Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pat Boone and Prop. 8


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

One of the quirkier manifestations of the battle over Proposition 8 — in which the campaign against the measure after the voters passed it has been considerably more energetic, imaginative and committed than the one before the vote — came in an e-mail from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) alerting Queer folk and their straight allies to a bizarre pro-8 colum n comparing grass-roots defenders of same-sex marriage equality to the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, India. What made it even more odd was that the author of the column, a December 6 Web post on the Right-wing site worldnetdaily.com, was 1950’s singer and actor Pat Boone.

“Hate is hate, in India or America,” Boone’s World Net Daily screed was headlined. After four paragraphs (one of them only one sentence long) rehashing the Mumbai attack and blaming it on “one of many Islamic groups that feel directed by their religion to subjugate — or exterminate — ‘infidels’ like Hindus, Jews, Christians and even other Muslims who don’t hew to their extremist views” to whom “there is only one acceptable world view … and anyone who might disagree or obstruct their goals should be removed, violently if need be,” Boone gets to the nitty-gritty: “Thank God, it couldn’t happen here. Could it? Look around. Watch your evening news. Read your newspaper.”

Showing a level of emotion far more intense than anything he ever put on record in his days as (as his Web site boasts) the second-best record seller of the 1950’s, Boone asks, “Are you unaware of the raging demonstrations in our streets, in front of our churches and synagogues, even spilling into these places of worship, and many of those riots turning defamatory and violent? Have you not seen the angry, distorted faces of the rioters, seen their derogatory and threatening placards and signs, heard their vows to overturn the democratically expressed views of voters, no matter what it costs, no matter what was expressed at the polls? Twice?”

Boone goes on to write about “the well-oiled campaign to find out the names of every voter and business that contributed as much as $1,000, or even less, in support of Proposition 8 … the announced plans to boycott, demonstrate, intimidate and threaten each one,” with “prominent entertainers and even California Governor Schwarzenegger urging the demonstrators on, telling them they should ‘never give up’ until they get their way.” Then he writes the kicker: “Have you not seen the awful similarity between what happened in Mumbai and what’s happening right now in our cities?”

To his credit, Boone is sufficiently reality-based that he acknowledges that “the homosexual ‘rights’ demonstrations haven’t reached the same level of violence” as the terrorist attacks on Mumbai. He’s aware that Gay commandos didn’t charge the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego and start shooting guests at random as some kind of misguided vengeance against the hotel’s owner, Doug Manchester, for having given $125,000 in seed money to get Proposition 8 on the ballot in the first place. He even seems to acknowledge that Queer terrorists haven’t been surrounding Mormon churches and massacring both clergy and congregants inside the way the Mumbai fighters ambushed rabbis and members of the Jewish group Chabad.

“I’m referring to the anger, the vehemence, the total disregard for law and order and the supposed rights of their fellow citizens,” Boone sniffs. “I’m referring to the intolerance, the hate seething in the words, faces and actions of those who didn’t get their way in a democratic election, and who proclaim loudly that they will get their way, no matter what the electorate wants! Hate is hate, no matter where it erupts. And hate, unbridled, will eventually and inevitably boil into violence.”

Pat Boone is right about one thing: hate is hate. I daresay many of the people who voted for Proposition 8 weren’t aware of the hatred behind their actions and didn’t stop to think through that the only way to justify their vote was a sincere belief that men-loving men and women-loving women are a lower order of life from women-loving men and men-loving women. (One person who did realize that was San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who backed away from his initial opposition to same-sex marriage when he decided he couldn’t tell his Lesbian daughter that her marriage was less important than his.) The people who voted for Proposition 8 gave all sorts of reasons, many of them echoed in Pat Boone’s column — from Biblical teachings to the need to protect “families” — but, whether they were aware of it or not, all of them boiled down to anti-Queer prejudice and hatred.

The campaign in favor of Proposition 8 was based on stoking fear — on getting people to believe that if Queer folk were allowed to marry their same-sex partners, schoolchildren would be taught about “Gay marriage,” ministers would be forced to perform them (which they wouldn’t, just as Roman Catholic priests are not forced under current law to marry people who’ve been divorced) and the entire fabric of morality would have been torn asunder. Indeed, Boone’s weird ravings are probably best read as an attempt to keep stoking the flames of fear that won them that victory at the polls and prepare World Net Daily’s readers for yet more campaigns against us — including the threatened recall at the polls of any California Supreme Court justice who dares vote to invalidate Proposition 8.

One of the ironies behind Pat Boone’s bizarre emergence as an impassioned spokesperson against the Queer community is that his open embrace of bigotry and prejudice is all too appropriate for a man who owes his entire career to bigotry and prejudice. Boone first hit the pop charts in 1955 with two classic rock ’n’ roll songs, “Tutti-Frutti” and “Ain’t That a Shame” — but he had nothing to do with creating either of them. They were the work of two African-American singer-songwriters of far greater passion, commitment and talent than Boone — Little Richard and Fats Domino, respectively — yet Boone’s pallid (in both senses) versions of their songs outsold their originals three-to-one.

That was one of the dirty little secrets of the music business at the time. White artists routinely listened to the Black community’s records for songs they could rip off (“cover”) and turn into hits. Sometimes a white singer of genuine artistry and imagination, like Peggy Lee, got hold of a Black song like Joe McCoy’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?” or Little Willie John’s “Fever,” put her own “spin” on it and came up with a version as good or better than the original. Mostly, though, the white artists merely duplicated the Black record — or came as close to it as they could — using the same arrangement, inflecting their vocals in the same places, but putting a white “sheen” on the song that made it acceptable to the whites running the major record companies, radio stations and TV networks.

“We had a real tough time getting our records played,” Atlantic Records co-founder Jerry Wexler told Arnold Shaw for his 1977 book Honkers and Shouters. “All the jocks had to see was the Atlantic label and the name of the artist — and we were dead. We’d say, ‘Just listen and give your listeners a chance to listen.’ But they had a set of stock excuses: ‘Too loud.’ ‘Too rough.’ ‘Doesn’t fit our format.’ They’d never say, ‘We don’t play Black artists.’ But then they’d turn around and play a record of the very same song that was a copy of our record, only it was by a white artist.”

That’s why most 1950’s listeners didn’t get to hear “Money Honey” or “White Christmas” by the brilliant African-American singer Clyde McPhatter and his group, The Drifters. They heard them in the uncannily exact copies recorded by Elvis Presley — and while Elvis at least had enough soul in him, and enough knowledge of Black music from listening to its greatest performers, to do a credible imitation, Pat Boone was totally clueless. The 1970’s TV documentary Heroes of Rock ’n’ Roll cruelly but accurately mocked Boone’s rock ’n’ roll pretensions when they cut in mid-song from a clip of Fats Domino performing “Ain’t That a Shame” to one of Boone singing it.

So it only adds to the irony that Pat Boone’s pro-8 column lambastes Brad Pitt because he “pledged $100,000 to his friend Ellen DeGeneris [sic] for some campaign to overturn Proposition 8,” just after he lauds Pitt as someone “who has done a lot for the displaced people of New Orleans.” One of the most prominent “displaced people of New Orleans” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was Fats Domino, whose house was flooded and who lost all his belongings, including all the memorabilia of his career. I’d feel a bit better about Boone for ripping off Domino’s song 50 years earlier if he’d followed Pitt’s example and given Domino some money to rebuild. In fairness, I don’t know for a fact that Boone didn’t — but I certainly didn’t hear about it if he did.

Alluding to Boone’s once prissy image — in 1958, obliged by the script of his film April Love to kiss his leading lady, Shirley Jones, on camera, he publicly agonized about the morality of kissing anyone other than his wife and finally agreed to do the scene only if his wife were allowed on set to chaperone him — Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said, “Most Americans would be shocked to see this level of vitriol coming from someone who presented himself as America’s sweetheart.” But it’s not such a shock that a man whose success was based on institutionalized racism — and whose career went downhill when the African-American civil rights movement abolished the barriers that had kept Black artists off radio and TV — should mount the moral barricades one final time and rail against the civil rights of a minority he obviously despises.


Stockbroker to Streets to Publisher: A Transgender Odyssey


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

Photos: Dana Rea, top; and Dana with her fiancée Timothea, bottom

I met Dana Rea on November 20, 2008, when she and her partner Timothea showed up to do the march and rally for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual worldwide commemoration of all victims of Transgender-related murders during the year. I was immediately struck by her calm self-assurance and self-control. The bits and pieces of her story she told me that night made me want to interview her — and when she mentioned that she and Timothea intend to launch a new independent magazine, Changing Times in San Diego, next summer I felt like we were kindred spirits. So, since she tells her story far better than I could, here’s Dana Rea.

Zenger’s: Dana, just tell me about your life, how you grew up and how old were you when you first realized you were Transgender.

Dana Rea: I first realized I liked being a girl when I was three years old, when my mother dressed me up as a girl for Hallowe’en. I don’t know if I was confused or anything at that age. It just felt more natural as a girl. When I was of age, 18, I sought out help and I got on hormones. I told my mother and my sister, and they immediately hit the roof. They went ballistic, so to speak, and they had enough power for them literally to close the doctor’s office down for putting me on hormones.

So I grew up essentially as a boy. I wasn’t really dysfunctional, but I started running away from home at the age of 12. I had to to put myself through school, because I couldn’t take the way they wanted me to be. They wanted me to be like everybody else. I had regular jobs, and grew up the way society dictates somebody in a male body should grow up.

I wouldn’t say that my life was “normal” at all. I made very good money. I was a stockbroker, and very good at it, and to hide my feelings and what was inside of me, I became a workaholic. That’s why I was one of the best: I was one of the ones willing to put in 16 hours a day, until I was just literally exhausted.

A lot of [Transgender] people dull their minds with drugs and alcohol; I dulled my mind with working 16 hours a day, on call 24 hours a day, and that’s pretty much how I dealt with not being who I knew I was. I really didn’t know the ins and outs of Transgenderism, and it kind of scared me. I remember thinking, “Well, here I am. I know I want to be a girl, a woman.” I couldn’t relate it to the word “Transgender.”

Zenger’s: Are you saying you thought you were the only one?

Rea: Yes. I never knew there was a society of Transgender people. In today’s world, you have probably five or six programs on TV that have to do with Transgenders. Five or six years ago, when they’d bring a Transgender on Jerry Springer or something like that, it was considered a novelty, a novelty enough to bring them on Jerry Springer or other shows. You don’t see anybody bring a Gay man on to Jerry Springer and ask them why they’re Gay, but it’s pretty much the same. Scientific evidence has proved that it’s not something that’s a choice.

In my earlier years I took psychotropic medications to control my panic disorders and my depression, which were a direct result of being Transgender. Yet I still was not dealing I didn’t know what it was and I couldn’t deal with not being able to get out of this body. I had gender dysphoria very badly throughout my life, and I hid it very well from people, mainly with the panic disorders. They prescribed me Xanax and Klonapin, which controls your anxiety to a deeper level than the anti-depressants. I mean, they pretty much take over your life. But it still didn’t do much good. I mean, the pills just allowed me to work more hours. And I did.

But I always knew that I wanted to be female. Take that back — I always knew that I was female, and I couldn’t understand why I was in this deformed body. I don’t see my body as male, and back then I didn’t see it as female. I felt like I was in a deformed body, and I guess that’s why they say, when you’re going to have a sex change, they call it “corrective surgery.” They don’t say “sex-change surgery,” it’s “corrective surgery.” That’s what I set out to do quite a ways back: that eventually I would have the operation that would correct the body that I’m in.

In the meantime, I could not just continue to hide behind a façade of being a guy, because it was very, very painful mentally. It ended up being painful for a lot of other people in my life. Before transition, before you start to realize that you have to change or suffer anxiety for the rest of your life, and depression. You do things that you’re not too proud of. To define myself, or to bury my feelings and live as society dictated, I ended up getting married and divorced a total of seven times. One doctor, a psychiatrist, told me that I was basically marrying my perception of a woman, because I wanted to be like that.

Zenger’s: So you were looking for partners that were really yourself, that were really what you aspired to be, to transform yourself into?

Rea: Yes, it was my fantasy to be them. That’s how I would be if I were born in the right body. I wouldn’t be overweight. I would be pretty. My last wife was a Budweiser girl. They were strictly top-of-the-line girls as far as I was concerned. But as far as romance and love, there was none. I was a very good salesperson — that’s what I had to be to be a successful stockbroker — I sold myself very well to those women. My regret is that I broke a lot of hearts, and a lot of dreams and hopes for these girls.

I think I’ve paid the price over the years. I’ve paid more than the price. The last five or six years, I’ve been having the worst streak of bad luck, and I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Now I think that’s what it was: I was paying for what I had done in my life, using people, using their femininity to bring it inside me, until I would have it. I would never marry out of love again if I wasn’t absolutely sure, because breaking somebody’s heart and dreams must be the worst thing in the world.

Zenger’s: How did you handle this in other respects? You’re a stockbroker, you’re good at it, you’re presumably making a lot of money. To the rest of the world, you were presenting the image of a successful, dedicated, together young man. How did you handle the gap between what you presented and what you are?

Rea: It got to the point where I could not hide it any longer. I don’t think I could hide it in the first place. didn’t act feminine, as the person I grew up being, but four out of the seven wives, without any encouragement, without [me] mentioning a word, wanted to dress me up as a female. That doesn’t include when my mother did it. How they grabbed that, I don’t know. They just one day said, “I want to dress you up as a girl.” And of course I was game!

The first time I dressed up as a female in my teens, it was like most Transgenders. It’s not like you can just start living your life, especially in my household. Mine had to be a fantasy world in which I hid a lot of emotions, and the more you hide these things, the more it comes out in other ways, such as remarrying and remarrying and having panic disorder and having your disorders get worse, and having phobias. Stress is going to come out, no matter what. And it’s going to evolve in different ways.

But after that, when I had my own place, then I started dressing up at home and going out. And it wasn’t like a scary thing to go out. I felt so comfortable with myself, and so much at ease. I simply got ready and walked out the door.

Zenger’s: I understand your financial position took a nosedive as a result of this. How did you handle that?

Rea: I always wondered how people became homeless. My last wife died about six years ago now. She was O.K. with me being Transgender, and we were best friends. She was the only person I had loved in my life, and she died. She was only 29 at the time, and up until last year, she’s the only one I’ve been with in the last six years until just recently, when I got engaged. After her death, I mourned for about a year and then I moved to Mexico.

Zenger’s: How did she die?

Rea: She killed herself. She had a twin sister, and she blamed herself for her sister’s death. I had talked to her parents, knowing that in this span before I knew her she had tried to commit suicide many time. She tried about six times during our two-year marriage. And though she was unsuccessful, it wasn’t one of these cries for help. I mean, each time the doctors in the emergency rooms were surprised she lived.

One time, they came out and told me to start making arrangements, that there was no way she was going to live, and that they were pronouncing her dead. I had gone out to the car and cried, until I fell asleep, and the next thing I know there are people pounding on my car, telling me that she was alive, and once again she escaped from the suicide. So when she tried again, she made sure that she used enough drugs to fall asleep immediately and never wake up again.

After that, and after burying her next to her twin sister, I decided I wanted to go to a place that was going to be easier for me to be Transgender and get the things that I needed, and that was Mexico. I think back on this and it was very, very stupid, but I did, and I moved to Mexico and I transferred what portion of my business I needed down there.

I lived in Mexico for four years, and the entire time I was there I would meet people, and they would become my friends. Little did I know that this was a syndicated group that sets these things up. When they see that you’re an American and you’ve got a lot of money, they do checks on you and find out who you are, how much money you have. Well, the time came. I was about three days away from my operation, my final operation, something I’d been waiting for my entire life, and they stole everything from me.

They were able to get into my bank accounts and steal all the cash. I had four vehicles. I had a $187,000 motor home. It’s all gone. They took everything: all my clothing. And there’s nothing I can do about it. I was lucky to make it back to the United States alive. But, you know, they probably didn’t even give it a second thought that it was not only my financial assets, but they were stripping me of my identity, because when I left Mexico and I finally got to San Diego I didn’t know anybody.

I didn’t know anybody in the country. I didn’t know anybody out of the country, anyone in the world. I didn’t have a dime to my name, and I really had no clue what to do to get out of this. I had suffered such a massive blow — I mean, then and the years prior, with all the suicides, with my dead wife and best friend, and prior to that my previous wife had sold our kids to the Mormons in Utah by signing my name, and so my three kids are lost to me forever.

All these have caused me a great deal of depression. It has exacerbated my depression, my anxiety, and my faith in humankind. And when I got here, I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. I started blaming everybody: blaming myself, blaming my deceased wife, blaming God for [my] being Transgender, to losing my kids, to losing my identity. I had no hope for the future. I tried to kill myself six times. Today, I’m really glad I didn’t succeed in killing myself, because I see a lot of pluses today instead of minuses.

Zenger’s: How did you pull out of it?

Rea: It wasn’t easy. I think it was about eight attempts of getting out of it, trying to utilize the system. I had filed for disability because of my depression and my anxiety were more than I could handle anymore. I couldn’t deal with people. I couldn’t face the world. And yet I was homeless! I had to deal with people and face the world, even as a homeless person.

Being homeless and Transgender is not easy. I hid between three and four jackets, and an Ace bandage strapped around my chest — my breasts — and a ball cap, and I tried to do everything I could to survive. I’d never been homeless before. I’d always been employed, and I just couldn’t do a thing.

But I went through the system, and each time I thought I was going to get out of this, something happened that ruined my plans, and everything I had worked on for months to get out of it. After it failed and I was still homeless, I would come up with another plan, approach it again, acquire more resources. Then I’d attack it again, but I noticed that each time I attacked it I was weaker. More had happened to me, more negative stuff, more losses had occurred each time. My doctor even wrote a letter saying that if this continues I would continue to deteriorate, physically and mentally.

Zenger’s: So how did you finally get out of it?

Rea: I felt a mental breakdown coming on, and I had finished trying to kill myself. I didn’t want to die. The whole thing is I wanted to live, and I made arrangements to get into a crisis house and get myself back at least to a certain level where I felt good about myself again. I knew that I had to focus on my self-esteem, and that was the most important thing. So that’s what I began doing. That was where I started.

Then, through MAI, which is my case-management, and through Consumer Health Advocacy of San Diego, I was able to put together a new plan and get to the point where I was in a semi-stable living situation, and going out and meeting people and basically networking with people. But it was very, very difficult, because at this point, after years of just being abused mentally and physically, I had no trust for anybody. Trusting anybody was very, very hard. I still don’t trust most people. But with time it brought me to a new level, as far as getting out of the circle.

Then a friend of mine who had a two-bedroom apartment, with one room that wasn’t being utilized, let me move in there, which made a big difference in my life. This was the first help I’d ever received from an individual. I’d received some help from some agencies and been able to get off the street for two weeks at a time, with a voucher here and a voucher there. But this was the first time I’d been helped by an individual, a friend.

Then, things happened and I ended up getting engaged. I feel I was already out of the circle, that I’d never again be homeless. I mean, just hard work and keep doing it, never give up. I felt that I was finally out of it, and then getting engaged brought a whole new light to everything. I mean, I am not somebody that uses somebody for money, I’m the last person that you’ll know to ever do something like that, but my fiancée’s not rich, but well off, and she helps me a great deal financially. I don’t ever have to worry about being on the street again, and that’s all I wanted.

I cannot do what I used to do any longer. I cannot be a stockbroker, I am not the same person. For eight years I’ve lived my life as a woman, but I’ve never worked as a woman. My depression is currently under control. My anxiety is controlled by medication, but that’s what it takes sometimes. Because of my distrust for a lot of things, it’s going to take a little bit to get back to where I was mentally. I’m hoping that in a couple of years, between the California Department of Rehabilitation and a group called Able-Disabled Advocacy [www.abledisabledadvocacy.org], I will be back in the workforce, and I will have made enough money to pay for my surgery, which I’m scheduling to have January of 2011.

Zenger’s: What would your advice be to someone, based on your own experience, someone in their late teens, 18 or 19, with a mind-set like yours at that age?

Rea: Well, it’s different now. They have organizations that deal with young adults and even children as low as age 3, 4 or 5, that have been diagnosed as Transgender. So they have a lot more at hand than most people or myself in getting help in those areas. That’s one of the things that I’ll be addressing in the magazine that my partner and I are starting, which is called Changing Times in San Diego. It’s being set up by a non-profit organization called TEAM, an acronym for Transgender Education And Management. That’s to help people like myself who have been caught homeless, because there’s nothing worse than being both homeless and Transgender.

You can’t even get a shower when you’re homeless. A man can get a shower, and a woman can get a shower, but a Transgender can’t get a shower, because unless you’ve had your full surgery, you can’t shower with the women and you can’t shower with the men. And even for those who are true Transgender, you wouldn’t want to shower with all the men. You’d be horrifically embarrassed to shower with all the women. I bumped into just too much, and when I got a shower offered to me I was very, very grateful. It’s horrible being dirty all the time, no matter how clean you try to keep yourself. But you’ve just got to be very, very careful who you ask for a free shower. You have to be careful whom you deal with on the streets.

For younger adults, there’s a lot of help. And there’s a lot of help even for the middle-aged adult who comes out of the closet at a late age because of circumstances. There are so many support groups these days that I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t even know groups for Gays and Lesbians existed. When I came out as Transgender, I simply changed and that was it. I didn’t worry about what people thought, what people said. It was an easy transition for me in that manner.

But now I need to ramp things up, and I still need to look for help. I need to get a car somehow and get into the Department of Rehab, who’ve already got me on file and have put me in Category 1, so they’re willing to do a lot for me. But I’ve got to be able to pull my weight, too. There’s nothing more satisfying than working — and it’s the only way I’ll be able to pay for my surgery. That’s not covered by any plan that I know of. Even though it’s corrective surgery, there’s no county or government agency that’s going to pay for it.

Zenger’s: Tell me a little more about the magazine: what kinds of help you have besides the two of you, and what kinds of articles you will publish.

Rea: Well, the target group we have for this particular magazine is broader than other Transgender magazines that I’ve seen. That’s because we’re going after educating the general public, and support. It’ll be more of a geographical target, rather than a target to a specific group.

The articles will deal all the way from political news and fundraising, because the Transgender arena needs help raising money, to specific health issues, focusing on Transgenders that are using hormones or female-to-male Transgenders that are using testosterone, and the specific things that can be affected by them: where to get them, how much, how you can get them at a lesser cost. Some people can’t afford them.

When I got here, I had been on hormones for five years, and I could not get my hormones, and it’s not something that you want to go off of cold turkey. It’s only by chance that I came here with a pretty good supply, but as the supply was dwindling I didn’t know what to do. I had hit every LGBT organization, and they were unable to help me until I got hold of somebody at the Center, and because I am a woman, they were able to help me through the Toni Atkins Breast Awareness Foundation.

But this is not something that could be done all the time. It was done for an emergency a couple of times, and now, because I get such a psychological benefit from the hormones, aside from the physical, Medi-Cal pays for my hormones. Otherwise I’d be in a very, very bad situation mentally. I might be dead!

Zenger’s: Who do you expect will advertise in it? Are you going to support it without ad revenue, or do you want to build an ad base?

Rea: You have to understand that the education part of the magazine is not really the magazine itself. The support groups and education, both for Transgender people and the general public will be coming from the non-profit organization TEAM, which in turn will fund the magazine. We don’t expect to make money off the magazine. Playboy loses $10 million a year on its magazine. It makes its money on all the other things that it does. That’s what I’m looking to fashion it after, only utilizing a nonprofit organization that’s going to help people out, and that would be mainly Transgenders that are in a problem area.

I know many girls that are on the streets as prostitutes because that’s the only choice they have to put a roof over their heads. And that’s a sad choice. I’ve talked to some of these girls, and they didn’t want to do that. They didn’t want to start their lives that way, but they have no other way to pay for their hormones. They don’t have an education, and they can’t go to school or they wouldn’t have a place to live. And, unfortunately, they end up getting into drugs and becoming alcoholics and partying all the time, and pretty soon they’re lost. Pretty soon it’s five, six, seven years later, and in their face they look 20 years older because the streets are a hard place to be.

If I thought I was going to be able to fund the magazine through advertisers, I’d be kidding myself. I’ve opened and operated a lot of businesses. Most magazines do lose money. But to use that magazine for other purposes, rather than a revenue stream, the magazine could take off like a rocket.


Practitioner Admits HIV Only “Associated” with AIDS


Photo: Christine Maggiore speaks at H.E.A.L.-San Diego, April 2004

On October 28, regular viewers of the TV series Law and Order: Special Victims Unit were treated — if that’s the appropriate word — to an episode called “Retro” that dealt head-on with what the show referred to as “AIDS denialism.” It was a wild and woolly tale, full of the exaggerated melodramatics for which the Law and Order programs are famous, which began with a four-month-old baby being left in a taxicab, taken to an emergency room and there examined and diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. They trace the baby’s medical care to a pediatrician who rejects the idea that HIV causes AIDS and refuses to administer standard anti-HIV medications.

Investigating the doctor’s other patients, the police detectives who are the show’s regular characters run across a woman whose four-year-old daughter was being cared for by the same doctor when she died unexpectedly. The “denialist” doctor diagnosed her death as an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, but the police have the girl’s body exhumed and an autopsy reveals she “really” died of an AIDS-related infection. It soon becomes apparent to anyone who knows Christine Maggiore, founder of Alive and Well-Los Angeles and prominent activist in the alternative (so-called “denialist”) AIDS movement for 15 years, that this character is loosely based on her — even the show started with the usual “this is fiction” disclaimer and the actress playing the mother is large, blonde and rather blowsy-looking — as different from the dark-haired, wiry, petite Maggiore as the casting department could come up with and still be the right age and “type” for the role.

Maggiore lost her real daughter, Eliza Jane Scovill, in May 2005. The four-year-old girl had been diagnosed with an ear infection and her pediatrician prescribed amoxicillin, an antibiotic commonly given to children. Eliza Jane unexpectedly took a turn for the worse and died under mysterious circumstances. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office was at first unable to determine a cause of death — until suddenly their medical examiner, Dr. James Ribe, leaked to a Los Angeles Times reporter that he had decided that Eliza Jane died from AIDS complications. Maggiore suggested at the time that Dr. Ribe had changed his mind when he learned — as anybody could from a Web search of her name — that she was a prominent alternative AIDS activist and the author of a book, What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?

Dr. Ribe not only talked to the Los Angeles Times — at one point Maggiore joked that the reporter writing the stories about her, Charles Ornstein, seemed to know more about her than she did herself — but to other media outlets as well. He also referred her case to the Los Angeles County district attorney for possible prosecution for child endangerment and/or neglect — though the district attorney’s investigators found that Maggiore and Eliza Jane’s father, filmmaker Robin Scovill, had been model parents and declined to prosecute. Meanwhile, Maggiore sought another opinion from a toxicologist, Dr. Mohammed Ali Al-Bayati, who’s a member of the Alive and Well board and who came to the conclusion that Eliza Jane died of an allergic reaction to amoxicillin.

The Law and Order: Special Victims Unit program — which Maggiore not surprisingly couldn’t bring herself to watch complete — came off as a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy, as if the writers had been so angered by the district attorney’s refusal to prosecute her and her doctor that they invented a scenario in which events played out in fiction the way they’d wanted them to in life. Maggiore did two episodes of the AIDS podcast “How Positive Are You?,” which she co-hosts with Reappraising AIDS president David Crowe, discussing the program, and sought out Dr. Jocelyn Dee, who had apparently served as a technical advisor. The first time, Dr. Dee said she had to “reschedule” — an old and familiar story to alternative AIDS activists, who are used to mainstream AIDS scientists, doctors and activists agreeing to joint appearances and then canceling at the last minute.

Dr. Dee finally showed up for an episode of “How Positive Are You?” taped just before Thanksgiving and posted on the Web in early December. As Maggiore tried to pin down just what she and other mainstreamers mean by the term “AIDS denialist,” Dr. Dee, an AIDS specialist at USC’s Rand Schrader Clinic where poor, uneducated, uninsured, often illiterate, sometimes homeless, and frequently drug-addicted HIV-positives can receive medical care regardless of ability to pay, recalled attending a meeting with the writing and production staff of Law and Order but said she merely answered general questions and wasn’t told the storyline of any specific episode. Dr. Dee also made the astonishing admission that HIV has never been proven to cause AIDS according to Koch’s Postulates, the classic scientific rules for establishing that a particular microbe causes a particular disease, and that the connection between HIV and AIDS is merely “associative.”

The following interview has been taken from episode 11 of “How Positive Are You?,” edited for space and readability. To hear the complete episode, or to stream or download any other episode of “How Positive Are You?,” visit the podcast’s Web site at http://www.howpositiveareyou.com/?feed=podcast

Christine Maggiore: Hello, and welcome to “How Positive Are You,” Dr. Jocelyn Dee. We appreciate your joining us today.

Dr. Jocelyn Dee: Thank you.

Maggiore: So, to begin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? I know that you’re a doctor at the Rand Schrader Clinic. What is it that you do there?

Dr. Dee: Oh, I am the assistant medical director for the clinic. We are a county clinic that services people who have infectious diseases, including HIV. I typically see patients in the morning and then I do more supervisory work and administrative work in the afternoon, but we try to help anyone who comes by our door.

Maggiore: And you also work as a consultant to the television industry?

Dr. Dee: Yes. We were contacted by an organization called Hollywood and Health to help advise a TV program called Law and Order: SVU, because they were interested in doing storylines related to infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS. They wanted to get some input from physicians to try to make their storylines more realistic.

Maggiore: So, when Law and Order: SVU came to you, did they have a story they already wanted to tell, or did you actually help in the shaping of that story?

Dr. Dee: Actually, we had a room full of people. We had several writers there, including some press people and someone from Hollywood and Health, and they were all writing stories. They did not tell us what the stories were about because they were still shaping them. They just asked us basic questions about HIV and about denialism, and infectious diseases in general. They did not tell us what any of the stories were about.

Maggiore: When you say “press people” were there, was this a special occasion, or do they roll out the red carpet every time they have an advisor come by?

Dr. Dee: It seemed like it was special because it was a new program they put into effect with Hollywood and Health. They were doing that with organ donations and HIV at the time.

Maggiore: I see. Now, I wanted to ask you some specific questions with regard to the development of this specific Law and Order program. Have you had a chance to look at that yet?

Dr. Dee: No. I did look at the clips, and I realized that it was very difficult for me to go into detail with that particular episode, called “Retro,” because as a physician myself, and being in the front lines and seeing people suffer through no fault of their own, and having young children of my own and actually expecting another, it was quite difficult for me to relive that through someone else. BI see that on a daily basis, and to actually live through it again fictionally was to the point of unbearable.

Because I have young children of my own, I can understand denial, because we do care for quite a few young women in my practice as well, that there is a sense of guilt. It is often easier to deny something than to have to face up to the consequences of decisions or acts that you have made in your past. And, unfortunately, it can end up really causing more suffering in the end — as we saw.

Maggiore: Now I know that when you are at a county facility, and you take anyone through your doors, you’re probably dealing mostly with low-income people?

Dr. Dee: Yes. A lot of our patients are indigent, and I’ve actually had to work through all of their problems. A lot of our patients have more socioeconomic problems that we have to deal with, and then to see someone without the socioeconomic problems and yet still have the same medical problems is very disconcerting.

Maggiore: What would be the difference between guilt and denial, in your opinion?

Dr. Dee: Well, I think everyone’s got guilt in some way, especially growing up Catholic. We’ve all got guilt, but how we deal with the guilt is different from everyone. I’m not a psychiatrist so I can’t tell you all the specifics about it, but some people deal with it with denial. And it’s particularly unfortunate when you have innocent children involved.

Maggiore: How does denial manifest? What would be the distinguishing mark between guilt and denial? Where is the line drawn? What do you see in a patient that lets you say, “Oh, here’s a person in denial?”

Dr. Dee: It’s a little more challenging in that situation because a lot of our patients here in the county are educationally challenged. They didn’t have a chance to go to school and learn how to read, etc., even in their own mother tongue. We try to provide AIDS support services to adequately educate patients about the disease process, so to teach them pretty much like an HIV 101, in their own primary language. Of course we have interpreters here, and we have people who specialize in that here.

We try to work with patients according to their own educational levels. When we feel like we’ve been able to answer all their questions and yet they’re still unable to deal with the issues, we start suspecting that there’s some denialism involved.

Maggiore: What would be the difference between that and somebody who says, “I am not indigent. I have attended school. I can read quite well. I am not drug-addicted. I’ve just done a lot of research, and I feel that there are outstanding scientific questions not only with regards to the relationship between HIV and AIDS, but also about the effects of the drugs. I’m feeling good right now, and I would like to forgo drug therapies for the time.” Is that a person in denial?

Dr. Dee: That could be someone who is actually quite sane, because there are a lot of questions that are left unanswered in HIV and AIDS. And no one will say — at least truthfully — that they have all the answers. There have not been any experiments — and, of course, this is ethically reasonable — that we would purposefully give someone HIV and see what happens to them. So we would not be able to fulfill Koch’s postulates, the scientific reasoning that we usually like to go through [to establish a particular microbe as the cause of a particular disease].

I understand, and I actually am quite happy when I know that people have thought about it, because there are patients who don’t want to think about it at all. So when someone says they’ve thought about it and they’re concerned about side effects of the drugs, and they have researched HIV, then I’m quite happy, because that’s a first step that was already taken on the patient’s part. We deal with larger issues here, where the patients don’t even want to hear about it, and so that’s one step back. We have to get them to take that extra step that the person you just described to me has already taken.

Crowe: There was a case in Canada not long ago of a woman who was convicted of “failing to provide the necessities of life to a child” because she either refused to give AZT to the baby or she was breast-feeding the baby. [Mainstream HIV/AIDS physicians and researchers strongly advise HIV-positive mothers against breast-feeding their babies on the ground that the virus could be transmitted through breast milk.] That’s close to some of these Law and Order episodes. What do you think about cases like that: and if you were approached by a prosecutor, what would your advice be?

Dr. Dee: I actually am quite stern about those things, and I can tell you now that they’re never going to put me on a jury based on what my answers would be. I believe that, even if a patient or a person cannot believe that there is a causal relationship between HIV and AIDS, opportunistic infections and death, there is an associative relationship. To me, the association is strong enough to warrant treatment, especially with the newer drugs on the market, because we have fewer side effects and we have better long-term data. And when it’s another human being involved, I think that we need to give science the benefit of the doubt.

Crowe: So what you’re saying is it’s not really necessary to prove that there’s a causal relationship between HIV and AIDS, as long as there is a well-documented association.

Dr. Dee: In my eyes, yes, and this is not just true in HIV and AIDS, but there are a lot of other diseases out there where we are not 100 percent sure that we have a causal relationship. Yet we still treat those, and it’s always a balance between advantages and disadvantages, or pros and cons. And, unfortunately, the disadvantage to not treating when someone has HIV or AIDS is catastrophic. It’s not something that you can ameliorate later on. So, like I said before, if there’s another human being involved, you have to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Maggiore: Now, when you say the effects are “catastrophic,” are you referring strictly to your patient population? Because it seems to me these are people who face unusual life challenges, certainly not the life challenges that someone like myself would face. Is that an equalizing factor between an upper-middle-class housewife and the indigent, perhaps drug-addicted person who has not attended school and has trouble meeting their basic needs? Would HIV be that equalizing factor between them?

Dr. Dee: Yes, yes. Unfortunately, the patients who come here probably have more challenges, and that’s why we do get patients presenting much later in the disease here.

Maggiore: I see. And again, what is “denialism,” and what is a “denialist”?

Dr. Dee: A denialist is a person who doubts that HIV causes AIDS, or that AIDS can cause opportunistic infections and death. So there’s a whole spectrum of it.

Maggiore: So they’re not “denying,” they’re “doubting”?

Dr. Dee: The doubters would also fall into that category. There’s a whole spectrum. There are people — of course, they would deny it — and then there are the people who doubt it and hence won’t do anything about it. So they, from what I understand, all fall into that “denialist” category.

Maggiore: Is there anything that defines the difference between a doubter, someone who’s asking questions, and someone who you would put in that [“denialist”] category?

Dr. Dee: There are people in the denialist category who don’t seem to be as open to more information, or to hearing about other data that may refute their beliefs, and definitely those people are the most challenging. Unfortunately, sometimes, no matter what we do, we can’t change someone’s mind. People have a right to think however they want, and it’s my belief that they can determine their own futures, but when there’s an innocent child involved, then it gets much greyer.

Crowe: Can I ask about another category of person? Let’s say that somebody’s said, “O.K., I accept that HIV causes AIDS, but I’m also aware that if a mother is untreated there’s only a 25 percent chance of transmission, and I’m also aware that the drug AZT interferes with DNA synthesis, and has been associated in animals, anyway, with cancer and mutagenic effects and also birth defects. And there’s some evidence in humans as well of some of these problems.” How would you respond to a person like that?

Dr. Dee: I’m glad, actually, that she looked into the drug, because at least she shows interest in what’s going on. So I wouldn’t refute that. You know that with women who are pregnant, we try to minimize any external drugs that we give them in any way, so it is not without a warning that we would recommend drugs anyway.

We would try to provide her with whatever data that we have, because AZT has been used for quite a while and it’s been used pretty much all over the world in pregnant women. In this country we don’t just use AZT in pregnant women anymore. That’s what we call “monotherapy.” We try not to do monotherapy anymore, for her sake and the child’s sake.

But we do monitor these women very carefully. Here at L.A. County/USC we have a program for pregnant women who are HIV-positive. They get delivered by a specialist who just delivers HIV-positive women. And our negative rate is tremendous here. We follow these children as they age, and thankfully I think we haven’t had any positive babies in women who were known to be HIV-positive going into active labor. So that’s why, as I told you before, how happy I am when patients are receptive to information.

Crowe: But what if they’re not? I mean, that’s getting back to the Law and Order [episode]. A woman says, “Thanks for all this information — ”

Maggiore: Actually, I think the situation on Law and Order was more like a woman had been misled by a medical professional.

Dr. Dee: Unfortunately, there are a lot of providers out there, and the degree of knowledge about HIV varies greatly. And unfortunately, if you go on line you’ll see providers who are actually in the denialist camp as well.

Maggiore: How does one distinguish a provider who’s in the “denialist” camp — getting back to that question I keep asking? Is there a “Wanted” poster? Is there a list of requirements? Are there things you can check off, and if you get to 10 they’re a “denialist”? I mean, how do we get to that point?

Dr. Dee: So what would happen is you have to be well informed going into the doctor’s office. First of all, you have to make sure your doctor is up to date with current information, if possible. Patients have to do their homework. They have to look doctors up any way they can. Usually, there are a lot of sources on the Internet as well where you can look up your own physician to see what patients have said about their doctor. They can get information that way.

Most pregnant women interview different doctors to see who they want. During that interview, you can usually get a flavor of how he or she practices. HIV in pregnancy is always a big topic, because HIV testing is strongly recommended for pregnant women. And if a doctor doesn’t even recommend it, you know that something is up.

Maggiore: What if a doctor recommends it and a patient says, “I feel I’ve informed myself on this, and I respectfully choose not to consume that drug during my pregnancy.”

Dr. Dee: Oh, so she did turn up positive, or she didn’t take the test?

Maggiore: No, this person has taken the test and comes in knowing they’re positive, having done quite a lot of research, and says, “You know, I’ll hear what you have to say, and now I’ll present my questions,” and after a discussion — let’s say, a lively discussion — this person says, “I don’t feel comfortable taking these drugs during pregnancy. I see that they have very serious side effects, including mitochondrial DNA toxicities. I can experience diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, while I’m pregnant. I could suffer from hepatic disorders, kidney failure, loss of appetite, numbness of the mouth, sleep disorders. There’s bone necrosis — ”

Dr. Dee: Lipodystrophy, metabolic syndrome —

Maggiore: Exactly. I don’t feel comfortable taking these drugs.

Dr. Dee: What would happen in our institution is we have something called an ethics committee, which I think every institution has. The case would be brought and presented at one of the committee meetings, and recommendations about what would happen at that point would be made. Fortunately for me, I’ve never had to do that, because if patients don’t own up to their HIV, then they wouldn’t be coming to see me anyway.

So I have not had to deal with that situation, but if something like that did happen to a provider, he or she would most likely be presenting that case to an ethics committee, and part of the ethics committee, or most of them, would have a psychiatrist and would have someone from risk management. And, you know, they may recommend that further steps be taken.

Maggiore: What might these steps be?

Dr. Dee: Further steps would, unfortunately, be legal steps, in which social work would get involved. As part of risk management, I’m sure we have a team of lawyers. Of course, I’ve never worked with them like that, but they would determine if they need to go to a judge and force adherence to a regimen. But there are a lot of factors involved, and sometimes the patient, the woman who’s refusing treatment, may be required to undergo a psychiatric or psychological evaluation to make sure that she is capable of making a decision like that. That would just be one thing that could happen.

Maggiore: Is there any other field of medicine where if somebody says, “You know what? Those therapies that you’re offering, they seem like they might be just as bad as the disease,” that person there, expressing themselves as well as I am today, would be subject to a psychiatric evaluation nonetheless?

Dr. Dee: Actually, it gets more complicated than that, because if you’re feeling well — and, of course, we do labs on people who feel as well as them — we’re not starting HIV meds in everyone who has HIV. There are other criteria that we look at. Actually, we’re very happy when someone has HIV and they’re feeling well, because most likely their numbers are good, too, in which case, we would not even recommend starting therapy.

Maggiore: But if they’re feeling well but their numbers indicate otherwise?

Dr. Dee: Yes, if their numbers are bad and they’re feeling well, they still have a right to refuse. It’s very unfortunate, but I can tell you that we do have a number of patients here who feel well, and their numbers start out good. We do request to bring them back on a regular basis to check on them, and some of them come back the way they’re recommended to. We check their labs and, unfortunately, the immune system starts waning and the amount of virus in them starts increasing, sometimes gradually, sometimes rather rapidly, and they have a right to refuse therapy.

And, unfortunately, we do sometimes have to watch them die. They have a right to decide what they want to do. We do counsel them, and we do make judgments on whether or not they’re able to make that decision. It doesn’t always warrant a visit upset to our psychiatrist or a social worker — although every patient gets a social work visit — and sometimes they just decide that they would rather live with the consequences of not treating themselves. And they fully understand. These are patients who even know what’s going to happen to them, and that’s what they choose.
For Zenger’s Newsmagazine 12-7-08


By Leo E. Laurence • Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence for San Diego News Service

Our San Diego mainstream media is a mixed bag, at best, both in print and broadcast journalism.

Fortunately, there are lots of first-rate reporters, photojournalists, newspaper page-designers and editors in “America’s Finest City.”

But, unfortunately, and particularly in television news, some of the coverage is abysmal.

San Diego Union Tribune

Staffers at the Union-Tribune have it almost as rough as people going through a foreclosure. Their future is unclear, and their morale consequently is very low.

The family-owned newspaper has long been for sale; but with the economy so bad, nobody is buying. Some have shown interest. Several reliable sources inside the U-T say they believe a sale of the Copley paper is imminent if — and that is a mountainous if — credit again becomes available.

As a result of advertising revenue that is plunging faster than women’s breast-lines, the bosses at the U-T have been cutting the staff dramatically. About half of their best journalistic talent have re-signed, either as a result of the paper’s buy-outs offered to expensive, experienced staffers with seniority; or the elimination of newsroom positions.

Rumors of the pending sale are running rampant throughout the U-T’s large, headquarters office building in Mission Valley and in its numerous branch offices dotting the county from Chula Vista to North County.

Nonetheless, some of the best of journalism are still hard at work at the U-T. The newspaper has some of the most creative photojournalists in the business, and their remaining writers are among the best.

And Some of the Worst!

Unfortunately, the U-T has also been producing some the very worst in American journalism: specifically, its dogmatic and thoroughly unprofessional “hit” job on former City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

The U-T has long been an integral part of the very Republican, downtown Establishment. It controls City Hall (but not the City Council … yet) and controls the County Board of Supervisors.

The U-T will do — and has regularly been doing — anything to protect their sweet control of the city’s business Establishment.

A good example was grabbing former police chief Jerry Sanders to serve as Mayor, a position for which he is really ill-suited and in which he often appears uncomfortable (except for the power, which Sanders loves).

The downtown business Establishment was totally freaked out by the possibility of having the very-popular maverick, Councilmember Donna Frye, serve as Mayor; so it used the U-T to make sure she lost.

More recently, the U-T used — or, really, abused — the power-of-the-press to unseat the equally popular City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

The U-T’s relentless campaign against Aguirre violated many of the most basic, ethical rules of modern journalism as found in the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Reporting only the truth, and verifying questionable facts, is basic to good journalism.

But in their acid (and successful) campaign to remove Aguirre from the City Attorney’s office and replace him with an inexperienced member of the Establishment, the U-T printed anything — including outright falsehoods.

“Mike has a videotape recounting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s heroics playing in an endless loop in his office,” the U-T reported on November 19, 2007.

Having been in his office many times, I know that report by the U-T was flat-out false.

Because of the ten years I spent in the law, the U-T’s Op-Ed department asked me to write a report on what really went on in Aguirre’s office.

But, because the Op-Ed piece I wrote was the truth, and not another flaky attack on Aguirre, the editor wasn’t interested in it.

In its defense, most of what is in the U-T is good journalism.

I personally know many of the newspaper’s reporters and photo-journalists; and admire them.

The newspaper did a great job kicking Congressman “Randy” Cunningham out of office, but he deserved it. The paper deservedly won a Pulitzer for that coverage.

Local TV “News”

If you eliminate police and fire news stories from the three major TV newscasts (Ch. 7, Ch. 8, Ch. 10), there would be almost nothing left.

And in many of those police/fire stories, all you will see is video of a firefighter walking at the scene of a fire. Now that’s real news.

Or you will see the video of a close-up of the red lights on a fire truck or a police car flashing. And, that, too, is real news!

At the scene of the shooting of a teenager, the mother was asked by a TV news reporter, “How do you feel?” Now, that’s a penetrating question to ask a mother who just lost her son. The young, cute, shapely, TV “reporter” didn’t ask, “What did you see?” Or, “What happened?” Those would be questions of substance.

If you wonder what stories will be covered on local, network TV newscasts in the evening, just look at the morning Union-Tribune. They take those stories, shoot some video of the story and that be-comes part of the evening “news”-cast.

While I dislike their national news coverage and programming, the local Fox news operations does cover stories other than police and fire incidents.

TV News Anchors

The job of a TV news anchor is simply to move the show along, the segue from one story to the next. That should be easy, and it’s done professionally by the national anchors.

But locally, they’re a mess.

The banter between the news anchors is boring. They laugh at each other’s “jokes,” which even a school kid would find boring, boring, boring — and definitely not funny.

Those “cute” comments are never funny, though the anchors laugh at each other’s stupid, yes stupid, side comments.

Maybe the anchors think — or are deluded into believing — that their private exchanges between stories is witty banter, described by “Pickles” in the Sunday comics as “clever back and forth conver-sation.”

Unfortunately, the exchanges between news anchors seen on local TV newscasts is neither witty nor clever.

Sometimes one anchor — talking to another at the anchor table — will even comment on the sub-stance of a story after it has aired, which is basically an editorial and should be identified as such.

Just give us the news, anchors, and eliminate the boring banter, the unfunny jokes and the editorial comments.

The bottom line is that neither the substance, nor the presentation, of most local TV news shows are professional, nor entertaining (but, news shouldn’t be an entertainment show, anyway).

Grade for most, local TV newscasts: F-.

Zenger’s associate editor Leo E. Laurence is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Latino Journalists of California and National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. For comment, contact Leo Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at leopowerhere@msn.com


By Leo E. Laurence • Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence for San Diego News Service

For over a decade, the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) has been a corrupt organization. It’s funded by taxes paid by every business in Hillcrest, yet those business owners have been totally apathetic about the HBA’s blatant violations of its own by-laws and state law.

For nearly 19 years, the HBA has operated with a board of directors that exceeds the number al-lowed by its own by-laws.

For many months, the HBA hired a private security firm, Off-Duty Officers (ODO), to “patrol” the streets, though even San Diego police officers assigned to the area confess they have “never” seen those security officers working.

And those ODO contracts were signed and paid for in alleged violation of the HBA’s contract with the city.

The HBA got away with these intentional violations because nobody objected, though the District Attorney’s office did investigate the organization last year for alleged violations of the state’s Brown Act, which requires open meetings.

Earlier this month, the HBA held a second “Annual Meeting.” Its first, held in October, failed to satisfy the quorum requirements of the organization’s by-laws, according to HBA’s attorney, Graham S. P. Hollis of Grace, Hollis & Hanson, LLP, in Hillcrest.

Nine members of the board had to stand for “re-election” on December 9. All but three were elected. Those removed were Scott Crowder, Sissy Isham and Leo Laurence. Each had protested the board’s corrupt ways in the past.

With the exception of two, members of the HBA board are not honorable people. They intentionally and knowingly violated their own by-laws regularly.

One of those who survived, but who has nonetheless challenged the organization’s actions, is Nick Moede, owner of Numbers and Rich’s.

During the report by Treasurer Cecilia Moreno, Moede repeatedly asked, “How much reserves do we have that is not budgeted?”

The HBA’s hired bookkeeper couldn’t answer the question.

“What are our reserves?” Moede asked again.

We have an average daily balance of $275.000, Moreno said. (This is about $100,000 less than re-ported last summer. Where is that missing money?)

“How much do we have available in reserves to spend on capital improvements (budgeted at $100,000)?, Moede asked yet again.

He never received an answer.

The board re-elected all of its officers to a new one-year term, so we can expect the organization to continue on its corrupt ways.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at leopowerhere@msn.com


Attorney Graham Hollis (in suit) coordinated counting the ballots of the “re-election” of the HBA board of directors. Photo by Leo E. Laurence
Letters to the Editor, Zenger’s, January 2009

Dear Mr. President Elect Obama,

I voted for you. I VOTED for you. I VOTED for YOU!!!

Dear Mr. Obama,,

Mr. Clinton waited until he took office before he crapped on the Gay and Lesbian citizens of the United States.

Dear Mr. Obama,

Having a Right-wing preacher give the invocation at your inauguration may at first glance appear to be “inclusion” to “mend bridges,” but then, where is David Duke? Shouldn’t he be speaking in order to bring the white supremacists into the great tent of inclusion? He says the Bible condones slavery, but by today’s rationalizations he should be included.

Dear Mr. Obama,

Reverend Rick Warren says that my love is akin to child rape. Well, some in these United States still believe the Bible forbids interracial marriage. I believe they say such marriages “water down the white race by breeding with monkeys.” How are Mr. Warren’s foul beliefs any different? He also points to 5,000 years of male/female marriage as a reason that Gays and Lesbians cannot marry; to him history is against Gay marriage. Well, Mr. Obama, slavery has been around for 5,000 years; would you say that is reason enough to practice slavery?

Dear Mr. Obama,

Here in Texas, so-called Christian leaders who are Black use the disgusting phrase, “It’s my skin, not my sin,” to spread their vile anti-Christian hatred of Gays and Lesbians. Can you stand by and allow Black leaders to behave so? By including a homophobe in your inauguration, are you not giving these leaders a green light that their hateful speech is acceptable?

Dear PRESIDENT-elect Obama,

I voted for you. I VOTED for you. I VOTED for YOU!!!! Do you care?

Moksha Todd

Fort Worth, Texas


[RE: “Obama and the Economy,” “First Word” column, Zenger’s, December 2008:] Contrary to what you've written, I think you really have to cherry-pick the stats to support the argument that the Bradley effect occurred in this general election at all, much less that it occurred to the tune of five percent. You wrote that Obama won by 5 1/2, when he in fact won by 7. And of the major national polls specifically comprised of likely voters, only Gallup and ABC had their final polls showing Obama with the double-digit margin you cite. CNN, Zogby, Pew Research, Rasmussen and NBC all had Obama winning by between 6 and 8 in their final polls, which is exactly what happened. You seem to be relying upon the outliers to support that argument, while disregarding where the bulk of the data falls.

Michael M. Welch

via e-mail


By Leo E. Laurence • Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence for San Diego News Service

The spectacular domed theatre (called a planetarium) at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Bal-boa Park has a new, experimental movie screen, new seats and an upgraded IMAX projector.

The Science Center’s Space Theatre is located on Park Boulevard just west of the zoo.

“This (Space) Theatre is historic,” explained Jeremy Pyle, the young and highly-professional Public Relations Manager of the Science Center.

“It was the world’s first, tilted-dome theatre.

“It was America’s first IMAX theatre when it opened.

“And, this is the first nanoscreen in an IMAX theatre.

“It’s still a hemispherical, dome-shaped screen; but the thousands of pieces (that make it up) are finely, carefully machined together, one-by-one, so that they fit together perfectly as a smooth surface. It appears almost like the inside of an egg shell,” Pyle added.

The domed-shaped screen in actually composed of 393 separate, sections of metal with tiny, tiny holes.

“There are well over 1 million little holes in the entire, domed screen.

“And, if you turned the Space theatre’s screen upside down, like a kitchen bowl, it would hold over 1 billion M&Ms, according to the contractor’s estimates,” Pyle reported.

Radical Changes

“Basically, we changed everything inside the Space Theatre, from the seats and carpeting to the screen and IMAX projection equipment, Pyle explained in an exclusive interview.

“The biggest change that people will notice is the new screen. It’s an entirely new dome, replacing one that was built 35 years ago. At that time, it was the first of its kind in the whole world. Now we have the first IMAX theatre in the world to have this new kind of (domed) screen that appears completely seamless under projection.

“Another change is to the surface of the screen itself. It actually has a slightly darker surface coating that changes the reflectivity. That means there will be less light bouncing around from the projector and colors appear richer, contrast is much sharper and the image is dramatically better,” Pyle explained.

“We started with this renovation on September 4, and have been working night and day, seven days a week, to get this done,” Pyle added.

There are even major changes in the projection room, located — oddly — in the basement of the theatre, due to the massive size of the IMAX projection equipment.

“We’ve made significant improvements to America’s oldest IMAX projector. We added a state-of-the-art, IMAX lens that is several times larger than the old lens; and which lets more light into the theatre and onto the screen.

“The cost? This part of the project is actually just Phase One of a three-phase project to transform the theatre. The entire project, which includes the subsequent 2 phases (including installing new, digital projection equipment next year), will cost $6 million.

“The cost of just the (current) theatre renovations and lens change is about $2 million.

Three New IMAX Films

“We are showing 3 entirely new IMAX films: (1) Wild Oceans, (2) Van Gogh — Crush with Genius, and (3) Animalopolis (of special interest to children),” Pyle reports.

“This is just the beginning. There’s a lot of stuff to come. “Starting next year, we will augment the existing (optical) IMAX projector with a digital projection system. That will be for the next generation of planetarium shows and beyond.

For comment, contact Leo Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at leopowerhere@msn.com


Photo shows a rare, behind-the-scenes view (off limits to the public) as Public Relations Manager Jeremy Pyle inspects the massive structure supporting a new, experimental, domed screen in the planetarium theatre of the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Photo by Leo E. Laurence

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Auto CEO’s: Second-Class Capitalists


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

Until about four weeks ago, anyone in the U.S. who concedes that we have a ruling class at all would have assumed that the CEO’s of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were charter members of it. Not anymore. These three people — Rick Wagoner of General Motors, Alan Mullaly of Ford and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler — got a rude awakening when they came to the U.S. Congress, hats in hands, and asked for loan guarantees of $25 billion from the federal government to keep their companies alive until spring.

The first time they petitioned Congress, they were rudely upbraided for coming there on corporate jets and widely ridiculed as latter-day Neros fiddling while their companies burned. They came a second time, presumably either driving their own products or at least taking more hoi polloi methods of transportation, and won a bailout bill from the House of Representatives — only to see it stall in the Senate at the hands of Republicans, who repudiated the lame-duck President of their own party to send a Right-wing populist message to the slavering masses of talk-show listeners and a fuck-you finger to organized labor.

What’s most amazing about the defeat of the auto bailout is that the $25 to $35 billion the company CEO’s were asking for is chump change compared to the $700 billion (actually more like $850 billion to $1 trillion when all the pork-barrel earmarks needed to buy the votes to pass it were added) Congress eagerly gave to the U.S. financial sector to bail it out of its economic mistakes. The auto companies finally got their bailout, but only as $14 billion in crumbs from the huge fund set up to bail out the financial companies — and they had to agree to a humiliating set of conditions to do it: no more corporate jets, no more multi-million dollar salaries and new controls on the way they do business and the kinds of cars they were allowed to sell.

One could argue — indeed, a progressive socialist like myself can’t help but argue — that all American capitalists are way overpaid and the economy would probably be better off if more firms followed the policy of the world’s first (unsuccessful) attempt at a socialist revolution, the Paris Commune of 1870-71: no manager was to be paid more than the company’s highest-paid worker. But the vast difference between the humiliation the auto CEO’s were put through and the kid-gloves treatment their equally clueless financial-sector brethren got indicates just how decadent American capitalism has become and how totally remote it is from the actual production of goods and services.

All capitalist systems need some sort of banking and financial sector. There needs to be a place for people to park their capital so it can be injected back into the system and finance more economic activity. It also helps if there’s a way for budding entrepreneurs to sell stock in their enterprise in exchange for shares in future profits, so people whose ambitions and imaginations exceed their financial resources can nonetheless start companies and bring innovative new products to market.

But what the current economic crisis proves more than anything else is that the financial tail of American capitalism is now wagging the productive dog. This hasn’t happened overnight, of course. In the 1920’s America’s financiers sold many people on the idea that their financial futures would be secured by investing in the stock market and buying, selling and trading wealth they had done nothing to create. After the rude awakening of the 1930’s, people mistrusted the stock market as an investment vehicle for decades — until enough of the Depression generation died out and the market boomed in the 1960’s. The bubble inevitably burst in 1970 — just as it did later in 1987, 2000 and 2008 — but the landing was softened by the regulatory protections introduced under Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”

Beginning in the 1970’s, and increasingly over the next three decades, the banking and financial sector of the U.S. economy and the politicians to whom they were giving major “campaign contributions” dismantled most of the New Deal-era regulations of the financial system on the ground that “the market” should be left free to develop “innovative” financial systems without the hindrance of all those pesky rules. Deregulation allowed the formation of giant financial conglomerates that offered all sorts of investment services — and lots of inherent conflicts of interest as the same people who were paying the analysts who told you that a particular stock was a good buy were also paying the brokers who would make money selling it to you.

At the same time, American capitalists were de-industrializing the country and shipping industrial and manufacturing jobs en masse off to the lowest bidders. Virtually all this country’s productive industry moved abroad — first to Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America; then to China, where a nominally “Communist” dictatorship kept wages ultra-low and barred unions with a ferocity even Wal-Mart would envy. In doing this, American capitalists of this generation forgot a lesson even their most militantly anti-union ancestors like Henry Ford well knew: if you want to have a functioning economy, you not only have to keep down your production costs; you also have to pay your workers enough wages so they can actually afford to buy your products.

The result has been a bastardization of capitalism in which it is considered hopelessly déclassé to earn your profits by actually producing goods or services. Instead, the new capitalist heroes are the people who become rich selling … well, not even selling stocks or bonds, but “derivatives,” assets with no value of their own that are basically bets on how other assets are selling in the marketplace. A share of stock in a company is, in a sense, itself a “derivative,” since its price at any given moment is based on the marketplace’s perception of how well the company is going to do — but the creative financial-products market has designed “derivatives” based on stock prices, and “derivatives” based on other derivatives, leading up to financial instruments of such built-in complexity almost nobody knows what they’re really worth.

This is at least one reason why the auto bailout faced a fierce storm of opposition while the giveaways to the financial sector passed relatively smoothly. Everyone knows what an automobile is and, even if they know nothing about the mechanics of one, at least they know how it’s supposed to function. Since the auto bailout was voted down by Congress, the letters-to-the-editor pages of major newspapers have been filled with anecdotes from people about how crappy their last American car was and how much more reliable they’ve found the competing products from Japan, Germany or wherever. But nobody without an advanced degree in economics has much hope of knowing what a credit-default swap or a collateralized mortgage security really is, let alone whether any such offering is overpriced or underpriced.

Another reason the auto bailout failed in Congress was that the Republican party in the Senate seized on it as part of their 140-year jihad against labor unions. The United Auto Workers (UAW) has been one of the few long-term success stories of American labor; from the 1930’s, when they used sit-ins and other classic civil disobedience tactics (at a time when Mahatma Gandhi was a funny-looking guy in the newsreels and Martin Luther King was in grade school) to force the auto companies to recognize them, until the 1970’s they kept auto workers’ pay, health care, pensions and other benefits relatively high and built a proletarian workforce into a real middle class.

That began to unravel in the 1970’s, as foreign carmakers made inroads into U.S. markets (mainly because in the 1970’s, as in this decade, U.S. auto companies insisted on making giant, gas-guzzling vehicles even as skyrocketing gas prices led consumers to want smaller, more fuel-efficient cars), American car companies joined their industrial brethren in outsourcing as many jobs as possible and the companies got the UAW to agree to cutback after cutback. But the Senate Republicans seized on the auto industry’s crisis to deal the UAW a death blow; their price for agreeing to the bailout was that the UAW set a target date by which their members’ wages would be no higher than those paid to auto workers in nonunion plants — which would have eliminated the UAW’s entire reason for existence overnight.

They had help from the far-Right wing of America’s corporate media — talk radio and much of cable TV news — who endlessly repeated the propagandistic lie that the average UAW member was paid $75 per hour. “That wage figure — widely used by opponents of the auto industry bailout — is not in fact the wage paid to current workers,” Los Angeles Times reporter Jim Puzzanghera explained in a story published December 13. “It is an approximation of the costs of salaries and benefits for current and retired workers. After wage concessions in recent contracts, the UAW says its workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler plants range from $33 an hour for skilled trades to $14 an hour for new hires.”

The savagery of the Republican attack on the UAW — and their openly expressed hope that without a bailout, the big U.S. automakers would go bankrupt and the bankruptcy judges supervising their affairs would void the UAW contracts and slash the pay of their employees — illustrated Solidarity Divided co-author Bill Fletcher’s comment in his recent speech at Activist San Diego that America’s ruling class is committed to the utter destruction of the labor movement. And the success of the “$75 per hour” big lie shows that Fletcher was right about something else, too; that with unions committed only to improving the pay and benefits of their members, and not to building any sense of solidarity as a working class, America’s existing labor movement has left workers all too vulnerable to status-based propaganda campaigns that lead them to see other workers as enemies: “Why the hell should they get paid $75 per hour while I’m only making minimum wage?”

Whether the U.S. auto industry limps along until spring, they get a better deal from the Obama administration and the greater (but still not filibuster-proof) Democratic majority in the Senate, whether they merge (as GM and Chrysler have reportedly been discussing) or go out of business altogether and add cars to the long list of products (including consumer electronics) not made by U.S. companies at all, the strange saga of the attempted auto bailout and the weird treatment the car companies got at the hands of the government all too willing to give the financial sector whatever it wanted has already reinforced the message of the past 30 years. Workers are unimportant, easily replaceable cogs of production just like the machines they operate. Companies that actually make things are unimportant. The gods of American capitalism are the financiers, the investment bankers, the stock manipulators and others who suck off the producing power of the working class and seek new ways to make money off each other — or, as Bernard Madoff’s investors and customers are all too well aware by now, to rip each other off.

Friday, December 12, 2008

“No on 8” Actions, Discussions Continue

Community Gropes for the Next Steps towards Marriage Equality


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

Photos, top to bottom: Eric Isaacson (in center), Sara Beth Brooks

Usually, citizens of a democratic republic conceive of elections as settling issues once and for all. The winners go ahead and govern, while the losers lick their wounds and look forward to the next cycle. But that hasn’t been the way it’s worked with Proposition 8, the initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California and reverse the state supreme court’s May 15 decision allowing such marriages. The passage of Proposition 8 by a solid but not overwhelming five-point margin on November 4 has triggered a round of demonstrations, rallies, protests and other actions as ordinary Queers came together to express their outrage against a vote they felt relegated them to second-class citizenship — and now the movement is working on building a permanent campaign to reverse Proposition 8 either in the courts or at the ballot box.

At least four major demonstrations on the same-sex marriage issue took place in San Diego in November, including a massive march downtown on November 15 that drew over 25,000 people. The march was part of a nationwide mobilization, but San Diego’s was bigger than any other city’s — including Los Angeles and San Francisco. Other actions included a rally in Balboa Park November 7, a march through Hillcrest and North Park November 8, and a November 22 protest outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel downtown. The hotel was targeted as part of an ongoing campaign called “Sleep with the Right People” that began before the election and continues in coalition with UNITE HERE, a nationwide labor union attempting to organize the Manchester Grand’s work force.

The latest anti-Manchester action took place on December 6, when about 200 people walked from A-1 Storage to the hotel to protest the huge donations both businesses’ owners gave to the Proposition 8 campaign. Sara Beth Brooks, executive director of the San Diego Equality Campaign — which coordinated the action with the San Diego local of UNITE HERE — told the crowd that the Hyatt was targeted because its owner, well-connected local developer Doug Manchester, “donated $125,000 to support Proposition 8.” Brooks also explained that Manchester’s operation is so aggressively anti-union “that folks in this hotel can get fired just for talking to the union about organizing.”

According to Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate, which was also involved in the December 6 demonstration, A-1 Storage was targeted because its owner, Terry Caster, gave a pro-8 contribution that dwarfed Manchester’s: $693,000. What’s more, both Caster and Manchester gave money early in the campaign to fund the signature drive that put Proposition 8 on the ballot in the first place — which led Karger to call San Diego “Ground Zero” for the pro-8 campaign. “He’s just hell-bent on taking away the civil rights and joy and happiness of people,” Karger said about Caster. “While he claims to be a loving person, he should practice that and let everyone have the same rights as he has.”

Asked how these demonstrations advance the goal of getting rid of Proposition 8 and restoring marriage equality to California, Brooks said, “There are three veins in this movement. There are the political actions, there are the legal actions, and there is the direct-action activism of events like these. I think the action helps to keep the conversation going. I think it helps us move forward and keeps the issue in the media’s spotlight.”

Local attorney Eric Isaacson attended the December 6 action and explained the legal strategy to Zenger’s Newsmagazine. Isaacson has filed a lawsuit with the California Supreme Court on behalf of the California Council of Churches, which opposed Proposition 8 — itself something of a surprise because supporters of 8 created the impression that all organized religion was on their side — based on the idea that the ballot measure was so drastic and far-reaching a change to people’s basic constitutional rights that it constituted a “revision” to the state constitution — not just an amendment.

“In Article I of the California constitution, the people say that there are certain inalienable rights, and among those rights are equal protection under the law and the right to privacy,” Isaacson explained. “The right to marry is a fundamental human right, grounded in the right to privacy and equal protection under the laws. It is declared by the California constitution to be inalienable. If the constitution can be amended to revise a fundamental principle of equality before the law [and] the basic principle of a social contract that we call a constitution, it has to be done by the revision process — by a 2/3 majority in each house of the legislature followed by a majority vote of the people of California — if it can be done at all.”

Asked about whether allowing same-sex marriages to be legally recognized when many Californians who have religious or moral objections to them violates their rights — an argument made by supporters of Proposition 8 in the campaign — Brooks said, “I would answer that with the fact that this is not a religious country. This is a country founded on separation between church and state, and I will fight to the end of my breath for those people to have their religious beliefs and their religious rights. I will not stand for them to infringe on my rights based on their beliefs.”

Isaacson added that both Manchester and Caster openly boasted that their support of Proposition 8 was based on their own religious beliefs and their desire to impose them on all Californians. Manchester, Isaacson explained, “said basically that he was motivated by religious animosity to outlaw marriages of same-sex couples that are being done in Reform synagogues. Reform Judaism, the largest movement in American Judaism, honors same-sex marriages. So does the United Church of Christ. So does the Unitarian-Universalist Association of congregations. … Each church can make its own decision of what the religious purposes and principles of marriage are. And none of them — not Doug Manchester, and not Mr. Caster — have the right to impose their religious doctrines on all Californians, churched and unchurched.”

Activism by Power Point

Two days after the demonstration at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, Activist San Diego gave over their regular monthly meeting to a forum on Proposition 8 and how to continue the struggle for marriage equality in California. The group invited Lisa Kove, volunteer coordinator for the San Diego Democratic Club and an organizer for San Diego Equality Campaign, to make a presentation — and Kove brought along Power Point slides and three other speakers for a program less about what the message should be than about how to communicate it to potential voters and change their minds.

“We now have to get past where we were on Proposition 8,” Kove said. “It was a horrendous loss, but a gain for our visibility. We are now seen as a human rights issue even in China.” Kove criticized the No on 8 election campaign for focusing exclusively on “undecided” voters, and said the task before us should be to reach beyond that and actually change the minds of people who voted for it. “We have to increase the confidence of the community for change, and that will resolve all the barriers and obstacles,” she said. “We want to create an environment where everyone fells they own the change.”

Much of Kove’s presentation stressed the use of modern communications technology, including broadband Internet access and cell phones with text messaging capability. “Candidates send text messages because they know they can touch you quickly and directly,” she explained. “Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King had to go word of mouth to organize. Now people who have never met or seen each other can have discussions. We can build momentum for this change and use these tools to work together.”

Kove was a good deal less specific about what her listeners should be using all these new communications technologies to say. “We’re not going to make change by showing anger or hostility,” she said — a belief she and one of her co-panelists put into practice during the November 8 demonstration, when they unsuccessfully tried to bar people carrying signs using the word “hate” or the acronym “H8” from marching. “We’re going to have to show how Proposition 8 hurts us.” She explained the initiative’s passage by saying that people weren’t “ready for this change” when they voted, and the task is to “connect with everybody through these technologies and what we can do as people” to bring them along and accept same-sex marriage as a matter of equality.

She also admitted that, despite the capabilities of the Internet and other modern electronic devices, much of the organizing work will still have to be done in one-on-one, face-to-face conversations. “There isn’t anything like people-to-people communications,” she acknowledged. “When you talk to people, you have to tell them in an honest way how Proposition 8 hurts you. In addition, our allies on the East Coast have started holding Straight but Not Narrow parties, where straight friends get together and talk about Gay marriage. Sometimes, hearing things from people that are not LGBT [Queer] is needed to build alliances. We need to spread the word.”

Kove’s panel also included Sara Beth Brooks, attorney Charlie Pratt and information technology specialist Sue Heim. Pratt gave a quick rundown of the legal challenges to Proposition 8, including the one at the heart of Isaacson’s case and another filed by the American Civil Liberties Union that argue that banning same-sex marriage was such a far-reaching change to the state constitution that it should have been considered a “revision” rather than an amendment and therefore approved by the legislature before it could go on the ballot. “The other major challenge,” Pratt said, “has been that the initiative upsets the balance of power in California. The Supreme Court said we could get married and the initiative said we can’t.”

In addition, Pratt said, the legal effort challenging Proposition 8 is working to preserve the validity of the marriages of same-sex couples in California between June 15, when the state supreme court’s decision took effect, and November 4. Recalling that he urged couples who wanted to get married to do so before November 4, Pratt said, “The law is whatever the California Supreme Court says it is, and until November 4 they said we could get married. The proponents of 8 said the issue should be looked at retrospectively and all the marriages should be flushed away.” Pratt said that persuading the court to uphold the validity of the same-sex marriages made before Proposition 8 passed will probably be easier than getting the entire measure thrown out, which he conceded will be “a tough go.”

Like Kove, Pratt said the most important task for the community right now is outreach. “I’m a lawyer, but I don’t depend entirely on the courts,” he said. “We need to reach out and get out of the Gayborhoods. We have a huge organizing task, and it shouldn’t end even once we get the right to get married.”

Brooks used her speaking opportunity to promote some of her group’s future events. Urging people to visit their Web site, www.sdequalitynow.com, she promoted “Light Up the Night for Equality,” a series of candlelight vigils planned for Saturday, December 20, 5 p.m. at six local shopping malls: Plaza, Fashion Valley, Otay Ranch Mall, University Towne Centre, Carlsbad Company Stores, and North County Fair. All of these locations were picked because they’re in the more conservative north, east and south parts of San Diego County, away from what Pratt called the “Gayborhoods” and the more cosmopolitan center of the city of San Diego.

The next big national mobilization, Brooks explained, is set for Saturday, January 10. This is a protest not against Proposition 8 but the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA), which was passed by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton. Much like Proposition 8, DoMA defines marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman, and it says that same-sex couples who are legally married in a U.S. state or foreign country can’t claim any federally recognized marriage rights. Brooks said that her group hasn’t yet decided where San Diego’s January 10 action will be, but she’s sounded out the San Diego Police Department and won tentative approval for another November 15-style march down Broadway.

“Some of us were heavily involved in the November 15 march,” said Sue Heim. “We started the Web site and a Yahoo group. We’re now going to apply to be a nonprofit organization so we can accept donations, including water for future marches. We’re creating another Web site that will be more professional” — the existing site at sdequalitynow.com is as much a social networking site as a promotion for political activism — “and a public face’ for the movement.

The Other Panelists

Though Kove clearly intended her group of speakers to be self-contained, Activist San Diego invited four other people to sit on the panel and address the meeting. This reporter was one of them. The others were veteran Queer activist Wendy Sue Biegeleisen, whose long history in the community includes having served on the board and as security chair for the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride events; and two women identified only as Zakiya and Jackie, members of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and among the organizers of a marriage-equality coalition that differs from the San Diego Equality Campaign mainly in more aggressively linking same-sex marriage with other progressive concerns, particularly issues affecting people of color. (Zakiya, who is African-American, was the only person of color on the panel.)

Zakiya said that one thing she especially liked about Activist San Diego’s call to the December 8 meeting was its promise of “a discussion about tying the struggle for Gay rights with other struggles. Activists see the connections. One issue is immigrants who are Gay and don’t have the option of marrying their [U.S. citizen] partners [and thereby getting permanent resident status]. Another issue is the armed forces and ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’” She added that it’s not only progressive people who see these issues as interconnected; their adversaries do, too. Zakiya said she recognized members of the Minutemen, an aggressively anti-immigration organization, among the people staging counter-protests to the November 15 march.

One of Zakiya’s principal concern was that 70 percent of African-American voters supported Proposition 8 — a far wider margin in favor of the initiative than any other racial/ethnic group. (The initiative carried the Latino community by more than its margin of passage statewide, and narrowly won the white vote. Asians were the only racial/ethnic community where it lost, albeit also narrowly.) She was troubled that this vote was being used to promote “this idea that there’s a divide between Black and Gay America,” and said that African-Americans were only 6 percent of all California voters in the November 2008 election. She warned white Queers against “putting the blame [for Proposition 8] on other people who are oppressed.”

Zakiya’s argument was that homophobia in the African-American community has more to do with class than race. She cited the well-known fact that the higher up you are on the socioeconomic scale, the more accepting you are likely to be of Queer people and their claims for civil rights. “When you go to college, move out of your parents’ house and go to the city, you get to ‘become’ Gay,” she said. “A lot of Blacks and Latinos don’t have the opportunity to do any of those things.” She also noted that when initiatives seeking to ban same-sex marriage were on the ballot in 13 states in 2004 — and were often credited with delivering the conservative vote that enabled President Bush to win re-election against John Kerry — African-Americans were actually less likely to vote for them than others.

Jackie pointed to another problem supporters of same-sex marriage have to deal with: the corporate media. She criticized the coverage of Proposition 8, both before and after the election, as seeking to drive wedges between various oppressed communities — and, she argued, this wasn’t an accident. “Corporate media are tools of larger bodies,” she said, pointing as an example to General Electric, a major defense contractor and also the owner of NBC and Universal studios. “Over 90 percent of corporate media is owned by just 11 companies,” she said. “Freedom of information is tied in to all struggles.” Jackie pointed to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — which, like the Defense of Marriage Act, was signed into law by President Clinton — and two more recent acts passed under Bush as giveaways to the corporate media which progressives must organize to repeal.

Wendy Sue — who, like Zakiya and Jackie, wasn’t introduced by her last name — stressed the “Day Without a Gay” protest scheduled for December 10 and also an ongoing “White Knot” campaign, which urges people to wear knotted white ribbons to demonstrate their support for same-sex marriage rights. Patterned after the red-ribbon campaign for AIDS awareness and the pink-ribbon campaign to fight breast cancer, the White Knot campaign is aimed at starting precisely those one-on-one conversations Kove and her panelists think are necessary. “It’s a way to wear something on your person to let people know you support marriage equality, and it’s a conversation starter,” she explained.