mega-church pastors to Chicago for The Elephant Room, a day-long, live discussion among them that was simulcast to 18 locations across North America on March 31. Turning to Steven Furtick, the pastor of the Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, MacDonald asked “What do you think about that Steven?”

Furtick said “I don’t think it’s helpful, I don’t think it’s constructive. I think I’ve been guilty of taking shots for the sake of humor, for the sake of, for the sake of crowd reaction, and it’s done nothing, but harm my ministry because then at times when I want to seriously address that issue I’m already working at a deficit.”

Perry Noble, the pastor at New Spring Church in Anderson, South Carolina, also admitted to attacking gay men and lesbians.

“I’ve not done as well in that area as I should,” Noble said. “That’s something that I’ve tried to clean up really hard over the past year because we’ve got a lot of people really wrestling with that in our churches.”

As recently as March 6, Noble said in a sermon on greed that if Christians gave more to churches they could convert more gay men and lesbians.

“Maybe there would be less homosexuality in the world today if there were less greedy Christians who actually cared enough to tithe and spread the gospel,” Noble said in that sermon which was posted on iTunes.

MacDonald said he had sworn off gay slurs several years ago.

“I’m just not going to joke about something that grieves the heart of God, holds people in bondage, causes so much woundedness,” he said.

The lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gay community should not get too excited by these confessions. These pastors do not regret their insults and jibes because of any damage they have done to us. It is their own credibility that they are concerned with.

“Based on the amount of intense feeling that there is in our culture right now it’s something we’re going to have to address very seriously so I really don’t have shots to be wasting in terms of making jokes about it if I’m going to effectively be a part of change,” Furtick said.

David Platt, the pastor at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, had a similar view.

“When we joke about homosexuality we’re contributing to the idea that homosexuality is a preference not just sin,” Platt said. “I think we need to be wary about joking about anything that is a sin issue.”