Thursday, December 30, 2010

Homophobes Going for a Third Bite of the Apple

Apple has rejected the Manhattan Declaration's anti-LGBT iPhone app for a second time.

You may remember that, in November, the LGBT community presented Apple with a petition signed by 8,000 people demanding that they remove the app, which among other things told supporters of marriage equality that they were "wrong," from its store. Apple quickly removed the app.

The religious right then responded with a petition of their own, signed by 46,000 people, asking that a "modified" version of the app be sold.

But Apple has decided that even though the promoters of the app have more "votes," their slightly "modified" version would still be "'likely to expose a group to harm" and "be objectionable and potentially harmful to others" and has again rejected it.

Did the Manhattan Declaration's signers think they would win Steve Jobs over to their side with PR like this?

The Manhattan Declaration's  organizers plan to take the matter back to Apple's App Review Board after they return from the Christmas and New Year's holiday observances.

If you'd like thank Apple directly for their decision and urge them to continue to stick to their guns, the phone number for their corporate headquarters is 408-996-1010.

Richard Chamberlain's Advice

Richard Chamberlain
In his recent interview in the Advocate, Richard Chamberlain is quoted as saying "It’s complicated. There’s still a tremendous amount of homophobia in our culture. It’s regrettable, it’s stupid, it’s heartless, and it’s immoral, but there it is. For an actor to be working is a kind of miracle, because most actors aren’t, so it’s just silly for a working actor to say, 'Oh, I don’t care if anybody knows I’m gay' — especially if you’re a leading man. Personally, I wouldn’t advise a gay leading man–type actor to come out... Despite all the wonderful advances that have been made, it’s still dangerous for an actor to talk about that in our extremely misguided culture. Look at what happened in California with Proposition 8. Please, don’t pretend that we’re suddenly all wonderfully, blissfully accepted."

The bloggers have weighed in, criticizing him for this advice. Some of the blogs have been pretty insulting, too.

While I also disagree with his conclusions and the advice he offers, I can't say that he is factually wrong. Our society is changing, but it still has quite a way to go.

When Ellen came out (and it wasn't that long ago) her series was cancelled. She has repeatedly talked in interviews about how it seemed that her career was over. Rupert Everett came out, and today expresses some regret over the roles that decision has cost him. There is a price to pay for coming out.

The advice to stay in the closet is understandable, but it is essentially selfish, placing one's career above all other concerns. And it is short-sighted. Only by coming out does someone contribute to that change in our culture.

But I have to question why so many are willing to pile on Richard Chamberlain? 

When Judge Phillips ruled that DADT was unconstitutional, the leading advocacy groups (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Servicemembers United, OUTServe) fighting for the rights of lesbian and gay soldiers advised their members to remain in the closet. 

I'll admit it: At first, I didn't question the wisdom of the advice the servicemembers organizations were giving. The court's ruling was going to be appealed, and if it were to be reversed by a higher court, anyone who had come out would be subject to discharge.

But then I listened to Dan Choi. He was calling for the opposite response. He asked our servicemembers to show their courage, to come out now and show how many lesbians and gays we already had serving our country with honor. His position was that only by coming out would they contribute to the final death of this discriminatory policy. And as soon as I heard him say this, I knew he was right.

Where were the blogs then? Heck, where are they now, when servicemembers are still being urged to use caution when considering whether or not to come out?

Coming out is never the wrong decision to make. Living in the closet, living a lie, exacts a toll that no one should have to pay. But in the end, coming out is a decision we all have to make for ourselves when we are ready. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

ACLU Files Suit Seeking Survivor's Benefits for Same-Sex Partner of Deceased State Trooper

When you're getting ready for bed on this Christmas night, won't you spare a thought for Kelly Glossip?

Glossip (L), Engelhard and son in happier times.

Last Christmas morning Glossip's partner, Missouri Highway Patrol trooper Dennis Engelhard, said goodbye to his family and went to work as usual. Later that morning, while assisting a motorist who was was involved in an accident in the winter snow on Interstate 44, Engelhard was struck by an SUV. He died before Glossip could reach his side in the hospital.

Following his death, the governor ordered all U.S. and Missouri flags to be flown at half-staff. Earlier this week, the state even renamed the stretch of the highway where he was killed after him in his honor. But because Missouri does not recognize the legal validity of same-sex relationships, Glossip has been denied the survivor benefits that he would have received had they been able to marry.

"There were days after Dennis’ death that were some of the loneliest I have ever known. Neither I nor my son were mentioned in Dennis’ obituary, which just said that Dennis was 49, single, and survived by his parents, brother and sister-in-law and nephews and niece. When the governor called for the flags to be lowered to half-mast across the state, he asked the people of Missouri to pray for Dennis’ family: his parents and brother, but not me. Those moments made me feel that the family we had made for 15 years – me, Dennis and my son – was hidden, or purposefully ignored," Glossip says.

There is no dispute as to the nature of their relationship. Engelhard had been open about the relationship with his fellow troopers. "There were no problems with Dennis' sexual orientation within the Highway Patrol -- at least not in Troop C," Glossip says. "Dennis and I loved each other and lived in a committed relationship for 15 years. We depended on each other emotionally and financially in our life together like any other committed couple. We exchanged rings and would have married in Missouri if the state didn't exclude us from marriage."

"Life since Dennis has been gone has been a struggle. Not only do I have to cope with losing my beloved partner, and my son has to struggle with losing his stepfather, but since Dennis was the primary breadwinner in our family I have also struggled financially." If they had been legally married, Glossip would've been entitled to a state pension of 50% Engelhardt's salary. Represented by the ACLU, Glossip has filed a lawsuit against the Missouri Patrol Employees' Retirement System. "I'm just seeking the same financial protections the state provides to heterosexual couples. It is hard enough coping with the grief of losing Dennis. It is even more painful to have the state treat Dennis and me as though we were total strangers."

He is not challenging the definition of marriage under Missouri law. Instead, he is challenging the benefits policy as a violation of his rights under the Missouri Constitution. "All I am asking is for the same dignity for my family as is shown to any other Highway Patrol family in their time of need. Dennis gave his life protecting the people of Missouri, and yet the state treats his family as legal strangers. This is a disservice to his memory and a disservice to the promise of fair treatment under the law as promised by our state’s Constitution."

"Dennis and Kelly were a family in every sense of the word," said John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "They owned a home together, shared cars and bank accounts, and Dennis even helped Kelly care for his child from a former marriage. They vowed to take care of each other in good times and in bad. As a matter of basic fairness, Kelly should be entitled to the same security as other bereaved partners of troopers killed in the line of duty."

"Kelly is merely seeking the same treatment he would have received if his partner had been a woman, rather than a man," said Anthony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. "Kelly may not have been able to marry the person of his choice under Missouri state law, but he is still entitled to equal protection and the fundamental right to the family relationship he formed with Dennis Engelhard. He is seeking the same dignity and security for his family that is granted to other state troopers' families."

Friday, December 24, 2010


Knowing that it would drive me over the precipice, a friend recently sent me a link to an article published in The Mail in which Mel Smith talked about George Lucas' plans for the future:

"He’s been buying up the film rights to dead movie stars in the hope of using computer trickery to put them all together in a movie, so you’d have Orson Welles and Barbara Stanwyck appear alongside today’s stars."

This really isn't entirely new. People have speculated on this possibility for a number of years. It's even been tried, though fortunately without much success.

"Laurence Olivier" in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Laurence Olivier died on July 11, 1989. Fifteen years later, he also (digitally) starred in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." Leaving the theatre after seeing this movie, I felt it was an appalling misuse of technology, that it desecrated the memory of a great actor who cared immensely about his work by using his image and voice to create a performance over which he had no control. Olivier's extraordinary dedication to the craft of acting was well documented over the years. He famously worked for over a year to lower his voice from its natural tenor range to a baritone because Orson Welles had jokingly told him he should never play Othello, that the music of the character's lines needed a baritone's voice - and Olivier agreed!

A year after the debacle of Sky Captain, Rob Cohen promised (threatened) us with a new film, aptly titled Rage and Fury, starring Bruce Lee. Rage and fury should have been the fans' reaction to the news of this impending disaster when the director first announced the project back in 2006.

So while the concept may not be new, the fact that one man is currently stockpiling the rights to the names, faces and voices of defenseless, deceased actors for future misuse left me, as I'm certain my friend knew, apoplectic.

Now don't get me wrong. It's not the digital manipulation to which I object. Loads of actors have lent their images and voices to video game manufacturers. Living actors, who agree to this being done and share in the economic rewards and who, presumably, have some input as to the results. If Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone are willing to agree to this, that's fine. But when the heirs to a deceased actor fatten their wallets by pimping out the memory of their relatives, this techno-necrophilia is just wrong on so many levels. 

Besides creating a "performance" over which the "actor" has no control, it denies work to a living actor, an actor who could add something to the director's vision by creating something that goes beyond what the director had seen in his imagination. This is precisely why the best directors universally admit that the single most important choice they make during the production process is casting.

Screenwriters have long railed against the "auteur" theory, which gives the director all of the credit for the content of a film. This technology will give the director total control over the performers as well, something that I would suggest no GOOD director would want. In the nearly-a-century that the film industry has existed, the best directors have always acknowledged the contributions of their collaborators, the happy accident of a talented actor's inspiration.

What's next? When do we program a robot to emulate the work of Michaelangelo, Van Gough, Picasso, and tell all of the world's struggling artists to give up and find something else to do with their lives? Or a computer program that will write like Hemingway or Shakespeare so no aspiring writers ever need to commit word to paper?

More than any other artform, filmmaking is a collaborative medium. Placing all of the creative process in the hands of only one individual will intrinsically diminish the quality of resulting piece of art, or, in Lucas' case, product. It is a disgusting illustration of the man's egomania that he would even consider doing this. Lucas may have purchased the "legal" right to use the images of dead actors, but he has not acquired either the artistic or the moral right to use this technology.

I don't expect Hollywood to allow questions of good taste to get in the way of making a buck. It's up to us, the ticket buyers. Nothing short of a total boycott of any film using this technology will appease the wrath of Raging Pride!

(This above image is a screenshot from a copyrighted film, and the copyright for it is most likely owned by the studio which produced the film, and possibly also by the actor appearing in the screenshot. It is believed that the use of a limited number of web-resolution screenshots for critical commentary and discussion of the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


What words can I add? The smile on Dan Choi's face tells it all. Senator Harry Reid, who promised to keep Dan's West Point ring safe until the repeal of DADT had been signed into law, has now returned the ring. Video is below:

President Signs DADT Repeal!

Today, December 22, 2010, President Obama signed into law the repeal of the law which barred the military service to openly lesbian, gay and bisexual troops.

While implementation of this repeal and a fully non-discrimination policy is still in the future, this marks the first great legislative victory for the advancement of civil rights in the US in the 21st century.

You can view this moment in history here:

IN GOD'S NAME: March and Rally in Brooklyn Protests Homophobic Hate-Speech

Demonstrators at In God's Name - Hate Is the Abomination prepare for
the traditional recitation of the Kadish, the Hebrew Mourners' Prayer.
I had blogged previously about Queer Rising's event, IN GOD'S NAME - HATE IS THE ABOMINATION. With wind chill factors in the low teens as I headed out to Brooklyn, I didn't expect to find many people in attendance. It was quite a pleasant surprise then to see so many show up on such a cold night for a rally "inspired" to challenge the homophobic hate-speech coming from a few ultra-right wing Orthodox Rabbis led by Yehuda Levin.

Levin most recently made the news during Carl Paladino's unsuccessful campaign for NY Governor, when then-candidate Paladino was eager for the endorsement of this fringe figure.  It was he who wrote Paladino's famous quote "I don't want [children] brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option.  It isn't." According to Levin, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were God's punishment for NYC establishing a domestic partnership registry. Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans was divine retribution for that city's hosting of a circuit party. Levin claims to oppose anyone who would use violence against the LGBT community, but in 2006 he organized the drive to stop WorldPride, an LGBT pride event in Jerusalem, promising, "There's going to be bloodshed - not just on that day, but for months afterward."

But even though Queer Rising organized this event in Flatbush, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Levin and his (few) supporters live, Levin wasn't the sole focus of the protest. This is just the first of what will be many similar protests in the future, challenging the rhetoric coming from religious "leaders" who cloak their homophobia behind their faith, homophobia that fosters the societal attitudes encouraging the gay-bashers who directly attack us and, perhaps even more insidiously, enabling the bullies, the teachers, and yes, even the parents who drive our youths to harm themselves in futile acts of desperation.

As Jake Goodman, a member of Queer Rising who emceed the event, explains in a beautifully written guest blog posted tonight on Pam's house Blend, "We decided instead to build a coalition. We communicated with over 100 rabbis from every denomination.  We visited support groups for ex-Orthodox gay Jews.  We partnered with other organizations and communities that were doing related work.  We mobilized both Jewish and queer organizations to collaborate...In the end, the success of "In God's Name" can be measured by who showed up:  people of every sexual orientation, Jews of every denomination (including the unaffiliated), non-Jews, atheists, old people, young people, white people, Latino people, African Americans.  Rally speakers included a lesbian rabbi (Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum), an Orthodox rabbi (Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum), an Israeli nonprofit executive (Idit Klein) and a gay union leader (Stuart Appelbaum).  We were endorsed by synagogues large and small, queer and AIDS-related activist groups, hospitals, arts youth groups, community centers, etc."

"It is shocking and appalling that some individuals who might pray three times a day and endeavor to keep every law in the books, are the same ones violating our very tenets and the most important laws that we have," Rabbi Applebaum told the crowd at the rally.

Rabbi Kleinbaum reminded us of the inherent power of words for good and for ill, and the horrifying consequences of allowing hate-speech to go unchallenged. Stuart Applebaum continued, "But our words have power, too.  And we must use our words to condemn those who would pervert their religion... to use it as a means of discrimination and destruction."

"If [our community leaders] preach hatred and shame and defile the name of God to justify homophobic bias and unjust acts, we call upon all of you to raise your voices and say ‘Enough!’ For hate is, indeed, the abomination,” said Idit Klein.

After the (mercifully short, considering the frigid temperatures) rally, the crowd marched through the neighborhood, singing Hebrew and American folk songs. (I'll have to admit, "This Little Light of Mine" was the only one I knew.) At every door and window, we saw the faces of the neighborhood, watching us. There was a heavy police presence, whether there to protect or control us I can't say, but it was completely unnecessary. This protest went without any unpleasantness at all. I didn't hear one derogatory comment from any of the people we passed on the street.

At the end of the march, the crowd gathered to recite the Kaddish, the traditional Hebrew Mourner's Prayer, in memory of all of the victims, both known and unknown, of misplaced religious homophobia.

In this video I've tried to encapsulate the experience of being at this demonstration for those who could not attend. It is my hope that you will watch it and experience the same powerful and positive emotions I felt that night.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Snow fell yesterday in Washington, DC. The pristine monuments were wrapped in a clean, white blanket of winter beauty. The city was quiet. Quiet, but not silent. A crowd gathered in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House, to deliver a message to President Obama, even as the President was delivering a message to the American people about the war in Afghanistan.

Inside, the President, accompanied by Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates, reassured reporters that, while "this continues to be a very difficult endeavor," the U.S. is "on track to achieve our goals."

Asked about the lack of support for the war shown by Americans in recent polls, Secretary Clinton replied "I'm well aware of the popular concern, and I understand it." But in matters of critical national security, she added, our government can't make decisions "based on polling." She reminded the reporters, "This administration ... inherited an extraordinarily difficult situation. ... There was no coherent strategy to unify American's efforts in the region, no clearly defined mission... Today, we have a very different story to tell.

Asked about the projected withdrawal of US forces scheduled to begin next July, Secretary Gates responded, "The answer is, we don't know at this point."

The news media duly reported on all of this. But they seem to have ignored what was going on outside in the snow, where an estimated 500 people, many of them military veterans who had honorably served our country, came to protest the continuation of the war.

Following a rally organized by the group Veterans for Peace, featuring speeches by Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame), retired CIA officer Ray McGovern, Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and others, the protesters staged a solemn march to the White House, silent but for the sound of a single drum. When they found their path to the sidewalk in front of the President's mansion blocked, some of the veterans were not deterred, and began climbing over the obstacles. The police opened the barricades and allowed them access to the sidewalk in front of the White House, where the protesters began chanting.

As the press conference inside the White House continued, the police began arresting the protesters. For nearly four hours, the police handcuffed and photographed 131 people for failing to obey police orders to clear the sidewalk in front of the White House. Those arrested included Ellsberg, McGovern, and Hedges.

At the same time, in a show of solidarity in New York City's Times Square, another rally was held which also resulted in the arrests of members of Veterans for Peace and the the brave women of the Granny Peace Brigade - some of them in their eighties and nineties!

None of this was deemed to be newsworthy by the mainstream media. At Raging Pride, we beg to differ.

UPDATE: This morning a spokesperson from the NYPD confirmed that there were eleven people arrested in Times Square, bringing the total number of arrests to 142. I have updated the headline to reflect this new information. - DW

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Smiling Bob" Still In Jail, Despite Rights Violations

With all of the mainstream news media focusing on DADT, the Obama tax deal, the DREAM act and the START Treaty, there was one BIG story this week that you heard little or nothing at all about. This is a story you won't see covered on the network news. The Today Show wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole.

It's a story that has a little of bit of everything: government stepping on your rights, the internet, sex, familial betrayal, epic fraud and criminal conspiracies, sex, late night TV... oh, and did I mention sex?

Seriously, though, it's actually a rather important story for those of you who use email, and I'm assuming that, since you're online reading my blog, you do. But while the case, dry as it might be, is important to anyone who is concerned with government intrusion into their online privacy, the specifics of it are a little more, well, entertaining.

In a decision concerning the privacy of email users, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in the case US-v-Warshak that the government must have a search warrant before it can read emails stored by email service providers such as Yahoo, Gmail and AOL. The court based its ruling on the position that email users enjoy the same reasonable expectation of privacy in their emails as in their conventional snail-mail.

The court's ruling stated:

"Given the fundamental similarities between email and traditional forms of communication, it would defy common sense to afford emails lesser Fourth Amendment protection... Police may not storm the post office and intercept a letter, and they are likewise forbidden from using the phone system to make a clandestine recording of a telephone call--unless they get a warrant, that is."

Unfortunately for Steven Warshak, this ruling, whatever long-term significance it may have for the rest of us, will have no effect on his criminal conviction. He was found guilty of 93 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering and was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay thousands in fines.

And here's where we get to the reason why no one is really talking about this case: embarrassment. Warshak's fraud was running Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, manufacturers and distributors of Enzyte. Yes, Enzyte, the natural supplement for "male enhancement," a euphemism for penile enlargement. 

If you've watched late night TV in the last decade, you've seen their effective if somewhat wooden, commercials:

BPN claimed that Enzyet could increase penis size, girth, firmness, and improve sexual performance. It was the pill that gave Smiling Bob and his wife (and apparently every woman with whom he had any contact) those big grins. Warshak was running a scam, preying on people he thought were the perfect victims. He believed that his customers, no matter how dissatisfied with the Enzyte's inevitable lack of results, would never complain. Who, he reasoned, would be willing to publicly admit to needing his product? He never expected to end up doing hard time. And if customers did ask for their money back, his phone sales reps were taught how to stiff them. (Can I get a rim-shot here?)

Well, thousands of consumer complaints were made, though about the company's business practices, especially the "autoship" program that repeatedly charged their credit cards for refills even after they canceled their orders. When federal agents raided BPN, Warshak and four  other people, including his 75-year-old mother, were indicted. Any future his firm would have would depend on the size of the fines. (Puh-dum-dum!)

Along with the guilty verdicts for Warshak and his mother, the company was required to forfeit $500 million, forcing it into bankruptcy. (It has since been acquired by another company, and Enzyte, despite the lack of any evidence supporting its efficacy, is still on the market.)

And so, despite growing concerns about protecting your privates... uh, I mean, privacy... on the internet, the embarrassment factor is preventing the media from telling you about this case. Which is a shame, really. Because it is a very important case. One might even say it was seminal.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

OBAMA Reacts to GOP's Filibuster

The White House is also framing today's GOP filibuster of the National Defense Authorization Act in terms of it's impact on  the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  The official WH statement:

A minority of Senators were willing to block this important legislation largely because they oppose the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." As Commander in Chief, I have pledged to repeal this discriminatory law, a step supported by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and informed by a comprehensive study that shows overwhelming majorities of our armed forces are prepared to serve with Americans who are openly gay or lesbian. A great majority of the American people agree. This law weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness, integrity and equality.

I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin, and Senators Lieberman and Collins for all the work they have done on this bill. While today's vote was disappointing, it must not be the end of our efforts. I urge the Senate to revisit these important issues during the lame duck session.

To which I can only reply, as succinctly (it's 55 secs long) as I can put it:


Most of my friends and much of the mainstream media will view today's disgraceful Senate action in terms of its effect on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But it's much bigger than that.

The National Defense Authorization Act contains ALL of the funding for the Pentagon for the next fiscal year.

As the Republicans are so fond of reminding us, the United States is in a time of war.  TWO wars! And the GOP has just blocked consideration of the bill that funds the military.

I'm asking my friends in the LGBT community to back away from our own parochial concerns. I'm asking the media to back away from what they see as a hot button issue that will boost their ratings.

The GOP has just undercut our military in a time of war! They MUST be challenged on this! This borders on a treasonous act.

PLEASE - Don't let the GOP frame the terms of how the media covers this. Don't let the GOP own tonight's news cycle. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

UPDATE: NY Senate Balance Still in Question

Sen. Craig M. Johnson  (D)
A spokesperson from Senator Craig M. Johnson's office has confirmed to me that the appeal of Judge Ira B. Warshawsky's ruling giving the 67th District Senate seat to GOP challenger Jack Martins is going forward. As I previously reported, the appeal was filed on Monday. Written briefs are due to be submitted before the end of the week with oral arguments starting next week. There is currently a stay of execution on the lower court's ruling. As a result, the current seat count of the New York Senate is 31 held by Republicans, 30 by Democrats.

Jack Martins  (R)
If the Appellate court affirms the lower court ruling, Martins will be certified the winner and the GOP will control the chamber, 32 to 30. If the court orders that a recount of the ballots proceed and Johnson is found to be the winner, the chamber will be tied with 31 votes for each party.

If this is the final result, there remains the question of how tied votes will be resolved. The Democrats say that incoming Lt. Governor Robert J. Duffy, in his capacity as President of the Senate, will cast the tie-breaker. The law on this is unclear, however, and if this happens, the GOP will almost certainly challenge this in court.

Sen. Kevin Parker  (D)
Also unclear is what, if any, action the Senate will take concerning Sen. Kevin Parker, convicted yesterday in Brooklyn Supreme Court on two counts of misdemeanor criminal mischief. Parker was charged with felony assault for allegedly attacking a photographer from the New York Post in May, 2009, breaking the photographer's finger, smashing his camera and vandalizing the interior of his car. He will be sentenced on Jan. 27.  If he had been found guilty of the felony charge, he would have automatically lost his seat. Because he was only convicted on the misdemeanor charges, however, it will be up to his Senate colleagues to determine his fate.

Republicans are expected to call for sanctions that could lead to his expulsion from the Senate, as happened in February with Hiram Monserrate, also found guilty of misdemeanor charges while being cleared of more serious felony assault charges. "A commission should look at Parker... His conduct definitely is unbecoming of a NY State Senator," said Sen. Martin Golden (R).

The Democrats, while not defending his actions, appear unwilling to remove him from the Senate as they did with Monserrate. If he were to lose his seat, it would remain vacant until a special election could be held, guaranteeing the GOP majority status, regardless of the outcome of the Johnson/Martin court case. "I'm not advocating that this warrants expulsion... The heinous crime of domestic violence demands a tougher standard," said Senate leader John Sampson (D), who also voted against the removal of Monserrate.

Congressman Tim Bishop  (D)               Randy Altschuler  (R)
In related news, the last disputed contest for the House of Representatives came to an end this morning when Republican challenger Randy Altschuler conceded the victory to Democratic incumbent Tim Bishop. Initial vote counts had given the victory to Bishop election night, but the next day election officials announced that a mistake had been made. After a second count, Altschuler was declared the victor. Those results have been in dispute for over a month, and as of last night the tally had Bishop ahead by 263 votes, with 977 absentee ballots remaining to be counted. In announcing his decision to end his legal challenge to the vote count, Altschuler's emailed statement said, "After  consulting with my family and campaign staff, I am ending my campaign and offering congratulations to Congressman Tim Bishop on his victory." Any further efforts to challenge the results would, in his words, "place an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers of Suffolk County."

These long-contested contests, decided by only a few hundred ballots, give the lie to the idea that one person's vote in unimportant. Clearly, every vote counts.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Republicans Poised to Take Control of NY State Senate

We started the week off with mixed news on those still contested races for New York's Senate. For those who have not been following this story, a quick recap:

More than a month after election day, there were three districts in which the vote count was still too close to call. The results of those three races will determine which party, Republicans or Democrats, will be the majority party and control the Senate. Besides the major issues at stake for the state's LGBT populace, which include marriage equality and public rent subsidies for HIV patients, this year the notoriously dysfunctional state Senate will be asked to pass major campaign reforms. Also of critical importance will be redistricting questions which will affect the state's elections for years to come.

Last week, Sen. Antoine Thompson (D) conceded to Mark J. Grisanti, giving the 60th District to the GOP. "I thank the residents of the 60th Senatorial District for allowing me to serve them for four years - a duty that I took very seriously and an experience for which I am extremely grateful. I thank the many community partners who I've had the pleasure of working with side-by-side for a better 60th District. Together, we accomplished monumental successes in the areas of economic development, education and the environment," Thompson said in a prepared statement.

Bob Cohen                      Photo credit:
Yesterday, Rob Cohen (R) conceded defeat to incumbent Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer in the 37th District. "Although other people have suggested that I push for a hand re-count, I do not believe that is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Westchester County," Cohen said from his campaign headquarters in White Plains. "I think the cost of that would be prohibitive and I don't think the outcome would be any different... It was literally within less than half of one percent of the 90,000 voters in this district that determined this race. Whenever they say your vote doesn't count it's not true, your vote does count. Every vote counts and in this election every vote was counted and I appreciate that."

Suzi Oppenheimer                Photo credit: NY State Senate
"After a long and hard fought campaign and a deliberate counting of the votes, it is my honor to once again have the privilege of representing the people of Westchester in the state Senate," Oppenheimer said in a statement. "It is particularly gratifying in a year where I faced a very well-financed opponent. I want to thank my many supporters, volunteers and constituents for their hard work and faith in me, without whom this victory would not be possible."

Which leaves it all up to one race to determine which party will control the Senate. On Saturday, Judge Ira B. Warshawsky in Nassau County rejected a hand recount in the state's 7th District, declaring Jack Martins (R) the winner over the incumbent, Sen. Craig M. Johnson (D), by a margin of 451 votes. Justice Warshawsky ruled that there was insufficient evidence to show that Johnson could win in a hand recount of all 85,000 ballots.

"The judge's decision to deny a recount is wrong on the letter and the spirit of the law, said Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Senate's democratic conference. "In a race where the margin is less than half of 1%, the failure to count every vote is a disservice to every voter... The judge set a dangerous precedent that could lead to the disenfranchisement of New York voters."

Yesterday, Johnson's attorney filed an appeal of the decision. "Frankly, this is bigger than me, bigger than Jack Martins, and bigger than who controls the state Senate," Johnson said in a prepared statement. "This is about preserving the principal of one man, one vote that our government was founded upon."

"We are optimistic that justice will be served on appeal," attorney Steven Schlesinger said.

Sen. Johnson was one of the supporters of the marriage equality bill last year: 

The appeal was heard today. As of this posting, no ruling has been made in the case. I will post the results as soon as they are available.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jo Ann Santangelo's Proud to Serve

Every day on the news there is some new development in the ongoing battle to repeal Section 654, Title 10, U.S.C., the law which gave us the military's policy commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The debates, the trials, the hearings, the surveys, the reports, the demonstrations, and the statistics continually mount up. What seems to get lost in all of the mountains of facts are the very human stories of the people most profoundly affected by this policy, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered service members.

Photojournalist Jo Ann Santangelo set out to correct this. She has revealed the face of this issue by traversing the nation and putting together a collection of photographs of these service members coupled with the stories they have to tell of how this policy negatively impacted on their lives at a time when they had dedicated themselves to our country's service.

Her show, Proud to Serve, opened in New York City at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on Veterans' Day, November 11, where it generated a lot of excitement in the community. She was kind enough to take the time to walk through the exhibit with me to share some of the details of these courageous individuals' lives.

The photographs in Proud to Serve have been published as an 10" X 8"  full-color, soft cover book.  It is available directly from Jo Ann's website. The first 100 copies of the book will be signed by Jo Ann.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


On November 10, the LGBTQ activist group Queer Rising announced In God's Name - Hate Is the Abominationan event which seeks to call attention to the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric being advanced by some in the Jewish community and the effects of that rhetoric on our society. On December 16, at 7:30 PM, there will be a Rally at the Parade Grounds in Prospect Park, followed by a March in Solidarity through the heart of Flatbush, up Ocean Parkway to 18th Avenue. The Mourners' Kadish will be recited in rememberance of all those whose lives have been lost to homophobia. The Rally has been endorsed by Congregation Beth Simchat Torah , KeshetNehirimThe Power Online, StorahtellingJewish Chicks Rock, Project Achieve and the Columbia University Medical Center and, of course, Raging Pride Media.

This rally has been called to challenge the position held by people like Rabbi Yehuda Levin of Brooklyn, who disavows any responsibility for the consequences of his words. He calls press conferences and posts videos on YouTube claiming that the terrorist attacks on September 11 were God's punishment for the city of New York establishing a Domestic Partnership registry. He asserts that Katrina's flooding on New Orleans was punishment for that city's hosting a large Circuit Party. He blames the recent disasters in Haiti on homosexuality and tells us that repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will result in unimaginable horrors being visited upon us by God.

And he is not alone. There are many Orthodox leaders who contend that every Israeli soldier who dies is a sign from God that Israel must stop allowing LGBT soldiers to serve openly in their military.  In this, Rabbi Levin and his cohorts are much like Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, notorious for their protests at American military funerals. And just like Phelps, Levin claims to be the victim of discrimination. He claims that he is only speaking his faith and that he condemns anyone who would take violent action against gays. He denies any responsibility for fostering the attitude of repression against gays. He denies any responsibility for the discrimination of a society that drives our LGBT youths to consider, and in many cases attempt, suicide.

The date for the announcement of In God's Name - Hate Is the Abomination was chosen because it was the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the infamous Night of Broken glass, when the Nazi's rhetoric against the Jewish people of Germany turned into massive demonstrations of violence. Kristallnacht is generally conceeded to be the night that the Holocaust began.  As Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi of CBST, said at the announcement:

The significance of Kristallnacht is not only that 91 people were killed that night, or that close to 2,000 synagogues were destroyed forever...  But it was that moment, that night on November 9 and November 10th, that the words of hatred which had been fueling the fire since the rise of National Socialism in 1933 turned from language to violence.

Witnesses surveying the damage the
morning after Kristallnacht.
But what really changed on this night 72 years ago was that all that language that started to isolate Jews made it possible for neighbors who had been neighbors for hundreds of years to take up the machete, to take up the gun and to shatter these houses of worship and kill Jews.

After that there was no going back and in some ways we know that Hitler was using these moments in history to see precisely how the world would react. Would there be silence, or would there be condemnation?  Would there be an uprising, an outrage from Jews and non-Jews from countries all over the world saying this kind of treatment of citizens would not be tolerated?  There was silence, and we all know the outcome of that story...

What we are doing here today is to first of all say words matter.  How words are used and how words target and isolate individuals and groups matter.  And as Jews we reject the idea that any language is OK in order to describe someone differently or in ways that are painful.  We reject that.

And most importantly, we will put our bodies on the line to protect those whose physical beings are at risk, not only their spiritual and their emotional beings.So I'm proud to join together with Jake Goodman and with Queer Rising tmake sure that 72 years from today, we can say we were among those who heard the glass shattering in our own cities, in our own states, understood it was our own kind of Kristallnacht happening, but we did whatever we could do to make sure the silence was shattered not just the glass.  To make sure that this would not go any further and that there would be those of us who would stand up with full voice and with full body to prevent anything from going inexorably on.

Join us in December and join us on this path.  Join us through the Queer Rising website or the CBST website.  Join in community as we fight these forces that depend on us to be silent.

For those of us who are not Jewish, this video tutorial will teach you the Kaddish so that you can recite along with the other attendees: