by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Rev. Shane Harris
Jennifer Restle and her service dog
Joan La Barbera
Community servants or drug pushers? The PrEP T-shirt
(Pride staffer Fernando Lopez in background)
San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus
San Diego Pride Youth Marching Band
San Diego’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride weekend kicked off big-time with a well-attended rally Friday, July 15 at 6 p.m at the Marston Point main stage at the Pride festival site near Sixth and Laurel in Balboa Park. The keynote speaker was supposed to be U.S. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, the first openly Queer person appointed to head a major branch of the U.S. military, but the show was stolen by the impassioned church oratory of Rev. Shane Harris of the San Diego branch of the National Action Network.
Citing not only the murder of 49 mostly Latino and Queer people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida but police killings of African-American men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, the shooting of five Dallas police officers by an African-American gunman during an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in that city, and the latest alleged terror attack on a civilian population in Nice, France, Rev. Harris called on the Black and Queer communities to “stand together to fight for gun reform and police reform.”
Rev. Harris, whose group was founded by the controversial New York Black minister Rev. Al Sharpton, said, “It’s time to break down the walls between the church and the LGBT community once and for all.” He cited the examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the little-known Viola Liuzzo, a white woman who came down to Selma, Alabama to register Black voters in 1965 and was murdered, as people who “fought for the voiceless.”
He made it clear that, while other African-American ministers often say the Queer rights movement “stole” their tactics from the African-American civil rights movement, in his view “the LGBT community fought the fight and learned from the civil rights movement. It’s time to bring the movements back together.” Rev. Harris said he’s called out other Black ministers who called the Orlando shootings an “act of God” and said the victims got what they deserved for being Queer. “That is not the love of God,” he said. “I slammed those pastors and said we will not represent that kind of hate.”
Rev. Harris said the demands the Black and Queer community should unite around include gun reform and police reform. “What happened in that club (in Orlando) should not have happened,” he said. He also criticized police officers who are — or claim to be — so scared by African-American men they feel a need to shoot them six times even after they’ve already been subdued and are on the ground.
The impassioned oratory of Rev. Harris somewhat overshadowed the rally’s final speaker, U.S. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning. He joked about being an Army man bringing a message of Queer pride to a Navy town, and said that including not only active-duty servicemembers but also reservists and employees of private contractors, the U.S. Army includes about 1.4 million people.
Fanning recalled that he first joined the Army’s staff at the Pentagon in 1993 — the same year the U.S. Congress imposed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and then-President Bill Clinton signed it into law. “I didn’t see many people like me, and there didn’t seem to be many opportunities in national security,” Fanning said. “Now there are many opportunities to live and serve with dignity.”
Though he admitted the Pride celebration seems “bittersweet” after the events in Orlando — which happened during Pride weekend in Fanning’s home town, Washington, D.C. — along with Dallas, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Nice, Fanning said, “We respond to acts of cowardice with acts of confidence and pride.” Fanning mentioned two of the Orlando victims, Tony Brown and Angel Cordelaro, who were active-duty servicemembers in the U.S. Army — and another Army man who courageously intervened and saved seven other people’s lives during the attack at Pulse.
When he was invited to speak at San Diego Pride, Fanning said, “I thought about why it was important for me to be here to promote the acceptance the Orlando shooter tried to destroy. Orlando was an attack on America. Citizens here come together to comfort those left behind. It’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. To keep this country secure we have to draw on all our communities.”
Fanning also said the U.S. military has a civil rights record of which it can be proud. He noted that the military ended racial segregation in 1948 — “16 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed” — and in 2011 San Diego’s Pride contained the first-ever contingent of active-duty servicemembers, who marched even though “don’t ask, don’t tell” was still in effect and they risked discharge. The next year, the services not only allowed the contingent to go forward but let the participants march in their uniforms.
Bisexuals Finally Included
This was also the year San Diego Pride finally acknowledged the Bisexual community — the largest but also the most ignored and marginalized group within the “LGBT” community, both by straights and Queers — by inviting an “out” Bi speaker to address the rally. She was Jennifer Restle, who also represented the community of people living with disabilities; she’s blind, and before she could start her speech she had to work with her guide dog to get the animal to sit and hold still so she could talk.
“Imagine a glass that can hold 16 ounces and has eight ounces of water in it,” Restle said. “This is my disability. The glass-half-full people see me doing ordinary tasks and raise them to major accomplishments, and the glass-half-empty people see my life as tragic because I’m blind. Why can’t it just be a glass with liquid in it?”
Restle used a similar metaphor to describe her sexuality. “Let’s pretend I’m attracted to both genders equally,” she said. “Some people would say I’m half-straight, some that I’m half-Gay. My question is why can’t it just be a glass of liquid, not cut up into pieces of homo- and heterosexuality?”
Despite the pretense of inclusion implied by the inclusion of “B” in “LGBT,” Restle said mainstream Queer organizations are often hostile to Bisexuals and refuse to help them. She also said the sense that Bi people aren’t welcome in either the straight or Queer communities contributes to them having “the highest rates of suicide, depression, poverty and abuse by relationship partners” of anyone in the Queer community.
(For further information on how Bisexuals are in many ways the most discriminated-against members of the Queer community, see http://zengersmag.blogspot.com/2015/07/b-forgotten-letter.html. For information supporting Restle’s claims about the adverse health effects of anti-Bi discrimination, see http://www.news-medical.net/news/20150701/Rice-University-study-reveals-that-Gays-Lesbians-and-heterosexuals-have-better-health-than-Bisexuals.aspx?.)
Other speakers included Mike Dee, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Padres baseball club, who said he had arranged the first “Pride Night” outreach to the Queer community by a major-league baseball team during a previous stint in the Padres’ organization in 2001. Dee had to work hard to mend fences with the Queer community when at the 2015 Pride Night, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus was brought on to sing the national anthem at the start of the game — but a sound person cut them off and instead played a record of another non-Queer performance of the anthem.
Dee’s speech ignored the Pride Night anthem controversy (though Pride director Stephen Whitburn, introducing him, mentioned it) and focused on the team’s outreach efforts. “In 2015 we pledged with the San Diego Unified School District to promote the best of athletics by making peole feel respected on and off the field,” he said. “Major League Baseball is the first professional sports league to name an openly Gay person as a director of social outreach: former San Diego Padre Billy Bean. He came out in 1999 after his professional career ended. I know Billy personally and he’s a major ambassador for professional sports and the LGBT community.”
“Pride unites us,” said Lily Rubenstein, 16-year-old Transgender activist and member of the Mayor’s LGBT advisory board. “It’s always been our community’s secret weapon. We have Pride to let LGBT’s know that there are people to support them. Pride celebrations are landmarks. Think back to the time when Pride was something you had to fight for. Pride is the culmination of dedicated fighting.” She praised the California board of education for just having authorized teaching of Queer history in the state’s public schools.
The rally was kicked off by Queer historian Joan La Barbera of the San Diego LGBT Archives, who presented an orthodox “it all started at Stonewall” version of Queer history that typically ignored earlier Queer activism. Though the first known Queer-rights organization in the U.S. was founded in Chicago in 1926 and America’s history of continuous Queer activism started with Harry Hay and four others founding the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles in 1950, La Barbera’s presentation and the name of the event itself — “Spirit of Stonewall” — enshrined the pernicious myth that the entire U.S. Queer liberation movement started when patrons at the Stonewall Inn dive bar in New York City in June 1969 fought back against a police raid. (Full disclosure: two of my closest friends, Leo Laurence and Pat Brown, were among the leaders of militant Queer-rights demonstrations in San Francisco in early 1969, months before the so-called “beginning” of the movement at Stonewall.)
“Stonewall was not a peaceful protest,” La Barbera conceded. “It was a riot against police harassment, and it was led mostly by Trans women of color who are in fact our foremothers.” (The “it all started at Stonewall” myth is often used to hail Transgender people as the real founders of the Queer movement, and thereby to marginalize the participation of Queer Leftists like Harry Hay and others in launching U.S. Queer activism. It doesn’t marginalize the courage Sylvia Rivera, Marcia P. Johnson and the other Trans people who fought at Stonewall to set the record straight and acknowledge that just as the women’s movement was birthed from women’s responses to sexism within the American Left, so was the Queer movement partly a response to Leftist homophobia and a challenge to the Left to live up to its promise of liberation for all people.)
Awards to Drug Dealers
As in previous years, part of the business of the Pride rally was to hand out “Spirit of Stonewall Awards” (the myth strikes again!) to various individuals and organizations in the Queer community. The event MC asked for a particularly supportive response when members of a group calling itself “#Be the Generation” was given the Service Awards. Though they weren’t as big a presence in this year’s rally as they were the previous year — when far more attendees were wearing the “#Be the Generation” T-shirt — they showed off their four-part response to AIDS, which while no longer epidemic in the Queer community is still endemic and hits us harder than any other population.
“#Be the Generation” allegedly highlights four responses to the continuing presence of AIDS and the so-called Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which supposedly causes it in the Queer community: “FIGHT: Stigma, Fear and Shaming. TEST: Know Your HIV Status. TREAT: Get Undetectable. PROTECT: PrEP and Condoms.” According to the group’s propaganda, the campaign is aimed at young people to get them to “be the generation” that stops the alleged “transmission” of HIV and AIDS once and for all.
But the nub of the campaign lies in the reference to “PrEP” in the fourth point. “PrEP” stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” a highly controversial campaign originally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012 — though the groundwork for it had been laid as early as the Berlin AIDS conference in 1993 — to get people who test HIV negative to take anti-HIV drugs anyway, despite their high cost and potentially ferocious toxicities.
The principal PrEP drugs are Truvada and Genvoya, made by Gilead Pharmaceuticals — whose extortionate prices for hepatitis C treatments Horvani and Sarvoldi made them poster children for pharmaceutical company greed. A 2015 study claimed nearly 100 percent effectiveness for Truvada in preventing HIV transmission from positive people to their negative sex partners — but like many other studies in the history of U.S. AIDS research, it was stopped early before the drug’s side effects had a chance to kick in.
Later research (http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hiv-prevention/hiv-prep/5434-eacs-2015-modest-bone-loss-seen-in-young-men-taking-truvada-for-pre-exposure-prophylaxis) confirmed a severe risk of bone loss in patients taking Truvada. But neither the risks involved in “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” the ultra-high cost of the drugs nor the whole preposterousness of giving these powerful medications to people who, even by the standards of the AIDS establishment, aren’t sick stopped the Pride organizers from hailing the drug pushers of “#Be the Generation” by giving them a community service award.
Other community service award winners included Tita Viveros, cross-border activist with the Queer community in Tijuana; Denise Williams and Dana Toppel as “Inspirational Couple,” Dale Kelly Bankhead as “Friend of Pride” (an award given for the straight person who has done the most for San Diego’s Queer community, and one Bankhead has won so many times they probably ought to retire it for her); Sue Reynolds as “Champion of Pride” for her work trying to develop affordable housing for San Diego Queers; an organization called MARYAH for “Philanthropy” because they raised money for the Sunburst group home for Queer and other at-risk youth in Golden Hill; and Michael Moore, current board chair of the Stepping Stone program for people with alcohol or drug issues, as Community Grand Marshal.
The rally kicked off with the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and ended with the San Diego Pride Youth Marching Band playing cheerily amateur renditions of “Over the Rainbow” (signature song of Judy Garland, whose death in June 1969 just days before the Stonewall riots is partly credited with having sparked them — Queers were a large part of her fan base and a lot of them felt pushed over the edge when their bars were raided while they were still in mourning for her) and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”