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Equality Forum: Picking up an Important Piece on Health Services

May 4th, 2009 No comments

On the day after Equality Forum’s week-long stampede finished trampling me, I’m able to stagger back to my computer and pick up a piece from last Saturday’s collaborative programming that I didn’t want to leave behind. (Tomorrow I hope to be able to post on the National Equality Rally that took place on Sunday.)

One of the panels I stopped in on, Health Care Reform: What Does it Mean for the LGBT Community?, ended up ranging over a wide swath of issues concerning the community. This wasn’t surprising, because the panel was conducted by the Mazzoni Center, an organization that delivers a staggering array of health-related services to the community; mostly for free. In addition to primary care, the Center: does anonymous HIV testing (and services for those infected with the virus); offers mental health counseling; provides a smoking cessation program as well as an array of support  groups; and has a number of education outreach programs, importantly including “The Collective.” This is a collaborative effort that does culturally targeted HIV prevention and services for gay and non-gay identified men who have sex with men (MSM, in the accepted public health acronym). This approach is generally recognized as the only one with a decent chance of working in communities that, for historical reasons, harbor a deep distrust of public health.

In short, the Mazzoni Center stands at the intersection of private health care and public health, recognizing that the prevention and education efforts at the center of the public health mission can reduce the need for chronic and acute medical care that consumes much of the health care time and dollar. So it was natural that the conversation was similarly expansive.

Listen to Nurit L. Shein, Executive Director, speaking of the need for coverage of services that are specific to the transgender community: “This is an issue that the LGBT community needs to coalesce around.” Is it reasonable to believe that whatever health care reform is on the table at the federal level will address this issue? Not unless advocates, like the Mazzoni Center and those they serve, get in touch with their officials, show up at public hearings, and agitate. Thus far, the LGBT response has been, too often, to let the “T” kind of dangle from the end of the alphabet string.

Mazzoni’s vital work, though, is often frustrated by the failures of public and private health elsewhere. Robert Winn, the Center’s Medical Director, somewhat surprised me by stating that he’d lost track of how many times patients had come to him after being informed by their former primary care providers that they didn’t want to care for gay people. (I  just checked my iPhone’s calendar; yes, it’s 2009.) Of course, this is a strictly illegal position in Philadelphia, but most people don’t sue: they just find another doctor. But until those with a public health, population-based approach combine with the AMA to drive these homophobic views out of existence, private prejudice will continue to negatively influence the medical and mental health outcomes of the community.

It’s well known that sexual, racial, and other minorities have much worse health outcomes than the majority. Every day, Mazzoni’s dedicated workers try to push a very large boulder up a very steep hill.

Equality Forum: The International Equality Dinner Starring the One and Only Gavin Newsom

May 3rd, 2009 No comments

Talk about your gala events! 

Well, for $200 a plate, Saturday night’s International Equality Dinner needed to be a fabulous, star-studded affair, and it was. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a true ally of the gay and lesbian community since forever, was Honorary Chair and delivered his usually warm, amusing, and affirming speech. With no elections left to contest, Rendell was even more forthright than usual — and that’s something. But no one wants to talk about him, or even about The New York Times Company, winner of Equality Forum’s 7th Annual Business Leadership Award. This is an honor the Times richly deserves for: its fair and extensive coverage of our issues; its pioneering inclusion of same-sex unions on its “Weddings” pages several years ago; and the stalwart support of the LGBT community from such columnists as the Pulitzer-Prize winning Maureen Dowd and the known homophile Frank Rich. (Read this, if you haven’t already.)

The dinner also featured an open bar, great food (how, with so many people?), impressive videos by and about EF, and a huge and friendly crowd. But these aren’t the story, either.

No, it’s all about San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a true rock star of the LGBT movement. You could have heard a mozzarella ball drop during Mr. Charisma’s inspiring keynote address. But first let’s back up twenty-four hours.

On Friday night, I attended a screening of Pursuit of Equality, a documentary that focuses on Newsom and the “marriage month” that took place, by his direction, in San Francisco in early 2004. The film, produced and co-directed by Geoff Callan, Newsom’s brother-in-law, can be criticized as hagiography, but it captures and holds for posterity the vertiginous emotional journey of all involved: the mayor and his committed staff; the Repent America joes who camped out at City Hall in protest at what was going on; and, of course, the couples who traveled from (as the Mayor is liable to repeat) forty-eight states to become the first same-sex couples to marry, only to have their unions voided by the California Supreme Court.1

The film reminded me of the inspiration for Newsom’s act of civil disobedience (the best label for it, really). Just after taking office, he’d been invited by fellow Californian and now Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to attend the 2004 State of the Union address. The now (mercifully) Ex-President cooked up a stew of inane “priority items”: steroid use in baseball (I can’t make this up); the need for abstinence-only education; and, critically, the imagined urgency of passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage unions.

This wasn’t the America Newsom wanted any part of. In my interview with him, he credited his Catholic school education for implanting in him the simple dictum that couldn’t abide this divisiveness: “When one suffers, we all suffer.” Almost immediately upon his return from D.C., he asked his clerks what it would take to change the form to accommodate same-gender couples, and it was, well, almost nothing. (Are you reading this, Social Security Administration?) By then in office for just more than a month, Newsom allowed the Gay Marriage Parade to begin; the Grand Marshals were Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, lesbian pioneers who’d been together more than fifty years. (The film captures Lyon’s terrific sense of humor; when given the standard counseling for newlyweds about family planning, the septuagenarian doubles over laughing.)

Within a few days, San Francisco was mecca for many long-term, committed gay couples. By homing in on a few couples, the filmmakers capture their sheer joy and disbelief at the dignity they’ve just been able to seize. Of course, that joy turned “to bitterest wormwood” (to quote the Mighty Thor) when the California Supreme Court put a stop to the party about a month later. In a strange and unsettling sequence, the film captures a lesbian couple running down the hall in a doomed effort to get their marriage licenses before word of the order reached the clerk. Confronted with a sign telling them they were too late, they performed the remarkable act of remaining in line and being denied. Other couples are seen reading the court’s decision, having it sink it, and — losing it.

Watching these emotional flame-outs, I felt compelled to ask the mayor on Saturday whether these reactions — which one can understand only so deeply, if not directly affected — had made him question his strategy. After all, he knew the likely outcome of this bold Experiment in Equality. Newsom, as articulate and comfortable a speaker as it’s possible to find, answered by sharing his view of the affirming side of it: “People left City Hall with a deeper sense of self and purpose. For that moment, they knew what it felt to be treated with dignity.”

Then I asked Newsom whether he felt he’d done enough to let people know what might happen. “I think people came in with their eyes wide open. They recognized that they were challenging the law, and were there to make a statement, to advance a principle.” He added that he hadn’t received a single email or letter from people saying “How dare you?”

I was using my few questions to gain some measure of Mayor Newsom’s depth and understanding of the issue’s layers, and I came away from the interview and the speech that followed convinced that he really does “get it.”

“Activist courts”? He wants more of ‘em, basically. Imagine what would  have happened in 1967 had we allowed a popular vote on interracial marriage. 70% of the population was opposed to it. The history of civil rights, he noted, is “hardly the majority celebrating the minority. No. Courts protect the minority in a constitutional democracy.”

In case you’re sighing impatiently at this elementary civics lesson, it’s worth remembering that equality opponents don’t acknowledge these points when it comes to this issue.

What about civil unions as some kind of compromise that might appeal to a politician with good instincts but a healthy sense of self-preservation (even more so in 2004)? After all, Newsom is now running for Governor of California. If anything, his view of this “virtual equality” substitute is more contemptuous than his take on those who oppose any and all gay rights. At least the latter group is consistent. Civil unions are “separate but equal.” He is unimpressed by events commemorating the 55th anniversary of  Brown v. Board of Education, where speakers “wax eloquent” about equality and the overdue  demise of  the “separate but equal” doctrine, only to embrace that same expedient when marriage equality is the issue.

Newsom, a “fifth generation Californian”  is impatient with his home state on this issue. “I never thought I’d say this,” he concluded, but “as Iowa goes, so goes the nation.”

  1. Many of these couples remarried after the California Supreme Court declared the law banning same-sex marriages unconstitutional. Will their marriages again be voided? I very much doubt it, but we’ll know within a few weeks.

Equality Forum Day 3 (Part 1): “Tomorrow Hour Zero”

April 29th, 2009 No comments

The day before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, U.S. intelligence intercepted a communication known to be from al-Qaeda, boasting that “tomorrow is zero hour” (literally translated above). This possibly interesting statement went untranslated, though, until September 12. According to Alex Nicholson, who apparently speaks all living and several dead languages (and also looked like he could take me apart with his bare hands), the military was short on Arabic translators. Why? Because of discharges resulting from the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” — but do compromise national security — policy then and now in effect.

Nicholson and fellow National History Panelist Julianne Sohn were both victims of this insane policy. Nicholson’s colleague snooped the damning information about him from a letter he’d written (in Portugese, by the way), and then reported it a few weeks later apparently out of spite. This accomplished translator, and scion of a military family, was out of a job in less than a year. Sohn had a much longer career, that finally ended when a colonel called her (while she wasn’t on active duty) to “read her her rights.” In describing this event for the first time publicly, Sohn quickly lost her composure and dissolved into tears not seen since the final of this year’s Australian Open.

Just like that, I got it.

I’m not pro-military, generally. My dad was in the Navy, but only briefly and mostly he was, er, a lifeguard stationed in the less-than-hazardous State of New Jersey. I grew up  just close enough to the Vietnam era to have breathed some of the anti-military air (which, by the way, is mostly unjustified and more than a little classist). And I’m by temperment and philosophy a pacifist (mostly). So I admit that I didn’t exactly flush with excitement upon learning that this year’s history panel would focus on “gays in the military.” But listening to these stories — especially Sohn’s — was profound and arresting. Here was a woman whose life and identity were all about the military. Now, after years of what was surely a profound struggle to manage the cognitive dissonance that results from being a part of an organization that commands your silence, it was all falling apart. Of course this is painful to call to mind. But why did this happen to her, and why are these discharges still taking place? As scholar-panelist Nathaniel Frank put it: “Wait. You’re being investigated by the U.S. Government because you’re a lesbian? It’s 2009!”

Well, how did we get here? What justifies this ban? Frank issued “the historian’s challenge” to the audience: Step into the shoes of those you disagree with. Then see if you can understand their perspective. OK, I did. And I can’t.

Frank and panelist moderator Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) provided a thumbnail review of the history and justifications for the exclusion, which is been official policy only since the 1920’s. (Here’s the first of two book plugs from today’s Forum: Nathaniel Frank’s book, “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” — copies of which just happened to be available for purchase at the event — provides a comprehensive review of this history. It’s been favorably and informatively reviewed by Janet Maslin in The New York Times.) My simplistic take on the evolution of the military’s treatment of gay soldiers is that, as gay identity and culture became harder to  ignore, the military’s exclusionary policies became more Draconian and defensive. (In a similar vein, think of state anti-marriage equality constitutional amendments in response to a rising tide of open gay relationships.)

This cascade of policies has led to the “don’t ask, blah blah blah” policy now in force. As Frank states: There’s no evidence of any kind to justify it. It’s a remnant, a soiled selvage from an era when gays were regarded as sick and sinful. That image still has enough purchase in the military for them to be able to use coded arguments, such as “troop  cohesion,” in defense of the indefensible. Frank then raised a related point that I’d not considered: By putting gay sexual orientation forward as a ground for exclusion, the policy has the unintended consequence of putting the issue of sexuality “on the table” for all service members. “Am I acting straight enough (even though I am straight)? How will my  actions (or inactions)  be interpreted?” Does this seem like a positive effect on “unit cohesion” to you?

The policy may disappear as soon as this year, but maybe not, either. The panelists seemed to agree that Obama’s vocal support is absolutely vital; support he pledged during the campaign, but hasn’t articulated since taking office. I had the sense that their patience will run out soon. All emphasized the need for education and activism. Sohn and Nicholson have really taken up this cause with fervor, as has Frank (in a more academic but also compelling way). Sohn’s biography, detailing her impressive service, is here. Nicholson is now Executive Director of Servicemembers United, an advocacy organization for gay and lesbian military and the issues affecting them. (His blog is pretty good, too.)

At some point towards the end of the presentation, Sarvis put this question to the panelists: “Why should we care about this issue?” By the time he did, only a true and committed blockhead could have failed to understand its importance. Frank said it best: We should care because this policy “is a blemish on the integrity of our Armed services and on our entire nation.”

——–

Let me take a step away from reporting for a moment to make a broader statement. As I was listening to yet two more stirring panels tonight (OK, it’s last night by now), I had this thought: Perhaps by now I should be numb to all of this, my interest starting to flag. In fact, quite the opposite is happening. I remember that “the madder Hulk gets, the stronger him gets.” I’d say that “the more I hear, the more urgent all of this seems.”

There really is a great deal to do, on seemingly scores of issues big and small. These zealous panelists (including those on the family law panel, about whom I’ll blog after getting some sleep) who donate their time and enthusiasm to Equality Forum and countless other events, should inspire us all.

Equality Forum Day 2 (Part 1): “All Are Welcome” (or, “Gandalf is Cooking me Dinner”)

April 29th, 2009 No comments

How did the son of Kentucky tenant farmers, raised in a fundamentalist household without running water, become internationally (in)famous as the first openly gay clergyperson of a major Christian religion? The Rev. Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of the New Hampshire diocese, has no clear answer. Instead, he offered the packed house of about 200  at Tuesday’s Religious Colloquy his reimagining of the parting of the Red Sea.

Forget the Cecil B. DeMille version of the Ten Commandments, where Moses (aka Charlton Heston) parts the Red Sea, creating a wide boulevard for the fleeing Jews to march effortlessly across. It’s not that easy. Instead, imagine that Moses tentatively stuck his left foot in, and found just enough dry land to proceed. Then, he placed his right foot in. (No, he didn’t then do “the hokey pokey,” at least as far as Biblical scholars can tell.) He proceeded this way, one step at a time, until the arduous journey was complete. This repurposed parable stands both for Robinson’s own journey and for the slow but relentless push of the GLBT community toward equality, dignity, and justice. (Don’t expect to see the “other side” of  that struggle, he opined.)

In this engaging, often amusing, and always insightful way, Rev. Robinson (with the aid of local lesbian Rabbi Linda Holtzman, who played the tricky role of interviewer exceptionally well) held the dais with ease for almost an hour and a half. Holtzman, informed by Wikipedia — an admission that drew laughter from the audience and an uneasy silence from your humble blogger, who’d also boned up on Robinson via the same “peanut gallery” — asked a series of open-ended questions about his childhood, his faith, his relationships, and his well-known struggles with the Anglican Church. Along the way, we learned the limits of a Wikipedia education; plenty had been left out.

Robinson’s gift, as I see it, is the ability to connect spirituality with the coming-out struggles faced by every sexual minority, and to do so in a way that’s both deeply insightful and extremely accessible. For example, even as a kid he wasn’t able to relate to a stripe of religious fundamentalism that declared certain questions off limits; and as a youth realizing at about age 12 or 13 that he was different (and that he’d better not say anything about it), questions he had in ample supply.

These questions led him, on the religious side, to find a mentor who introduced him to the theologian Paul Tillich, for whom questions and answers exist in an endless dialectical relationship. On a parallel course, his relentless uncertainty about  his sexual identity (or, perhaps more to the point, what to do about it) led him to try a sort of conversion therapy (he “wants his money back”), then to a sort of panic shortly before his wedding, and then into, and finally out of, marriage to a woman with whom he had two children.

Throughout these stories, Robinson’s thoughtfulness emerges. I was especially taken by his description of how he and his wife unravelled their marital vows in a church once he came to accept his sexual identity: They released each other  from their vows, mutually returned their rings, wept, and then took communion together. This seemed to me a very healthy and honest willingness to confront what they were doing, and what they had, irrevocably, already done.

Not surprisingly, much of the discussion centered around Rev. Robinson’s ordination as bishop, and the still-evolving schism in the Anglican communion that it ultimately spawned. Here, the relentless questioner gives way to a man convinced that he’s done the right thing, and who will not “take the bait” of answering this  question: “How does it feel to be the one who has caused the break-up of the Church?” Well, the Anglican Church  hasn’t “broken up,” and in any case, Robinson sees himself as at the eye of the storm: calm amid deadly winds. Every step was “by the book,” he says. It’s other people’s actions and  beliefs in response that have caused the problem that some have sought to ascribe to him.

“But why not wait until everyone was ready, and everything was in place?” the former Archbishop of  Canterbury once asked him.

“When has anything significant ever happened in a way that was neat and tidy?” was essentially Rev. Robinson’s response, pointing to the controversy, some thirty years earlier, over the ordination of women. He also noted that many of the same people who were the most vocal in opposing that change have also led the campaign against him. It’s really about the slow crumbling of patriarchy (what isn’t?), and “they don’t like it.”

Gene Robinson was born for this role. He’s comfortable and consistently amusing before a large crowd. He also has the kind of deep confidence needed to tack through the storms that his ordination has generated. Yet pain, humiliation, and disappointment have been inescapable. It’s by now fairly well known that he wasn’t invited to the Archbishop’s Lambeth Conference last year. But it’s worse than that. In a separate interview, I asked the lawyer’s question: By what authority did the Archbishop exclude you? It turns out that the conference, held decenially since 1867, is the Archbishop’s “party,” and, to paraphrase Lesley Gore, he can “exclude whom he wants to.” It also turns out, according to Robinson, that he was the first duly ordained bishop ever to be excluded from the conference since  its inception.

Admittedly,  the Archbishop has a terribly difficult line to walk these days. (For evidence of how difficult, read this article in the March issue of The Atlantic.) And with specific reference to the Lambeth conference, this difficulty had reached a boiling point: Many prelates boycotted the conference because of  the church’s evolving view of sexuality. Whatever the Archbishop Rowan Williams’s difficulties, though, the reality was a personal affront to Bishop Robinson. Not only was he excluded, but pictures of him were placed at every entrance, so that security could identify and bar him if he showed up. The conference concluded with unintentionally cruel irony: The final blessing was “All Are Welcome.”

Of course, Rev. Robinson wasn’t about to venture where he wasn’t welcome. As a pretty cool consolation prize, he was invited to dinner with Sir Ian McKellen, the great Shakespearean actor now best known as Gandalf and Magneto. “Gandalf is cooking me dinner,” thought Robinson, incredulous. But his brave journey has taken him to fabulous places all over the world, none more so than the Presidential platform; on Inauguration Day, sitting some 20 feet from the about-to-be President, Robinson had a thought that neatly captures both  his own struggle and that of the oppressed more generally: “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

I might end this long post there (look for a separate post on the National Racial panel later today), except that I can never resist Shakespeare. Robinson learned from McKellen that the only surviving work in Shakespeare’s own hand comes from Sir Thomas More, a train-wreck of a play that was written by committee. But scholars now generally agree that some three pages were indeed the immortal’s work. In his scene, Londoners were rioting over the presence of foreigners in their midst, demanding their expulsion. Sir Thomas More then addresses the mob, offering a dramatic metaphor that stands as a rebuke to all efforts to create and then demonize the “other”:

“For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.”
Categories: Gay Rights, religion, women's rights Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Equality Forum Day 1: From VIP Kickoff to the Margins

April 27th, 2009 2 comments

Imagine this life: You’re not safe at school. The very sight of you makes people uncomfortable, sometimes angry. Your family disowns you, but no one else will adopt  you or take you in for foster care. Without mooring, and unsure of your own identity, you turn to drugs and alcohol, perhaps landing in jail. You can’t find a “legit” job, so sex work becomes your “best” option. You contract HIV, or Hepatitis, but have no access to health care to pay for your treatment. Low-level bureacrats decide whether to honor your chosen gender on identity documents, making routine transactions an occasion for recurring humiliation.

This nightmare is reality for many transgendered people. Even the “mainstream” gay and lesbian community has only recently begun to wake up and recognize these realities. The National Transgender Panel – significantly, the first substantive program of this year’s Equality  Forum – was an energizing, often moving conversation about the legal, social, and political obstacles that block the full citizenship and dignity of the transgender community. Indeed, the story told  above was pieced together from the comments made by both panelists and audience members, whose input the panelists constantly sought — and received in effective abundance.

The panelists, themselves all members of the community, spoke authoritatively about legal issues (Benjamin Jerner); the national political landscape (Kathy Padilla) and the hugely complex public health challenges faced by this community (Ben Singer).

Perhaps because of my own interest in public health and the legal issues relating to it, I  found Singer’s presentation particularly compelling. He’s a smart activist who understands the need for data-driven results; as he puts it, if you’re not on the public health radar (and you get there by showing a problem affecting a population), you don’t exist. But the issues facing the transgender community are more than a “blip” on any morally defensible radar; they amount to an on-going emergency. A few of the sobering examples confronting this community will have to suffice here: (1) Violence against them is epidemic, and the situation becomes graver as the categories of oppression pile up. Thus, transgendered women of color are at the greatest risk. (2) HIV/AIDS are at levels otherwise associated with sub-Saharan Africa. (3)The community faces high levels of medical uninsurance, a problem connected to joblessness and homelessness, themselves endemic.

Against this backdrop,  many of the issues of formal equality that many of us (including your humble blogger) most often concern ourselves with seem less vital. Really, do you think people facing the kinds of issues I’ve just mentioned have marriage equality on their plate? Again, Singer:  “We talk more about these grand legal issues and not these other ones.”

But “these other” issues were thoroughly chewed over — by the audience. In a wonderfully  generous move, Singer invited the audience to answer a question about the kinds of problems routinely faced by transgendered youth. The answers should pain any person with a halfway developed sense of empathy. One young woman was thrown out of her home and not adoptable. A young man ended up abusing drugs and doing time in prison. Several regarded every day of school as a kind of torture. Of course, any kid growing up gay — or different in any way, really — can share painful experiences. But these really did seem different in kind, not  just degree.

“Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.”

Yet not all transgendered people are in the desperate situation Singer describes, and, for some at least, it would be very helpful if the state were to grant them basic legal rights, including the recognition of their marriage. Jerner discussed a case with which I’m familiar, in which the Kansas Supreme Court idiotically declared null a long-term marriage between an opposite-sex couple (where the wife had been born a male), thereby disinheriting the surviving spouse in favor of an evil offspring. Although I have a quibble with his reading of the case,1 his point about the need for legal remedy is sound.

The panel ran over time. The audience was large; about 100, I’d guess, many of them young, bright activists.  They didn’t seem to want it to end, and that’s not surprising. There was a great deal to be said. Afterwards, I had a chance to speak to Singer, Padilla, and moderator Joelle Ruby Ryan, a warm and gentle giantess who ran an open and generous forum. Singer and Padilla are very interested in the untold story of transgender activism (newsflash: Stonewall wasn’t the first time members of the GLBT community rose up in protest). Padilla showed me some of her materials, and I’m sure I’m only one of many encouraging her to turn these into a book, or at least a long article. In the meantime, I’m hoping to do a follow-up blog on this issue of the history of transgender resistance — with help from Singer and Padilla,  who are enthused, knowledgeable, and in possession of all kinds stuff that’s by turns really cool and very moving.

I couldn’t have asked for a better blogging assignment to get me excited about the rest of the week.

———

Before this amazing panel, Equality Forum kicked off, as always, with the VIP Party in City Hall. This year’s event was staged, aptly, in the grand Conversation Hall. Probably a couple of hundred folks were VI enough to have garnered invitations, and most of the people I spoke to were impressive leaders of various organizations, or were directly involved with Equality Forum.

Dwight Evans, the Pa. State Representative who received a distinguished service award for his legislative efforts on behalf of the LGBT community, is a gregarious man with an expansive view of equality and opportunity. His charter school has been around for more than a decade, and he’s been a consistent advocate for GLBT rights in Harrisburg, where  the political winds don’t reliably blow in a favorable direction. I enjoyed a brief conversation with him, in which he showed himself to be a member of a rare and beautiful species: the pol without affect. His view of equality? “You don’t have to convince me.” His acceptance speech spoke to the need to “get past typical barriers and walls,” and concluded, quite sensibly (yet somehow movingly) with: “Thanks. And let’s move on.”

Also effective was Mayor Michael Nutter, the poor guy stuck with a job that no reasonable person would have taken had he known of the economic collapse to visit the city within nanoseconds of his inauguration. On radio, he comes across as bright and logical, but a bit stiff. In person, he’s witty and relaxed – but just as compelling. The short: He’s on our side. And Equality Forum founder and Executive Director Malcolm Lazin, to whom I must give props for giving me this “forum” to blog about the event, closed the proceedings with an inspiring call to take part in this Sunday’s Equality Rally and March, linking these events to a courageous march here in Philadelphia forty years ago led by gay pioneers Frank Kameny and the late Barbara Gittings. Very effective — now let’s hope the event is the success it needs to be.

Well, it’s late and I’m almost blogged out. But here’s a light moment from the Kickoff Party. Having just speared an unwilling olive after a too-epic struggle at the hors d’oeuvres table, I was standing near it (catching my breath), when a jovial fellow spun around and bumped into me. He was so apologetic that I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d sent my only olive spinning out of my hand and through the air. I was reminded of the Seinfeld “Junior Mint” episode, and only hoped that the escaped refreshment hadn’t had a similarly calamitous result. Alas, I believe (but do not know for sure) that it landed in a scoop of perfect, high hair — unknown to the “victim.” If so, I’d like it back. No questions will be asked.

  1. He says the court declared that transgendered people couldn’t marry anyone — I think that reading is possible but not compelled. The case is In re Estate of Gardiner,42 P.3d 120 (Kan. 2002).

It Won’t Be Pretty

April 26th, 2009 No comments

At least on the weekdays, the Equality Forum events begin in the evening and run until almost 10 pm. I expect to get home no earlier than 10:30 most evenings, and likely not until 11 pm or so. My plan will be to post that same night (or early, early the next morning — as in “wee hours”), while the events are still fresh. We’ll see how well I do.

I’m hopeful that I can convey a useful perspective on what I’m seeing and hearing. Given the speed required and my effort to be prolific, don’t expect a writing style worthy of Flaubert. Or even of Dan Brown.

Categories: blogs, Equality Forum Tags: , ,

Getting out of my Chair

April 22nd, 2009 No comments

Next week, I will violate what appears to be a cardinal rule of blogging: Never leave your seat to do any actual investigating of your own. Simply rely on other sources, then synthesize what they give you and turn it into something…wonderful (once in a while, if you’re lucky).

I’m going to be the “official blogger” of Equality Forum. (If you don’t believe me, just go here and view my dopey face in the left column.) Equality Forum, which takes place every year in Philadelphia at this time, is “the largest annual national and international GLBT civil rights forum.” Events begin next Monday (4.27) and run through Sunday, May 3. Once again, the organizers have assembled a ridiculously accomplished and interesting array of panels and speakers, on topics ranging from gay families, to politics, to legal developments, to religion, to the special challenges faced by racial and transgendered minorities. I’ll be hitting as many of them as possible, reporting on the events and then interviewing panelists. “Blogging meets feature journalism,” I’d call it. For a list of all events, go here.

I’m especially excited about the Tuesday evening conversation with Bishop Gene Robinson (who, as Jon Stewart noted, can “only move diagonally”)  and the Saturday evening dinner honoring San Francisco Mayor (and newly declared gubernatorial candidate) Gavin Newsom  and The New York Times.

I’d like to thank Malcolm Lazin, founder and  Executive Director of Equality Forum (and long-time LGBT advocate), for this opportunity, and Chip Alfred and Ben Perry for their logistical work and support in making this happen.

For the rest of this week, I will mostly be doing my usual blogging on a number of diverse subjects (with appetite-whetters from Equality Forum as they arise). Then, a week of blogging devoted exclusively to the Forum!

As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

Categories: blogs, Equality Forum, Gay Rights Tags: , , , , ,