Republicans Win Without a Shutdown
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN, Editor
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Well, America dodged the first bullet. The big April 8 deadline for a shutdown of the federal government came and went, and the Democrats in the White House and the U.S. Senate were able to keep it from shutting down. But the price was $40 billion in budget cuts an economy still mired in a so-called “jobless recovery” can ill afford — cuts that will directly attack low-income people, including people with disabilities, and far from “unleashing the private sector” to make investments and hire people, will actually kill jobs.
Not that you’re going to read that perspective in the mainstream corporate media. You’ll be hearing a lot of cant about “bipartisanship” and how the Democrats have supposedly “grown up” and accepted the inevitability of an “age of austerity.” The commitments both major parties, especially the Democrats, made the American people between the 1930’s and the 1960’s — a “social safety net” that wouldn’t let people become poor just because they became old or disabled, that wouldn’t let people die of treatable diseases just because they were poor, that would acknowledge that we are all responsible for each other and that well-off people have not only a social but a moral obligation to help less well-off people — are all, like the Geneva Conventions, “obsolete” and “quaint” in today’s politics.
Instead the ruling ideology of both major parties — though the Republicans are pursuing it with the zeal of true believers while the Democrats reluctantly go along with the demands of the corporate paymasters who finance their campaigns — is that lassiez-faire capitalism is the only legitimate and moral economic system; that all government programs that transfer wealth and income from the rich to the not-so-rich are fundamentally immoral; that weaning people off “dependency” on so-called “entitlements” is a long-term process but one that must be started now; and that, despite the horrendous potential consequences of cutting government spending in the middle of a recession, which will not only throw public-sector workers out of work but also hurt the private businesses they buy goods and services from, leading them to lay off more of their workers, massive spending cuts are a done deal and the only legitimate political argument is over how massive.
The Republican propagandists who boast that their side won the ideological war — that they got President Obama and the Senate Democrats to abandon all hope of further economic stimulus and join them in slashing the federal budget — are absolutely right. In states where the Republicans hold the governorship and both houses of the legislature, we’ve seen them hack away at the working class by fiat — not only slashing salaries and benefits of government workers but denying them their right to fight back by organizing unions and bargaining collectively with their employers. (One of the piss-ant justifications the Republicans offer is that we as taxpayers pay the salaries of public employees but not those of private employees. Bullshit: every time we buy something in the private sector, it’s our money as consumers that’s going to pay the workers.)
And when the Democrats hold the governorship and legislative majorities, as in California, the Republicans still manage to get their way. Like their ideological brethren and sistren in Washington, D.C., the Republicans in the California legislature hamstrung Jerry Brown by pretending to negotiate in good faith over a voter initiative to keep the emergency sales taxes and vehicle fees that have kept the state budget on life-support for the last two years — and just when a deal appeared within reach the Republicans upped the ante and made sweeping demands on non-budget issues they could never have got approved through the normal legislative processes. In California, they derailed a budget deal by insisting on the end of virtually all environmental controls on development; in D.C. they nearly sabotaged the process by insisting on wiping out funds for Planned Parenthood and pushing new restrictions on abortions in the states.
The Republican Party has been steadily winning ideological battles ever since 1980, when Ronald Reagan squeaked into the presidency with slightly over 50 percent of the popular vote against two major opponents, Democrat Jimmy Carter and independent John Anderson. (It’s a measure of how successful the Republican propaganda machine has been at rewriting history that even a staunchly liberal pundit like Ronald Brownstein recently referred to Reagan’s 1980 victory as a “landslide.” It was not.) Ever since, ideas that were previously thought of as part of the Right-wing fringe have made it to the mainstream, from the near-total deregulation of the financial sector (which actually began in the 1970’s under Carter and a Democratic Congress) to the government actively busting labor unions. The carefully crafted compromises of the 1930’s — the ones that gave labor the right to organize and gave Americans a long-overdue promise of economic security when they retired, as well as massive public investments in the economy — that created America’s extraordinary prosperity in the 1950’s and 1960’s have been wantonly and recklessly dismantled in the name of “freedom.”
When George W. Bush was President, I was fond of quoting the words William Butler Yeats wrote when the original fascists were running Germany and Italy and Europe’s remaining democracies seemed helpless to challenge them: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008, I hoped — not with the unalloyed fervor of some of his supporters, but I hoped nonetheless — that the grass-roots movement that elected him would help turn that around and there would be passionate intensity on our side, for a change. I was wrong; Obama turned out to be an inside wheeler-dealer who not only didn’t mobilize the troops that had elected him but actively discouraged them — and once again the Right took advantage of the Left’s pathetic fecklessness and organized as the Tea Party to “take back Washington” on behalf of the rich.
Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten published an article on April 9 that showed just how far we have fallen. Called “Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint would push the aged into poverty,” it was an attack on the recent budget proposal by Congressmember Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) that would essentially abolish Medicare, replacing the current publicly funded single-payer program that provides medical care to the aged with individual vouchers old people could use to buy private health insurance. Relying on an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Rutten said that under Ryan’s plan “the overall cost of health care would go up, and retirees’ out-of-pocket medical expenses would double — an increase that would push tens of millions of people living on fixed income over the financial brink.”
Rutten also quoted an exultant editorial in the Wall Street Journal that said Ryan’s gutting of Medicare would be “as important an advance as the shift from defined-benefit pensions to 401(k)’s.” He rightly pointed out that the Ryan plan was yet another in “the line of initiatives that, over the past 30 years, have dramatically increased social and economic inequality” — and, he might have added, have gradually increased social insecurity and devolved more and more responsibility away from government (and private employers) and onto individuals. By excluding people already on Medicare from his “reforms,” Ryan is hoping to blunt the opposition from current recipients that has sunk previous efforts to privatize Medicare and Social Security (and which Republicans, ironically, used themselves in their effort to defeat the Obama health-insurance reform bill last year) — just as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tried to forestall opposition to his public-sector union-busting by leaving out the two most popular sorts of public employees, police officers and firefighters (whose unions had endorsed him).
But Rutten’s article went farther: he took his readers back to the heady politics of the early 1960’s, the years of John Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, when the government took up the unfinished business of the New Deal and guaranteed not only financial security but health care to old people through Medicare — and also passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made the systematic segregation and discrimination against African-Americans and other people of color illegal at last. He reminded us of a book whose cautionary tale has been virtually forgotten: The Other America, published in 1961 by economic and social activist and critic Michael Harrington. In his introduction, Harrington wrote that he intended the book to expose “the huge, enormous and intolerable fact of poverty in America,” to which, he said, “the truly human reaction can only be outrage.”
It’s a measure of how far we have fallen that the U.S. is now governed by people who not only feel no outrage towards poverty in America but regard the poor as responsible for their own plight. The book that inspires Paul Ryan isn’t The Other America but a novel published four years before it: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s view is that lassiez-faire capitalism is not only the only efficient economic system but also the only moral one. She regarded any taxation of the wealthy to create a social safety net to be theft and enslavement of the rich. In one of her writings, anticipating the obvious objection that the government or society as a whole owed an obligation to take care of sick people and people with disabilities, she said, “Misfortune does not justify slave labor.” The plot of Atlas Shrugged deals with the mysterious disappearance of the world’s capitalists, who have decided that they can no longer tolerate being expected to support the nonproductive masses and hide out to form their own free-market utopia, emerging only when their rebellion brings about the collapse of the collectivist state they hate.
Congressmember Paul Ryan is enough of an Ayn Rand devotée that he orders every staff person he hires to read her novel. Former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan almost literally sat at Rand’s feet while she was writing Atlas Shrugged. Her blueprint for a society ruled by a wealthy elite in which everyone else lives on the crumbs thrown to them by her free-market entrepreneurial heroes is clearly the lodestar of modern-day Republican politics. Rand’s vision is behind House Republican leader Eric Cantor’s recent — and almost totally unreported — statement that Social Security and Medicare “cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.” Republicans’ current hard lines in budget negotiations in Washington and Sacramento, and their sweeping attacks on workers’ rights, the social safety net, women’s reproductive freedom, the environment, and so-called “illegal” immigration, are all part of a long-term ideological war which, despite occasional reversals, they have been winning for over 30 years.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Not Your Typical Mr. San Diego Leather
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
PHOTOS, top to bottom: Kurt Wendelborg as we interviewed him April 5; and Kurt in full leather and in the jockstrap portion of the Mr. San Diego Leather contest March 19.
Kurt Wendelborg may look like a typical Leather community titleholder — he’s tall, thin, in excellent shape physically and commandingly butch in his overall appearance and demeanor — but he really isn’t. Most of the Mr. San Diego Leather winners have been people who’ve lived in San Diego and been involved in community activities for years; Kurt had lived in San Diego less than a year when he ran for the title and won. Most of the title winners have been “tops,” playing the dominant role in scenes; Kurt not only is a “bottom” but proudly boasted of that from the stage at Rich’s during the March 19 contest — leaving this author, and probably quite a few others, thinking, “Did he really just say what I thought he said?”
Offstage, Kurt is personable and easygoing but also passionate and dedicated about serving his community and his fellow human beings. He eagerly agreed to a Zenger’s interview and talked about the role of the title contests in the Leather community, his ambitions as a community leader and how he hopes being Mr. San Diego Leather 2011 will help him grow both personally and as a member of the Leather community.
Zenger’s: Kurt, why don’t you just tell me a little about yourself, your background, and how you got here?
Kurt Wendelborg: How I got here? It’s always the million-dollar question. I grew up in Chicago, went to school in downstate Illinois and started my first job at an advertising agency in Chicago. About 1992 they transferred me to San Francisco, which is how I got to California about 1992. After many years in the Bay Area, I wanted to get off the hamster wheel a bit and spend more time doing personal endeavors, so I moved to Palm Springs in 2007. After a couple of years there I realized that the pendulum had swung a little too far in the other direction, and I needed something of a happy medium, a slower pace than San Francisco but still a little bit of urban stuff that I like to enjoy, and that’s how I found San Diego.
I kind of tripped over San Diego when I was in Palm Springs. A buddy of mine had an RV and we started coming down to camp out by the bay in the Mission Bay RV park hang out. Then I started getting out to Hillcrest and North Park, and I realized that this was the place I was probably going to end up. That was a year ago in April.
And a little bit about myself? The statistical stuff? I’m 48 and single, and I do advertising and marketing for a living. I’m really trying to get more of a balance of my personal and professional lives. Luckily, since I’m self-employed and have been since 1996, I have the capability and flexibility during the day to do more volunteer work and community service. I’m taking some classes at junior colleges — personal enrichment, art history, stuff like that — and a creative writing class at UCSD, and really trying to find a little bit more of myself after that crazy pace in my 20’s and 30’s and 40’s, when you’re building your career and trying to buy the house and the car and all that other stuff.
Zenger’s: How’d you get involved in Leather?
Wendelborg: I originally got involved in Leather when I moved to Palm Springs. I was intrigued by it and exposed to it when I lived in San Francisco, obviously, through Folsom [Street Fair] and Joy Alley, but I wasn’t really involved in the Leather community, not by a long stretch. When I moved to Palm Springs, I didn’t know anybody there when I first moved there, but the first guys I started to pal around with were in the Leather community. That’s how I got introduced to that bunch. Over a couple of years in Palm Springs, my journey continued at a bit of a slower pace, but it still moved forward.
When I moved to San Diego, that was really where it grew exponentially. That’s when I first met my buddy Ben, and he introduced me to the whole gang of the Leatherfolk that are now my really good friends.
Zenger’s: That’s something of a surprise, because we’re used to the Leather titleholders being people who’ve been involved in the local community and been in the Leather scene for years. You’re a relative neophyte. How did you get up from dabbler to titleholder that quickly?
Wendelborg: I don’t think that tenure or longevity in any community determines your credibility or capabilities. I think it’s your passion and the energy you put forth, and your commitment to the community. And that’s exactly what I have, I think. I’ve been around a lot of other folks that have been in the Leather community for several years, but they only go out every couple of weeks to one or two events. I’ve been heavily involved with all the members of the community, from just going to the bars and social gatherings to helping some of the 2010 titleholders with their fundraisers.
Zenger’s: How would you explain the whole business of Leather titles to someone outside the community? I can see someone walking into Mr. San Diego Leather and finding it an utterly preposterous event: a mixture of beauty contest and community service. Where do you think that comes from, and where do you think you’ll find your balance?
Wendelborg: Where will I find my balance? A lot of it has to do with education, I mean, especially with people who are kind of putting their toe in and wandering to and from a certain event, and don’t really understand the Leather community but who have an intrigue and an interest in that community and have questions. If they did walk in the door of that contest and saw something the physique or jockstrap portion, I’d want them to understand is it’s certainly not about looks. Well, maybe it’s a little bit about looks, but it’s more about how you carry yourself, your confidence level, if you look comfortable in your own skin.
The whole thing about the titleholder persona is it’s kind of like an onion. You’ve got to peel away the layers and try to explain to people that it’s about community and about credibility and trust and loyalty. Also, a big piece of this title for me is that it’s giving me a new purpose.
Zenger’s: So what is the purpose?
Wendelborg: Well, it’s twofold. There’s a personal purpose, and there’s also a community purpose. The personal purpose for me is to further my Leather journey. I couldn’t think of anything that would educate me more, get me in tune with myself more, from an educational level all the way through to a spiritual level, and getting myself more ingrained in the community. How much more ingrained can you be in the community than you possibly get than to be a titleholder and carry that responsibility?
From a community perspective, it allows me to further my endeavors in fundraising and community support. It’s definitely going to open some doors that may not have opened to me prior. It’s my job, certainly, as a titleholder and as a person and a man, to walk through those doors and carry the title and myself with respect, and continue to educate outsiders about the community and bring people who aren’t in the community back in. I want to be able to reach out to people who’ve taken a bit of a sabbatical or a hiatus, or had to deal with disdain in the community, and try to find some way to drive them back into the fold.
Zenger’s: What are your fundraising priorities going to be? What issues and what groups are you going to concentrate on?
Wendelborg: My big fundraising platform will be seniors. Prior to living in San Diego, I did a lot of volunteer work with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender senior community in Palm Springs, through what they called the Rainbow SAGE Center; and prior to that in San Francisco through the Golden Heights Neighborhood Center. In both capacities, depending on what the needs of the day were, I interacted with and helped support our seniors. I think they’re the most forgotten segment, not only of our community, but society in general. So that would be my primary platform.
Also, I’m actually looking at putting togther something with Anthony [Rollar, Mr. San Diego Leather 2010] for the Leather Archives and Museum. And something else I was thinking about is a more localized Leather history: finding a space to do something about all the information that has been gathered over the last years. There’s been a big effort to try to get some San Diego Leather history put together, and then learning who’s the repository of all that.
Zenger’s: So you want to set up a San Diego Leather Museum?
Wendelborg: It wouldn’t have to be something like that, but it would actually bring more education. What I keep hearing that resonates among a lot of people who are new to the community is there haven’t been a lot of repositories for this information or places to self-educate. You’ve got to reach out and try to find mentors, and certainly people are very willing to give you a hand, but there’s a little bit of work that people have to do by themselves, individually. That’s where I’ve been struggling myself, trying to find the repository of information to help understand not only what’s happened in the community as a whole but specifically in San Diego.
Zenger’s: Some older Leatherpeople lament the effect of the Internet on the community. Things you used to have to learn by seeking out older people and going to community events, now you can just go online and get the basic facts of how to do this or that. It’s getting harder to bring people to events and get them to participate one-on-one when they can learn everything, or at least think they’re learning everything, by sitting at home on their computers. So do you think there’s a need for people in your position to help build a stronger presence at live events; and if so, how do you think you can do that?
Wendelborg: I think “presence” is the key word, and that’s one thing I’m really going to make an effort to do, to put a face to the name. The Leather community has a lot of faces, but the titleholder is supposed to be the pre-eminent face of the community. So if I’m stretching myself across the bridge to any community in San Diego, as long as I’m visible, hopefully that will pique someone’s interest to have a conversation with me, and I can let them know that there are events, there are social activities, at whatever kind of depth they want to engage in with the Leather community. It doesn’t all have to be BDSM or the sexual thing. It can be an initial Leatherman friendship and brotherhood and nurturing, and I think it’s going to be on an individual basis, which is why at this point it’s important to get out there and shake hands and talk to people.
One thing that I have found interesting is a couple of Fridays I have been at the Eagle, and after 10 or 10:30 the dynamic really changes. It goes from the tried-and-true people in the community that we all know and love, and transitions to a younger kind of hipper North Park crowd. Some are maybe coming in for cheap beer or because it’s a cool place to hang out, but certainly there are several guys I’ve met who are intrigued, who are starting to put their foot in the Leather community.
And, regarding your point earlier, those are the guys who are going online. I’ve buddied up with a couple of them, and they come in with the outfit or the clothes. They’ve seen photographs and they know what the look is, but I’ve been trying to work with them and help them understand as best I can that it’s not about the look. It’s about the significance and what I would call the protocol behind it. I’ve actually turned some guys around and got them on as good of a path as I can, based on where I am at this point in my own journey.
Zenger’s: Do you think your professional background in advertising and public relations is going to help in reaching out and building awareness, both within and outside the Leather community?
Wendelborg: I do. I do actually think any profession brings some kind of a talent and education, and that crosses lines into whatever endeavors you’re trying to put on. With my background in P.R. and marketing, I’m certainly a little more cognizant of the need to reach out to the press, and to try to get photographs and photo-ops and all that kind of stuff, make sure stories get arranged for people here, and there’s always some kind of note about what’s going on in the Leather community.
But it’s also about basic business acumen. When you’re asking someone for something, go in, introduce yourself and shake their hand, and make sure you follow up with return phone calls, and all the basic tenets of business that I think a lot of people have forgotten. With respect to what we were talking earlier about people being online, people send e-mails, they don’t pick up the phone.
When I went to put together things for my auction basket in the contest, I specifically made it a point to know when every business owner and manager was in the store, in the establishment, and to go in with a letter in hand, to explain what was going on, introduce myself, and explain how their donation was going to help not only the Leather community in general but certainly their business on the back end. Nine times out of 10, I walked out with a commitment. That’s one of the big things I learned in business: you never walk into a meeting without knowing what you want to get out of it or walk out the door with.
Zenger’s: How do you think being a titleholder is going to affect your personal life?
Wendelborg: It’s already affected my personal life, and I’m only in week three! In a very positive way. I have very much had to shift priorities. I’ve already had to get a little bit more help on the work side so I can spend more time and do due diligence to support this title. I’m seeing that there’s going to be a time demand. There’s also going to be a financial burden, which I’m definitely ready and willing to take on. I’ve got a stipend from Leather Pride for travel and expenses, but I’m going to go through that very quickly.
But I’m in this for the long haul, and part of my own journey is to get myself through it. I recognize those two things: time and money. But anything that you’re passionate about, it’s kind of like a zero-sum budget: you’ve got to put forth all your efforts, whether it’s financial or emotional.
Zenger’s: What do you think is going to happen to you after your year is up?
Wendelborg: Well, from a community perspective, I’m certainly not going to be going anywhere. I think all that’s going to change is that I’m still going to be an extra set of hands to help the next titleholders, both the Ms. and the Mr., and some of the other communities: the Rodeo, the Imperial Court. I’m kind of a fundraising junkie, so to speak. At this point in my life I’ve had my career and made my money and done all the stuff I was quote-unquote “supposed” to do, and now it’s more about people I surround myself with, my friends and my family, and trying to make the world a better place, even a little bit. It sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s true.
I actually love volunteering. I get an incredible charge out of it. It doesn’t take much to make somebody feel special and important. That’s the whole thing about community service and volunteering. Sometimes people think it’s this really overwhelming commitment, and it doesn’t have to be. If you don’t have money, you have time. A couple of hours a week can make a world of difference to somebody.
Zenger’s: Are you planning to enter IML [the annual International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago]?
Wendelborg: Next year, yes. Anthony Rollar is running this May, and then my chance at that contest will be May 2012. And yes, I’m definitely planning on running.
Zenger’s: When you said you were from Chicago, I had this vision that you were thinking of it as “the hometown boy returns.”
Wendelborg: I hadn’t actually, originally, but it certainly would be a fun coming-home story. It’s the same story you hear about anyone who has a little bit of success, either personally or professionally. I was not always the last kid who was picked for the sports teams, but I was certainly second or third from last. I was always a chubby kid, and I wasn’t the smartest kid, and all that kind of stuff. Just average, but to come back and show people what I’ve accomplished on my own, how can you not feel good about that?
Zenger’s: One thing that struck me when you spoke at the contest is that most of the titleholders have been heavy-duty tops, and you’re not.
Wendelborg: I know. I’m a heavy-duty bottom! Yes, very counter-intuitive to what people think. I’m actually a very aggressive heavy-duty Type A personality, absolutely independent. Being a bottom sexually doesn’t necessarily at all coincide with what your personality type is. In fact, people are usually actually very shocked — like, “You’re kidding? You’re a bottom?” And I say, “I am a top all day long, and I have been for 30 years. I have run my own company, I have rental properties, I have a family I take care of. I have a lot of responsibilities.” I make enough decisions nine to five. I really don’t want to have to make that many decisions after that. That’s when I can shut it off and enjoy myself.
And frankly, what people don’t really understand about the top position/bottom position sexually, is to me, maybe since I am such an aggressive bottom, I feel that I’m the one that’s getting all the pleasure. That’s what happens when you’re a bossy bottom, though. I’m getting 100 percent of the attention. It goes both ways, though. No matter what your sexual perspective, it’s definitely 50-50 no matter what your role.
Zenger’s: Anything else you want to add that we haven’t covered?
Wendelborg: I can’t really think of anything. We covered a pretty wide gamut. I’m three weeks into it and as days pass I’m still kind of ebbing and flowing. Sometimes I’m really charged up and excited, and then sometimes in the morning it’s like, “Oh, my God, what am I doing?” But in general, I’m absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity to grow myself personally, spiritually, emotionally and help contribute to the community. I continue to imagine the experiences I’m going to have and the people I’m going to meet. That’s, I think, the most inspiring thing I’m feeling at this point.
Zenger’s: So it’s essentially telling the world, “Surprise me.”
Wendelborg: Exactly. And I’ll surprise them, hopefully, at some level.
“Scripteasers”: Experienced Actors Meet New Scripts
Group Has Done “Cold Readings,” Play Critiques Since 1948
by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.
Copyright © 2011 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved
Photo caption: Scripteasers host Jonathan Dunn-Rankin (right) stands with guest Alan Cruz, 21 before some of the host’s massive and wildly colorful art collection. Photo by Leo E. Laurence.
Some of the area’s finest experienced actors, directors, playwrights and guests get together every other Friday in the elegant hilltop home of Jonathan Dunn-Rankin, an experienced actor in the theatre and television.
They are called “Scripteasers,” and they meet to hear cold readings of stage plays where the ac-tors have never seen the script, and there are no rehearsals.
Curiously, after the cold reading, the whole group of about 30 or more people tear apart the script, many with an experienced eye, in a unique open discussion by everyone.
They aggressively probe the play, questioning whether the author’s premise is clear. Are the characters clearly defined and developed?
Is the dialogue effective and realistic? Did you hear trite words and phrases?
Did the script hold your interest, and why?
Are their staging or production problems?
Is the script marketable as it is?
After the people at Scripteasers have torn apart the new script in every technical and artistic way, the play’s author is giving a short opportunity to respond graciously.
“The ‘Scripteasers’ was formed on May 5, 1948 as The Dramatists’ Workshop to give script-writer members and guests the opportunity to hear their works read aloud by (experienced) local actors,” says their Web site, www.scripteasers.org
“At the group’s Silver Anniversary celebration in 1973, Hazel Burrows, the founding president, recalled how the name change (to Scripteasers) occurred during ‘an interminable meeting’ where such appellations as The Dramatists’ Guild were bandied about.
“Finally Aubrey Rankin, half in jest, threw out Scripteasers. It caught everyone’s fancy … ” the unique group’s Web site adds.
“For the past 63 years, the (Scripteasers) have been meeting on alternate Fridays in members’ homes to give unrehearsed ‘cold’ readings of new works, followed by a period of (in depth) con-structive discussion to aid writers in developing their craft,” the Web site explains.
The evenings are “topped off” with a popular period of light refreshments, when many roam about and enjoy the host’s fabulous art collection.
For years, Scripteasers have been meeting in Dunn-Rankin’s elegant hilltop home overlooking the bay and airport. Inside, all high walls are totally covered by brilliantly colored in modern art. One guest, Alan Cruz, 21, was fascinated by a hanging painting that uses oddly converging geomet-rical lines to change the image as the viewer changes position.
Large coffee tables and side pieces are filled with stunning sculpture.
Hanging above everyone's heads are several huge “mobile” sculptures hanging from high ceilings.
Attending a Scripteasers meeting in Dunn-Rankin’s large home is literally enveloping yourself in very brightly-colored art gallery.
Participants often arrive early to have time to look over Dunn-Rankin’s huge art collection.
Some of those who regularly attend Scripteasers are Mary Boersma, Tom Turner, Tom Furth and Nina Ternsaky.
The late Ruth Purkey, whom Dunn-Rankin called a “prolific writer,” was one of the local script-writers whose works withstood the critical, sometimes brutal and often hilarious hard-core test of the Scripteasers.
“Her works were carried in the Baker & French catalogue” — the standard source for theatres looking to produce copyrighted plays — he reported.
Another author who made it through the Scripteasers gantlet was Beatrice La Force of Alpine, who, Dunn-Rankin recalled, “wrote a collection of children’s plays that were produced.”
Scripts critiqued by Scripteasers have been produced at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre. Others have been staged elsewhere or been produced as films. Scripteasers’ scripts have also been published in best-play anthologies and are carried in publisher’s catalogues.
“Actors in the Scripteasers’ ‘cold’ readings have appeared in local, regional and national theatres, on television and in film,” their Web site reports.
“The scripts are selected by our script coordinator, Richard Addesio,” explained Dunn-Rankin, standing near a stunning nude sculpture of the Greek god Adonis.
After the “cold” reading of the play at Scripteasers, the 30 or so attending critically discuss the play. They don’t try to rewrite the script, but they can offer biting tips on everything from casting issues to character development.
That discussion is very unique.
It is highly structured by a strong moderator, as participants and guests eagerly engage in tough discussion. The group can range from 21 to 81 years of age, but many are experienced personalities from local theatres.
There’s a unique procedural process that scriptwriters have to follow to be considered for a “cold” reading at Scripteasers.
“Your script must be original, fee of copyright restrictions and unproduced,” the group’s Web site states.
“Your first step is to submit your script via e-mail or as a hard copy.
“Your script must be (A) written in standard dramatic format, (B) be securely bound, (C) and contain the following information:
“(1) Category: stage play, screenplay, TV script, etc., (2) Type: drama, comedy, mystery, experimental, etc., and (3) Cast: number of roles broken down by women and men.”
Their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and their Web site is at http://www.scripteasers.org
These “cold” readings by Scripteasers every other Friday at the stunning Dunn-Rankin home are really open to anyone. There’s no fee to attend and they provide a fine spread of refreshments after the meeting ends.
Sunday, April 03, 2011
City Council Votes to Restrict Marijuana Dispensaries
Despite Public Pressure, Virtual Ban Passes with Slight Amendments
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Photos © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan and Charles Nelson. All rights reserved
The San Diego City Council spent nearly six hours on Monday, March 28 listening to public input and debating a proposed permit process for medical marijuana dispensaries — and passed, with only slight changes, a measure that dispensary members and their supporters say amounts to a virtual ban. Though public speakers in support of giving medical marijuana users safe access to the substance through collectives far outnumbered opponents at each stage of the process — at the Planning Commission and the City Council’s committees as well as the Council itself — the Council listened to the voices of advocates of the so-called “war on drugs” and enacted an ordinance that would make it virtually impossible for dispensaries to locate anywhere in the city of San Diego.
Medical marijuana supporters — including patients who use dispensaries as well as their managers and attorneys, as well as volunteer activists — organized a massive campaign they called “Stop the Ban” to try to get the Council to adopt a looser regulation along the lines suggested by the Council’s Medical Marijuana Task Force. They packed the hearings before the Planning Commission and Council committees. They got constituents to write up to 3,000 letters to Councilmembers — the largest letter-writing campaign directed at the Council, according to organizer Ben Cisneros. And they staged a demonstration on the day of the Council meeting that drew up to 500 people, beginning at the Federal Building downtown and moving to the outside of San Diego City Hall. But the Council was clearly more attuned to the arguments of opponents that the medical marijuana laws are being abused by recreational users and that dispensaries are bad for the communities in which they are located.
The ordinance before the City Council would have limited dispensaries to industrial zones and a handful of commercial zones. It would have put dispensaries through the most severe permitting process required under city law — Process 4, which also covers new airports and mines. And it would have required that dispensaries be located at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, libraries, child care facilities, youth facilities, churches, parks and other dispensaries. Acting on a motion from District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria, the Council cut the 1,000-foot distance to 600 feet and changed the permit requirement to the less onerous Process 3.
But they did nothing to change what dispensary advocates considered the most serious restriction in the proposed ordinance: the severe limits on just which zones dispensaries can locate in the city. They also didn’t change the part of the ordinance that requires all existing dispensaries to close before they can start the permitting process — which, advocates said, means that medical marijuana patients could have to wait up to a year or more before having safe access to the substance.
The new rules would keep dispensaries away from any areas in the city where people actually live and force them into areas well away from public transportation — a major hardship for sick people, especially ones whose illnesses make it impossible for them to drive. “For many sick patients, travel is difficult,” said Eugene Davidovich, local liaison to the nationwide medical marijuana organization Americans for Safe Access. “It is unnecessary and divisive to restrict [dispensaries] to industrial areas. This makes it impossible for them to locate within the city limits.”
“I don’t think you should be taking the collectives from downtown,” said medical marijuana patient Michael Corbett. “I have to use public transportation to get around, and it takes three and one-half hours to get there [to an industrial zone] and back. I’m a Viet Nam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic depression and arthritis. The medical marijuana helps me quite a bit, especially with my sleep apnea.” Corbett also warned that if medical marijuana users have to travel long distances to obtain the substance, criminals will target them. “I’ve had people follow me and wait for me,” he said. “If [my dispensary] were in an industrial area, I’d probably get jumped for my product.”
“The new ordinance will make access so restrictive, patients either won’t get their medicine or will have to go to the black market,” said marijuana dispensary director James Schmucktenberger. “If this ordinance passes, [my client] Linda will either not have medicine or will have to drive miles out of her way, which she is physically incapable of.”
“My father was on oxygen a few years ago,” said collective supporter Brianna Lenville. “I saw him take [pharmaceutical] drugs that made him sicker. Without medical cannabis [marijuana] he probably wouldn’t be here today. Think about the patients and their families, and what they will lose, before you vote to take away safe access.”
The controversy over dispensaries is just the latest wrinkle in the ongoing contention over medical marijuana since November 1996, when Californians became the first voters in the U.S. to allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons. Dale Gieringer, who was one of the authors of the medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, spoke to the City Council and said, “I’m surprised that it’s taken so long for the state to implement the law.” Among the issues involved are the continued ban on all uses of marijuana from the federal government — which gives agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) the authority to raid medical marijuana collectives in California and other states that have laws allowing medical use.
In more liberal cities like San Francisco, local governments have refused to allow local police to cooperate with DEA raids against medical marijuana dispensaries and gardens as long as the patient collectives who operated them were legal by state and local standards. In San Diego, the city police and county sheriff’s department have frequently worked with DEA agents to raid medical marijuana facilities. In 2009 President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, promised that he would stop the DEA from raiding medical marijuana facilities where state laws allowed them — but the raids have continued anyway.
“No city has successfully regulated medical marijuana dispensaries with rules as restrictive as these,” Gieringer told the San Diego City Council. He held up his own city, Oakland, as an example for San Diego to follow. “We did it not by taking them out of commercial zones,” he said. “We had city staff look through the properties, accept those that looked good and reject those that looked bad, and we haven’t had problems since. Sacramento, San Francisco and West Hollywood, California, and Denver, Colorado, all have successfully regulated dispensaries by allowing them in commercial zones.”
Stephen Whitburn, a former candidate for the San Diego City Council (he lost to Todd Gloria) and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, and a member of the city’s Medical Marijuana Task Force, suggested that the ordinance should be more along the lines of what the task force originally recommended. That would essentially have treated medical marijuana dispensaries similarly to pharmacies, allowing them to locate in all commercial areas. It would have followed state law in keeping them 600 feet from schools or other dispensaries, but would not have had the more severe restrictions that got written into the city ordinance after the task force recommended it.
Like Gieringer, Whitburn acknowledged that there are “good” and “bad” dispensaries — ones that take the medical mission seriously and others that operate as fronts to service people who want to use the drug recreationally — and he said the best way for the city to separate the wheat from the chaff would be to allow local community planning groups to do it. “Different neighborhoods have different issues around medical marijuana, and planning groups want a voice,” Whitburn explained. “In District 3 a lot of people want them. Many people there know people who have benefited from medical marijuana. In District 4 there are concerns that dispensaries would add more challenges. In other districts there’s more imbalance. In District 2, some of the most vocal opponents to dispensaries come from Pacific Beach and some of the most vocal supporters come from Ocean Beach.”
Whitburn argued that the city should pass a minimally restrictive ordinance and let neighborhood planning groups decide, on a case-by-case basis, how many dispensaries can locate in their areas and which operators they will allow. “If a planning group thinks a dispensary is proper, fine,” Whitburn explained. “If not, fine. We should give the neighborhoods a say.”
Rev. Mary Moreno Richardson of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral near Balboa Park — speaking for herself and not for her church or denomination — gave an impassioned defense of dispensaries and made it clear she’s one minister who doesn’t want them kept away from churches. “For 25 years I’ve worked in social services in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego,” she said. “I serve as a chaplain with incarcerated youth and [people convicted of] trafficking. I have seen the destruction of drugs — and also the destruction from the ‘war on drugs.’ This is a war against the poor, sick and disabled.”
Richardson announced that the California Council of Churches, on whose board she sits, opposed the ordinance “because rezoning to limit medical marijuana [dispensaries] is detrimental to people with real medical needs. If there are abuses, deal with those. Compassion for people with diseases and in pain is part of the common good. This ban would affect the most vulnerable people in our community. … I have seen first-hand the benefits of medical marijuana for people, including senior citizens, who are living in chronic pain. I know one 80-year-old woman who was in pain from a fall and could not take prescription drugs because they made her nauseous. She tried medical marijuana lotion, which gave her incredible relief. … I believe we should have collectives near churches because they help relieve suffering.”
Ben Cisneros, a City Heights resident and medical marijuana advocate, noted that the proposed ordinance was so restrictive the city’s planning department hadn’t been able to come up with a map showing where dispensaries could locate legally under it. “Medical marijuana dispensaries have broad support throughout California and contribute to the community,” he said. “At every hearing, supporters [of dispensaries] have far outnumbered opponents. … If this ordinance passes, many San Diegans will turn either to pharmaceuticals or to the black market, and crime will increase.”
Gieringer, Davidovich and Corbett also talked about one little-discussed aspect of the dispensary issues: the amount of money they raise for the city’s parched coffers by charging sales tax. “In San Diego, we have between 25,000 and 60,000 legal patients, and that’s $10-20 million in taxes,” Gieringer explained. “If San Diego tries to close all the clubs, they will lose money and lose jobs, and you will be dragged down in litigation, just as you were in 2005 when the courts overturned your decision on adult entertainment facilities.”
The speakers against medical marijuana — some of whom wanted to see the ordinance pass without amendments and some of whom wanted it even more restrictive — generally either argued against the medical use of marijuana itself, often saying it sends “a mixed message” to teenagers considering recreational use, or said that dispensaries attract crime to the neighborhoods they’re in by giving criminals easy targets. Scott Shipman, representing a group called San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods, said that his organization’s position is “in favor of regulations that would prohibit [offering] marijuana for sale.”
According to Shipman, nothing in Proposition 215 allows businesses to sell marijuana. The state law governing dispensaries requires that they be organized as nonprofit collectives or cooperatives, but Shipman said that’s just a façade. “There’s no doubt that these stores are businesses,” he explained. “These stores are increasing recreational drug use. Many counties and cities are seeing the harm in these stores and are prohibiting them. According to an article in the Arizona Sun, less than 2 percent of the people who use these stores have serious illnesses like cancer or AIDS.” Shipman said that the city should ban dispensaries completely, or if it doesn’t do that it should at least add colleges and universities to the list of institutions dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet from — a restriction actually considered in the council committee process, but ultimately dropped.
“I live in District 2, I’m the mother of two teenagers and I’m concerned that these [dispensaries] are encouraging my kids to accept marijuana use,” said Marcy Beckett. “The shops are selling to recreational users, and that is affecting our communities. For $40, anyone can get a doctor’s recommendation, and then they can buy from these stores and sell it to anyone, including our kids. This is back-door legalization, and we voted against that last November” — referring to Proposition 19, defeated by California voters last fall (and, ironically, opposed by some people involved in growing medical marijuana who feared it would hurt their business).
“As a professor at San Diego State University (SDSU), I’m concerned about youngsters,” said Shirley Forbing. “I am all for people who need [medical marijuana] and are supported by their primary physicians.” Forbing’s main argument was that, because the human brain is still developing until a person is about 25, no one younger than that should be allowed to use marijuana for any reason. She also said that “marijuana has 423 chemicals, and over 2,000 when combusted,” and that the percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component mostly responsible for marijuana’s euphoric (or “high”) effect, has increased in the last 10 years from 2.2 to 9.5 percent — a claim that drew groans from the medical marijuana supporters in the audience.
The most spectacular arguments against allowing dispensaries came from a tall, white-haired man named Royal Magnus, who introduced himself as a former police officer and prison counselor who now works in substance abuse prevention. “In the back of the line of people coming forward to attend this meeting I saw 15 people smoking grass,” he said. “They are arrogant troublemakers and I don’t want them in my neighborhood.” He told the Councilmembers to “use logic” while admitting that “I speak emotionally.” He said that if dispensaries are allowed in San Diego, “crime will increase and people will die. That’s what they told me when I was packing a gun. It’s the arrogance of the community behind it.” After claiming to have closed down a meth lab by reporting its proprietors on child abuse charges, Magnus leveled an attack on sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey, calling him a pervert who rigged his researches to justify his own perversions and started the breakdown in morality that led to the approval of medical marijuana use.
After hearing over five hours of public comment, Councilmember Gloria led off the Council’s debate by acknowledging that, while the ordinance as written “reflects community input, some of the regulations are unduly restrictive.” Though he said he was “concerned that there was no grace period for existing cooperatives” — no time to allow them to remain in operation while they comply with the new regulations — ultimately he did not push the issue with his fellow Councilmembers.
Councilmember Marti Emerald noted that the Council was actually considering two separate ordinances — one dealing with land use and zoning, the other with public safety — and asked for a clarification that a dispensary would have to prove they were in compliance with both before they could open. “This is not a ban,” Emerald insisted. “It’s going to impact the number of facilities open, but the folks who will still have their doors open will be those who play by the rules and won’t make their patients subject to raids.”
“This issue is a contentious one,” said Council president Tony Young. “We’ve got a federal government that does not support the state law and believes we are breaking the law by allowing this to exist in our city. I don’t believe it will work unless the state and federal governments are on the same plane. I also want to make sure that people who need the medicine are able to get it. None of you addressed the issue that medical marijuana is very easy to get for people who don’t need it, and that’s a problem” — ignoring supporters of medical marijuana like Gieringer and Whitburn, who had acknowledged that problem and called for a more flexible ordinance to allow legitimate dispensaries to operate while closing down others.
Throughout his remarks, Young repeatedly said, “I know that’s true,” representing himself as knowing more about the issue than the patients, the dispensary owners and others directly involved in it. “I deal with young people all the time and see young people who have their [medical marijuana] cards. Sometimes they go to these facilities to get medical pot and sometimes the pot they have on their persons is for the streets. We do want to make sure these operations don’t proliferate to the point where they’re unmanageable. Right now we have two facilities in District 4 and two others we had to shut down because they weren’t operating in ways conducive to our community.”
Though he seconded Gloria’s motion and ultimately voted for it, Young seemed more interested in scoring points against the medical marijuana community than in supporting it. “The way the industry has comported itself in its ads have not presented the industry very well,” he said. “The ads have said if you don’t need it medically, you can still get a card. Cards are too easy to get. You can get one over the Internet or over the phone, and that’s something we can’t regulate.” Young made it clear he was voting for the ordinance because without a city law in place, “tomorrow we might have 180 [dispensaries] and the next week we’ll have 265. I will support the motion, but it’s not in the best interests of San Diego.”
The two medical marijuana dispensary ordinances both passed 5-2, with Councilmember David Alvarez absent and Carl DeMaio and Lorie Zapf opposed. Both DeMaio and Zapf made it clear that they voted against the ordinances because they didn’t find them restrictive enough, and DeMaio — whose signature issue, both as a Councilmember and a prospective candidate for mayor of San Diego — also said he was worried about the cost to the city of regulating dispensaries. “We cannot keep adopting programs we have no way to pay for,” he said — not answering but just ignoring the supporters’ argument that dispensaries actually bring tax money into the city’s treasury.
DeMaio also made it clear he’s against medical marijuana on principle except for the most serious health conditions. When Proposition 215 was on the ballot, he said, “California voters were told it would only be for people who were severely ill or in acute pain. The initiative has been abused for the purpose of obtaining marijuana for recreational use, and if you won’t admit that we’re not in the same spot.” He also said that Gloria’s amendments “actually weaken our obligation to protect neighborhoods. With over 165 dispensaries [citywide], I hear from my constituents that we already have too many.”
“This ordinance has severe flaws,” said Zapf. “I wanted to see universities in there [as places dispensaries could not be located near]. One-half of the people buying medical marijuana are between 18 and 29. My first and foremost concerns are safe children and preserving communities. My staff estimated that at least 90 percent of the potentially vacant sites [available for dispensaries under the ordinance] are in my district” — which, if true, would seem to argue for a less restrictive ordinance that would have allowed dispensaries in more areas of the city. “I can’t support turning my district into a ‘pot district’,” Zapf concluded.
Saturday, April 02, 2011
S.A.M.E. Rally Against Hate Crimes, Bullying Draws 70
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
PHOTOS, top to bottom: Marchers, René Torres, Maya Conti, Jacob Harshbarger, Toni Atkins, Kevin Beiser, Connor Maddocks, Rev. Robbie Robinson, Katherine Mendonça, Lisa Kove, Joshua Napier (singer), Tannyr Denby (singer, “The Equality Song”). (Photo of Jacob Harshbarger by Fernando Lopez, courtesy http://unfinishedlivesblog.com; all others by Mark Gabrish Conlan, © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine.)
“On January 20, I was walking down the streets of Hillcrest and two kids, 13 and 17, yelled ‘Faggot!’ at me,” San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) member René Torres told an audience of about 70 people at the group’s “Our Streets, Our Lives: One Life Is Too Many” rally against hate crimes and bullying at the North Park Community Park March 26. “Within a few minutes, they were hitting me. I called for help, and some straight people came to my aid. I thank them, but where was our community? Are we just a marketing niche or are we going to stand together for our lives?”
“I can tell my parents that I’m Bisexual,” said Maya Conti, a 10th grader at King/Chávez High School, “and I have friends who support me, but a lot of the kids at school not only aren’t supported by their parents, they get homophobic texts and messages on Facebook and MySpace” — making the point that teen bullying is yet another long-standing reality that the Internet has enabled its perpetrators to carry out more efficiently. “They don’t have any down time when they get out of this cycle,” she added.
“Maya was in fifth grade in Chula Vista when people started calling her ‘lesbo,’” her mother, Lucila Conti, recalled. “It’s also at home. Friends of Maya have parents who treat them like dirt. I really would like to see the schools start organizing more Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA’s) and more students coming to S.A.M.E. meetings. It does get better, but we have to be the voice that makes it better.”
“Last Hallowe’en, I was brutally beaten outside my home,” recalled Jacob Harshbarger, who couldn’t attend the S.A.M.E. rally but wrote a statement that was read on site by S.A.M.E. activist Joshua Napier. “While I still find it hard to remember many of the details of that night, what still haunts me are the enraged voices of my attackers repeatedly yelling things like ‘Faggot!’ and ‘Come kick the fairy.’ Thanks to neighbors who had been woken up by all the commotion, the attack ended. If it weren’t for them, I don’t know how bad things would have gotten.”
Things got bad enough for Harshbarger that night. According to a report posted to the Unfinished Lives Web site, http://unfinishedlivesblog.com/2010/11/02/, his assailants were “a mixed-gender gang” of three women and two men who accosted him near his North Park home while he was walking his dog. They accosted him, called him a “fucking faggot” and slammed him against the wall of his house, causing a loud “bang” that fortunately alerted one of his neighbors. Harshbarger had a concussion, was bruised behind his eyes and needed 13 stitches to close a split lip.
“The challenges didn’t end with the attack,” Harshbarger said in his statement. “As I dealt with healing wounds and missing work, I also had to deal with an unresponsive police department. They failed to fully investigate the crime scene and question witnesses. They told me it would take two years to get my case solved — even though they had acquired one of my attackers’ cell phones. I felt that the system that was supposed to be there to protect me was treating me as though it was my fault.”
Fortunately, Harshbarger had a community member on his side — marriage equality activist Fernando Lopez — who “refused to sit by and let this happen,” he said. In addition to lobbying the police to take the attack seriously — “Within 48 hours my attackers were behind bars,” Harshbarger said ¬— Lopez also documented Harshbarger’s injuries in a photo posted on the Unfinished Lives site. In his statement, Harshbarger thanked Lopez, former Assemblymember Lori Saldaña and City Councilmember Todd Gloria, and said there was a silver lining in the dark cloud of his attack.
“The dialogue is no longer about my one incident,” he said. “The community has been reawakened to the ongoing need for safety, education and a continuing, collaborative relationship with law enforcement. Knowing that you are taking the time to carry the torch of awareness warms my heart and gives me hope. So please stay vigilant and stay vocal, and never stop fighting for yourselves, your safety or your rights.”
S.A.M.E. held the March 26 rally to build that “torch of awareness” and picked a North Park location not only because Harshbarger’s attack had taken place in North Park but to show that both San Diego’s Queer presence and the danger from anti-Queer violence extend far beyond the so-called “Gayborhood” of Hillcrest. The featured speakers were California State Assemblymember Toni Atkins — who preceded Gloria on the San Diego City Council — San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) board member Kevin Beiser (the first openly Queer person to sit on that board) and Rev. Robbie Robinson, a local African-American minister.
Atkins began her speech by noting that anti-Queer hate violence is not only a nationwide but international problem. “In Edinburgh, Scotland, the murders of three Gay men have that community living in absolute fear,” she said. “Ugandan human rights activist David Kato was murdered a few months ago after his photo appeared in a newspaper. A recent study showed that in Brazil, an LGBT [Queer] person is murdered every day and a half, and that number is increasing. But this is not just a problem that happens somewhere else.”
Referring to the assault on Jacob Harshbarger as well as another attack around the same time “that appeared to be motivated by homophobia,” Atkins stated that “in January, thugs with paint-ball guns terrorized our neighborhood, including an attack on a group standing in the parking lot of our own LGBT Center. That was accompanied by homophobic shouting. A paintball attack might be seen by some to be just a messy nuisance, but at the time, the victims knew only that something had hit them, and they could feel something that could have been blood at the spot where they were shot, all while someone shouted hateful slogans at them.”
Atkins claimed that hate crimes “are actually down in San Diego, thanks to the work of the District Attorney, the San Diego Police Department and the Stonewall Citizens’ Patrol,” a group of volunteers who drive through Hillcrest and other nearby areas at night and report any sign of incipient hate violence to the police. “In San Diego, every anti-LGBT hate crime will be fully investigated and prosecuted,” said Atkins (showing more confidence in local law enforcement than Jacob Harshbarger had!). “But one homophobic hate crime is still one too many. LGBT people have been targeted far more than any other minority group. This violence still occurs, and that’s why your visibility is important.”
Beiser, who in addition to being a school board member is also a math teacher at Granger High School — he won the “Teacher of the Year” award just before he ran for the board — recalled that during the campaign over Proposition 8, which banned legal recognition of same-sex marriage in California, “I heard people called names I don’t dare repeat here.” His response was to partner with the organizers of the National Day of Silence and make hot-pink signs declaring the school a “hate-free zone.”
“All schools need to be safe working and learning environments,” Beiser said. “It’s important for me to say the words ‘Lesbian,’ ‘Gay,’ ‘Bisexual’ and ‘Transgender’ because when we have meetings, the other teachers don’t dare say the word ‘Gay.’” He talked about how all five SDUSD board members, despite party and ideological differences, are working to develop an anti-bullying policy they hope will be a national model. “We also just received a large payment from Verizon,” he said, “with which we can pay for safe zones with signs, equipment, counselors, training and support.”
“Transgender people have been a major target,” said Connor Maddocks, facilities manager at the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center and female-to-male Transgender person who had spoken to S.A.M.E. earlier that month on Transgender issues and how they relate to marriage equality. “Bullying took many forms including, for me, a lifetime of being teased. I felt alone in a world surrounded by so many people. For myself and countless Transgender victims, we feel that we are the freaks, we are the ones not ‘fitting in,’ we don’t conform. … Until we figure out who we are, we can’t find ourselves in life and overcome our inner depression.”
Maddocks said that Transgender people face even more bullying and hate-motivated crime than Lesbians, Gay men and Bisexuals. “Every day we are tortured, beaten, murdered, fired from our jobs, thrown out of our houses,” he said. “We may be the least understood and the smallest group in the LGBT community, but that means there are more of us to join the fight. We need your help, and we are here in turn to help you. There cannot be a cause to stop bullying just against Gay people or just on the basis of religion. We are soldiers in this war, and when you hear a joke about sexism or racism or gender identity or sexual orientation, speak out and say it’s not O.K. to do that. We will make it very uncool to be a bully.”
“I marched in the 1960’s,” said Rev. Robinson. “I witnessed crosses being burned. It’s about equal rights and equal justice for all. We need to push legislators about the threshold of what constitutes a hate crime. It’s hard to prosecute a hate crime because the threshold is so nebulous. Prosecutors will try to duck it. Until we get our legislators to change that thinking and change the laws, you’re going to be marching a long time.”
S.A.M.E. structured the March 26 “Our Streets, Our Lives” event with an opening rally, a march through North Park and another rally, this one an open-mike event, to close. “This is the first time I’ve been at a S.A.M.E. rally,” said Sean, a young man who kicked off the open-mike portion of the event. “In high school I worked for a mega-church for eight years and said [being Queer] was a choice. … There are a lot of Gay people who don’t like other Gay people. There are some Gay people who don’t care about Gay rights. The rights we have are because people fought for them.” Sean thanked S.A.M.E. for staging the event, apologized for his past work for an anti-Queer church and acknowledged singer Lady Gaga for “Born This Way,” the song she introduced at this year’s Grammy Awards whose message is to be who you are and be proud of it.
Katherine Mendonça of the San Diego YWCA linked anti-Queer violence and bullying to another issue of concern to her group: domestic violence against women by their male relationship partners. (Oddly, she didn’t acknowledge that domestic violence occurs in Gay and Lesbian couples, too.) “Domestic violence, like hate crimes and bullying, affects us all,” she said. “It is a crime in which abusers use power and control against their victims. It affects children for generations. Domestic violence, like bullying and hate crimes, knows no social, economic or racial class. One in every four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of an assault by an intimate partner each year. In California, 700,000 women experience intimate-partner violence each year: three times the national average.”
She mentioned the case of Diana Gonzalez, a San Diego City College student who was murdered last October 10 by her estranged husband — three weeks after she filed a police report saying he’d kidnapped and raped her. According to Mendonça, the man was arrested for “a few days” but the district attorney did not file charges against him, so he was let go and was later able to kill her. The community responded on December 9 with a march and vigil from City College to the district attorney’s office. “In San Diego, the fatality rate from domestic violence-associated crimes increased 100 percent from last year,” she said.
Mendonça also talked about violence and neglect of Queer youths. She cited a report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the National Coalition for the Homeless that claimed there was “an epidemic of homelessness” among Queer youth. “Danny, a Gay teen, was already trapped as early as seven years old in the tragic downward spiral that led to his homelessness,” she said. “Danny was shoved from one foster home to another, and repeatedly molested. He spent two years in a juvenile correctional facility. At 17, he tried living with his aunt, but she soon ordered him to get his ‘Gay ass’ out of her house. Homeless, Danny got cash by reading people’s Tarot cards, and places to sleep by having survival sex.”
“The worst kind of hate crime is legalized hate crime,” said Lisa Kove, S.A.M.E. member and organizer of DoD Fed Globe, a support organization for Queers in the military and in civilian jobs with the U.S. Department of Defense. (As always, Kove felt legally compelled to state at the beginning of her speech that she was not representing the views of the Defense Department, her employer.) Kove said that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning Queers from serving openly in the U.S. military is still in place — the bill Congress passed last December merely started a process, expected to last at least a year, by which the military will study the issue and “certify” whether they can allow the policy to die — as is the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” passed by Congress in 1996 that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to refuse to recognize legal marriages of same-sex couples in other states.
And it’s even worse in other countries, Kove said. “In Uganda, they’re passing laws not only providing the death penalty for Gays but saying that Gays who leave the country should be hunted down and killed,” she stated. (She didn’t mention that U.S. fundamentalist Christian churches and organizations have visited Uganda and lobbied the Ugandan legislature to pass these laws.) Kove said that some people she’s worked with in the U.S. military got post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) just from the burden of having to serve under “don’t ask, don’t tell” and keep quiet about important parts of their personal lives.
“This nonsense about ‘certification’ is because they know the policy is wrong,” Kove said about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” She said she hoped the Log Cabin Republican Club’s suit to invalidate “don’t ask, don’t tell” in court will win so the military will be forced to end the discrimination and not be able to drag out the issue and keep the policy going through the “certification” process. “Oppression needs to die,” said Kove. “Oppression is the basis of all inequality of all people that are treated in a discriminatory manner. No group that is ever treated in a discriminatory manner stays there. There is always the point of confrontation, and that is when the oppressed meet with the oppressor, and eventually equality happens.”