Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why Can’t Michael and Brian Get Married?

Activists Stage Sit-In at County Office After They’re Denied License


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

“Today, where celebrations are taking place, instead are rallies, protests and marches,” said Michael Anderson inside the San Diego County Clerk’s office Wednesday afternoon, May 27. “At a time when we should be planning our weddings, we are planning a resistance. Instead of planning our vows, we must write speeches. Instead of standing at the altar, we are forced to stand for our right to be at the altar.”

Anderson and his partner of eight years, Brian Baumgartner, made themselves the focal point of San Diego’s latest protest against the passage of Proposition 8, which banned marriage between same-sex couples in California, and the May 26 decision of the California Supreme Court upholding the measure. They agreed to be the first couple to go to the clerk’s office and demand a marriage license, then sit down and refuse to leave the office after they were denied one. Other Gay and Lesbian couples, individuals (including at least two who were already legally married to same-sex partners in California during last year’s 4 1/2-month window of opportunity) and non-Queer allies joined in.

At the height of the action, over 70 people crowded into the waiting area inside the clerk’s office. According to Lisa Kove, strategic planning chair for the San Diego Equality Campaign, one of the organizations sponsoring the action, County fire marshals said there were too many people in the room for safety; and Kove, agreeing with them, did not contest it when they ordered some of the people to leave. The protesters had said throughout the day that they would not leave the building when it closed, and would accept being arrested in classic civil-disobedience fashion. In the end, however, no one was arrested and the building was cleared by 6 p.m., an hour after its usual closing time.

“The police came in at 5 p.m.,” attorney Charlie Pratt, a participant in the demonstration and one of the two people designated as its liaisons to law enforcement, told the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club at its regular meeting May 28, a day after the action. “Folks who didn’t want to risk arrest left. About 20 to 25 people stayed. We had told the police, ‘We will not leave until you make us leave.’ We had agreed not to resist arrest in any way. We did not go limp.” Pratt explained that the other participants were escorted out when police officers touched them; the legal significance of that, he explained, is if an officer touches you to guide you away from the scene and you do anything else, it’s considered resisting arrest and you can be taken into custody and charged with that serious crime.

Pratt said that he was singled out for special treatment by law enforcement on the scene. “Three officers came at me first, accusing me of being one of the ringleaders,” he said. “They marched me to the basement, which concerned me, and then they marched me back to the second floor [where the action had taken place]. Everyone else had been escorted out, and everyone outside was saying, ‘Where’s Charlie?’ I asked them, ‘Why does a gimpy person like me need three police officers?’ Then there was a mysterious phone call, and had the person who called not intervened I would have been taken downtown to the county jail — and 100 people would have gone to the jail and continued the demonstration outside it.”

During the early part of the action, participants passed around manuscripts and took turns reading aloud from them. Among the readings were Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous defense of the civil rights movement, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”; a 2007 statement by Mildred Loving, an African-American woman who along with her white husband were the plaintiffs in the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia, in which the U. S. Supreme Court ruled state bans on interracial marriages unconstitutional; and an article about the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York City, commonly (though inaccurately) thought of as the beginning of serious Queer activism in the U.S.

Later in the day, people involved in the sit-in were given a chance to speak to each other and explain why they were there. “I’m a Gay, married human male, married to another human male,” said Drew Searing, member of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME) and the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice. “My husband and I had a beautiful, wonderful wedding last summer, and it just breaks my heart that some of my brothers and sisters can’t participate in that.”

“I’m here because I refuse to be a victim of intolerance, hatred and discrimination,” said a young man named Justin who fought back tears as he spoke. “I was actually in Massachusetts a few years ago, when their Supreme Court passed a ruling that said that Gay men and women could get married. I watched two of my best friends marry people that they had been with for years, that they loved and they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with, … I look back at pictures from my friends’ weddings and ceremonies, and it just really makes me think, like, what does that leave for me?”

“I am here with my girl Kim, and we tried to get a marriage license today, and they said no,” said Sasha. “I’m here for my brothers and sisters from the past, for all of you today, for everybody who was there last night [at the march and rally against the Proposition 8 ruling that attracted over 4,000 people], and for future generations. It’s gotten so much better since 40 years ago, since 10 years ago, since five years ago, and it just needs to keep on getting better. It’s up to us to do it, so that’s why I’m here.”

“Ditto,” said Kim. “I’m not one for public speaking, by any means. I don’t really like much attention, so this is kind of a big step out for me. I love Sasha. I want to spend the rest of my life with her. And I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that anyone is trying to deny us the equality that we deserve. That’s it.”

A man named Keith introduced himself as a representative of the national organization Marriage Equality U.S.A. and also as a Gay clergy member. Quoting statistics that 50 percent of all heterosexual marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, one out of every five husbands cheats on his wife and one out of every five wives cheats on her husband, Keith said, “The very luxuries that straight people enjoy, that they take for granted, we’re sitting here today and fighting for. The very thing that they toss into the trash, that they don’t take seriously, they’re so quick to divorce over, 50 percent of them trash it, throw it away, we’re fighting desperately to have the same things.”

Howard Freelove, a musician and married heterosexual who said he had worked with many Queer people and become an ardent supporter of Queer equality, said, “I talk to people all the time who voted yes on Proposition 8, and they’re turning around right now. The momentum is happening. In 2010, you guys, you’re going to be able to get married in this state. I know you’re going to have to wait, but let’s suck it up and just do the work that’s necessary, and just talk to everybody. Knock on doors, talk to people on the phone, don’t be afraid to say something.”

Criticizing marriage equality opponents for thinking that Queer relationships are only about sex, not love, Freelove said, “There’s going to come a day when there’s not going to be any distinction between ‘Gay’ and ‘straight,’ between ‘Bisexual’ and ‘Transgender.’ Just as 100 years ago when if you were Black or Brown, you couldn’t drink at that fountain, you couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that, and we don’t have that distinction nowadays, someday there’s going to come a time when we’re not going to refer to each other as ‘Gay’ or ‘straight’ or anything. Everyone’s going to be accepted.”

“My rights as a Gay person were put up for a vote on the ballot, and my rights were taken away at the ballot box,” said Jonathan Goetz, secretary of California Young Democrats and activist with the San Diego Democratic Club. “And that really scares me. It scares me not just for me, but for any other group that the Republican Party decides is an enemy for this election or that election. And if I’m not willing to stand up and protect my own rights, I don’t know who will.” Goetz linked marriage equality with other progressive causes, including single-payer universal health care and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make it easier for workers to win union representation.

Mainstream media coverage of the action emphasized its rather anti-climactic ending — referring to the protesters’ willingness to leave the building rather than be arrested, the Channel 10 newscaster said, “They caved” — and the inconvenience posed by other people who wanted to get married or access other county services. The San Diego Union-Tribune article on the demonstration quoted Dr. Doug Davis of Salt Lake City, who’d come there to see his son David get married, as saying, “Don’t we have rights, too? They think it’s O.K. to barge in like they have more rights than we do.” David seemed to approach the situation with more equanimity, pointing out to the reporter that, despite the inconvenience, his wedding went ahead as scheduled.

This reporter observed no disruption of county services. Staff members and individuals with business at the clerk’s desk were allowed to pass freely. According to Kove, at least two straight couples who’d come there to get married joined the demonstration in support of marriage equality. Kove also said that the sheriff’s deputies threatened to arrest attorney Pratt, identifying him as “a troublemaker” even though he had done nothing the other participants hadn’t done and was willing to leave along with everybody else. She suggested Pratt was singled out for his reading of King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

While the sit-in was going on inside the county clerk’s office, a parallel demonstration was going on outside the building on the Pacific Highway side which featured an open mike so people could express their feelings about Proposition 8 and the court decision upholding it. Kove, marriage equality activist Sara Beth Brooks and former San Diego City Council candidate Stephen Whitburn took turns MC’ing the event, sometimes going into the building and returning to report on the goings-on inside the clerk’s office. Gradually, however, the crowd outside dwindled down to about 12 people as the focus shifted indoors.

“Until the 1940’s, it was illegal for disabled people to get married,” recalled Linda Kwizdak of San Diego Blind Community Services. “People were fearful of disabled people, and now they are very fearful of homosexuals. … I’ve had a lot of arguments with people who voted for Proposition 8 who say that homosexuality is a ‘choice.’ It’s not a choice to be what you are; it’s only a choice to express what you are.” Kwizdak’s point was echoed by a woman in a wheelchair who spoke to the group inside the clerk’s office and said that her parents had had to fight for her right to attend normal schools instead of being shunted off to separate schools for people with disabilities.

A young man named Gibran Martinez showed up with a piece of duct tape across his mouth and, when it was his turn to speak, removed it from his lips but continued to let it dangle from his left cheek. “I came out seven months ago, and it’s very hard for me to come out to my family,” he said. “I was born and raised in Costa Rica, in a heavily Catholic, military family. Even though we have justices in place to rule over us, no one can judge me. No one can judge us.”

Photos of the May 27 Marriage Equality Demonstration at the San Diego County Administrative Center

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Photos, top to bottom: Inside the County Clerk's Office, Howard Freelove, Gibran Martinez (gagged), Gibran Martinez (not quite so gagged), Lisa Kove, Linda Kwizdak

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Over 4,000 Rally in San Diego Against Prop. 8 Decision

State High Court Approves Marriage Ban, Lets Existing Marriages Stand


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The outcome of the cases before the California Supreme Court challenging the validity of Proposition 8 was announced Tuesday, May 26 and went pretty much as expected. The court upheld the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages but let stand the legal weddings of same-sex couples between June and November 2008. But, though most commentators had predicted that outcome since the court heard oral arguments in the case on March 5, that didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of emotion in San Diego’s Queer community. That emotion made itself felt from 5 to 9 p.m. May 26, as over 4,000 people took to the streets between Sixth and Laurel in Balboa Park and the San Diego County Hall of Justice at 220 West Broadway downtown for a “Day of Decision” march and rally planned months ago for whatever day the court announced its ruling.

The California Supreme Court justices voted 6 to 1 to uphold Proposition 8, but the vote to uphold the validity of the estimated 18,000 marriages of same-sex couples in the state between June 15, 2008 — when their previous ruling allowing same-sex marriages went into effect — and November 5, when the secretary of state’s office certified that Proposition 8 had passed, was unanimous. The one dissenter who thought the court should have thrown out Proposition 8 was Justice Carlos Moreno, who wrote, “The majority’s holding essentially strips the state Constitution of its independent validity in protecting the fundamental rights of suspect classes. … [D]enying Gays and Lesbians the right to marry, by wrenching minority rights away from judicial protection and subjecting them instead to a majority vote, attacks the very core of the equal protection principle.”

Many of the speakers at the Day of Decision rally echoed Moreno’s words. “Today the court made a ruling that undermines decades of progress in civil rights and declares that our fundamental rights are subject to a majority vote,” said rally MC Stephen Whitburn, former San Diego City Council candidate. “Today the court opened the door for discrimination against any minority. Make no mistake: that is unjust. But we will meet this challenge and undercut this historic injustice with our historic initiative. Today we affirm that separate is not equal, and we realize it will be up to us to reach the hearts and minds of our fellow Californians. We will do this, and we will do this together.”

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders appeared at the rally with both of his daughters and with Megan, fiancée of his Lesbian daughter Lisa. “Sadly, the California Supreme Court today let a simple majority of voters take away rights from whomever they want,” Mayor Sanders said. “They can point at any group and decide they don’t deserve the same rights as anyone else. … I don’t know why either of my daughters would be a threat to anybody. They just want what all of you want: the right to be in love and to get married. That’s not something a court can decide.”

“Today, every Californian who loves freedom and fairness was stunned and outraged by the California Supreme Court,” said Dr. Delores Jacobs, executive director of the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center. After declaring that between 5,000 and 10,000 people had participated in the march downtown — higher than the official crowd estimate of 4,000 by the San Diego Police Department — and that “Facebook was silent for 45 seconds” when the decision was announced, Jacobs added, “You could hear the collective grief and pain that once again we were told that our rights were not equal. … Today every minority group in California is in fear because it only takes five percent [the victory margin for Proposition 8] of your neighbors who don’t understand you and your faith to take away your rights. But it also inspires a new generation of activists.”

Robert and Miguel, a Gay couple who met in their native Iowa and moved to San Diego 2 1/2 years ago, were clearly stunned by the irony that Iowa now allows same-sex couples to marry — and presumably more liberal California doesn’t. “We married after five years together,” Robert said. “We are in a legally gray area and we are sad for our families and communities. Many of our friends are stuck in a perpetual engagement until we fix this. We have friends who are impacted by immigrant rights because of DoMA [the federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, which limits federal recognition and benefits to opposite-sex marriages]. We believe everything worth having is worth fighting for, and we will fight to the end. We’re going to stand up.”

“I live in a state that says marriage is between a man and a woman — but I’m married to a guy, and I’m not going to stop working until all people have that right,” said Miguel. “This will not be simple, but Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk were great heroes who fought against discrimination, and we have to work at least as hard as they did.”

Robert and Miguel weren’t the only legally married same-sex couples who felt uncomfortable at having staked out a privileged position while others in long-term same-sex relationships can’t get married in California anymore. Educator Jan Garbosky appeared with her partner of 21 years, Bonny Russell, and said, “Tomorrow is the first day of the next campaign. … We know what it feels like being married. It’s not like being together or being domestic partnerships or having an unofficial ceremony. Our families are different. We are different.” Garbosky called for a special outreach to senior citizens, “people our age or older,” because “they are the ones who don’t understand” — a reference to the fact, well documented in polls, that the younger a person is, the more likely he or she is to support same-sex marriage equality.

“Today we are a community in mourning,” said Sara Beth Brooks, who since the passage of Proposition 8 has made a dramatic leap into leadership in San Diego’s Queer community. Sporting the pink cowboy hat that’s become her trademark, Brooks said, “Today we have been denied our rights. We must take our sadness and fill ourselves with hope. We must use our sadness to focus our movement on the hope of national civil equality. We have hope. We have Iowa, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts [the five states that currently allow same-sex couples to marry], and here in California we have hope too. … This loss was anticipated, but it was still devastating.”

Brooks was field organizer for the march as well as a speaker at the rally that followed. She walked through the crowds assembled for the march with a portable microphone headset, followed by a woman carrying the speaker to which her mike was connected. (The sound of her voice coming from a box attached to someone else’s body was jarring.) Concerned that the march might erupt in violence, she strolled through the crowd that assembled at Sixth and Laurel and told them over and over again that they must remain peaceful. They did, not only because the organizers asked them to but also because many people were acutely aware that after the court’s ruling the only chance to get rid of Proposition 8 is for the Queer community to put its own initiative on the ballot to repeal it — and violence would only turn voters off and make passing the repeal measure even harder. Brooks asked the rally audience to mark November 2, 2010 on their cell phones — the earliest date a repeal of Proposition 8 could be on the ballot and have any realistic chance of passing.

Photos of the May 26 “Day of Decision” anti-Proposition 8 protest in San Diego


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger's Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Monday, May 25, 2009

Prop. 8 “Day of Decision” — Meet at 5 p.m. at Sixth and Laurel, Balboa Park, win or lose!

Whichever way the state Supreme Court's decision on Proposition 8 goes, the Queer community will explode. At noon on Memorial Day, Scott Allen (right), 18 of Carmel Valley and Tiffany Roff, 22 of El Cajon promote a rally on Tuesday, May 26 at 5 p.m. at Sixth & Laurel in Balboa Park. Both appeared on the famous Georgia Street Bridge over University Avenue, just east of Park and University. They are from the San Diego contingent of Equality Campaign.

The plan is that if the California Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8, there will be a march from Sixth and Laurel to the Hall of Justice on West Broadway downtown. If the court throws out the anti-marriage initiative, there will be a march to the Center in Hillcrest and a block party in the Center’s parking lot. For more information, visit

Photo copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence. All rights reserved.
California Apocalypse


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The people of California — or at least 24 percent of its eligible voters — sent a nihilistic message on Tuesday, May 19, when they voted down five measures that, for all their complexity and stopgap nature, were desperately needed to stanch the bleeding of red ink from California’s state budget. Not everybody who voted down the slate of ballot measures necessary to implement a desperately negotiated budget deal between Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and party leaders in the legislature did so to send a message against all proposals for new taxes. But that’s the message that got sent, and it’s the message the governor and the legislative Republicans who, thanks to the California constitution’s two-thirds vote requirement to pass a stage budget, hold the balance of power are going to implement.

“The people told Sacramento, ‘Go and do your work yourself. Don’t come to us with your problems,’” Schwarzenegger told reporters in Washington. D.C. — where he’d gone for a photo-op with President Obama on pollution controls on cars — when the word that the initiatives had lost big came through. “So now we have to recognize that and move forward and make all the changes through [spending] cuts.”

Those are words California’s Republicans — or at least the far-Right contingent that has dominated their party for the last two generations — have been waiting to hear for 43 years, ever since they elected Ronald Reagan governor in 1966. They have been on a long trek to convert California from a generous welfare state (first begun in the 1940’s by another Republican who prided himself on being able to cross party lines, then-Governor Earl Warren) into a Libertarian utopia in which government gets out of the business of taking care of the poor and working people, and devotes all its efforts to facilitating wealth creation by the private sector and punishing crime.

Well before Grover Norquist of the American Tax Reform Association coined the phrase “starve the beast,” meaning to cut taxes to such an extent that government could no longer afford the education, health care and social welfare programs Norquist and his arch-conservative confrères abhorred on ideological grounds, California’s Right was already pursuing that strategy. From the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 — which not only slashed California’s property taxes but undercut the ability of local governments to raise money on their own and thereby transformed them into permanent mendicants on the state’s dole — to the successful recall of Governor Gray Davis in 2003 and his replacement with Schwarzenegger, whose fulfillment of his campaign pledge to cut vehicle registration fees created California’s current budget deficit almost by itself — California’s Right has systematically fought to make the state financially broke and unable to fund much of anything.

It’s taken them a long time, but now they’ve got their wish. Among the proposals Schwarzenegger is going to make to the legislature is abolition of the CalWorks state welfare program, which serves more than 500,000 poor families with children; abolition of the Healthy Families program to fund health-care coverage for 928,000 children; phasing out the CalGrants program of student aid to 77,000 new students per year; cutting $600 million from state universities and $750 million from state prisons, most of that from programs to rehabilitate inmates; cutting K-12 education funding by $5.3 billion over the next 13 months; eliminating a $96 million program to help 35,000 people with AIDS and HIV buy medications; dismantling the state’s office that evaluates the health risks of chemicals in consumer products and the environment; eliminating 11,000 government jobs; and ultimately slashing the state’s general-fund budget to three-fourths of its current size, from $95.5 billion to $71.5 billion.

The final step in the fulfillment of the Right-wing Libertarian dream of California came about with some surprising allies. The Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) and most other public employee unions opposed the ballot measures even though their defeat will cost tens of thousands of their members their jobs. They did so in the delusion that somehow the defeat of these initiatives would create a political climate for more far-reaching and progressive tax increases; instead, of course, the opposite has happened, as any rational observer of California politics would have been able to conclude before the election. At the Activist San Diego meeting the day before the election, virtually everyone in this nominally progressive organization was committed to voting no on the slate of ballot measures — and one person there said people needed to vote no to “send them a message,” the kind of nihilistic B.S. I’m used to hearing from talk-radio devotees and other Right-wingers, not from ordinarily thoughtful progressives concerned about protecting and expanding the welfare state.

California’s political crisis has been a long time coming, and the culprits get mentioned in just about every article about it: the insane two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget, which gives the minority party all of the power and none of the responsibility; the draconian term limits passed into law in the 1990’s, which force legislators out of their jobs just when they’ve begun to learn them; the rotten redistricting plans which protect incumbents and favor the election of extremists from both parties over moderates; a state tax system that relies too heavily on income taxes and other levies that fluctuate dramatically with the health of the overall economy; and the voters themselves, who not only keep sending these contradictory “messages” to their elected officials — don’t cut our services and don’t raise our taxes — but pass ballot measures which put great chunks of the state budget out of the hands of the legislature and require spending on the initiative sponsors’ pet programs whether that’s the wisest use of the state’s resources or not.

The basic problem with California’s fiscal politics is that everyone involved is behaving like a spoiled child. Democrats and liberals regard their pet programs as sacrosanct and feel that a simple common-sense measure like a “rainy-day fund,” to bank larger-than-anticipated revenues from economic boom times to have a reserve left over for busts, is somehow an imposition on their tax-and-spend goals. Republicans and conservatives not only use their legislative veto power to forbid tax increases but to demand tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations — as they did, successfully, in the most recent budget negotiations. (Before this year’s budget deal, the wealthiest 1 percent of Californians paid 7.4 percent of their income in taxes, while the poorest Californians — those earning $20,000 or less per year — paid 10.2 percent. After the deal, the share of the wealthiest went up to 7.8 percent — but the share of the poorest went up to 11.1 percent.)

The spoiled babies in California include the voters themselves. They keep voting to expand state services and against new taxes. They’ve been given several chances to lower the 2/3 threshold for passing a budget and to ease the draconian term limits on legislators — and they’ve turned down every one of them. With their votes on the ballot measures last Tuesday, the voters have answered the question posed by former California legislative leader John Burton — “People are going to have to figure out: Do they want schools, do they want roads, do they want public safety, do they want to take care of the less fortunate?” — with a resounding “NO!”

That “NO” will continue to resound throughout the nation. As President Obama leads the rest of the United States in a profoundly different direction — towards more government spending, reversal of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, more regulation and more direct government stimulus of the economy — California will become a laboratory experiment in the Right-wing alternative: evisceration of the public sector; massive cutbacks in education, health care and other social programs; ultimately, perhaps, the dismantling of almost all government agencies and their replacement by private contractors delivering inferior services and paying lower wages. What’s likely to come of this, based on the experiences of other countries where it’s been tried — usually at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its notorious “structural adjustment programs” imposed on countries that, like California, borrowed far more than they can ever hope to repay — is permanent mass poverty, economic un-development and reducing the people to a state of dependent hopelessness.

California has become a squabbling classroom of spoiled brats without a teacher to keep them in line and actually get them to learn something. The political system has almost totally failed to generate anything remotely resembling leadership. The money to sustain the state’s current level of spending simply does not exist. Every avenue for additional revenue is closed — tax increases are a political impossibility; the giant Wall Street financial institutions (which President Obama is racking up trillions of dollars in unpayable future debt to keep whole and prevent them from suffering from their mistakes — though that’s a subject for another editorial) no longer trust California’s ability to pay back the loans it’s already taken out; and the federal government has made it clear that they’re not willing to guarantee California’s loans or do anything else to bail out the state.

What California really needs, quite frankly, is a benevolent dictator: someone who can lay down the law to its reality-oblivious electorate and squabbling politicians and interest groups and impose the hard choices of budget-balancing and revenue-raising by decree. That may seem impossible in a part of a nation whose federal constitution guarantees each state “a republican form of government” — a privilege Californians have relentlessly abused — but there’s an institution that actually has the power to impose something like it on this fractious, ungovernable state.

It’s called federal bankruptcy court. Though there’s no exact precedent because no U.S. state has ever actually declared bankruptcy, judging from the Chapter 11 reorganizations of large private corporations, a bankruptcy judge has virtually unlimited power to void union contracts, order asset sales and do whatever he or she feels is necessary to get the bankrupt corporation on track to pay its creditors and restore itself to economic health. The California political system has proven itself utterly incapable of governing this state in anything approaching a responsible manner — and the electorate, rather than providing a solution, have themselves been part of the problem. Maybe what is needed is a tough bankruptcy judge who, being a federal appointee and therefore assured of lifetime tenure, will be able to impose the necessary solutions on a political system unable to come up with them itself without having to worry about the voters throwing another destructive temper tantrum like they did on May 19.

boy ron & boy ryan:

San Diego Leatherboys Keep Swinging!


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The term “boy” is one of the most confusing in the Leather community. Though it denotes either submission or service, “boy” doesn’t mean the total 24/7 surrender of one person’s will to another the way the term “slave” does. A person can be a boy in one relationship and a Daddy — a dominant but, again, not totally controlling partner — in another. A boy doesn’t even have to be biologically male — though females usually change the spelling to “boi” to denote the gender difference.

The San Diego Leatherboys are one of the fastest-growing groups in San Diego’s Leather community. As their president, boy ron, and vice-president, boy ryan, explain below, they grew out of a previous attempt at a boy organization called the San Diego Boys of Leather but got off to a faster and bigger start. The 2009 Mr. San Diego Leather, Bryan Teague, is a boy and was a founding member of San Diego Leatherboys Russ Mortenson, the 2009 Knight of Leather (the Leather community’s liaison to the Imperial Court), is treasurer of San Diego Leatherboys. Many of San Diego’s most influential Leatherpeople either are involved with the Leatherboys or regularly attend their meetings and work with them.

The Leatherboys host a monthly barbecue every third Sunday afternoon, 3 p.m., at the Eagle bar, 3040 North Park Way (one block south of University Avenue, one block east of 30th Street), as a fundraiser for various community causes and events. They also were instrumental in raising money to buy toys for needy children in the Imperial Court’s recent Easter Egg hunt, and host a wide variety of other fundraisers, parties and events. Zenger’s interviewed boy ron and boy ryan shortly before ron’s partner, Mr. Mike, was scheduled to compete for International Mr. Leather (IML) in Chicago in late May.

Zenger’s: What is San Diego Leatherboys?

boy ron: San Diego Leatherboys is a group of self-identified boys.

boy ryan: Anyone who identifies as a boy — not necessarily biologically, because we do have bois [women] as well as boys.

Zenger’s: And for our readers who know absolutely nothing about the mores and folkways of the Leather community, what does “identify as a boy” actually mean?

boy ryan: Well, for everybody it’s different.

boy ron: A boy can be a submissive. A boy can also become a Daddy at some point. In relation to the San Diego Leatherboys, we’re boys of service. And when I say “service,” I mean whatever the community needs, be it the Leather community, the Imperial Court, the Transgender, the cowboys, whatever. When they want something done, we’re there for them.

I’ll give you an example: in the last contest we had, for Mr. San Diego Leather, we, the San Diego Leatherboys, were judges’ boys. We were backstage people. At the event I did for the Baskets ’n’ Bulges [boy ron’s personal production to raise money for the Easter egg hunt], the San Diego Leatherboys sold raffle tickets for me. Wherever there’s a Leather event going on, you’re going to see the San Diego Leatherboys.

Mine and ryan’s goal for the club this year is to break out of that box and reach out to other communities, which we have done so far. As an example, we donated the food from our Naughty Santa back in December to the Imperial Court food drive.

boy ryan: But, as I was saying, the Leather journey is different for everybody. Just because you’re a boy, that doesn’t put stipulations on you. Everybody lives their lives a different way. Everybody has a different perception, and we all coexist. We all come together in our love and our service to the community as boys, but in the bedroom and in private we all have very different relationships, and not necessarily of a subservient nature.

boy ron: This is very true. Some boys go on to become Daddies. Some boys remain boys for the rest of their lives.

Zenger’s: Would you like to tell me about yourselves, your journeys as individuals? You first, ron, and then ryan.

boy ron: My Leather journey started back in the 1980’s. I was not really thinking about being a boy or anything. I started going to Leather bars, mostly Wolf’s, and I just liked the look of leather. I met a gentleman by the name of Ricky Alves, and he introduced me to the Leather scene. I don’t mean that he “introduced” me by taking me home with him; he introduced me to what Leather meant. Then I got involved in a 12-year relationship where leather was not permitted.

Approximately six years ago I did get back into the Leather community. I became a collared boy to my current husband and Daddy, Mr. Mike, and my Leather journey has expanded a lot in those years. I’ve held the title of Knight of Leather 2006. I’ve held the position of San Diego Leatherboys president going on two years now. I was a member of the original San Diego Boys of Leather; I was a pledge in that organization in the year 2004 and stayed with it until 2005. The San Diego Leatherboys will be celebrating our fourth anniversary on September 15 of this year.

Zenger’s: And, ryan, your journey?

boy ryan: My journey began in San Antonio, Texas, when I went to my first Leather bar. I found it very intriguing. I had always been interested but had never really got involved in the community or in any group until I moved to San Diego and I was exposed to the Palm Springs Boys of Leather. T. C. and Henry were ultimately my mentors. They basically took me in under their wing. I became a member of Palm Springs Boys of Leather, and after a brief duration there — I was there for about a year — I took a hiatus out of the Leather community for about two years, came back and rejoined the San Diego Leatherboys, because I was living in San Diego even when I was with the Palm Springs groups. San Diego was a more feasible area to join a club, since I already lived here.

Zenger’s: You mentioned the San Diego Boys of Leather. What’s the status of that group, and how does it differ from San Diego Leatherboys?

boy ron: The San Diego Boys of Leather basically disbanded. Some of the boys went on to become Daddies. Some of them went on to other things in their lives, went on to become titleholders. When the San Diego Boys of Leather disbanded, Bryan Teague, another gentleman by the name of Chris, who’s no longer in San Diego, and I got together and decided that we would form the San Diego Leatherboys, because there was a new group of boys out there that were yearning still to have the camaraderie and the brotherhood.

Zenger’s: So the other club disbanded and then you guys started yours.

boy ron: We started ours, but not as a replacement for it. We were a whole different organization. Our ways of doing things were different from the old club.

Zenger’s: How so? What do you do differently, and how do you think that works in terms of attracting members?

boy ron: The way that the old club worked, in my opinion, was not attracting new members. I cannot say what the reason was. When we started our new club, the opening night at the Lumberjack Grille, we had people like slut-bottom chris. We had boy spence, Officer Wes, myself, Michelle Jackson, Keith Roberts, Dan Woodie, Tom Dickerson. We had the whole back area filled. When we were the San Diego Boys of Leather we never filled that room for our meetings.

The community opened up their arms to us, and we showed the community that yes, we can still continue to do what we did as the Boys of Leather, but now as the San Diego Leatherboys. We’ve done nothing but thrive, from conception to current.

Zenger’s: So what do you think you guys are doing right?

boy ron: We’ve got a core group of people that are dedicated to this club, and dedicated to this community. When Bryan was involved in the club, he was the one that started the Naughty Santa night, where we had Santa Claus come in dressed in leather, and we took all these pictures.

One of the things that’s not part of the San Diego Leatherboys, but the San Diego Leatherboys do it, is we alternate doing the clothes check for the Eagle’s wet underwear contests. We are now hosting a monthly beverage bust and barbecue on the third Sunday at the Eagle. This is something that that hasn’t been done in a long time in the club, and it’s getting people out there. We now have our friendship pins, which we didn’t have for a long time. We’ve renewed ourselves.

boy ryan: When I took over as vice-president, I believed that there needed to be a new perception and a new methodology of going about how to recruit people and how to expose ourselves to the Gay community in general. The Leather community in San Diego has always been a quiet thing that the rest of the Gay community has never really accepted or known much about.

I thought it was about time that we make ourselves known; not only make ourselves known, but also be proactive and show our faces and our presence in the community, and exactly what we do. I think that, in itself, has been what has made us what we’ve become to this day, and hopefully something better in the future.

boy ron: The one thing we did, just recently in February, is we went to Palm Springs and had a boys’ weekend retreat. I can honestly say that the people who went there on that retreat came back different boys than they were when they left San Diego. We were also given the honor of having their bar name us as their home-away-from-home bar. So if we ever go to Palm Springs, we have a home to go to. Vice versa: when the Palm Springs Boys of Leather come to San Diego, this is their home. We now have a brotherhood between Palm Springs and San Diego, a very tight brotherhood, which never existed before.

boy ryan: Not only that, but there’s never been a trip, an outreach, as we did, to another boy community before. So it was quite a significant thing for the Southern California’s Leather boys’ movement.

Zenger’s: How do you resolve the contradiction of having an organization of boys? The assumption — although you said earlier that this is not necessarily true — is that boys are submissive, boys are serving others, boys don’t assert themselves in the ways that one usually thinks that you have to do in order to lead an organization and keep it going. How does that work in practice?

boy ryan: We tread very carefully! Fortunately for the San Diego Leatherboys, I am one of those who is more verbal and I put my thoughts out there more than most of the boys would. I’m just a little more aggressive, I suppose. Boy ron and I are both very outspoken people. There are some of our members, on the other hand, that are very subservient, very service-oriented, and that’s their goal: to be in service to their Sirs or their Daddies, or whatever their situation may be.

boy ron: We have a boy in the club that’s considered a pup. That’s fine. That’s fine. We have one that’s considered a very dominant slave. That’s fine as well.

Zenger’s: What is a “dominant slave”? You didn’t think I’d let that one go!

boy ryan: You said it! You put this one out!

boy ron: When I say he’s a “dominant slave,” what I mean is he’s a very submissive slave. He had been with a Master for quite some time, and now that he’s trying to come out of that mode and become a boy, but there’s still that little bit of slave in him. But it’s the heart — to me, what makes a boy is the heart and spirit. And we’ve got two new pledges that, to look at these two, you would not consider them your typical Leather boys. But their heart and their soul is that of a boy. Not every boy has to walk around with a white T-shirt on, and a ball cap, and a leather vest.

boy ryan: People in the old guard may say that that’s what they would like, but I’m making this statement very clear and very loud now, that the San Diego Leatherboys are the new guard. We are here to re-create an organization and maybe re-establish a new mind-set.

boy ron: The one thing I can say about the club is that the boys’ club, any boys’ club, is run, is administered, by the boys themselves. We will take guidance from other people, from dominants outside the community, a Sir, a Master, whomever. But they do not direct to us how we operate our club, because when you start allowing that to happen, then you’ve lost the fact of it being a boys’ club. The Los Angeles Boys of Leather, the San Francisco Boys of Leather, the Dallas Boys of Leather, are all run by boys.

boy ryan: The boy values, simply put, are love, respect and trust.

Zenger’s: Those sound like good values for any sort of relationship.

boy ryan: I agree.

boy ron: To give an example of what a boys’ club can do, we had a situation with a boy in another club in D.C. many years ago. The reason the boys’ club was formed was to have a place where a boy can come to feel safe. If somebody’s in the club and they’re being abused by their Sir or their Daddy or whatever, and they come and tell us, as the brotherhood we are, we’re there to protect them.

It hasn’t happened in San Diego, but I know of other places where things like this have happened with other boys, and these boys have gone over and physically moved the boy out of the house, and have protected him. We’re a brotherhood, and we look out for each other.

Zenger’s: How would you know if a relationship had reached that situation? How could someone outside tell when it’s stopped being consensual S/M and started being domestic violence?

boy ron: It would be up to the individual to come and tell the person.

boy ryan: Which in many cases doesn’t happen. But by the same token, what we need is the cry for help. We need the cry for help. We cannot act on something that we simply assume — we may be ending a relationship, or a multitude of things. God only knows.

boy ron: It’s like this weekend. We have a brother that’s going to be moving. We put out a call for volunteers, and we got a landslide of volunteers to come help this boy move.

Zenger’s: What’s the difference between a boy and a slave?

boy ron: That’s the $64 question a boy just can’t answer! I have no perception of what that is.

boy ryan: Because neither ron nor I are slaves, we have no perception of what that really is. I mean, the thing is, we can expound. We can try to explain what a slave is.

boy ron: There are different values, different ways you can be a slave. Some slaves have a contract with their Master where they turn everything in their life over to this person.

boy ryan: There are situations like that, where slaves turn their whole lives. Their bank accounts and everything are managed by their Daddy, their Sir, their boyfriend, their husband, whatever you want to call him. Boys, on the other hand, are a little more independent. It was a movement that was started by the D. C. Boys of Leather.

boy ron: boy keith.

boy ryan: It was basically this happy medium between a Sir and a slave, I suppose. I guess we’re a mixture of those two.

boy ron: Some of the old guard — not necessarily San Diego, but some of the old guard back East — will consider a boy as a slave that’s not ready to be a slave yet.

boy ryan: Or a Sir in waiting.

boy ron: Or a Sir in waiting, yes. I mean, the perfect example, we had a boy in the old club who was known as boy tipper, who went on to become Daddy Tipper, San Diego Leather Daddy, and then went on to become Sister Mary Drama in the Sisters [of Perpetual Indulgence].

We’ve got one boy that’s very new to Leather. He’s part of the rodeo. He wants to be part of us. Just like we have boys in our club that want to be part of the rodeo. We love the cowboys, and they love us. We have to plug the rodeo!

boy ryan: That turns on Ron!

Zenger’s: You mentioned the word “pledging” a couple of times. What is that process?

boy ryan: The pledging process involves, first, a person filling out an application to become a San Diego Leatherboy. Secondly, there’s a time frame, an undisclosed amount of time, in which the boy, or the aspiring boy, the pledge, is put through a series of tasks. We do not believe in hazing. But, on the other hand, we do believe in earning the San Diego Leatherboy back patch. We have them put on parties, functions, to see how well they will be doing in the Leather community; to see how well they will perform as a full-fledged Leatherboy.

boy ron: Their first order of business is to sell raffle tickets at fundraisers.

boy ryan: There are quite a few steps, and for every pledge there is a different process, depending on their personality. We’re also retrofitting our two new pledges with uniforms, and they’ll be wearing those uniforms until they receive their leather vests with San Diego Leatherboys back patches.

boy ron: And when they earn that vest, it’s a ceremony that is very memorable not only to them, but to anybody that’s watching it.

boy ryan: Just as you asked us where our Leather journeys started, you may be asking them — or someone may be asking them — where their Leather journeys started, and they can say, “San Diego Leatherboys.”

boy ron: We had one pledge that was very, very green. He went out and did his first Leather event. He bought his own jeans, the T-shirt and the boots, just so he could come up to us. We all went, like, “Wow. You’re great.” And the look on his face, and the smile on his face, of just knowing that he was part of something, and coming us and asking us, “When’s the next event?” That’s the enthusiasm that I like.

boy ryan: That’s the enthusiasm that we need.

boy ron: Yes. And it’s not all about service work. We went to Palm Springs, and we’re planning other social outings, pool parties and things like that.

boy ryan: We’re planning a few more trips outside of San Diego as well, to meet up with boys of other various large cities.

boy ron: Our club will go to Palm Springs and L.A. and San Francisco. We’re going to be doing hospitality for the upcoming California Leather/SIR contest in Long Beach in August. This will be the first time that all these clubs have got together to be in charge of hospitality. Which means that if they want to get drunk, they have to come and see us!

Zenger’s: What kinds of groups are you raising money for, and what do you hope to do in terms of fundraising in the future?

boy ron: We did a fundraiser just recently for Sir Magnum; when he became Mr. San Diego Eagle 2009, we donated the proceeds from our first official barbecue to Sir Magnum and the Leather Foundation. At our next barbecue, we donated part of the proceeds to Mr. Mike for IML.

In the past we did the Naughty Santa, for which the proceeds went to San Diego Hospice. That was in the name of one of our boys whom we lost this past year, Javier Spence. Spence was a former San Diego Boy of Leather that came over to our side and passed away. We made a donation in his honor. And then I’d like us to get together and do something to help out Leather Realm, the Leather Realm at Pride.

boy ryan: Which actually we were just part of the pie-in-the-face contest for. We were pie-ees in the pie-in-the-face contest.

boy ron: Ryan and I were pie-ees for the Reddi-Whipped and Pied, or something to that effect. We got up there and both got pies thrown in our faces.

boy ryan: And what about the slave auction at Urban Mo’s?

boy ron: Oh, yeah. Boy ryan was in a slave auction at Urban Mo’s. He had on a pair of chaps and actually got out and had a pair of white underwear with our boy logo on the right side, which we thought was really cute. He actually had those on Saturday at the pie-toss thing.

boy ryan: When I was being hosed down.

Zenger’s: Overall, where do you see the future of the Leatherboys?

boy ryan: I would like to work closely with Mama’s Kitchen. I would definitely like to help them. I would like to branch out a little bit more into the community and do a bit more work for them, either through volunteer service or financial backing and fundraisers.

boy ron: I’d like to see us try to do something with Being Alive.

boy ryan: Oh, Being Alive would be a great one.

boy ron: There’s an event that I would like to plan, coming up in August, that would involve helping schoolkids, which I can’t go into details about yet but that would be another arc in itself. This was the first year that the San Diego Leatherboys got involved with the Easter Egg Hunt, and we had a great time doing that, In fact, two of our pledges cried during the whole time. I’ve got a picture of Sean wiping tears from his face!

Being a member of the Imperial Court and on the board of directors, it did my heart good to see the boys reach out and do that work with the Imperial Court. And this past weekend we spent the evening with the rodeo.

boy ryan: I’d also say we wouldn’t be where we are without the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as well. They have been an incredible help.

boy ron: They want to give us a blessing, but they have to get us all together at one time!

boy ryan: That’s harder than it seems!

boy ron: We’re also going to have our own truck in the Pride parade, right behind the Leather Pride float, that will be decorated in boys’ colors, and it will have the boys’ clubs of Palm Springs, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

boy ryan: Yes, any boy group is invited to join in our float.

boy ron: And this will be a first for San Diego.

boy ryan: As a matter of fact, for this publication we’re making this an official announcement to all the boys’ groups in the United States and Canada — and Mexico, if there are any —

boy ron: — to come ride in our float, our truck.

boy ryan: We’d be more than happy to have you.

boy ron: There is another person that is not a boy, but we consider him our Daddy. This year, the San Diego Leatherboys did something that they’ve never, ever done: they sponsored a contestant for Mr. San Diego Leather. They sponsored Sir V, and that gentleman has been nothing but a great inspiration for us.

boy ryan: He’s been another wonderful asset to the San Diego Leatherboys.

Zenger’s: How do people get in touch with you?

boy ron: They can reach me at

boy ryan: They can reach me, boy ryan, at

boy ron: And if they’d like to have more information, they can e-mail us and we can send them information. We also have a Yahoo group that they can sign up for. It’s We have a Web site, too: it’s, and on that you’ll see pictures of events that we’ve had. It hasn’t been updated in a while because our Web boy’s up in L.A. now, but it’s got the bylaws of the club on it, pictures of past events. It’s got pictures of our very first meeting, the Veterans’ Day event we did in the very beginning. And then we’ll have to get some more pictures up on that thing.

boy ryan: Next year we also may be having a large party, inviting all of California’s Leather entities, to a camp-out. We haven’t decided where quite yet, but California, get ready!

Need for Dental Tech Students Increases

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Local dentist E. Preston Kaenel, D.D.S., says the needs for trained dental technicians, often community-college graduates, will soon dramatically increase. He’s holding teeth processed in new computerized lab equipment.

“Rapidly expanding career opportunities for community college graduates are opening up in the field of dental technicians, as a result of new, state-of-the-art lab equipment,” says dentist Dr. E. Preston Kaenel, 37. A native Californian, he earned his B.S. degree from U.C.S.D., and graduated from the U.S.C. School of Dentistry.

That new computerized equipment is the advanced Chairside Economical Restorations of Es-thetic Ceramic lab system — “CEREC,” for short. It makes one-visit appointments possible for common dental procedures like crowns and large fillings.

Many people fear their semi-yearly visit to the dentist. The prospects of a cavity or need for a crown can be daunting. It usually means making several appointments with your dentist, but no longer.

The $130,000 CEREC process allows a dentist to treat patients in just one visit.

Most dentists send their crown replacements to a lab to have the actual crown constructed. Now, with CEREC, dentists have their state-of-the-art lab in their offices.

The result is that more dental technicians, who are often community-college graduates, are needed to operate that equipment.

To make a crown (which normally takes at least two visits to your dentist) using CEREC, the dentist first uses a tiny camera to make a digital image of the tooth in the patient’s mouth, according to Dr. Kaenel.

That digital image is then fed into a computer, which does the modeling that will eventually become the new restoration or crown.

“As much as two-thirds of a tooth can be restored” with this new, high-tech equipment, says the young dentist.

The digitalized image of the modeled tooth is then fed into a computer, which does the modeling that will eventually become the new restoration or crown.

“As much as two-thirds of a tooth can be restored” with this new high-tech equipment, says Dr. Kaenel. “Or I can restore as little as the smallest filling.”

The digitalized image of the modeled tooth then goes to a mill, where the new crown is ground from tiny polychromatic blocks.

“Some dentists don’t want to do this lab work, and that means more jobs for trained dental technicians,” Dr. Kaenel said.

When some extreme dental problems are involved, and only the facilities of a large commercial lab can do the work, Dr. Kaenel says the equipment also allows him to quickly send a digitalized image of a tooth to the lab, speeding up the process for the patient.

This new dental equipment is especially important to dentists practicing in small towns where the nearest lab may be in a big city many miles away.

“I was in a small town in Minnesota, population no more than 20,000. There were no dental labs there. All the lab work for the local dentist had to be shipped to Minneapolis. With this new equipment, that dentist could have his own lab on premises,” Dr. Kaenel explained.

After the crown (restoration, etc.) comes out of the grinder, it goes into a small high-tech oven. It looks like a macro-version of a ceramic potter’s oven.

The oven can cook the crown at temperatures that shoot up to 1,200 degrees Celsius. “We usually fire at around 850° C. (about 1,600° F.),” Dr. Kaenel said.

Being a younger dentist, he likes having professional “toys” to work with, and uses the com-plex CEREC computer equipment about three days of the week, and sometimes three times a day. So far, he has provided patients with crowns in only one appointment for 52 times, since acquiring the advanced equipment just two months ago.

“Typically, we’re a very conservative profession,” Dr. Kaenel added. “Dentists personally often don’t take to new computerized advances in equipment. But our office is ‘ahead of the curve’. …

“Beginning in 2010, there will be some dramatic changes in the role of dental technicians or assistants in dentist’s offices,” he reported.

They will be authorized to do many of the procedures in a patient’s mouth that traditionally only a dentist was allowed to do, under state law.

“This state-of-the-art technology will result in the need for more highly trained dental technicians,” Dr. Kaenel said.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Outrage: Exposing Hypocrisy or Perpetrating It?


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Congressmember Barney Frank, former Senator Larry Craig (mug shot), former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, former Human Rights Campaign executive director Elizabeth Birch, author/activist Larry Kramer. Courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

One wonders if director Kirby Dick — 50-something and straight, at least by his own account — picks such sexually provocative subjects for his documentaries because of his last name. So far he’s made Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, in which the title character was a man with cystic fibrosis who responded to being in constant pain by ramping up his discomfort level through having his wife subject him to extreme S/M; Twist of Faith, which showed a man dealing with the long-term trauma of having been sexually abused in his boyhood by a Roman Catholic priest; and This Film Is Not Yet Rated, about the motion-picture rating system and how it reflects America’s hypocrisy on matters sexual. His latest, Outrage, is an old-fashioned morality play in which you know from the get-go who the good guys are and who the bad guys are: the good guys are the independent reporters and activists who “out” closeted Queer politicians and the bad guys are the politicians themselves and most of the mainstream media, who actively and passively collude with them to maintain their secrets.

If this sounds like a movie based on a conspiracy theory, it’s because it is; in his written prologue — after a dizzying series of credits that makes it look like the projectionist is still fiddling with his lens to get the film in focus — Dick actually uses the C-word to describe the tacit (and, he alleges, sometimes not so tacit) alliance between homosexually active but heterosexually identified politicians and the media who cover them. He makes the point that hetero sex scandals involving politicians get debated endlessly and become fodder for tabloids and ostensibly “serious” news outlets alike (does the name “Bill Clinton” mean anything to you?), while homo ones mostly get swept under the carpet unless the homoactive politician gets caught in a police sting in a cruisy restroom like former Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) or soliciting teenage staffers for sex like Congressmember Mark Foley (R-Florida).

Outrage is a film carefully constructed to give the illusion that it’s more fearless than it is. It’s done in a dead-serious fashion; anyone who enjoyed the Michael Mooreisms of This Film Is Not Yet Rated — particularly the whole plotline of Dick and the two women private eyes (a Lesbian couple) he hired to break the omertà of the movie ratings board and find out its members’ secret identities — and was hoping for more of the same this time will be sorely disappointed. What’s more, Dick himself doesn’t “out” anyone, nor are there any new revelations in the film. Everyone named as a closeted Gay in the film — including Craig, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, California Congressmember Dave Dreier, former Louisiana Congressmember Jim McCrery and former New York Mayor Ed Koch (all men, and all Republicans except Koch) — has been publicized as such either by reporters for alternative newspapers or by Michael Rogers, the film’s principal “hero,” on his blog,

The most blatant aspect of the morality-play nature of Outrage is that Dick adopts as his own the self-proclaimed agenda of “outers” Rogers, Michaelangelo Signorile (who along with Gabriel Rotello, his editor at the short-lived Queer publication OutWeek in New York from 1989 to 1991, invented “outing” in the first place) and Larry Kramer (founder of ACT UP and a close associate of Signorile and Rotello “in the day”). They insist that in seeking to expose certain politicians as Queer, they’re not punishing them for their homosexuality, but rather for their hypocrisy: for working, speaking and voting against the interests of the Queer community. The advertising copy for Outrage calls the film “a searing indictment of the hypocrisy of closeted politicians with appalling Gay rights voting records who actively campaign against the LGBT [Queer] community they secretly belong to.”

But what’s presented in the film as holding closeted Queer politicians to a standard of supporting Queer issues and rights can also be read as an ideological enforcement action, insisting that all Queers in public life adopt a liberal-Left policy agenda not only on Queer issues but everything else as well. The litmus-test issues on which the film bases its definition of who’s pro-Queer and who’s anti-Queer in public life are anti-discrimination legislation, anti-hate crimes legislation, “HIV/AIDS” funding and marriage equality for same-sex couples. The message of both Dick’s “outer” heroes and Dick himself is that unless you support that entire agenda — one associated far more with the Democratic than the Republican party — you’re “anti-Gay” and therefore your private sexual orientation is fair game for public scrutiny, whereas if you do support it your right to sexual privacy should be, and will be, respected.

All those items can be subject to legitimate question. You could be staunchly in favor of people’s right to be Queer and express their sexuality with members of their own gender and still oppose private-sector anti-discrimination laws as a violation of the rights of employers and employees to associate freely. You could oppose hate-crimes legislation on the ground that if you add years to the sentence of a person convicted of murder, robbery or some other felony on the ground that it was motivated by the victim’s homosexuality, the additional punishment is essentially one for anti-Queer thoughtcrime. You could oppose “HIV/AIDS” funding if you believe (as I do) that there are serious problems both with the mainstream explanation for AIDS and the drug-centered “therapy” approach that has become the standard of care, especially since most so-called “AIDS funding” goes to pay inflated prices for AIDS medications and therefore is really corporate welfare for Big Pharma. And you could even question whether same-sex relationships really ought to be called “marriages” and be put on the same legal basis as the opposite-sex relationships which actually produce children and propagate the species.

Now, most of those putative positions bear no relationship to my politics at all. I think it’s outrageous that in 31 states you can legally be denied employment for being Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and in 39 states you can legally be denied employment for being Transgender. It’s also outrageous that the rights of committed Gay and Lesbian partners to marry each other is still a live-wire controversy in this country, and that the opponents of same-sex marriage openly and proudly boast that their aim is to write their understanding of the Bible and the Judeo-Christian tradition into this country’s secular law — and that they keep sounding off on the “marriage is for procreation” line when plenty of heterosexual couples don’t reproduce and many Queer couples are raising kids — either ones they’ve adopted (except in Florida, where there’s an outright ban on adoptions by same-sex couples which the putatively Gay Governor Crist fully supports), ones they’ve conceived with third-party help or ones they had normally in previous heterosexual relationships.

I’m a lot more conflicted about “HIV/AIDS” funding and a bit uneasy about hate-crimes legislation as well. Overall, it’s a good thing to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics like race, religion and gender that qualify for hate-crimes enhancements — but the mainstream Queer community’s defense of hate-crime legislation is uncomfortably close to the one Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia offered for sodomy laws in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas: that even if we can’t enforce a law targeting certain people’s behavior, we ought to be able to have it on the books anyway just to express social disapproval of what they do. But the point isn’t to take one side or another on the debate over these issues; rather, it’s to say that reasonable people — including reasonable Queer people — can debate them and take different sides, and it’s troublesome to declare one side the “enemy” because they adopt a view on marriage or discrimination legislation or hate crime law or AIDS funding different from the liberal-Left consensus of the mainstream Queer establishment.

What’s more, the idea of declaring certain people “enemies” of the Queer community for opposing anti-discrimination, hate-crimes or marriage-equality legislation runs into another profoundly disturbing possibility: what do we do with Queer people who believe in a strong national defense, aggressive pursuit of the “war on terror,” a lassiez-faire economy with little or no government interference with the market and the private sector, and an approach to civil rights that involves protecting individuals rather than groups? All those beliefs would lead them to be far more comfortable with the Republican than the Democratic party — yet the Republicans, over the last 30 years (ever since the rise of the evangelical Christian Right and its emergence as a key part of the Republican voter base), have also embraced an aggressive challenge to the policy agenda of the Queer community and the very existence of what they refer to as “so-called ‘Gay rights.’”

Should a person with that mix of issue positions — actively Queer and concerned with the equal rights of his or her peers, but also conservative or Right-wing on most non-Queer issues — be expected to compromise everything else he or she believes in for the sake of his or her sexual orientation? Kirby Dick and his “heroes” obviously believe that. Yet in some ways there’s a certain poignancy to the lives of some of the people Dick and company place on the “villain” side of their ledger, a sad reality that they can’t work for the conservative causes they believe in without having to fear exposure and disgrace if their homosexual activities are revealed, either accidentally by circumstances or deliberately by “outers.” In that sense, it’s ironic that the promotional campaign for Outrage is using the slogan, “Do ask, do tell,” because Queer conservatives frequently find themselves in the same position as Queer servicemembers under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy: able to serve their country in the way they choose but only if they continually lie about themselves, and constantly fearful that their real orientation will come out anyway, ruin their careers and deprive them of that ability to serve.

What’s more, Outrage takes an uncomfortably essentialist view of sexual orientation that divides the human race into two groups: “straight” and “Gay.” The word “Bisexual” appears in the film exactly twice: once when former Human Rights Campaign executive director Elizabeth Birch is rattling off the litany by which the Queer community defines itself these days — “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender” — and once when Senator Craig, shown in a film clip from a TV interview, says, “I’m not homosexual” and in the same breath quickly adds, “I’m not Bisexual.” Just as Barack Obama is almost universally referred to as “America’s first African-American president” when he is in fact mixed-race and his white parent had far more of a role in his upbringing than his Black one, so the people the movie purports to “out” are described throughout as “Gay” even though many of them are (or have been) married to women and have fathered children. Why should one assume that the feelings of a so-called “Gay politician” for his wife and children are automatically less important to him emotionally — or even physically — than whatever he’s getting out of his clandestine male-on-male trysts? And why do so many Queer people automatically call such people “Gay” when, at least by their behavior, they’re clearly Bisexual?

Not only does Outrage avoid these issues, it stacks the deck against any consideration of them. Dick goes out of his way to tell us that not only does Larry Craig deny being Bisexual, but the three children Craig was raising weren’t his — they were his wife’s by a previous marriage. Dick also brings on a former college classmate of Louisiana Congressmember McCrery who claims that McCrery was a liberal Democrat when in school, and it was only when he decided to run for Congress in a conservative district that he did a political 180°, re-registering as Republican, joining a Right-wing evangelical church and adopting a hard-Right stance against Queer rights and on other issues as well. Dick’s agenda is not to present the dilemma faced by his subjects in its real complexity; rather, under the guise of exposing “hypocrisy,” it’s to demonize them and get his audience not to understand them, but to hate them as much as he does.

That’s why the film contains some extraordinary scenes, including one in which a Queer interviewee asks how the wives of the homosexually active politicians handle being married to them and why they stay with them. (Probably for many of the same reasons Hillary Clinton has stayed with her husband despite his multiple adulteries with women.) This person then goes on to suggest that the wives should be getting regular STD screenings — a surprising endorsement of the homophobic idea that male-to-male sex is somehow dirtier than male-to-female sex and more likely to lead to infection. Actually it’s not that surprising when you realize that two of the people Dick presents as “heroes,” Signorile and Kramer, were strong supporters of an anti-sex movement in the New York Queer community in the mid-1990’s that, ostensibly to prevent the spread of AIDS, sought to close all public sex locations and actively lobbied the police department to shut down bathhouses and public cruising areas, either by undercover entrapments or open raids.

Dick’s choices of “good guys” among Queer politicians and activists are equally troublesome. He presents former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, Massachusetts Congressmember Barney Frank and former Arizona Congressmember Jim Kolbe on the “good” side of his moral ledger and totally ignores the fact that both Frank and McGreevey were dragged out of the closet by scandals. Frank was forced out after one of his boyfriends was caught running a rent-boy business out of the Congressmember’s office and using a taxpayer-funded phone line to do so. McGreevey was driven both out of the closet and out of office after a young man he was trying to seduce revealed that the governor had bribed him with a government job to have sex with him. In forgiving his “good guys” like Frank and McGreevey despite their clearly improper, and likely illegal, behavior, while lambasting his “bad guys” (though, of all his “outing” victims, Craig is the only one who openly broke the law), Dick, under the guise of exposing hypocrisy, is really perpetrating hypocrisy.

Another one of the film’s “good guys” is Dan Gurley, former North Carolina field director for the Republican National Committee (in which capacity he once mailed a postcard to churchgoers in Southern states saying that Democrats would take away their Bibles and turn their states over to homosexuals) and now active with Equality California. One person that’s missing from the movie is former Congressmember Mark Foley (R-Florida), despite the national scandal surrounding his exposure in 2006 for sexually harassing male Congressional pages and sending them disgustingly lubricious e-mails. Dick told an interviewer for the Evening Spot blog that the reason he left out Foley was, “Mark Foley initially had some anti-Gay votes he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, like three quarters of the Congress, but very soon after that, even though he was quasi-closeted, he had a very good pro-Gay voting record.” Dick’s attitude towards Gurley and Foley is a grim indication of the film’s (and the filmmaker’s) ideological agenda. He wants closeted Gay Republicans not only to stop being closeted but to stop being Republicans — or at least stop being conservatives.

He may not get his wish. One person he briefly interviewed is self-proclaimed Gay conservative and former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, who’s become a role model for a new generation of Queer Rightists, some of whom have gone farther towards Right-wing orthodoxy than he has. San Diego is the home of City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, who instead of hiding in the closet has said, basically, “I’m Gay. So what? I really want to talk about the city budget and all the cuts I want to make to balance it.” It’s also the base of openly Gay Right-wing talk-show host Steve Yuhas, who was driven from the local Queer press for his inconvenient politics and now holds forth every Sunday night with a show expressing why he doesn’t think he should be expected to toe a liberal-Left line on both Queer and non-Queer issues just because his romantic and sexual interests lie with men. The American Right has long fought charges of racism and sexism by actively recruiting women and people of color to join its ranks — Phyllis Schlafly, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Armstrong Williams, Alan Keyes — and now it’s fighting back against accusations of homophobia by recruiting Right-wing Queers and giving them political and media exposure.

Whatever can be said against Outrage, the fact is that Kirby Dick is a master documentarian who has made a compelling movie. He’s done a good enough job of making his case that most of the reviewers have accepted his film at face value and not raised the questions I have above — namely, to what extent is “outing” carefully selected Right-wing Queer politicians driven by an ideological agenda that says Queers in public life have to believe, and work for, a strong set of liberal-Left values, including ideas with which they may not be comfortable? Also, to what extent does “outing” buy into the negative image of homosexuality its advocates say they’re trying to fight? As much as they say (in the film and elsewhere) that they’re not seeking to punish the “outed” for their homosexuality — only their “hypocrisy”— it’s a distinction that will be lost on many straight viewers of this movie who will see the “outers” as a group of unsmiling fanatics imposing ideological conformity on Queer politicians by threatening to embarrass them publicly over their sexual orientation if they don’t comply.

As much as I ordinarily can’t stand Andrew Sullivan, he really spoke for me when he said in this film that above all the Queer community should be a place where its members can feel protected and where their privacy can be respected. The film includes an archival clip of the late Harvey Milk urging Queer people to come out — but I really doubt that Milk meant that they should be dragged out forcibly; rather, he wanted to make people aware that both their community and they as individuals would be better off if they did so voluntarily. “Outing” strikes at the heart of our community; instead of watching each other’s backs and protecting each other against law-enforcement abuses and both Queer and straight predators, the vision of “outing” is one of a self-appointed group of ideological commissars imposing intellectual discipline on Queer public figures and saying, “Do what we want — or else.” You should definitely go see Dick’s film — but you should watch it with a critical eye and debate these issues on your way out of the theatre instead of uncritically accepting his black-and-white vision of them.

Outrage is tentatively scheduled to open Friday, June 5 at the Landmark Cinemas Hillcrest, 3965 Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest. Please call (619) 819-0236 for showtimes and other information.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Health Advocate McGuire Speaks Out for Single-Payer

Even Some Progressives Skeptical It’ll Be “Just Another HMO”


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Judging from the questions he got from audience members listening to his presentation at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest May 7, Andrew McGuire is going to have his work cut out for him in persuading Californians to support single-payer financing for health care. He was already aware of some of the pitfalls, including a well-funded health insurance industry with excellent political connections willing to spend billions to make sure that single-payer — which would essentially replace them with a government agency — never sees the light of day anywhere in the U.S. What he probably wasn’t expecting, though, was that even in a progressive audience there would still be people highly skeptical that single-payer would work and fearful that the plan would simply turn the state’s health care system into a gigantic government-run health maintenance organization (HMO).

Not that McGuire hasn’t faced challenges before. He’s currently a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University north of Marin County in the San Francisco Bay Area, and also serves as executive director of the Trauma Foundation at San Francisco General Hospital. His 36-year career in health activism started in Boston in 1973, when he organized Action Against Burns and successfully lobbied for government standards requiring that sleepware for children be flame-resistant. In 1978, he began a national campaign to require that cigarettes be made to burn out if they’re dropped on bedding or furniture, leading to mandatory fire-safety standards for cigarettes in seven U.S. states and Canada.

McGuire’s most famous project was Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). He helped Candy Lightner found this group after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver, served on its board of directors from 1981 to 1983, was acting executive director and helped secure MADD’s first major funding. In 1990 he chaired an unsuccessful campaign to pass a “nickel a drink” alcohol tax in California. McGuire led the statewide campaign to ban cheap, unreliable “Saturday Night Special” guns in California and organized the first nationwide grass-roots campaign for gun control in 1998. Originally called the Bell Campaign, it was later renamed the Million Mom March — and McGuire directed it until 2001 and organized a protest in Washington attended by 700,000 people.

As if that weren’t enough, McGuire is a documentary filmmaker with 10 movies under his belt, mostly about ethical issues involving health care. He won an Emmy Award for his first film, Here’s Looking at You, Kid — about the rehabilitation of a seven-year-old boy who had suffered burns over 75 percent of his body — and has won the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s prize fellowship (the so-called “genius-grant” award) and the Kellogg National Fellowship. In the early 1980’s he ran the Mill Valley Film Festival. “That was embarrassing,” McGuire said after Tanja Winter, head of the church’s Peace and Democracy Action Group (which was sponsoring the program) finished reading his résumé. “That was all an apprenticeship for bringing single-payer health care to California.”

McGuire spoke on behalf of the California OneCare Campaign, established by an organization called Health Care for All — California, which he said was one of only two groups in the state, along with the California Physicians’ Alliance, whose only mission is to bring the single-payer system to this state. (There are other organizations that have single-payer as part of their mission, but do other things as well, McGuire explained.) Before he opened the meeting to audience questions, McGuire focused on the political arguments for single-payer and outlined his group’s strategy for achieving it in the face of the ferocious and well-funded opposition of the health insurance industry.

According to McGuire, none of the other health care reform plans — including the one President Obama’s administration is developing and the one former Democratic Party chair Howard Dean is putting together privately — will achieve the benefits of single-payer because they keep the current health insurance industry in place. “Though it is admirable that the President is taking steps to insure everyone,” McGuire said, “his plan has been tried before at the state level — and has failed every time. As long as insurance companies are involved, they will take profits out of the system, there won’t be cost controls, and they will defile the reform year after year through their crushing amendments on appropriations bills, and by trying to have funding cuts enacted by the legislators that are in their pockets.”

McGuire said that even the much-discussed “public option” in Obama’s plan — setting up a government-run insurance system that people can pick as an alternative to private insurance — won’t work because legislators, dependent on insurance companies’ campaign contributions, will gut the public plan’s budget and wreck it. Indeed, he admitted that even a single-payer system isn’t invulnerable to ideologically driven political tampering. He pointed out that in Canada, when a Conservative government is elected, it cuts the budget for the health-care system — “and that’s when you get those long waits for elective surgeries,” he added, referring to one of the most frequent arguments made against single-payer in the U.S. “When the Liberals return to power, they restore the cuts.”

According to McGuire, America’s current health care system is “immoral, demeaning and lethal. It’s immoral that an infant, child or adult cannot afford, and therefore cannot receive, health care. It is demeaning to all of us that we stand alone among industrialized, and many non-industrialized, nations that we allow at least 50 million people to go uninsured while private insurance companies reap robust profits as they make insurance unaffordable to millions, or deny insurance to those with ‘pre-existing conditions.’ Also, there are millions of Americans who are under-insured. Seventy-five percent of those who file for personal bankruptcy because of medical expenses are insured, but, to their horror, are inadequately insured to cover their medical expenses. And, according to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, each year over 20,000 U.S. residents die because they bear the diagnosis, ‘Uninsured.’”

The single-payer plan McGuire was pushing is SB 810, a bill introduced in the California legislature by openly Gay State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). It’s the same proposal as the former SB 840, which former State Senator Sheila Kuehl (also openly Queer) pushed through the state legislature twice, only to see it vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unwittingly proving the old adage that the devil is in the details — the full bill is 80 pages long — McGuire found himself having to field audience questions about just what the plan would or wouldn’t cover, and in particular whether it would set up a government agency that in practice would act like a private HMO.

“The specifics,” McGuire explained, “are that you have a primary health care provider — a doctor or a nurse-practitioner — and that’s your access to the system. Whatever that provider thinks you need is prescribed and paid for 100 percent. Corporations like Kaiser can bid to provide care on a capitation basis [i.e., a certain specified amount per patient], and they will bill the system rather than individual patients.” Fielding a question about whether the system would allow someone to have a “medical home,” McGuire joked that that was a euphemism for “a primary provider that you really like,” and said that the plan’s exact coverage will be decided by a medical board “based on input from health care providers and consumers.”

One audience member took exception to the use of a primary care provider as a gatekeeper, and said he couldn’t support the plan if it didn’t allow people to make their own appointments with specialists without having to have it approved by their primary care provider first. “Then it’s just like an HMO,” he said. Another man, family-practice doctor John Gordon, said that health care systems in which patients are allowed to see specialists on their own generally have worse patient outcomes than ones in which they have to go to a primary provider first. McGuire said that one difference between a single-payer plan and an HMO is that if you don’t like the decisions your primary provider makes about your care, you can fire them and hire any qualified person you want.

Another audience member asked if alternative treatments — acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy and herbal therapies — would be covered. McGuire said the bill definitely covered acupuncture and chiropractic, and the others would be available based on approval from your primary care provider. The person who raised this issue said that would be a problem because many Western-style allopathic doctors know nothing about alternative treatments, regard them all as quackery, and therefore wouldn’t allow patients to use them if the choice was theirs.

McGuire also took questions about the politics of single-payer and why his organization is aiming at California rather than the federal government. Part of the reason, he said, is they’re following the Canadian model; single-payer was first introduced in the province of Saskatchewan and gradually spread to other provinces before being adopted nationwide. But his main concern, he said, was the sheer power of entrenched financial interests over the Washington system and their ability to use politicians’ dependence on large campaign contributors to kill all meaningful reform, not only on health care but everything else as well.

“When Hillary Clinton formed her health care task force in 1993,” McGuire recalled, “there was no one in the room, aside from some union people, who wasn’t part of the health insurance or health care industries. It’s the same today with Obama’s group. Whenever people are polled directly, single-payer is their number one choice for how to reform health care. But Washington isn’t a place where change happens; it’s a place where change doesn’t happen, and that’s why I long ago lost interest in tracking what’s going on in Washington.” Indeed, McGuire said that he advised every grass-roots health group he helped start not to set up an office in Washington or in any state capitals, precisely because he feels lobbying politicians through such an office is just a distraction from the need to build grass-roots community support throughout the state and nation.

Responding to an audience member who expressed his frustration that the current collapse of America’s financial system isn’t inspiring more Americans to question the workability of capitalism and the wisdom of its bankers, McGuire said, “The insurance industry is just as powerful as the banks. Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) [chair of the Senate Finance Committee and considered the number one Senator in shaping health care policy] got $600,000 from the insurance industry in the last two years. It’s a putrid system. We’re gong to construct a grass-roots movement and we have a chance to get something through.” McGuire said he had “no hope for the national level,” especially after the staff which put together the panel of experts to speak to Baucus’s committee deliberately excluded anyone who supported single-payer.

“When it comes to banks or health issues,” McGuire said, “there’s little or no difference between Republicans and Democrats. The only solution is real campaign finance reform.” He didn’t elaborate what he meant by “real campaign finance reform,” though in most progressive circles that’s become code for plans like those operating in Maine and Arizona. These allow candidates who get a certain number of petition signatures and nominal contributions from ordinary individuals to have their campaigns fully financed with public money — as long as they agree to take no further private contributions at all.

McGuire explained his political strategy for organizing grass-roots support for single-payer in California and getting it past the two-thirds vote requirement in the legislature needed to adopt a plan to finance it. (A bill to establish a single-payer system in principle only needs a majority vote of the legislature and the governor’s signature, so SB 810 is written without any specifics on how to pay for it. Instead, the bill calls for setting up a blue-ribbon panel to come up with the financing plan.) The plan also includes a way to respond when the health insurance industry puts the issue up for a vote and tries to scare Californians into voting against single-payer with “Harry and Louise”-style fear propaganda.

“If I have to leave all of you with one point, it is this: we’re going to do it in California, and then in another 10 to 15 years we’ll have it nationally,” McGuire said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel in California. We have to create a database of supporters so that, when the commercials against single-payer come on the air, we’ll have an educated public that will be inoculated against them.”