Sunday, November 29, 2009

Did Transgender Torture Lead to Sportswriter's Suicide?

Not Just Dorothy Anymore:
Transgendered Persons Deserve Equal Rights Too
By Norm Kent

The suicide this past weekend of LA Times sportswriter Mike Kenner, who for the last few years wrote under the byline of Christine Daniels, leaves me today with a desire to rant and rave over an insane anomaly in American human rights protections.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects all individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as age, race, color, national origin, and religion. Many states go further and offer protection against discrimination because of physical or emotional disabilities, marital status, and even pregnancy discrimination.

More and more communities we know have added sexual orientation to the fold, but it seems the new Scarlett letter tearing apart American communities is a debate over whether to protect “gender identity” under civil rights statutes.

Why would anyone fight this? Discrimination is morally wrong and ought to be demonstratively illegal in any form. The very purpose of passing laws against discrimination is to prevent wrongful acts which deny equal opportunities to individuals similarly situated. If we are all presumptively equal under the law, it is correspondingly presumptively illegal if we are treated differently for no rhyme or reason.

Last year, for example, in the city of Largo, a small West Coast community in Florida, its City Manager, Steve Stanton, announced he was going for a sex change operation. The City Commission promptly held a standing room only meeting and fired him. Why? For 15 years, when he did his job as Steven he was fine. But when he chose to come into work as Susan his job was gone; her career in shambles.

What sense does this make? The role Mr. Stanton filled was managing numbers for a city budget. That task requires accounting skills, not a jockstrap or bra. His brain was not operated upon, but the community’s conscience was shocked, and it sent a ripple of disbelief through our national psyche.

Last month, President Obama selected Jenny Durkan, a Lesbian, to be the U.S. Attorney for Seattle, Washington. She was appointed because of the talents she brought to the table as a prosecutor, not her skill set in bed with her partner. What business is it of ours whether the City Manager of Largo performs the duties of the job as Steven or Susan as long as the tasks are filled with impeccable integrity?

If you were a sports fan in Los Angeles, you would have known Mike Penner as a first-rate journalist who had covered a variety of assignments including the Olympics, the Angels, tennis, and the sports media. But he made stunning news in 2007 when he announced he was a transsexual and would be writing his new columns under the name of Christine Daniels. And this affects us how?

If it is wrong to discriminate against an individual, that discrimination is inappropriate whether the person you are interacting with is male or female, straight or gay, black or white. Or Transsexual, metrosexual, bisexual, homosexual, or asexual. As long as they are not telling you to drop your pants, get over it.

Even the gay and lesbian community has moved too slowly in accepting the rights of transgendered persons. Within the gay rights movement, there was for too long silent resistance that we were pushing the envelope too far. Timid activists suggested we were ‘rocking the boat.’ Hell, why not? It needed new pilots.

Thus, as activists so too did we ultimately push the envelope on gay marriage, domestic partnerships, civil unions, equal rights in employment, and spousal benefits. If you are an activist anywhere, you have to learn to push the envelope somewhere. If you do not, someone will lick the seal and glue you in it. A civil right, like a sealed envelope, sometimes only comes about when you rip and tear that envelope. And it is not always a pretty and smooth cut.

Ultimately, then, transgender protections should not even be seen as a gay rights issue. We are simply supporting fundamental human rights protections. And while it is encouraging that such ordinances are being adopted in various communities, from Salt Lake City to Kalamazoo, we should no more have votes on inalienable human rights than we should have had majority opinions to determine whether southern states in the 1960’s should have had separate water fountains which read ‘Whites Only.’ It was simply a wrong which Time and decades needed to right. So too is it with those transsexuals who must endure wrongful ostracism today.

Legislators, not voters, need to codify equal rights protections, and they do not need popular approval to do so. What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular. The same way a legislator would vote to strike down a law stating only Caucasians can sit on the front of a bus so too must they strike down a policy that allows a government agency to fire an employee because they do not approve of a transsexual. That person’s status is beyond the scope of their approval.

I do not know what killed Mike Penner this past weekend. If we learn it was a tortured conscience because of confusion over his identity, then our society lost a life uselessly.

I do know when he ‘came out’ three years ago, as a married man with a wife and child, he called writing the story about his sexuality the “most frightening of all the towering mountains of fear” he ever had to conquer. He wrote: “I am a transsexual sportswriter…and it has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words."

If we can begin normalizing our laws today so as to promote social acceptance tomorrow, we can make a difference for those so impacted. We may even be saving a life.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Friend Dies of AIDS

by Norm Kent

The President's AIDS Day address is online, and in city after city, communities will gather this Tuesday to pay tribute.

Having a President that cares matters, because AIDS is still with us and is very real.

More often than not, like last week in Fort Lauderdale, when the Office of National AIDS Policy solicited public opinion, we hear stories of survival. More and more people are living longer and longer with HIV. It is so encouraging. Too encouraging.

As a result of better treatments, higher standards of care, and more attention to the disease, we have become too complacent. Apathy has set in. People are still dying. Too many of us are looking at living with the disease comfortably instead of ending the pandemic urgently.

On this day, where we celebrate the lives of so many who died too young, one particular person jumps out at me. His name is Jerry Michael James, and he died of HIV last Friday, at the age of 38. He was a friend too be sure, and his loss hurts very much. As I go about the process of starting a new South Florida gay newspaper, he was the first one I considered as an editor and writer. However, I knew he was in hospice, working on a horror film, a project he loved.

Mike was a 50's character, like Jack Kerouac, one of those geniuses who lived on the edge, and often ran it to excess He was a filmmaker, an artist, a writer, an editor, a colleague. We spent too little time together these past few years. We went in different directions, but the bond remains, and I will remember his recklessness and his passion; his willingness to buck the tide and assert his independence; to be the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. I salute him as a champion.

But then, I ran an AIDS clinic for two years. I met many champions. I saw many young men living with HIV. They refused to let it hinder their goals or drive. But I also saw single moms, and teenage children born into HIV who have known no other life. I saw doctors working daily on infections, colds, swellings, diarheea cutting through people's bodies like knives. Behind the shadow of the clinics who hold car washes and art sales to raise money, there is a silent pain you cannot imagine. The fear of an unknown that tomorrow might bring.

There are clients who need acupuncture and transportation. Case managers who need to find housing. Patients who need medicine. Recovering soldiers who need employment and hope. Warriors who need counselng. Scientists and scholars who need funding for new protocols. Pharmacists frustrated their medications were so expensive they could not reach all in need. There is a hidden world of HIV the public never sees.

I remember Mike James more for his infectious smile than his infection. But that is for those of us who knew him. Most of all, to remember him properly, and all those living still with HIV, as well as those lost too soon, we must remember our battle is not won, the fight goes on, the disease must still be conquered. It is the only way to honor so many so long gone who gave so much and were denied by Fate, destiny and T cells the opportunity to give so much more...

For those of us who remember stories of Patient Zero, the day AIDS was called GRID, we have all had a Michael James in our life.

Remember those friends, past and present, this Tuesday nite.

Friday, November 27, 2009

'Coming Out' on the Ice: A Jock's Thanksgiving Story

John Buccigross of has written a compelling piece on a young man named Brendan Burke, coming out to his dad Brian Burke, a National Hockey League GM with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s a story of a kid dealing with the jock mentality; that often narrow and homophobic mindset. In truth, his coming out to his family is no more difficult than most experiences similarly dealt with by gay men and women everywhere. But this story is really done too well for me to ruin it with a long blog. So here it is for your reading enjoyment- I command you to go to it at once:

I guess the most important part of the piece is when he Brendan tells his Dad, and the ho hum response is "Of course, we still love you. This won't change a thing."

We know, though, do we not, that there are still homes where similar pronouncements are unfortunately met with emotional and material ramifications that destroy families. That's the reality of life.

Here is one gay blogger’s analysis, pointedly talking about various issues we all face in our lives, regardless of sexuality:
A very good piece...

The bottom line is that at any time, any where, we are all, if you will, naked before a cannon. There are moments in our lives where we are called upon to stand our ground, and make moral decisions which influence what and who we become. For Brendan Burke, it was homosexuality. For an addict, it might be drugs. For an abused child, it may have been a violent parent.

Once you confront the ‘bully’ within yourself, the one secretly and quietly beating you up daily, you will find a new found freedom. You will relieve the torture your existence has cornered you into. After 60 years on this Earth, that is my experience. Free yourself from the psychological repression you impose upon yourself, and your spirit will soar, your life will grow, and you will achieve the very things you long and yearn for.

Kudos to John Buccigross of ESPN for framing a ‘coming out’ column as astutely as he has done so for the Burke family. We have all been so tested.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fly, Fly Away with Gay Aviation Scholarships

Ever wanted to be part of that mile high club?

Here is just a short feel good piece for Thanksgiving.

As a news blogger, I try to celebrate the gay community for its charitable endeavors and professional achievements, recognizing how much we achieve with our clothes on.

In founding the Express, a gay newspaper in South Florida a decade ago, I made a point of doing features on the wealth of professional and community alliances the gay community had fostered, from bowling leagues to choruses. This weekend, for example in South Florida, they celebrate their 15th Annual Hurricane Showdown Softball Tournament, with hundreds of gay and lesbian softball players coming to our sunny state to compete for a grand prize in four different division.

It is amazing how large, diverse, and strong our groups have become. And we should give thanks for that today. We should give more thanks that they are not all political, too, but instead capture the breadth and diversity of our community. I give thanks today that the Washington Blade has reemerged as a newsweekly under the name of the DC Agenda, and pray for their success in difficult economic times. So too are former staffers of the Southern Voice promising Atlanta a new GLBT paper. And I continue my promise to South Florida that the South Florida Gay News is on its way to an early 2010 debut.

So here is a brief note that the National Gay Pilots Association Education Fund will award $15,000 in scholarships in 2010 to aviators pursuing careers as professional pilots. Applications must be received by March 1, 2010. Awards will range from $3,000 to $4,000.

NGPA has granted more than $100,000 in scholarships since 1998. Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited flight school or in a university course of study with a flight program. Payments are made directly to the school and must be applied toward an advanced rating or tuition. Academic ability, financial need and active participation in matters of social justice toward the betterment of the LGBT community will be considered. The application is on the NGPA Web site at

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Adam Lambert's Gutsy AMA Performance Wins Acclaim and Critics

by Norm Kent

I come to praise Adam Lambert, not to bury him.

This is an artist I really want to meet.

Just two days ago, I did a piece asking us to allow Adam Lambert to be accepted as a performer, and not to worry about his role as a political activist. The gay community has somehow demanded of him to be something he is not.

Sunday, America got a taste of this emerging male Madonna. Sending shockwaves throughout the audiences at the American Music Awards, he performed a number while allowing a male to simulate fellatio upon him, only moments after sharing a deep erotic kiss with his male drummer. For good measure, shades of Elvis Presley, he grabbed his crotch.

His cutting edge and groundbreaking performance should probably be commended by Gay America for its brash and open display of male upon male sexuality. Not at ABC. They promptly canceled Lambert’s scheduled performance on Good Morning America set for Tuesday morning. Too bad for them.

Here is the deal, America. Gay men kiss. Gay men grab crotches. That is what we do, preferably in private, but if it is on stage, during a performance, at nite, under the lights, designed to elicit sensuality and excitement, don’t be shocked, don’t be surprised. It is us. It is real.

Throughout the American Idol series, Adam Lambert demonstrated his ability to remain within the rules and comply with prime time TV guidelines and standards. But here he was at the American Music Awards, a show for stars and theatrics, and he brashly displays his sexuality in a way no gay male performer ever had before. That is gutsy. That is courage. No apologies from me, and good for him.

Complaints poured in to ABC , which aired the AMAs and GMA, about the sexually charged performance. Supposedly, more than 1,500 people complained. Not surprising. Might even lead to a fine with the FCC. Not surprising either. As an entertainer, it may be a small price for the international exposure stars yearn for. Now who did he lose American Idol to? Can't even remember the dude's name. I mean it is not like he declared lives expendable to put an unsafe car on the road. Or if you saw this evening's news, he did not become a crib retailer knowingly marketing unsafe dropside baby cribs. Corporate America did that for decades. All Lambert did was show who Lambert was.

Lambert summed it up best: "You know honestly, if I offended some people... it's apples and oranges. I'm not an artist that does things for every single person," he told Access Hollywood, "I believe in artistic freedom and expression, I believe in honoring the lyrics of a song, and those lyrics aren't really for everybody either."

Without trying to be an exponent for free speech, artistic expression, or gay rights, in one small way Lambert is becoming one anyway. I think it is great that he kissed a male drummer on stage, and was the first performer in America to openly do so. That it took until December of 2009 to get there, to openly do what other artists have routinely done with members of the opposite sex, and their audiences, that's the sad thing.

If he needs a lawyer to defend him, he has got one in this publisher.

Lambda Legal Sues Atlanta Police After Bar Raid


Lambda Legal has filed a lawsuit against the Atlanta Police Department on behalf of 19 people who say they were forcibly searched and detained during a raid on an Atlanta gay bar. The suit says the raid was flat out illegal, and as a constitutional rights lawyer who publishes a gay rights blog, I flat out agree.

I have been in touch with attorney Dan Grossman, and agree with his assertion that Police Chief Richard Pennington and the 48 officers named are not above the law. There are three co-counsel who have filed the case jointly, so technically it is The Southern Center for Human Rights (, Daniel Grossman, Esq, and Lambda Legal ( which filed the lawsuit jointly.

The suit notes that the police unlawfully searched and detained people who are were suspected of a crime. Police said at the time they had received several complaints about criminal conduct at the club before the raid, but as I note in my column below, there were other ways to go to deal with it, short of an illegal police action.

Having just read the suit, it is formidable, credibly proving that patrons were battered, brutalized, and beaten, humiliated and detained without rhyme or reason, cause or justification. No gay community can let this stand.

Here is my blog about it from last month and here is a link to their site--

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Uganda Proposes Death Penalty for Homosexuals

I am going to make this blog real simple, okay?

For the full news story, I give you a link to Gay City News at the end of this rant.

The leadership of the country of Uganda, home once of the infamous Idi Amin, has proposed the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality." It's just life for touching someone with " the intention of committing the act of homosexuality”.

In prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality,” the bill would not only bar political activity on behalf of gay rights, but would also require anyone learning the identity of a sexually active gay person to report that information within 24 hours, or face a stiff fine or jail time. Sounds like the Briggs Amendment from 1978 in California. It is what gave life to Harvey Milk.

What are we supposed to say? 48 protestors gathered outside their mission in Manhattan, not far from the U.N. 30 in D.C. Maybe these myopic Neanderthals do us a favor. Maybe it forces the U.N. to engage in the unprecedented act of censuring a country for it practices and policies as it relates to sexual orientation. Maybe this goes from a terribly unjust law in an inconsequential African country to give life to a global gay rights protest.

Take the bad and make it better. But there are no maybes for the gay men of Uganda. There is only the prospect of brutal punishment. As long as those sanctions exist, as long as our brothers suffer, we are all Ugandans.

Washington Blade Staff Publishes New GLBT Weekly

The former staff of the Washington Blade has managed to knock out a new gay paper in less than a week, and everyone is holding their breath.

The DC Agenda appeared on newstands Friday, less than a week after gay publisher Window Media shuttered the most established GLBT publication in America, after four decades of life.

Window's Chapter 7 bankruptcy also sealed the fate of six LGBT newspapers, including the Atlanta-based gay weekly Southern Voice, as well as the Houston Voice, David Atlanta, South Florida Blade and 411 Magazine. The company closed down three additional properties over the summer: HX Magazine, the New York Blade and monthly glossy Genre.

No word yet on the others, but South Florida is promising a new life with a biweekly Blade. 411, a gay bar guide, will republish as Mark's List Magazine. The staff from one mag joined a new corporate entity and is back to work.

Kevin Naff, as DC Agenda's new editor, says he is buoyed by an outporing of community support. He will need it. Publishing a paper costs a small fortune. I know, because like Kevin, I am trying to do the impossible and bring South Florida's 'Express Gay News' back to life. I am not encouraged by a prospect of a small non-news based biweekly for Florida's large and diverse gay community. I think our community deserves better.

Window Media's troubles began soon after they received a $39 million Small Business Administration loan which was squandered on a series of misguided acquisitions. But why did the company choose to liquidate the DC and South Florida Blade when several suitors had put money on the table and placed it in escrow? Were taxpayers not screwed? Did the SBA fall down on their job.

Nicholas F. Benton, owner the Virginia-based weekly the Falls Church News-Press, told New York-based Gay City News that he had won a September bid to buy the Blade. So too did a new corporate entity win that right in Florida. The SBA said the decision to liquidate did not come from them. Maybe so, but they dropped the ball. Had they executed more expeditiously on the sales, maybe all these papers find continuity. Now it's a roll of the dice with startups.

“SBA has not been a part of any decision not to sell these newspapers. SBA supported the sale of the newspaper assets owned by Window. It was SBA, acting as receiver, that solicited offers to purchase the newspapers, and passed the offers it received to Window/Unite Media,” Michael Stamler, an SBA spokesman, said in an email to Gay City News. They have a great piece on the foreclosure here:
And some complaints with what went down:

The first edition of the DC Agenda is modest. Publisher Lynne Brown, and its 18-person staff, presumably working for free at the moment, have their work cut out for them. It is a struggle not for news, which there is a wealth of, but for revenues, which newspapers are finding there is a dirth of. So good luck to all the staffers, who wrote this week "their mission continues." May it indeed do so.
Meanwhile, it sure looks like the SBA dropped the ball.

Adam Lambert Defends His Craft and Conscience

Gotta hand it to Wayne Parry in the Associated Press.
His piece on American Idol star Adam Lambert sums the kid up best this way:

'This vocal chameleon can be all things to all listeners, and he kills at whatever he sings. Lambert is equally adept at hard rock, pop, disco, and power ballads, often blending ingredients of several in a single track to produce unforgettable results.'

Hey, you know, I do not expect him to be anything else to anyone. His range and command of music and voice, as exhibited on the Idol show, was nothing short of spectacular.

But I have to do a real shout out to Lambert as well. Accosted for his opinion on everything from politics to world peace since he became a household name, he continues to just, well, sing. He even told an interviewer at Out Magazine that he does not want to comment on global issues, he just wants to make good songs: 'That is what I do,' he said. 'I am not a politician. I am an entertainer. Why do people expect me to talk about civil rights? Not every gay man is the same gay man.'

Amazingly, activists are chiding him for not parading a flag at the march on Washington. Please. Cut the kid a break. An entertainer who does what he is good at, and is not the least bit embarrassed that he does not have to save the world by his 21st birthday. Why is he being chastized and criticized for his candor and honesty in stating his goal is simply to make good music? The people who voted for him on American Idol did not do so because of his ability to change the world. It was because of his ability to sing, so how about letting him follow his own path and just do what he does best?

Florida's Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Speaks Out in Support of Gay Adoption Law

Alex Sink, Herald photo by Charles Trainor

Normally, American candidates for public office do not have to support a law which endorses the rights of gay men and women to adopt children. That is because all American communities and commonwealths allow gay men and women to adopt children. With one exception. Orange Juice Land. Home of Anita Bryant. Home of a handsome governor who apparently once partnered with some younger gay men before marrying an older women.

This brings us to Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer and the leading Democratic candidate for governor. Last week at Fort Lauderdale’s Museum of Art, she told a crowd of over 300 equal rights activists that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt if it's in the children's ``best interest.''

Alex Sink is a charming woman, who overpowered me with her energy when she first appeared on my radio talk show one morning at the Floridian. She has a commanding presence, and I think her warmth and personality will sweep her to the governorship over a rather staid Bill McCollum, the state’s Attorney General.

The thing is Alex will need all the charm she can muster to change the law if she wins. Our legislature is still regressive and right wing, dominated by Neanderthal Republicans who have steadfastly refused to amend the law in the face of all common sense evidence to the contrary.

Gays and Lesbians can be buoyed by some judicial decisions striking the statute, such as the one authored by Judge Cindy Lederman in Miami. Those rulings are working their way through appellate courts. So time will give us an ultimate outcome.

Nevertheless, no legitimate GLBT forum can ignore the courage and conscience of Alex Sink today in speaking out. Even though gays are allowed to serve in an interim capacity as foster parents, Florida is the only state with an outright ban on adoption by lesbians and gay men.

As the Attorney General charged with the responsibility of defending state statutes, Bill McCollum, Ms. Sink’s opponent for Governor, is charged with defending the law. It would be ironic if Mr. McCollum supported overturning it as well, but he does not, though to his credit, both as a candidate and AG, he has been supportive of hate crimes legislation.

Still, how can anyone reasonably say that the same gay couples who foster children for years should not be allowed to adopt them for life? No one with a modicum of intelligence can argue such a ludicrous position. No one in 49 other states in our union attempts to.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gay Mayoral Candidate in Houston Slandered By Morons

The homophobic attacks against Houston mayoral candidate Annise Parker have begun, and the one below is alarming.

It's a postcard mailing to 35,000 people from your average local hateful moron, featuring a picture of Parker and her longtime partner, which asks, "Is this the image Houston wants to portray?" and reads:

“I have nothing but compassion, respect and sensitivity towards those trapped in homosexual behavior. I have family members and friends who have been ensnared in this behavior, and I know something of the incredible pain and sorrow it has brought to them and their families. With God’s grace, I carefully balance this love and respect for these individuals with warnings about the promotion and demand for legal and political approval for homosexual behavior that will stifle religious freedom and trap millions of more people in its deadly grip. Therefore, I would ask you to vote against Annise Parker for Mayor.”

So Fort Lauderdale's ex Mayor, Jim Naugle, should be pleased to know he has some Neanderthal company in Texas. In Lauderdale, gay mayoral candidate Dean Trantalis was defeated in an election last March. But in the same county, Ken Keechl, a gay county commissioner, was appointed this week by his colleagues, as the Broward County mayor. This is the second most populous county in the state, with over a million residents.

Whether it is US Attorneys in Seattle, or US Marshals in Wisconsin, or gay mayors in South Florida, our community is establishing itself as professionals across the country. This normalizes us and popularizes us for what we achieve with our clothes on. We have reason to be proud, and the hateful feudal populations who opt for denigrating our identity instead of applauding our achievements are destined to become relics of history. But women such as Annise Parker are destined to become America's leaders of tomorrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gay Teenager Murdered in Puerto Rico; Arrests Made

Jorge Lopez Mercado, left
Another gay teenager has been butchered in the streets, this time in Puerto Rico. Another bloody and unnecessary death. And probably a hate crime.

Murder charges were filed Wednesday in the slaying of a gay teenager whose decapitated, partially burned body was found last week, while U.S. authorities said they were still considering whether to make it a hate crime case.
Understand this, murder is a hate crime. The effect of a hate crime charge is to raise the level of the penalties and make the criminal face more severe sanctions. But murder carries the ultimate penalty. Can’t do much more then sentence a guy to life in jail or death.

What is clear about the killing of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado is that it was shockingly violent and brutal, with his body dismembered. All the preliminary evidence suggests he may have been targeted because of his sexuality.

Lopez was widely known as a volunteer for organizations advocating HIV prevention and gay rights, and activists are planning remembrance vigils for him in cities including San Juan, New York and Chicago. We should be. Violence targeting gays is still occurring across the country.

The Lopez situation is not unlike Simmie Williams in Fort Lauderdale, a male victim dressed as a woman in an area known for prostitution. We are hearing about a ‘gay panic’ defense that the assailant went into a murderous rage after discovering his trick was a man, not a woman. That is no excuse for murder. It is an excuse to excuse yourself from the proposed liaison, not a justification for taking the life of another.

Puerto Rico is a US territory and the new hate crime laws apply, but very few prosecutions have emerged out of San Juan over the past few years. Activists say though these laws should be used more vigorously. The FBI is investigating and federal prosecutors will have the final say on how to proceed.

We should turn our attention southward so that an end comes to this inexcusable violence. And we should make this our test case. This was a hate crime to be sure.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Newsworthy Gay Media Dies in America

I have known this is coming for days, but due to my dual role as a lawyer have had to shut my mouth as a journalist.

As published on the Steve Rothaus Gay News Blog of the Miami Herald, and as featured in Qweerty, a favorite online gay news site of mine, today spells perhaps, the death knell of credible gay media in America.

The very people that bought up my newspaper, Express Gay News, and acquired other national gay publications with government backed funds, has gone broke.

The publisher of Window Media — which publishes the Southern Voice, Washington Blade, South Florida Blade, 411 Magazine, Houston Voice, David Magazine, and the already deceased Genre Magazine, unsurprisingly closed up shop over the weekend. Their lawyers apparently are filing for bankruptcy protection this week, and may have already. They were already in receivership for defaulting on SBA loans.

I do not know whether it will be reorganization, or the fatal ‘stick a fork in us, we are done’ filing. I am told the latter.

I do know that both in South Florida and Atlanta its employees found out by reading a pictured sign stating that Window Media has shut down. And though while the websites of its publications remain online, there will be no South Florida Blade this week. 411 is at press and will publish, but beginning today, staffers cannot access their office. They can only retrieve personal possessions later in the week.

While Window Media may not survive federal receivership, a group of very motivated businessmen had tendered a very fair offer to purchase 411 and the Blade. They are lucky they did not have to pay for something they now essentially get for free. They are meeting at this moment with 411 and Blade staffers in an attempt to move them to a new publication, Mark’s List Magazine, and keep the bar guide running under a new name with new stewardship as a new startup with no debt. I wish them luck. They will not be burdened by an unnecesary payoff to the federal government and can start their own business under their own name with a clean blank slate. Good for them, but it is a tough market.

For me, I will not sit by and let the credible gay news media collapse in South Florida. I hope other businessmen feel the same way in Atlanta. There is a need for a Washington Blade, Southern Voice, or Express Gay News. There is a place for Hot Spots and 411. There is a need for the Blades. That is the way I feel. That is the way I will act.

This is not a good time for publications anywhere. The Internet rules. Still, the gay community deserves better and can afford newsworthy publications that have stature and credibility. I am going to use my influence any way I can to make it happen.
Conspicuously absent from the press release at
is any mention of the Blade, the news entity I care most about.

Here is what
wrote today, very accurately: “So many LGBT Americans turned to Window's publications — often before they were absorbed into the publisher's umbrella — for the latest digest on local gay news, events, and attacks on the community. These papers were, unarguably, invaluable and this website and its readers have benefited directly from them. When it comes to hyper-local reporting, the various Blade titles were the biggest game in town.”
'While the executives running the company may not be, the titles will surely be missed'.

The burden to keep gay media alive now falls upon someone somewhere.

I will simply not allow South Florida to go without a credible and newsworthy GLBT publication and I am actively soliciting and recruiting partners with me to insure that it happens.

I am privileged that some have already called me and asked me to step into a huge void. I am responsive to the inquiries but business realities have to be explored, evaluated and analyzed before precipitously undertaking such an enormous venture. I will give it my immediate consideration.

Our community cannot allow itself to be measured by bar guides picturing shirtless men holding up drinks in niteclubs. We are too much more to do less.

Ten years ago, starting the Express with a little money and then selling it to Window Media for a lot more, I proved that a credible gay newspaper can prosper in a local community. The road is tougher, and the Net makes it more difficult, but if there is a way to go down that road again, I am prepared to start.

There is no doubt in my mind that a strong and vibrant South Florida community is capable of starting a new Express. In the interim, there is no better place to get your daily fix of gay life than to read Steve Rothaus online. He is our CNN.

News at 11. No, maybe right away. We are on the board nationally, and not in a good way:,2933,575310,00.html

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Don't Ask: A Discharged Vet Tells CNN His Story

(CNN) -- Darren Manzella saw two tours of duty in Iraq, first as a combat medic and later as a liaison officer. He earned three promotions in his six years as a U.S. Army sergeant.

Despite his professional success, Manzella says he began to question his personal life.

"After returning from my first deployment in Iraq, after seeing death and violence, losing friends and comrades, it really made me look over my life," he said. "I looked at some issues I had always had trouble with. I had debated, 'Am I gay?' "

As he struggled with his sexual identity, Manzella began a relationship with a man. Soon after, while in Texas between tours, Manzella said he began receiving anonymous, harassing e-mails and telephone calls.

"They told me, 'You are stupid, the Army is going to kick you out, but before they do, they are going to take your rank away and all your money away.' "
Manzella describes this time as one of fear and deep insecurity.
"I didn't know if the military police would be coming through the door to take me away because someone had reported me," he said. "This was some of the paranoia I was living with every day."

Manzella says that the e-mails and calls went on for months and that after many sleepless nights, he decided to ask his supervisor for help.

"He listened and was somewhat sympathetic," Manzella said. "He told me not to worry, to try and get some rest, to go home early and see him in the morning."

By the next morning, Manzella's supervisor had reported him as having broken the law under "don't ask, don't tell," the 1993 policy that prohibits anyone who "demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the U.S. military.

Manzella said he was read his rights and told that he would be investigated, but that he could continue working. As the investigation proceeded, word spread that Manzella was gay.

"Ironically, it pulled the unit together. A lot of them started to invite me out," Manzella said. "My co-worker was getting married; she told me that my boyfriend and I were invited to the wedding. It made me feel like I was more a part of the family."

After a month, Manzella said he was told that no proof of homosexuality had been found and that the investigation was being closed, even though he told his supervisor about his lifestyle. Manzella was hopeful.

"I thought it was a big step when they told me that they were going to retain me," he said.
In 2006, Manzella's unit was sent back to Iraq, and he served his 15-month deployment with his unit knowing he was gay.

"I could have pictures of my boyfriend out, I could talk freely on the phone without having to worry about someone overhearing me and reporting me," he said.

During his tour, Manzella was contacted by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national nonprofit offering legal assistance to those affected by don't ask, don't tell. SLDN told him that a television network was looking for a gay serviceman in a combat zone to tell his story.
After weighing the risk of being discharged for speaking out publicly, Manzella agreed to the interview. He said he was motivated by the knowledge that he could give a voice to the gays, lesbians and bisexuals serving in the military -- a number estimated at 65,000 by the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which researches sexual minorities in the military.

The network television segment aired a few days before Manzella returned from Iraq, and it seemed at first that his interview would not have consequences. He returned to the States, spent time with his family and even went to Capitol Hill to lobby against don't ask, don't tell.
Manzella returned to duty at Fort Hood, Texas, in December 2007 and continued to serve for almost seven months. In the first week of March 2008, he was given orders to report to Fort Drum, New York, to work at the military hospital there.

A week later, he said, his company commander called him in.
"I was told I was going to be discharged under don't ask, don't tell," he said. "Up until that point, I hadn't heard anything. I had lived openly for nearly two years. I thought that was a huge step forward, that finally people were being recognized on their performance and how well they served their country and their comrades and peers."

In June 2008, Manzella received an honorable discharge. His discharge papers read "homosexual conduct admission."

CNN contacted the Army for more details on the nature of Manzella's discharge. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver of the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs said that under law, the military could not comment on or release details about Manzella's discharge.

Since don't ask, don't tell was introduced, the military has discharged more than 13,000 lesbians, gays and bisexuals, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. A 2005 government report found that about 800 of them had skills deemed "critical," such as engineering and linguistics, and that it cost the military about $200 million to recruit and train their replacements.

Garver said the continued enforcement of don't ask, don't tell is simply a case of the Army enforcing the law.

"The Army enforces the homosexual conduct policy because it is the law," he said. "The policy is not a military policy, and the Army has a policy because it is bound by current statute. If the law were potentially to change, the Army would change to enforce whatever the law may be."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Open Lesbian Now a Partner in Chicago Cubs Ownership Team

Pete Ricketts, Todd Ricketts, Laura Ricketts, Tom Ricketts

Everyone wondered who the Chicago Cubs would be sold to. Now we know. Someone with a league of her own.

A milestone of professional sports has been reached with the new owners, though it's not one our homophobic sports world will play up too willingly. So let's do it for them.

Among the members of the Ricketts family who acquired the team is Laura Ricketts, an out lesbian -- making the Cubs the first professional sports team to have a gay owner, at least one that is known to the public. I would suspect Marge Schott, but I think her thing was dogs. How open is Laura? She even attended a White House GLBT luncheon in June for Gay Pride month, and has apparently been an active political contributor to Dems in Chi-town.

Ricketts says she came out of the closet to her family in her early 30's, shortly after she came to terms with her sexuality herself. She's quoted as saying her family was "immediately supportive."

Not only has there never been an openly gay sports team owner before, but there have been no openly gay players -- at least none who were willing to admit it before their retirement. A lot have come out after they finished playing, like Billy Beane and Glenn Burke. And we just blogged about a closeted gay professional athlete whose blog has purportedly described his life in the bigs.

There has been an openly gay umpire, Dave Pallone. But that didn't work out well for him. After he came out to the National League president at the time, he was fired on rumors of an alleged sex ring. A subsequent investigationb proved the allegations were groundless. Pallone claimed he was fired for being gay. Then there was Paul Priore, a clubhouse assistant for the Yankees who said he was taunted and ultimately fired because he was HIV positive.

Let's put it this way. Gayness in MLB is infrequently discussed. No manager or player wants a distraction. I have always felt that outside of the locker room jokes, most people could care less what the guy does in bed if the guy can play the game. Some day we will find out. Baseball survived the wife swapping of Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich in the midst of a New York Yankees pennant run in the 1970's. It will survive a gay player if he has a good curve or can hit in the clutch.

While Laura Ricketts' ownership in the Cubs is unique, she is not the partner expected to run the team.Tom Ricketts, chief executive officer of Incapital LLC, a Chicago investment bank will handle that chore. Should be an interesting family. From Omaha, Nebraska, one of the brothers is very conservative, opposes gay marriage and involved with Republican politics as much as Laura is with the Dems. Great Thanksgiving dinners, don't you think?

One of the first teams to ever hold a 'Gay Days' at the ballpark was the Cubs at Wrigley Field, usually in the summer during the Market Days Festival on Halstead Street. Now they really have someone to throw out the first pitch.

Gay America Wins a Place at the Table

A Place at the Table:

7 Reasons 2009 Has Been a Good Year for Gay Americans

By Norm Kent

Gay Americans have much to be proud of these past few weeks. We helped elect the right man President of the United States. So yes, Mabel, there has been a difference.

First of all, at the Human Rights Campaign Dinner in Washington, D.C. last month, President Obama announced that he will ask Congress to overturn the ban on gays in the military, effectively disarming the misguided policies of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ era. Though not posturing a date, the President was very specific in stating that he would honor his campaign pledge; that “we should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country."

Yes, activists like myself and Cleve Jones I see too, are perturbed this has not happened more quickly. But I know I can find a little bad in the best of things. The bottom line is that the President has raised the issue and not run from it. The days of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ are coming to a halt.

Second, that same man, Barack Obama, influenced a Democratic congress to end its stalemate and stalling on the Hate Crimes Act. The bill, honoring the lives of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., both victims of hate, each murdered, was passed and signed into law this year. This bill expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It is thus the first federal law to extend legal protection to transgendered persons.

Like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the law empowers federal authorities with a greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue. It was a bill that Republicans and President Bush had killed for years.

Third, as prior Presidents before him have done, President Obama also signed into law that bill releasing funds for HIV prevention and treatment, including a reauthorization of the Ryan White Act. Every year, this legislation guarantees access to lifesaving medical services, primary care, and medications for more than 500,000 patients, nearly half of all those living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

Under Team Obama, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act does at least authorize a 5 percent annual increase in federal support over the next four years. Not all is gravy, though. The Bush Administration had imposed some regressive administrative measures that hampered direct assistance to many communities, and those negative changes were not corrected in the recent reauthorization.

Fourth, ENDA is a renewed federal bill in the United States Congress that would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, for civilian nonreligious employers with over 15 employees. Religious organizations and non profit membership only clubs are provided exemptions, similar to the principles of the Civil Rights Act. This year, for the first time, with Democratic leadership in the House and Senate, this bill has a realistic chance of becoming law.

Fifth, President Obama has called upon Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. He also called for a law to extend benefits to domestic partners. These were not causes supported by the prior administration. As a matter of fact, President Bush was a leader for DOMA from the outset of his administration. Here too, then, the White House has turned a corner.

Sixth, on Friday President Obama announced that he will lift a 22-year-old ban on entry into the United States for people infected with HIV/AIDS. The administration intends to publish a new federal rule next week eliminating the ban by the start of 2010, carrying through on a proposal President Bush had finally endorsed in 2008. It was long past due.

"We talk about reducing the stigma of this disease, yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat," President Obama said. "If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it."

The HIV Travel Ban made the United States a pariah in human rights circles. In fact, some of the most significant international conventions studying the AIDS pandemic were not held in the United States because we ostracized ourselves with a Neanderthal policy that so clearly violated both public health needs and human rights.

Seventh, the last and most fundamental change in the Obama Administration is its willingness to select openly gay men and women to positions of influence and trust in the government. The litmus test for a Presidential appointment has become your competence in the daytime, not who you sleep with at night. In Washington, a successful prosecutor who is an out lesbian has just been named a chief US Attorney. In Minnesota, another lesbian has been appointed a US Marshall. In fact, the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute lists over two dozen Presidential GLBT appointments, from Special Counsel to the President to the Deputy Director for Safe Schools.

The gay community has become an operative political force to be reckoned with locally and nationally. There are still heated emotional debates surrounding ‘same-sex marriage’. Politicians are still reticent to join that bandwagon. No matter. Regardless of popular opinion, eventually it is our courts which will decide the legal rights and protections of same-sex couples. As marriage is fundamentally a civil contract which can be voided at will, it is inevitable that same sex marriages will be upheld by the courts.

Some of us in the gay community were initially disturbed with President Obama's first forays into equal justice, but we were foolish. I just don't think that six months into their first term John McCain and Sarah Palin would have been hosting an LGBT Gay Pride Month luncheon in the White House.

In 1993, Bruce Bawer wrote a landmark book entitled “A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society.” Bruce’s vision has come true. We no longer have to window shop our lives from the outside. We are welcome in. We have earned it, and now if we want it, there is a place at the table for us too.