Saturday, August 21, 2010

One Step Forward …


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Written before the most recent development in the federal case challenging Proposition 8 — the good-news, bad-news decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to delay same-sex marriages in California until at least December, but also to consider the all-important issue of whether the supporters of Proposition 8 even have legal standing to appeal — this editorial from the summer 2010 print edition of Zenger's Newsmagazine shows what a roller-coaster this issue has been and how the Queer community needs to be militant and ready for a long-term battle for full equality before the law, including marriage rights.

Twice San Diego’s Queer and allied communities have surprised the state and the nation with the vibrancy and intensity of their commitment to marriage equality. In November 2008, during those first dark days after a small majority of California voters passed Proposition 8 and took away our right to marry those we love and wish to share our lives with, the largest protest demonstration wasn’t in Los Angeles or San Francisco, but right here in San Diego. And on August 4, the day federal district judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that Proposition 8 violates the equal-protection and due-process protections of the United States Constitution, up to 3,000 San Diegans turned out for a celebration in the streets of Hillcrest — an event whose organizers had expected only a fraction of that number.

Judge Walker’s decision is indeed a cause for celebration, not only because it strikes down Proposition 8 but because its core is a series of 80 “Findings of Fact.” They take up 55 pages of his 136-page decision and constitute a meticulous series of statements vividly eviscerating every ugly and hateful stereotype that has ever been flung against Queer people and every one of the pathetically bigoted, prejudiced arguments the proponents of Proposition 8 used to inflame a bare majority of California voters into reinstating the ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriages. As Kevin Keenan, executive director of the San Diego/Imperial Counties chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), put it at the celebratory rally in Hillcrest on August 4, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George’s May 2008 opinion striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban was full of “soaring, beautiful language about equality.” Judge Walker’s opinion, by contrast, marched rather than flew, in what Keenan called “an orderly procession … [of] strong, well-supported facts … that obliterates the other side’s factual claims and looks to the process of appeals.”

Judge Walker heard a long succession of expert witnesses, including psychologists, historians and even a “social epidemiologist,” Ilan Meyer, and allowed them meticulously to debunk centuries of myths and lies that have been used in the social stigmatization of Queer people. He noted that the plaintiffs challenging Proposition 8 called 17 witnesses, including nine experts, while the defense called only two — and withdrew two others after their pre-trial depositions were more favorable to our side than theirs. Judge Walker even wanted the proceedings televised statewide — though, in a decision with ominous ramifications for the fate of the case if and when it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, he was shot down by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the presumed swing vote on the court, who wrote its two most powerful and insightful decisions upholding Queer rights (Romer v. Evans, 1996; and Lawrence v. Texas, 2003) but since then has provided the deciding vote to allow the Boy Scouts of America to continue discriminating against Queers and atheists.

Judge Walker’s decision is a strong, carefully crafted ruling that not only throws out Proposition 8 but finds that Queers are an historically oppressed class deserving of “strict scrutiny.” This is an even more astonishing statement from a federal judge than a state supreme court justice in a liberal state like California because, though the California courts have long since acknowledged gender discrimination as deserving of “strict scrutiny,” the U.S. Supreme Court has never granted “strict scrutiny” to any oppressed groups except racial minorities. In other words, Judge Walker is calling on the federal courts to grant Queers a level of civil-rights protection they’ve never before been willing even to extend to women. Though the ruling is no more than the first step in a lengthy and still uncertain legal process, it’s nonetheless a major step forward in our community’s struggle for equality.

While both Walker’s conduct of the trial and his meticulously fact-based opinion seemed aimed at building a record for eventual review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal and an ultimate decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, at press time it was unclear whether that will actually happen. That’s because, on August 12, Judge Walker ruled that the so-called “intervenors” — the sponsors of Proposition 8 who presented the case for it after California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to defend the initiative in court — don’t have legal standing to present an appeal because they haven’t personally been harmed by the decision. Though it may seem unfair on its face that the side that lost in the trial court can’t appeal the decision, ironically that’s actually the result of a series of laws pushed by conservative lawmakers aimed at making it more difficult to use the federal courts to challenge racial and gender discrimination, immigration proceedings and other types of cases supported by progressives.

At the same time, many Queer people were puzzled by the fact that the ruling didn’t allow same-sex marriages to resume in California immediately. On August 4, Judge Walker accompanied his opinion with a “stay” — legal-speak for “delay” — that kept it from taking effect until the other side could appeal. Eight days later, he extended the stay for six more days so the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal would have a chance to rule on whether or not he’s right to deny the Proposition 8 supporters the right to appeal based on standing. Over the past few days I’ve heard from a number of people who don’t understand how a judge can decide that our constitutional rights have been violated and then on the same day rule that they can continue to be violated for days, months or even years, depending on how long it takes for the judicial process to work itself out.

Meanwhile, Judge Walker’s decision has inevitably become the latest front in the culture wars. The hysterics on the talk-radio and tea-party Right have been savaging Judge Walker since the ink was still wet on his opinion (or, more accurately, since it was coming off the Internet and being printed out). They’ve argued in typically screaming terms that “one judge in San Francisco” — they don’t even deign to speak his name! — has the effrontery and sheer gall to put his own opinion above the will of the voters who passed Proposition 8. (American judges have been acknowledged as having that right ever since 1803, but these people’s sense of history is as deficient as their sense of ethics and morality.) More recently, they’ve seized on Judge Walker’s alleged sexual orientation — he’s never come out as Gay but he’s widely believed to be — and said that predisposed him to the Queer-rights side of the case and he should have disqualified himself from hearing it for that reason.

The great frustration of the marriage equality issue has been the almost Newtonian cycle of action and reaction that has taken place, in which every judicial triumph for our community has been followed by a political reaction aimed at shutting down our right to marry our partners. The first state supreme court to find that Queer people have an equal right to marriage was Hawai’i’s, in 1993 — and that decision was reversed by a 2-to-1 margin by the state’s voters three years later. Even worse, it inspired the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton — that forbade the federal government from legally recognizing any marriage other than between one man and one woman and ensured that same-sex couples couldn’t claim any of the federal benefits of marriage, from Social Security survivors’ benefits to the right to sponsor foreign-born spouses for immigration.

The yin-yang cycle continued in 2003, when Massachusetts’ high court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry — and the Right responded by placing anti-marriage initiatives on the ballots of 20 states, mobilizing enough of their voters not only to pass every one of them but to help re-elect George W. Bush as President. The May 2008 ruling by the California Supreme Court allowing same-sex marriage in turn galvanized the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches and other opponents of marriage equality to kick in the money and volunteer resources to pass Proposition 8.

Now a federal court ruling finding the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional has led to threats from the Right to restrict the courts’ powers of judicial review even further. It may also galvanize the current drive on the part of Right-wing politicians and tea-party activists to rewrite the Fourteenth Amendment, the post-Civil War constitutional change on which most successful civil-rights litigation in the federal courts has been based. Their stated goal is to end the guarantee of citizenship for anyone born within the United States regardless of whether their parents are citizens, legal residents or undocumented immigrants, but if Judge Walker’s decision stands — either for lack of a party with standing to appeal it or by higher courts agreeing with him — the Right may respond either by reviving the push for a federal marriage amendment to eliminate same-sex marriage in the U.S. once and for all, or proposing a thorough rewrite of the Fourteenth Amendment to limit the reach and scope of its equal-protection and due-process clauses.

The lesson we need to learn is that court victories don’t create rights; at best, they give previously oppressed and disenfranchised groups hunting licenses to pursue their rights politically. It’s no accident that the most intense period of civil-rights activism in the African-American community was the 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). So far we’ve done a lousy job of protecting our judicial wins on marriage equality in the political arena. Every state whose voters have had a chance to take away our right to marry has done so, some by narrow margins (like the five-percent spreads in California in 2008 and Maine in 2009), some by overwhelming votes like the crushing 9-to-1 defeat in Kentucky in 2004. Judge Walker’s decision is a major victory for our community, but it’s also a challenge to redouble our efforts and get ready for the Mother of All Battles in America’s culture wars.

There’s a story that when Benjamin Franklin left the convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution, he was accosted by a woman in the street who asked him what form of government the convention had given us. He replied, “A republic — if you can keep it.” Likewise, Judge Vaughn Walker has acknowledged our right to marry the partners of our choice — but only if we can stay mobilized politically and do the hard work it will take to keep it.
Judge Walker Declares Proposition 8 Unconstitutional

Rules Marriage Ban Advocates May Lack Standing to Appeal

news analysis by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.

Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence, J.D. for San Diego News Service • All rights reserved

At press time, an unusually courageous federal judge in San Francisco on August 4 had killed the homophobic Proposition 8, effective August 18 at 5 p.m., and quite possibly permanently. The historically liberal federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco may not have jurisdiction to even consider an appeal by the Proposition 8 proponents, the judge ruled. [EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ninth Circuit later accepted the appeal and delayed Judge Walker’s decision until December, but said they would ask the proponents of Proposition 8 to address the issue, discussed below, of whether they even have legal standing to bring the appeal.]

The jurisdictional challenge to an appeal is creative judicial maneuvering by Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker; and he’s probably right with both (1) his August 4 ruling finding Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and (2) his Order denying the Proposition 8 proponents’ request for a stay pending appeal for the lack of jurisdictional “standing” on appeal.

Standing is a fundamental legal doctrine that says a party must have been injured somehow to be able to sue in court; or as here, to appeal a case.

The Proposition 8 proponents were only “intervenors” in the trial court and were not parties to the federal lawsuit. Judge Walker therefore ruled they have no right to appeal. Proponents’ intervention, without being a party to the lawsuit in the district court, does not provide them with the right to appeal, he ruled. It’s jurisdictional.

It’s unlikely the proponents will succeed on appeal, the senior judge reasoned. They will not be ir-reparably injured without the stay, and a procedural stay is not in the public’s interest; all requirements for a stay.

Proponents “failed to articulate even one specific harm” they might suffer as a consequence of the ruling holding Proposition 8 unconstitutional, Judge Walker wrote in denying the stay.

He did, however, delay his Order denying a stay until August 18 at 5 p.m. to allow the federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco to consider the denial of the stay. However, if the Proposition 8 proponents have no standing to appeal, then the Ninth Circuit has no jurisdiction even to consider either their petitions for a stay, or their appellate briefs.

If the appellate court agrees (highly likely at press time) that it has no jurisdiction to hear the case, then it’s all over and the case may never reach the U.S. Supreme Court; largely because the proponents of Proposition 8 did such a poor job litigating the issues.

Original Court Opinion

The 136-page Opinion of the Court is cleverly and skillfully drafted by Chief Judge Walker, ruling after a 13-day trial that Proposition 8 (banning same-sex marriages) was grossly unconstitutional.

No new law was created in this ruling. Indeed, the legal doctrines involved were also stated by the California Supreme Court on May 15, 2008, in the case that legalized same-sex marriages, but was later voided by Proposition 8.

The proponents had organized the official campaign to pass Proposition 8, known as, spent $39 million to pass the measure (of which $22 million came either from the Mormon church or from individual Mormons, who were strongly urged by their church to contribute). But the proponents put on only “a rather limited factual presentation” in court, according to the comprehensive ruling.

The proponents’ key witness at trial, Institute for American Values founder David Blankenhorn. “lacked the qualifications to offer opinion testimony” and “failed to provide cogent testimony,” Judge Walker ruled.

His testimony was ruled “unreliable and entitled essentially [to] no weight.” In other words, the proponents defending Proposition 8 had no credible evidence in the court record to support their legal theories and stereotypical beliefs about Gay people.

“The minimal evidentiary presentation made by the (Proposition 8) proponents does not meet the heavy burden of production necessary” to prove their case, the ruling states.

What is Marriage?

“The freedom to marry is recognized as a fundamental right protected by the Due Process Clause (of the federal Constitution),” Judge Walker wrote in his comprehensive, 136-page ruling which also pro-vides a comprehensive history of marriage.

“The right to marry has been historically, and remains, the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household.”

Marriage itself is defined by the Court as simply “a union of equals.” In the law, it is nothing more.

“(Gay) plaintiffs do not seek a new right … rather, (they) ask California to recognize their relation-ships for what they are: marriages,” the Opinion adds.

Domestic Partnerships Inadequate

“California has created two separate and parallel institutions to provide couples with essentially the same rights and obligations,” Judge Walker’s ruling states.

“The evidence shows that domestic partnerships do not fulfill California’s due-process obligations to (Gay) plaintiffs for two reasons: (1) domestic partnerships are distinct from marriage and do not provide the same social meaning as marriage.

“Second, domestic partnerships were created specifically so that California could offer same-sex couples rights and benefits while explicitly withholding marriage from (them).

“The (evidence) reflects that marriage is a culturally superior status compared to a domestic part-nership.”

Sex Discrimination

“The evidence at trial shows that Gays and Lesbians experience discrimination based on unfounded stereotypes and prejudices specific to sexual orientation,” Judge Walker explained in his ruling.

“Gays and Lesbians have historically been targeted for discrimination because of their sexual ori-entation, and that discrimination continues to the present.”

“Homosexual conduct and identity are constitutionally protected and integral parts of what makes someone Gay or Lesbian.”

In an unusual statement connecting sexual orientation to sex discrimination (historically, no nexus has been found), “the Court determined that (Gay) plaintiffs’ equal protection claim is based on sexual orientation, but this claim is equivalent to a claim of discrimination based on sex,” the Court said.

Minority Status

Traditionally, minority status has been limited to racial groups (e.g., Latinos, Asians, etc.), and Gays have been excluded from being identified — under the law — as a minority.

Our state Supreme Court hinted at giving Gays minority status in 2008, but this federal ruling specifically says “that Gays and Lesbians are a type of minority.”

All Arguments For Proposition 8 Rejected

All six arguments by Proposition 8 proponents were rejected, including (1) marriage must be only between a man and a woman, (2) go slow with social change, (3) promoting opposite-sex parenting, (4) protecting freedom of opponents of same-sex marriages, (5) treating straight and Gay couples differently, and (6) any other conceivable interest.

“Many of the purported interests by proponents are nothing more than a fear or unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples,” the ruling states.

“The evidence (at trial) shows that, by every available metric, opposite-sex couples are not better than their same-sex counterparts; instead, as partners, parents and citizens, opposite sex couples and same-sex couples are equal,” Judge Walker wrote.

Equal Protection

The Gay and Lesbian plaintiffs’ equal protection argument said that Proposition 8 (1) “discriminates against Gay men and Lesbians by denying them a right to marry the person of their choice whereas heterosexual men and women may do so freely;” and (2) disadvantages a suspect class in preventing only Gay men and Lesbians, not heterosexuals, from marrying. In federal law, the legal phrase suspect class usually applies only to racial minorities, but now includes Gays.

“Whether based on moral disapproval, animus towards Gays and Lesbians, or simply a belief that a (straight) relationship is inherently better than a (Gay) relationship, this belief is not a proper basis (to support the Proposition 8 initiative),” the ruling says.

“Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to Gay men and Lesbians,” it states.

Eighty Findings of Fact

In remarkable work in the judicial craft, Judge Walker carefully cast in stone numerous statements of basic civil rights for Gays by writing them into 80 separate facts in 55 pages of “Findings of Fact” in the ruling.

When a case goes up on appeal, the appellate courts generally accept the facts as established by the trial court, and look only for errors of law. The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will not hold a second trial and re-try the facts of this case on appeal.


“Because California has no interest in discriminating against Gay men and Lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the Court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional,” Judge Walker ruled.

Until this learned Opinion by Judge Walker, Gays did not have any rights in the federal law based on sexual orientation.

The case stops if the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco agrees with him and concludes that the Proposition 8 proponents have no right to appeal because of their limited role as intervenors in the trial court, rather than parties to the case.

In that situation, it may not go to the U.S. Supreme Court — except possibly for the limited purpose of reviewing the Ninth Circuit’s refusal to hear the case.

Contact writer Leo E. Laurence, J.D. at (619) 757-4909 or

Marriage Victory Celebration Draws 3,000 to Hillcrest Streets

Mayor Sanders, Supervisor Candidate Whitburn Speak to Overflow Crowd


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: line of march, Stephen Whitburn, Mayor Jerry Sanders, Bryan Holiday. Photos by Charles Nelson.

Within hours of the August 4 announcement of Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger ruling that California’s ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, violates the U.S. Constitutional guarantee of equal protection, up to 3,000 happy Queers and non-Queer allies flooded the streets of Hillcrest. The event had been pre-planned by marriage equality activists for whatever day the decision came down, but the good news attracted a much larger crowd than the organizers predicted. Thousands of people converged on the corner of Sixth and University and packed the sidewalks for two or three blocks, and their march to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center on Centre Street delayed traffic for up to 20 minutes as police, who’d originally planned to keep the marchers on the sidewalks, let them onto the street.

The march was supposed to end with an event inside the Center’s main auditorium at which Mayor Jerry Sanders and other supporters of marriage equality would brief the community about Judge Walker’s decision and the likely next steps, legally and politically. But with over five times the number of people the Center’s auditorium can legally hold, the rally spilled outside and a separate event took place at which Mayor Sanders, San Diego County Board of Supervisors candidate Stephen Whitburn, San Diego/Imperial Counties American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) president Kevin Keenan and others spoke. So did a number of other people taking advantage of an open mike the organizers set up, including Bryan Holiday.

“I’m 95 years old, and my partner, whom I have married, is somewhere out there on his scooter, is 86,” Holiday said. “Victor and I met in 1947. We’ve been together for almost 65 years. We met at a kind of a party on V-J Day, which was the end of World War II, and I was a young guy living in Los Angeles, in Hollywood. It was a very important day in American history and there was a very big party, and I don’t know. We didn’t get together right away, but we got a second chance. We never dreamed there would be a time like this. For the first part of our lives, we were considered to be sick or crazy or something terrible. Since Stonewall happened in 1969, things have been changing wonderfully, and you guys are really lucky.”

“As some of you may know, I’m a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said Whitburn. “As a County Supervisor, I could get married in the County Clerk’s office. I want to make it it so that everybody can get married in the County Clerk’s office. We need to continue this fight. We need to celebrate today. We can celebrate today. We should enjoy this moment and revel in the fact that one federal judge has found that we are constitutionally equal. But there are going to be other battles to fight. There are going to be other battles to fight. You know that this is going to be appealed, and we’re going to have to stand strong, and stand up for ourselves, and contribute to the organizations and help the people who are fighting for our rights, so that this decision is upheld on appeal, whether it is to the 9th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court. We have a lot of work to do.”

Whitburn expressed confidence “that here in California, at the end of the day, this ruling is going to stand, and that in California marriage will be viewed as perfectly equal whether you’re straight or Gay.” But he said he’s also concerned about people in other states that haven’t even won basic protections against discrimination, let alone marriage equality. There are people in other states around this country who don’t even have the right to hold a job because they’re Gay; who don’t even have the right to rent an apartment because they’re Gay,” he said. “All things considered, California is one heck of a place, a great place for us to live in. Let’s keep fighting the battle in California, and then we’ll take what we’ve accomplished here and, state by state, across this wonderful country of ours, we’re going to make things equal for our brothers and sisters across America.”

“I want to congratulate each of you and thank you for your courage,” Mayor Sanders told the crowd outside after he’d finished speaking to the people who’d made it into the auditorium. “I know it’s not easy to come out. I know it’s not easy to talk to your families. I know many of your families have turned their backs on you, but it’s been your courage that has gotten us to this point. And it has been your courage that had led me to this point.” Sanders, who testified during the Perry v. Schwarznegger trial on behalf of marriage equality after his dramatic turnaround on the issue in 2009, recalled that when he spoke at the Center earlier during his first campaign for Mayor, “I know I irritated a lot of people with my position. As a young politician — even though I’m in an old body — I was trying to learn how to do the dance, and for that I apologize. I want to thank all of you for helping me make the right decision.”

Mayor Sanders thanked Judge Walker for allowing him to testify during the trial after the San Francisco city attorney’s office called him as a witness. “I came to see it as an opportunity,” he recalled. “Each generation finds something that’s been wrong for a long time. Each generation finds discrimination in one form or another. All of us out here today, every single one of us, can say that we’ve been a part of helping to solve that discrimination in the United States, and I want to thank each of you for doing that. And finally, when I look out there, not one of you threatens the marriage of my wife and I. My daughter’s Gay companion doesn’t threaten our marriage. I don’t see that any of you are threatening anybody else in the world. Everybody in the United States, everybody in the United States, should have the same equal treatment that allows you to find somebody that you love, marry that person, grow old with them and create a family. And that’s what today’s about. Congratulations.”

Kevin Keenan of the ACLU thanked Judge Walker for devoting almost half of his decision to eighty “Findings of Fact” that refuted not only the lies and distortions put out by the Yes on 8 campaign but many common stereotypes and misconceptions about sexual orientation and the ability of Gay men and Lesbians to sustain long-term committed relationships with same-sex partners. Keenan called Walker’s opinion “a marshaling of facts in an orderly procession that obliterates the other side’s factual claims and looks to the process of appeals with very strong, well-supported facts that support every aspect you know to be true about being equal, about being Gay, about being great parents, and about making society better by virtue of having equal marriage rights.” That said, he added that this was only stage one in the legal battle for marriage equality in California and the U.S. in general, “and what happens from now until the end of that is absolutely critical.”

“When those of us who organized this event and put this coalition together talked about what the turnout might be, we said hopefully we’d get about 80 to 100 people, and if there were more than that we’d overflow into the parking lot,” San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME) president Cecile Veillard said. “Well, this is really good news. We’re not going away. A lot of people have talked about the legal ramifications of the stay” — the delay Judge Walker put on his decision to give Proposition 8 supporters a chance to appeal — “and we know we haven’t won until we win the ultimate challenge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But until then, every win for our side pushes public opinion to see that the sky is not falling when LGBT [Queer] people are guaranteed their rights, or their rights are recognized. We should see these wins not only as benchmarks on out way to the ultimate decision in the U.S. Supreme Court, but as an opportunity to build momentum and shape opinion on our way to that last fight in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Veillard criticized wealthy individuals like San Diego hotel owner Doug Manchester and large corporations like Target — both under boycott calls from many Queer activists — for having made contributions to Proposition 8 and other campaigns against marriage equality. (Actually Target gave money to a business political action committee in Minnesota that in turn donated money to anti-marriage equality campaigns, and later Target officials said they’d made the donation because the group supported their positions on economic issues and hadn’t meant to support their anti-Queer campaigns as well.) “Why is it that the well-funded employers always seem to be against us?” Veillard said. “I find it offensive that so many of the people against us are being funded by employers and large corporations.” She suggested the reason is they don’t want to have to pay benefits for legally married spouses of their Queer employees, and said “we have to cut off their blood supply at the source” by boycotting them.

“Our movement faces challenges right now because we are in a recession, and the ‘Hope/Change’ honeymoon of the Obama election in 2008 is over,” Veillard said. “Right now people are being forced to choose between the struggle for LGBT rights and the struggle to save their homes from foreclosure in the face of unemployment and pay cuts. I’m mentioning this because we need to see the big picture. LGBT people cannot continue to fight alone. We’re members of every community. We’re members of the communities of color. Some of us are immigrants, and we’re all workers. There are simply too many struggles now — for labor rights, against budget cuts, against war, against the targeting of immigrants. … We need to join with other forces on the Left, because without joining forces with others, we are going nowhere. We are too small alone, and so are they. They need us, and we need them. We are all one.”

Ironically, Veillard was the next-to-last speaker at the rally — and the last, San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, is an openly Gay Right-wing Republican whose list of allies the Queer community should be seeking for support is probably very different from hers. As he’d done in his brief speech at the San Diego LGBT Pride rally the month before, DeMaio finessed his ideological differences with the organizers and most of the audience. Instead he urged marriage equality activists “to go out even into conservative areas. You have to reach out, take the example of our Mayor, and change their minds by touching their hearts.” While acknowledging the work of the “odd couple” of attorneys who initiated the challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court — Republican Ted Olson and Democrat David Boies — DeMaio said, “It’s going to take more than lawyers to win true equality. It’s going to take every single one of you being changemakers.”

NOTE: Although Cecile Veillard was introduced as the president of SAME by the MC at the rally, SAME membership coordinator Joshua Napier informs Zenger’s that, “As a democratically run organization, our titles are only for the paperwork, as we invite all to be the leaders in our movement.”
Marijuana Initiative Can Ease State, Local Budget Problems


Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence, J.D. for San Diego News Service • All rights reserved

We are s-o-o-o-o-o close to winning passage of Proposition 19, the initiative on the Nov. ballot to regulate, control and tax cannabis (marijuana).

As a former deputy sheriff who also served in the D.A.’s office, I was invited to be the keynote speaker for the “RX Cannabis Raid Relief Fundraiser” on Aug. 14, in the Balboa Park Ballroom; on behalf of L.E.A.P., Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, headquartered in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

A consensus of several, statewide polls shows Proposition 19 has the support of about 50 percent of probably voters, with only 36 percent opposed, Rebecca Saltzman, deputy campaign director of the Yes on 19 campaign in Oakland, told me recently. A simple majority — 50 percent plus one — is needed for passage.

Proposition 19 will significantly help solve severe budget problems in both Sacramento and San Diego! Official state estimates say passage of Proposition 19 could generate $1.4 billion in new state and local revenues (our streets’ potholes could finally get fixed!), according to the Board of Equalization, which collects our state taxes. That will go a long way to relieve the state’s and San Diego’s budget problems.

Additionally, the state can save at least an additional $200 million dollars in costs for arrests, prosecutions and prison expenses in the failed “War on Drugs.” The U.S. has about 5 percent of the world’s population, but 26 percent of its prisoners. We arrest 1.8 million people per year — a disproportionate number of whom are people of color — on drug-related charges.

”No matter how you look at it, our policy against marijuana use has failed,” says Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico who openly supports Proposition 19.

Proposition 19 will also generate $12 to $14 billion from spin-off businesses (all taxable) like coffeehouses, bookstores and tourism.

Proposition 19 will allow adults 21 and over to possess one ounce of cannabis. It specifically allows local governments to set up a system to oversee the cultivation, distribution and sales in their communities. However, even if a city doesn’t want the added tax revenues involved, buying and selling marijuana will remain legal statewide.

Time is Short

Recent statewide polls show about 50 percent of likely voters are supporting Proposition 19, including seniors who typically vote.

The county says the number of young people voting has been significantly increasing in recent years, suggesting the probability of Proposition 19’s success is high.

Mobilize your life around this. Only two months are left to campaign. By mid-October, with mail ballots, elections are practically over.

In response to the prospect of Proposition 19’s passage, we can expect local, state and national law enforcement agencies to escalate their raids against dispensaries and growers. Law enforcement is a macho, paramilitary profession; and attack may be its only weapon now.

Hitting Drug Cartels

The Mexican drug cartels get about 64 percent of their profits from marijuana sales and distribution, according to White House officials.

“Legalizing marijuana will strip the cartels of (that money), which is the workhorse of their operations,” states a faculty expert at the University of San Diego.

Since January 2007, over 22,700 civilian deaths have been connected with the cartels, including journalists, embassy workers, police and children.

Indeed, the Mexican federal government is considering legalizing drugs so they can be taxed and controlled, much as Proposition 19 will do.

“‘Radical prohibition strategies have never worked,’ said former Mexican president Vicente Fox, calling on Mexico to legalize drugs, which, he argues, would hurt cartels that have turned part of the country in battlefields,” Time magazine reported.

Even our federal government has changed its marijuana policies. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is now allowing ex-military patients to use medical marijuana. Its doctors still cannot prescribe it, but veteran patients can use it in treatment where it is legal, as in California.

The Basics

• Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, marijuana is not physically addictive. Its use does not lead to “heavier” drugs.

• In countries where cannabis is currently legal, there is no evidence that legalization will lead to increased consumption.

• Marijuana does not cause consumers to become violent, or impair driving skills.

• Cannabis does not have the long-term, toxic effects on the body as deadly tobacco smoking.

• Establishing controls over legal marijuana will put dangerous street dealers out of business.

• Drug cartels oppose Proposition 19 because its passage will devastate them economically — just as the repeal of alcohol prohibition in 1933 dealt a major blow to organized crime.

• State officials estimate that marijuana is currently a $14 billion industry: illegal, untaxed and uncontrolled. Over 100 million have tried marijuana.

Contact Leo E. Laurence, J.D.: (619) 757-4909 or

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Sea Change: A Little-Known Side of Climate Change


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS: Top: Sven Huseby and grandson Elias on location in California during filming of A Sea Change, the first film about ocean acidification. (Photo: Daniel de la Calle, copyright © 2009 for Niijii Films.)

Bottom: Scripps Institute of Oceanography graduate students Carolina Behe and Tesa Pierce discuss ocean acidification at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church, August 5, 2010. (Photo: Mark Gabrish Conlan.)

“Imagine a World Without Fish,” says the tag line for A Sea Change, a 2009 documentary film by Barbara Ettinger shown at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church August 5. For Sven Huseby, Ettinger’s husband and essentially the star of her film, a world without fish is so inconceivable that, as he explains to us at the very beginning, he owes his existence to fish. His dad ran a fish market in their native country, Norway; his mom was a maid for a wealthy family who would stop at Huseby’s fish market to pick up food for her employers. She fell in love with the cute fishmonger, married him and Sven was the result. Generations later, Sven, a 60-year-old retired history teacher, finds himself explaining to his grandson Elias — co-star of A Sea Change — just how important the sea and its life are to him, and how they’re in danger from ocean acidification.

Never heard of ocean acidification before? Neither had I — and, for that matter, neither had Sven Huseby and Barbara Ettinger until they read an article in the November 20, 2006 issue of The New Yorker called “The Darkening Sea.” Written by journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Darkening Sea” told the almost totally unknown flip side of the global-warming controversy. The well-known story is how the burning of fossil fuels is releasing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, raising earth’s overall temperature and threatening to melt glaciers and raise the level of the world’s oceans so that small island nations and coastal regions in big countries will be inundated with water.

What Kolbert and her sources in the scientific community explained in “The Darkening Sea” is that all that global-warming bad stuff would be happening even faster if it weren’t for the oceans, which absorb much of the additional carbon dioxide our consumption of coal, oil, natural gas and their derivatives, including gasoline, is pumping into the atmosphere. There’s a catch, though; as all this carbon dioxide dissolves into the ocean, some of it turns into carbonic acid and lowers its pH level. (In case you forgot high-school chemistry, pH is a measure of how acidic something is on a scale from zero to 14, with zero being totally acid and 14 being totally alkaline. If you had a chemistry set as a kid, the sight of Huseby and some of his scientific sources using pH strips to test samples of ocean water will bring back memories.)

That may not seem like such a big deal, but it is because sea animals have evolved to survive in the slightly alkaline environment (pH 8.2) of natural seawater. As the oceans become more acidic, plenty of species start dying, including plankton — the tiny creatures that, ironically, provide the main food source for the ocean’s largest animals, whales — and coral. “You could have food chains collapse, and fisheries ultimately with them, because most of the fish we get from the ocean are at the end of long food chains,” Thomas Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington, D.C., told Kolbert for her article. “You probably will see shifts in favor of invertebrates, or the reign of jellyfish.”

Among the stars of A Sea Change are pteropods, a form of zooplankton (there are two sorts of plankton: phytoplankton, which are plants; and zooplankton, which are animals) which are about the size of a child’s fingernail. They are naturally transparent, and the film offers views of their almost unearthly beauty. Huseby and Ettinger call them “sea butterflies” because they move in similar motions with their wing-like fins, and they’re able to survive because of their outer shells. Only as the level of dissolved CO2 in the water goes up and makes the oceans more acidic, their shells become opaque, turn brittle and ultimately disintegrate — making it impossible for the pteropods to survive and jeopardizing the lives of the fish and marine mammals that feed on them.

A Sea Change was presented at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest August 5 with two resource people present to lead a post-film discussion: Carolina Behe and Tesa Pierce, both graduate students at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla. Behe raised eyebrows when she talked about having lived in Antarctica on a research trip to collect fish, but that’s been just part of her ocean-going odyssey. “I grew up in Oregon and became a commercial fisherman in Arkansas before moving to New York City and working with corporations who wanted to go green,” Behe explained. “I came to Scripps because I realized that we needed to work on the governmental level and not just do research.”

“I grew up here in San Diego,” said Pierce. “I sailed and rowed, and in biology I looked at a snail and a medical procedure for that snail shell. I want to work on ocean acidification and its effects on biology. I’m in my first year of working with a program that looks at the associations between the ecosystem, economy and politics.” Many of the questions for Behe and Pierce turned on the politics of global warming as an issue and how public opinion is turning against the scientific consensus that there is a major shift in earth’s climate and human activities, particularly fossil fuel use, are responsible.

Polls show a steady decline in the number of Americans who believe humans are causing global warming. Just a few days before the event at the church, U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid had cancelled a scheduled vote on a climate-change bill — one most environmentalists regarded as pathetically weak and unlikely to accomplish much to stop global warming — because he didn’t have the votes even for a much-compromised measure. And here in California, the state’s landmark climate-change bill, AB 32, is under assault at the ballot box by a group of out-of-state oil companies, who’ve qualified an initiative, Proposition 23, to “suspend” the law until unemployment in California goes below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. Since that has happened three times in the last 30 years — and the official unemployment rate in the state is now over 10 percent — that would essentially kill the state’s pioneering response to climate change and probably put out of business many of the start-up companies investing in alternative energy under AB 32’s guarantees of a market for it in California.

“Climate change has been made into a political problem, and it’s become a partisan issue,” Pierce said. Indeed, Pierce noted that the issue has become so politicized, advocates now prefer the term “climate change” over “global warming” because every time the weather becomes unseasonably cool — as it’s been through San Diego in the summer of 2010 — opponents say, “You see? There’s no such thing as global warming! It’s getting colder!” “Not all places will get hotter,” Pierce acknowledged. “Some places will get colder. The point is there’ll be more variability.” (New York’s weather during summer 2010 was among the hottest in history.)

The frustration among both Behe and Pierce — and most of the members of the audience — was palpable, especially since the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and humans are responsible is overwhelming. “There’s no doubt about it as a scientific fact,” Pierce said. “The uncertainty is over how big the climate changes will be. We should get over the idea that it’s a political problem. If we don’t address it, we will have more and more variations in climate and extreme weather events, like Hurricane Katrina.”

“We need to educate the public, because most people don’t realize how big a problem it is,” added Behe. “Just educate as many people around you and urge them to be politically active” — and start, both she and Pierce said, by urging them to vote against Proposition 23 to preserve California’s leadership in the fight against climate change.

One woman in the audience compared the strategies of oil companies and other corporations with a vested interest in the continued use of fossil fuels to sow doubt about human responsibility for climate change to the decades-long effort by tobacco companies to deny the health hazards of smoking and turn that, too, into a political rather than a scientific issue. She said the oil companies had hired the same public-relations firm, Hill and Knowlton, that the tobacco industry had used, and Hill and Knowlton had used the same P.R. strategy: find a handful of scientists who disagreed with the consensus view, give them and their research a lot of publicity, and thereby convince ordinary people that this was still a controversial and highly debated issue within the scientific community. What’s more, as local activist Nelisse Muga noted, the mainstream media are complicit in this because “they’re telling us exactly what Hill and Knowlton tell them to say, and politicians and people in our leadership are part of this corporate machine.”

Another activist, Miriam Clark, mentioned a New Yorker article about James Hansen, the U.S. government scientist who first announced much of the research documenting human-caused climate change and was attacked and largely silenced for doing so. “The propaganda campaign is not to convince you that it’s not happening, but that there’s a major scientific debate,” she said. “It makes people feel helpless and unable to affect the political debate.”

One woman in the audience said at least part of the problem is that as American civilization has developed, people have not only moved out of rural areas and into cities — artificial environments where they’re less tied to nature than humans have been historically — but that even within cities most people move around frequently and therefore aren’t able to make comparisons to what the weather was like in their area a decade or so ago. North County resident Helen Bourne, who’s lived in the same place 13 years, said, “I’ve noticed a lot of changes. I used to see dolphins a lot, and now I’m seeing them a lot less. If we open our own eyes to nature instead of the news, it would give us better information.”

Not all the questions for Behe and Pierce were about the overall politics and public perceptions of climate change. They also got a few technical queries, including one on just what the evidence is that sea levels are rising. “It’s a very small amount,” Pierce conceded, “a few millimeters a year, but Louisiana is sinking and therefore they’re getting a greater amount of coast rising.” She also discussed how sea animals cope — or try to — with increasingly acid waters, saying that in tidelands the pH levels already vary more than they do in the deep ocean “and organisms can cope with it well, but as you increase the variability they have problems.”

One audience member mentioned Scripps Institute researcher Jeff Severinghaus’s studies of ice cores taken from Greenland. Scientists drill into ice from long-frozen regions and are able to analyze its content of CO2 and other dissolved greenhouse gases and use this information to deduce how the earth’s climate has changed over time. The person who discussed Severinghaus’s research summed up his conclusions: “There are periods of stability and periods of rapid change, and in the last 10,000 years we operated in an unusually flat period of temperature. The only explanations of changes in the ocean [recently] are those that depend on CO2 added by human activity. A longitudinal study at Scripps, replicated elsewhere, has shown a 30 to 40 percent drop in phytoplankton because of ocean acidification and climate change.”

At the close of the meeting, Tanja Winter, veteran activist and founder of the church’s Peace and Democracy Action Group, which put on the showing of A Sea Change, said, “We have to stop thinking about our own provincial neighborhoods. This is a world issue.”

“And it’s going to affect all life,” Behe added.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Leftist Sci-Fi Writer China Miéville Comes to San Diego

Speaks at Public Library After Appearing at Comic-Con


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

NOTE: See China Miéville’s response to this article at the end.

China Miéville isn’t exactly your typical science-fiction writer. He’s 38, a tall, imposing muscular figure with multiple earrings and a shaved head, and he’s both a multi-award winning author (British Fantasy and British Science Fiction awards, three-time winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and nominee for the Hugo and Nebula awards) and a Left-wing political activist. A member of the British Socialist Workers Party — a Trotskyist group, like the similarly named but now defunct one in the U.S. — Miéville once ran for the British Parliament as a candidate of the Socialist Alliance, and he adapted a Ph.D. thesis into a non-fiction book (published by the Leftist Haymarket Press) called Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law.

Miéville came to San Diego for the July 22-25 Comic-Con, which in less than two decades has grown from a nerd-fest celebrating comic books and the movies made from them to a big, splashy, internationally recognized event at which major Hollywood studios trot out big stars and filmmakers to promote movies based on superhero stories and other comic books — which sometime seem to make up at least half of the films running at your local multiplexes. In addition to appearing at Comic-Con, Miéville took a detour for an afternoon question-and-answer session at the San Diego Public Library Sunday afternoon, July 25, during which he discussed his novels — notably his latest, Kraken, and his “New Crobuzon” series (Perdido Street Station, 2000; The Scar, 2001; Iron Council, 2002) — his politics and how the Internet has made the already difficult business of making a living from writing even harder.

“A lot of independent people and trade unions, including the Writers’ Guild, take the position that a downloaded book is a stolen book,” Miéville acknowledged in answer to a question about the Internet and its effect on authors’ income and rights. Then he made it clear that his own position is a lot more nuanced than that: “That’s only true if every downloaded book is a copy that would otherwise have been sold. There are too many variables to make that assumption.” Miéville said that “the punitive model” — major publishers filing huge lawsuits against ordinary individuals for downloading copyrighted material — didn’t work for the music industry and won’t work for publishing either.

“It’s based on this bogus idea, and risks alienating your readers the way Metallica alienated their fans by suing Napster,” Miéville said. “I make my living by writing, so of course I’m concerned [about a possible loss of income], but I think I can ask people to be decent and come to an arrangement. We have to accept that anyone who doesn’t want to pay for an electronic text won’t have to. Kraken was cracked in half a day. If you’re a recording company and you put out a single, anyone who doesn’t want to pay for it can get it. You can be punitive, or you can make it worth their while to throw you a few quid. I think the distribution model needs to change. We need to be undogmatic and open-minded.” He added a warning, however, that “if people don’t pay for books, I won’t write them.”

Asked about the “Creative Commons” licensing plan — an alternative to copyright in which works placed on the Internet can be freely transferred as long as no one but the original creator profits from them financially — Miéville said there were two problems with it. First, “it only worked before the e-book reader was available,” when the only way to get a portable version of a text was to buy a printed copy. Also, he said Creative Commons forces him to “worry about cover art and packaging” — which, as a writer, he wants a publisher to take care of so he can concentrate on inventing stories and getting them down on paper. Miéville probably spoke for a lot of his readers when he said, “I like computers. I like my iPad and I like the Internet, but I’m not a techie and I’m not into coding” [writing programs].

At the Public Library Miéville fielded a question he seems to get asked every time he speaks in public or does an interview: why does he write science fiction and fantasy? “Because it’s awesome,” he said. “I grew up reading science fiction, horror and fantasy. As a reader, I’ve become more catholic in my tastes, but as a writer I don’t sustain interest in stories unless they have some aspect of the fantastic and the unreal. Iron Council was representative of a kind of politics I could do in fantastic fiction I could not do in realistic fiction. A lot of times I’m asked how I got into genre fiction, and I answer, ‘How did you get out of it?’ A cluster of seven-year-olds were reading Harry Potter and two years later most of them had fallen out of it. We geeks are faithful to our obsessions.”

Another question Miéville frequently gets asked is how he got his first name. From his “hippie parents,” he explained. “It’s not a pretentious pen name, like ‘Sting.’” He said it’s a British slang term for “mate” — meaning a close friend. Based on the name, a lot of people (presumably the ones who either never look at authors’ photos or buy cheap editions that don’t have them) assume he’s a woman — and when they find out that he’s really a straight white male they give him special credit (which he doesn’t think he deserves) for being able to write so sensitively about women, people of color and Queers.

Asked about the Asian girl in his book Un Lun Dun, Miéville pointed out that the character is actually “Desi” (descended from people from Pakistan or India) — British people have a broader definition of what constitutes “Asia” than we do, he said — and he wrote her because it was a book for “young adult” (publishing-speak for teenage) readers and “I hadn’t seen that many representations of Asian girls in British fiction.” He said he caught her voice because “I spend a lot of time on buses listening to how children talk, and I think the distinctions between men and women are grossly exaggerated. I think hopefully [the question of whether male authors can create convincing women characters] is getting to be less of an issue.”

As much as he likes the science-fiction and fantasy genres — and as committed as he is to writing no other sort of fiction — Miéville also likes to push against the traditions of that sort of writing. “I wrote Perdido Street Station to go against some of the traditions of fantasy, but I wasn’t the first,” he acknowledged. “There are always counter-traditions and ways of writing against the grain. In Iron Council the main character is Gay, and that’s not so transgressive, but in a lot of adult fiction Gays are desexualized, and I resent that. One book I’ve read is set on a ship in the 19th century, and there’s a Gay man defined as evil and his sex with his lover is described in almost lascivious terms, while the ‘good’ Gay guy is described as never having sex at sea. I wanted to write an explicitly Gay character who has anal sex, though I think a lot of this is not that big a deal anymore.”

One genre convention that particularly ticks Miéville off — and which he’s deliberately tried to avoid or subvert in his own work — is the notion of the “Chosen One,” the one hero uniquely fitted to the task of redeeming the human race from the peril the author has invented to jeopardize it. “The schtick [of Un Lun Dun] is that the Chosen One fails, and the funny sidekick has to take over — and succeeds by cheating and skipping to the end,” he said. “As a kid, I always hated books about the Chosen One because that implies all the others are not chosen, and that’s fascist. I always was drawn to the sidekicks.”

Though Miéville tries to avoid blatant political propaganda in his books — like most artists with strong political leanings, he’ll drop the politics if it means the books will be stronger as art — he’s quite open about analyzing other writers’ works in the light of his Leftist beliefs. “Not all my favorite writers have my politics,” he acknowledged. “I’m a big fan of H. P. Lovecraft even though he was a fascist and anti-Semite” [though in his last decade Lovecraft largely abandoned the racist beliefs he’d held earlier]. Noting that American science fiction has a reputation for being Right-wing, Miéville said he thinks that’s unfair because the U.S. has also produced authors like Ursula LeGuin and Judith Merril, “progressives writing deliberately in the political milieu.”

Indeed, one of the things he likes about science fiction and fantasy is how well they lend themselves to what Lenin called “Aesopian language” — coded messages about the world of the present couched in terms of the world of the future. He thinks that’s what science fiction writers in the Eastern Bloc were doing under Communist governments: sneaking in social criticism they couldn’t have got published in direct terms. On the question of whether there’s something inherently radical about science fiction as a genre, Miéville said, “I go back and forth on that. The idea of something that starts with radical thinking lends itself to political thinking — not necessarily progressive political thinking — but certainly the overlaps between political geeks of both flavors and sci-fi geeks is interesting.”

Responding to a question about born-again Christians and their use of media like science fiction and rock music to express their ideas — including the belief that young people who remain virgins for religious reasons are the real transgressors in a hyper-sexualized age — Miéville expanded his analysis beyond science fiction to Right-wing books in general like the Left Behind series (minister Tim LaHaye’s and author Jerry Jenkins’ best-selling series dramatizing the apocalypse predicted in the Book of Revelation) and The Turner Diaries, William Pierce’s 1978 novel about a Right-wing revolution against a U.S. government dominated by Jews and socialists. Indeed, Miéville seemed to admire The Turner Diaries even though it’s not only an extremely Right-wing book (“a fascist dystopia,” he called it) but it’s not at all well written.

The Turner Diaries “starts with a very clever piece of thought judo designed to appeal to a group [white Americans, particularly ethnics from working-class backgrounds] that feels badly threatened,” Miéville explained. “It starts with a Black becoming president and eliminating the laws against rape on the basis of ‘cultural sensitivity.’ It’s great strategy that weaponizes the notion and taps into a lot of anxieties.” Miéville sees The Turner Diaries as part of “the culture war in general” and notes that not only did Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh own a copy and carry out his terrorist attack with a bomb design copied from Pierce’s pages, but “every other Tea Party sign” reflects this sort of militancy on the part of the radical Right.

Miéville said in Britain that sort of radical-Right politics comes out less in fiction — “where we have things like [the long-running TV series] Doctor Who that are relatively liberal” — than in mainstream newspapers like the Daily Express. That paper, he said, recently ran a headline that said, “In 20 years one in 5 Britons will be ethnics,” presenting that as a horror its readers should fear. “It’s one of the most bile-raising, sick-raising things you see: the loss of [white people’s] privileges, people suing universities over affirmative action,” Miéville said. “It’s certainly visible in speculative fiction, but some books pull in more than one direction. Battlestar Galactica is overtly progressive, but it also contains a lot of racial anxieties.”

Asked about the growing popularity of the late Right-wing Libertarian author Ayn Rand, especially among young Americans, Miéville said, “We don’t have many Randroids in Britain. I think Rand’s popularity in the U.S. is a sign of the weakness of the Left. Students who are anxious about government bailouts, if you give them to me I’ll make them Leftists. But there aren’t such people in America, so they read Ayn Rand and become Rightists instead.”

Commenting about artificial intelligences and “hidden messages” in current science fiction, Miéville said, “I think I would make a distinction between deliberate and unconscious messages. I don’t think there is a depoliticized message about consciousness and sentience. I’m very unconvinced that the increase in computer power will result in consciousness. The notion in science fiction over the last decade and a half of computerized rigor that erupts into consciousness is based on a bad notion of consciousness, but I don’t think the authors mean that deliberately.”

Asked if any of his books will be turned into movies, Miéville said he’s got a few nibbles from the film industry — “a couple of my short stories are under option” — but his fans shouldn’t hold their breaths. “Dealing with movie people is intimidating because it’s all based on lies,” he said. “All the clichés are true — and they’re put out by people who work in movies.” He said “ it would take a lot of convincing” to get him to sell the movie rights to one of his novels because “most movies are rubbish because they’re not done well.”

Miéville’s advice to aspiring young writers — another stock question virtually every author who speaks in public gets asked — is don’t try to write a novel unless you do a lot of meticulous pre-planning. “Novels are really big, and people get paralyzed by the size,” he explained. “The way to avoid that is to front-load a lot and plan the bejeezus out of it. Do a chapter-by-chapter plan and estimate how many words each chapter will have and what will happen in it, and then you can write as few as 300 words a day. The more work you do up front, the less you can think about it. I work out the shape of it first and I’m a rigorous planer. Planning has a bad rap, but I think it’s a kind of safety net.”


After the original publication of this post China Miéville e-mailed me a reply and asked that it be added. Here it is:

Dear Mark Gabrish Conlan,

I've just seen the report you did of the talk I did at the San Diego library. I had no idea there was anyone intending to write about it in the audience. I thank you for all your interest and for the careful attention.

However, I have a question and a concomitant request. It's my impression from reading the piece that rather than recording, you made notes and transcribed my answers from a combination of notes and memory. Would I be correct? I ask because in several places, the formulations are not ones that I recall using, and in a couple of cases are ones that I would in fact avoid. Obviously, when extemporising, sometimes things emerge from my mouth in ways that aren't as I'd prefer, and it's possible some of that is the case here. However, your piece repeatedly uses quote marks which I think most readers would interpret as being assertions about what I definitely did say, and I'd really appreciate a chance to set the record straight about a couple of things. For the most part where I remember otherwise it's largely just a question of language, but in a couple of cases the words in your piece imply opinions I do not hold, and it's these latter I'd prefer not to let stand.

I'm not asking you to change your piece - only, perhaps, to reproduce this message at the beginning or end, in your newsletter and in indybay,org, so that I might have a chance to correct any misapprehensions about my positions.

i) 'He added a warning, however, that "if people don't pay for books, I won't write them."'

I cannot imagine any eventuality in which I would not attempt to continue writing, and the implied, arrogant sense of punishment and/or warning in that quote is not one I would intend to communicate. My point, and the formulation I would use, is that if no one pays for books, it will be impossible for me to write professionally, which would of course drastically reduce and alter my output.

ii) Re: creative commons. 'Mieville said there were two problems with it' - this is true, but I stress these are problems in terms of its sometimes asserted status as a way of continuing to make a living as a writer during an online era. It still has many other unproblematic uses.

iii) Judith Merril was Canadian, not American (though this was very possibly my bad in exposition).

iv) I certainly wouldn't say I 'admire' The Turner Diaries, though you're right that I was pointing out that its initial premise was well-chosen to appeal to its target demographic.

v) On which topic, you gloss that target 'feeling badly threatened' as, apparently in my opinion, 'white Americans, particularly ethnics from working-class backgrounds'. Can I emphatically stress that I do not think 'white Americans, tout court, feel threatened by an ebbing of white privilege, and can I further stress that I would consider it both sociologically incorrect and some form of class slander to suggest that such anxieties were overrepresented among working-class white Americans. (The class roots of this particular form of ressentiment in fact I see as largely weighted in other directions, but this is a wider topic.)

vi) I would not use the formulation 'a Black', about a person. (As I recall, I said 'a black guy'. )

I'd be very grateful if you could reproduce the contents of this message somewhere on your piece. Many thanks again for writing it, and for coming to the talk.

Best wishes,

China Miéville

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Pride Rally Reveals Queer Community’s Divisions Over Obama


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: City Councilmembers Carl DeMaio and Todd Gloria, Stuart Milk, Robin McGehee (with her two children), Autumn Sandeen, Joseph Rocha

San Diego’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Pride Festival officially began on the evening of Friday, July 16 with the so-called “Spirit of Stonewall” pride rally on the site of the festival near Sixth and Juniper in Balboa Park. Most cities’ Pride committees have regarded the rally as a stepchild, an embarrassing remnant of Pride’s radical political origins to be dismissed as obsolete and quaint in the highly corporatist business-fests Pride weekends have become. But when San Diego’s Pride organization quietly eliminated the rally in 2009 after a disappointing event in 2008 that drew only 50 people — despite an internationally known headliner, British Queer rights organizer Peter Tatchell — veteran local Pride volunteers and political activists listed that as one of the things they wanted changed about Pride when the remaining members of Pride’s board resigned in early 2010.

So a rally was once again held this year, drawing about 100 people — double the attendance in 2008 but still a fraction of the people who went to the parade and festival the next two days — to hear a program that, almost as if it were planned that way, started with the most conservative elements in Queer politics and worked its way up to the most radical ones. The rally was introduced by San Diego’s two openly Gay male City Councilmembers, Republican Carl DeMaio from District 5 and Democrat Todd Gloria from District 3. DeMaio, a controversial figure opposed by liberal and progressive San Diego Queers for his fights to downsize city government, outsource city workers’ jobs to private companies and weaken the power of public employee unions, began the rally with a short statement that said, “There’s something uniquely San Diegan about the tranquility in our diversity.”

Gloria, who along with DeMaio was there to present the City Council’s resolution declaring the week before the events “San Diego LGBT Pride Week,” said, “This year is special. Many times, those who hate us try to stop this resolution from happening, and year after year you come out for us. This year we had not one speaker against us.” Bob Leyh, board member of both San Diego LGBT Pride and the San Diego Democratic Club, then took over as MC of the event, which became a weird mixture of presentations of Pride’s service awards and speeches that became more intense and farther Left as the evening wore on — and as more and more people left the rally site to sample the night life of Hillcrest or go home to rest up for the parade and festival the next day.

Milk Comes to Praise Obama …

The first major speaker was Stuart Milk, nephew of openly Gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who along with the city’s mayor was killed in November 1978 by a fellow Supervisor, an ex-police officer who got a notoriously light sentence for the double murder. Stuart Milk, who in recent years has come out as Gay himself and has worked for international human rights, began his speech by recalling that when his uncle was stationed with the Navy in San Diego he wrote home to his mother calling San Diego “a beautiful city with beautiful boys.” Stuart Milk congratulated the California state legislature for passing a bill to make May 22, Harvey Milk’s birthday, a state holiday, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for signing it into law.

Stuart Milk said that his uncle would be “amazed” at how many openly Queer elected officials there are in the U.S. today (when Harvey Milk won his seat in 1977 there were only two others, Minnesota state legislators Elaine Noble and Allan Spear) and hailed openly Gay teacher Kevin Beiser’s candidacy for the San Diego Unified School District board of trustees. “You also have examples of authenticity among our youth, including Lisa Sanders,” Stuart Milk said — referring to San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ openly Lesbian daughter, whose example influenced him to reverse his position on same-sex marriage equality and allow San Diego to join California’s other major cities in support of the unsuccessful attempt to overturn Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, in the courts.

“Harvey knew he was going to be killed,” Stuart Milk recalled. “He had stacks of death threats. He willingly gave up his life not just for his nephew but for all of us. When Harvey first ran for office [in 1971], homosexuality was still listed as a mental disease. … Harvey’s message was, ‘Come out,” and every time one of us comes out, that takes courage. I’m an openly Gay man and a Gay relative of a famous Gay man, and every time I’m asked, ‘Where’s your wife?,” I say, ‘You should ask, “Where’s your husband?”’ — even though I don’t have one. I’ve spoken in Istanbul and Damascus, and other places that are very dark for our community.”

Reporting on a meeting he’d been in between President Obama and prominent Queer political activists, Stuart Milk reported, “Obama said last fall, ‘It’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was up to others to counsel patience to African-Americans. There is no difference.’ Obama said we will see an administration that will fight until all people have human rights. An African-American President speaking those words sends a huge message, and in all my travels overseas it’s being heard. Harvey said history has shown laws have been enacted full equality and it’s been taken away” — a reference to how quickly Queers in Germany lost the equality they’d had under the Weimar Republic when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, started persecuting them and ultimately sent them to death camps in the Holocaust along with Jews, Gypsies, Communists and people with disabilities.

“We have to realize that we are all at risk of being discriminated against,” Stuart Milk warned. “As much as we’ve got a long way to go, please thank the President for speaking up for me and you.” Stuart Milk also thanked another president, Cristina Fernandez Kirchner of Argentina, who had just signed into law the world’s most recent bill allowing same-sex couples to marry, for saying “it’s a distortion of democracy to allow the majority to vote down the rights of the minority.” He acknowledged that “more than three decades after my uncle stood on a streetcorner in San Francisco, we still do not have federal protection against discrimination in employment and housing. We are second-class citizens paying first-class rates, and that has to stop. We cannot live on hope alone. Too many of us have lost hope. We are reminded of the false promises and unfulfilled commitments. We need to make tomorrow the day that we have our rights.”

… McGehee to Challenge Him

But the evening’s final speaker, Fresno-based Queer activist Robin McGehee, said that one of the reasons the Queer community has endured so many false promises and unfulfilled commitments is that they have failed to hold the Democratic party accountable for making those promises and then welching on them. She bade her audience to stop listening to Obama’s fine words in support of Queer equality and instead look at his administration’s pathetic record on our issues. Obama has done virtually nothing to push the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) through Congress, nor has he been a leader on repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevents Queer Americans from serving openly in this country’s military, McGehee argued — and, she added, that’s not going to change until Queers are willing to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience actions targeting Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and other Democratic politicians who talk a good game on Queer rights but do little or nothing for us.

“When will we be dissatisfied enough to fight back and deliver the message that we are no longer willing to settle for anything less than full federal equality?” McGehee said. “I toured the country with Cleve Jones (former aide to Harvey Milk and founder of the NAMES Project AIDS memorial quilt, and principal organizer of the 2009 March on Washington) to say it is no longer O.K. to address our issues one by one, but that we must fight for full recognition under the Fourteenth Amendment that guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law. … Our fight for equality will only be enhanced with the luxury of two feet, one cell phone and one laptop. Many have classified me as an ‘angry Lesbian activist.’ I’m a fed-up mother who will continue fighting until my family is equal to anybody else’s.”

McGehee urged people to register for her Web site,, “to empower the LGBT community and its allies to use direct action. Why direct action, and why now? Why not now? I am tired of our community being bullied. No longer should we settle for piecemeal processes that do not protect us all. Every day our children are being harassed, we should look at apathy as criminally negligent. Many of us have suffered, and if we do not act we are denying the suffering of others. … We continue to target Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and other officials who are not making our fight for equality their priority. We hope to empower others to take the fights into their own hands. We must create iconic actions that demonstrate employment discrimination, military discrimination and religious inequality. We will take our lead to target people to promise to be our friends.”

According to McGehee, when she’s made similar speeches she’s been accused of being “anti-Democrat” and “anti-Obama.” Noting that she’s a registered Democrat who took her son to the voting booth in November 2008 when she voted for Obama, she said, “Not holding our friends to account is a sign of a dysfunctional relationship. The rights of a minority were taken away in November 2008 [when California voters passed Proposition 8] and in May 2009 [when the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8] and Obama did nothing. I thought of that as I stood looking at the White House that I shouldn’t have to do that. What happened to their campaign message? I did not ask Obama to give us a speech with a Cliff’s Notes summary of our rights. I asked him to follow through on legislation. I will not fall in love as easily in 2012 as I did in 2008, and I hope you don’t either. I want Obama to show the courage to deliver the change he promised. I hope I did not vote for someone who proclaimed himself a ‘fierce advocate,’ and then was not afraid to run from us. I still have hope, but it’s fading.”

What’s going to revive McGehee’s hope, if anything can, is not Obama but ourselves: a raging tide of ordinary Queers and allies signing on to and being willing to put themselves on the line and get arrested to show the Democrats that they can no longer put us off with fine rhetoric and no action. “When we realize we are fighting for equality, we get equal faster when we all take our quest for equality into our own hands,” McGehee said. “Our brothers and sisters are dying because we are not holding our so-called ‘friends’ accountable.” Though she positioned herself well to the Left of Stuart Milk, she closed her speech with a similar admonition to his and his famous uncle’s that the more of us come out, the faster the struggle for Queer equality will triumph. “It is a lot harder to discriminate against the people we know than the people we think we know,” she said.

Autumn on the Front Lines

“Freedom must be demanded, and at this point I’m in a pretty demanding mood,” said San Diego Transgender activist and 20-year Navy veteran Autumn Sandeen. She answered McGehee’s call for direct action in Washington, D.C. on April 20, when she and five other Queer U.S. veterans handcuffed themselves to the White House gates to demand that Obama and Congress repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” this year. Though all six participants were arrested, the police singled out Sandeen for especially vicious treatment. “They called me an impersonator, an ‘it,’ a ‘shim,’” Sandeen recalled. “It was law enforcement officers who called me that.”

Sandeen said she took part in the action — a followup to one in March in which two of the same participants, Lt. Dan Choi and Cap’t. Jim Pietrangelo II, and McGehee had been arrested — “not because it would impact Transgender people, but because Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people need to be able to serve in the U.S. military as proud, open members. If an issue is one for even a small subgroup of our community, it’s an issue for me. I sacrifice for other communities in a way I hope others would do for Trans people. I do it because this is about us.”

According to Sandeen, when she started presenting as a woman in 2003 after years of living as a male, “the [California] Fair Employment and Housing Act did not protect Trans people. By 2004 we had legal protection for Transgender Californians. … What rights and freedom we have were fought for by activists. I work for the freedom, equality and justice for those who will come after me. I am somebody, we are somebody, we deserve equal rights. … We have a choice. We can end injustice, not just in our backyard but all over America. I personally choose to act to further justice. I’ve marched, I’ve engaged in direct actions, and I want the justice that will really make us free Americans.”

Rocha: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Practice

Before Sandeen spoke, another military veteran, Joseph Rocha, had given the audience a grim picture of how “don’t ask, don’t tell” actually works — or doesn’t — in practice. His ordeal began when, as an 18-year-old newly recruited to the Navy, he was stationed in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain. He knew he was Gay but he believed that if he followed “don’t ask, don’t tell” and kept his sexual orientation a secret, he’d still be allowed to serve his country. He was wrong.

As he reported in an article in the Washington Post on October 11, 2009, Rocha was harassed almost immediately by his fellow servicemembers. “Shop talk in the unit revolved around sex, either the prostitute-filled parties of days past or the escapades my comrades looked forward to,” Rocha wrote in the Post. “They interpreted my silence and total lack of interest as an admission of homosexuality. My higher-ups seemed to think that gave them the right to bind me to chairs, ridicule me, hose me down and lock me in a feces-filled dog kennel.” The dogs, Rocha explained, were there because the business of the unit he was training for was to detect explosives — and the way they did that was with bomb-sniffing dogs.

Rocha’s worst experience was the “all-day event” he was put through by a superior officer, Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint, in a classroom at the American school in Bahrain. “In one corner of the classroom was a long sofa, turned away from the door,” Rocha recalled in his Post article. “When you walked into the room, it appeared that one man was sitting on it, alone. But I was there too — the chief had decided that I would be down on my hands and knees, simulating oral sex. A kennel support staff member and I were supposed to pretend that we were in our bedroom and that the dogs were catching us having sex. Over and over, with each of the 32 dogs, I was forced to enact this scenario.”

Knowing better than to tell any of his story to his superiors — “I feared that reporting the abuse would lead to an investigation into my sexuality,” he explained — Rocha suffered in silence until a female sailor witnessed it six months after it had started. “She reported the incident and, from what I understand, this prompted an internal investigation into hazing in my unit,” Rocha wrote in the Post. “The Navy confirmed 93 incidents of misconduct, including hazing, abuse, physical assault, solicitation of prostitutes and misuse of government property and funds, but the case was closed.”

What’s more, the Navy chose to make Petty Officer First Class Jennifer Valdivia, who’d actually been supportive of Rocha, their scapegoat, charging her with having failed to stop the abuse — while Michael Toussaint, Rocha’s chief tormentor, was promoted. When Valdivia learned of the charges against her, she committed suicide. Just two days before she killed herself, Valdivia told Rocha he’d been accepted to the Naval Academy prep school in Annapolis, and he actually accepted — then, “mentally and emotionally depleted … after more than two years of abuse,” Rocha decided to come out as Gay and resign from the Navy.

Rocha told his audience at the Pride rally that what kept him going was his sense of a debt to “the men who would never come home. I decided that, in order to justify that I was alive, I had to dedicate my life to honor them and justify their sacrifices. I realized that through technology we could get this demand for justice to the country through newspapers, rallies and TV. We no longer have to wait for a straight politician to take up our case. We can be our own champions. All of you are challenging old stereotypes in jobs, schools and churches, and this can be as important as anything activists do. … Please don’t ever — and I tell you this from my own experience — don’t let anyone make you feel less proud than you do this weekend.”

Community Service Awards

Earlier in the rally, former San Diego Democratic Club president Andrea Villa gave a Stonewall Service Award to reverend canon Allison Thomas of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral — located just a few blocks from where the rally was happening — for the overall Queer-friendly policies of her church (Villa called it “a beacon of openness and equality”) and her involvement in recruiting religious leaders to oppose Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage in California. Later in the program another Queer-friendly religious leader, Rabbi Laurie Coskey, received a “Friend of Pride” award for contributions from a person who doesn’t identify as Queer but nonetheless supports the Queer community. The citation mentioned that Coskey has been challenging both religious and secular orthodoxy about Queers since 1987, when she gave a sermon about the myths then current about AIDS. More recently she’s been involved in interfaith movements of Queer-friendly people of faith and in United for a Hate-Free San Diego and the anti-8 campaign.

After Villa announced the award to Thomas, Leyh himself gave an award to Ann Garwood and Nancy Moors, the couple in charge of the Hillcrest History Guild, “an online museum that captures the history of Hillcrest, including photos and stories charting the evolution of a Zip code.” He then introduced two prestigious officeholders, State Senator Christine Kehoe (who’s held public office continuously since her 1993 election to the San Diego City Council, the first open Queer to hold office anywhere in San Diego County) and Assemblymember Lori Saldaña.

“Happy Pride to every single person in San Diego, straight or Gay,” said Kehoe, who recalled her role — along with her successors in the District 3 City Council seat, Toni Atkins and Todd Gloria, in forcing out a three-person Pride board widely seen as dysfunctional and replacing it with a group of veteran community activists, including former Pride board members, that shepherded the process of producing this year’s events. She thanked the current Pride board, staff and volunteers “for making this event happen. The board stepped in at a critical time and is working for transparency and accountability.” Kehoe also boasted that the state legislature recently passed a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Saldaña joked, “I’ve been in the parade with Frontrunners and the Sierra Club, and after 20 years walking they’ve let me ride in a car.” A third elected official, Congressmember Susan Davis, made a walk-on appearance but didn’t speak. Afterwards Leyh introduced other officials and candidates in the crowd — including the major-party nominees for the 76th District California State Assembly seat, Democrat Toni Atkins and Republican Ralph Denney. It’s a race that marks another milestone in San Diego politics: the first time a Queer Democrat and a Queer Republican have run against each other as major-party nominees, ensuring that a Queer person will almost certainly fill that seat no matter who wins.

Other candidates Leyh introduced included Stephen Whitburn, openly Gay challenger to County Supervisor Ron Roberts; and Kevin Beiser, openly Gay candidate for the San Diego Unified School District board. He also mentioned that Pride had received congratulatory letters from at least two local Republican officeholders, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and County Supervisor Greg Cox (though, oddly, not from Cox’s wife Cheryl, the mayor of Chula Vista), as well as Democrats including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congressmember Bob Filner, and California attorney general (and candidate for governor) Jerry Brown.

Community service awards went to Cheryl Houk, executive director and 17-year veteran of Stepping Stone, and Queer businesswoman Dr. Joyce Merrick. Another award recipient was actor and playwright Patricia Lowry, who won for her original script Dear Harvey for Diversionary Theatre. Drawn entirely from letters by and to Harvey Milk and interviews with people who knew and worked with him, Dear Harvey has been performed throughout the country since its premiere at Diversionary in San Diego. Actor James Vasquez reproduced one of Harvey Milk’s speeches as presented in Lowry’s play, and this provided a natural segue into Pride board co-chair Larry Raney’s introduction of Stuart Milk.