Saturday, April 14, 2012

Marriage Equality Activists Face Trial April 30; Support Event April 27

San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality
P. O. Box 633131
San Diego, CA   92163
(858) 335-6615

April 12, 2012

Marriage Equality Activists Face Trial April 30

April 27 “Evening with the Equality Nine” Highlights Their Civil Disobedience

SAN DIEGO — Six members of the “Equality Nine,” a group of marriage equality activists who were arrested on August 19, 2010 for going to the San Diego County Clerk’s office and demanding that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples, will go on trial Monday, April 30, 2012, 9 a.m. before Judge Joan P. Weber in Department 51 of the San Diego County Superior Court, 220 West Broadway, fourth floor, in downtown San Diego.

The San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.), which sponsored the original demonstration at which the arrests took place and has coordinated community support for the Equality Nine, will host an event, “An Evening with the Equality Nine,” Friday, April 27, 7 to 9 p.m. at Pleasures & Treasures, 2525 University Avenue (at Arizona Street) in North Park. The event will be a combination community forum and social which will give people a chance to meet the Equality Nine and their supporters.

Among the speakers at the event will be Equality Nine member Cecile Veillard; Jersey Deutsch, activist with S.A.M.E., Occupy San Diego and the marriage equality outreach group Canvass for a Cause (CFAC); and Eric Isaacson, a local attorney who was involved in the litigation in which both a trial court and an federal appeals court have declared Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriages, unconstitutional. An attorney representing one of the Equality Nine is also scheduled to speak.

Community co-sponsors of the event include CFAC, Activist San Diego (ASD), the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice (SDCPJ), and the Rainbow Action Group of the First Unitarian-Universalist Church, which is providing refreshments. S.A.M.E. is also asking supporters of marriage equality and the Equality Nine to demonstrate outside the court building at 220 West Broadway from 8 to 9 a.m. on the opening day of the trial, April 30.

“We have to pressure the system at all levels, from local government to President Obama,” said S.A.M.E. member Chuck Stemke, one of the Equality Nine. “Unfortunately, the large and exciting movement that erupted across the state and county after the narrow passage of Proposition 8 has declined. But that movement compelled Obama to lift the ban on Gays [serving openly] in the military — more cooperation than most oppressed groups in society have received. But the President has not lifted a finger on marriage equality. He continues to be publicly opposed … We need to continue the struggle against Proposition 8 in the streets, inside the courthouses and in the streets outside the courthouses. We cannot let this issue fade from public consciousness.”

Recalling the August 19, 2010 demonstration, Sean Bohac, another S.A.M.E. and Equality Nine member, explained that the group’s goals were, “first: to encourage the County Clerk to issue marriage licenses to the same-sex couples who had appointments to be married that day.” At the time, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker had already issued his landmark opinion that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and could not legally be enforced, but the Court of Appeals then issued a “stay,” a legal delay that has prevented Judge Walker’s decision from taking effect. The stay remains in place even though a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals upheld Judge Walker’s ruling by a two-thirds vote.

“Even though Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional, unjustified and wholly discriminatory in a federal court, the same court blocked same-sex marriages for the duration of the appeals process,” said Chuck Stemke. “A year and a half later, it is this stay which continues to block Gay and Lesbian couples from getting married in California. We wanted to directly challenge the system, specifically then-County Clerk David Butler … to do the right thing by upholding his oath to serve the public equally. And if he wouldn’t do it, we wanted all of San Diego to know that the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] community is no longer willing to wait at the mercy of this system.”

In order to challenge the stay, S.A.M.E. members came to the County Clerk’s office on August 19, 2010 with three same-sex couples there to demand marriage licenses, including Equality Nine members Michael Anderson and Brian Baumgardner. Two other couples actually had appointments to get married that day, booked with the County Clerk’s office before the stay was imposed. One of the couples, Tony and Tyler Dylan-Hyde, came with a letter (drafted by Tyler, a licensed attorney) explaining why, in their view, the County Clerk could marry them despite the stay.

According to Bohac, if they couldn’t obtain marriage licenses for the same-sex couples in their group, their second objective was “to make sure that the people of California knew that we were angry that we were being discriminated against on the basis of a law that had been found unconstitutional by a federal judge.” When they went to the clerk’s office, they were blocked from entering and met with 50 San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies in full riot gear, and ultimately nine S.A.M.E. protesters were arrested.

The Equality Nine are being charged with two misdemeanors: failure to disperse, and interference with the business of a public agency. The second charge is based on California Penal Code section 602.1(b), a law which in the immediately following second (c) states that “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.” Though Judge Weber has refused to allow the defendants to present this issue at trial, the issue of whether a law that specifically exempts constitutionally protected free speech from its provisions can be used against political demonstrators is likely to be a major issue on appeal if the Equality Nine lose in the trial court.

“What the prosecution is essentially arguing is that we were preventing ‘equal access,’ which is the most ironic of terms,” S.A.M.E. and Equality Nine member Cecile Veillard said. Indeed, the Equality Nine have argued that it was they who were denied “equal access” to the business of a public agency when the request of three same-sex couples for marriage licenses on August 19, 2010 was met with arrests from sheriff’s deputies in full riot gear.

Some Equality Nine members believe their prosecution signals a get-tough attitude towards public demonstrations of all kinds on the part of city and county officials in general, and San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith in particular. Goldsmith is not only prosecuting the Equality Nine — despite at least 3,500 petition signatures collected by S.A.M.E. and CFAC asking him to drop the case — he is also prosecuting members of Occupy San Diego who were arrested for violating the arbitrary and often inconsistent orders of police during the occupation of Civic Center Plaza.

“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,” said Bohac. “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.”

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Mayoral Candidates Address Queer Community

DeMaio Dominates, Filner Gaffes, Fletcher Abandons GOP


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

PHOTO: L to R: Carl DeMaio, Bonnie Dumanis, Nathan Fletcher, Bob Filner

The four leading candidates for Mayor of San Diego in this year’s election addressed the Queer community at a forum at the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center in Hillcrest Wednesday, March 28, in what turned out to be the first candidates’ debate since Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher left the Republican Party and re-registered without a party identification. Ironically, though the debate’s sponsors included San Diego’s Queer-oriented major-party political clubs, the San Diego County Log Cabin Club and the San Diego Democrats for Equality, neither club endorsed either of the openly Queer candidates in the race, City Councilmember Carl DeMaio and County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Instead, the Log Cabin Club endorsed Fletcher — though they may have to rescind the endorsement now that Fletcher is no longer a Republican — and the Democrats for Equality endorsed Congressmember Bob Filner, the only Democrat among the four major candidates. However, that didn’t stop Filner from noting in his opening statement that San Diego has come a long way since he entered electoral politics. “Thirty years ago, could you imagine this night at the Center, when two of the three Republican candidates — I’m sorry, all the Republican candidates — were Gay and were elected to office without it being an issue,” Filner said. “My friend Nathan gave an incredibly moving speech on the Assembly floor calling for repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Here we are with four candidates, either Gay or Gay-friendly. It’s a tribute to your political organization.”
“I really feel like I’m home,” said Dumanis, who gave the second opening statement. “Forty years ago, I came to San Diego and have grown up with the LGBT [Queer] community. I’m part of this community, and there are two really proud moments of my life: when I ran to become the first openly Gay district attorney in the U.S., which I did with your support and that of the Victory Fund [a nationwide organization devoted to identifying and helping elect openly Queer candidates to public office]; and the opportunity I had to marry my partner Denise and take her as my spouse. We proudly participated in this community and in a press conference against Proposition 8,” the anti-marriage ballot measure approved in November 2008 that closed the window of opportunity for marriages like hers.
Carl DeMaio, who spoke next, said, “This is a very important forum for me,” but as he has done throughout his political career he avoided discussion of Queer issues or his own sexuality and focused on his overall agenda for the city. “We are out there advancing change and building a consensus that our city government is broken and needs fixing,” he said. “I’m running on a comprehensive program of getting our city services back on track and rebuilding our neighborhoods. I have an obligation to represent this community well, and a lot of my supporters will cast their very first vote for an openly Gay candidate. We are advancing change by touching hearts and changing minds.”
Up last, Nathan Fletcher focused his opening speech on his decision to leave the Republican party and his attempt to establish himself as someone who can work with members of both major parties to solve problems. “I ran for State Assembly because I believe public office is public service,” he said. “I’ve focused on bringing people together, solving problems and getting things done. I will always be an independent voice for what is right. Our partisan system is broken.”
Moderated by Tom Fudge, host of the Morning Edition news program on KPBS-FM, the forum allowed for audience questions but only in writing. Rather than allow audience members to address the candidates directly, the debate sponsors had ushers collect the questions on index cards, and Fudge chose which questions to ask the candidates. The first question allowed the candidates to explain how they proposed to serve the Queer community and why Queer voters should elect them.
“You’ve got to know where we’ve been,” said Filner. “I’ve been a proud fighter for equality since I was a kid. When I was 13 I met Martin Luther King, Jr. and when I was 18 I was in jail. I’ve been working for African-American, veterans, Latinos, Gays, whatever. I don’t just pass and vote for laws. I don’t take any contributions from people who supported Proposition 8. I would have been out there working against it, just as we will do for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act” [ENDA, an attempt to add Queer people to the classes protected against job discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act].
“You can have a mayor who will be constructive for your community,” said Fletcher. “We really can begin to rebuild our city. We became described as Enron by the Sea. There’s a chance in this election to bring in a new mayor. I want to redefine San Diego as an innovative city and an education city, but it’s going to take not only a mayor with a plan but a mayor who can work with people and bring an independent voice to help us move forward.”
“I think I would not underestimate the power of sending a message to San Diego and the U.S. to have a Gay mayor,” said Dumanis. “I’ve seen the impact of [openly Lesbian Mayor] Annise Parker in Houston, and I’ve seen what we can do as a judge and a district attorney. I will be a proud spokesperson and will continue to serve you.”
Carl DeMaio answered similarly. “It will be the shattering of the glass ceiling that your orientation doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s how well you can do the job. The best way for me to represent the LGBT community is to be San Diego’s best mayor. And that’s what I’m committed to do. In fulfilling that role, I have to go into communities where they don’t agree with my orientation, who may not believe in full equality, and in a lot of those communities I may be the first person in a long time from the LGBT community that they’ve met. It allows us to set an impression, to touch hearts and, in doing so over time, to change minds.”
But given the close ties between the modern-day Republican party and the anti-Queer evangelical Christian Right — including the support of all the major Republican Presidential candidates for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban legal recognition of same-sex marriages nationwide — it was almost inevitable that one of the questions that would come up was how DeMaio and Dumanis reconciled being Queer with being Republican.
“My mother asks me that every day,” Dumanis replied. “It was harder to come out to my parents as Republican than as Gay. Government should stay out of our lives and we should have individual responsibility. I have worked with all sides and all members of our community. You know what I stand for and where I’ll be. Being part of the solution is making those changes from within.”
“When I met my partner Johnathan, he asked me about politics, I said I was a Republican and then there was a long pause and I thought, ‘There went my chance for a second date,’” said DeMaio. “Just like Bonnie, I think we all have a role to play. I am a Republican, I’m proud to be a Republican, I’m proud to be a member of the LGBT community, and I don’t think you can make things happen unless you can make change in every community, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. I had to stand before the Republican Central Committee and ask for their endorsement. Twelve hours prior to that, a filthy e-mail was sent out [to each of the Central Committee members]. It was absolutely outrageous, and I did not know whether that would affect the outcome. I stood before them and said, ‘You know me. I’m running on a fiscal reform agenda, because our city’s future is on the line and I ask you to help me change its course.’ And they endorsed me by a two-thirds vote despite that nasty, shameful attack.”
Fletcher took the time he was supposed to use on the next question — about the DeMaio-sponsored initiative to end defined-benefit pensions for new city workers and shift them to 401(k) plans — to accuse DeMaio of pandering to anti-Queer prejudices on the Republican Central Committee to get their endorsement. “Your campaign viciously attacked me, in the open, for my support of equal rights regardless of sexual orientation,” Fletcher said. “You took a far-Right extremist score card and touted it as the reason that they should not support me, and should support you. Your campaign directoryou’re your surrogates attacked me for my support of SB 48 [a bill which requires public schools to teach the social contributions of Queer individuals to U.S. and California history]. You refused to answer whether you supported that effort or not.”
Given a chance to respond by moderator Fudge, DeMaio said, “I have never criticized any of my opponents for their positions on social issues, nor will I, because I do not believe it is the role of the mayor to advance a social-issue agenda. That has been very clear and consistent,” he added, as the audience booed. DeMaio was also confronted by a reporter from San Diego LGBT Weekly, who protested that neither he nor any members of the media would be allowed to question either DeMaio or any of the other candidates directly. Fudge threatened to have the reporter ejected if he continued to disrupt the event.

Pensions, Parks and Filner’s Gaffe

Two of the questions for the candidates centered around two of the most controversial issues in the race: the initiative DeMaio co-sponsored with current Mayor Jerry Sanders to eliminate defined-benefit pensions for new city workers and the proposal by Qualcomm founder and CEO Irwin Jacobs to finance the building of a pedestrian bridge and parking lot in Balboa Park — as long as the city approves his proposal without change. On the pension issue, DeMaio, Dumanis and Fletcher all supported the initiative and Filner opposed it.
“Did Bob Filner sign his name to the card?” DeMaio asked, noting that the question Fudge had raised was framed in a way clearly hostile to his initiative. “Pension reform has to be done in the city of San Diego. Our city’s financial future depends upon it. In 2000 our city’s pension payment was $48 million. This year it’s $231 million, and even under the rosy scenario of earning 7 ½ percent guaranteed interest a year on investments in the pension system, our pension payments will spike to $340 million in the next 10 years. Do you know where all that money is coming from? It’s coming from our community service organizations, road repairs, library hours, police and fire protection, higher water bills for people on fixed incomes. We must confront this issue.” He also claimed that his initiative would return city employees to the Social Security system.
“I went to Houston for the LGBT Leadership Conference and went to the municipal meeting, and the number one topic was pensions,” said Dumanis. “Everyone had the same message: we can’t afford the pension systems we have for public employees.” She said that she would be willing to “bring the employees back to the negotiating table and make it fair,” and she would also be willing to explore annuities as a third option.
“I’m the only one who opposes the Dumanis/Fletcher/DeMaio plan,” Filner said. “It throws the public employees under the bus. It does not put the public employees on Social Security, and it does not put money into the general fund. Any savings depend on their being no raises for city employees, and that can’t legally be mandated in an initiative.”
On the Jacobs plan for the park, DeMaio and Dumanis were noncommittal, Fletcher enthusiastically supported it as part of a broader vision for Balboa Park’s 100th anniversary in 2015, and Filner opposed it. Fletcher called the controversy over Jacobs’ plan — and especially the take-it-or-leave-it condition he attached to it — “like remodeling a house and just talking about the garage door. Let’s have a bigger, broader discussion on how we can make it the greatest park in the world. I want us to send a message to community groups and to philanthropists who are willing to part with some of their hard-earned money, to the environmentalist community, that says we can get together and address these problems. We need to send a message to all those groups that we are interested in rebuilding our city and moving us forward, not continuing the same old fights about the same old issues.”
“Two Republicans wouldn’t take a position, and the ‘independent’ got it wrong,” said Filner. “I’m against the bridge. We have to look at what we want Balboa Park to be for the next 100 years, but if you put that monstrosity in, it destroys the future. So let us do it right. I agree with you. Let’s get the pedestrians out of there” — an obvious mistake, since the debate over the Jacobs plan is whether it represents the best way to make the center of the park more pedestrian-friendly by getting automobiles out of it. Filner didn’t realize he’d made a gaffe until audience members questioned him on it and said he’d got it wrong. “Oh, shit,” he muttered under his breath, then only made matters worse by continuing to joke about his mistake during the rest of the debate.

Queer Democrats Endorse Union Leaders for School Boards


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

PHOTOS, top to bottom:

Marne Foster

Bill Ponder

L to R: John Witt, Bob Cornelius, Gregg Robinson

Lyn Neylon

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democrats for Equality endorsed two leaders from the American Federation for Teachers (AFT) for school board races at their March 22 meeting: Marne (pronounced “Marnie”) Foster for San Diego Unified School District board district E and Gregg Robinson for District One of the San Diego County Board of Education. One month earlier, the club had split over a Congressional race and rated both state senator Juan Vargas, the labor-backed candidate and former state senator Denise Moreno Ducheny “acceptable” despite Vargas’ refusal to support marriage equality for same-sex couples. In picking Foster over Ponder, the club outright endorsed a labor-backed candidate despite her difficulty articulating support for marriage equality.
When Foster filled out the club’s issues questionnaire, instead of answering whether she supported marriage equality she referred to paragraph three of a four-paragraph letter she submitted with the questionnaire and also distributed to club members at the meeting. It read, “I am a Christian woman who clearly understands that God has given men and women ‘Free Will’; and, it is not my place or any one’s place to impose their faith on others, or to take away another man or woman’s ‘free will’! This is a right that God has given and no one can take away! Many teach tolerance, understanding and acceptance; but I teach love which encompasses all!”
Under questioning from club president Doug Case, Foster acknowledged that she had attended her Lesbian sister’s wedding and finally said she would support marriage equality. But in a follow-up question, asking how she had voted on Proposition 8 — the ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriages California voters approved in November 2008 — Foster said she hadn’t voted on the issue at all. Ponder said he had voted against Proposition 8 and added that as a former college administrator, “I had to serve all students. Colleges and universities have long had to deal with this directly.”
Many of the club’s questions dealt not with Queer issues but the overall challenges facing the schools today, particularly the repeated cutbacks in education funding the state has imposed on local school districts and the layoffs San Diego Unified and other districts have had to order in response to budget cuts. Asked if either of them had voted for a tax increase, Ponder said as a property owner he would have voted for higher taxes to fund education, while Foster expressed her disappointment that her union, the AFT, backed away from their proposed “Millionaires’ Tax” initiative and instead endorsed Governor Jerry Brown’s tax increase proposal after winning some changes in it. “We need real revenue for real education,” Foster said.
Facing a similar question from a different perspective — how should the district deal with its budget if more tax revenues aren’t forthcoming — Foster said, “We’re going to have to use technology in ways we haven’t before. We will have, unfortunately, to do more with that. We’ll have to bring parents into the classroom.”
“You have to look at the fiscal situation and the alternative in terms of financial structures,” said Ponder. “There are ways to make the district itself work more efficiently. We’re going to have to sit down with all the adults in the district and see what we can still be and what we can’t afford. Third, I would go to the colleges, universities and foundations and involve them. I don’t think the financial situation is going to get better any time soon.”
Maggie Allington, club member and wife of Assembly candidate Pat Washington, asked the candidates about the failed attempt by a group of business leaders called “San Diegans 4 Great Schools” to expand the school board to nine members by adding four seats that would be appointed rather than elected. “I think that’s a bad idea,” Foster said. “They [the new board members] should have to have to earn the confidence of the community and prove they have the right to be there” by winning a vote of the people.
Ponder said he regarded the defeat of the San Diegans 4 Great Schools initiative as a done deal but added, “I believe there is a role for colleges, universities and companies to play” in governing the district. “If the school board together figures out a role for them, that’s important and productive,” he said. (After the meeting, Washington told this reporter that Ponder had actually been on the sponsoring committee for the San Diegans 4 Great Schools initiative, which the club had endorsed against and urged its members and community supporters not to sign.)
Asked about charter schools, Ponder said he thought they were a sensible option for schools placed under “program improvement” by the California Department of Education — a category set up by the state to implement the federal No Child Left Behind act. According to the California Department of Education Web site, schools end up in “program improvement” if they “do not make adequate yearly progress” in standardized test scores. “We need to involve the parents and others to make sure they get out of program improvement,” Ponder said.
Foster used the charter-school question, and Ponder’s response to it, to launch a broader attack on No Child Left Behind itself and the ideology behind it that both individual students and whole schools can be measured by test scores. “There are improvements needed to No Child Left Behind,” she said. “A lot of teachers are forced to teach to the test.” She also said that 75 percent of the charter schools already established in District E have not met educational standards and have been closed.
The club overwhelmingly voted to endorse Foster, despite her reluctant embrace of marriage equality, after many members with long-standing involvements in educational issues — including San Diego State University Africana Studies department chair Dr. Shirley Weber and openly Queer San Diego Unified School District board member Kevin Beiser — strongly supported her. Ponder’s cause wasn’t helped by a leaflet he distributed that named Dr. Weber as one of his endorsers — not when she was there personally to say it was wrong and she was supporting Foster. The club’s vote was 28 for Foster, five for Ponder and three for no endorsement.

What Does the County Board Do?

Why is there such a thing as the San Diego County Board of Education, and what does it do? That was the question club president Case asked the three candidates for District 1 on the County Board: incumbent John Witt, a Republican; and challengers Gregg Robinson and Bob Cornelius, both Democrats.
“The County Board is a court of last resort for students whose families believe they have been unfairly treated by suspension or expulsion,” Witt explained. “The County Board will hold a hearing, listen to both sides and make a judgment. The County Board also sponsors specialists to help teachers and administrators, it sponsors the court schools [for students under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system] and it provides classwork for the children of migrant field workers.”
Cornelius said he worked with the County Board of Education both in San Diego and Santa Clara Counties, and in Santa Clara their County Board handles the special education program as well. He said that in addition to the powers Witt mentioned, the San Diego County Board of Education also runs the academic decathlon and the selection of the Teacher of the Year.
Witt recalled that when he first ran for the County Board in the 1990’s, after having retired from the San Diego Unified School District board, “three far-Right County Board members were rejecting federal funds for education.” Indeed, the club had felt so strongly about the radical-Right attempt to take over the County Board that Witt was the last Republican it ever endorsed before the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee changed the rules and banned local Democratic clubs from endorsing non-Democrats, even in nominally “nonpartisan” races.
But with the radical-Right threat to take over the County Board of Education seemingly in the past, the club’s debate turned on other issues. Cornelius, whose leaflet emphasized his 36 years’ work in education, said, “Education is in crisis. We’re looking at a $20 billion loss in four years. I’ve retired two or three times and I’ve come back to trouble-shoot districts in trouble. I’ve been a high school, junior high school and university-level teacher, assistant and deputy superintendent. My experience is in early childhood education.” He said he understood “the anxiety of reductions and cuts” and said that those who take seriously the idea of “equal opportunity in education” need to “help get rid of the revenue limit for education, rethink Proposition 13 — where we lost the governance of education — and eliminate the defunding of public education.”
Robinson, who as a teachers’ union leader has frequently spoken at labor-sponsored events, boasted of his endorsements by Congressmember and Mayoral candidate Bob Filner, San Diego Unified School District board member Richard Barrera, San Diego County Board of Education president Mark Anderson, and the American Federation of Teachers local 1931. “I’ve taught at the University of Texas and the University of Maryland, and I’m not afraid of a regression equation, but the most important thing is still what goes on in the classroom,” Robinson said — a direct attack on the idea that teachers can be judged by so-called “value-added” criteria based on their students’ test scores.
“One of the responsibilities of the County Board of Education is to close the achievement gap, which has been shrinking between Black and white students — but is growing between rich and poor students,” Robinson said. Responding to a question from Dr. Shirley Weber specifically on the achievement gap, Robinson argued that one of the biggest ways to address it is to stop cutting back on early childhood education. “We cannot expect teachers to compensate for cutbacks in pre-school,” he said. “The important thing is not just to fund education at current levels but to increase those levels. There’s too much scapegoating of teachers right now.”
Eventually the club endorsed Robinson by a unanimous voice vote — an unusual decision in a contested election. The club also made a number of other endorsements in school board races where either there was only one candidate running or only one Democrat, including Lyn Neylon for San Diego County Board of Education District 2. Running to unseat Republican incumbent Jerry Rindone, Neylon ran on a similar platform to Robinson’s, publicizing her endorsements by Filner, Anderson and AFT Local 1931 and stating on her campaign leaflet, “We need more educators, NOT more administrators, on the school board!”
The club also endorsed Bernie Rhinerson for District B of the San Diego Community College Board and made three “friendly incumbent” endorsements in other school board races: Mary Graham, Community College Board District D; John Lee Evans, San Diego Unified School Board District A; and Richard Barrera, San Diego Unified School Board District E.

“Severely Conservative”


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

On February 10, Republican Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. in which he referenced the one time in his life he has ever held an elective office: as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. “I fought against long odds in a deep blue state,” Romney said. “But I was a severely conservative Republican governor.” In the same speech, he also recalled how he had responded to the landmark decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court that same-sex couples had a legal right to marriage equality by invoking an old state law to bar same-sex couples from out of state from marrying there. “On my watch, we fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of Gay marriage,” Romney said. “When I am President, I will defend the Defense of Marriage Act and I will fight for an amendment to our Constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.”
Romney was rewarded for his defense of the Right-wing faith (in more ways than one) by winning CPAC’s annual Presidential straw poll, with 38 percent to 31 percent for his nearest rival, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. He was also lampooned by writers like Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist and op-ed contributor to the New York Times, who responded with a column quoting Molly Ball of The Atlantic as saying that Romney had “described conservatism as if it were a disease.” Krugman also quoted Mark Liberman, linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, as saying the words that most commonly follow the adverb “severely” are “disabled,” “depressed,” “ill,” “limited” and “injured.”
I generally have a high respect for Paul Krugman as author and thinker, but this time he got it almost totally wrong. When Romney invoked “severe” as a definition of his conservatism — to an audience of the kinds of people he needs to convince of his Right-wing bona fides not only to get the Republican Presidential nomination but to arouse the base of voters, volunteers and small contributors he needs to beat Barack Obama in November — it had nothing to do with disease. Instead it had to do with a value that is transcendent in the thought of the radical Right, a single word that brings together all the strands of Right-wing thought and reconciles the otherwise incomprehensible contradiction at the heart of their philosophy: the gap between their economic policies, which are total lassiez-faire and call for the government to end regulations on business and “unleash the private sector,” and their social policies, which seek government intervention in the most intimate details of our personal lives: whom we love, marry, have sex with and how we deal with the consequences therefrom.
The word is discipline, and it occurs early on in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary’s definition of “severe”: “1. a: strict in judgment, discipline, or government. B: of a strict or stern bearing or manner: austere. 2. Rigorous in restraint, punishment, or requirement: stringent, restrictive. 3. Strongly critical or condemnatory: censorious.” The online dictionary goes on to give five other, similar definitions of “severe,” of which only one definition, plus one subdefinition, have anything to do with illness or disease. The list of synonyms for “severe” the dictionary gives is “austere, authoritarian, flinty, hard, harsh, heavy-handed, ramrod, rigid, rigorous, stern, strict, tough” — all characteristics it’s easy enough to find in the rhetoric of Romney and his principal rivals for the Republican nomination: Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. There’s an even more revealing note in a user comment on the Merriam-Webster site which suggests that one possible word origin for “severe” is the Latin “se vere” — “without kindness.”
What was most striking about Romney’s description of himself as “severely conservative” was its dramatic contrast to the way another Republican governor — a sitting one, rather than a former governor like Romney — described himself in his own Presidential candidacy just 12 years ago. When George W. Bush emerged as a Presidential candidate, he called himself a “compassionate conservative.” Anxious to project a moderate image — especially once his Democratic candidate, Al Gore, seemed on many issues to be running to Bush’s Right (in the campaign it was Gore who called for a highly interventionist “nation-building” foreign policy and Bush who was the voice of restraint!) — Bush wanted to soften his “conservative” image and put what his father had called a “kinder, gentler” face on his views.
But that was then, and this is now. These days, the Republican electoral base has become so hard, harsh, heavy-handed, stern, strict, tough, flinty — in a word, so severe — kindness and compassion have become major liabilities. Newt Gingrich suffered the first of his several near-death experiences in the campaign when he dared to take on Congressmember Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisconsin) plan for privatizing Medicare and denounce it as “Right-wing social engineering.” Rick Perry’s campaign started to unravel when he said that anyone who didn’t support allowing the foreign-born children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. so they could attend college or fight in the military “didn’t have a heart.” And well before the nation learned of Herman Cain’s sexual peccadilloes, he’d already turned the stomach of the Republican base when he said that if his granddaughter were raped and got pregnant by her rapist, he would respect her “choice” whether to bring the pregnancy to term or have an abortion.
It’s this obsession with discipline — severe discipline — that unites the Republican base and holds together the two wings of the party, which otherwise would seem to have little in common. In economic matters, Republican discipline manifests itself in a fervent commitment to lassiez-faire and a belief that The Market should be allowed to work itself out for good or ill. If General Motors was so badly managed that it found itself on the edge of going out of business, the radical Right’s creed says, let it go out of business — no matter how many workers, not only at GM itself but at all the companies that produce parts for it and service its car loans and sell meals and clothes to its employees, would lose their jobs as a result. If people don’t voluntarily buy health insurance (since requiring them to do so is an assault on their precious “freedom”) and they get a catastrophic illness, either let them die (the response of two Tea Party activists in the audience at a notorious Presidential debate in Tampa, Florida September 12, 2011) or hope they can get help from churches or private charities (the answer given by Ron Paul, the candidate who was actually being asked that hypothetical question by debate moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN).
The ultimate advocate of the free-market absolutism of today’s radical Right was the author and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982), whose 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged has taken a place just behind the Bible among the sacred texts of the radical Right. Paul Ryan, who as chair of the House Budget Committee has more power over the federal purse right now than any other Republican, requires everyone he hires for his staff to read it cover-to-cover before they start work. The plot of Atlas Shrugged deals with a group of super-capitalists who, in Rand’s view, have created all worth and value in the world (a deliberate reversal of Marx’s idea that labor, not capital, was the source of all value). They react to an increasingly collectivist U.S. government by withdrawing to a redoubt in the Colorado mountains, from which John Galt, their leader and spokesperson, emerges to give a long lecture expressing Rand’s philosophy. The message was summed up by Ludwig von Mises, co-founder of the so-called “Austrian school” of lassiez-faire economics, who blurbed Atlas Shrugged by saying to Rand, “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior, and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.”
So the modern-day radical Right’s message about the economy is that the government should just stay out of it and let the capitalists rule. Allow what Austrian (but not Austrian-school) economist Joseph Schumpeter called the “creative destruction” at the heart of capitalism to roll over and kill old industries to make way for new ones — no matter how many people were put out of work, how many lost their homes in foreclosures or their life savings in failed banks, how much of the environment was destroyed, how many people were died or injured in industrial accidents the capitalists didn’t consider it worth their while to protect against, or how much other collateral damage all that “creative destruction” wreaked in its wake. (Ironically, Schumpeter himself, though not a socialist, believed that a transition to socialism was inevitable because workers wouldn’t stand for having their jobs repeatedly “creatively” destroyed. Boy, was he wrong.) On economic issues, the radical Right says, we are to be subject to the “discipline” of a “severe” marketplace …
… while, in the management of our private lives, we are to be subject to the “discipline” of the same government the radical Right doesn’t trust to run or regulate the economy. The most severe (that word again!) restrictions the radical Right would impose on us all seem to have to do with our sexuality. Virtually all the world’s religions have tried to control people’s sexual expressions, and Christianity’s origins as an apocalyptic cult have made it perhaps the most anti-sexual religion in the world. The early Christians preached against having sex at all; they weren’t worried about propagating the race because they thought Christ was coming back in their lifetimes and therefore propagating the race wouldn’t be a problem. When it was clear Christ wasn’t coming back in their lifetimes, they moderated their anti-sex position just enough to be practical: it was O.K. to have sex, but only if you were a married heterosexual couple and only for purposes of reproduction.
It’s that tradition Rick Santorum was coming from when he recently said, “Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s O.K. Contraception’s O.K.’ It’s not O.K. because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is [sic] counter to how things are supposed to be.” Santorum’s idea of “how things are supposed to be” is that it’s only moral to have sex if you do it to make babies, and even then only in the context of a mutually monogamous heterosexual marriage. Birth control and abortion are both wrong because they allow straight people to have sex without making babies, and homosexuality is wrong because by definition it can’t make babies. The radical Right’s message to women, especially unmarried women, is if you don’t want babies, don’t have sex. Ironically, it’s a message that would have appalled Ayn Rand, an atheist and a (hetero)sexual libertarian, but the radical Right has mentally edited out those parts of Atlas Shrugged just as they’ve mentally edited out the parts of Jesus’s teachings that talk about the meek inheriting the earth, the peacemakers being blessed and the only law being to love thy neighbor as thyself.
And on foreign policy, the radical Right never seems to have met a war it doesn’t like, unless a Democratic president got us into it under some pretense of “humanitarian intervention.” Right now, in addition to promising to renew the U.S. troop presence in Iraq and reverse President Obama’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, the major Republican Presidential candidates (except for Ron Paul) are calling for bombing Iran, attacking Syria and throwing our military weight around the entire world. Theodore Roosevelt, a progressive Republican well before that became an oxymoron, famously said that in its foreign policy the U.S. should “speak softly and carry a big stick.” The Republican Presidential candidates of today believe in swinging the big stick without talking at all.
Fascinatingly, there was a figure during the last Great Depression — the one that began with the collapse of an overvalued stock market in 1929 — whose rhetoric coupled the lassiez-faire discipline of The Market and the idea that the American people needed a dose of state-enforced “morality” more eloquently than the members of the radical Right today. His name was Andrew Mellon, he was secretary of the treasury under President Herbert Hoover, and his chief claim to fame was that he relentlessly opposed even the half-hearted government interventions with which Hoover hoped to help bring back prosperity. Though he never said this publicly, his private advice to President Hoover was to let the Depression take its course and make no attempt whatsoever to use the government to help people hurt by the economic catastrophe.
“Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate,” Mellon told Hoover (according to Hoover, who quoted him in his autobiography). “It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, lead a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.” The fact that modern-day Republicans are openly advocating for the sorts of policies Andrew Mellon felt safe discussing only in confidence in the office of the President shows what they have in store for us: a world in which uppity workers and consumers are “disciplined” by the Market and the buccaneering Randian entrepreneurs of an “unleashed” private sector, and people who live the “wrong” kind of life, and particularly people who have the “wrong” kind of sex, are disciplined by morality enforcers not that different from the ones in Iran or Taliban-led Afghanistan.
That’s the kind of future the Republican Party has in mind for us, and it’s the real meaning of Mitt Romney’s boast that he was a “severely conservative” governor and will be a “severely conservative” President.

Human Trafficking: The Crime That Dares Not Speak Its Name

Social Worker Michelle Atkins Reaches Out to Enslaved Teenage Girls


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

You’ve probably seen the scenario in a hundred bad or mediocre movies or TV shows. The innocent young teenage runaway, newly arrived in the big city, suddenly realizes what a tough time she — sometimes he — is going to have finding food, a place to stay and any stability in her life. Then she’s approached by a nice young man who offers to help. Let me buy you breakfast, lunch, dinner, a new handbag, a manicure, some cosmetics. He gives her money and puts her up. Maybe they start dating and for a few weeks she thinks she’s one of the lucky ones who’s found a lover and ducked the dangers of the streets.
Then it’s payback time. He tells her she needs to start earning back the money he’s spent on her. He’s got a few friends who want to have sex with her and they’re willing to pay him for the privilege. If you really love me, he says, you’ll go along with this. Just this once. And then again. And again. Soon she finds that she’s “in the life” — the common euphemism people who have sex for money (usually money that goes to someone else, not them) use to refer to such an existence. She’s also likely to find herself hooked on alcohol and/or drugs, given to her by her “boyfriend” — really her pimp — both to help her face the rigors of “the life” and to make it less likely that she’ll resist or try to escape. And to make doubly sure she doesn’t do anything to weasel out of it, he’s likely to threaten to hurt or kill her family if she tries it.
It may seem like a hopelessly clich├ęd scenario, but it happens every day on the streets of San Diego, said San Diego Youth Services social worker Michelle Atkins to the Queer-rights group Canvass for a Cause (CFAC) at their Hillcrest headquarters March 14. Indeed, according to Atkins, San Diego is one of the top 13 cities in the U.S. for what she refers to as CSAC — “Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children” — mainly to avoid the loaded word “prostitution,” which makes the girls (and boys) seem like criminals instead of victims. What’s more, the traffic in human beings for sexual exploitation has become the number two source of income for criminal gangs, behind drugs but ahead of illegal weapons sales, Atkins said.
Atkins spoke mostly about STARS (Surviving Together, Achieving and Reaching for Success), the program she runs under San Diego Youth Services auspices to help teenage girls get out of “the life” and on track for a positive and productive future. She could have told horror stories all night, but Atkins wanted to focus on her group’s success stories. Indeed, she brought one of them with her: a young girl who’s recovering from the ordeal of being trafficked but who still visibly bore the scars of her experience. Except when Atkins asked her to address the group, she sat on the floor in a corner of the room, turning down the offer of a seat, looking at her laptop and obsessively fiddling with her cell phone — a remnant of the electronic leashes pimps turn their women’s cell phones into, requiring that they continually text them how many tricks they’re turning, how much money they’re making and where they are.
“One young woman we worked with was 13 and already had a child by a rape,” Atkins recalled. “Her family had kicked her out, and she met people who said they could find her work as a maid. They took her child, and took her to the work camps at Escondido and forced her to have sex with 40 men a day. They told her if she left, they would kill her child. Eventually she did run, and she went to a house in Escondido where they called the police. We got her out, but it took us more than seven months to find her child. That was one of the more severe cases.”
Atkins made the point that virtually all the women who are trafficked have been put at risk by other things going on in their lives well before they hit the streets and are suckered into “the life.” “Before they are trafficked, 34 percent have a history of domestic violence in their family, 40 percent have an incarcerated parent, and 45 percent have been touched by an adult in a way that made them feel uncomfortable,” Atkins explained. “Of the girls who are trafficked, 83 percent have run away from home, 90 percent are using alcohol and/or drugs, 27 percent self-injure, 24 percent attempt suicide and 20 percent are teen moms. Eighty-four percent are or have been homeless, and one out of every three youth on the streets are solicited within 48 hours; that was in 1999, and it’s probably a lot higher now.”
Indeed, one of the things that most amazes Atkins is how brazen the pimps are. “Even with me there, people will come up to the young women I’m with,” she said.  Most of the pimps are just trying to make their money, and don’t know or care who else is involved.” Atkins explained that 75 percent of the women she works with say they have a pimp, “and it’s actually higher because some still call him their ‘boyfriend.’ … If you see a young person with new nails, purses, clothes or hair, they’re probably from a pimp or someone grooming them for ‘the life.’”
Helping these young women out of “the life” is a tall order, Atkins acknowledged. It involves coordination between a lot of authorities that usually don’t even speak together very well, let alone work together. “The young women in STARS have consistent contact with law enforcement, social services, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions,” Atkins said. “Somebody has to fight for these people.”
Another problem is breaking the hold the pimps have over their “girls,” Atkins explained. “They’re either physically or psychologically controlled by the pimp,” she said. “They’re so emotionally identified with them they won’t testify against them. They’re trained to tell lies. Their experiences make them distrustful of service providers and law enforcement. They’re moved around a lot so they don’t get to create a center” — a permanent home or campsite where they might feel secure enough to establish a sense of their own identity and self-worth.
Indeed, Atkins displayed a circular “cycle” as part of the PowerPoint presentation that accompanied her talk and compared it to the similar, but much better known, “cycle” of domestic violence. Like battering husbands, pimps subject their victims to “controlling and dominating relationships,” Atkins explained. “When I first start to work with a woman, they’re on the phone all the time with their pimp or with tricks. And they’re definitely not in control of their money; if they try to keep their money, they’ll be beaten.”
Atkins grimly listed the “barriers” facing these women in seeking help: “captivity, confinement, isolation, use of violence, fear, shame, self-blame and hopelessness.” Unless a police officer has been trained in how to deal with teenage victims of sexual exploitation, Atkins explained, he’s likely to treat them as criminals and arrest them for prostitution — and some unscrupulous cops either demand “freebies” from them for not arresting them, or demand the “freebies” and arrest them anyway. Once they’re convicted, they often serve longer sentences than the pimps or the “johns” (their customers), a quirk in the law Atkins wants to see changed.
And even women who make it out of “the life” and back home face more troubles from both their parents and their peers, Atkins explained. “You try to go back to your family and your school, and people will call you ‘bitch’ and ‘ho’ at both home and school,” she said.
Ironically, Atkins cited National City as a local example of how victims of commercial sex abuse of children should be treated. “We went in and did meetings with police officers to train them,” she said. “We did ride-alongs with the police. They would look for the johns or the pimps, and we would reach out to the girls.” Another aspect of the program in National City was training local business owners to spot victims and encourage both business owners and residents to report hot-spots of sex trafficking.
According to the San Diego Youth Services Web site, STARS is “a program designed for teen girls between the ages of 13 and 17 who have experienced sexual exploitation and prostitution. The goal is to empower young women to escape sexual exploitation by developing their inner strengths, building a sense of community and supporting their reintegration into mainstream society.” Among the services offered are individual and groupo counseling, case management, community referrals (including schools, health care, job placement and housing), recreational activities, child care for teen mothers, and a “graduation ceremony and certificate of completion” to give the women who complete the 12-week program a tangible sign of achievement.
The activists in CFAC asked Atkins what they can do to help the girls in STARS, and in particular what items they need donated. The answers were surprising. “They really want to make some T-shirts and sell them to keep the survivors’ group going,” Atkins said. Other things STARS members have asked for are help in making professional-quality audio recordings so they can get their stories out, art supplies so they can make “vision boards” expressing their feelings and hope for lives outside “the life,” and one predictable item: independent living skills.
“I measure success in small ways,” Atkins said. “You show up to group, you use less, you graduate from high school, you get into college, you haven’t talked to your pimp in the last week, month or year. Some women get out of ‘the life’ and some women are still in it but manage it more safely: they insist on condoms and don’t go out high.”
Questions from the audience at CFAC ranged from whether it would be possible to reach out to vulnerable people before they’re approached by pimps to teach them to avoid the lures — maybe, Atkins said, but there’s no way to find out through her program because there’s no funding available for prevention — to whether legalizing sex work would help reduce the risks. No, said Atkins; the people who want to legalize it usually assume it’s a career choice like any other, and at least in her experience it isn’t because there’s nothing voluntary about it. “All the people I have encountered have been through traumas, and sex work was the result,” she explained.

April 7: Day of Action Against Human Trafficking

On April 7, 2012 the Radical Feminists of San Diego will mobilize a direct action in solidarity with 2012’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign on a local, national and global level to demand the abolition of human trafficking, the modern-day form of slavery.
The event will start at noon on the southeast corner of 30th Street and El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. There will be a march east ending at the south-side bus stop at the intersection of El Cajon Boulevard and the Route 15 on-ramp, where there will be a dynamic group of human-rights advocates attesting to their own fight against human trafficking, as well as a speak-out for all to share their stories of modern-day slavery.
Confirmed speakers include a representative of Af3irm San Diego’s Purple Rose Campaign against sex trafficking on a transnational level; Estela de los Rios, executive director of the Center for Social Advocacy; Dilkhwaz Ahmed, M.S., executive director for License to Freedom, on forced marriage and torture in Middle Eastern cultures; Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, on immigration and trafficking; and more to come.
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined by U.S. law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of labor or services, such as domestic workers held in a home or farmworkers forced to labor against their will.
The factors that each of these situations have in common are elements of force, fraud or coercion that are used to control people. That control is tied to inducing someone to perform commercial sex acts, labor or services. Numerous people in the field have summed up the concept of human trafficking as “compelled service.”
Every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people around the world, including the United States. Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. Already it has surpassed illegal weapons trafficking as the number two source of income for criminal gangs in the U.S. (the illicit drug trade remains number one). Law enforcement agencies in San Diego have identified this city as an international gateway for sex trafficking and one of the 13 U.S. cities with the most trafficking of children for the commercial sex trade.
Human trafficking affects every country in the world, regardless of socioeconomic status, history or political structure. Human traffickers have created an international market for the trade in human beings based on high profits and demand for commercial sex and cheap labor. Trafficking is estimated to be more than a $40 billion industry, affecting 161 countries worldwide. In the U.S., sex trafficking has been found in a wide variety of venues in the overall sex industry, including residential brothels, hostess clubs, online escort services, brothels disguised as “massage parlors,” strip clubs and sale of sex on the streets.
The Radical Feminists of San Diego, sponsors of the April 7 event, are a group that sprang up out of Occupy San Diego (OSD) with the intention of increasing women’s participation in OSD and helping build a feminist movement. They describe themselves as “a dynamic bunch of feminist rebels of all colors, sexualities and ages” who “gather to take actions, share our stories, educate each other and more.” For more information, visit or


Queer Republican Leader Reaches His Limit, Re-Registers as Democrat


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

The February 23 meeting of the San Diego Democrats for Equality featured a dramatic moment when Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, former president of the San Diego County chapter of the Log Cabin Club, a nationwide organization of Queer Republicans, came to the front of the room. He sat at the speakers’ table and, with current Democrats for Equality president Doug Case and former president Jeri Dilno looking on, filled out a voter registration form and re-affiliated with the Democratic Party.
Though only 24, Rodriguez-Kennedy is no stranger to the public eye. He first emerged in the media in October 2010, when he unsuccessfully tried to re-enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps following a court ruling that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy under which he’d been discharged was unconstitutional. The lawsuit, filed by the national Log Cabin Club, was declared moot and thrown out by the courts after an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress at the end of 2010, ended “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
That fall, he also published an endorsement column on the Web site in which he supported openly Gay Republicans like Assembly candidate Ralph Denney (who lost to openly Lesbian Democrat Toni Atkins in a strongly Democratic district) and moderate straight Republicans like County Supervisor Ron Roberts. But he also endorsed the controversial City Council candidate Lorie Zapf, despite her having written e-mails to self-proclaimed “ex-Gay” James Hartline stating that she didn’t think Queer people were qualified to hold elective office. “She definitely has changed,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said of Zapf — who won, though her victory had more to do with anti-union sentiment in her district than her relations with the Queer community.
Rodriguez-Kennedy left the Log Cabin Club presidency in April 2011 under a cloud after he admitted using the club’s debit card for $100 worth of personal purchases. “There was no problem,” he told San Diego CityBeat reporter Dave Maass — he repaid the club’s account as soon as he realized what had happened — “but some on the board thought that was an egregious mistake.” He also pointed to all his other community involvements, including his membership on the board of San Diego Pride and the San Diego County Veterans’ Advisory Council, and said that his replacement as Log Cabin president, Vicki Kerley, was someone he’d hand-picked to run as the club’s vice-president.
Just why Rodriguez-Kennedy decided to leave the Republican Party has been a bit of a mystery. At the February 23 Democrats for Equality meeting, his Pride board colleague Jeri Dilno (who, ironically, also started her political life as a Republican!) took credit for having brought him around and recruited him to switch parties. (She also admitted that his dramatic re-registration at the meeting was strictly for show; he’d already filled out and mailed in his new voter registration form.) CityBeat reported that the last straw had been the ascendancy of strongly anti-Queer candidate Rick Santorum in this year’s race for the Republican Presidential nomination. Zenger’s decided to seek an interview with Rodriguez-Kennedy and get the story firsthand.

Zenger’s: Tell me a little about your background, how you got in the military, when you came out and when you entered politics.
Will Rodriguez-Kennedy: I’m from New York City, but I spent half my childhood between there and Orlando, Florida. I joined the Marines when I was 17, right after I graduated from high school — I graduated early — and I went to the Marine Corps and got stationed in Hawai’i, which was a pretty good posting. We deployed to Iraq in 2007.
I knew I was Gay when I was 15, but I kept it out of my military stuff. But there was a lance corporal who was under me, a female, who didn’t like me at all. So she made up the rumor that I was Gay, and that led me to getting discharged. I got honorably discharged, so it was good — as good as you could possibly get — but that situation, and my ignorance of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, led me to do more research and get more active politically.
In 2008, when I had just got out, I had gravitated to the Log Cabin Republicans after the Clinton and Obama primary. I had met Hillary Clinton twice, and she was my home-state Senator, so I was totally a Clinton fanatic. I decided to register as a Republican because I felt disenfranchised when Clinton lost the primary. I was really invested in that, and what really stuck with me was how they treated Clinton, because there was a lot of negative campaigning against Clinton — not from Obama himself, because he never went negative in the campaign, but a lot of his surrogates were very negative towards Clinton, and there were a lot of sexist things that came out.
I didn’t like that, so I made my detour to the Republican Party there for a while. I got active, became president of the local Log Cabin chapter, became a delegate to the state party and an alternate to the Central Committee, and got active in the LGBT [Queer] community. I came to the San Diego Pride board. I’m a county commissioner on the Veterans’ Advisory Council. I do a lot of things.
I was always sort of in the middle on a lot of things, because I’m young. There were a lot of areas that I hadn’t formed opinions on, but towards the last year and a half I’ve thought that the Republican Party was way too Right for me. I’ve never liked the Tea Party. The worst arguments I’ve ever got into were with Tea Party members. That was what started my path away from the Republican Party, and then I left the Log Cabin Republicans. I have a lot of Democrat friends.
This year’s Presidential primary was definitely the straw, because the only person I could possibly see backing was Jon Huntsman. I like some of the things Ron Paul says, but the other things are just crazy. Then we have [openly Gay City Councilmember and Mayoral candidate] Carl DeMaio, locally, and if I’m on his side there’s just no way I’m in the right place. So I decided to switch. I really switched back, I should say.

Zenger’s: That’s kind of interesting, because to prepare for this interview I re-read your commentary on the 2010 elections, and your down-the-line Republican endorsements, including defending [City Councilmember] Lorie Zapf against the charge of homophobia.
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Yeah, I know. I had no problem saying that the board had endorsed this person, the organization has done that. I didn’t vote on a lot of those endorsements, because I was president. I was chairing meetings, and endorsement meetings are usually done by the board. It’s really different from the SDDE [San Diego Democrats for Equality], where you have the general membership [voting on endorsements].
Lorie Zapf was very nice to me. She had told me that she had changed, so I just took her at face value, and at the time I was working for Carl DeMaio, so that shows you just how lost I was.

Zenger’s: As I recall your article began with a kind of half-hearted acknowledgment that the Republican Party was really not that Gay-friendly, and I couldn’t help but think of the old joke that being a Gay Republican is like being a Jewish Nazi.
Rodriguez-Kennedy: I wouldn’t say that. I’m always really hesitant to invoke such strong language in that area, because when you think about what the Nazis did to the Jewish community, the genocide, I never liked trying to make those comparisons, but the positions of the Republican Party are not Gay-friendly. It’s not really something you can say with a straight face.
The only thing you can say to the salvation of the party is that there’s the younger generation that looks like it’s changing. I think Dave Rolland from CityBeat said it best when he said to a group of moderate Republicans, “You’re basically waiting for the old bigoted class of your party to die.” There are a lot of young Republicans who are way more progressive in their social leanings and more understanding. I mean, look at [Assemblymember and Mayoral candidate] Nathan Fletcher, and you can see the difference between him and, say, Rick Santorum, or even Carl DeMaio locally.

Zenger’s: There are two openly Queer people running for Mayor of San Diego as Republicans [Carl DeMaio and Bonnie Dumanis]. Based on your insight as the former chair, why did the Log Cabin Club reject both of them and endorse the straight Republican, Nathan Fletcher?
Rodriguez-Kennedy: I wasn’t the president when it was done, but from what I understand, first of all, one of the Republican candidates didn’t attend their pre-endorsement process. I think they did have a meeting with Bonnie [Dumanis], but Carl DeMaio didn’t attend their endorsement process. And if you’ll recall, Bonnie had said at that time that she wasn’t going to campaign until 2012, and she didn’t really start campaigning until 2012. You had CityBeat and other organizations criticizing her for not campaigning earlier, like Carl DeMaio and Nathan Fletcher.
I still support Nathan Fletcher for Mayor. I guess this is a Marine bond, because Nathan Fletcher is a Marine and he’s a good friend of mine. He’s pretty much the only Republican I’ll support this year. When you look at positions on LGBT issues, having been on the Central Committee, I know from the inside that if Carl goes to a pro-Gay rally, or Bonnie goes to a pro-Gay rally, they get a pass because they’re Gay. It’s just something that Republicans have factored into their minds.
Nathan Fletcher gets called a panderer when he does the right thing. impassioned plea on the [California State Assembly] floor for “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal is definitely more than Carl or Bonnie have done. And if you look at recent LGBT events — like the Imperial Court coronation or the Victory Fund fundraiser, Bonnie and Nathan have been there. Carl DeMaio was absent for those events.
I think the reason they didn’t endorse Bonnie was because she wasn’t campaigning as hard as Nathan. And Carl DeMaio didn’t get the endorsement because, a) he’s had a lot of bad, negative encounters with some of those members of the board, and b) he didn’t attend the pre-endorsement process. He’s been very hostile towards some of the members of that board.

Zenger’s: So you’re describing your political odyssey not from Republican to Democrat, but from Democrat to Republican to Democrat.
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Well, I wouldn’t say Democrat, because the first time I was old enough to vote, I registered as an independent. This will be the first time [I will vote as a registered Democrat].

Zenger’s: Aside from the party labels, how would you describe your politics now? The Republicans are always saying they’re for small government, lower taxes, fewer regulations — at least fewer regulations on business: a lot more regulations on people’s personal lives.
Rodriguez-Kennedy: For the most part I’m a progressive. When you talk about social change and social justice and things like that, I’m definitely progressive. I’m pro-Gay, pro-woman, and when it comes to immigration I support the DREAM Act and stuff like that. The only Republican tendencies I do have that remain is I’m very supportive of the Second Amendment, and even there I understand there needs to be reasonable common-sense restrictions. Obviously someone shouldn’t have a 50-calibre assault weapon.
Financially, I think that the government has a responsibility to promote the general welfare. That’s in the Constitution, and so I’m cool with that. But we have to address debt things. We have to figure out ways to finance the social safety net and things for the social good. I hate to say it, because in the Republican Party this is blasphemy, but you have to tax higher-income earners, and you have to close the corporate loopholes that allow companies like General Electric not to pay taxes at all in some years. That’s unacceptable. We have to tax the rich to some degree more than [they are now]. Even Warren Buffett says he could be taxed more, and that’s fine. He’s a billionaire.

Zenger’s: Guess who the last President who seriously tried to close the corporate tax loopholes was: Ronald Reagan. So it’s not like this is an unheard-of position in the Republican Party, although it seems to be so now.
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Well, if you look at it now, Ronald Reagan could not be elected in this party. There’s no way. You ever watch The Daily Show, Al Madrigal said, “Nobody alive or fictitious could actually be supported by the Tea Parties now, because Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood Commie who raised taxes, grew government and gave amnesty to illegal immigrants. He ain’t allied with these people.” And it’s true.
The party of today is nothing like the Reagan coalition, or even the Goldwater coalition. There are a lot of old Goldwater people who are now Democrats. They’re nothing like Eisenhower or Theodore Roosevelt, who were progressives. They’re nothing like Lincoln. Those people have more in common with the Democratic Party today than they do with the Republican Party today. I mean, if you look at their social policy, it’s more theocratic and it’s borderline on fascism.

Zenger’s: I thought you said you were going to avoid comparisons like that! Why would you say “bordering on fascism”?
Rodriguez-Kennedy: I wouldn’t compare them to a fascist regime, but I would say their policies are corporatist. They’re very favorable to corporations, and they’re very restrictive on the social lives of the populace. And that’s very authoritarian. They’re always talking about “religious liberties.” All right. They’re defining marriage from a Christian perspective. What if there’s another religion that has a different view?

Zenger’s: That sounds like my last editorial, where I said, “Where’s our religious liberty?” Where’s the religious liberty of churches that want to marry same-sex couples?
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Absolutely, absolutely. And there are. There are MCC and things like that, and the Episcopalian Church that has an openly Gay bishop.

Zenger’s: And the United Church of Christ, which has done TV commercials with same-sex couples saying, “We welcome you.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy: We don’t see much of that. And when you saw the panels in the Congressional hearing on contraception [chaired by North County Republican Congressmember Darrell Issa], all you saw was a bunch of older Catholic men. I think there were a couple of rabbis. When they’re talk about “religious freedom,” it is a very specific brand of religious freedom. And that’s not in keeping with what I believe about this government and the principles that founded us, or why the First Amendment exists: Congress shall make no law regarding religion. That means for or against. There is a separation of church and state, and anybody who says differently is wrong.
And these “conservatives” aren’t really Constitutional conservatives. Ron Paul would be a Constitutional conservative. The others are religious conservatives. Their primary document, which defines their beliefs, starts, “In the beginning.” It doesn’t start, “We the people.” And that’s a significant difference between the conservatives of Barry Goldwater’s day and the conservatives of today. That’s a significant difference. The conservatives of Goldwater’s day were more in line with classical liberalism.

Zenger’s: In your days as the Log Cabin Club president, in your published commentary, you opposed the proposal on the ballot to increase the city sales tax. Is that still a position you would take?
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Yes, at the moment I would oppose the sales tax. The people have spoken on that. My position was closer to what Donna Frye’s was when she first voted against the sales tax, when she said, “We haven’t done enough on the city side to then ask the people for a sales tax.” But now that labor has made some concessions and they’re about to save us $700 million without this pension reform, I do definitely oppose this pension reform. There are a million problems with that.
I don’t think it’s necessary [to change the city pension system] now. I think labor has come and made some concessions, and they’re willing to bargain in good faith. And I think that nobody really wants the city to fail, because everybody loses then. So these characterizations by the Right that, “Oh, Big Labor is running City Hall,” to say that labor wants to run City Hall into the ground, and that’s their purpose, that’s just crazy. It’s crazy talk. Nobody wants the city to fail, because they work for the city and that’s their livelihoods.

Zenger’s: I know your “frenemy,” Carl DeMaio, said, “I want to be the Scott Walker of San Diego.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Yes, he’s actually used the language. He wants San Diego to be the Wisconsin of the West.

Zenger’s: And whereas Scott Walker is fighting for his political life right now, Carl DeMaio is at this point the favored candidate for Mayor, the one who’s leading in all the polls. Why do you think his agenda is so popular?
Rodriguez-Kennedy: It’s popular among his base. If you look at Carl DeMaio’s poll numbers, they’ve never been above 25-ish threshold. And even if it reached 30, that would still say that 70 percent of San Diegans oppose his position. So when Carl DeMaio enters the general election — if he enters the general election, and I would project that he would — it’s most likely that these people whose position is “Anybody but Carl DeMaio” will coalesce around that person, and that will be the more popular position. So I would disagree with the point that he is “popular,” overall at least.

Zenger’s: He will almost certainly end up in the runoff. He will probably place first in the primary.
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Possibly. Most likely.

Zenger’s: And a lot of it would seem to depend on who places second.
Rodriguez-Kennedy: If [the only major Democrat in the race, Congressmember Bob] Filner campaigns, he doesn’t have to place first, because he does have a Democratic base. If you look at the numbers, everybody pretty much has 25 to 30 percent. Carl has 25 to 30 percent. Bob could have 25 to 30 percent. Then the rest can coalesce around a third candidate.

Zenger’s: I did want to ask you about this odd mini-scandal you were involved in, that cost you the presidency of the Log Cabin Club. From what I know about how the Right thinks, there will probably be people who’ll say, “Oh, well, he just got pushed out of the presidency, and that’s what embittered him, and he decided to get his revenge by becoming a Democrat.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Well, that would be a mischaracterization because I waited so long to do it. If I had done it immediately, that would make sense. I’m still really cool with members of the leadership of the Log Cabin Club. What happened with Log Cabin was that I had suffered a very bitter divorce with my partner of two years, and so I accidentally made a mistake. I came clean, and I actually hand-picked my successor. Vicki Kerley was my vice-president. I had her elected vice-president. So there’s really no relation.

Zenger’s: What would you say to people, particularly on the Left, who say there’s really no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties?
Rodriguez-Kennedy: There are a lot of people who have that feeling, especially people of my generation: “There’s no difference. It’s like, when I go to the ballot box, I’m choosing the lesser of two evils.” Sometimes that is the case. And that happens in a two-party system. But remember we’re a candidate-centered democracy. It’s not like Britain, where you vote for parties rather than candidates you like. Here in America, individuals can actually change the party system and have substantial impact on the party system.
So to say that the parties are two of the same — I could see where people are coming from, but there are significant ideological differences that exist today. Now if you look at the parties, they’ve switched ideologies at some point. I mean, all you have to do is think back to the Dixie Democrats. Party platforms change, and they change depending on which people show up. So to say that they’re the same, I would disagree.

Zenger’s: What most of the people who say that — particularly the ones on the Left, the ones in places like the Occupy movement — are saying is that both parties rely on wealthy individuals and corporations to finance their campaigns, and therefore they are both doing the bidding of Wall Street, doing what the 1 percent want them to do, and both come together for things like bailing out the financial sector.
Rodriguez-Kennedy: A Republican-led initiative! TARP was Republican.

Zenger’s: Making sure that, whatever happens, the huge banks remain whole, and in fact there are fewer of them, and they are larger now, than they were then. It was indeed a bipartisan program to deregulate the economy as much as it was, starting with Jimmy Carter in the 1970’s and continuing since. So that’s what they’re usually talking about when they say that the parties are the same, particularly on the issues of finance and wealth and income, and who gets taxed.
Rodriguez-Kennedy: I think I would agree with the 99-percenters in the sense that this country went wrong when we started defining corporations as individuals, and then equating free speech to monetary contributions. Through super-PAC’s and things like that, we have a lot of opportunities now for people like the three or four rich people who are backing either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, or insert candidate name here — and even Obama has some very rich donors — to influence elections. I definitely things like Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, I think that was definitely a bad decision.
If corporations are people, then we have to tax them like people — and we certainly don’t. We have to stop a lot of things that corporations are getting away with. I hate it every time I hear a clip of Mitt Romney saying, “Corporations are people too, my friend,” I just want to scream, because that’s ridiculous. People are people. I have no problem with rich people donating, but there must be a way to balance that, because then it’s not really a democracy if we’re just allowing people to buy offices. I like public financing.

Zenger’s: The counter-argument to that was expressed by Justice Scalia in an earlier opinion that Justice Kennedy quoted in Citizens United, that because the corporations are the prime movers of our economy, they should have more of a political voice than anyone else. [Scalia’s actual words were that any restriction on the power of corporations to donate to elections “muffles the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy.” Citizens United, p. 38.]
Rodriguez-Kennedy: That’s a terrible idea. It is keeping with Scalia’s philosophy on this matter, but democracy is about people. And that’s what we need to bring it back down to. That stuff is a danger to our democracy. When I joined the Marine Corps, I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. There’s nothing in the Constitution about corporatism and corporate individualism, and I think that it was a mistake that the Supreme Court took those positions and have now had those positions incorporated into our current legal system. Citizens United also took out one of my favorite candidates, so I guess I have a little bit of bias there, because they did attack Hillary Clinton!

Zenger’s: That’s an interesting difference between our perspectives. I was a long-time Democrat who was fiercely partisan for Obama because Bill Clinton’s Presidency had been such a disappointment, the last thing I wanted was a rerun! And I also figured — and I wrote this in an editorial at the time — that Hillary would have the Groundhog Day factor working against her: that people would vote thinking, “Do I really want the history books to say that that run of Presidents was Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton?”
Rodriguez-Kennedy: That was definitely working against her, because her name was definitely an Establishment name. It was an incumbent-sounding name. Everyone knows “Clinton.” So I do think that worked against her, because in that time frame an outsider was definitely what the people wanted.

Zenger’s: Do you think that Obama’s race has anything to do with the venom with which the Republicans have attacked him, or is this kind of a well-honed attack machine that they will push at anybody the Democrats put up?
Rodriguez-Kennedy: I wouldn’t say it with Obama. I would say that when racism plays a part in it, a lot of their positions on Latinos are closer to racism. You have people who saying things like Newt Gingrich saying Spanish is “the language of the ghetto,” and that gets a pass. There is a certain racist tendency towards African-Americans that you get with Rick Santorum saying something about African-Americans and welfare.

Zenger’s: He said, “I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Despite the fact that white people make up the majority of welfare rolls. That doesn’t make sense to me. But there are racially charged statements like that that do exist. I’m not sure I would say that it is purely racism that plays into the venom of the Republican Party. But then again, if you look at the local Republican Party, I’m not sure that there is a person of color on their executive board, and I think that a lack of diversity in the party at least opens them up to that charge, and that speculation. It has created the perception that there are racial charges in their attacks, and by creating that perception, that is their fault, and they should change. There needs to be more diversity in the Republican Party, that’s for sure. Then they wouldn’t have all these problems.

Zenger’s: Though I’ve got the impression that as long as you sign on to this extreme-Right agenda, they will accept you no matter what you are. If you’re a Black person or a Latino or a woman or a Queer who signs on to it, they’ll say, “Wow! We’re not against them. We’ve got this person. We’ve got that person.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy: You see, what bothers me about that perception is that that’s what a lot of Carl DeMaio’s supporters are saying. “People like Roger Hedgecock and Doug Manchester and the Caster family, they’re supporting Carl DeMaio, so they must have changed. That’s a pro-Gay thing to do.” No, that’s not a pro-Gay thing to do, to support Carl DeMaio. The Casters and all them will still give to NOM [the National Organization for Marriage], they’ll still give to take away marriage equality rights for LGBT Americans. They are not changing their positions. They’ve just found a puppet for them, that benefits them financially.
You’re talking about moneyed interests who bankrolled taking away a right from hundreds of thousands of LGBT people in California. I hate that position because people say that as an “out” for Carl. I don’t think that them supporting a Gay candidate necessarily means that they support Gay rights. And I don’t believe that supporting a Gay candidate necessarily means you support Gay rights. Where was Carl DeMaio on Proposition 8? He didn’t say anything until after Proposition 8 had already passed. Where was he? It was his responsibility as a leader. He may not be the “Gay Councilmember,” but he still has a responsibility to his community. I mean, I’m definitely condemning of that position.

Zenger’s: Yes, that does seem to be Carl’s attitude: “Let Todd Gloria be the ‘Gay Councilmember.’ He’s representing the one-third Gay district. I don’t have to represent Gays because that’s not my constituency.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy: I’ll tell you straight up that is Carl’s attitude. Exactly. But you’ll see him in little photo ops when Todd Gloria puts something forward, a Pride resolution or something like that. You’ll see Carl DeMaio jump into the photo shot, that’s for sure.

Zenger’s: So what do you see as your future?
Rodriguez-Kennedy: Right now I work for LGBT Weekly. I’m going to finish my degree in communications and I’m going to continue serving. I have a passion for service. That’s why I joined the Marine Corps: I wanted to serve my country. That’s why I serve on the Pride board and serving the veterans’ community. I do like the idea of running for public office one day, but right now I’m going to continue fighting for our rights: fighting for LGBT’s, fighting for veterans, and see where that takes me in the future.