Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thoughts on Pride


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

It’s amazing how little of the Pride events you actually get to see when you’re enough of an activist that you’ve got various groups competing for your body — in a manner of speaking — to fill out their contingents in the parade and staff their booths at the festival. The news in the aftermath of Pride has focused around the mini-controversy over the Dykes on Bikes being aced out of their traditional spot as contingent number one, the two major fatalities over the Pride weekend — “Circuit Daze” harbor cruise performer Steven Paul Hirschfeld, killed by police after he went overboard during their party cruise Saturday night, July 19, and resisted efforts to rescue him; and Atip Ouybron, bicyclist who was broadsided and run down by a truck driver at the corner of Park and University the same day — and the protests over a poor sound system and an overly loud dance stage that prevented festival audiences from hearing the headline performer, comedienne Kathy Griffin.

But the event you’ve read about elsewhere wasn’t the one I experienced. My Pride weekend actually began on Friday night, July 18 with a disappointingly ill-attended rally on the grounds of the festival main stage. The featured speaker was Australian-born, British-resident Queer activist Peter Tatchell, a tall, rangy man considerably younger looking than his years (he was born in 1952 and fled Australia for the U.K. in 1971 to avoid being drafted and sent to fight in the Viet Nam war) who came to speak about his pet cause: the foul treatment of Queer people in most of the world’s countries that goes beyond “homophobia” to physical brutality and outright genocide.

In a state where the Queer community’s biggest political problem is whether we’ll still be able to marry each other after November, it’s important to be reminded that virtually everywhere in the world outside the U.S., Canada and western Europe the biggest problem faced by Queer people is to survive at all. Tatchell’s speech, though delivered in a matter-of-fact tone — there’s no need to feign outrage when the facts are outrageous enough — was a litany of abuses, backed up by a horrific video shown before he spoke of Queers being set on by police and/or private goon squads for attempting to stage Pride marches in Russia, Serbia and Croatia.

From the two Gay leaders in Jamaica who were assassinated for their activism — and the Jamaican Labor Party, the supposedly more liberal of Jamaica’s two major political parties, using as their last campaign theme song a reggae-rap piece openly calling for the murder of Queer people — to the provision in the new, supposedly “democratic” constitution of Iraq giving impunity to people who murder Queer relatives on the ground that they have “dishonored” their families, Tatchell’s litany is a cruel but bracing one. It’s a necessary reminder not only that in most of the world it is still a capital crime to be Queer, but that virtually all of our persecution is wreaked upon us in the name of religion.

Tatchell mentioned that he himself had been attacked by goon squads, and then arrested by police, in Moscow in 2007 for protesting the Moscow mayor’s decision not to allow a pride parade to take place in “his” city. And his video included the still photo of three Gay teenage boys in Iran being hanged for having consensual sex — a case in which all too many people on the Left, fearful that this brutality would be used as part of a U.S. propaganda campaign to justify a war against Iran, not only refused to support Tatchell and his fellow activists but actually bought into the lies the Iranian government cooked up to justify the hangings.

I suspect that the controversial decision to deny the Dykes on Bikes their usual starting slot in the parade and instead have it led off by a “March for Those Who Can’t” was one of Tatchell’s conditions for coming to speak at San Diego Pride. Tatchell is known as a dedicated activist but also something of a prima donna who, like a lot of other activists, feels his particular cause is the most important issue on earth. But his point is well taken, even though the rally would probably have been better attended if Pride’s organizers had made it a rah-rah celebration of same-sex marriage rights (and a determination to keep them by organizing to defeat Proposition 8 on this November’s ballot) instead of a grim reminder of how much farther along we are in our struggle for equal rights than our brothers and sisters almost everywhere else in the world.

Attending the rally was important to me personally because my husband Charles was working both Saturday and Sunday and therefore it was the only event all weekend we would be able to attend together. Had he been free on parade day, we probably would have marched together with all the newlywed couples organized by the Center to dramatize the importance of gaining and keeping the right to marry. Instead I joined my friends in the Bisexual Forum in the parade and also worked their booth at the festival on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday I was in the Leather Realm, the closed-off area of the festival reserved for people 21 and older, working the table of the San Diego League of Gentlemen and hanging out with my friends from the Bears at the next table.

One thing that was striking about this year’s Pride — I’d seen it in previous years but it struck me even harder this time — was the number of male-female couples, mostly young, calmly strolling across the parade assembly site and the festival grounds holding hands with each other. I can’t help wondering who these people are. Are they merely straight people for whom Pride has become a particularly trendy weekend? Or are they the new breed of folks we’ve heard a lot about, people who’ve grown up in what’s been called the “post-Gay era,” who can date a woman one week and a man the next and a woman again the week after that and not think this is at all odd? I remember before last year’s Pride I interviewed Bisexual Forum board member Carlos Legazpi, and we agreed that we’ll know we’ve achieved equal rights when a man can marry a woman, divorce her, marry a man, divorce him and marry a woman again with no one thinking twice about all this, except maybe questioning his ability to maintain a relationship commitment.

Maybe that’s what we’re moving towards — while Queers in the rest of the world are fighting homophobic governments, religions and mobs just to live and love another day, Queers in this part of the world are working towards an era in which whether your sexual or relationship partner is a man or a woman will simply cease to matter, just as by now, 41 years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the laws against interracial marriage, whether your partner is Black, Latino, Asian, native American, Caucasian or what have you has largely ceased to matter. (There’s another reason, apart from his politics, to hope Barack Obama wins the presidential election: the inspiration of seeing a man take the oath of office to lead a country that 42 years earlier had laws on the books to prevent people like him from even existing.)

A less healthy aspect to Pride in its current form is the rampant commercialism — a compliment (we’re considered enough of a niche market to be worth being targeted) but a decidedly left-handed one. For Charles and I, it was summed up at the rally where, at what was supposed to be the most profound and moving moment of the event — after Tatchell had finished speaking and the organizers were asking people to light candles in memory of the victims of the homohatred and homogenocide he had so vividly described — the big video screen that had shown his movie crackled to life again and on came … a commercial from Cox Cable for their digital service. “Boo, boo” my husband said sotto voce — so quietly even I wasn’t aware of it until I played back my tape of the event — but no one else seemed to notice or consider it at all odd. In the most hyper-capitalist nation the world has ever seen, we live our lives in a sea of advertising the way fish live their lives in a sea of water — and we don’t notice it until it intrudes into our consciousness in such a blatantly inappropriate moment, and sometimes not even then.

“Pride” has always been a somewhat troublesome concept for a community so wedded to biologically deterministic notions of ourselves (“We’re born this way” runs the Queer community orthodoxy, even though the very existence of Bisexual and Transgender people disproves it). “Pride” began as the name of our celebrations because in the heady early days of Gay Liberation, we seized on “pride” as the opposite of “shame” and said we would celebrate an aspect of ourselves we had been told all our lives we should loathe. It’s a bit more problematic now that we’ve grown into such a diverse community and many of our young people are breaking down notions of a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender “identity” and refusing to define themselves that way. “Pride” has evolved into a peculiar ritual, part Mardi Gras, part infomercial, with shards of its original political identity as an act of defiance mixed in with the entertainment and commerce. But it’s the only community-wide celebration we have, and as such it’s worth preserving and helping it evolve to meet our needs as we change and grow as a people.

Murray-Ramirez “Outs” U-T Publisher Copley

Report May Hasten Family’s Sale of Paper

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

“This thing (being ‘outed’ as Gay) had put him (David Copley) over the edge,” says local Gay columnist Nicole Murray-Ramirez. “He had cancelled all his social engagements, which he has never done,” he reported in an interview.

David Copley is the owner/publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune (U-T). His company re-cently sold its successful Copley News Service.

Reports have circulated publicly that Copley was considering selling both the newspaper and the Copley family estate in La Jolla. However, David’s decision to actually do it is a direct result of Murray-Ramirez’s dramatic, open letter “outing” him as a Gay man, according to a knowledgeable source who must remain anonymous.

“Dear David Copley,” Murray-Ramirez’s open letter in the July 17 Gay & Lesbian Times reads.

“For decades we have witnessed you give millions of dollars to the arts. Recently, you purchased another yacht; and now, you have just announced an $8 million gift to a museum that preserves costumes … yes, Hollywood costumes from film and television. …

“What is your problem?

“Everyone knows you are one big homo. In the past, I’ve tried to be nice, and I wished you well after your heart attack (after all, we’re both getting to be old queens).

“But I’ve had it with you.”

Murray-Ramirez was particularly angry at Copley because he has regularly refused to give do-nations to help victims of the AIDS crisis, going back to the 1980’s.

“During the worst and darkest times when AIDS ravaged our community, you never made a contribution, and still haven’t,” Murray-Ramirez wrote.

“Joan Kroc was doing it anonymously. David was given every opportunity to give to AIDS. He refused! He even told one of his friends that [he would give to AIDS relief], but then he would be associated with the Gay community, which he didn’t want,” Murray-Ramirez said in the interview.

“Its not just AIDS,” he added. “David hasn’t given a dime to anything” in the Gay community, including the current fight against Proposition 8 that will ban Gay marriages.”

“You’ve stopped being the terrible drunk you were when you used to visit The Caliph and make scenes trying to pick up any young man who was breathing,” Murray-Ramirez wrote in his open letter.

“And you’ve stopped having those wild Gay orgy-like parties at your homes, like you did in the ’60’s and ’70’s …

“You don’t give to stop state initiatives that would take away our [marriage] rights, yet you give millions to save and preserve Hollywood movie dresses.

“David, from one fat old queen to another fat, old queen, I wonder what you’ll say to God when he asks you what you did to help those in need when you could,” Murray-Ramirez concluded.

Murray-Ramirez said he knew that Copley was Gay going back to the early 70’s. He will include a separate chapter on Copley in his book, which he says will not to be published until after his death.

“He’s very embarrassed. He never intended to publicize [that he was Gay],” Murray-Ramirez added. “He’s probably going through hell right now.”

“Nobody has going into detail about Copley’s past concerning his parties and his activities at The Caliph at 3100 Fifth Avenue,” according to a confidential source.

“If you really dug into this, you would find out about the police cover-up about his activities in Balboa Park. His public situation at The Caliph was legendary.

“There’s always been that David Copley got special police treatment over alleged incidents in the park,” the knowledgeable source added.

“This was under [Police Chief William] Kolender (now sheriff), who (reportedly) dated Mrs. Copley, David’s mother. Kolender will deny this,” the source reports.

“In those days, an endorsement from the Copley press was gold. With it, you were in office.” Kolender was later elected sheriff several times.

“One of his friends called me and said [Copley] was very upset. He said, ‘That’s it. I want out of this public figure thing’,” Murray-Ramirez reported.

“This thing has put him over the edge,” Murray-Ramirez reported. It is believed that this “outing” caused Copley to definitely decide to sell the newspaper and his family estate in La Jolla.

Neither Copley nor his advisor, Hal Fuson, responded to several requests for comment.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at, or at (619) 757-4909.

Photo caption: Nicole Murray-Ramirez seen announcing at the Pride Parade after “outing” Union Tribune publisher David Copley as Gay.

Sidewalk Memorial to Bicyclist Killed at Park and University

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Over 100 burning candles and dozens of fresh flowers on the sidewalk at Park and University Avenues made up two special memorial tributes to Atip Ouybron, 22, a popular Thai who worked at Trader Joe’s in Hillcrest.

He was enrolled at City College for the fall, but was killed on July 19 when broadsided by a truck as he rode his bicycle through the Park/University intersection seen in the background.

At the center of the main memorial is a bike without rubber tires and painted white, with about a dozen chain locks on it.

“It’s a ghost bike, and people wanted to leave a piece of themselves with the memorial,” explained Mike Lashua, an “old roommate for a long time.”

For days, his friends maintained a constant vigil by the two floral tributes, one at the intersection’s northeast corner and a second on the median.

Ouybron was special, according to co-workers at Trader Joe’s.

“He didn’t walk, he floated,” said Taylor Jordan at the store.

Trader Joe’s staff is considering “doing something” as a memorial to their former employee, says Laurie Kuchinsky, the store’s manager. “It’s really raw for the group” to make any decisions now, so soon after the fellow’s sudden death, she added. In about two weeks, some decisions will be made.

Police media specialist Detective Gary Hasson said Ouybron wasn’t wearing a helmet when he was struck and killed, “and might have lived if he had a helmet.” Helmets are required by law for those under 18, but not for adults, according to police traffic Sgt. Jeff Fellows.
“We are all wearing helmets now,” said Atip’s close friend, Lashua.

Contact Leo E. Laurence at or call (619) 757-4909.

Photo Caption: Close friends of Atip Ouybron, 22, tend a floral me-morial at the northeast corner of University and Park (seen in background) where he was killed while riding his bicycle on July 19.
Housing Crisis Hitting People of Color Hard
Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved
People of color are being hit especially hard by the housing crisis, but the nation’s media have not been covering this issue very comprehensively.

Borrowers of color accounted for half the increase in homeowners from 1995 to 2005, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Latinos represented about 46 percent and blacks about 55 percent of those who took out mortgages, but got higher-cost loans, compared with about 17 percent for whites and Asians.

“Many of these people with subprime loans were misled. In some cases, fraud was involved and some just got in over their heads,” says Gregg Robinson, co-chair of the Affordable Housing Coalition of San Diego and reported by staff writer Penni Crabtree of the San Diego Union-Tribune, one of the few major newspapers which has covered the affect of the housing crisis on communities of color.

Many of the Latinos who took out these subprime loans spoke little or no English. They were relying – perhaps naïvely - on the honesty and professionalism of the housing agents with whom they did business.

Cesar Gonzales saw his neighbors becoming owners of houses, and he wanted one, too. He trusted his realtor and the loan officer.

“But once you sign the loan papers, you take the responsibility and the risk,” said Adelina Enriquez, a counselor at Community Housing Works, a non-profit that offers free counseling to distressed homeowners.

Gonzales “didn’t understand what he was doing,” she added.

Gonzales is a construction worker who speaks little English and dropped out of school after the fifth grade. It’s a problem that many Latinos, particularly in California, faced as loan officers pushed risky loans.

Latinos and African-Americans make up a disproportionately large share of the thousands in the nation who face losing their home to foreclosure or are in default on their loans with adjustable interest rates that are rapidly rising.

Gonzales, speaking through an interpreter, said he still is uncertain what kind of loan he signed up for on the $565,000 duplex he bought last May.

His monthly income was $3,200, but the monthly mortgage payments were $4,200; so the loan was probably ill conceived from the beginning.

Recently, his lender, Countrywide (which has figured prominently in the housing crisis), called Gonzales to ask why he was late with his payments.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at or call (619) 757-4909.

City Council Passes Interim Height Ordinance

Huge Buildings Banned in Hillcrest, Mission Hills … for Now

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

In a major victory for community activists in Hillcrest and Mission Hills, the City Council on July 8 passed the controversial Interim Height Ordinance (IHO).

That means that huge new buildings like the infamous 301 University Project, successfully chal-lenged in court by Tom Mullvaney’s Friends of San Diego, cannot be built while the Uptown Community Plan is being revised. That is expected to be a two- to three-year process.

The IHO will be in force for 30 months, with two possible 180-day extensions if the update to the Uptown Community Plan is not completed, according to documents submitted to the city council by the Independent Task Force for the Uptown Interim Height Ordinance.

Until the IHO was approved, the 20-year old Uptown Community Plan allowed for building heights of up to 150 and 200 feet along parts of Washington St., University Ave. and 4th, 5th and 6th Avenues.

“Many residents and business owners feel that taller buildings overwhelm the lower profile and historic character of the Uptown community,” the IHO Task Force’s documents said.

During the past two years, a coalition of nine community organizations led by attorney Barry Hager, president of Mission Hills Heritage and chair of the IHO’s Independent Task Force, developed the IHO. Without Hager’s personal, relentless work on this IHO campaign, it would not have been successful.

Generally, new buildings in the Mission Hills area are now limited to no more than 50 feet, and in the main Hillcrest/Uptown neighborhoods to no more than 65 feet. South of Upas and down into the Banker’s Hill area, higher buildings are “discretionary,” meaning that they will require specific approvals by the Planning Commission.

“Some leaders in the community say that agency tends to favor development projects,” Hager said. But its decisions can be appealed to the City Council.

The IHO that passed was actually a compromise. Many property and business owners strongly voiced opinions that the Hillcrest height limit needed to be lower than 65 feet. The compromise was accepted to get something passed into law.

It wasn’t easy to win approval of the IHO. Opposition from developers and the Building Industry Association (BIA) was very strong.

The main argument supporting the IHO was that higher limits for new buildings destroy the unique community character of the Hillcrest and Mission Hills neighborhoods, some of which are over 100 years old.

John Taylor, a Hillcrest community activist and property owner, testified before the City Council saying he didn’t want the neighborhoods to “become an extension of downtown.”

“The reason why these (new) buildings are so tall is that they are being built with unusually large unit sizes,” Hager said in an interview.

“That pushes the buildings higher,” he added.

The Mi Arbolito project at Sixth and Upas features a 14-story building with one unit per floor, each with 2,280 square feet. The Park Laurel Towers are 148 feet tall and feature 96 units on an entire city block, with four penthouses of 4,715 square feet each.

The proposed St. Paul’s Cathedral Towers include average unit sizes of over 2,200 square feet.

There is also an alarming trend towards these luxury condos in new construction, with condos costing from $1.7 to $3.8 million. That is not “affordable” housing, the community activists told the Councilmembers before they approved the IHO.

Developers argued that the IHO amounted to a zooming downgrade, but attorney Hager said that was false.

“The ordinance will promote affordable housing and sustainable development,” Hager explained.

“In the past, the city has been a rubber stamp for the developers. They will come and go. We will stay,” said Ellen Preston, a longtime Mission Hills homeowner and activist.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at, or at (619) 757-4909.

Photo caption: Attorney Barry Hager (left) led the successful 2-year battle for the Interim Height Ordinance for Hillcrest and Mission Hills. In city council chambers, he chats with third-District council candidate Steve Whitburn (right) and Ernie Villafrance (center).


Activist Starts the Leather Foundation


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Russ Mortenson isn’t exactly one of the highest-profile people in San Diego’s Leather community, but he’s the sort of behind-the-scenes activist that quietly, unobtrusively and effectively gets good things done. The Missouri-born Mortenson, a familiar sight at the Eagle in North Park where he works as a bartender, recently organized the Leather Foundation, largely to raise money to help people recover from the devastation of the 2007 wildfires in San Diego County and also to help prevent sexually transmitted diseases by once again making condoms available in bars. Zenger’s interviewed him in mid-June and his crisp, clear-cut comments are self-explanatory.

Zenger’s: Why don’t you start by telling me a little about yourself, your background, how you got involved in the Leather community and what led you to start the Foundation?

Russ Mortenson: I was born in Missouri, but I’ve been in California since I came here in the Navy in 1972. I’ve lived here and in L.A. and San Francisco. I ran for Mr. San Diego Leather in 1986 and then I moved and didn’t come back to the Leather community until 1997, when I did the Leather Community Awards in L.A. County at the Fault Line. I met my partner and moved back here to San Diego.

The Leather Foundation is a product of outreach. There’s a clear need for a sense of togetherness and belonging within the Leather communities, whether they be Bisexual, Transgender, Gay, Lesbian, or straight. There are a lot of wonderful people and a lot of wonderful organizations. We just need a central focus. It also came about because during the fires, and also from my background working in social services, I noticed that single folks and Gays and Lesbians tend to be at the bottom of the list of people who were getting help, mostly because they are single and families would always go first. So the Leather Foundation was born from what I perceived was that need.

Zenger’s: You mentioned that the Leather community has been well known for philanthropies, but this is the first time anyone in San Diego has tried to pull them together and do an ongoing program from a single organization. What was your involvement in fundraising before this, and what made you see the need for something more ongoing than just, “Let’s do something at a bar”?

Mortenson: Fundraising has always been with me. I just have this love of doing things and being part of things, and watching something I can see in my mind come to fruition, and being able to raise funds for whatever organization needs money. It’s just been a great joy of mine.

I just see a lot of fundraisers going to a lot of different organizations, and it’s piecemeal. I thought that the Leather community, and the general community that’s receiving the funds, would be better off if there was a larger, more focused point, so that everybody could contribute at the same time to different things, and then narrow-focus them down to whatever is needed.

Zenger’s: You mentioned last year’s fires as part of your inspiration. How did you encounter this issue that you mentioned, that Gays and single people in general were the last to be helped? Were there any specific incidents that you remember that made you aware of that?

Mortenson: I worked in social services before, and working with other charitable organizations, large ones, I’ve seen that their primary focus was single women, people with disabilities, single parents, children. There doesn’t seem to be one focused directly on single individuals by themselves. They would help them, but women, children and families go first. The rest pull up the back. It’s sort of a “we’ll get around to it if we have enough funds” mentality. So I thought of the Leather Foundation filling the gap and saying, “O.K., we’ll do that.”

Zenger’s: So what were you guys able to do during the fires? How much money did you raise, how many items were you able to get, and how did you distribute them?

Mortenson: We raised $1,500, and I called the Red Cross and asked them what they wanted. They said they were badly in need of water, so we spent $500 on bottled water and took it over both to Qualcomm and the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Zenger’s: Was it pretty frantic for you during those days?

Mortenson: It was, just wondering what could we do the fastest and who needed the help the most. We did put out e-mail lists and calls to North County and East County, asking any individuals if they needed help to contact us. We wanted to make sure everybody that we could reach had a place to stay, food, whatever they needed. That’s how I saw the Leather Foundation’s job. At that point, I was kicking in high gear. Fortunately, most of our own community had reached out and brought it home to other people, so we were well taken care of. I think that’s indicative of our community at large.

Zenger’s: One of the things mentioned on your Web site is a condom distribution program in bars. What gave you the idea to do that?

Mortenson: When I saw the statistics that San Diego County’s HIV transmission rate was 1,100 percent higher over the last numbers and we’re leading the nation. You just can’t sit by and do nothing. Once before, there was a condom distribution program. It closed for whatever reasons. I think a condom is a wonderful way to cut down on HIV/AIDS resurgence, and also the STD’s, which are outrageous. We need to protect our own, protect our people.

Zenger’s: Why do you think the earlier condom distribution program disappeared?

Mortenson: Lack of funding. Absolutely. Lack of funding.

Zenger’s: I’ve heard a lot about younger people coming into the community who didn’t have the experience of those of us in the 1980’s, having their friends dying right and left, and don’t see this as something that affects them. We’ve had this enormous amount of propaganda about how wonderful the new meds are, and very little information about the side effects, about how horrible a life on these drugs can be. Do you think that’s part of why the rates are up, just a new generation that isn’t as scared as we are?

Mortenson: Correct. I think so. I think that we’ve lost touch with the issue, and the names and the faces. The only way to combat that is for younger people to step up and be part of the whole process, from beginning to end. I also would add that if we don’t help with condom distribution and whatnot in Tijuana, we’re batting our heads against a wall. With this easy-crossing, trans-border partying on both sides, it’s insane to try to stop it on one side and not help the other.

Zenger’s: So you’re saying that we need to get condoms into the bars in Mexico, not only to help save the Mexicans but also because the diseases are being transmitted from one side to the other.

Mortenson: I was in the Navy, and I remember going across. It just makes sense. You have to do it on both sides. And it’s not just bars. Coffee shops, I think. Certainly hotels should have them available. If you could put a Bible in a book drawer, you could certainly put a condom in a book drawer!

Zenger’s: What are the expenses involved in doing something like this? How much money are we talking about to do the kind of program you want?

Mortenson: Total? You mean down the road, or what we’re doing right now?

Zenger’s: What you’re doing now, and what you’re hoping to expand to down the road.

Mortenson: I think that right now it’s running about $500 per month, counting the containers and the condoms, and we just got our shipment of our 10,000th condom since January. I would like to see it move up to probably $1,500 per month, which will take care of all the bars I can see. But I’d also like to do the organizations. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are already taking the condoms around and moving them to where they’re going. I also put them on the university campuses, on the Gay Student Union halls, wherever we can, and find condom-dispensing machines and bring them back into usage.

This is not just a Gay/Lesbian thing or a Leather thing. This is the general public that needs help, and it just happens to be that the Leather community is stepping up.

Zenger’s: What’s been the reaction of the bar owners? Have you gotten support? Has there been resistance?

Mortenson: No one’s said no. Some wanted to leave them behind the bar and let the patrons ask for them. In that case, we put a little sign on the bar saying you can ask the bartender. But there’s very, very few of those. Most of them are welcoming us to put them back in their bar.

Zenger’s: What kind of promotion are you doing to let people know that condoms are available, and persuade them to use them?

Mortenson: By sight. You see them. They’re in almost all the bars in a visible place, and even those that have them behind the bar, you can still see them. Now, if I did a publicity blitz on that, it would mean a lot more funding. Let the word of mouth spread, and sight-see, and allow the money that we have or can gather to get condoms out there first.

Zenger’s: One issue that we’ve been particularly interested in as one of the risk factors for AIDS is drug use. I was wondering if your group was doing anything on that issue as well. Are you raising funding for any of the groups in our community that deal with drug use?

Mortenson: I haven’t, but it’s certainly on the plate of things to do. With our funding, I can only tackle major problems we have now. I think the condoms should be out first, and certainly the drugs, crystal meth in particular, should be the next one in line. But there are already organizations out there working on that. Nobody’s putting condoms in the bars. I certainly would be glad to help anyone raise money that they needed.

Zenger’s: I was also wondering if you’d like to talk about the other funds involved in the organizations, if you could run them down and tell me what they are.

Mortenson: There’s another one called the Small Group Fund. This fund is set up for small organizations in San Diego County who are doing something that would benefit the Leather community as a whole, and if they were short in the budget they could ask for funds for it. The Ms. San Diego Leather contest asked for help, and we were able to help them in this last round.

Then there’s the Emergency Fund, which comes in three parts. One is for emergencies like burial. Again, we’re back to the earthquakes, fires, things like that. If someone is short on their phone bills, we can try to help. Then there’s the Women’s Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, which is doing the same thing. That was inspired by the women in North County.

Zenger’s: How did that happen?

Mortenson: They were doing a fundraiser, and we wanted to do something. The ladies involved had a friend who died of breast cancer, and they wanted to do a fundraiser and establish a fund, but they didn’t wanted to mount it as a fund. So they contacted me and asked if I would hold the funds for them. They’re the ones who set the policies on how the money goes. We’re just the caretakers who take care of the funds for them.

The other fund is called Travel and Education Fund. I think it’s important that San Diego County be well represented — as we have been — in the different functions, whether it be IML [the annual International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago] or Leather Leadership Conferences and all that. So if someone needs and wants to go, we certainly need new leadership to be able to come through and participate, and this is just a helpmate for them. Hopefully we can do something like bring the Leather Leadership Conference to San Diego.

Zenger’s: What are your ambitions for the Leather Foundation? What else do you hope to see it do?

Mortenson: I would like to see education funds established. I would like to see it become something that other communities around the nation would see works, something that the community should be proud of and be able to take their money into good hands and give it to charities that are in need. I just think that it can only grow in whichever direction is needed at the time. It certainly has to be flexible.

Zenger’s: Who else is involved besides yourself?

Mortenson: Robert Boyd is our secretary, and Robert Hopkins is our treasurer. We’re setting up a board of directors of five people. This has been an ongoing process of about three years until we’ve reached this point.

Zenger’s: You said it was an ongoing process of three years, but you also said it was inspired by the fires.

Mortenson: The first fires.

Zenger’s: Oh, the first fires in 2003. Ah. So if there’s another one, which is all too believable on a day like this, will you guys be ready?

Mortenson: I worry. I worry. Every time I go out, especially when it was raining this fall, I go, “Oh, dear. Here we go.” As you can tell on our Web site, our goal is to have food, water, blankets, etc. stockpiled throughout the county, so we can do it. But so far we haven’t had enough money to move that fund yet. It will, it will.

Zenger’s: If people want to help you out, where do they go?

Mortenson: You can donate directly from our Web site,, through PayPal, or certainly you can find me at the Eagle. And if anybody needs anything, there are applications on the Web site itself.


Alternative AIDS Activist Witnesses Semmelweis Awards


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

If you saw the July 17 edition of the Gay & Lesbian Times — the one that was on the stands during San Diego’s Pride events this year — and opened the center pages, you saw a two-page, slick-paper, full-cover ad offering a decidedly non-mainstream view of AIDS and HIV. The ad’s headline asked, “Gays, Straights, Blacks, Whites, Science, Medicine, Media: Have We All Been Deceived?” It argued not only that we’ve been deceived by a ceaseless propaganda campaign that for the last 24 years has drummed it into our heads that the sole cause of AIDS is a virus known as HIV [Human Immunodeficiency Virus], but that hundreds of thousands of people were killed unnecessarily from the toxic effects of the medications routinely prescribed to people testing “HIV positive” whether or not they’re actually sick.

The ad quoted Kevin de Cock of the World Health Organization as saying that, contrary to years of scare warnings from the AIDS establishment, there will most likely never be an AIDS epidemic among white heterosexuals. This, however, only means that Queers and people of color will continue to be the prime targets of the AIDS establishment, via high-powered campaigns to get them to take so-called “HIV tests” and start on anti-HIV drugs immediately if they test “positive.” The ad argued that “persons giving or taking HIV tests are never told that there are 70 known factors that are proven to often cause false positive results,” that the much-ballyhooed 99-plus percent accuracy of the tests is based on how often they don’t find HIV antibodies in people the researchers assume are not infected, and “there is no established accuracy for finding HIV.”

Ads like these have become something of a tradition in pre-Pride issues of the Gay & Lesbian Times. Like the ones in earlier years, this ad was the work of Michael Geiger, who signed it as a representative of “J.E.D.I.” — League of Justice, Equality and Dignity International. Geiger first encountered the scientific critique of the HIV/AIDS model in the 1990’s when he was researching a movie he planned to make, a Romeo and Juliet-style love story in which his star-crossed lovers were divided not by feuding families but by different HIV statuses. But once he started reading the work of people critical of the HIV/AIDS model — scientists like UC Berkeley professor Peter Duesberg and journalists like Celia Farber — he became convinced they were right, abandoned his film project and instead dedicated himself to exposing what he believes are flaws, inconsistencies and downright lies in what the HIV mainstream has to say about AIDS.

In mid-May Geiger became the only outside person to attend the ceremonies in Washington, D.C. at which Duesberg and Farber were given awards by the Semmelweis Society International — named after a 19th century medical pioneer, Ignaz Semmelweis, who was driven from the profession and institutionalized for his insistence that doctors should wash their hands between patients to keep from transmitting one patient’s disease to another. Like Semmelweis himself, whose ideas were considered outrageously radical in his own time but now are accepted common sense, the honorees of the Semmelweis Society are mostly doctors who have challenged medical orthodoxy and found themselves subjected to rigged “peer review” processes and often stripped of their licenses to practice.

Giving awards to a research scientist and a journalist was a bit of a departure for the Semmelweis Society, but in defending the awards Semmelweis president Dr. Roland F. Chalifoux said, “The overt hysteria deployed against those who are simply proposing the clinical and fully scientific review of new ideas should alarm public servants and elected officials who are responsible for supporting the First Amendment right for rational discourse. American taxpayers have not been told the whole truth about the still-unidentified HIV virus, and its arguable relationship to the disease of AIDS, while ignoring the known toxicity of the drugs currently used to fight AIDS. … Dr. Duesberg has an idea, a contrarian idea; to be sure, it is an idea, nothing more, but nothing less. Celia Farber’s ‘crime’ is to have reported this contrarian idea, into a First Amendment Free Speech Protected Society, or so we all thought.”

Michael Geiger reported on his trip to Washington, D.C. to watch Duesberg and Farber receive the Semmelweis award at the July 1 meeting of the San Diego branch of H.E.A.L. [Health, Education, AIDS Liaison], an international network of educational organizations devoted to building public awareness of scientifically rational alternatives to the belief that HIV causes AIDS. This interview is adapted from his presentation.

Michael Geiger: As soon as I heard about the awards, I got my plane ticket and went to Washington. My family’s back there as well, so I just made a trip of it. First, I really wanted to meet Peter [Duesberg], because I’ve talked to him often on the phone and I’ve sent him some lab equipment for his lab. And Celia [Farber] as well; I’ve talked to her several times and they just seemed like wonderful people. To me, they’re heroes, because of everything they’ve been through.

Reappraising AIDS publicity director Beth Ely and myself got there before Peter and Celia had arrived. The guys from the Semmelweis, including Rev. [Walter C.] Fountroy, who’s the founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, were already seated in there having their meeting, and they were making arrangements for the Semmelweis whistle-blower and clean-hands awards.

Semmelweis is a society of doctors who have been subjected to sham “peer review.” That means they blew the whistle in their workplace and then were brought up on bunk charges as their workplace attempted to get rid of them. Many of them had amazing stories to tell about drugs that had been brought in by one of the doctors that worked at a hospital, totally unknown to the FDA, not approved by anyone, and he’s going to experiment on the hospital’s patients on these drugs. And would you like to buy some stock in it, and get in early?

The doctor who was dealing with that one was drummed out of the hospital he worked at and brought up on what are called these sham “peer review” charges, taken to a peer-review trial and then drummed out of his place of work, including having lost his license to practice medicine in the state of Texas, after having brought this up, because obviously whatever was going on was going on further than just that hospital.

So they had these 18 other people, and Celia and Peter there. Shortly before we got there, Semmelweis been targeted with a mass e-mail campaign from the Treatment Action Group [TAG], a pharmaceutical industry-funded, drugs-promoting group out of New York, lambasting the Semmelweis members, saying, “How can you do this? These people are killers, they’re murderers, they’re baby-killers, their science is completely wrong, they have no evidence for anything they say, of course HIV causes AIDS,” etc., etc.

The Semmelweis members, because they’re used to this kind of attack on them, relate to things like that in a very different way from most people. They start to question, “O.K. Why is this person saying this? What’s his agenda?” And it wasn’t too difficult to figure out what that was.

Zenger’s: Could you talk a little about the Semmelweis Society: what it is and how long it’s existed.

Geiger: I’m not sure how long it’s existed, but it’s composed of a couple of hundred doctors — so far — that have been subjected to sham peer reviews. One of their major spokespeople is a guy named Gil Melkovsky, who’s out of the Alliance for Patient Safety. He was also a doctor, [victim of] sham [“peer review”], and he’s got his little Alliance for Patient Safety thing going up somewhere outside of L.A.

After Gil saw Celia’s article in [the March 2006] Harper’s, he called Celia and said, “Do you really want to further this?” Shortly thereafter he started looking into the HIV/AIDS thing. Because he’s the vice-president of the Semmelweis Society and the president of the Alliance for Patient Safety, and he’s also a very strong and very outspoken man, when he wants to do something, people listen. He’s a very bright, very intelligent go-getter that doesn’t tolerate people’s B.S.

So he got it put before the Semmelweis Society and presented it to them. They agreed that there should be a category put in for journalists who have tried to expose wrongdoing and have been trashed because of their attempt to bring out the truth, same as the doctors there go through. They also verified, not that Peter Duesberg’s work is correct, but that Peter Duesberg, as a scientist, had been sham-“peer reviewed” by his fellows at the NIH [National Institutes of Health] when he presented his evidence that HIV was not the cause of AIDS, and was drummed out of the NIH and never funded again. So they chose this year to give Peter and Celia awards, to round out their 18 already stated awards cases to 20.

A couple of doctors who were Semmelweis members,, including an HIV treatment specialist who’d also been subjected to a sham “peer review,” drummed up a lot of resistance with the other members, saying, “Don’t do this, it’s a mistake, Duesberg’s nuts.” But the rest of the members, said, “We’re not doing it because Duesberg is right or wrong. We’re doing it because he presented evidence, and the evidence should at least be looked out without him being drummed out, without him being stripped of funding.” So they all agreed that he should get the award because he’d been shammed. Whether his research was correct or not was beside the point. They’re not there to judge the research. They’re just there to judge whether or not he’d been shammed, and they found he had. So they continued to give him the award.

Ordinarily, the Semmelweis award ceremonies are presented in front of members of Congress, but they were concerned that there could be all kinds of protesters there because of all the ruckus against Peter and Celia. They were also concerned that their awardees were going to be completely overshadowed, and all these people who had been prepared to come here, who’d been waiting for this moment for their stories to be told to the public, for their stories to be told to Congressmembers and Senators and other people, suddenly nobody’s going to hear their stories. All anybody’s going to hear is Duesberg and AIDS and Celia Farber.

So they decided to hold off on Peter’s and Celia’s awards and give them to them privately, afterwards. I’m grateful to have been the only person in the audience when Peter and Celia got the very first recognition, in any way, shape, form or type, from any group in the United States that wasn’t just an AIDS dissident group, for their work. To me that was a momentous occasion, and that was the biggest reason I went down there. They were finally being recognized that fraud had been done to them, they had been shammed, and what they were saying may damned well be right.

When I got to the Semmelweis Society, before Peter and Celia had got there, Gil Melikovsky turned to me and said, “Who are you?” I said, “I’m Michael Geiger.” And he said, “Who’s Michael Geiger?” And I’m thinking I’m going to really mess these guys up: “I’m Peter Duesberg’s boyfriend, and don’t tell his wife Siggi because it’s our secret!” Meanwhile, as soon as I said that, eyes popped, jaws dropped, everybody was speechless and just looking at me like, “What?” And suddenly a couple of guys in there started snickering, and Gil yelled out, “That can’t possibly be! He’s married and he has a son and there’s no way!”

Another person said, “You really should talk to the Reverend here,” meaning Reverend Walter Fountroy, the [nonvoting] Congressman who was the founder of the Black Caucus.

Zenger’s: Also the leader of a national organization against same-sex marriage.

Geiger: I went and sat down next to Rev. Fauntroy, because I had no idea who he was. I didn’t know he was even a Congressman. I didn’t know he was the founder of the Black Caucus. I just thought he was a Black preacher, and probably a doctor from Semmelweis, a Dr. Rev. or whatever, Fauntroy. I went in and sat next to him, because one of the issues that I’ve had is really the homophobia that’s been so prevalent in the Black community, with their “down low” crap and their flogging Black homosexuals from the pulpit as abominations of God and all this, because we’ve gone through this within the white community with the evangelists. The Blacks were a little late on that, but now they’ve started picking up their own “homophobia from hell” routine.

So I really felt, if I had an opportunity to talk to a Black Reverend and discuss this issue, now was the time. I sat down next to him, and told him, “I’m a Gay man who’s been around the Gay scene before the word ‘AIDS’ meant anything but a teacher’s assistant. And I’d like to share with you my experience of it. Beginning in the late 1970’s, when Anita Bryant came on the scene with her anti-homosexual crusade, and then the Moral Majority joined in on that, and then all of a sudden there’s hundreds of thousands of Moral Majority guys that are screaming, ‘Homosexuals are all going to hell,’ and God hates us all, and the whole country got swept up in that. College students were wearing T-shirts that said, ‘Bury a fairy’ and ‘Kill a queer.”

I said, “The message to us Gays, as we stood up and stood for our own equal rights, was horrifying.” I also said to him, “You as a Black man, Reverend, have more dignity bestowed on you by our society than I do as a Gay man. You can love who you want, marry who you want; I can’t. You can serve in the military and get the educational benefits and all the other benefits of the military, and I can’t.” I said, “I’m treated, in our society, as less of a human being than you are.”

As a Black man who had been one of the right-hand men of Dr. Martin Luther King and was in the hotel room when King got killed, I presume he understands oppression, and he understands a lack of dignity bestowed on a group. I told him, “We Gays have been cut down by the blades of intolerance, of this homophobia. We’ve been told God hates us because we’re Gay. And this has caused so many Gay men to feel that their hearts have been ripped out of them as they get disowned by their families and told, ‘Don’t ever talk to me again. You’re not my son.’

“Gay men, a lot of Gay men, get completely self-destructive. They can get suicidal. They can seem really happy and laughing while they see you, but when they’re sitting by themselves, they wish they were dead. It’s that painful. So many of them turned into drug addicts and just couldn’t get enough drugs, couldn’t do enough drugs to escape the emotional pain. So many of them turned into sex addicts and couldn’t get enough antibiotics to deal with all the STD’s they got, and the antibiotics tore up their systems.”

I said, “Reverend, can you expect that people who are living this way, who are stressed out of their minds, who are self-loathing, who are disempowered, who are told that God hates them, who are told by their families, ‘Don’t ever talk to us again, you are not my son,’ turning into drug addicts, totally self-destructive and wishing they were dead, do you expect that these people are going to be healthy?” And he said, “No, of course not.” I said, “Well, that’s what AIDS is. That’s what it is. And when you add to that people being scared to death by getting an HIV test, and you have to carry them out of the doctor’s office after they get their test, and the first thing they do is run to get the most toxic of all drugs to try to ‘save’ them, of a chemotherapy to be on for the rest of their life, the very drug that’s going to take them out. This is what we call AIDS in the United States.”

And then I said, “In Africa, go to Soweto. Go to a Soweto ghetto and what you’ll see is shanties, hundreds of thousands of shanties, shanty after shanty after shanty, of a woman living in a shanty with no food, no clean water, no job, no money, five screaming malaria-ridden infants playing in the sewer out in front of her shanty with no future, no hope: can you expect that she, under that kind of stress and duress, is going to be a healthy person?” He said, “No, of course not.” I said, “That’s what we call AIDS in Africa.”

He got it. He said, “You know, I understand. I always wondered why Thabo [Mbeki, president of South Africa and the first world leader publicly to question the HIV/AIDS connection] did what he did, but now I understand.” And he did. He also understood the homophobia thing. He’d been one of the people who was — he was a founding member of an alliance against marriage; I don’t know what it was called [the Alliance For Marriage], but whatever it was called, it was an anti-Gay marriage thing that he himself had been for.

Suddenly he was looking at his own part in furthering homophobia, in furthering the disempowerment of people, in furthering treating people like even less than he had been treated, further treating people this way in modern times when he himself knows what a struggle it is for a disempowered, marginalized group to have any sense of dignity and self-respect or acceptance, equal rights, justice, freedom. So he got it. He got it, and I was very glad. He suddenly saw me as a human being instead of one of them evil Gay people, and I think it changed him.

I’m totally convinced that eventually “HIV/AIDS” is going to be thrown out. I just hope it will be in my lifetime. I hope it will be in Peter Duesberg’s lifetime. The man is 71 years old, and he deserves to have some justice. I’m going to do whatever I can do to bring it down, whatever it takes. Whatever we can possibly come up with to do, whatever schemes or scams or dreams or whatever that we can do to bring it down, I’m going to work towards doing that.

An audio interview with Michael Geiger and David Crowe of the Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society (ARAS) is available on the Internet at

HRC President Solmonese Speaks in San Diego

Attempts Damage Control on Transgender Rights Issues


copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — America’s largest national organization dealing with Queer rights issues — came to San Diego for the Pride weekend and stayed long enough to be the featured speaker at a reception at the LGBT Community Center July 24 sponsored by a steering committee formed to organize an HRC chapter in San Diego. The Center’s announcement of the event (which misstated Solmonese’s title with HRC as “executive director” instead of “president”) said Solmonese was coming to San Diego “to help energize the community around our historic marriage equality battle,” but he spent most of his brief (under 10 minutes) speech attempting to do damage control on HRC’s strained relations with the Transgender community.

The controversy began last October as the House of Representatives began considering the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The bill was originally designed to amend the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect Americans from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Shortly before the bill was scheduled for its first test at the House Committee on Education and Labor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and openly Gay Congressmember Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) removed the part of the bill protecting Transgender people, claiming they had the votes to pass a version that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity. HRC endorsed the compromise legislation, but virtually every other national Queer rights organization opposed it and joined a coalition to demand an all-inclusive ENDA.

At the Center, Solmonese defended HRC’s position as the sort of compromise virtually all civil-rights advocates have had to make during the years-long process by which bills like the Civil Rights Act and ENDA ultimately get passed. “We had never taken a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act ever in the history of the House of Representatives,” Solmonese said. “The first vote did not start the way that we wanted to, [but] it did two things that were very important. It gave us a very clear road map in terms of where we go to build on that. These are the sorts of things that take a number of years to get done. I worked in Washington on the Family and Medical Leave Act. We voted on that bill eight times over eight years, and each time we voted on a different bill. Each time we voted on it, more was added to it.”

Solmonese said the House is currently considering two versions of ENDA, one with Transgender protections and one without. He said HRC is working to build support for an inclusive version and also to cut back the so-called “religious exemption” in the current bills. He boasted that, two weeks earlier, “we had the first-ever hearings before a House subcommittee on issues impacting the Transgender community,” and said this was a start to the kind of education that needs to be done so Congressmembers will become more educated on anti-Transgender discrimination and willing to support a law to ban it.

Saying that “we’ve got to move 48 members of the House from supporting one bill to supporting the bill that we want,” Solmonese introduced Alzie Robinson as “our associate director of diversity … who is going to be out across the country, working with us and making sure that work gets done in district after district all around the country” to build an awareness of the need for inclusive Queer-rights legislation. Though Solmonese didn’t introduce Robinson as Transgender, in a later conversation with a local Transgender activist angry at HRC’s position on ENDA, Robinson referred to Transgender people as “we.”

The clash over ENDA and HRC’s apparent willingness to put Transgender rights on hold overshadowed the other issues Solmonese came to talk about — including Proposition 8, the initiative to reverse the California Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry; the Presidential election and such other long-time national Queer issues as hate-crimes legislation and the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy forbidding openly Queer people from serving in the U.S. military. Solmonese praised San Diego Congressmember Susan Davis for taking a lead role in the recent Congressional hearings on “don’t ask, don’t tell” — the first ones since the policy was passed in 1993 — and introduced Todd Gloria, a member of Davis’s staff and candidate for San Diego City Council in District 3. (His opponent, Stephen Whitburn, did not attend the reception.)

Solmonese also boasted that HRC had scored a major victory in amending President Bush’s AIDS bill to lift the ban on HIV positive people entering the U.S. This ban, pushed by the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, passed in 1990 and is the reason the U.S. hasn’t hosted an international AIDS conference since the one in San Francisco in 1990. “As a result of the good work of Senators John Kerry and Joe Biden, we were able to get a provision into the [AIDS] bill that said that will no longer be the case, and the President is committed to signing that,” Solmonese said. “That will be law, and that is a very big deal for our community.”

According to Solmonese, the Queer community’s agenda from now until the November election “could not be clearer.” One of the priorities, he said, is making sure Barack Obama wins the Presidential election against John McCain. “I have had many conversations with Obama about his vision for this country, and in every conversation he has made clear to me that it includes us,” Solmonese said. “He has thought deeply and long-time about issues impacting our community, he has been there for us as a Senator, and he will be [as President].”

By contrast, Solmonese added, “Senator McCain voted against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill. He voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [when it came up for a vote in the Senate several years ago — the current version has yet to be considered by the Senate]. He voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment [the radical-Right effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent states from allowing same-sex marriages] on the ground that that’s an issue best left to the states, but in the same breath he then turned around and endorsed the ban in his home state of Arizona and made three television commercials in support of the ban. He thinks ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ works just fine. So for our community, the circumstances and the consequences [of this year’s Presidential election] couldn’t be clearer.”

Not surprisingly, Solmonese’s other political priority this year is “winning the fight here in California in November and defeating this discriminatory marriage ban. The Human Rights Campaign has to date contributed $750,000 to this fight. We have had anywhere from six to 10 staff members and people on the ground at any given time. We had our entire communications department here on Marriage Day [June 15, the date the California Supreme Court’s ruling took effect and the first Lesbian and Gay couples married] to help out and make sure that day went well, and I’m sure you would agree that that date went extremely well, and it was wonderfully covered.”

Nonetheless, the continuing antagonism between HRC and the Transgender community over ENDA has got in the way of the group’s ability to support the No on 8 campaign. On July 27 the Associated Press reported that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had withdrawn as keynote speaker for an HRC-sponsored fundraiser against Proposition 8 in San Francisco. He dropped out after Transgender activists threatened to picket the event in protest against HRC’s willingness to accept and support a non-inclusive ENDA. Villaraigosa withdrew after the San Francisco Labor Council voted to support the anti-HRC picket because in order to speak at the event, he would have had to cross a picket line — a potentially fatal transgression for a candidate counting on labor support in his widely expected campaign for governor of California.

Veteran Journalist Robert Scheer Speaks in San Diego

Promotes New Book Attacking the Military-Industrial Complex


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Robert Scheer, veteran journalist and activist who has been publishing critiques of the U.S. military and foreign policy since he wrote the ground-breaking pamphlet How the United States Got Involved in Viet Nam in 1966, came to San Diego July 26 to speak at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church and promote his latest book. Called The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America, the book was inspired by former President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous warning in his farewell address “against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex” and dedicated to Eisenhower and former Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern as “two war heroes who preferred plowshares to swords.”

“I didn’t think I would need to write my book,” he rather ruefully said at the beginning of his talk. “There is nothing in it that should be controversial. It’s not a plea for socialized medicine or even an anti-poverty program. The idea that I have to write about the military-industrial complex almost 50 years after Eisenhower warned us about it at a key moment of tension in the Cold War is pretty depressing.” Scheer noted that not only have American politics in general swung far to the Right since Eisenhower made that speech in 1961 but the supposed “need” for an ever-expanding military in particular has become so entrenched that compared to both parties’ candidates in the current election, former Republican presidents like Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and George Bush, Sr. “seem like flaming liberals” by comparison.

Though Nixon stretched out the U.S. war in Viet Nam four years longer than he had to, Scheer said, “he came out for a guaranteed income and met with Russia and China. Now if you want to negotiate with Iran, that’s considered dangerous.” Scheer also read an extract from the first President Bush’s 1992 State of the Union Address that called on Americans to “stop making the sacrifices we had to make when we had an avowed enemy that was a superpower” — the Soviet Union — and promised that if he were re-elected, he would have cut defense spending by 30 percent by 1997.

“Bush and his secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, both knew that there were still enemies and problems — this speech was given a year after the Desert Storm war with Iraq — and yet both of them pushed through major cuts in the defense budget rather than seeking increases,” Scheer wrote in his commentary on the first Bush’s speech in The Pornography of Power. “Not so the second coming of the Bush-Cheney team that more than doubled the defense budget of Bush I.”

Throughout his speech, Scheer stressed that the military-industrial complex is supported by a bipartisan coalition. In fact, he was so much harder on Democrats than on Republicans that one audience member in the question-and-answer period after the speech asked if he was recommending a vote for John McCain on the idea that, like his fellow Republicans Eisenhower, Nixon and Bush I, he might be more willing to cut the defense budget that his Democratic rival, Barack Obama. Scheer made it clear that he didn’t intend his attacks on Obama and the Democrats to be a McCain endorsement, but he also stressed that Obama is being pulled to the Right by the Democratic party’s infrastructure of national security advisers and it will be up to peace activists to pressure him to go with his best instincts and take on the defense establishment.

Indeed, Scheer said, it was a Democrat — former Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Washington) — who carried the torch for the defense industry’s counterattack against the threatened cutbacks under Nixon and Bush I. “The neoconservative movement started in response to Nixon, who realized that communism was not the boogeyman and you could do business with them,” Scheer explained. “The first serious opponent to détente was Scoop Jackson, who not only was called the ‘Senator from Boeing’ [the major aircraft maker and defense contractor headquartered in Washington state] but prided himself on the title. Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, who were Democrats then, were both on his staff.” The neoconservative movement grew powerful enough that under Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan, the defense budget was spared further cuts and started growing again — and then a terrible thing happened to the defense hawks: “the Soviet Union collapsed.”

Without giving the name of the speaker, identifying it merely as a speech given “before 9/11” to the ranking brass at the Pentagon, Scheer quoted a talk about “an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America. This adversary is one of the world’s last bastions of central planning. It governs by dictating five-year plans. From a single capital, it attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk.” Denying that he was talking about either the now-defunct Soviet Union or “one of the last decrepit dictators of the world,” Scheer’s mystery man — U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — reached the punch line of his speech: “The adversary is closer to home: it’s the Pentagon bureaucracy.”

Rumsfeld gave that speech on September 10, 2001, but those ideas disappeared off the administration’s radar screen after the terror attacks the next day, Scheer said. “All logic was thrown out the window,” he argued. “Instead of dealing with terrorism as a matter of criminal justice or sociology, they dug up weapons designed to defeat a Soviet threat that never came to be and repackaged them as essential to a ‘war on terror.’” Scheer said that the high-tech weaponry designed in the later stages of the Cold War — like Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor stealth fighter and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — were advanced as necessary against “an enemy whose arsenal comes from Home Depot.”

Scheer’s attack on the military-industrial complex makes three main points. First, these weapons are an extravagant waste of money that takes away from the American government’s ability to deal with its problems at home. He noted that at the insistence of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the U.S. is buying two high-tech submarines per year at a cost of $5 to $7 billion — enough to have funded the extension of the S-CHIP health insurance program for children which President Bush vetoed on the ground that the country couldn’t afford it. Lieberman’s reason for insisting that the U.S. buy these expensive seacraft when Osama bin Laden, the supposed leader of our enemy in the “war on terror,” lives in caves in a landlocked country is that the Electric Boat Company, which builds them, is one of his home state’s major employers.

Indeed, one way the military-industrial complex builds political support for its projects is to spread their construction around the country as much as possible so every Congressmember has constituents that make their livings building them. Scheer mentioned one weapons system whose supporters described it as “beautiful” because they had managed to have part of it produced in every one of the United States’ 435 Congressional districts. According to Scheer, legislators are so fearful that defense cutbacks will cost their constituents jobs that even a strong liberal Democrat like California Senator Barbara Boxer has staunchly supported the C-17 cargo transport, “a plane no one in the Pentagon wants,” because it’s built in Long Beach.

But the real problem with the military-industrial complex, Scheer said, isn’t either the waste of money on unnecessary weapons or the corruption of the political process. It’s the fact that having all these cool high-tech weapons around gives administrations of both parties the irresistible urge to use them. “You don’t build weapons without a reason to use them,” Scheer explained — even when the reason is specious: old threats from countries like the Soviet Union that no longer exists or new threats from China or “terrorists.”

According to Scheer, politicians of both major parties “boy into the unilateral strong Pax Americana thing” — the idea that this country has the right to intervene anywhere in the world and tell countries we don’t know anything about how they should run their affairs. He recalled Rumsfeld’s infamous comment that we had to intervene in Iraq because there weren’t enough “good targets” in Afghanistan. “By building these weapons,” Scheer explained, “you develop an enormous constituency for war.”


By Leo E. Laurence

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Charles Nelson, Rev. Gerald Green and Mark Gabrish Conlan. Photo by Brian Anderson.

Stepping to the music of the classic wedding march, Mark Gabrish Conlan and Charles Nelson on the Fourth of July joined the wave of gay marriages sweeping across California, after the state’s Supreme Court rules them legal on May 15th.

Mark is editor/publisher of Zenger’s Newsmagazine and Charles is associate publisher.

The Rev. Gerald Green, an African-American minister from the Unity Fellowship Church Movement at 5077 Logan Avenue presided over the dignified ceremony at the Joyce Beers Community Center in the Uptown District, scene of many regular meetings of community organizations in Hillcrest.

Charles has been attending Rev. Green’s church at Logan and Euclid for about 4 years and says his minister “is definitely family.” The minister added a special touch of warmth and understanding to the ceremony, acknowledging the historic nature of the wedding of two gay men, considered inconceivable 40 years ago.

The wedding invitation was also unusual.

Every month for about 171 months, Mark and Charles have been producing and distributing Zenger’s Newsmagazine, a 16-page, ad-free, community publication that covered “alternative lifestyles, politics, culture and health.”

For their wedding invitation, they re-created the front page of Zenger’s, complete with a photo of the happy couple and the heading: “We’re getting Married.

“MARK CONLAN and CHARLES NELSON hereby invite you to their upcoming nuptials, FRIDAY, JULY 4, 2 pm at the JOYCE BEERS COMMUNITY CENTER . . .” the invitation read on it’s front page.

Inside, were descriptions of the venue, food arrangements and the note: “Dress: Completely informal. Wear what you want.” Nobody was nude, however. Their Internet site is, and their e-mail is:

“I was surprised by the (unusual) format of their wedding invitations,” said writer Neal Putman. “(They) were quite unique and ingenious.”

Indeed, Mark and Charles have been publishing Zenger’s Newsmagazine since April of 1994. Its crusading drive for gay civil rights, helped make gay marriages a reality in California.

The Joyce Beers Community Center was filled with over 50 friends of both Mark and Charles, with some who came in shorts and others – including one young, gay couple – who came in suit and tie.

Two tables were filled with food, much of which was home cooked.

There were bright flowers everywhere.

The ceremony was scheduled for 2 p.m. At 2:07 p.m., Charles made the announcement that “Mark will be here shortly.”

“You hope,” someone in the audience said.

“Oh, he will . . . I sent my mother (to get him).”

A few minutes later, Charles made a second announcement that “Mark is parking now. Exchange numbers now because you may not have time afterwards.”

Why was Mark late?

“I was producing the program and burning the CDs (everyone received a gift CD of classic wedding music, including Wagner’s Lohengrin [Bridal Chorus] performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, though “in context, it actually takes place after the ceremony, when the newly married couple are on their way to bed).

“I will probably be late to my own funeral,” Mark said candidly at the time.

Everyone attending was able to follow the unique ceremony word-for-word because Mark had produced a printed program that was distributed to everyone. The ceremony was “based on the Old Catholic Prayer-Book (1876) and the Common Book of Prayer (1662).”

As Rev. Green began the solemn ceremony, he mistakenly referred to Charles as “Chris.” Everybody laughed as the pastor corrected himself. Many ministers will intentionally make an error with names during a wedding, so that each ceremony is quite unique. It’s not known if that was the case here as Rev. Green just smiled at the suggestion.

“In entering the condition of matrimony you enter upon an inner union, and a partnership which embraces every condition of your lives, and indeed a contract which should be incapable of dissolution throughout the whole duration of your lives,” the Rev. Green said, reading from the printed ceremony.

“This is a turning point in life, a turning point in which you stand in especial need of the help and grace. Wherefore mercy and loving kindness is promised to those who contract matrimony with upright intention,” the liturgy continued.

“Mark, do you take Charles as your lawful husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honor and cherish, till death do you part?” Then the same words were repeated for Charles, as to Mark. (Notice that the words are very common to marriages today, yet some go back to 1662.)

Both were so overcome with deep emotion that their words “I do” were barely more than a whisper.

Then both Mark and Charles exchanges wedding rings, saying to each other the following:

“With this ring I three wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: These three abide faith, hope, Love, but the greatest of these is Love (placing ring on ring finger).”

The Rev. Green then said those very important, blessed words: “As the minister of Christ’s Church, and by the power vested in me by the state of California, I ratify the marriage concluded between you, and bless you.”

Then everybody in the room cheered and both Mark and Charles hugged and kissed, with rose pedals tossed over them both. Both stood in front of the room full of friends for a few minutes.

“You don’t realize all the wonderful, beautiful people you know,” Mark said with a big smile, holding hands with Charles.

“My existence is the only evidence that my father and mother ever had sex,” Mark said with a smile.

“Raising him was a trip,” his mother added. Both mothers attended the historic marriage ceremony.

Whenever an alternative lifestyle emerges from an existing culture, as gay marriages are evolving out of the straight-marriage experience, there are sometimes semantical problems. In a straight marriage, a husband and wife exists. So, in many gay marriages between two men, when asked, one calls the other their “husband.”

“But, does that mean that you are a wife,” one might ask.

No, there are two “husbands.” (Who knows what the lesbians [some of whom consider themselves more butch than men] are doing.)

“I also want to remember those who didn’t live to see this day,” Mark said as the ceremony was concluding. He spoke the names of several, special, deceased friends.

“For the first time, Mark had difficulty speaking (during the ceremony),” Charles revealed.

“Thank you all,” Charles added, as he wiped away a tear.

Contact Leo E. Laurence at, or call (619) 757-4909

Is Cygnet’s The Receptionist Subversive?


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

FROM: Mark Gabrish Conlan, Theatre Monitor

TO: The Central Office

SUBJ.: Theatrical presentation, “The Receptionist,” at Cygnet Theatre, San Diego

It is my duty to report on a potentially subversive theatre presentation scheduled to play through the entire month of August at the Cygnet Theatre’s Rolando space, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, suite N, at the eastern end of San Diego near the College area. The play is called The Receptionist and was written by Adam Bock. Cygnet’s production is the play’s West Coast premiere and was directed by the company’s founder and artistic director, Sean Murray. Rather than wait for the official August 1 opening and request review tickets, I disguised myself as an ordinary playgoer and monitored the play’s second preview performance on Friday, July 25. This memo contains my observations and recommendations for our agency’s response to this production.

Bock’s strategy in his script is to lure audiences to the theatre expecting to see an innocuous, lightweight comedy set in a modern office, then as the play progresses to sneak in more and more potentially dangerous material. When one enters the theatre, one’s first sight is an extraordinarily realistic set for a reception desk at a high-class office space, expertly designed by Sean Fanning. In line with the theatre company’s name, which means “baby swan,” swan motifs abound in the set design, from the logo of the enterprise represented to the multiple toy swans and other birds supplied by properties designer Bonnie L. Durben to adorn the set and represent the tastes of the title character, receptionist Beverly Wilkins (Melinda Gilb).

However, before the play begins the entire set revolves to reveal a blank wall on the other side, where Ms. Wilkins’ supervisor, Edward Raymond (Dale Morris), is delivering a monologue about his love for fly fishing and his arguments with his wife over the current U.S. military operation in Iraq. Then the set revolves again and we see Ms. Gilb as Ms. Wilkins, gossiping on the office phone with a female friend and fielding phone calls for Mr. Raymond and another office staff member, Lorraine Taylor (Jo Anne Glover). Ms. Taylor arrives for work late, and soon enough an attractive young man, ostensibly from this office, named Martin Dart (Sean Cox), enters the reception area and announces his intention to wait for Mr. Raymond to arrive.

For the first half of this play — presented in a single act of about 1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission — the principal dramatic issue is Ms. Taylor’s love life. She has been seeing a man named Glenn (not shown on stage as a character) whom Ms. Wilkins has denounced as a narcissist, a personality trait that fortunately is no concern of this agency. However, this does not stop her from commencing a flirtation with Mr. Dart — to which Mr. Dart responds even though playwright Bock has already established that he is married and the father of a four-year-old boy. (Mr. Cox can be seen wearing a wedding ring on the appropriate finger to establish this aspect of Mr. Dart’s character.) Ms. Wilkins attempts to warn Ms. Taylor about the potential consequences of dating a married man — as she had previously done with her girlfriend, also not seen as an actual on-stage character.

Then The Receptionist veers subtly but unmistakably from relatively harmless, innocuous sexual farce to material with a very real danger of compromising this agency and its protocols. While it would be inappropriate to risk accidental disclosure of classified information by going into too many specifics in this memo, suffice it to say that Mr. Bock’s writing treads on the thin edge of subversion by daring to suggest that this agency’s protocols may sometimes err on the side of rigor; and that compassion, justice and a sense of fair play might actually be reasonable values to apply in our struggle against a ruthless, implacable enemy who shows no signs of respecting any but the toughest and most uncompromising approaches to investigation.

The excellence of Cygnet’s production only adds to the subversive potential of Mr. Bock’s material. Director Murray keeps the action constantly flowing and avoids the trap of making the transition from light comedy to serious drama too obvious and glaring. He has also assembled an excellent cast of experienced local actors (all of whom but Ms. Glover are listed as resident artists of his company). Ms. Gilb is perfectly cast as the big-hearted, almost motherly receptionist and Ms. Glover matches her ably as the slacker Lorraine, whose rather airy dismissal of work schedules and obligations may or may not conceal a more sinister purpose.

The men fare equally well, perhaps too well in the case of Mr. Cox, who’s all too effective in making us believe he’d willingly forsake his marriage vows for Ms. Glover’s character. (No one in our office would really behave like that, would we?) Mr. Morris gets little stage time but makes the most of what he has. The actors, especially the women, are remarkably well dressed by costume designer Jeanne Reith, and the lighting by Eric Lotze is mostly routine but achieves some quite effective effects towards the end.

Cygnet Theatre has announced this production as the opening of their 2008-2009 season, and some of the future plays on their schedule also suggest the possibility of subversive content. Among these are a musical by Stephen Sondheim that allegedly glorifies both successful and failed Presidential assassins and two well-known propaganda pieces, A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, which under the guise of sentimental Christmas stories actually dare to suggest that values of compassion, justice and fair play might be applicable even to the business world.

What’s more, at least two of the actors in The Receptionist have suspicious backgrounds from their work elsewhere in San Diego theatre. Dale Morris is the artistic director of Compass Theatre, formerly known as 6th @ Penn, in Hillcrest, which at one point produced a series of plays allegedly dealing with human rights and in the process questioning the propriety of our agency’s use of tort- — excuse me, enhanced interrogation techniques. And Jo Anne Glover is one of the four founders of MOXIE, a local company that proudly and unashamedly proclaims its mission as presenting plays that subvert long-established traditional gender-role norms and actually present women as independent agents entitled to live their own lives and ignore their Biblically ordained subordination to men.

My recommendation for action is that, rather than apprehend the principals behind this production and interrogate them immediately, we encourage people to see their play and report back to us whether they find the message of The Receptionist subversive and threatening to the national security. To do this, they can order tickets online at or by phone at (619) 337-1525. The show’s official opening date is August 1 and performances take place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. on Sundays until the production closes on August 31. Once they’ve seen it, they can e-mail our agency at the special address I have set up for that purpose,, and let us know what they think.

But however you react to this show, it’s clear that these folks at Cygnet Theatre bear watching …

“COCKED! The Possessed Male: Object of Desire” Opens on Pride Weekend

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Pride weekend was timely for the opening of a multi-media art exhibit, COCKED! The Possessed Male: Object of Desire, in the Luis de Jesus Gallery at 2040 India Street in Little Italy.

The exhibit was billed as “a contemporary survey of post-masculine art created by 21 artists, al-most all living and working in San Diego.

“COCKED examines issues of masculinity, art and ‘production’ – the idea that men are predis-posed to make, build and transform objects, starting at an early age (forts, go-carts) to adolescence (cars, musical instruments) and on through adulthood (houses, furniture) and even their own bodies (weight-lifting, drag/gender manipulation).”

The unusual exhibition runs through August 23 and is multi-media: painting, sculpture, photog-raphy, video and performance.

Though the emphasis of the exhibit was on the male, and the opening was on Pride weekend, those attending the opening reception on July 17 were predominantly younger women.

One of the artists was Seth Augustine, age 31, of San Diego. He posed completely painted in gold as performance art in front of the gallery during the opening reception. He had also posed for a mural-size photo of himself in a brief bathing suit in a typical 1960’s pose.

The photo shows “what it means to be a man, now,” Augustine said in an interview. “I wanted the notion of perfection (of the male image), to have it almost like the idea.”

Another work of art by Augustine is of an enormously enlarged bodybuilder’s, bulging bicep and is titled Man Whose Arm Exploded.

“This is an allegory for a documentary about a man in the early 1990’s who explodes. He had continued to inject his biceps with steroids for many years.

“This guy developed these massive arms to the point that he developed a cyst and it exploded. It had to be cut out of his arm.

“(The sculpture) is like a caricature. The pose is taken from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous 1976 Mr. Olympia pose,” Augustine explained. This is his last show before going to China to do an apprenticeship in sculpture.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at, or at (619) 757-4909.

Photo captions (top to bottom): Sculptor and model Seth Augustine, age 31, posed in performance art outside the Luis de Jesus gallery for the opening of the currently running exhibit: COCKED! The Possessed Male: Object of Desire.

Sculptor and model Seth Augustine, age 31, stands before a mural-size photo of himself titled Perfection, and taken to depict the ideal male image.


By Leo E. Laurence

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Officials hold news conferences to announce something of importance locally. But when the state’s Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner, met with the press recently about “staged accident” fraud cases; it was a problem that didn’t exist, at least not in San Diego.

In Los Angeles, they have had a problem with people who con-spire to file big insurance claims after having a fake “accident.” Three cars are used to force a victim to hit one of them. Massive insurance claims are then filed and the fraud is complete.

But that’s in L.A.

In San Diego, there is no problem with this type of crime, at least not in the past two years, according to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. But that didn’t stop her from participating in the Poizner news conference at Qualcomm stadium in late June.

Poizner said there “might” be a problem someday, so they made a big deal out of the non-story.

Dumanis often holds news conferences for non-stories. She loves being in front of the TV news cameras. Let’s look at the statements made by these officials at the news conference.

Commissioner Poizner repeatedly said that these “staged acci-dents” are being executed by “organized crime rings.” To many people, we think of mafia-type criminal organizations when a state official refers to an “organized crime ring.”

Not so here. The “organized crime rings,” for purposes of this news conference, were merely any group of people who conspired to stage an accident to collect insurance money. There is no mafia-type, “organized,” criminal enterprise involved.

Poizner said the costs to the state’s insurance companies because of this type of insurance fraud is “$15 billion a year.”

More investigation, however, reveals that large figure refers only to insurance fraud generally, NOT to the “staged accident” issue that was the focus of the news conference.

Indeed, District Attorney bonnie Dumanis – who loves news conferences – said her office “takes these crimes seriously and we have an entire unit devoted to just insurance fraud.

“In the past year alone, out auto insurance fraud division has filed over or against 150 defendants and have made 112 convictions (sic),” Dumanis reported.

Did those cases involve “staged accidents,” which was the focus of the news conference.


Indeed, CHP Chief Bob Clark of the San Diego region reported that “we haven’t had a rash of them (staged accidents) here in San Diego.”

Dumanis later admitted that her office has prosecuted NO cases of staged-accident fraud cases in the past two years. “Over the past couple of years, we haven’t seen any, really,” she confessed.

So why hold a big news conference on the issue?

Because “staged-accident” fraud cases are a big problem in L.A., they “might” come south to San Diego?

‘It’s not a problem at the moment, (but) “could” be a problem in the future,” insurance commissioner Poizner explained.

So, the D.A., CHP chief and the state’s insurance commissioner called all the local media together at Qualcomm Stadium for a news conference for what “might” happen, or what “could be a problem” here.

Oh, incidentally, the non-issue news conference did give a huge platform to promote and advertise the Infinity insurance company, apparent sponsors of the news conference.

The insurance company’s PR staff was there and distributed press releases to all the media. They, too, quoted huge figures of auto-fraud losses in the stage, just as Poizner and Dumanis had done. But, the insurance company’s PR staff had NO estimates of costs caused by “staged accidents,” which was the focus of the news conference.

The victims of fraud at the news conference seemed to be only the news media.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at, or at (619) 757-4909.

Photo caption: State insurance commissioner Steve Poizner (r) holds a news conference with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and CHP chief Bob Clark of the San Diego region to “warn” against “staged-accident” fraud cases, which actually isn’t a local problem. Photo by Leo E. Laurence.