Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Marriage Equality Activists Go on Trial April 30


Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved


PHOTOS, top to bottom:

Sean Bohac

Sean Bohac and Cecile Veillard

August 19, 2010: S.A.M.E. members sit in at the County Clerk’s office, while sheriff’s deputies bar them from entering. Sean Bohac is center left (seated, with bag); Cecile Veillard (with ponytail, back to camera) and Zakiya Khabir are at the right. (Photo: Courtesy San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality.)

February 7, 2012: L to R: José Medina (with sign), Lisa Kove (filming), Thomas, Zakiya Khabir (speaking) and Sean Bohac (behind canopy support) at the celebration of the Ninth Circuit ruling against Proposition 8.

Despite the high drama associated with the term “civil disobedience,” it’s actually pretty rare these days for anyone who’s arrested at a demonstration actually to be prosecuted and put on trial. But that’s what’s happening Monday, April 30 to at least some of the “Equality Nine” — Michael Anderson, Brian Baumgartner, Sean Bohac, Felicity Bradley, Kelsey Hoffman, Mike Kennedy, Zakiya Khabir, Chuck Stemke and Cecile Veillard — members of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) who were arrested August 19, 2010 at the San Diego County Administration Center just after Vaughn Walker issued his ruling in the Proposition 8 trial and became the first judge to declare California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Zenger’s interviewed three of the Nine — Sean Bohac, Zakiya Khabir and Cecile Veillard — on February 18. They were reluctant to discuss the specifics of what happened the day they were arrested (their attorneys had warned them the prosecution could use whatever they told the media against them) but were quite eloquent about the sheer length of time both their case and the overall Proposition 8 litigation is taking, the absurdity of the arguments used to deny same-sex couples an equal right to marry, the city’s insistence on spending a lot of money to prosecute them when both the office of city attorney Jan Goldsmith and the San Diego County Superior Court system which will try them are facing massive budget cuts, and the possible precedent their treatment will set for the way the city treats the people who’ve been arrested in the Occupy San Diego protests.
S.A.M.E. and the Equality Nine want people to write to City Attorney Goldsmith, 1200 Third Ave ., Suite 1620. San Diego, CA   92101, phone him at (619) 236-6220 or e-mail to urge him to drop all charges against the Equality Nine before the case goes to trial. They’re also asking people to write letters to the editor of all San Diego’s newspapers urging them to cover the trial, and to come to the trial site — 220 West Broadway downtown — for a rally from 8 to 9 a.m. April 30 before the trial begins, and to attend the trial itself, tentatively set for “District” (courtroom) 51. [Full disclosure: the interviewer is a member of S.A.M.E. and was recently elected to the organization’s five-member steering committee. He is also a legally married Gay man; he and his husband Charles tied the knot in the 4 ½ months between the legal recognition of marriage equality by the California Supreme Court in May 2008, which became effective that June, and the passage of Proposition 8 that November.]

Zenger’s: Just who and what are the Equality Nine?
Cecile Veillard: The nine of us who were arrested on August 19, 2010, which was the day that Judge Vaughn Walker had designated as the first day that a temporary stay [delay] on his decision that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional would be lifted, so that same-sex couples could again begin to apply for marriage licenses in California. Several same-sex couples [including Equality Nine members Michael Anderson and Brian Baumgardner] actually had appointments to be married in San Diego County that morning. They hadn’t been notified that their appointments would not be honored.
We went in to support their right to marry, and because of the new stay that had been imposed by the Ninth Circuit while they were going to hear the appeal by the National Organization for Marriage of Judge Walker’s decision, we didn’t expect that those appointments would be honored. But we also didn’t expect to be arrested by 9 o’clock that morning by 50 sheriff’s deputies in full riot gear. There were a lot more than nine people in the clerk’s office that morning, but it was the nine of us who were sitting by the doors of the clerk’s office who were arrested.

Zenger’s: Why do you think you were singled out?
Zakiya Khabir: I think what happened was not a matter of who was in the hallway, but more that there were people who were trying to get licenses, and we were sitting down in the hallway.
Veillard: What the prosecution is essentially arguing is that we were preventing “equal access,” which is the most ironic of terms. The charge is we prevented “equal access” to opposite-sex couples from entering the clerk’s office, and that’s factually not true.

Zenger’s: So the upshot is you guys were arrested, and what’s happened since? Isn’t it somewhat unusual for a case of this sort to go all the way to a jury trial?
Khabir: From what our lawyers tell us, this would be the first time that someone was prosecuted under this particular statute [Penal Code section 602.1 (b)] in California. There’s no previous case law on it. Usually, when the charges are dropped, because presumably they can’t stick. Because the way it’s written, from what our lawyers say, is kind of awkward and weird, and it has this First Amendment clause built into it. [Section 602.1 (c): “Section (b) shall not apply to any person on the premises who is engaging in activities protected by the California Constitution or the Constitution of the United States.”] So in the course of a demonstration, it shouldn’t apply.

Zenger’s: What were you hoping to accomplish by the action, and what are you hoping will be the result of this going to trial?
Sean Bohac: We actually hoped we could get the county clerk to issue same-sex marriage licenses. There was a couple who was cooperating with our organizing, who had written a letter indicating that the county clerk should follow the will of the governor and the attorney general, who are chain-of-command the bosses of the county clerk. [The couple were Tony and Tyler Dylan-Hyde; Tyler, an attorney, had written a legal memo to that effect.] We hoped that the county would do what’s right and issue the marriage licenses to Tony and Tyler, and Michael and Brian.
Veillard: And Claire and Ditchi [a Lesbian couple who were part of the action, and who like Tony and Tyler — but unlike Michael and Brian — also had made appointments].
Bohac: Beyond the possibility of getting marriage licenses, it’s also really important that the average person remembers that Gays and Lesbians are discriminated against. I can’t tell you how many smart people I’ve talked to who say, “Oh, can’t you get married already? I thought that was illegal,” referring to Proposition 8. And I have to say no, discrimination is still going on. So every time we do some sort of an action or event, for me one of the goals is to make sure people know that Gays and Lesbians are still being discriminated against by the state.
Veillard: It’s calling attention to the fact that the injustice continues, that Proposition 8 is still the law of the state, in spite of having been overturned by two federal courts.
Khabir: It’s absurd. When you look at the path of marriage equality in the U.S., it looks like more and more states within a number of years are going to adopt it. It looks like Maryland is going to be the next one, and even though the law that prevents us from getting married had been declared unconstitutional twice, people still can’t get married. The reason isn’t because of any harm to the state. There’s no harm to anyone.
Veillard: It’s just a delay in the delivery of justice.
Bohac: I assume I speak for other people in saying that when we work for marriage equality, we’re working on LGBT [Queer] equality in general. S.A.M.E. was organized right after the passage of Proposition 8, and we did focus on marriage equality for at least a couple months. But then we began working on other issues like “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, Transgender acceptance. We have, I think smartly, reached out to other oppressed-people movements, to create solidarity with LGBT and immigrants’ rights, students who are fighting for funding in their schools. Marriage equality is an issue we fight hard for. But it’s a symbol of other forms of discrimination that Gays and Lesbians face.

Zenger’s: I understand at one point you were actually offered a plea bargain. What was the deal you were offered, and why did you decline it?
Khabir: It was a tough decision. I can’t speak directly for those who took the plea bargain, but no one feels like we’re guilty. I think a lot of us have a problem with the fact that in order to erase all this, you have to sort of say something that you really feel isn’t true.
Bohac: Not “sort of.” You explicitly have to say something that’s not true.
Khabir: I think the day would  have happened a lot differently if they’d let us into the office where marriages were being performed, or the clerk’s office. We weren’t even allowed into the clerk’s office. No one from our group was allowed in the clerk’s office.
Veillard: Couples who had appointments were not allowed into the clerk’s office.

Zenger’s: So they were not allowed in, not even to be told, “No, there’s a stay that the Appeals Court put on it, you can’t get married today.”
Veillard: Correct.
Khabir: Right. There were sheriffs blocking the door, and when a sheriff is blocking a door, keeping you out and letting in a heterosexual couple, it’s really hard to say, “Well, that’s O.K. We’ll just sign on the dotted line and forget all about this,” you know?
Bohac: I believe we were offered a plea bargain where we could plead guilty, accept eight hours of community service.
Khabir: Which shows how minor this really is. What they really wanted us to do was say, “We did bad,” and end it. Because they know we’re all involved in a non-profit organization, right? They all know the eight hours is not a problem. We do 20 to 30 hours a week of non-profit work. But I think the plea is in and of itself an admission of their wrongdoing, not an admission of ours.
Bohac: Right. And I felt like they should be dropping the charges. It wasn’t up to us to drop the charges. The city should have recognized that they were going to spend a lot of money to try to make an example out of the nine of us, and they’re not — it’s uncertain what’s going to come out of the trial, but there’s no guarantee that they’re going to win.
Veillard: And we’re right.
Bohac: They’re the ones who are deciding to spend a bunch of money to try to get us.
Veillard: These are taxpayer dollars, by the way, to put things into context, in a time when, according to the judge who’s going to be overseeing the trial herself, the San Diego County Superior Court is facing millions of dollars of budget cuts in the next year. And here they are pursuing this trial, which is going to take tremendous amounts of resources, because it’s going to take a full week’s trial.
They expect an extensive jury selection process, because this is a civil-rights case. They intend to make sure they get rid of any quote-unquote “bias” from anyone who actually believes in LGBT equality, or anyone who already has an opinion about Proposition 8 — which is going to be hard to do, since this is a very polarizing issue. So the jury selection alone is expected to be a drawn-out process, an expensive process.
Bohac: And it’s not just a three- to five-day trial. I happened to run into my lawyer last night, and he talked about how the city is spending time submitting their briefs and doing all kinds of research.
Veillard: A lot of work is going into this.
Khabir: In order to stop people from peacefully chanting, “We Want Equal Rights.” It’s just absurd.

Zenger’s: Do you think one of the reasons they are pushing this is to set a kind of precedent for the people who’ve been arrested during the Occupy demonstrations?
Bohac: I don’t think so, because we preceded it by a year.
Khabir: It seems like we were well on our way to a trial before the police really cracked down on Occupy the way that they did later on. Occupy is definitely going to play a part in whatever decision is made. It’s just that I’m not clear which way it’ll go. But that’s another reason not to take the plea: because of Occupy, because —
Veillard: We have to stand up.
Khabir: We have been down there, and we have seen them [the police] tell people they were going to be arrested for leaving their book bag on the ground.
Bohac: Many of us were excited when Occupy San Diego was forming, drawing crowds and working towards making a statement that represents why people are dissatisfied in these times. I think that kind of expression is really important in society, and so we have to fight this case, partly because if we win, it’s going to encourage other people to stand up and represent themselves when they feel like some kind of injustice is taking place.

Zenger’s: But there are some people who would say, “What’s the big deal? This is a struggle about marriage equality and civil rights, and Occupy is about economic distribution and the 99 percent and tax rates and corporate profits and whatnot. Where is the real connection between the issues?”
Khabir: The connection is everything that’s used to divide the working classes. Homophobia is a way for a group of people to be set apart from another group of people, and not be able to unite and struggle together in order to make their lives better. As someone who supports Occupy, it’s important for me to fight homophobia because homophobia is a tool of the 1 percent. And as a Queer person, Occupy is important to me because I am part of the 99 percent, because I have a job; because a lot of my friends are unemployed; because I am sick of watching very rich people live very easy lives, while people who work really, really hard struggle to make it.
Veillard: Another thing I would add to that, too, is that the way that the Equality Nine are being prosecuted is a counterpoint example to exactly what Occupy is protesting, which is why is it that the 1 percent get away with massive economic crimes without trial, without investigation, without prosecution. Even if you agree with the San Diego city attorney that we were obstructing business that day — which we contest —that’s a petty crime. Why is it so important to prosecute these petty crimes, and yet we can’t get prosecutions against the 1 percent that starve people and make them homeless and jobless? Why aren’t those crimes prosecuted with the same zeal? That’s the big question of the Occupy movement. And I think we’re proud to be a part of that, for that reason.
Also, Occupy has been so supportive, and expressed such strong solidarity with the Equality Nine, since learning about our story, not only because of its demand of civil justice for same-sex couples but also for what I believe they consider to be the bravery of the Equality Nine in standing up to the law and being willing to put our bodies on the line, and even be arrested if necessary, to stand up for what we believe is right. Occupy has that same spirit of militancy, and I think that’s why they appreciate our struggle.
Bohac: There’s a guy who came to our rally on Tuesday [February 7] who was with Occupy, and he mentioned that it wasn’t too long ago that he was homophobic. He said his interaction with Occupy cured him of that idiocy, and he was impressed with the Queer community because he felt like we were like the smallest group, but were making the most noise to achieve justice.
Veillard: There’s a sense of admiration for the LGBT community and the strength and militancy of its movement and its willingness to fight back against injustices toward our community.
Another comment I want to add is that even though we supposedly live on the value of innocent until proven guilty in this country, the fact is that being arrested is a presumption of guilt and comes with its own punishment. All of us missed work that day. All of us had to explain it to our workplaces why we missed work. That put us in danger of losing our jobs. It’s a loss of a day’s wages. There are so many punishments built in just to being arrested, supposedly under the presumption of innocence. It’s a contradiction in itself.
The system is rigged to find the poor guilty. Had we not had nine extremely qualified, skilled and experienced civil-rights attorneys offer to defend us, I think almost all of us would have had to be defended by public defenders. And I don’t think any of those public defenders would have advised us to plead not guilty and to fight these charges. Instead, we probably would have been advised to accept the plea, which is itself punishment.
Khabir: And we probably would have had a much worse plea offer, as well. But I think the reason we have the support we do is there’s a really good feeling that the two issues we’re talking about here, free speech and marriage equality, are really, really important bedrock issues that are worth fighting for.
Veillard: I want to say, too, that I think the city attorney is going to pay for having prosecuted us in a couple of ways. One, if he didn’t want any additional attention to the marriage equality issue, he’s made a big mistake, because trying us is simply going to force this issue into the news.
And the second thing is that he’s on the wrong side of history. Whether it’s this year, or in 10 years, or in 20 years, he’ll be proven wrong. By prosecuting us and forcing us to fight these charges, and making it a bigger issue than it needed to be, he’s inflating the level of embarrassment he’s going to have to face by pressing these charges when he could have simply dropped the charges and saved the city a lot of money, and us a lot of time.

Zenger’s: I know that’s a phrase that’s used a lot in the discourse on marriage equality, especially from our side, that this is the tide of history. On the other hand, every state in the United States that has had a chance to vote on whether same-sex couples should get married has voted against it. California, generally known as a liberal state, especially on social issues, has voted against it twice.
In both Washington and New Jersey it is likely to come before a vote again — in Washington because, though the governor signed it into law, the opponents have a chance to put a referendum on the ballot to repeal it; and in New Jersey because the governor vetoed it and said, “I want the voters to decide this, not the legislature.” Given that, so far, it has been impossible for the marriage equality movement in this country to get the voters of a state to say, “Yes, same-sex couples should be able to get married,” why do you say, “This is the tide of history”?
Khabir: I think there are a couple of things wrapped up in there. One, we’ve lost at the ballot box. But we also get closer to winning at the ballot box every time around. And we also have some really vicious, really well-funded opposition that tells lies — yeah, let’s call them lies — to voters about what these laws actually mean. We also have a huge abstention rate with voting in this country, and that’s another issue altogether.
So where I say the tide is changing is, one, public opinion is changing. Two, we are seeing more rights, more visibility, etc. But I think you’re right in that there are no guarantees. We’ve gone backwards on women’s rights in a lot of ways. There are some ways in which we’ve advanced, but without struggle, there’s no guarantee that the tide of history will go on our side.
But I think what Cecile is banking on, and what we’re banking on, is that people are not just going to sit around and wait for it to happen, and that we’re — just what we’ve seen in the last couple of years. Last Tuesday [February 7] when we had the rally [to support the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for upholding Judge Walker’s decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional], it shows that people are willing to come out and make it a big deal to say that they’re going to keep fighting for it, to say that it’s not O.K., it’s not something that they’ll just wait around for. Should we be voting on people’s rights anyway is another question.

Zenger’s: I know that a number of people have pointed out that if the opponents of interracial marriage in 1967 had had a way to put Loving v. Virginia on the ballot, civil rights would have lost then, too.
Khabir: And they’d do it today. Imagine if that were a law today, and imagine that the campaign against interracial marriage were being launched by the National Organization for Marriage and Rick Santorum. I can’t say for sure that people, even today, wouldn’t vote overwhelmingly against interracial marriage.
Bohac: I think I’m a little more optimistic. I’m pretty sure that Maine is going to be the first state to pass a referendum in support of Gay and Lesbian rights to marry. It’s clear to me that you can judge a tide of public opinion based on polling. Because we haven’t got the 50 percent plus one in any of the elections that have taken place, it sounds like it’s all one way. But really it’s been coming our way the whole time.
Veillard: I wanted to say a couple of things to Zakiya’s point about whether civil rights should be voted on. I think that’s a debate that really needs to be had in this country. I think that the principle that most Americans believe this country is founded on is the basic freedom to do whatever it is you want to do so long as you’re not harming anyone else.
Gay marriage doesn’t harm anyone. There’s that clever sign that says, “If my Gay marriage affects your marriage, then your marriage needs therapy.” You could say the same thing about abortion rights. You could say the same thing about the freedom of choice to end your own life with dignity at a time when you feel prepared to do so if you’re suffering from a terminal illness. The right to use medical marijuana. All these things that are under attack, that really ought to be basic civil rights.
And also to Zakiya’s point about sort of the tide going in our direction, there’s Martin Luther King’s quote that the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. If you see the arc as a bar of steel, then to Zakiya’s point that nothing is inevitable, that we have to continue to fight for what we want. Our job is to keep the iron hot.

Zenger’s: Because I could imagine myself — thought experiment — interviewing three members of the National Organization for Marriage and, and they’d be saying, “Well, what do you mean, abortion doesn’t hurt anybody else? It’s killing millions of innocent babies! What do you mean, same-sex marriage doesn’t hurt anybody else? It makes America disfavored in the eyes of God!”
Bohac: But what does that have to do with government?
Veillard: Yes, with the separation of church and state we’re not supposed to decide our laws based on the fear of God.

It Didn't All Start at Stonewall!

An audio version of the January 16 event at Pleasures and Treasures, sponsored by Activist San Diego, at which Leo Laurence and Pat Brown talked about their experiences doing militant Queer activism in San Francisco months before the Stonewall Inn riots in New York City, commonly but wrongly believed to be the beginning of the Queer rights movement in the U.S., is now available at the following links:

The print version, published in the February 2012 issue of Zenger’s Newsmagazine, is available online at

Where's OUR Religious Liberty?


Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

For those concerned with justice and equality in the United States, the first two weeks in February were “one step forward, two steps back.” The one step forward was the marvelous decision of a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Perry v. Brown lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage equality passed by California voters in November 2008. Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who wrote the 2-1 majority decision, is someone whose family knows something about prejudice and injustice; his grandfather, Max Reinhardt, was a famous theatre director in 1920’s Berlin who fled Germany in 1933 when the Nazis took over.
Though Reinhardt didn’t write with the kind of winged eloquence Judge Vaughn Walker had in the district court decision he was upholding, he quietly and calmly eviscerated all of the arguments Proposition 8’s sponsors had put forward for it. “Proposition 8’s only effect … was to withdraw from Gays and Lesbians the right to employ the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their committed relationships and thus to deprive them of a societal status that affords dignity to those relationships,” Judge Reinhardt wrote. “Proposition 8 could not have reasonably been enacted to promote childrearing by biological parents, to encourage responsible procreation, to proceed with caution in social change, to protect religious liberty, or to control the education of schoolchildren. Simply taking away the designation of ‘marriage,’ while leaving in place all the substantive rights and responsibilities of same-sex partners, did not do any of the things its proponents now suggest were its purposes.”
Unfortunately, in the wake of this court decision America took two steps backwards in the long search for freedom and liberty. First, the Obama administration’s decision to require free coverage for birth control as part of the implementation of its hard-fought health insurance reform blew up in their faces, as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops tore into the mandate and demanded it be reversed. Obama, being Obama, made a half-hearted attempt at compromise — Roman Catholic employers wouldn’t have to provide such coverage but their insurance companies would — that was almost immediately rejected by the bishops. Meanwhile, the enormous Right-wing propaganda machine — media outlets like talk radio and Fox News, and the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives — grabbed hold of the issue and denounced it as Obama’s and the Democrats’ latest attack on “religious liberty.”
And as if that weren’t enough bad news, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum — who has not only denounced homosexuality as comparable to having sex with dogs but has said that true freedom means not doing what you want to do but doing what you’re “supposed” to do (by whose standard?) — quietly emerged as the new front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination with victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado and zoomed ahead of Mitt Romney in the polls in Michigan, the state where Romney was born and in which he had been expected to win easily. Santorum, a hard-core Right-wing Catholic and lifelong opponent of women’s and Queer equality, epitomizes, more than anyone else in the race, the internally divided Right-wing consensus on the role of government: none when it comes to securing people’s economic security, all-encompassing when it comes to enforcing anti-woman, anti-choice, anti-Queer “moral” codes.
When the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) and other local groups were hosting their February 7 rally in support of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in the Proposition 8 case, one of the most important points was made by Lisa Kove, who as an employee of the U.S. Defense Department has to preface every public speech she makes with a disclaimer that she’s representing only her own views and not those of her employer. She talked about how the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy preventing Queers from serving openly in the U.S. military was finally repealed — at least for Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals, not for Transgender people — but the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 is still in place and as a result, same-sex couples still cannot get married on U.S. military bases.
“That violates our right to religious freedom,” Kove said, “because I’m a Reform Jew, and we believe in marriage equality. We need freedom of all religions, not just their religions.”
The more I’ve thought about that since Kove said it, the more it’s resonated with me. Why should the anti-woman, anti-Queer bigots of Roman Catholicism, evangelical Christianity and Orthodox Judaism be able to represent themselves as the sole arbiters of what Americans are allowed to believe about who or what created them, their proper role in the universe and what, if anything, is going to happen to them after they die? Where’s our religious freedom? Isn’t declaring same-sex marriage illegal on the basis of some people’s religious beliefs a direct violation of the First Amendment — which, in case you’ve forgotten it, begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”? Aren’t laws like Proposition 8 “respecting an establishment of religion” and oppressing Reform Jews, Unitarian-Universalists, United Church of Christ members and other denominations whose ministers would want to marry their same-sex and opposite-sex congregants equally, and would do so if the laws permitted?
And where’s our freedom to do what we want to with our bodies, and to choose how to deal with the consequences thereof? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops made it clear in their statement on the birth control coverage issue that, contrary to the way the Right is framing the issue, it isn’t about “religious liberty” at all. It’s about their ability to dictate to the rest of the country what health coverage we shall have. If you don’t believe me, go to their Web site,, and read their statement, which claims that President Obama “has decided to retain HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients. This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern. We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty.” [Emphasis in original.]
Where’s our religious liberty? And for that matter, where are the other rights we’re supposedly guaranteed by the First Amendment: “the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”? Where are the liberties of the people in the Occupy movements, who have sought to use their free-speech and assembly rights to petition the government for a redress of grievances? In San Diego, they were told that “Occupy people” weren’t allowed into the mayor’s office to do that, and in city after city they have been swept out of their public gathering places, their belongings thrown into dumpsters and discarded, with police essentially making up “laws” on the fly and using them as excuses to arrest the Occupiers without such bothersome nuisances as their Fifth Amendment right not to “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
And where’s our freedom of the press? The media in this country are dominated by an ever-shrinking handful of giant corporations who propagandize endlessly for a view of the nation, the society and, indeed, life itself dominated by the primacy of “the market.” We are told that “it’s your fault” if you’re unemployed, that unions are immoral and corrupt, that any attempt to regulate the environment or the economy is an intolerable assault on the huge corporations — the so-called “job creators” — who run our lives and determine whether we shall be permitted to earn our livings, where we may live, what we may eat, whether we will be cared for when we are sick and even when and how we will be allowed to die.
Just as the U.S. has two corporate-dominated political parties, the center-Right Democrats and the far-Right Republicans, so it has two corporate-dominated media parties, the center-Right “mainstream” or “legacy” media (the broadcast TV networks, the major urban newspapers) which offer a small range of views within the limits of what their corporate masters deem “acceptable”; and the far-Right media of talk radio and Fox News, who propagandize 24/7 for a radical-Right view of capitalism and patriotism that ridicules and trashes any concern about the poor, working people, the environment, people of color, Queers or anyone else who doesn’t fit their narrow idea of what constitutes the “real America.” Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez recently took a trip to California’s Central Valley to interview several Right-wingers, and among other things he got an earful about the so-called “liberal media” being out to get Republicans “even though I’d just listened to nine hours of syndicated Democrat-bashing on the car radio because that was about all I could pick up.”
Where is our freedom of the press? Yes, I can write this without realistic fear of being arrested for it. I can put it into a publication and put it out on the street for a handful of people to read. Other people in charge of magazines like The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, The American Prospect and Mother Jones can put similar messages out for somewhat larger audiences than I can. We can, for the time being, post online — at least until the Republicans get rid of Net neutrality and thereby turn the Internet into just as thorough a transmission belt for radical-Right propaganda, with a smattering of center-Right propaganda for so-called “balance,” as all the other electronic media are. When I was a boy I saw, in a book of British artist David Low’s World War II cartoons called Years of Wrath, a drawing of Adolf Hitler sitting at a huge organ labeled “Anti-Democracy Propaganda” and glaring down at a tiny figure of a girl with a flute labeled “Pro-Democracy Propaganda.” Hitler yelled at her, “Will you shut up? I can’t hear myself think!”
That’s what Leftists, progressives and liberals have become in this country: the little girl with the flute, gamely carrying on as best we can while the man at the organ plays as loud as he can and still gets irritated that he can’t drown us out completely. Sometimes we get enough flutes together that our message filters out past our own little circle and a few people wake up — as they did when Occupy Wall Street and the other Occupy movements it inspired actually got out the idea that maybe it’s a bad thing if one percent of the population controls 50 percent of this nation’s wealth and income. But then we still face the challenge of holding their attention against the giant sound of the organ that sings 24/7, “The Market Is God … Capitalism Is The Only Way … Profits Are Sacred … If You’re Not Rich, It’s Your Fault.”
That’s America’s idea of “freedom,” “liberty,” “democracy” for you. We haven’t got rid of religious oppression; we’ve just outsourced it to the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormons, the Southern Baptist Convention and other religious institutions who preach a narrow, bigoted, anti-woman, anti-Queer, anti-equality, pro-1 percent view of the Judeo-Christian tradition. We haven’t got rid of censorship; we’ve simply privatized it, making corporations rather than the government gatekeepers of which political and social views are considered “acceptable” for this country’s people to hear and which are not. The Constitution guarantees each state “a Republican Form of Government,” and that’s just what we have: a republican form that conceals the substance of a corporate and religious dictatorship.

Marriage Equality Victory March Draws 250

S.A.M.E. Celebrates Win in Round 2 of Prop. 8 Challenge


Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom (14):

Jersey (far right) at assembly point

Equality for All

Canvass for a Cause


Michael Anderson



Jace Watson

Jersey (speaking)

Lisa Kove

José Medina

Drew Searing (left)

Sid (right)


Despite short notice and the threat of rain, over 250 people turned out on the streets of Hillcrest Tuesday night, February 7, for a march and rally called by the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) to celebrate a 2-1 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on marriage equality, violates the U.S. Constitution.
The ruling came in the case of Perry v. Brown (formerly Perry v. Schwarzenegger), filed by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies on behalf of two California couples, one Gay and one Lesbian, who challenged Proposition 8 in federal court after the California Supreme Court affirmed that nothing in California’s state constitution blocked the voters from amending it to define marriage as solely between one man and one woman. The majority opinion was written by Stephen Reinhardt and joined by Michael Hawkins, both appointed to the court by Democratic presidents (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively). Randy Smith, the judge who voted to allow Proposition 8 to stand, was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.
“Proposition 8 operates with no apparent purpose but to impose on Gays and Lesbians, through the public law, a majority’s private disapproval of them and their relationships, by taking away from them the official designation of ‘marriage,’ with its societally recognized status,” Reinhardt wrote. “Therefore, Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Marchers assembled on the corner of Sixth and University in Hillcrest from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Many of them brought umbrellas, then put them away as the rain stopped just before the march stepped off. Despite rumors that San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who testified in the Perry trial on behalf of marriage equality, had been invited to speak at the rally, the only elected official present was Third District City Councilmember Todd Gloria, who did the march but didn’t address the crowd. The police kept marchers on the sidewalk of University Avenue and successfully resisted a short-lived attempt by members of Occupy San Diego, who joined the demonstration, to take it to the streets.
Instead of elected officials, the rally speakers included three members of the Equality Nine, whose trial on misdemeanor charges stemming from a civil disobedience action in August 2010 is scheduled to begin in San Diego County Superior Court March 28. Sean Bohac MC’d the event and Zakiya Khabir and Michael Anderson were among the scheduled speakers. Khabir reminded the crowd that the Nine had been arrested for protesting San Diego County’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after Judge Vaughn Walker first declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional in August 2010 — a decision which was appealed to the Ninth Circuit, producing the February 7 ruling.
“We were expecting marriage licenses,” Khabir recalled. “Instead we were not even allowed into any of the rooms on the floor of the County Administration Center where the County Clerk’s offices are. We sat in on the floor and we were arrested.”
The county clerk at the time justified his decision by pointing to a “stay” — a delay — in Judge Walker’s own ruling, which remains in effect even though two federal courts have now found Prop. 8 unconstitutional. Since the 9th Circuit panel kept the stay in effect, California counties still cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even though three judges in two courts have ruled Prop. 8 invalid. A sign in front of the rally stage said of the 9th Circuit decision, “Right on the Merits — Wrong on Delay!”
“The next step in front of us is the U.S. Supreme Court,” Khabir said. Actually, the Prop. 8 proponents have three choices: they can appeal for a so-called en banc hearing before all 11 judges of the 9th Circuit, they can appeal directly to the Supreme Court or they can decline to appeal at all and allow the 9th Circuit decision to take effect. Few people seriously expect the Prop. 8 supporters not to appeal, and their signals before the 9th Circuit ruling was that if they lost there, they’d go directly to the Supreme Court.
“Many people think that’s a time to wait for a decision to come down from on high,” Khabir said of a potential Supreme Court appeal. “But I and a lot of other people disagree. We need to be out in the streets saying it’s not O.K. when rights are taken away.”
“There is still a long process ahead of us with the Supreme Court struggle,” Bohac added. “We need to keep up the pressure in three states: Maine, Washington and New Jersey.” Maine voters narrowly approved a measure similar to Proposition 8 in spring 2009 and Queer-rights activists there are going back to the ballot box to overturn it. Washington’s governor, Democrat Christine Gregoire, has already signed a marriage equality bill into law and the state is expected to issue licenses to same-sex couples within weeks. New Jersey’s legislature has passed a similar bill and it’s now on the desk of Republican governor Chris Christie, who has threatened to veto it.
Michael Anderson used his speech to contrast the city’s attitude towards marriage equality activists with the hostility the Mayor, City Council and Police Department have shown towards the Occupy protesters in Civic Center Plaza. He said he was disappointed that Sanders hadn’t attended the rally because “I wanted to ask the Mayor what was the difference between this group of people and those down in Freedom Plaza [as the Occupy protesters have renamed Civic Center Plaza]. I’d like to ask the Police Department and the Mayor to end the police harassment and illegal arrests against the Occupiers.”
Anderson also noted that the so-called National Organization for Marriage, one of the groups that pushed Proposition 8, has targeted the Fair Education Act, a bill passed by the California legislature in 2010 that requires that students in public schools be given age-appropriate lessons on “the role and contributions of … Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans … to the total development of California and other states.”
Michelle “Jersey” Deutsch, staff member of Canvass for a Cause (CFAC) and an Occupy protester who was roughed up by police and then mistreated by doctors and nurses when she sought treatment for her injuries, also mentioned the Fair Education Act and the struggle to preserve it against a Prop. 8-style initiative. “It is an incredibly important bill, and just like Proposition 8, there are paid signature gatherers on the streets collecting signatures to repeal the Fair Education Act.”
Deutsch also talked about her experience with CFAC, which — as its name suggests — approaches people on the street and talks to them about marriage equality. “For the last four years, LGBT [Queer] people and our allies have been working in the streets and communicating with people who voted against us,” she explained. “At CFAC, one in four non-supporters we approach end up moving to the side of equality. Just by educating people and talking through the lies and misconceptions $42 million campaigns can create, we can move voters to equal rights.”
“A very happy good evening to all of you,” said José Medina, a self-proclaimed “straight and humble” ally and a key member of S.A.M.E. often seen leading chants at its demonstrations. “Another wall is smashed against those who have stood in the way of human dignity and progress. For California, a trail of legal victories has been established that hopefully may persuade the Supreme Court not to even hear an appeal.”
S.A.M.E. opened the mike to all comers after the official rally, and got some interesting and sometimes surprising voices from the crowd. Lisa Kove of DOD FED GLOBE, an organization devoted to safeguarding the rights of Queer people who work for the Department of Defense as servicemembers or civilian employees, began her speech with a disclaimer she gives so often she joked the audience knew it by heart, saying she was speaking purely as an individual and not representing the Defense Department.
Kove then talked about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and what she called the “loophole” it left: openly Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people can now serve in the U.S. military, but Transgender people still cannot. “Who’s to say they won’t decide someone doesn’t live up to their standards of masculinity and kick them out for being Transgender, just as they used to throw out straight women by charging them with being Lesbians?” she said.
“Also, right now they have made it where we cannot get married on military bases,” Kove added. “That violates our right to religious freedom. I’m a Reform Jew and we believe in marriage equality. We need freedom for all religions, not just their religions.”
Sid, a woman in a wheelchair, talked about how the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DoMA), passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, in 1996, stands in the way not only of the military recognizing same-sex relationships but also prevents American citizens legally married to same-sex partners overseas from sponsoring their spouses for immigration.
It’s an issue that affects Sid personally. She met her wife when she was stationed with the U.S. military in Germany and they were married under German law. “My marriage is legally recognized in Germany,” she said. “I have free health care there, but I can’t afford to live there. My marriage is not recognized here. We have no rights here whatsoever. You should see my wife’s college tuition bills. It’s ridiculous. Let’s get rid of DoMA now.”
“I’m so proud to be part of this night,” said Thomas. “I grew up in Lakeside in the 1980’s when LGBT’s were not considered part of the community. I grew up in terror and it took me until I was 18 when I came out with the support of a sympathetic family. Now kids come out younger and younger, and they should.” Thomas also offered “a prayer for people in Syria and North Korea who are more oppressed than we are, who can’t come out to a street and protest like we can, and are living in fear or dying.”
“I was at the planning meeting for this, and I suggested we all have an orgy, but I got shot down,” said Eric, who identified himself as Sister Iona Dubble-Wyde of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence but said he’d put the drag aside while he attends college. His advice to the crowd was to “come out as a Gay person or as an ally, because it’s much harder to hate something you can put a face on. Then there’s less chance they’ll hate this ‘Gay monster’ they don’t know anything about.”
One young man who has come out as a straight ally — with dramatic results — is Jace Watson, a recent graduated of Scripps Ranch High School who headed the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) there. “I had a lot of discrimination against me as GSA president,” he said. “People thought I was Gay, and when I told them I was a straight ally their jaws dropped to the floor.” He recalled taking GSA members to Queer-rights protests and “you could see it in their faces when court decisions came out and people came out in favor of talking about Queer issues in school.” Like some of the other speakers, he urged the crowd to act to protect the Fair Education Act.
“Nobody here knows my name,” said Blake. “That does not matter. We are all human beings. Are we Gay, white, Black? That does not matter. What matters is our human right to be who we are. It’s up to every one of us to be out there, be free, go to the essence of our humanity and be who we are. Be honest, be genuine and come from your heart. Be honest with your family and friends, your lovers, your wives, your husbands and the fabulous policemen who are here protecting us.”

Progressive San Diegans Commemorate Free Speech Fight Anniversary

Great-Granddaughter of Police, Vigilante Brutality Victim Addresses Feb. 8 Event


Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom (11):
Judy Forman reading Emma Goldman
Ben Reitman (courtesy Centro Cultural de la Raza)

Rainey Reitman (courtesy Rainey Reitman)

Sean Bohac and Eric Isaacson
Fund Our Future
Officer R. Pajita (the man who shut down the demonstration)
Tax Millionaires
Women Occupy 1
Women Occupy 2

“It shall be unlawful for any person to address any assemblage, meeting or gathering of persons or hold or conduct any public meeting or make or deliver any public speech, lecture or discourse or sing any song or songs or take part in any public debate or discussion in or upon any public street or alley within that certain district [now known as the Gaslamp District] in the City of San Diego… ”
— San Diego City Ordinance 4623, passed January 8, 1912

In 1912, the San Diego City Council declared free speech illegal in the city. They passed a law banning public speakers from putting up soapboxes in what is now the Gaslamp District on Fifth and “E” Streets downtown. The ordinance also banned public singing and the passing out of leaflets. The main purpose of the law was to keep the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a radical nationwide labor organization whose goal was to bring all workers together into one big union and thereby bring down capitalism, from being able to organize in San Diego.
The ordinance took effect on February 8, 1912, one month after it passed, and 100 years after that date a group of about 500 people gathered together in the intersection of Fifth and “E” for a combination re-enactment of the Free Speech Fight IWW waged to challenge the law and rally around modern-day progressive causes. Though the city has not treated Occupy San Diego protesters with anything approaching the systematized brutality the IWW was met with 100 years ago, in which IWW members (“Wobblies,” as they were called, a slang term inspired by the two “W”’s in their initials) were kidnapped, openly beaten, branded and sexually assaulted by police and vigilantes, the Occupy protesters have had to deal with a maddeningly arbitrary series of police orders, and a number of them have been arrested or physically abused by law enforcement.
One of the most grim stories of the original Free Speech Fight was the fate of Dr. Ben Reitman, anarchist doctor and partner of the famous activist Emma Goldman. In what turned out to be the emotional highlight of the February 8, 2012 event, Dr. Reitman’s story was told by his great-granddaughter, Rainey Reitman, a staff member with the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco and a member of the steering committee of the Bradley Manning Support Network. “I was incredibly glad that the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in San Diego brought me down here from San Francisco to talk to you today, because I love San Diego,” Rainey Reitman said. “This is something that I don’t think my great-grandfather would have felt.”
According to his great-granddaughter, Ben Reitman’s ordeal began when he and Goldman arrived in San Diego to support the Wobblies in the Free Speech Fight, their challenge to the city’s anti-speech ordinance. “Ben was a free-speech advocate,” Rainey recalled. “He would go out, and wherever he would see a crowd, he would run to the crowd with a soapbox and a megaphone. He would speak about contraception and birth control, and as a doctor he would actually perform abortions, at a time when even talking about birth control and abortion was illegal. He spent six months in prison for this, just for speaking out.”
When Dr. Reitman and Goldman arrived in San Diego to protest the city’s anti-speech law, Rainey explained, “On his very first night in his hotel, he was met by an angry mob, and while Emma was able to escape, Ben was not. He was abducted by this mob, driven out into the desert and beaten. He was kicked and covered in tar, and then they rolled him in sagebrush because they didn’t have any feathers.” Then, she said, they branded his buttocks with the letters ‘I.W.W.’ and sodomized him with his own walking cane. “He left San Diego that day but he didn’t stop speaking out. He went on to have a long life as an activist and a free-speech advocate.”
Rainey also talked about her own activism with the EFF, which defends freedom of speech in an arena her great-grandfather probably couldn’t have dreamed of: the Internet. “We’re fighting for your right to access content on the Internet, to be able to get to Web sites, your right to speak out,” she explained. Recently, EFF was part of a coalition that was able to block the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a House bill pushed by giant media companies that would have given corporations almost unlimited power to use the courts to shut down so-called “rogue” Web sites and block online donations to them. SOPA and its still-living counterpart in the Senate, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), would force Internet service providers and payment services to do what they already “voluntarily” did, under U.S. government pressure, to put the WikiLeaks site out of business by choking off its funding.

Violence and Repression Then …

While Ben Reitman was represented at the 100th anniversary commemoration by his great-granddaughter, Emma Goldman was represented by Golden Hill restaurateur Judy Forman, who stood on her own soapbox and read quotes from Goldman’s writings. “Life under our present system is not so ideal that he who loves freedom and liberty should not be willing to part with it,” Goldman said in an article she wrote about San Diego’s free speech struggle at the time. “I cannot believe that the number of intelligent people in the United States is so small that they cannot bring moral pressure on that city to stop its atrocities. It was the intelligent minority that forced the Southern planter to stop his murderous treatment of the Black minority. Surely the same can be done today.”
The crowd had a “the more things change, the more things stay the same” moment as Forman read Goldman’s statement about who was behind the brutal suppression of free speech in San Diego in 1912: “the thugs, with the connivance of the police and the Union and Tribune newspapers.” The version of Goldman portrayed in the quotes Forman was reading was a surprisingly elitist one — “Every effort at progress for enlightenment, for science, for religious and political liberties, emanates from a minority, not the masses … The majority cares little for ideals and integrity. What it craves is display” — with a pre-Gandhi, pre-King conviction that the only way to achieve social justice is by meeting the violence of the state with violence. “If San Diego is entitled to violence, why not its victims?” Goldman wrote. “It is organized violence on the top that creates individual violence on the bottom.”
Forman also read some of Goldman’s controversial statements attacking marriage and monogamy — which sat oddly with some of the protesters who had been in the streets of Hillcrest the day before celebrating the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that California’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. “Love, the strongest and deepest element of all life, the harbinger of joy and ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws and all conventions; love, the freest and most powerful molder of human destiny,” Goldman said. “How can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little state- and church-begotten institution, marriage? … Jealousy is the very reverse of understanding, sympathy and generous feeling. Never has jealousy added to character. Never does it make the individual big and free.” (According to their biographers, when Reitman started dating other people, Goldman’s reaction was far different from the anti-jealousy message she was preaching.)
Other participants in the 100th anniversary action read testimonies and comments by people who’d been involved in the original Free Speech Fight. Kelly Mayhew, professor of labor studies at San Diego City College and wife of teachers’ union leader Jim Miller, read a commentary by Agnes Smedley, who taught at San Diego College from 1913 to 1916 (when she was fired because of her politics) and is best known today for the reporting she did in China in the 1930’s and 1940’s. “The opponents of free speech were like the land speculators I had known,” Smedley wrote. “I heard my friends called unspeakable names, saw them imprisoned and beaten, and saw water and fire hoses turned upon their meetings. I escaped arrest, but the fight released much of the energy dammed up in me.”
Another participant read from the affidavit Henry Burr, one of the original Free Speech fighters, filed in 1912. “In San Diego, on the morning of April 3, 1912, a detective arrested me,” Burr wrote. “I was taken to the police station and held there with about 14 others until 4 the next morning. Detective Shepard called me out and asked me how long I had been in San Diego and what I had come there for. I told him I came here to help fight for free speech. The next morning, I was taken with the 14 others in the police patrol to Escondido.”
There, Burr said, they were met by a so-called “Vigilance Committee” who were “armed with clubs, revolvers and shotguns. We were herded together before an American flag, which they ordered us to kiss. We were clubbed before the flag. They rushed us up against each other and knocked us down. Then they marched us up the road between two men armed with pick handles and invited them to take a whack at us. Most of the Vigilance Committee members showed signs of intoxication. We were then ordered to kneel down at the fence and sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner. We stood that for a little while and then they took us into autos. I was knocked on the head when I was getting into the machine.”
In an account that ironically showed what an exotic technology the private car was then — especially to working-class activists who couldn’t dream of affording one — Burr dispassionately described the additional horrors he and his fellow arrestees had to deal with. “We were jammed into the bottom of the machine to keep our heads down, and every time I raised my head I was struck,” he wrote. “They hauled us to San Onofre. Here we were put in with the rest of the men. I waited for perhaps half an hour before it was my turn to run the gantlet. We were taken out in fives. I was first ordered to take off my coat, and then they started to kick. The gantlet was composed of about 30 men on each side. As I passed through the line, I was clubbed. One man dropped his club and struck me with his fist on the left side of my face. My body was beaten.”

… and Now

While some of the speakers focused on the horrors of 1912 — often by reading accounts of original participants in the Free Speech Fight — others made the inevitable parallels to Right-wing political movements and police suppression of activists today. Lorena Gonzalez, CEO and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council of San Diego and Imperial Counties (and therefore, ironically, representing a group that in 1912 had portrayed itself as the “responsible” labor movement and refused to support openly anti-capitalist unions like the IWW), said that what the IWW members had been targeted for in the first place was telling people “going to their jobs in the retail and restaurant industries about their right to organize into a union … [because] the restaurant and shop owners were badly treating their workers, without giving them a voice, without a decent wage, without any ability to make it into the middle class.”
According to Gonzalez, the restaurant and store owners in the gentrified Gaslamp District are treating their employees today much the way their predecessors did in 1912. “Most of the restaurants in the Gaslamp District are members of the California Restaurant Association (CRA), and here in San Diego the CRA is the number one faction that spends money against labor — even though we’re not in there trying to organize — because if organized labor had the right to talk to their employees at work and tell them they have the right to make more than tips, that they should have paid sick days, then their profits will go down and the picture in San Diego might actually change,” Gonzalez said. “Not a lot has changed, has it?”
Jim Miller, teachers’ union leader and husband of Kelly Mayhew, drew a parallel between the IWW and the Occupy movement of today. “The Wobblies didn’t stand on soapboxes just to defend the First Amendment,” he explained. “They were standing up and giving speeches like this: ‘Why does [sugar magnate Adolph] Spreckels have everything and you have nothing? It’s time you got smart and joined the One Big Union.’ … They knew we were a city run by a narrow plutocracy, the rule of the dollar, where those who had the money to buy the city’s newspaper did. Sound familiar?”
Though the San Diego City Council had passed a resolution the day before the February 8 event repudiating the 1912 ordinance, the Free Speech Fight anniversary came to a bizarre end that revealed members of the San Diego Police Department have little more sympathy for unbridled Left-wing speech than their forebears did in 1912. At about 7:20 p.m., a uniformed police officer named Pajita moved into the crowd and announced that the police were breaking up the demonstration in the intersection so traffic could start moving again.
Pajita and other officers present said they wouldn’t stop the Free Speech Fight re-enactors from remaining on the sidewalks and speaking from there, but the police order to move away from the center of the street pretty much ended the demonstration. A few people made attempts to continue it, including one man who led a mic-check reading of the official declaration of Occupy Wall Street. (In a mic-check reading, a form of street speech pioneered by Occupy Wall Street when they were not allowed to use amplification, one person says or reads something and then the crowd around him or her repeats it so that everyone can hear.) At least one participant was arrested when he refused to leave the intersection, but with the crowd generally unwilling to resist arrest, the police successfully cleared the streets and the action came to a quiet, ambiguous end.

Cynthia Nixon: Bi Heroine Tells It Like It Is


Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

I could probably have lived my life quite comfortably without knowing or caring who Cynthia Nixon was, but when I read that she — an actress who made her reputation on the Sex and the City TV show — was being raked over the coals for having said somewhere or other that being Queer was a “choice” for her, I immediately got interested and wanted to see exactly what she’d had to say.
It began when Alex Witchel interviewed her for a New York Times Magazine article published January 19, 2012. After Witchel gave a history of Nixon’s professional career — her start as a child actor, her ability to make the leap to adult roles with stymies a lot of showbiz kids, her appearances in major Broadway productions with the likes of William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Jeremy Irons and Christine Baranski, and her leap into cable TV with what Witchel called “the global success of Sex and the City” — the writer started to describe Nixon’s personal life.
He mentioned that Nixon had been married to a man, Daniel Mozes — who went to Hunter College High School with her and now teaches there — and they had had two children. Then, Witchel wrote, “As Nixon has grown older, she has allowed herself to start coloring outside the lines.” What that meant in plain English was that in 2004, a year after she broke up with Mozes, she started a relationship with Christine Marinoni, who “with the help of a male friend whom Nixon will not identify” gave birth to a son, Max Ellington Nixon-Marinoni, whom Nixon and Marinoni are raising as a couple.
Witchel quoted Nixon as saying “I totally reject” the skepticism many Queer activists showed towards her middle-age change in sexual orientation. “I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a Gay audience, and it included the line, ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been Gay, and Gay is better,’” Nixon told Witchel. “They tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my Gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered Gay and who is not.”
Nixon didn’t stop there. Witchel described her as waving her arms and turning red in the face as she expressed her antagonism towards the “born this way” orthodoxy of the Queer community. “Why can’t it be a choice?” she said. “Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was Gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.”
Needless to say, the Queer Thought Police came down on Nixon like the proverbial ton of bricks. Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out — an organization designed to expose the abuses so-called “reparative therapy” programs aimed at turning Queer people straight — said, “Cynthia did not put adequate thought into the ramifications of her words, and it is going to be used when some kid comes out and their parents force them into some ‘ex-Gay’ camp while she’s off drinking cocktails at fancy parties. When people say it’s a choice, they are green-lighting an enormous amount of abuse because if it’s a choice, people will try to influence and guide young people to what they perceive as the ‘right’ choice.”
Under the lash of the criticism, Nixon backtracked — a bit — when she gave an interview to the Daily Beast Web site and identified herself as Bisexual. (Duh.) “I believe we all have different ways we came to the Gay community, and we can’t and shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into one cultural narrative which can be uninclusive and disempowering,” she said. “However, to the extent that anyone wishes to interpret my words in a strictly legal context, I would like to clarify: while I don’t often use the word, the technically precise term for my orientation is Bisexual. I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have ‘chosen’ is to be in a Gay relationship.”
Why on earth can’t we acknowledge at least some element of “choice” in how we express our sexual desires? No Gay man is equally attracted to all men, nor is any Lesbian equally attracted to all women, any more than any straight person is attracted to everyone of the opposite sex. If we can pick and choose our partners based on height, weight, age, hair color, tastes in politics or music, or whatever weird and beautiful criteria that guide us, why can’t we pick their gender, too? Why do we have to make some hard-and-fast decision, once we’ve had our first experience with a same-sex partner, that we have to identify as Gay or Lesbian for life?
In fact, for reasons that — like much of the science of sexual orientation — aren’t very well researched, known or understood, women seem more able to have sex, or form relationships, with other women and not feel that makes them Queer forever than men are with other men. UC Davis psychologist Gregory Herek did a survey that found that 16 percent of self-identified Lesbians said they’d had “a fair amount of choice” in their sexual orientation, versus only 5 percent of self-identified Gay men. Among self-identified Bisexuals, the figure was 45 percent for women and 40 percent for men.
Another study, actually an analysis of nine studies by researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, said that 8 million Americans (3.5 percent of the population — not Alfred Kinsey’s much-vaunted “10 percent,” which only applied to men and included Bisexuals) identify as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual. In eight of the nine surveys Williams studied, Bisexual women outnumbered Lesbians, while Gay men outnumbered Bi men.
What this says to me is that women are far less likely than men to regard sexual orientation as an either-or choice — either straight or Gay — and more likely to be able to experiment with Lesbian experiences or relationships without having to make a hard-and-fast decision that they can’t go back to dating the opposite gender. I’m not sure why that is, but my guess would be that for a man to have sex with men means identifying with the supposedly “inferior” female role and is therefore, in the context of a homophobic society with rigid notions of “proper” gender identification and behavior, a more wrenching psychological change and a more direct challenge to one’s own sense of identity.
Coming out as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer or what have you isn’t made any easier by the demands of the Queer orthodoxy and the “born that way” mythology that once you’ve ventured into Queerdom, you can’t go back. It has to do with the metaphor, at the root of much Queer organizing and activism since the founding of the Mattachine Society in 1950, that sexual orientation is an “immutable characteristic” comparable to race, and therefore discrimination against Queer people is as wrong — and wrong for the same reasons — as discrimination against African-Americans or other people of color.
It’s a metaphor that’s getting harder and harder to sustain as the Queer community comes to grips with the existence of Bisexual and Transgender people and tries to figure out how to integrate them within an essentialist, biologically determined concept of sexual orientation. The reality of Bisexuals — people who can, depending on the circumstances, fulfill themselves romantically or sexually with both males and females — already makes it virtually impossible to sustain a limited (and limiting) understanding of people as “born” straight or Queer.
And the reality of Transgender people drives the final nail into the coffin of the idea of sexual orientation as immutable. After all, it’s hard to think of a more “immutable characteristic” someone could have than the physical or genetic configuration of their body as male or female — and yet the Transgender community has shown us that physical or genetic gender is not destiny, that one can be physically one sex and psychologically and spiritually the other. Indeed, an increasing number of Transgender people don’t buy into the notion that there are just two genders; instead they claim one or more of a dizzying array of gender identities which is going to take a while for those of us who don’t share their gender ambiguity fully to understand.
I’ve long felt that we as a community have reached the limit of race as an appropriate metaphor for our movement’s struggle against discrimination and prejudice. Indeed, ironically enough, the growing number of mixed-race people in the U.S. (including our current President) has weakened the “born this way” racial metaphor even among the people for whom it was invented; more and more mixed-race people are sounding like Bisexual and Transgender people in their refusal to settle on one racial identity and insistence that the people around them accept the totality of their heritage, not just characterize them on the basis that they look “more” like one of their ancestral races than another.
I think religion is a better metaphor for our community than race now. One can accept the religion into which one is born, one can change to a different one — either a different denomination or a totally different belief system. One can not believe for years and then suddenly decide there is a God, or one can believe for years and then suddenly decide there isn’t. One can accept a particular faith pretty much “as is,” or one can pick and choose among the elements of different ones. Or one can make up a belief system of one’s own. All these choices are, or at least should be, protected under the broad two-part guarantee of religious freedom in the First Amendment — government can neither play favorites for one religion or another, or stop you from believing and practicing whatever faith (or non-faith) you want.
Likewise, instead of telling people they have to fit themselves, their experiences and their desires into boxes neatly labeled “straight,” “Gay,” “Lesbian” or “Bisexual,” we as a community should be fighting for the right to express yourself sexually any way you like, as long as you don’t force yourself on someone else or otherwise cause harm to others. “Our community is not a monolith, thank goodness, any more than America itself is,” said Cynthia Nixon — who, let’s face it, would have got the Queer Thought Police even angrier if her first partner had been a woman and her second one a man, instead of the other way around.
“I met Christine and I fell in love and lust with her,” Nixon said. “I am completely the same person and I was not walking around in some kind of fog. I just responded to the people in front of me the way I truly felt.” That’s the sort of freedom we as a Queer movement should be working for all people to have. It’s the openness to experience, to love, to power, to — dare I say it? — choice that will liberate us, not some crabbed orthodoxy about being “born this way” which makes a great Lady Gaga lyric but a lousy prescription for other people’s lives.