Monday, July 22, 2013

Much Heat, Little Light at Public Debate on Immigration

Pro-, Anti-Immigrant Rights Sides Can’t Connect on the Issues


Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Ruben Navarrette

Randy Bergholz

“Will each of you list your home address,” asked second-year Thomas Jefferson School of Law student Thomas Fisher of four immigrants’ rights advocates at a public debate at the school July 19, “and when I show up — I may or may not knock — and provide me the same moral arguments that you’re providing here today?”
“I’ll do it on one condition,” said syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, the principal spokesperson for the pro-immigrant side. “When you arrive, you need to do my floors, cook my food, make my bed, stain my fence. You need to do all those things for no pay or little pay, and I reserve the right on Friday — I’ll pay you on Friday after you’ve worked the entire week for me, and you’ve provided me and the middle class with an upper-middle-class lifestyle. You’ve also provided my kids, who are 15, 16 and 17, and lazy and entitled as typical American kids of all colors are, and on Friday I promise to pay you for your week’s labor. But before I pay you, I’ll call the Neighborhood Watch to take you away.”
This exchange, occurring midway through the debate shortly after moderator Douglas Holbrook opened it up for audience questions, exemplified the way immigrants’ rights supporters and opponents frequently talk past instead of to each other. Throughout the debate, the four spokespeople on the immigrants’ rights side focused on the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States, while the opponents talked about the economic harm allegedly caused by immigration and the need for even tougher levels of border security. Peter Nuñez, United States Attorney for San Diego from 1982 to 1988, said, “Why don’t we stop illegal immigration before we do anything else?” — making it clear that the status of undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. was of little or no concern to him.
Even the question around which the debate was centered — “Should undocumented immigrants be granted amnesty?” — exemplified the linguistic, as well as the ideological, pitfalls surrounding the issue. Bill Driscoll, who organized the debate for his “Talk of the Town” program on newly launched radio station KNSJ 89.1 FM, drafted the question so it was biased towards the pro-immigrant side in one particular — it used the term “undocumented” instead of “illegal” immigrants — but it also included the term “amnesty,” which the pro-immigrant speakers said was a Right-wing buzz word. What’s more, they said, “amnesty” is meaningless in the current immigration debate because, as Navarrette put it, “Nobody on either side is proposing a 1986-style amnesty.”
Pro-immigrant spokesperson Enrique Morones raised hackles on the anti- side of the room when, asked to give his biography, he described himself as the founder of Border Angels and Gente Vida. Morones said Border Angels was formed to reach out to immigrants crossing the desert with water, food and blankets needed to keep them alive, and Gente Vida was intended “to resist and expose hate groups like the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Minutemen, neo-Nazi groups like that.”
That raised hackles on the anti-amnesty side all night. Opening his presentation as the principal spokesperson against amnesty for undocumented immigrants, Randy Bergholz, Thomas Jefferson School law professor and former San Diego County Republican Committee member, said he was a former member of FAIR and it didn’t serve the cause of rational debate for Morones to brand it a neo-Nazi hate group. Student Fisher ran off a list of names immigrant-rights advocates had called their opponents during the debate — “neo-Nazi,” “hate,” “Southern Poverty Law Center” (an organization Morones had cited as a source for his statement that FAIR and the Minutemen were hate groups, and which Fisher seemed to be saying was itself a hate group), “Fox News,” “lies,” and “Right-wing talking points.” Fisher said that by using these terms to demean their opponents, immigrant-rights advocates had “dug yourselves a hole before we’ve really started.”

Not Just Against “Illegals”

Navarrette, who’s actually listed by his Washington Post syndicators as one of their “conservative” columnists, began the debate by saying he’d written about undocumented immigrants for 25 years and lived in Phoenix, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Diego. “I’ve never met an illegal immigrant who wasn’t welcomed here,” he said. “They were recruited by employers. The main problem isn’t because we have too much border security or we’re too compassionate. It’s because we’re not honest. [Immigrant-rights opponents] like to think that if we threw out all the illegal immigrants, all the kids working at Starbucks would rush out into the fields to work jobs picking avocados. It would not happen.”
Challenging the progressive orthodoxy that giant corporations and farm owners are driving the problem by exploiting their workers — as well as the conservative orthodoxy that if the employers paid enough, U.S.-born Americans would take the jobs now done by immigrants — Navarrette said, “The number one employer of illegal immigrants is the American household. [They hire them as] nannies, gardeners, housekeepers and caregivers for seniors. As long as we keep hiring them and bringing them in, these things will occur. The only way you can solve this problem is by being honest and cutting away the bullshit” — momentarily forgetting the event was being recorded for broadcast on an FCC-licensed radio station that can’t legally air that word.
Bergholz, principal spokesman against amnesty, started his presentation by giving his own ethnic background. He’s the son of German and Polish immigrants, he said, and also has Native American (Cherokee) ancestry — and, he added, his wife is British and came to this country legally. “America has immigration laws,” he said. “Most people follow them. We have long lines waiting to come in. We created a system in 1965” — referring to the bill authored by the late Senator Ted Kennedy which eliminated quotas of allowable immigrants from different countries and instead made “family reunification” the cornerstone of America’s immigration policy. Bergholz said his side wanted “to talk about people who don’t want to obey the laws, and people who enable them.”
But as the debate went on it became clear that Bergholz, Nuñez and the other two anti-amnesty speakers, Arizona State University professor Rob Lewton and former radio talk-show host John Stahl, don’t just want to stop undocumented immigration. They want to reduce all immigration and eliminate any so-called “pathway to citizenship” either for immigrants already here or for those who may arrive in the future. Their argument was that the U.S. simply cannot afford to absorb all the people who would want to be here.
“We have seven billion people in the world, and four billion of them would love to live in the United States,” said Nuñez. “The solution to illegal immigration is not more legal immigration. Most people believe there has to be a limit. In the last 20 years we’ve had the highest amount of legal immigration in our history. In the 1890’s we needed the numbers. How many people do we need?”
“The economy should be the precursor for developing how much immigration any country has,” said Lewton. “If the economy is booming and growing, like it was in the two bubbles we had, the dot-com/tech bubble and the housing bubble, certainly we can issue work permits for people from Mexico, South America and other countries to come here temporarily and do work. If you want to understand immigration, you’ve got to understand the financial markets. You’ve got to understand age demographics. One out of three baby boomers lists Social Security as their only form of income, and the overwhelming number of these people live in immigrant-rich states: North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, California.”
Lewton claimed that the comprehensive immigration reform bill just passed by the U.S. Senate would triple the number of slots available to legal immigrants — and he said that’s bad policy, especially since he’s predicting another recession. “Don’t make the same mistakes we made in the past,” he said. “Take a more panoramic view.”
Enrique Morones disputed the contention of immigration opponents that the U.S. will be flooded with immigrants if it pursues a more open policy or grants a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants already here. “There are 250 million undocumented immigrants in the world, of whom most don’t want to live in the U.S.,” he said. “There are 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. and 40 percent arrive with documents — student visas, tourist visas, work permits — and overstay their visas.” Morones also said that previous waves of immigrants, including Germans, Italians and Jews, were attacked for the same alleged reasons modern-day Mexicans are — that they don’t want to assimilate, that they don’t want to learn English, that they’re setting up their own subcommunities within the U.S. — and it isn’t true of Mexicans any more than it was of these earlier groups.
Arnoldo Torres, pro-immigrant spokesperson who was involved in drafting the 1986 immigration law — which was much closer to an “amnesty” than anything being proposed today — pointed out the elephant in the room regarding immigration from Mexico to the U.S.: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “After 1986 the number of people did not go up in the record numbers that many people opposing legalization argue,” he said. His source was, ironically enough, FAIR — the same group his fellow immigration supporters were denouncing as racist. According to FAIR’s reports on people apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border between 1984 and 2005, Torres said, the big leap in attempts to cross the border came after NAFTA went into effect in 1994.
“NAFTA did away with the [economic] progress Mexico had made in the area of agriculture,” Torres said. “They completely did away with the cooperatives, in which small farmers were actually able to make a living on their farms, in their local communities. They started to import U.S. agricultural products at the expense of the Mexican rural areas. So from 1994 to 2004 you have this massive movement of Mexicanos from the rural areas of Mexico to the major cities, and the cities could not accommodate them because NAFTA could not create the 1.5 million jobs it had to create [to employ all the displaced rural Mexicans]. NAFTA created only half a million jobs. So where were the other people going to come? They came to the United States.”
“I agree with you on NAFTA,” Bergholz said, “but the question on this side is what is it undocumented people want? A job? A green card? Citizenship? Why can’t we have a ‘NAFTA green card’ so Mexicans and Central Americans can come here and have the right to work without a path to citizenship?”

Costs, Benefits of Immigration

An audience question from third-year Thomas Jefferson law student Daniel Schmeikel triggered a discussion of one of the most contentious aspects of the immigration debate: are immigrants — documented or otherwise — a benefit or a drain on the American economy. Schmeikel’s question was in two parts: do undocumented immigrants pay Federal income taxes, and how much of what they’re paid is spent here in the U.S. and how much sent home to their families as remittances?
Morones and fellow pro-immigrant panelist Jan Behar cited figures from the Social Security Administration that the Social Security system receives $7 billion a year from undocumented immigrants — who, unless they’re legalized and can prove they paid in, aren’t eligible to receive benefits. Behar and Navarrette pointed out that undocumented immigrants can’t get jobs in the U.S. at all without either a fake Social Security card or a legally issued I-10 taxpayer ID number, through which the IRS can withhold Federal income taxes.
“Uncle Sam doesn’t discriminate,” Navarrette explained. “He’s giving undocumented people a way to pay Federal income taxes” — even though, as Behar said earlier, if an undocumented immigrant overpays Federal income taxes he or she doesn’t get an end-of-the-year refund the way a U.S. citizen or documented immigrant would. And regarding the remittances, Navarrette added, “People don’t send 100 percent of their pay to Mexico. They have to live here and spend money on rent and food.” What’s more, Morones said, when they buy a taxable item in a store undocumented immigrants are charged sales taxes like everyone else.
The question on taxes also triggered a broader back-and-forth discussion on the entire economic cost — or benefit — of immigration in general and undocumented immigration in particular. Torres cited a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study of the recently passed U.S. Senate bill that claimed it would reduce the Federal budget deficit by over $197 billion per year. Nuñez fired back, saying that the CBO had only “scored” the bill for the first 10 years it’s in effect. He also said the CBO had acknowledged that “this bill will not stop illegal immigration. It only reduces it by 25 percent. For me, the issue is how do we stop illegal immigration in the future? If you can convince me that an amnesty would stop future illegal immigration, I’d be all for that.”
“The CBO scored the first immigration bill [the Senate proposed], not the one the Senate passed,” said Lewton. “Florida Senator Marco Rubio — who is no longer supporting the bill he worked to negotiate — put in a clause that no immigrant could work in shipyards or shipbuilding. He did that because he knew that would threaten jobs in Florida. The solution is work permits but not legalization. Then they wouldn’t have to pay Social Security because they’ll never get it. The worst-case scenario is to legalize them — and then we’ll have to take care of them the way we already do with our people.”
“If this is such a bad country, why do so many people want to come here?” said Bergholz. “We’re willing and ready to talk. I’ll sit down with you. We understand there’s an issue with how do you deal with people already here. How do we keep good immigrants from becoming bad Americans?”
“The national motto has been, ‘There goes the neighborhood,’” said Navarrette. “Every group that came here was called ‘inferior.’ German and Chinese immigrants were considered ‘unassimilable.’ Henry Cabot Lodge said the Irish were bringing us down.” But Navarrette added that the argument he was hearing from the anti-immigrant side July 19 — that once allowed to stay in the country and put on a pathway to citizenship, immigrants would lose their work ethic and suck off the welfare state the way U.S. citizens allegedly do already — was a new one. “I hadn’t heard before tonight that we as Americans are inferior, and if we let too many immigrants in, they’ll become just like us,” he said.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bob Filner: Mayor Behaving Badly

By Mark Gabrish Conlan • for East County Magazine,
L to R: San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, Queer activist Nicole Murray-Ramirez and San Diego LGBT Pride director Stephen Whitburn at the San Diego LGBT Pride Festival July 14. Filner ducked the parade the day before due to controversies over his treatment of women, including staff members, but he dropped in quietly at the festival and visited the San Diego Democrats for Equality booth.
Just when you thought the current sex scandal involving San Diego Mayor Bob Filner couldn’t get any weirder, it did. On July 17 KGTV Channel 10 broke the news that Filner had been booked to be the keynote speaker at the National Military Women Veterans’ Association of America’s gala event in San Diego August 30-31. They had originally planned to give him a “Lifetime of Leadership” award honoring his work on behalf of veterans in general and military veterans in particular. But with allegations that Filner routinely harassed women, including his staff members, in the workplace and at community events, the group decided to rescind the award but keep him on as a speaker. “He is now the keynote speaker for these injustices,” said the group’s official statement.
The Filner scandal is making none of its participants look good. Filner sold himself to the San Diego electorate in general and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in particular as a tireless fighter for civil rights whose idealism had been honed by his arrest in the Freedom Rides — national protests against racial segregation on interstate buses — in 1961. Unfortunately, his attitudes towards women in the workplace also seem to have been flash-frozen in 1961. The conduct he’s being accused of — telling a female staff member women employees would do better “if they worked without their panties on,” making leering comments towards women, groping them and forcibly kissing them — sounds like the stuff of a bad Mad Men script, a throwback to an age when male bosses routinely treated women who worked for them as sex objects and women were told that submitting to sexual harassment was the price they had to pay for having a career at all.
But his principal accusers from the progressive Democratic community that used to be his political power base aren’t looking any better. The campaign against Filner has been led — at least in public — by three people: former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye and attorneys Marco Gonzalez (brother of former San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council chair and recently elected Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez) and Cory Briggs. They came out on July 11, gave a remarkable press conference in the parking lot of Briggs’ law office in Linda Vista and announced that Bob Filner should resign as Mayor immediately because they had, as Gonzalez put it, “very specific facts from women who work for the Mayor that his behavior does not conform to community standards.”
The three participants in the press conference refused to reveal either who these women were or what exactly they were saying Filner had done to them. “It’s not important for us to detail what these women have told us,” Gonzalez said, and Frye followed up with a stern warning to the reporters present that if they tried to find out who the women were or what they were accusing Filner of, they would themselves be complicit in the abuse of the women. Apparently Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs were hoping that the shock of three long-term progressive Democrats who’d helped elect Filner in the first place coming out against him and demanding his resignation would lead him to admit guilt, fall on his sword and resign as ordered.
Instead Filner sat in front of a video camera in the Mayor’s office and recorded a two-minute apology that wasn’t any more specific about what he supposedly had done than his accusers had been. “I have diminished the office to which you elected me,” he said. “The charges made at today’s news conference are serious. When a friend like Donna Frye is compelled to call for my resignation, I’m clearly doing something wrong. I have reached into my heart and soul and realized I must and will change my behavior. As someone who has spent a lifetime fighting for equality for all people, I am embarrassed to admit that I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them.”
Filner acknowledged — at least in words — that standards of how to treat women in the workplace have changed and “behavior that would have been tolerated in the past is being called out in this generation for what it is: inappropriate and wrong.” He said, “I need help” — playing the “therapy” card surprisingly early for a politician reacting to a scandal about his personal behavior — and admitted, “If my behavior doesn’t change, I cannot succeed in leading our city.” But he didn’t offer a resignation, and when he gave an interview to local TV station KUSI on July 15 he seemed to back away from his earlier admissions. Filner told KUSI, “I’m a very demonstrative person. I express myself demonstratively. I’m a hugger, of both men and women. And if it turns out that those are taken in an offensive manner, I need to have a greater self-awareness of what I’m doing.”
For the record, I have known both Bob Filner and Donna Frye for many years. I have written about them as a journalist and frequently been greeted by both of them at public events. In fact, Donna Frye came to my home to be interviewed during her first City Council campaign. Bob Filner has never hugged me in public. Donna Frye has, and when she did my reaction was to be jazzed that a sitting San Diego City Councilmember was hugging me on the floor of the Council chambers during a recess of a Council meeting. I have never personally witnessed Bob Filner hugging another man, nor have I seen him exhibit any untoward behavior towards women. But just because I’ve never caught him at it personally doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.
If the sordid details Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs trotted out in their July 15 press conference are accurate — if his penchant for making sexual advances on women who work for him was known for so long that they called him a “dirty old man” and coined the phrases “the Filner headlock” and “the Filner dance” to describe how he corners women and pushes himself on them — then Filner is one sick puppy. His ex-fiancée Bronwyn Ingram, who seemed joined at the hip to him when he was campaigning for Mayor in 2012, left him just days before the first Frye/Gonzalez/Briggs press conference and said that even while they were on dates together he’d be e-mailing and texting obscene messages to other women.
All this, quite frankly, suggests a classic pattern of sexual addiction, a deep-seated problem that, in this admittedly non-expert person’s opinion, is probably something that’s been part of Filner’s behavior his entire adult life. It’s preposterous to think it’s going to be cured with just a few quickie therapy sessions and some sexual-harassment training from the city — training one would think the Mayor and his staff members would have gone through as a matter of course. In fact, one could make the case that the best argument for Filner’s resignation would be the benefit to Filner himself. If his issues about women and his own sexuality run as deep as the allegations say they do, it’s not likely he’s going to be able to address them effectively and still govern the city. Filner himself seemed to realize this when he called in another person, former San Diego County Administrative Officer Walt Ekard, and hired him basically to run the day-to-day operations of the city during the crisis.
So if it’s such a deep-seated behavior pattern, why haven’t we heard of it before? After all, Bob Filner is no stranger to public scrutiny or controversy. He’s held public office in San Diego continuously since 1979: first as a San Diego Unified School District board member, then as a City Councilmember, then as a Congressmember and now as Mayor. He’s been the subject of scandal before, notably in 2007 when he pushed an airline worker in Washington, D.C. because he didn’t think his baggage was being processed fast enough. Why was he able to get away with it this long if his behavior towards women has been so terrible, especially given the irony that he got to Congress in the first place at least in part by beating Jim Bates, another long-time Democratic officeholder in San Diego who was driven out of office for sexually harassing women?
Perhaps because there are few people in politics more invisible than a back-bench Congressmember, especially one from the minority party — and for all but eight years of his 22-year tenure in the House of Representatives, Filner was in the minority party. One local political operative explained to me that as a Congressmember, Filner had a small staff and a low political profile. While the shoving match with the airline worker made national headlines — and was seized upon by San Diego Republicans in hopes they could use it to beat Filner at the next election — most of what Filner did in Washington, D.C. really did stay in D.C. As Mayor under San Diego’s relatively new strong-mayor charter, Filner’s “staff” included virtually all the city’s employees, and as a single executive he was alone in the spotlight.
Filner was also a thorn in the side of San Diego’s (mostly) Republican business establishment, who have become accustomed over the decades to running the city pretty much their own way no matter whom the people elect. San Diego has had nominally Democratic Mayors before, but none from the progressive wing of the party. Filner’s immediate predecessor, Jerry Sanders, responded to the Occupy movement by telling his staff members not to let so-called “Occupy people” into his office at all — thereby denying them their First Amendment right to petition their government for the redress of grievances. Filner showed up at the Embarcadero Marina Park for the first anniversary of Occupy San Diego in October 2012 and gave a brief but supportive speech.
The substantive politics Filner was pursuing — including blocking Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs’ massive remodel of Balboa Park; questioning the city’s sweetheart deals with developers like Sunroad Corporation; refusing to blame the city’s budget problems entirely on its workers; standing up against a giveaway of public property to build the San Diego Chargers a new stadium — were so much a threat to the Republican establishment that they had already planned a drive to recall Filner before the scandal broke. All they were waiting for was the end of the six-month period in which, under California law, you have to let an official serve before mounting a petition drive to push them out of office and force a new election. By coincidence — or maybe not — Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs chose to explode their sexual harassment bomb on Filner and demand his resignation just when that six-month period ended.
Filner made the sort of stupid mistake you can’t afford when your enemies are as powerful as his are. What’s more, his mistake — though it seems to me so compulsive it qualifies as an addiction instead of just a “mistake” — was one that directly attacked the principles and priorities of a good chunk of his political base. That’s why the people leading the attack on Filner and calling for his immediate resignation are not the ones you’d expect — not the Republicans who have never liked him anyway and particularly hate him for using the powers of the strong-mayor charter they pushed through as a way of blocking Democratic City Council majorities from doing much of anything — but three former supporters from his own party.
In recent years we’ve seen both Democratic and Republican politicians accused of inappropriate behavior towards women — and the contrast between how the two parties have handled these scandals is dramatic. Filner is going the way of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and former New York Congressmember Anthony Weiner: immediately condemned and driven out of office by a lynch mob from his own party; treated less like a sad, pathetic but still human person and more like a cancer they want lanced or burned out of the body politic immediately. On the other hand, Republicans accused of sexual harassment have got away with it because their partisans have had their backs. Republicans united behind Clarence Thomas in the 1980’s and Arnold Schwarzenegger when Filner-like allegations were made against him in the last days of the 2003 recall campaign. And because their partisans stayed loyal to them, Thomas got on the Supreme Court and Schwarzenegger served seven years as governor.
Why? I suspect it’s largely because of who each party’s political base is. The Democrats long ago lost the white male chunk of America’s electorate. The last Democratic Presidential nominee who actually carried a majority of white men was Lyndon Johnson … in 1964. Democrats remain competitive as a party only because of the votes of women and people of color. This is why the five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and thereby allowed Republican-controlled states to pursue voter ID laws and other so-called “reforms” aimed at preventing people of color from voting at all.
It’s also why Democrats have to be far more tough against politicians accused of sexual harassment than Republicans do. There are probably a lot of white men in the Republican base who don’t see anything particularly wrong with pushing a woman up against a wall, telling her how hot you think she is, and groping and kissing her, so long as you stop before it becomes out-and-out rape. Democrats, desperately dependent on the votes of women, can’t afford to have this sort of boys-will-be-boys tolerance of sexual harassment — especially since out of all women, the ones with the highest tendency to vote Democratic are single, college-educated women in white-collar professions: exactly the kind most vulnerable to the sort of slimy behavior of which Filner is accused.
But there seems to be something else going on here, a really unpleasant strain of moralism in the Democratic body politic. Democrats like to accuse the Republican party of trying to police everybody’s private sexual behavior — but when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment against their own, it’s Republicans who take a live-and-let-live attitude and Democrats who mount their moral platforms and issue fierce condemnations that make them sound like Salem’s witchhunters. Obviously there are limits to Republicans’ tolerance, as former Idaho senator Larry Craig found out. Get caught soliciting sex from another man in a restroom and your Republican buddies will wash their hands of you as quickly and completely as San Diego Democrats are doing with Filner — likely because the Republican Party can ill afford to offend the radical Christian Rightists in their base just as the Democrats can’t afford to offend the single professional women in theirs.
Maybe it’s the difference in loyalty you’d expect between a party that at least claims to base its stands on abstract “principles” and one which frequently identifies its causes with the people who embody them. When I covered one of the failed attempts to limit land development in North County by initiative, I noticed that the initiative’s supporters talked about the issue in abstract terms and its opponents kept bringing up the name of the initiative’s principal sponsor. I also recall a Right-wing talk-radio host describing in detail how Al Gore’s marriage had broken up because he was having an affair with his masseuse, and then saying, “After that, how can anybody still believe in global warming?”
Maybe it’s that Democrats, like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s socialists, love humanity but hate people. Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade who later became an abortion-rights activist, said she changed because the members of the radical-Right church she was invited to go to were the first people she’d met who treated her as a human being. The people on the pro-choice side — including Sarah Weddington, the Texas attorney who became a feminist heroine for taking the case — saw her as a test case, a symbol, a convenient tool to advance a challenge to restrictions on abortion, but were so wrapped up in Jane Roe the symbol they couldn’t have cared less about Norma McCorvey the person, she said.

Or maybe it’s Realpolitik. Filner’s accusers seem either ignorant or, more likely, blithely unconcerned with the fact that, by destroying him, they’re essentially handing back the mayoralty of San Diego to the Republican party and the business establishment it represents. Certainly one can’t imagine, if the parties’ positions were reversed, pillars of the Republican establishment so eager to get rid of the first mayor they’d managed to elect in 20 years. With Bob Filner gone and a “safe” Mayor in his place — either a “safe” Republican like City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer or a nominal Democrat like Council President Todd Gloria, who throughout Filner’s term has used his power to block Filner’s agenda and protect the establishment’s interests — progressive San Diegans will lose their best chance in decades to break the establishment’s power and have San Diego governed of, by and for all its people. That will be a tragedy for San Diego — and the fact that Bob Filner largely brought his downfall on himself through his personal weaknesses doesn’t make it any less tragic.

Goodbye, Exodus International


Copyright © 2012, 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

I’m going to miss Exodus International. In case you haven’t heard, the organization that once proclaimed its mission as preaching the gospel to Queer men and women that they could be “cured” of their homosexual desires and turned into happy little heteros shut its doors as of June 20. According to the media reports, the decision to shutter the group was made by a unanimous vote of its board after a year and a half in which Exodus had groped — pardon the pun — for a new sense of purpose after its president, Alan Chambers, disavowed “reparative therapy” at a Gay Christian Network conference in January 2012.
The disavowal, and Exodus’ subsequent dissolution, came about as a result of three years of involvement between Chambers, his wife Leslie (an appropriately gender-ambiguous name) and a journalist named Lisa Ling. Lisa Ling works on a TV program called Our America on — guess what — the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). The fact that it was one of Oprah’s minions who got Chambers to knock off the attempts to “pray the Gay away” and detach himself from the founding mission of Exodus indicates to what extent Oprah, even without a daily broadcast TV showcase, remains a sort of Mother Confessor to the nation, the source for absolution for all manner of real or imagined sins against the combination of vague progressivism and psychobabble she peddled for years on TV.
One reason I’m going to miss Exodus is that pointing out its various hypocrises was almost too easy. Two of its founders, Michael Bussee and the late Gary Cooper, traveled the U.S. in the 1980’s proclaiming to Queer folk the “good” news that their sexual orientations could change — only they rather blew (again, pardon the pun) the message when they ended up falling in love with each other. (They were the subject of a 1993 documentary called One Nation Under God.)
The organization’s credibility wasn’t helped in 2000 when a later Exodus president, John Paulk — a self-proclaimed “ex-Gay” who was married to “ex-Lesbian” Anne Paulk — was found in a Gay bar in Washington, D.C. and came up with a typically lame excuse for his presence there. In April 2013 John Paulk finally came out as a Gay Christian and announced his marriage is ending and he no longer believes in “reparative therapy,” either. Like Chambers, he has publicly apologized for his role in the “ex-Gay” movement.
I encountered the “ex-Gay” movement myself in early 1990, when I spotted in the North Park Albertson’s a flyer advertising a weekend event, the “San Diego Christian Conference on Trauma and Sexuality.” By then I’d been definitively identifying myself as a Gay man for seven years, but my journalist’s instinct made me curious about just what they were going to say at the conference and how they proposed to “cure” me of homosexuality and other “trauma-induced sexual sin.” So I registered for the conference and took my pens and note pads to take it all down and write an article about it.
The featured speaker at the conference was Sy Rogers, whom I found to be a screaming queen. He claimed to have given up homosexual activity and got married. Indeed, he said that after he first had sex with his wife he called a man from his church and complained that it wasn’t as intense as it had been when he had sex with men. “It’s not supposed to be that intense,” his friend said. But he sprinkled his speech with so many quotes from songs made famous by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand I couldn’t help thinking, “You may not be having sex with men anymore, but you’re still Gay.” More recently Rogers — who, unlike Alan Chambers and John Paulk, still believes in “reparative therapy” — has switched from identifying himself as ex-Gay to identifying himself as ex-Transgender and has written a book about his experiences called The Man in the Mirror, available at the “Last Days Ministries” Web site.
The name of Rogers’ publisher is a good indication of what was motivating the “ex-Gay” movement at its height. Through all the queeny inflections and quotes from Saints Judy and Barbra that punctuated his talk, there was an undercurrent of fear, a genuine belief that God was about to strike down the U.S. the way he had Sodom and Gomorrah because of our growing tolerance of homosexuality. That attitude surfaced again right after 9/11, when Pat Robertson declaimed on his radio show that God had once put the United States under his personal protection and therefore not allowed events like the 9/11 attacks to happen to us.
When 9/11 did happen, Robertson explained, it was evidence that God had withdrawn that “protection” — and just then Jerry Falwell came on his show and agreed, saying that the reason God had taken his protection from the U.S. was because of our tolerance for abortions, homosexuality and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Falwell got lampooned for his remark, but few people who heard it quoted understood the context or what it said about the radical-Right world view in general.
Another weird thing about the “ex-Gay” movement as I experienced it during that conference in 1990 was its reliance on an old, discredited psychological theory from the 1950’s about what caused homosexuality. For a movement that ordinarily has little or no use for science — one which flatly rejects scientific consensus on issue after issue, from evolution to climate change — this part of the radical Right leaped to embrace the psychological orthodoxy of the 1950’s that boys became Gay because of weak or absent fathers, overly strong mothers and an absence of male role models. As the phrase “trauma-induced sexual sin” suggested, they also regarded homosexuality as a response to child molestation and urged people to scour through their childhoods for some horrible experience that would have sent their sexuality off the straight and narrow and nudged it into Queer paths.
I’ve done interviews with so-called “ex-ex-Gays” — people who’ve tried to “change” with the help of reparative therapists and A.A.-type groups, given up and accepted themselves as Queer — and read other accounts of what drove people both into and out of “change” attempts. One of the running themes is the “ex-Gay” movement’s obsession with blaming it all on the parents. If you’re in “reparative therapy” you’re encouraged to scour your childhood looking for unhappy memories — and if you can’t find any you’re encouraged to look harder. When I interviewed singer Justin Utley, who grew up Mormon in Utah and tried an “ex-Gay” program recommended by the Mormon Church, he said:

I accepted their answer, which was that I had been molested as a kid and just didn’t remember it. I believed that for a period of time, and I told my family. Before I had come out as a Gay man, I told them I had actually been molested and didn’t remember. We went on this pseudo-witch hunt of who in our community, when I was growing up, could have done this. Then my mom called me out of my bullshit and said, “I don’t know what the hell is going on with you right now, but you can’t blame something that’s going on in your life on a repressed memory of something that never happened.”

Indeed, according to Gabriel Arana, who published a moving account of having failed “ex-Gay” therapy with the movement’s founding psychologist, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi (who coined the term “reparative therapy” and last year got into a pissing contest with Alan Chambers on Facebook over whether he had ever promised a complete “cure” and whether he showed straight porn to would-be ex-Gay men), “My parents were surprised at how the therapy blamed them for my condition. … They continued paying for therapy but no longer checked in with Nicolosi regularly or asked what he and I talked about.” It’s odd, to say the least, that a movement which prides itself on upholding “family values” should adopt a form of “therapy” that seeks to “cure” homosexuality by tearing families apart — but that’s a good deal of what goes on in the “ex-Gay ministries.”

Do People Really Change?

So I won’t miss Exodus International for screwing up people’s lives and selling them a whole bunch of discredited pseudo-scientific crap in the name of “curing” them of a quite natural and normal human variation. But, quite frankly, I’ll miss their challenge to an equally annoying, though considerably less harmful, insistence on the Queer side of this debate that sexual orientation and gender identity are fixed, immutable, unchangeable. It’s long upset me that the Queer community has staked so much of its civil rights struggle on the idea that Queer people are “born this way,” which makes a great catch line for a Lady Gaga song but a lousy scientific analysis.
To say that attempts to force yourself to “change” from Queer to straight via the sorts of programs Exodus used to endorse — and successor organizations like the defiantly named Restored Hope Network still endorse — are wrong does not necessarily mean that people don’t change their attractions, often in ways that come as quite a surprise to them. I’ve heard enough stories from people who lived for two or three decades as heterosexuals, married opposite-sex partners, had children and then suddenly found themselves dealing with attractions to people of their own sex not to believe that that process doesn’t also happen the other way around: that a person can live an exclusively Gay or Lesbian lifestyle for decades and suddenly meet, fall in love with, have sex with and even want to marry a partner of the opposite gender.
Indeed, along with its ugliness, one thing that upsets me about the acronym “LGBT” (for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender”) by which the Queer community frequently identifies itself in public these days is that it’s become a token of inclusion, a substitute for the rethinking the Queer movement would have to do to be genuinely inclusive of Bisexual and Transgender people. To my mind, the very existence of Bisexual and Transgender people disproves the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity are fixed at birth. After all, what characteristic of a human being could seemingly be more “immutable” than the physical configuration of our bodies as male or female? But the Transgender community has taught us that there is an inward psychological and (if you believe) spiritual gender identity that doesn’t necessarily match the physiognomy we got stuck with by the luck of the DNA draw.
Likewise the Bisexual community has blown holes through the very concept of a “sexual orientation,” fixed across a person’s lifetime. In so doing Bisexuals have undermined a large part of the case for Queer rights as it’s traditionally been made: the idea that Gays and Lesbians are a fixed “community” similar to a racial or ethnic minority, and therefore are subject to — and should be legally protected against — discrimination. And the mainstream Queer leadership has responded to the threat with the token inclusion of the initials “B” and “T” in every organization name — and veiled, and sometimes not-so-veiled, attacks on Bisexual people and the whole idea of Bisexuality.
When Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon was interviewed for the January 19, 2012 New York Times Magazine and made the political mistake of saying her current relationship with a woman, after years of marriage to a man, was a “choice,” the enforcers of the mainstream Queer orthodoxy went after her like the proverbial ton of bricks. “You don’t get to define my Gayness for me,” Nixon said. “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 if 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.”
“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,” said Wayne Besen, who as founder of a group called Truth Wins Out had done excellent work exposing the harm done by Exodus and other “ex-Gay ministries.” “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.”
I’ve long found it ironic that the Queer civil-rights movement embraced this rigid attitude of biological determinism when every other civil-rights movement in American history has attacked biological determinism. One of the tasks African-Americans and other people of color had to do to fight for their civil rights was to prove they were not biologically inferior to whites, and therefore there was no scientific basis for denying them equality. One of the tasks women in the so-called “second wave” of American feminism had to do was attack the biological determinism that had long been used to argue that women weren’t as capable of functioning in the workplace as men.
Yet the Queer movement — or at least its Gay and Lesbian components — have enforced a biologically deterministic explanation of Queerness with the ruthlessness of a dictator’s propagandist — as witness Besen’s snide remark about Nixon “drinking cocktails at fancy parties” while young Queers suffer through so-called “therapy” programs to try to turn them straight. And what’s more, they’ve done this in the face of ample evidence not only that Bisexuality exists, but it’s far more widespread and prevalent than once believed — and, indeed, that there are actually more Americans who self-identify as Bisexual than as Gay, Lesbian or Transgender.
In 2010 the Journal of Sexual Medicine published a national study of American women and men. Out of their 5,042 respondents 3.1 percent self-identified as Bisexual versus only 2.5 percent as Gay or Lesbian. What’s more, among adolescents the split was even more dramatic — 4.9 percent self-identified as Bi versus just 1 percent as Gay or Lesbian. Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, based on in-person interviews with 7,643 women and 4,928 men, found that 2.8 percent of women and 1.8 percent of men identified as Bisexual, versus 1.3 percent of women identifying as Lesbian and 2.3 percent of men as Gay.
A 2007 survey, sponsored by the City University of New York (CUNY), found that of 768 Queer people 48.9 percent identified as Bi versus 51.1 percent as Lesbian, Gay or “homosexual.” But the gender difference was dramatic; 65.3 percent of the women in the survey identified as Bi versus 34.7 percent as Lesbian, while 68.4 percent of the men identified as Gay versus 31.6 percent as Bi. (The people who did the CUNY survey admitted that they did not cover Transgender people since they couldn’t find enough of them to constitute a representative sample.)
When I encountered these numbers — summarized in a marvelous 2011 report on Bisexual invisibility from the San Diego Human Rights Commission — they confirmed a lot of impressions I’d had from anecdotal evidence, particularly people I’d met and interviewed during my 18 years as editor/publisher of Zenger’s Newsmagazine. I’d long had the impression that women were far more flexible in their conception of sexual orientation, less likely than men to believe that one same-gender sexual experience marked them as Queer for life, and the CUNY poll results bore that out.
The National Survey of Family Growth numbers also bore out the belief I’d had talking to younger people — including some I interviewed for the magazine — that today’s youths are far less likely to regard sexual orientation or gender identity as immutable. They don’t think of it that way in abstract terms, and they don’t think of it that way in their personal lives either. More and more young people find labels like “straight,” “Gay,” “Lesbian” and even “Bisexual” too confining. They want to be free to fall in love with, and make love to, anyone they like, anyone who appeals to them for whatever quirky reasons humans are attracted to other humans.
This is especially significant because the modern-day Queer movement has staked much of its future on the idea that young people are more liberal in their views on sexual orientation and gender identity than older ones. This has been borne out in the polls that show that the younger you are, the more likely you are to support marriage equality for same-sex couples. But it’s going to be hard for a Queer movement to remain relevant and attractive to young people who increasingly reject its basic assumptions that sexual orientation and gender identity are fixed.
The San Diego Democrats for Equality — founded in 1974 as the San Diego Democratic Club and therefore the oldest political group in San Diego with a specifically Queer issue agenda — is having a hard time staying relevant to new generations of Queer people with new ways of thinking about their identities. In an era in which young people are questioning the ideas of a fixed sexual orientation, a fixed gender identity or a fixed political affiliation, a club started as a group of Lesbian and Gay Democrats is proving to be a harder “sell” to them than it was to earlier generations.
As I wrote in a commentary on Cynthia Nixon and the controversy over her New York Times Magazine interview in the March 2012 Zenger’s Newsmagazine:

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?

So I bid Exodus International goodbye with really mixed feelings. I hate them for the harm they’ve done to people — especially young people pushed into “reparative therapy” by parents, families or churches and forced to undergo painful programs to “change” something that does not need to be changed, to “repair” something that is not and never was broken. I respect Alan Chambers for his change of heart and wish he’d self-identify as Bisexual, since by his own account — he’s married to a woman but he still feels sexual attractions to men — that’s exactly what he is. I condemn anyone who would use the idea that sexual orientation is a “choice” to force people into programs aimed at denying a large part of who and what they are — but I also oppose anyone who denies that there is a large and powerful element of choice in terms of how we as individuals define our sexuality and how — and with whom — we choose to express it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Call for Bob Filner's Resignation

The Story with a Hole in the Middle
“Political Reflections” commentary by Mark Gabrish Conlan • for East County Magazine,
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (right) with Activist San Diego president Leon Thompson at the launch of KNSJ 89.1 FM July 4
L to R: Marco Gonzalez, unidentified, Cory Briggs, Donna Frye at the July 11 press conference
There’s an old joke about why no progressives successfully settled the Old West. When their wagon trains were attacked, they circled the wagons, pulled out their guns and shot — inward, at each other. That’s what it seemed was happening on July 10, when KPBS broadcast the explosive news that former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye and attorneys Marco Gonzalez and Cory Briggs, all people with solid professional credentials who had backed San Diego Mayor Bob Filner in his campaign for that office in 2012, were now calling for his resignation. The claim was that he had sexually harassed at least three women on his staff, and that this conduct was so awful, so reprehensible, so contrary to common standards of morality and decency, that Filner no longer deserved to be Mayor and he should quit his office immediately.
“I have recently received credible evidence of more than one woman being sexually harassed by you,” Frye wrote in a letter dated July 9 that KPBS released — apparently without her permission. “Despite past rumors, I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. However, those who have spoken to me recently would not make the allegations lightly or without cause, and I believe them. I cannot in good conscience remain silent on this, even if those who have spoken to me choose to do so out of fear of retribution or the possibility of a media circus where they could be twice victimized.”
Gonzalez’ letter took a similar tone. Dated July 10, it read, “At our recent meeting I was of the impression that you understood the gravity of circumstances surrounding your treatment of staff, and in particular, the women who work for you in the Office of the Mayor. … Unfortunately, I and numerous of my colleagues have reached the point where we do not believe your behavior will change, and thus must request that you immediately relinquish your position as Mayor. … While this is an extremely difficult message to convey, as members of a progressive community that prides itself on our support for women, their issues, and especially equality in the workplace, we cannot sit idly by and watch your inexcusable behavior continue. What we would not accept of our enemies, we cannot condone of our friends.”
The public letters left one big hole in the story: exactly what is Bob Filner supposed to have done to these women? Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs called a press conference, which took place Thursday, July 11 in the parking lot of Briggs’ law office in Linda Vista, but they specifically avoided saying anything that would fill in that hole. “Donna and I have very specific facts from women who work for the Mayor that his behavior does not conform to community standards,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not appropriate for us to detail what these women have told us, but it’s important for us to call to account a political ally.”
Wait a minute — “it’s not important for us to detail what these women have told us”? It’s one thing to claim that the women involved fear intimidation and retribution and therefore Gonzalez, Frye and Briggs aren’t going to tell us their names. It’s quite another thing for them to say that they’re not going to give us any more information on what Filner supposedly did to his alleged victims than the highly charged and elastic term “sexual harassment,” which could mean anything from an off-color remark to physical contact verging on rape.
Without any clue as to what they’re accusing Filner of beyond ambiguous talk about “community standards” he is accused of violating, Gonzalez, Frye and Briggs are basically saying, “Trust us. We know what he did, we have found him guilty, and we are demanding his resignation as his punishment.” It’s not that different, really, from the military tribunals that are going on now at Guantánamo, where individuals accused of serious crimes are being judged on evidence so “secret” neither they nor their own attorneys are allowed even to see it, much less refute it.
What’s more, Frye came out during the press conference and as much as told the journalists present that if they tried to find out who these women are and what they’re accusing Filner of doing to them, they would be complicit in the abuse. “I will just ask that you please exercise good judgment,” she said. “I’m sympathetic that you have to do your jobs, but I’m more sympathetic to the women who are too scared to speak.”
And yet, and yet … Donna Frye, Marco Gonzalez and Cory Briggs are not politically naïve. They’re certainly aware that the leadership of the San Diego County Republican Party has already set in motion a campaign to recall Filner from office and was just waiting the six months after his mayoralty began before state law allows a recall to begin. They surely must know that given the closely divided electorate in San Diego (Filner won with about 53 percent of the vote), if he either resigns or is recalled the most likely replacement is either a conservative, pro-business Republican like Kevin Faulconer or a conservative, pro-business Democrat-in-name-only (DINO) like Todd Gloria. (One thing Frye specifically said at the press conference is that she will not run for mayor herself if Filner either quits or is booted out.)
That suggests that what Filner did is so reprehensible, so horrible, so far beyond not only “community standards” but common decency that Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs are willing to let San Diego’s city government slip back into Republican hands to achieve the higher goal of protecting women in the workplace from a sexually abusive boss. But we don’t know that. We won’t know that as long as Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs refuse to tell us just what the h--- happened between Filner and his alleged victims. Why won’t they? “We won’t victimize these women twice,” said Briggs at the press conference. And it seems to me that voiding the result of a popular election — which is what Mayor Filner’s resignation would be — should be done on a more solid factual basis than, “Trust us. We know what happened.”
Briggs also said that he stumbled on the information because he’s representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the Sunroad Corporation over the so-called “scandal” regarding their apartment development. It encroached on a city park, but the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to give them a so-called “easement,” basically a right to take city property for their own private money-making purposes. Filner threatened to veto the Council’s action, though given that the Council vote was unanimous they would have no particular trouble overriding their veto.
Depending on who you believe, Filner either virtuously hit up Sunroad for $100,000 compensation to the city, which he directed to two pet projects of his, or shook down the developer for a $100,000 bribe to two of his pet charities in exchange for not vetoing the easement. Later Filner’s office returned the money, leaving Sunroad with the easement and the city with nothing. That’s what Briggs’ lawsuit is challenging. While researching the Sunroad case, Briggs said at the July 11 press conference, “I became more aware of this behavior. I received calls from women sharing this story.”
Whatever their intentions, Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs certainly hit Filner when he was down. The FBI was already investigating him over the allegations of a “shakedown” of Sunroad. He’d been getting relentless criticism of his mayoralty from U-T San Diego (which since local developer and political contributor Doug Manchester bought it has basically become a propaganda sheet for his pet causes in general and his remorseless opposition to labor unions in particular), KUSI Channel 51 (which in the 2012 mayoral campaign gave so much air time to Filner’s opponent, Carl DeMaio, that wags called it the “all DeMaio, all the time” channel) and other local media outlets.
There’s no evidence that Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs timed their press conference to coincide with the deadline past which it’s legal to start a petition campaign to recall Filner. They ducked a question about whether they would support a Republican-led recall effort against Filner if one materialized, though they said in the press conference that that weren’t planning to start a recall drive themselves. Asked what he would do if Filner doesn’t resign, Marco Gonzalez said several times, “The Mayor is in charge of this story” — as if they’re so sure he’ll admit guilt, fall down on his sword and quit that they haven’t bothered to work out a Plan B.
But it’s hard to believe that three such politically savvy people could have released this story when they did without taking into account its likely electoral ramifications. “No one knows what this means better than I,” Gonzalez acknowledged. He said, both in his letter and in the press conference, that he’d met with Filner about the issue, but he refused to say what was transpired and a good chunk of the letter displayed on KPBS’s Web site was redacted. Frye stated the hope that the story could be judged without it turning into a political circus, but after her own 10 years as the San Diego City Council’s most loved and hated member, it’s impossible to believe that she could be so naïve.
So we’re left with a story with a hole in the middle. What did Bob Filner do with the women in his staff? What do they think he did? What does Filner think he did? As I noted above, sexual harassment comes in many gradations from off-color remarks to something close to out-and-out rape. A lot of people accused of sexual harassment don’t necessarily know that what they were doing constituted harassment. Frye, Gonzalez and Briggs evidently believe that Filner, as a political progressive who has made fighting for civil rights in general a major priority throughout his career, should have known what he was doing was wrong.
Maybe. But it’s awfully convenient that these allegations have come forth when they have. Bob Filner has been in public life for over 30 years. He has held many elective offices, including the San Diego Unified School District board, San Diego City Council, U.S. Congress and now Mayor of San Diego. One can’t help but wonder why, if he treated women on his staff so reprehensibly, we didn’t find out about it earlier. It’s possible this is a behavior pattern Filner has only recently fallen into, but usually people who do this sort of thing in their 70’s did it in their 40’s as well. Maybe Filner has been treating the women on his staff this way all along — whatever that is — only we didn’t know it because he was in the U.S. Congress and what happened in Washington, D.C. really did stay in Washington, D.C.
Filner’s current troubles have become a sort of Rorschach test. I got a Facebook posting from a long-time woman friend (a former lover, in fact, before I came out as Gay) saying that she had no doubt that whatever was being said about Filner is true, that he should resign and suggested that the Democratic Party get behind Assemblymember (and former San Diego City Councilmember) Toni Atkins as his replacement. Another woman, a colleague of mine who was also at the press conference and who had earlier confided to me her own history of being abused in relationships with men, found the same fault with the story as I did: there’s no indication of what Filner is accused of doing, and without that there’s no way to know how seriously to take it and whether Filner’s transgressions rise to such a level that resignation is the only way he can atone for them.
But the fact that three prominent progressive Democrats who helped get Filner elected have so intensely and publicly turned against him underscores a difference between progressives and conservatives. Though conservatives have deep and well thought-out ideological convictions, they tend to view politics more personally and be considerably more loyal to each other. When this story first broke I wondered if sexual harassment was the sort of radioactive issue to Democratic politicians that being “outed” as Gay is to Republicans — an issue so passionately important to a good chunk of the party’s voter base that being accused of it is essentially a greased-rail exit to your political career.
Then I thought about that again. After all, Filner’s general-election opponent, Carl DeMaio, is an openly Gay Republican. That didn’t stop some of the most intensely homophobic people in his party, including Doug Manchester and talk-show host Roger Hedgecock, from endorsing him. I did a thought experiment and wondered what the reaction would be if DeMaio had beaten Filner in the 2012 mayor’s race and then been caught soliciting sex in a public restroom — the nearest Gay equivalent I could come up with to what Filner is accused of doing (whatever it is). I don’t think we’d have seen three prominent Republicans writing letters demanding his resignation and holding a press conference in a parking lot to say how terrible he was. Instead they would probably have pleaded for “understanding” and “forgiveness,” saying he was under a terrible strain and he should be allowed to apologize for his mistake and get on with his work of serving the community.
It goes back to that wagon-train thing again. Republicans know that when they’re under attack, they need to circle the wagons and fight outward, against the people attacking them instead of each other. Democrats (and, even more so, people too far Left to be Democrats) tend to take highly “principled” stands on issues and hold to them if it alienates or even destroys their friends. I’m not saying either is better than the other, but it’s striking how the call for Filner’s resignation is an illustration of how Democrats are willing to sacrifice people for principles, while Republicans are generally more loyal to each other and more willing to sacrifice — or at least compromise — principles for people.

POSTSCRIPT: Later on July 11 Mayor Filner issued a video statement from his office in which he acknowledged that he had “failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them.” He called his own behavior “inappropriate and wrong” and added, “I am also humbled to admit that I need help.” Filner hinted that he is seeking therapy (“I have begun to work with professionals to make changes in my behavior and approach”) and said he and his staff will participate in city-sponsored training on sexual harassment.
Both the charges against Mayor Filner and his response are indications of how deeply one of the founding principles of modern feminism — “the personal is political” — has become embedded into the fabric of American life. It began as a realization that much of the oppression against women came not from official government or corporate policy but within their daily lives from the people closest to them: their husbands, partners and relatives at home and their immediate supervisors at work.
Sex-related scandals involving politicians, and their exploitation by political adversaries, are both as old as democracy itself. What’s specifically modern and post-feminist about the Filner scandal, and previous ones that brought down other progressive politicians like former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and former New York Congressmember Anthony Weiner, is the degree to which these men have been called out by people who generally agree with their politics but regard the contrast between their public ideals and their private behavior as so great it discredits them and renders them unfit for public office.
Filner himself seemed to recognize this when he said in his statement, “It’s a good thing that behavior that would have been tolerated in the past is being called out in this generation for what it is: inappropriate and wrong.” Through much of the 20th century sexual harassment was considered one of the prices women had to pay if they wanted a professional career at all. The just demand of modern-day feminists that women in the workplace be treated as equals and not as sex objects has been a difficult one for many older male bosses, including people like Filner who have loudly proclaimed their commitment to women’s equality in principle but have been unable to live up to it in practice.
Ultimately it will be up for the people of San Diego to decide whether Mayor Filner’s conduct towards women in general, and particularly towards the women who work or have worked for him, is so reprehensible and wrong that it justifies his removal from office. I only hope that they will be able to make that decision based on specific evidence and not just on the vague generalities offered so far both by Mayor Filner and his critics.

Legally Married

By Drew Searing • Copyright © 2013 by Drew Searing • Used by permission

Drew Searing (right) with Puma, his lawfully wedded husband of five years

My husband and I are married.  Legally married.  We were married during the “limited edition marriage special” of 2008.  This week, we are celebrating our “wooden” anniversary of being legally married for five years, alongside the 18,000 other legally married same-sex California couples.

            No, we were never UN-married by a bunch of wealthy Mormons.  Our marriage was not invalidated by Prop Hate.

            I say that we are legally married and repeat it with conviction because over the last two weeks, I’ve had nothing but good-hearted well-wishers make flat-out incorrect and unnecessary comments to my husband and I about how we will now be “really” married. 

            It all started at the Day of Decision rally June 26 where not one, but three GAY friends of mine approached my hubby and I with remarks such as, “Isn’t this great?!  Now you guys can get married again, but this time it will be for REAL!”  Another similarly quipped, “The Supreme Court has validated your marriage... Yay!”

            Then came the comments and “Congratulations” on Facebook from relatives and friends who actually attended our wedding, but still had the wherewithal to blurt out messages such as, “Now you guys are legally married in California, isn’t that wonderful?!”  It has been wonderful for half a decade, thank you.

            I repeat, my husband and I are legally married and always have been since that fateful, wonderful July afternoon during the Summer of Love.  Whereas I am happy for all of us who can get married (again), about the only thing it means for us is that we can now legally get divorced. 

            Ok maybe I’m a bit bitter because our bragging rights are over... we’re no longer the mere 18 THOUSAND who got married that summer.  It’s been a fun ride, especially come April 15th when our much-needed same-sex family tax specialist works out that it would have been about the same refund either way.  I didn’t marry him for money anyway.

            So rah rah sistah boom bah... Hooray.  Now every Californian can get married.  Let the receipts from Gay Wedding Registers save California from financial ruin.  It’s so nice to be living history.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Zenger’s proprietor Mark Gabrish Conlan and his husband Charles Nelson also got legally married during the “limited edition marriage special” of 2008. We celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary on the Fourth of July 2013 and are glad we no longer have “special rights” to be married Gay Californians.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

KNSJ 89.1 FM to celebrate launch of new community radio station July 4, 2013

Zenger’s editor-publisher Mark Gabrish Conlan to Host “Queer Hour” 3 to 4 p.m.

How do you start a new community radio station on a nonprofit budget? You call together a hundred social grassroots activists & their organizations, then inspire them with a vision of creating a community media outlet ‘by, of and for the people’. You explain that media consolidation has limited the public’s access to the vital news and culture that makes a democracy thrive. You promise to be a voice of the voiceless. You muster thousands of volunteer hours, an equal amount of small donations and a strong component of local talent. Presto, got radio!

Actually it took Activist San Diego (ASD) six long years and a couple hundred meetings ultimately to assemble San Diego’s newest radio station from the ground up — entirely with volunteer labor. It took several years of legal and technical work for ASD to submit the application and secure the construction permit from the FCC. During the last three years $45,000 was raised to buy a custom antenna, a sophisticated transmitter, an emergency broadcast system and a healthy dose of studio equipment. The station will launch with only a 10th of the resources normally required for such a venture: a testimonial to what is dubbed “people-powered radio.”

The new listener-supported radio station is officially known as KNSJ 89.1 Descanso. Descanso is the FCC’s “city of record.” KNSJ’s call letters reflect its mission: Networking for Social Justice. With the transmitter and tower at over 6200 feet in the Laguna Mountains, KNSJ’s signal can be heard in car radios from the US-Mexico border to Highway 52, from the East County mountains to the bay and KNSJ covers all of central San Diego. The estimated potential listenership is over 1 million people plus a rapidly growing set of younger listeners who will connect over the Internet or their cell phones.

KNSJ’s main studios will be in El Cajon, with thousands of listeners in East County having their first access to noncommercial, educational radio. Listeners, donors and volunteers will come from across San Diego County and the border region. KNSJ has pledged to train scores of “citizen journalists” to report on the untold stories of those who have been ignored by the commercial media. While the bulk of KNSJ’s programming will be news and education, KNSJ is looking to make a special connection with local bands, writers and performance artists. KNSJ has a stated objective of having a quarter of its music come from local musicians, 10 times more local music content than any other San Diego station is offering.

KNSJ will be “Born on the 4th of July,” initiating a full day of live broadcast plus audio and video streaming on The public is invited to come down to the World Beat Center at 2100 Park Boulevard in Balboa Park to participate in the live broadcast and in many cases get on the air with their opinions about how to shape this community radio station to meet the needs of San Diego’s increasingly multiethnic and diverse population. From 7-8 a.m. the broadcast will emanate out of Descanso with the voices of local mountain residents. In the late morning host Miriam Raftery, editor of the award-winning East County Magazine, will preview her regular show of news, information and cultural offerings. Former City Councilmember Floyd Morrow, has invited Mayor Bob Filner, San Diego City Council members and other community icons to celebrate the launching of the new listener-supported radio station. Efforts will be made throughout the day to raise the $35,000 (in pledges and on-line donations at to keep the station on the air and hire its first station manager.

Mark Gabrish Conlan, editor/publisher of Zenger’s Newsmagazine from 1994 to 2012, will host “The Queer Hour,” a pilot episode for his KNSJ-FM program “Zenger’s on the Air,” from 3 to 4 p.m. during the July 4 launch day. He will introduce Charles, his legally wedded husband of five years, and present compelling interviewees on aspects of the struggle of Queer (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) people for liberation and equal rights. Leo Laurence, co-founder of the Committee for Homosexual Freedom (CHF) in early 1969 and co-leader of the first demonstrations against a private employer for anti-Queer discrimination, will speak about the history of the Queer rights struggle before the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in June 1969. Howard Menzer, founder of Scouting for All, will discuss his decades-long struggle to end the Boy Scouts of America’s discrimination against Queers and what he calls the “baby step” the Boy Scouts have just taken. Cecile Veillard, Sean Bohac and José Medina of SAME Alliance will talk about the struggle for marriage equality in San Diego and the prosecution of nine SAME Alliance members, including Veillard and Bohac, for civil disobedience at the County Clerk’s office in 2010. Members of Canvass for a Cause and Guerrilla Pride San Diego will close out the hour talking about the upcoming Pride events in San Diego July 12-14 and how they intend to bring a radical, anti-corporate presence to them.

KNSJ has reached out to former broadcasters and listeners of KLSD, a station pulled off the air by its parent company. KNSJ draws on hosts who have had previous radio experience, including Enrique Morones, Makeda Dread & Douglas Holbrook. Local musicians will offer firework-music until mid-night. KNSJ will mix local producers with national programming from Pacifica, the BBC, Thom Hartmann & Amy Goodman.

KNSJ Contact:, (619) 283-1100,