Monday, December 22, 2008

Outraged? Better Late Than Never

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

The only surprising thing about Obama's choice of a homophobic bigot to bless his inauguration, or for that matter, the Albany debacle with the Gang of Three, is the outrage that greeted them.

Where were the official queer protests when Obama campaigned with ex-gay Donnie McClurkin? Or when BO exalted the advice of Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell who runs programs to free lesbians and gay men from their homosexuality? Or when Obama promised all those billions to expand Bush's faith-based programs?

Where was gay fury when the Obama campaign kicked off that "Faith, Family, Values Tour" which included former Indiana Congressman and pro-life Democrat Tim Roemer, along with Catholic legal scholar Doug Kmiec who fought Proposition 8 on the grounds that gay marriage is not only morally repugnant, but will probably bring down the species?

Where was our disgust in August, the first time Obama tried to court Rick Warren who supplemented homophobic rantings at home with declarations to African audiences that homosexuality was not a natural way of life and thus not a human right? Why didn't we blast Warren's AIDS programs that support Uganda evangelists who fight AIDS by advocating jail or death for queers?

And where were the boycotts when Obama refused to speak to the LGBT press, or gay advocates? Where were the denunciations when Obama asserted, on religious grounds, that marriage was between a man and a woman and the ban of same-sex marriage had nothing to do with the earlier miscegenation ban on interracial ones?

With all that silence, even from gay groups like HRC, why should we be surprised at getting screwed? Who's going to respect us if even gay groups don't advocate for LGBT rights, ostensibly putting Democratic interests above their own?

Of course Albany Democrats thought they could sacrifice gay rights in a power-sharing deal and not hear a peep. Sit quietly with your hands in your lap, the bigots will not only shove you to the back of the bus, but knock you right off the moving vehicle.

The only surprising thing about that episode was how ham-handed they were. Me, I'm gonna stab somebody in the back, I'd chose a nice thin blade of Spanish steel, so the victim doesn't wake up before it slices out their heart. New York Dems, though, tried to take off our head with a blunt and rusted saw while they were snickering loudly. I suspect their retreat is less a sign of respect, than a quick effort to silently regroup while they wait for their mail-order stiletto.

After eight years of Bush and two of Obamamania, queer activists have not only lost our momentum, but our self-respect. Why else stay silent while Obama's campaign gave an enormous platform to bigots that would like to exterminate us? Why else give millions of dollars without exacting something concrete in return?

And if we don't pressure Obama now, if we don't pressure all the Democrats for every minute of the next four years, we'll get what we deserve. A whole lot of nothing. Or worse. A regression to depths of hatred and bigotry we'd almost forgotten.

As a community, we need to banish compromise to the realm of politicians. Supporting hardline activists and advocates is the only one way to advance queer rights. Somebody has to be intransigent. Somebody has to refuse to see the big picture that always reduces queer rights to a piece of shit everybody else scrapes off their shoes.

We also have to hold everybody to the same standards. Bill Clinton, after all, was roundly criticized for courting evangelicals with prayer meetings with Billy Graham (who was frankly moderate compared to Warren), for signing into law the Defense of Marriage Act, and triangulating us into the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of the armed forces.

Why did we criticize Clinton for that when, like Obama, he was just trying to fit us all under that great big tent of America? And of course get re-elected. Wasn't he better than the first Bush, better than Reagan after all? Like Obama, he had queer friends, and except for the whole gay marriage thing, really did have the best intentions towards us.

Repulsed? I hope so. Then as now, the only way to win progress is to make a god-awful noise, to make nuisances and asses of ourselves, to hold our ground.

Money in exchange for promises is never enough, especially when the lynchpin of the Democratic strategy is to become more Republican than the Republicans and to court conservatives almost purely on the basis of religious fundamentalism, instead of other issues, like that elusive goal of fiscal responsibility, not to mention clean government.

Our consolation prize: a gay marching band. Let them take their cue from the black athletes at the Mexico City Olympics, and impose on the crowd what they did. A raised fist. Silence. Shame.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

War and Terror

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's not just the wire-tapping and kidnappings and torture that are undermining Bush's War on Terror, but the fact that his target's all wrong. How effective is it really, chasing down the elusive figures of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, or the Lashkar-e-Taiba, presumably responsible for the recent attacks in India? Are they our worst enemy?

Their membership, compared to the global population, is absolutely miniscule. Their tactics are banal, and the body count not as high as what their pursuit has cost. Two hundred dead in Mumbai. 2,752 in New York. There are other groups out there killings millions and frankly, these terrorists can't compare. The residents of Mumbai are already showing their disdain by drinking beer at the Leopold Café next to bullet holes and the crater from a grenade.

New Yorkers likewise were stunned for a while after September 11, fighting off nightmares and holding their breath crossing bridges. Dust and ashes in the air, we avoided subways and buses and talked about where we'd meet after a dirty bomb. But pretty soon the city itself eclipsed our fear. The attacks like the attackers have faded away. They're nothing but a rotten dream like the sicarii zealots, Assassins, or Weathermen who had their day in the sun, but are fading fast.

You want terror, you have to go whole hog, and either knock out city after city, or like snipers and movie serial killers, pick off your victims one by one by one by one with such regularity and persistence you create a terrified sense of inevitability. Numbers, in particular, are essential, so potential victims can't shrug off the odds in a fit of optimism. I'd go for 1:1 or at least 1:10.

Maybe you've guessed what I'm talking about, even if this war hasn't been declared, and acknowledged by the United Nations or anybody's State Department, but gets the job done. One half of the population against the other. Men against women. The Gender War.

I hadn't quite thought of violence against women as terrorism until I read Nicholas D. Kristof's New York Times piece about how Pakistani men target women and girls by tossing acid in their faces. Sometimes the girls have just dared to attend school. Sometimes a woman has just registered for a divorce. The damage is immediate, skin and flesh dropping off revealing bone, noses and ears eaten away. If they aren't killed, these women are left gravely deformed, monstrous object lessons of what happens in the case of even minor revolt.

Since 1994, there are 7,800 documented cases of women "deliberately burned, scalded, or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area."

This violence -- methodical, perpetual, and backed by a shared creed glorifying masculine dominance to the end of female submission, compliance, fear -- is the classic stuff of terrorism without the annoyances of secret meetings and cells groups, surreptitious fundraising, special channels of communication, or international task forces against them.

I only wondered why Mr. Kristof confined his analysis to the east. We have our own terrorists in the U.S. murdering 1,400 women a year, battering between two to four million, raping hundreds of thousands of all races and classes in an endless struggle for power. The only difference between them and traditional terrorists like the Baader-Mienhof Gang killing victims for ideology and spreading fear, is that there's no need for press release. The message is carved in flesh. Submit or disappear.

Writing this, I realized we don't talk much about "violence against women" anymore. Maybe because feminists are so lame, or because it most often happens in the cesspit of women's own homes. Though even violence against LGBT people and people of color has become less visible since young gay Matthew Shepard was left crucified on a Wyoming fence. And James Byrd dragged behind a pickup truck until his head was ripped from his body for being black.

Maybe it's that September 11 and the horror of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have rendered other slaughters irrelevant, though women are still regularly attacked and killed, and violence is actually climbing again against queers despite our progress in areas like gay marriage.

We need a new War on Terror, eradicating the men that kill women, or make it their mission to climb in their SUV and cruise looking for fags or immigrants to kill like the Sucuzhañay brothers beaten with baseball bats and bottles a couple weeks ago in Brooklyn, leaving José Sucuzhañay dead on Sunday.

The only question is how do you fight back against that violence so deeply embedded in gender? (Most hate-crime perps are male). Do we gender-profile, drag young men like off the street like the CIA in random checkpoints? Send them off to Egypt? Or Syria? Indulge in a little waterboarding? After all, this is war.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Price of Health

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Thursday, I bought a bathrobe and pajamas, packed a bag, and took the metro to the hospital where I handed over both my credit card and a check so they would accept my 59.2 kilos of flesh to be depilated, disinfected, knocked unconscious, pierced with holes, de-cysted, and released.

Even paying full price, it was a bargain by American standards. In Paris, doctors will make a house call for about $85. A visit to a gynecological clinic costs $40. A sonogram is about $100. And a prescription of Xanax runs three bucks. Laparoscopic surgery with three nights in the hospital is a mere $5,800, surgeons' fees and morphine included. In New York, that'd barely cover a bed pan.

For most French folks, the government covers two-thirds of health care costs, and they often have a supplementary insurance that gets the rest. For the poor and unemployed, the state picks up the whole tab. The best thing is, French doctors are competent. Even in the public sphere. The hospital I was going to was more highly rated than the private clinic a friend of mine used that cost an extra 600 bucks a day.

I checked it out, did price comparisons. That's the American way. To focus on dollars and cysts. When the radiologist said I had a big clump in an ovary and needed an MRI, I freaked out more about the cost and whether my insurance would reimburse me than that my body was growing strange fruit. After all, it's medical bills that metastasize into crippling debt. And money that shapes our experience of medicine, even health.

Health for the rich means well-being, every part of the body on track, clear skin, good feet, all systems go. The poor are often grateful just for mobility and generally being intact. You can have rotten teeth, and a bad back, and still proclaim when you lose your job, "At least I have my health."

We don't have the time or money for more. In the New York public health system, you wait months for appointments, then wait for hours and days in waiting rooms with all the other marginal folks, new immigrants, working poor, the crazies who apparently don't deserve better. And rarely get it.

The doctors seem to hate us, and secretaries sneer behind our backs. Bring a list of questions to an appointment, you'll be dismissed as a hypochondriac. Admit a pelvic exam was painful, maybe the nurse practitioner will suggest early childhood abuse and abuse you verbally if you dissent. Wake in the middle of a colonoscopy, they'll continue without anesthesia because they're too incompetent to deal with dropping blood pressure, can't give you more drugs, and pleas to stop, stop, stop from a Medicaid patient are like whispers in deaf ears.

Good luck with that universal health care thing. Access isn't enough for anything resembling care. For that, the enormous gap between the salaries of Madison Avenue doctors and the ones at public clinics has to end, along with segregation of patients. In fact, class and race themselves would probably have to go, along with the culture of scorn as deeply rooted in American medicine as shame and fury are buried in people like me.

Inequality's in the very nature of the medical beast. On the one side, there's the patient as supplicant, asking for help. On the other, some white-coated god free to give or withhold. And charge you for it either way. When money or race or sex or sexual identity is added to the picture, the balance is increasingly skewed.

I'm wary, even in Paris, where the care is good and cost is less a factor. Handing over my body still feels like a kind of fourth dimension prostitution in which I lose both my money and my flesh. All I own is a computer, the clothes on my back, and everything under them until you arrive at my beating heart. Now, even that's yours.

And laying there, a day later, with my dragon breath and scars and IV drip, I was tempted to tell her so. Explain to the young surgeon smiling shyly at the American patient all the effort I've put into protecting this shell. All the male hands on my female ass in high school that I had to shove away. The bottles dodged from cars because I was a dyke and on the street. These sudden waves of hate in the media that sweep you off your feet. The walls I've built against what homophobes do to you in their brains. What doctors have done in the flesh.

How I defend what I want to relinquish. How I want to be saved. And though she had done this thing, cut a miraculous door into a world I kept for myself, and pulled out death, I needed more.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Democrats to New York Queers: Drop Dead!

Like every election year, most LGBT people spent this one working for Democrats, and writing checks in exchange for promises of little things like anti-discrimination laws, gay marriage, and equality.

There's never much of a payoff. If Democrats were an investment fund, we would have pulled out years ago. They're the Lehman Brothers of queer rights, offering worthless paper to willing marks. How many times have they said, "Our hands may be tied, what with a Republican governor, and Republicans in charge of the legislature, but just you wait."

We did. We waited for years. And now that Democrats are in power, stacking Albany from top to bottom, the only return on our investment is still the big middle finger, and a double dose of screw you. In a recent New York Times article they said there's the economy and the state's emptying coffers to consider first. And re-election. We don't want to get the Mormons and Catholics riled up about gay marriage and pouring money into state electoral politics like they did in California.

State Senator Tom Duane frankly hinted that gay marriage should bury itself as an issue for the near future. "We definitely want David Paterson to run for re-election and to win," he said. "There'll be a discussion. And we'll have a point of view about time frame; he'll have a point of view on time frame."

That's the Democrat's refrain, one more election cycle. A better time frame. The Democratic faithful horrified at Bush heard their party caution patience until they had control of the House and Senate. Once voters gave Democrats the Congressional majority, Democrats claimed they needed the White House, too, and continued to rubberstamp Bush's policies hoping to establish conservative credentials for election 2008. Now, with a Democratic president-elect, they're murmuring something about needing a filibuster-proof majority to undo Bush's legacy.

If torture and spying weren't enough to get them moving in D.C., it's not surprising that human rights -- yes, they include queers rights -- are taking an eternal backseat in New York to whatever Democrats can come up with, including the bigoted likes of evangelical State Senator Ruben Díaz who threatens to destroy the slim majority of the Democrats for hatred of queers. Already, he's organized anti-gay marriage rallies, and regularly preaches against us as criminals, perverts, and pedophiles.

Instead of standing up to his bigotry and hate, Democrats once again tell us queers to wait one more election cycle when they'll pick up a few more seats, so maybe his one vote won't count.

Do we really believe the Democratic ascendancy is guaranteed? That incumbent governors never lose? The economic crisis will expire just in time to boost Democrats and queers? And homophobes will be sitting inactive while legislators line up their votes and minimize political risk?

There should be one, unified, queer response, and it should be this. "Screw you, Dems." If we don't seize the moment, we may not get another. And the moment, the momentum, is now.

As always, the politicians have it wrong. The disaster in California isn't an impediment, but a rallying cry, and a blueprint -- for what to avoid. If a same-sex marriage fight may attract fundamentalist dollars, it will also attract queer money, and activists willing to pound the pavement on our behalf. Two weekends ago, a million people were out on the street protesting Prop 8. They'd come out for New York, too.

Better yet, they'd be willing to do what the Prop 8 "leadership" weren't. Organize on a massive scale across lines of class and race, even parties. Republicans voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8, even though they have queer cousins, uncles, sisters; I hear they even breed queer children who probably came out last weekend over the turkey. They're all ripe for approach. And queers and their allies are ready to do it.

Properly done, same-sex marriage activism could even bolster the image of Democrats across the state because it goes far beyond a discussion of gay rights. Civil rights and legal equality for everyone, are obvious talking points, but to convince, you also have to hit on things that concern everyone, financial security as the economy shrinks, health insurance as people lose their jobs, protecting the family, protecting kids. All issues related to marriage. Far-sighted Democrats could be their defenders.

As for queers, nothing good will come of backing off. It will tell homophobes they're on the right track. That we will go away if they pour enough money into the issue. If, like Mr. Diaz, they hold enough rallies against us. Backing away tells them we're weak, afraid, and alone. And that Democrats consider queers expendable. Well? Are we? Maybe it's time to find out.

edited dec. 3

Monday, November 24, 2008

Picking Victims

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Our adaptability is endless. Spend time with a person of a different race, you can relinquish prejudice, says Ben Carey in the New York Times. Then again, have your city bombed, and toot sweet from the ashes flowers anti-Muslim rage.

Suddenly a name like Mohammed or Hussein makes you fair game for airport delays, long ones, in grey rooms off to the side. You get elbowed in the hallway of your apartment building, graffiti spray painted on your door. All it takes is an accent, a funny language. Odd cooking smells. Clothes. Facial hair. A skeptical cast to the mouth, or strange prayers in it.

After 9/11, all the Arab guys at the deli suddenly spoke all English all the time. The shops and restaurants of Chinatown splashed Xeroxed American flags over their doors like the blood of first-born lambs, beseeching pass over, pass over, pass over.

Plenty of queers have the same prayer. I was foreign at birth. A little girl, I walked like my father, later held my coffee cup "just like a man." My mother was gagging when she screamed that, like I'd destroyed her life, and I hadn't even come out yet. More shared time wouldn't have helped, though it does sometimes.

Sometimes, it's familiarity that breeds contempt. Context is everything. Is your contact framed by tolerance or hate? Is there an imbalance of power? The kid that gets scapegoated at school, thirty classmates to one, what can she do to engender respect? At home, maybe she gets picked on by her family where parents and siblings egg each other on.

There's got to be somebody to kick around, especially when we feel threatened, or attacked by anything. Terrorists. CEO's. Bra-burning femmes. When the economy went south in the 70's, all the peace and love and fellow-feeling of the flower children got replaced with Jew-baiting and black-hating.

Ben Carey's post-election, self-congratulatory article ignores that see-saw of society. Our eternal fear of difference, the pleasure of ridicule, how we carefully define an outsider, so we ourselves can fit in. Sometimes we attack just because we're bored and there's a victim handy.

When Duanna Johnson, an African American transgender woman, got picked up for prostitution last February, the white Memphis cop Bridges McCrae started calling her he/she, faggot. When Duanna said she didn't like that, he and his partner took the opportunity to beat her up and teargas her.

Larry Godwin, the Memphis police director said the crime left him "sick" and "infuriated." I wonder why. Because a video of it hit the internet? Because some cops got caught and had to be fired so he could save face? Reportedly his first priority was to find out how and why the video got out.

The story had a familiar ending. Somebody shot Duanna Johnson a couple of weeks ago. She was dead when the cops found her, and who cares really? Not the police. No suspects, no visible desire to solve the thing. In the LGB(T) community, transgendered people are marginalized except for twenty minutes on Gay Pride Day when queers remember Stonewall was kicked off by drag queens like Sylvia Rivera.

Issues of race and class make transphobia worse. Imagine crack-addicted Duanna Johnson, a sometimes prostitute, sitting down for a cup of coffee with some nice white Prospect Park dyke who usually bonds with the other mothers over diapers and baby strollers. Imagine her having a martini with the DC lobbyist fag that works out twice a day, has a decent salary and definitely resembles Will more than Grace.

The consequences of their alienation are reflected in their murder rate. For transgendered people, it's between 10 and 16 times higher than your average American, not too far from the endangered young black urban male knocked off at about the rate of 12 times his white peers.

Doubly disposable, most of the transgendered dead are people of color. Those communities don't care either. With the police-beating and video, the Duanna Johnson case should have had echoes of Rodney King's. Where were the riots? Where were the politicians and preachers who have made careers out of denouncing police brutality? Were they immobilized by garden variety bigotry? Or have tranny hookers of color, like Harvard-educated, president-elects, miraculously transcended race?

While the ease with which we tag our enemies may be matched by our capacity to transform them into friends, the problem is they can easily switch categories again. Which is why I prefer civil rights arguments based on democracy's promises of equality rather than tugs to the heartstrings declaring I'm just the same as you. Feelings, like stock markets, don't always follow upwardly mobile lines. Blink once, turn your back, another queer is drowning in red.

November 20th was the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stone By Stone, Destroying Jericho

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's not just a theory. There really was a Mormon conspiracy to suppress same-sex marriage in California. Michael R. Otterson, a P.R. guy for the Latter Day Saints came clean to the Times. "We've spoken out on other issues, we've spoken out on abortion, we've spoken out on those other kinds of things... But we don't get involved to the degree we did on this."

All I have to say is... Thanks. Really. We owe you one. That ass-kicking of queers at the polls jump-started a dying LGBT civil rights movement, and got us on the streets en masse for the first time since Matthew Shephard was killed in '98, for the first time since ARV's demobilized the AIDS movement.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Otterson. Without you and the masses of fundamentalist bigots, a million queers wouldn't have answered the Join the Impact call to demonstrate last Saturday. They wouldn't be planning for next month. And the one after that. If you hadn't dumped gasoline on what wasn't much more than a smoldering cigarette butt, we may never have caught fire.

Hell, we'd still be relying on campaigns like No on 8 run by salaried queers that erased us from ads, kept us off the street, and ignored communities of color in California. Without you, we'd still be indentured to the Democrats and their gay-hating, vote-gathering preachers because they're the only game in town, or were. Not any more.

Now, we have each other. We've started to feel our strength again. One young queer wrote Andrew Sullivan to say, "For younger gays, this is the first time we've had the chance to take to the streets and fight for our basic humanity. Now that we've gotten a taste of what it feels like, I don't think we're ever going to give it up."

I hope not. That feeling is why I've stuck it out. Why so many of us have. It's what street activism gives you. That sudden overwhelming sense of unity, of pride. Of feeling your voice and your life amplified by a hundred, by a thousand, by ten thousand every time you step into the street.

Enjoy it. Protect it. If there's one thing I know about civil rights organizing, it's that you can knock your head against that wall for years, but if elements don't converge, nothing rises. I think it was Obama's historic victory converging with our defeat at the polls that gave us the short, sharp, shock we needed to rise. And in Minneapolis and Nashville, San Diego, Missoula, Boise, Evansville and Honolulu, in Seattle, San Francisco and New York, you can feel the walls trembling.

All we have to do is keep our distance from corrupt queer leaders who whisper, "No, you can't." Or "Not now. Maybe later." "Not like that." "You really need an expert." Let them take their CV's and amnesia elsewhere, those who have forgotten that rights aren't negotiated in backrooms by ghosts, but seized with both hands in the street.

And now's the time, no matter what you think about marriage itself. I admit I was reluctant. For most of Western history, and Eastern, too, marriage was essentially a contract for men to buy woman like breeding cows. My mother's mantra was equally discouraging: "If only I hadn't married your father and had you kids."

Deeply ambivalent, I may have sat this battle out if California hadn't slammed the door so emphatically in our collective faces. Now, I don't have a choice. Change, like god, moves in mysterious ways. The black civil rights movement didn't begin with a vague call for equality, but with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott.

Probably some activists didn't care much about where they sat. The miracle of activism is that symbols emerge, chosen or not, and it's the fight for them that rearranges the terrain like an earthquake. And like bus seats and lunch counters, marriage is suddenly the battleground that counts for LGBT civil rights and our growing struggle against the bigotry of religious fundamentalism more and more embedded in the state.

To win, queers must stick together, and welcome support when it comes. In California, a coalition of Asian, black and Hispanic organizations are already submitting a petition to the California Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8.

On Monday in New York, the city's largest Spanish-language daily, El Diario La Prensa, printed an editorial supporting same-sex marriage, firmly reminding the Latino community they had their own lesbians and gay men, and just as firmly reminding queers that LGBT people of color fight on more than one front. "The gap between the struggle for LGBT rights and the struggles for economic and racial justice needs to be closed."

Maybe it finally will be. Change is coming. Like a wave, like a trumpet blowing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blaming Blacks (And Latinos, Whites, & Queers) for Prop 8

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

If our defeat in California tells us anything, it's just how pathetic the gay civil rights movement currently is. Instead of putting ourselves out there, engaging in real community organizing, we more often focus on raising money, taking meetings, and lobbying and advertising our way to civil rights.

After all, it's easier to send an email, and make a speech or a donation, than go across the street and knock on our neighbor's door. There, we might have to confront homophobia in the flesh, and that other problem: race.

In L.A., after the news broke that seventy percent of African Americans voted for Proposition 8, the "blame the blacks" game began. At one pro-marriage rally, some white queers actually called their black co-protesters, "niggers," and made general threats against African Americans.

On the flipside, their politically correct racist counterparts called anybody "racist" who called attention to the fact that seventy percent, yes seventy percent, of African Americans voted like bigots. Let's go throw bricks at the Mormon church instead.

Why can't we throw bricks at them all? On November 4, nobody put a gun to the heads of black voters and made them pull the lever for Prop 8. Or swapped the "Yes" box in for the "No." They weren't on drugs, or sleepwalking. Or mentally deficient after years of The Man. They were just garden variety bigots and now fair game for queer activists.

Nothing absolves them. Not white racism, or the fact that statistically black voters are a small group and their homophobia doesn't have much impact. Except on black queers. Who would probably like to count.

This vote was less a referendum on gay marriage than a wake-up call on how people really see queers. Now we know that seventy percent of black Californians, more than half of Latinos, plenty of Asians, and almost half of whites think queers are sub-human, unequal, only worthy of partial citizenship. Lost marriage rights are the least of it. Homophobia translates into lost jobs, lost homes, runaway kids, youth suicides, gay-bashings, murder, HIV.

If we care about gay rights at all, we have to start putting blame where it's due. On everybody. All the African American, Latino, and Asian bigots, plus the white bigots from Mormons to Catholics to atheist conservatives. The elderly voted against us in large numbers, and eighty-two percent of Republicans. They're all responsible. All accountable.

Blame, especially, goes to activists that have made too few efforts in minority communities over the years. Including the "No on 8" campaign whose strategy was, according to the blogosphere, only marginally better than crossing their fingers and hoping "conservative" voters of color didn't turn up. This in a year with the first black candidate for President!

In fact, the poll numbers read like a demographic map of where queer activists themselves rarely make an appearance.

I blame it partly on "cultural difference." Instead of calling attention to racism, that phrase has increasingly become a mask for it, the perfect excuse for white and middle class activists to stick to their comfort zones. Latinos need Latino outreach workers, and not just any Latinos, but Latinos from a similar background. Anything less is racist, neo-colonialist, and won't work. Great, say the middle-class organizers of all colors. I didn't want to go there anyway.

Instead of thinking like niche marketers where like pitches to like, maybe we should consider Christianity and Islam that have successfully converted whole civilizations using cultural outsiders. And not just at gun or saber point. If they can do it, why not us?

Having assigned blame, our challenge is to transform it by re-launching our civil rights movement, this time across all races, classes, ages, and ethnic groups. Waiting for the perfect alignment of activists can't be an excuse.

How hard can it be to go into a neighborhood that's not our own and introduce ourselves? How hard can it be to ask a bigoted pastor to act like Christ and value love, then to beat on his doors like an avenging angel when he spits on us? What are they going to do? Chase us down the street? (They already do). Call us racist degenerates if we apply the phrase "civil rights" to something as perverse as gay marriage? We all own the promise of those words.

At a moment when Obama has crossed a million color lines on his road to the White House, it's time to explode our own bigotry, let a Guatemalan go into a black neighborhood. A Vietnamese into a Mexican one. Rich ones into poor ones. Encourage white people, the most numerous activists, to risk awkwardness and missteps to go everywhere. In fact, let's ignore race altogether as we target everyone. The stakes are high -- queer lives, queer liberation, equality.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Waiting for Change

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I would like to be on the right side of history for once. I would like to say I saw Obama's landslide victory, and the cheering crowds, and heard his speech, declaring, "Change has come to America" where anything is possible, I would like to say I saw all that, my heart melted, and I was swept away by a sudden burst of optimism and joy.

But in truth, my heart didn't melt. I didn't rejoice. I was relieved that the end of the Bush administration was official, but as a dyke, as a woman, what I felt was something more like grief, wondering just who the change was for, and who was going to pay for it.

I don't mean to minimize what Obama's done, what Americans have done, standing in line for hours to vote, turning out in record numbers, many for the first time. And by sweeping away every Republican in sight from the White House all the way down to the House of Representatives, voters literally changed the face of power, above all by electing the first black president. God yes, that means something. Even if it's just a sign of change, a symbol, a promise.

But how can we celebrate as queers when Obama raises his hands in victory and declares the world changed, when he has changed things so little for us? When he has made so few gestures to include lesbian, gay and transgender concerns, and actually moved his Democratic party backwards in the last two years?

Where's the change in his promises to give enormous amounts of our tax dollars like Bush to the same faith-based programs that fire queer employees and run programs that shun us, humiliate us, or try to convert us?

Like Bush, Obama campaigned extensively with anti-gay preachers condemning us as a sinners and degenerates. No doubt their hate converted a few red states into blue. Who gives a shit about the increase in gay-bashings, homeless kids, youth suicides? Who cares if they raise rates of HIV in communities, especially black communities, where churches fight AIDS by "converting" queers? Should we pop open the champagne for that? Should we celebrate votes bought with queer blood?

As he lauded the dreams of our founders and the power of democracy, voters across the nation were negating the rights of gay Americans. In California, they passed Proposition 8, stripping away our right to marriage. All Obama has had to say on the matter was that it wasn't at all the same as the miscegenation laws prohibiting the marriage of blacks and whites, and his religion taught him marriage was between a man and woman, but hey, he could be "misguided."

What change is that for queers?

Even straight Americans in search of change will have to take to the sidewalks and streets where they waited in line to vote because politicians themselves are always the same. For two years, Democrats have had a majority in the U.S. Congress and they've done nothing with it, claiming it was impossible without a filibuster proof majority. I think they just didn't want to take responsibility for anything, with their eyes on the 2008 election. What excuse will they come up with now? What risks will they take unless we push them? Who or what will they hide behind? The economy? The endless War on Terror that can justify anything?

Queers are even worse off. How can we hold Obama accountable for promises he didn't make, in meetings he was too cautious, too political, too homophobic to hold? All we can do is assert that the "American dream," that the democracy his election proved, also promises equality under the law to everyone, even queers. Even on the subject of marriage.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe when Barack Obama coasts into the oval office on the flood of an overwhelming victory, and sits down at that storied desk, he will slowly gain the solidity and weight of 305,600,000 American souls, many of them queer, and he will be transformed into more than a symbol of change, but a force for it. And he will remember and know that he is truly a president of all Americans.

I'm not holding my breath. If all our donated millions to the Democrats couldn't buy us a chicken dinner with Barack the candidate, we're not going to feast with Barack the president. I suspect he and his Democrats will continue to keep us at arms' length, and that our only hope for progress will be to extract ourselves from the national Democratic machinery that ground us up for red state votes.

Frankly my hope is the failing economy. Maybe he'll skip the faith-based payoff if the country's broke. Maybe pigs will fly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Remaking the Republicans

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I think of Washington as that place where politicians spend their days waving around the feathers that create hurricanes on the other side of the world, or at least Louisiana. At swearing in ceremonies, they should all be required to take the Hippocratic oath. First do no harm.

You're not going to get that kind of modesty from the Democrats if the polls are right, and they take the country top to bottom with a solid majority. The main question for me, then, is whether the Republicans (if they lose) will manage to cast aside their eight war-mongering, scandal-ridden, pork-addicted, gay marriage-hating, Constitution-ripping, regulation-busting years to regroup and form an effective, and thoughtful opposition.

You may have heard rumors of that, the yin and the yang, as opposed to the boot and the Democratic doormat we got during the Bush era, or the opposition for the sake of it the Republicans offered during Bill Clinton's thwarted administration.

There used to be differences after all, and they often did some good. The Democrats were the party actively promoting civil liberties, kind of, as well as pushing for social safety nets. And if you can imagine it, Republicans were fiscal conservatives with an allergy to big government, and moderation in foreign affairs.

I admit being attracted to the GOP as a kid, mostly because the pork barrel Democrats had a strangle-hold on my home state of Kentucky, where somehow tax money never did reach the schools that floated near the bottom of our fifty states, or alleviate the need in rural areas.

Appalachia was altogether shameful with grinding poverty and environmental policies essentially set by outsiders from coal companies who weren't forced to live where the runoff from strip mining turned all the well water to such a disgusting sludge that you needn't bother adding coffee because it was already a thick, brown, toxic brew.

Why not vote for local Republicans in protest? Now, after eight Republican years nationally, why not vote Democratic to protest Bush's hasty wars, immoderate greed, and vicious authoritarianism?

Unfortunately, we need more than an anti-Bush. It troubles me that plenty of Democratic loyals would have Obama rush around like toddler on Coke, yanking the troops out of Iraq without strategic considerations, dishing out tax cuts, and rebates and economic incentives to Bush's middle-class and working class victims without a clear idea either where all that money's going to come from, or frankly where it's going in the end.

When Bush handed out cash this fall, Americans didn't go out and grease anybody's economic wheels. No, we stuck it under our mattresses. Now, I hear the banks that Mr. Paulson has given a big chunk of his 700 billion dollars to have likewise decided to sit on it like chickens in their nests. In Europe, at least, they've made it a provision of their bailouts that the banks must actually use the money for its intended purpose--giving loans. Why didn't we think of that?

That's the kind of idea an effective opposition should have come up with, accountability. Frankly, we could use plenty of ideas on all fronts, both inside and outside the Democratic party.

If maverick McCain's campaign is any sign of the GOP's near future, I doubt they'll be much of a gold mine. As brash as Unilateral Bush, McCain tosses out new solutions daily to every problem we face from the economy to Afghanistan. Every Palin campaign stop, the Republican lunatic fringe is once again rallying against that ever present menace of gay marriage, as well as insufficiently patriotic Americans, as if all Americans need for success is a red white and blue heart, and the queers biting the dust. Which is only slightly more unrealistic than Obama's virtuous mirage of ending war and uplifting the downtrodden poor with a combination of good thoughts and money, plenty of it.

Maybe all an effective opposition has to do, on either side, is respond to every speech from every party with the mantra, "It's more complicated than that. Have you thought it through?"

The new Republicans, if I had a say, would be a lot like my grandparent's generation. What government was supposed to do was get the roads built and make sure the schools worked. Its job was practical stuff, plus the bare extra to give everybody a shot at the American dream which they defined as enough prosperity to keep the wolves from the door, and the self-respect of having earned it.

By and large they backed away from social engineering and left questions like abortion and sexual identity to a person's own conscience. What mattered was what you gave to the family and community. How hard you worked. What you were made of. Thrift was valued, but so was generosity. And religion (like politics), never got talked about at the dinner table. It wasn't polite, and besides. Somebody might choke.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Torture: Doing The Dirty Work

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

On June 6th, the last day of the Hillary-Obama battle, fifty-six Democrats in the House of Representatives asked the Attorney General for an immediate investigation into whether Bush and Company were in violation of "the War Crimes Act ... and other U.S. and international laws."

Their letter charged new information had surfaced about top level meetings at the White House specifically approving the use of "enhanced techniques" like waterboarding. "President Bush was aware of and approved of the meetings taking place." "... the Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law."

As far as I know their request is dead in the water. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi didn't sign on. Their effort didn't make the front or even last page of the New York Times. I wouldn't have know about it all if I hadn't seen an old Nat Hentoff column in the Village Voice. He's like an anti-torture prophet crying in the wilderness, with a lot less effect. Abu Ghraib was swept under the rug with a few prosecutions of low level grunts, and Guantanamo only comes up when one more disgusted prosecutor resigns over unethical practices in the military tribunals.

Maybe Americans are blase because they've seen James Bond tortured too many times. He stands it easily, escapes, has a cocktail, and saves the world. Or maybe it's that we've tortured before with total impunity. The CIA was so good at it, they spent most of the 70's helping the right-wing governments of Latin America hold back the evil tide of Communism with a few nicely placed electrodes.

In Chile alone we helped Augusto Pinochet murder three thousand lefties, some pursued beyond their borders by death squads from the intelligence services. Thirty thousand or so were tortured with our help.

We Americans now indulge in our own kidnappings, our own disappearances and torture and murders, this time to keep America safe from terrorists. As I sit comfortably in front of my computer there's a man in a cell somewhere, battered and terrified. In fact, there are thousands of them whose excruciating physical pain is carefully redoubled with uncertainty, terror, and solitude. All in the name of my safety. We don't even know where half of them are. Our own security forces have spirited them away to Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, anywhere they can be tortured without the inconveniences of overstepping American law.

They remind me of those who died particularly horrible deaths on 9/11, trapped in the rubble, talking on cell phones until their batteries died, their voices gradually lost in the darkness, their bodies broken, suffering alone and finally in silence. They died powerless, dehumanized, terrified. For months, their lost faces covered every square inch of telephone pole and mailbox and billboard on First Avenue as relatives begged for information about people who didn't come home after the blast. People just snatched away one morning, a primary election day, under a clear blue sky. Killed by terrorists that never had to look them in the eye.

Torturers are even worse, consciously inflicting horrible suffering, not on faceless masses, but very real prisoners who cry out in real voices begging for pity. These torturers betray an ice-cold degeneration that my country now stands for. They should be locked up, and their criminal commanders tried for treason.

I don't see it happening. As Senator Schumer said, when he was asked about the possibility of bringing Bush to justice for war crimes, "People don't care about that." For getting a blow job in the oval office: national scandal, impeachment. Ditto for partisan spying a la Watergate. For killing and torturing: nada. In fact, shut up. Turn the page. It's a new era with a new President who'll want to start fresh.

For now, justice will require action from abroad. Impunity for Chilean Dictator Augosto Pinochet was only challenged by a judge in Spain, who was investigating the torture and murder of Spanish nationals in Chile. When the British police actually arrested Pinochet ten years ago during a trip to London for back surgery, it was an earthquake, a landmark, one of the first exercises of universal jurisdiction since that was included in the UN Convention on Genocide in 1948. The arrest helped propel The Hague's International Criminal Court into existence in 2002. And everywhere, it pointed the way to justice.

In 2005, an Italian court issued arrest warrants for twenty-five CIA agents responsible for snatching an Egyptian cleric off the streets of Milan and flying him to Egypt where he was tortured during interrogation. In 2007, a Munich court issued warrants for similar reasons. Also that year, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld beat a quick retreat from France when his visit there inspired a torture suit against him.

Still, it would be better if we washed our own dirty laundry. There's plenty of evidence, just not the will to risk our delicate hands in that filth.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Losing Gay Marriage in California

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Apparently, there's some fixed amount of freedom in the world, like oil in the ground, or gold, and anybody in their right mind tries to hoard it. That's the idea I get, anyway, when somebody's explaining why you can't give more rights to women (or people of color or immigrants). It'll be coming right out of their pocket, and they can't afford it.

That seems to be the main argument in California, where proponents of Proposition 8 are claiming that same-sex marriage is somehow allowing queer opportunists to deprive them of their personal and religious freedom. If things go on as they are, advertisements say, god-fearing Christians won't be free to even say same-sex marriage is wrong because the thought police will be able to sue you. Churches won't be free to mount anti-gay campaigns and lobby for anti-gay politicians unless they want to lose their tax-exempt status, and teachers won't be free to ignore gay marriage, unless they want to lose their jobs.

Coupled with an enormous cash infusion, a cool $10 million more than queers, this campaign is working far better than old-style smear campaigns painting us as the usual monsters and child molesters. Instead, by making it seem like a question of lost rights, Californians can oppose gay marriage without feeling like bigots. In fact, they're the real victims here, with their civil liberties under attack from those clever gays. It's practically patriotic to vote for Proposition 8.

And what are embattled queer people countering that with? Ads with reassuring heterosexual faces explaining that we're not going to take over the world. That's right. The voice for same sex-marriage is embodied in smarmy hets like San Francisco Mayor Newsom. If you want straights, you should at least get them from Massachusetts where they can attest that after several years of gay marriage nobody's civil or religious freedoms have been abridged. The sky didn't fall. Just a few maple leaves.

If the Proposition passes, ending same-sex marriage, I'll blame national gay leadership, especially Democrats, that already agreed to be invisible in the Obama campaign. By banning us from the camera, they make us seem like a bunch of pervs. It's for our own good, of course. Always for our own good. Mesmerized by their homophobic voices, we've lost our pride, and the belief in our own American stories of loss and striving, like our fights to visit our partners in hospitals, share health insurance, make lives together, all the stories that could persuade a reluctant audience that does, essentially, value equality and civil rights.

Talking about lost rights is compelling on both sides. You've seen them, surely, gypped Americans standing on theirs? They're unstoppable. Which is why politicians play on issues of rights all the time. Sometimes for the force of good, like we could do in California to protect same-sex marriage. But usually it's a conservative tactic. Every law, every regulation is a constraint, a subtraction of your rights. It's why Bush was so successful deregulating the finance industry, and why he got pretty far promising to privatize social security. "Don't you want to control your future?"

Of course we do. Phrased that way, social security sounds more like a noose than a safety net. Who could support it but corrupt politicians? The problem of course is that nobody every says what we'd do with all those folks who seized control of their futures, decided to invest in the stock market and failed. I guess now they'd have the right to eat cat food and sleep in the street.

It's always effective to evoke imaginary lost rights when there are so many real losses, lost jobs, lost homes, lost income, lost sons and lost daughters. Especially now, when it feels like everything has slipped through our fingers under Bush. The Iraq War, prosperity, national pride, the Constitution. There's also quantifiable loss. Between military expenditures and the little matter of the 700 billion dollar bailout, we're so far in the hole we ran out of digits on the National Debt Clock in New York.

It is tempting to cling to the little we have, hoard our rights. Like with children, I suppose the only counter to miserly behavior is to explain the benefit of sharing. In the case of same-sex marriage, we could argue that it strengthens an institution plenty of heterosexuals are turning away from, and also guarantees that we queers take care of our partners so that they don't become burdens on "society."

On the other hand, if our fellow citizens refuse to share the wealth with same-sex couples, maybe we should shift our focus altogether, and demand they quit awarding any special rights to heterosexual marriages. Then we can all share the loss.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Economics 101

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I spent half of yesterday in front of MSNBC watching the market crash in slow motion, first dipping below 10,000 then sinking bit by bit until something like 800 points had been lost.

An hour before the closing bell, there was a small rally as traders dove in reflecting optimism about a global interest rate cut, or maybe they just snatched up some bargains because even blue chip stocks like Coke had lost a good chunk of their value. Hell, what do I know?

I've been haunting economic sites since the disaster interrupted our Palin feeding frenzy. It's like visiting a foreign country with its own language and rules, or deep sea diving where you can apparently get so turned around in the murky depths there's no way to know which direction is up except by watching the bubbles of your exhaled breath.

What I knew before about the workings of the market could fit in a teaspoon. Now, I think I could fill a whole Grande Caffe Latte cup from Starbucks, which by the way is not riding out this storm too well. They've closed a ton of stores, especially in Australia.

Nobody agrees on anything. Experts say 1) the big bailout (rescue) was not perfect but better than doing nothing, or 2) it will have no effect whatsoever, and it was a big mistake when we are going to need the money for a social safety net.

Likewise, they say that 1) the disastrous economy is going to last several months before gradually improving, or 2) life as we know it is completely over and pretty soon there'll be people selling apples by the side of the road, and not just the Greenmarket.

Everybody agrees we're in trouble in the short term. Except, maybe, for the Masters of the Universe ensconced in their Greenwich, Connecticut homes, people are going to be sliding from the upper class down to the middle where there will be plenty of room, because the middle class is sliding right down the coal chute straight to hell.

The upside is, Russia is too broke to start more wars, and maybe now it will finally be time for that nationwide dialogue about class I've been waiting for since 2000 when Ralph Nader nattered on about it in his failed presidential bid, and the anarchists were busy busting up the WTO in Seattle. Remember that?

These days, you only hear about class when the Republicans accuses Democrats of trying to start a class or culture war, though the Dems themselves only dare refer to it couched in the euphemistic language of "income disparity" or "economic interests." As in, "why don't those red state morons vote their economic interests?" Perhaps your snotty tone explains why.

The current Democrats, like Nader's Greens, have about as much understanding of working people as the Salvation Army types in Brecht's play, "Saint Joan of the Stockyards" (1931), who didn't understand why their offer of free soup, nice music, and haranguing calls for salvation didn't have a long-lasting appeal to the desperate.

I caught the play last Tuesday. It seemed contemporary, all the masked greed, manipulated economies. Especially, the character of Pierpont Mauler, speculator and meatpacking plant owner riding high, higher, highest until he sinks like a stone only to be welcomed back into the market by his friends and victims; things wouldn't be the same without his bright ideas. No such redemption for the poor people of the play like Joan Dark, who ends up dead of illness and hunger in the middle of a snowy Chicago street.

While we're not quite there yet, the play reminded me of the elephant in the room, that even now, in the midst of the current mortgage crisis and total economic crash we're still limiting our vocabulary to "Wall Street" versus "Main Street." There may be questions of greed, vengeance, loss, but nowhere do you find words related to "class" unless it's paired to Middle.

It's like trying to analyze the impact of hurricane Katrina, or police brutality or profiling without the words "race" or "racism." Though maybe the word "class" is irrelevant or outdated. The cognoscenti say we're post-race, and post-gay, even if queers are still blamed for everything, from the Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina, to this current mess, which Barney Frank apparently caused having a homo affair a decade ago with one person associated with Fannie Mae mortgages.

On the other hand, maybe "class" analysis won't work because almost everybody in the U.S. sees themselves in the same middle one, from rich, multiple home-owners to the poor who are always just one job, one university degree, one generation away from the illustrious Middle both ends are played against.

Maybe, in fact, there is no poor, no rich at all. In America 2008, there are just "differently leveraged," all hedging their bets.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Identity Politics, Bankrupt?

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Remember that scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacka are trapped in the garbage compacter room and barely escape as it closes in ominously on all sides?

That's the perfect metaphor for Identity Politics 2008 -- all of us minorities trapped in a shrinking box of trash in which the crushing walls represent not just society, but community inquisitors demanding our qualifications. Are we gay enough, black enough, female enough to deserve liberation?

This week, the sacrificial queer was Mike Buse, chief of staff of Senator John McCain. Mike Rogers outed the guy on his blog, while encouraging a call-in campaign to the right-wing group Focus on the Family asking readers to "thank them for supporting John McCain even though he has gay Americans in high places on his staff, including his chief of staff."

You can imagine the outraged fundamentalists, the angry phone calls to the McCain campaign, all the homophobic hate generated against Mike Buse. Maybe next Rogers'll get a list of McCain staffers of color and encourage people to call the John Birch Society. Hell, why not call the Klan if it'll help bring down McCain?

Just a couple of weeks ago, a huge wave of so-called feminists unleashed their misogyny and hate against Sarah Palin, attacking not just her politics, but her very existence. Wendy Doniger's Washington Post article declared that despite her baby-producing womb, Palin's "greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman..."

The National Organization for Women's Kim Gandy actually issued a press release announcing that "as the chair of NOW's Political Action Committee, I am frequently asked whether NOW supports women candidates just because they are women. This gives me an opportunity to once again answer that question with an emphatic 'No.'"

Apparently it's the "National Organization for Only Those Women Who Agree with All Our Policies."

I'm not above bigotry-tinged sneering myself, dismissing the 2000 Republican National Convention packed with black faces, and Bush's "Cabinet of Color" as mere sideshows to attract black and Hispanic voters to the Republican Party. I nodded in agreement when I heard Colin Powell or Condi Rice get called Oreos and traitors by other people of color.

At the time, it didn't bother me when black Maryland conservative Michael S. Steele was pelted with Oreos, called an Uncle Tom, and portrayed as a black-faced minstrel during his 2005 bid for U.S. Senate. No problem, said black Baltimore Democrat, State Senator Lisa A. Gladden. "Party trumps race, especially on the national level." Except when, as earlier this year, it's Jesse Jackson accusing Obama of talking down to black people and "acting like he's white."

Stanley Crouch, an African American writer, thinks the greatest threat of identity politics is that it blinds participants to context and interconnectedness. We don't see the national debt, the dangers of selling out to corporations or unions, or the problems of competing with China and India in the global marketplace. "Though they live in the United States, those are not their problems. Identity politics is independent of our common fate as Americans."

Increasingly, I think the greatest problem in identity politics is that most of the focus these days is on the "politics," claiming territory, enforcing ideologies, and excluding anyone whom the gatekeepers determine don't meet the one or two acceptable ways to be gay or black or female.

We dispense with "identity" any time it's inconvenient. In fact, we are disturbingly comfortable using tools of bigotry against each other like when activists like Mike Rogers (and Michelangelo Signorile) incited homophobia against McCain's gay staffer or when black Democrats throw race-based insults at conservative politicians of color.

Feminists refusing to acknowledge Sarah Palin as a woman incite misogyny against all of us and create echoes of those times dykes (and poor women, and women of color) have been excluded from the women's club. Frankly, NOW still prefers we pass. Mouth the right platitudes. Never admit to having shot at squirrels with a BB gun. Pretend that our primary issue is abortion.

I'd dump the cesspool of identity politics if I could. The conundrum is, to end prejudice, and make change in society, there's no other choice but to suppress our individuality and organize around that artificial "identity," even if the color of our skin, our reproductive organs, or sexual orientation hide nearly irreconcilable differences.

To succeed at all, we need to start from scratch, reject politics, reject hate, find our few inches of common ground, plant respect there.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Saturday, my girlfriend and I took a tour of the Palais Royal in central Paris. Usually closed to outsiders, it houses the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the Constitutional Council, and the Council of State. Flat computer screens and fax machines were integrated into spacious rooms with gilded ceilings that since 1622 have seen a parade of cardinals and kings and duchesses, along with plenty of revolutionary fires and lootings.

The visit was part of the weekend celebration of cultural and historical heritage in France. Places like the Sorbonne University, and the Hotel Matignon, where the Prime Minister lives, threw open their doors to us barbarians and we traipsed through, gawping and snapping pictures with our cell phones.

Via the long lines and overheard conversations, I got the idea that celebration did what it was supposed to do. It reinforced among the French population, including those who are not white, a real feeling of family, of ownership of their heritage from the Sun King to the guillotine, and the modern French republic.

In the interests of full disclosure, the story of the French nation could have been told in other ways, but this is the shared story established little by little, with a process that involved banning regional languages like Breton or Occitan (until the 1960's), while local customs, except perhaps for the culinary, were suppressed. Besides language, that glue that held France together was this hugely successful national narrative embodied in the revolutionary tag line, liberty, equality, fraternity.

It's carved on every state house. And nearly every town has a statue of "La Republique." In Paris, one of the first actions of the feminist group La Barbe was to put an enormous beard on the statue of the female "Republique" in a kind of tongue in cheek statement about who was really running things. Later on, during the 14th of July celebrations, La Barbe arranged a nationwide outbreak of beards.

That kind of campaign would be impossible in the United States where we're more diverse than we admit, and almost the only symbols we share in common are the flag which can mean almost anything, and the golden arches of McDonald's.

Once, trying to explain myself to my New York-Cuban girlfriend, I drug her down to Kentucky where I grew up. We went to all the places of interest: the church where I got baptized and had my first revelations of hypocrisy, the high school that looked like a prison, the field where I played field hockey, the creek I waded in, the Ohio river.

We also drove a couple hundred miles to Sinking Springs, Kentucky where Lincoln was born and took my picture on the steps. Later, I regretted not being barefoot because I could have used it to mythologize myself (born destitute in a log cabin...). We also went to Mammoth Cave and wound our way up in the mountains where we almost got knocked off the narrow road by a succession of coal trucks on the switchbacks. We passed through Leitchfield, near what they call the Western Coal Field region of the state, where I had an uncle once who grew tobacco and shot, or so he said, across the fields at an annoying neighbor.

On the way down to Kentucky we stopped in Pennsylvania, went to Gettysburg and stared at the empty fields where more than 50,000 men were massacred in 1863. If we had stopped in Philadelphia and looked at the cracked Liberty Bell the trip might have summed up my conception of my country as kid. Pilgrims and Paul Revere, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Mark Twain after which came my church and school and grandmother, the mall and cinema, and the natural world of urban creeks and fields.

As adults, it wasn't satisfactory for either us. My symbols didn't really communicate. They still don't. There are just too many narrative threads. We've gone in different directions. The standard white English of the national newscasts, and the homogenized or demonizing movies of Hollywood are pure delusion.

After the 2004 election, when East Coast liberal Democrats were busy blaming Kerry's defeat on ignorant, inbred southern crackers that should all be drowned at birth, I felt like a Martian, or maybe a child molester. Now, because of Sarah Palin, the entire population of Alaska is getting the same treatment.

Nothing has changed. Real discussions of class and regionalism are practically unheard of in the marketplace of bigotry where they are forced to compete along with misogyny and racism and homophobia and all the rest. If only it would crash, too. America's a mess. To move forward, beyond this election, beyond the disastrous legacy of Bush, we need to find shared values. Even one. Liberty? Equality? Justice? Maybe we could start with mutual respect.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Voting My Conscience

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

The Democratic tradition in New York City is to hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils. So, up against George W. Bush, I voted first for Gore, then for Kerry, despite my discomfort with their relatively conservative social stances (literally posed in front of stained glass windows).

As my reward, the Democrats have swung more and more to the right. In Election 2008, the Democrats are almost more Republican than the Republicans I wouldn't vote for in '88 or '92, '96 or '00.

They are promising, for example, to dump way more money than Bush into faith-based programs which will not only erode the Church-State divide, but strengthen anti-choice, anti-gay forces. In a careful and deliberate campaign strategy to court conservatives, LGBT folk have already been shoved to the back of the bus in favor of highlighting homo-hating evangelicals. Positive statements about abortion have reportedly been withdrawn from the websites of many Democratic candidates.

Obama, the supposedly anti-establishment candidate flip-flopped from promising campaign finance reform to sticking his head in whatever trough presented itself leaving him beholden to a multitude of special interests. Under his leadership, Democrats are presenting bills to drill in protected land. And in another reversal, Mr. Obama, a lawyer specializing in constitutional issues, reneged on campaign promises, and voted for the FISA bill which further broadens the powers of "Homeland Security" and chews away at our civil liberties. Forget the misogyny surrounding his campaign.

Except for the considerable symbolic value of supporting the first African American nominee for president, the only reason any member of the left would vote for the Democrats is because they're up against the party of Abu Ghraib, the Iraq War, Pat Robertson, overt abortion bans, overt social control, and disastrous financial deregulation that McCain promises to introduce into health care, dismantling even the employer-based coverage most Americans rely on.

The Democrat's rightward acceleration may well be the fault of people like me, deluding ourselves into believing we weren't voting "for" one candidate, but "against" another. To politicians, a vote is a vote. A sign of approval, an implicit endorsement that's embedded in the language itself. You always vote "for" somebody. That seeming consent not only helps select a candidate, but shapes the trajectory of a party for years, win or lose.

After years of voting for increasingly right-wing knuckleheads, it's not surprising I'm stuck with a party that not only isn't in sync with my values, but in practice actually contradicts them. Winning will confirm Democratic tactics. Losing may send them even further right. Either way, I quit. As they say, "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you ever got." And sometimes less.

I can't be blackmailed any more that a certain candidate will spell the actual end of the world. Admit it. The Bush administration wouldn't have been so destructive if not for the Congress members of both parties that were complicit at every step. And two years ago, when Democrats claimed the majority in both Houses, they could have brought the Bush administration to a complete standstill. The Republicans did it to Bill Clinton. But with the Democrats, it was pretty much business for Bush as usual.

We'll only get more of the same if we continue to vote for them, however reluctantly.

I spent a while this week trying to figure out my personal responsibility in this election. In purely statistical terms, my one vote is less than toilet paper. There has never been an election decided by a single vote. Even when Bush won Florida, and hence the 2000 election, political scientist James Fowler noted "the best a single voter could do would be to change the margin to 536 or to 538, neither of which would have changed the outcome."

On the other hand, Fowler pointed out that in reality people cluster together. There's a kind of "voter cascade" in which one person can literally bring several dozen like-minded people to the polls. This is a pretty good argument to persuade people to hold their nose and vote in a swing state. One person really can have an influence on an election. And that influence means you have actual leverage with the candidate and party.

The story's different in the solidly Democratic New York State. My vote could start a major cascade and still be ignored by national Democrats. If my vote doesn't count, withholding it won't have much of an impact either. The only votes that count in New York have dollar signs attached.

With nothing to lose or gain, I'm sadly free to disapprove any candidate from any party that courts evangelicals and conservatives at the expense of women and queers, the working class of all races, and especially and always our civil liberties, which are the basis of whatever freedoms we have left or hope to win.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Democrats Court Disaster with Sneer Campaign

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

In the distant presidential campaign of 2000, when the Democrats could have touted the flourishing economy and budget surplus of the Clinton administration, they preferred to focus instead on more important issues. Like how George W. Bush pronounced "nucular."

We also heard about W.'s cowboy hats, ridiculous big ears, terrible grades at Yale, drunkenness, and cheerleading activities, while Democratic and left-wing pundits sneered at the idea that running a baseball team, especially a losing one, could be considered "experience," and asserted that if George W. Bush wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he would have been lucky to be the bat boy. Likewise, he wouldn't have been governor of Texas if he weren't a member of the Bush royal family. Nobody'd be enough of an idiot to vote for a loser like him.

Having been so successful with their sneer tactics in 2000, Democrats repeated them in 2004. And having failed yet again, the Dems have sunk their 2008 energy into a similar campaign calling attention to McCain's white hair, internet illiteracy, and obviously senile fits of rage. His running mate, that crazy nobody, Sarah Palin, has been dismissed as a cosmetics saleswoman at Macy's, beauty queen, and white trash, fundamentalist baby-making machine that pauses just long enough between births to skin a moose alive.

The problem with sneer campaigns, is that while they're supposed to make the target look stupid and inept, what they actually do is reveal the values of the sneerer. And in this campaign, what the Democrats are revealing is that they think old people, poor and working class people, and women are too stupid and ridiculous to consider for any top job. Yeah, that'll win them the election.

My advice is to just drop the sneers. If the Democrats want to make the Republicans look ridiculous, they only have to stick to the issues. Like McCain's role in getting us into the mess in Iraq. McCain repeatedly insisted that Iraq played a major role in 9/11, even after the theory was totally disproved by U.S. intelligence services. He also insisted on the imaginary WMD's in Iraq, and even blamed Suddam Hussein for the anthrax attacks in the U.S. And it was the veteran warrior McCain, in his own sneering arrogance, who backed up the Bush administration in vastly underestimating how many soldiers would be needed to handle the whole invasion.

McCain has also supported Bush's economic policy, and his Republican cronies have repeatedly said that the economy is fine, and characterized suffering Americans as a bunch of whiners, even as the federal government has been forced to step in and essentially nationalize two gigantic loan programs to keep the economy from totally collapsing. Long live socialist Republicans!

To undercut Palin's effectiveness as a symbol of change, especially in the pork barrel area of Washington politics, all you have to do is point out Palin's pig dinners as Alaskan governor, where the subsidy per citizen is several times the national average. According to the Washington Post, Palin herself has apparently billed Alaskan taxpayers for travel expenses when she was sitting at home.

And when Palin sneers at Obama's foreign policy, "He's worried that someone won't read them their rights," it should be enough to point out that the top of her ticket was himself tortured during war and didn't much like it.

If they want to win, Democrats should forget the cheap shots about senior citizens, moose shoots, and beauty queens, and stick to the issues. Sure, the late days of a campaign are supposed to be all about character, but isn't that what the issues often reveal?

Which is why the attacks dismissing Sarah Palin as one more crazy evangelist only chosen as VP for her vagina and abortion stance, have been particularly disturbing. Not just because of their misogyny. But because they show just how much the left continues to underestimate American fundamentalists, especially the new wave. They're creationists, but no morons.

Sarah Palin is just the vanguard. As I said last week, yes, she wears go-go boots and has a bunch of kids. She didn't go to Harvard and get straight A's. But she's a formidable politician. She's intelligent, scrappy, and flexible with an extraordinary learning curve.

She was a town council member of Wasilla, Alaska in 1992 at 28. She took office as mayor at the ripe old age of 32, tried to bull-doze her way into establishing a fundamentalist Christian town including censoring books, but met so much opposition they tried to recall her. The difference between her and the old guard is that she then moderated her positions enough, at least publicly, to get re-elected by a fat margin.

Barely a decade later, she was governor of Alaska. Now, still anti-abortion, anti-evolution, anti-queer she's on the road to the White House. Sneer at your own risk.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

All Hail, McCain

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

McCain did what eighteen million women couldn't. By choosing Sarah Palin to run as VP, he got Obama and the Democrats to retrieve women from the shit heap where we'd been dumped. At least for the moment.

Already her Democratic handlers had forced the accomplished Mrs. Obama to put on her metaphorical apron and play mom and wife at the DNC. Hillary even interrupted the roll-call detailing the success of her own historic candidacy to ask that Obama be named the nominee by acclamation.

John Dickerson in Slate, who had predicted that women would immediately roll over for Obama after the primary dust settled, was busy considering whether or not Obama could win without the votes of persistently disgruntled Hillary supporters. And his conclusion before Palin was yes. There were plenty of new voters, and while, he wrote, Hillary supporters aren't "all crazy harridans or racists" they are "snippy, irritating, and impervious to reason (Obama is lucky not to have them)."

Obama couldn't have agreed more. Pre-Palin, when Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee dared ask Obama to reach out to the millions of women that supported Hillary, he reportedly said nope. That would take too much time and he had to focus on McCain. Obama also sniped, "If women take a moment to realize that on every issue important to women, John McCain is not in their corner, that would help them get over it."

Thank you, Mr. McCain, for your unintentional service to America, and challenge to Democratic Party misogynists. Without your nomination of Sarah Palin as VP, advocating abortion and progressive Supreme Court nominations would once again be women's only visible roles. Fall in line, the Dems blackmail us, or you'll lose the little you've got. The only real issue for women, half the American population, is apparently reproduction.

That's like reducing questions of racism and the role of people of color in America to affirmative action. Or reducing queer issues to gay marriage, and ignoring that at the root of our fight for legal rights and equality is the desire to end homophobia and discrimination, in short, to win liberation.

Since McCain nominated Palin, it's been every so slightly harder for Obama's attack dogs to continue to dismiss disgruntled Hillary supporters as divas, McCain plants, or simply nuts. ie. Go back in the attic where you belong, madwomen. Suddenly our votes count, and attacking us endlessly means risking that women like me will either vote for McCain and Palin, or just stay home.

The problem all along has been that Democrats imagine women are too stupid or irrational to understand the stakes of this election. We're somehow oblivious to the Iraq War, the mortgage crisis and the disastrous economy, the schools that are falling apart, and struggling families. As if we aren't usually the ones picking up the pieces.

Who after all gets stuck pinching pennies while working the worst-paying jobs? Who still ends up with the kids when families fall apart? Women. And women comprise a significant part of the hardcore anti-war activists, the widows, grieving mothers, even vets. Surely it's not women that have long been recognized as the key to successful economies.

Every misogynistic sneer, every suggestion we females stick to questions of female plumbing tells us Democrats don't give a crap about what we think, and that we're not a valuable part of the economic and social recovery of the United States.

If Democrats are stupid and arrogant enough to believe that, why should we trust them and reward them with our votes? Why should we think they're fit to lead? Leaders build bridges, they don't burn them. And the Democrats have burnt plenty in the name of unity. Trying to force Hillary out of the race when it had just begun. Making us fight for a roll call to register the votes she won. Resorting to nomination by acclamation.

That's not unity. It's a tyrannical attempt to erase dissent, and above all, erase women. Women of all races. It was a black woman, Sheila Jackson Lee, that Obama told to get over it. Party Unity My Ass. What Democrats were aiming for was victory, sheer domination over Hillary. Like when one wrestler has the other down on the mat with their arm twisted out of their socket and their legs broken in several places.

Confronted with that, Sarah Palin is a better role model for young women (and queers) despite her conservative social views, than the likes of the retooled Michelle Obama. Palin took on the corrupt Republican establishment in her own state. She defeated oil companies. She may wear go-go boots and drop litters of babies, but she's a fighter.

Remember what that is? Queers don't. In this election, the Log Cabin Republicans have been totally invisible. And queer Dems have been reduced to jumping for joy because Mrs. Obama turned up at an LGBT delegates luncheon. You can take my uterus and shove it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Treating Amnesia at the DNC

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

So why shouldn't female Democrats just forget their support for Hillary Clinton, all the misogyny of the campaign, a couple thousand years of inequality that still finds most females in "women's" jobs like secretaries, nurses, and school teachers while 85 percent of national legislators are still men? Why not? When Hillary makes her speech, it will no doubt be to lift up a rug and ask us to sweep everything under it. Mrs. Obama already set the tone with her keynote speech, "I come here as a wife."

And why, if Obama actually makes it to the White House, breaking through that enormous glass ceiling already splintered by Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condi Rice, shouldn't his black supporters be pressured to "get over" the daily morass of American racism. Why shouldn't they forget the legacy of black street activists except on MLK day, and celebrate the post-race era because unity, after all, is the main thing? Dinosaurs like Charles Rangel and Al Sharpton should also be encouraged to drown themselves in the nearest swamp where no doubt the words "affirmative" and "action" are already sinking.

Every day U.S. soldiers die in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with an unconscionable amount of civilians, and they're all forgotten, too. The 4726 American coffins covered in flags didn't make it to prime time. And I barely remember the demos I went to before the invasion started, trying to head it off, and haven't been on the streets since to protest that ugly war our press has buried in an unmarked grave so that we can get on with the important business of the day -- like buying stuff.

Likewise, queers have forgotten how AIDS killed almost a whole generation of fags, transforming them first into the walking dead, skeletal, half-blind, deformed, before ARV's came on the scene. It's a good thing isn't it, how they saved lives, letting the HIV positive remain invisible, even if it also makes it easier to erase the people getting infected now? And in our rush to register for wedding china, why shouldn't we just be thankful for what we have and forget the bad old days when merely waking up in the morning as a dyke or fag or trannie meant risking beatings, blackmail, ostracism, rape, homelessness and jail?

Then there are all those things we can't forget because we never knew about them. Like how the Russian invasion of Georgia marks almost to the day the 40th anniversary of their invasion of Czechoslovakia which like Bush, I can hardly spell. That's ignorance, not amnesia. In high school history, we never made it past World War II. And I haven't done much as an adult to correct it.

Why think of these histories at all, when making sense of our own lives seems work enough? God knows relationships are hard, and families are a trial even if they aren't homophobic. Then there's that lazy cantankerous neighbor of mine here in Paris that persists in leaving her garbage outside the bins. It's a big leap to go from her to consider the whole neighborhood, the whole town, the whole country, the world where humans are an endangered species on an endangered planet.

Remembering's too much of a burden. Though forgetting is worse, especially for cultural or political minorities because it means we've lost sight not just of difficult lives but how we transformed them. After all, it wasn't by some miracle that people of color can now sit anywhere they want on the bus, and also sit in the Senate and maybe the White House. It wasn't a miracle that got us drugs for AIDS, and fought discrimination, and lesbophobia. It was activists. And it was activists that fought not just for the right for women to vote, but to get out there and represent.

The danger is that if we forget that progress occurred by human intervention, we'll forget humans can reverse it as well.

Already the religious fundamentalists that ACT-UP battled are regaining ground on the national stage. Already, abortion rights are melting away. Many grassroots networks based on race are unraveling, like our marginal gains in healthcare. We could cavalierly start a new war or dismiss others like the one in Georgia because we've ignored or forgotten the consequences.

Remembering, of course, is a high wire act. We can get tripped up and blinded by fury and bitterness, and recriminations. But we have to do it. Democrats, especially, should keep one eye on the past as they try to reinvent themselves as the unifying party of the future. Otherwise, what do you have but the kind of false narrative we saw in Beijing where their image of a bright and glorious land depended on silence and enforced amnesia? What do you have but a farce fit only for summer theater?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

AIDS in a Christian Nation

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

In the United States, HIV transmission is at a terrifying high, especially among gay men of any race, and among people of color. The statistics are only going to get worse unless we're willing to renew our fight against homophobia, this time, across America's racial spectrum.

Like it or not, AIDS is all about queers. If it isn't about fags getting AIDS, it's about AIDS being stigmatized as queer. And as long as AIDS has a queer stigma, men who identify as straight (whether they are or not) won't bother with condoms; people will go untested because they think they can't get it, or they're afraid they will be targets of anti-AIDS and homophobic violence if they do, which means treatment will go unused (if it's available), and many more thousands of lives will be lost in great misery and suffering. (This is a reprise of my yearly speech.)

At the height of the pre-ARV epoch, when the government was ignoring everybody, ACT-UP fought both ignorance about the disease, and homophobia, attacking the likes of Cardinal O'Connor and Jerry Falwell who wallowed in a cesspool of hate. ACT-UP's double-pronged approach had enormous success, especially among white middle classes where most of the activists had their origins.

Black homophobia was mostly not addressed, either in society or in the church. I put it down both to indifference, and to the peculiar nature of American racism in which any white activist disrupting a black church service is bound to get called culturally insensitive or racist at best. I actually remember one instance of a few white activists being dissuaded from doing anything by their black friends. Many of these early (white) activists are now in international AIDS advocacy work, ironically more comfortable working with Africans, especially straight ones, than African Americans.

AIDS organizing by people of color did begin to take off, but not very quickly, and by then an almost irreversible amount of damage had been done. The more people with HIV in your dating pool, the higher the chances you'll get it, even if you're careful. Activists have also been hampered by the role of the black church. This traditional engine of social change in black communities has either remained silent on AIDS, or has instituted AIDS programs that try to fight the disease while leaving homophobia intact.

As a result, we now have 600,000 HIV positive African Americans, with up to 30,000 becoming infected each year. The Black Institute on AIDS has said that if they were considered as a nation, a Black Nation, they'd rank 16th hardest hit in the world, more than Botswana, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Namibia, Rwanda or Vietnam, which all receive U.S. funds for HIV/AIDS programs. That would place Black Gay Nation at numero uno with a 50 percent infection rate. Botswana after all, is only near 39 percent.

Who's going to act? Obama, who campaigns with ex-gay Donnie McClurkin and relies on advice from Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell who runs programs to free queers from their homosexuality? McCain?

Last weekend, both Barack Obama and John McCain appeared at the American Vatican of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Ostensibly, the pastor, Rick Warren, is a moderate evangelical, fighting AIDS, global warming, and poverty. Except that in Uganda, at the end of March, he told the press that he supported the boycott of the Lambeth conference by regional Anglican bishops, declaring that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. "We shall not tolerate this aspect at all."

Warren's biggest partner in Uganda for his "Purpose-Driven Life" campaign is Martin Ssempa, an evangelist who's considered a big AIDS activist. His primary strategy is to fight the disease by fighting queers, advocating jail or death for us. In the spring Ssempa organized a rally with the theme, "A Call for Action on Behalf of the Victims of Homosexuality" reinforcing the idea that queers are perverts, deviants, and disease-ridden criminals.

Despite some LGBT progress in civil rights, Christianity-based homophobia seems to have a bigger platform in politics today than ten years ago. Once, only Republicans embraced fundamentalists. Now, the Democrats have their own teams cutting deals with evangelicals of all colors. Faith-based social services are actually a huge part of Obama's agenda. We Americans seem to be choosing a pope, not a President.

For leadership on AIDS, we have to look elsewhere. Like the International AIDS conference in Mexico where participants were not afraid to use the words "gay" and "homophobia." On the opening day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said discrimination against gays must end. Later on, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, former Botswana president Festus Mogae, and St Kitts and Nevis President Denzil Douglas each called for the end of discrimination against gay men.

Fight homophobia. Fight AIDS.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

DNC: Let the Games Begin

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I watched Bush at the Beijing opening of the Olympics Games. With his binoculars and smile, he seemed relieved to finally be at an event he understood. I bet at night, instead of thinking of all those dead kids in Iraq, or Afghanistan, the tanking economy, or tortured men in Guantánamo, he dreams of owning another ball club. Where the rules to winning are simpler and there's always someone else to blame.

Yesterday, making a statement condemning the Russian invasion of Georgia, his lips were thin and pinched again. He looked depressed. Probably he has a bumper-sticker over his bed: Anybody, but Bush. At least it's almost over. He squints trying to count it out. A hundred and something more days.

The Democrats, meanwhile, know the schedule down to the hour and are already practicing their walk to the podium in a historic year of firsts. Clinton was the first woman to take a state in the primary, then dozens after. Obama, already the first black candidate to head a major ticket, will be the first black U.S. president. Walls tremble and tumble as he breaks through to join the celebrated ranks.

Symbolically powerful, I wonder just how much change his firstness will bring to the U.S., or even his intransigent Democratic party. Does Obama have coattails? And for whom? In an eight thousand word New York Times article asking "Is Obama the End of Black Politics?" not one of the dozen politician interviewed, old guard or new, was a black woman. Donna Edwards appeared just as a mention. Unsurprisingly, Michelle Obama's actually pledged to be Mom-in-chief if her husband's elected. Here's a hod of bricks. Get out the trowel to wall the women back in.

As a consolation prize, Clinton's scheduled to give a speech the night of August 26, the 88th anniversary of the day women finally won the vote, though it doesn't extend as far as the Democratic Party which may not give the delegates she won the right to vote for her.

Likewise, Stonewall Democrats trumpet 350 plus queers at the Democratic National Convention, a record number of participants making it onto the floor, while the words "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual" or transgender have yet to make it into the platform. What we get instead are vague references to fights against discrimination. The platform did condemn the Defense of Marriage Act, though not particularly for its bigotry, but for its potential to divide us Democrats.

The only place the platform seems enthusiastic to have us is in Iraq. "At a time when the military is having a tough time recruiting and retaining troops, it is wrong to deny our country the service of brave, qualified people." Especially when otherwise you'll be faced with reinstating the unpopular draft.

That's about what you can expect from a party led by Howard Dean. He's an affirmer of heterosexual marriage. Recently a a former DNC employee Donald Hitchcock brought suit against him, claiming he was fired from gay outreach after his partner, Paul Yandura, publicly urged gay donors not to give money to Dean's increasingly faith-based Democratic Party.

And just why should we hand over our votes or our cash? Democrats have done very little since they've been in control of Congress. Guantánamo is still going strong. Diplomacy is still nixed in favor of military spending. The Constitution continues to disintegrate in the name of the endless War on Terror. Just a couple of weeks ago Democratic votes actually helped expand government surveillance powers with FISA. New York Senators Clinton and Schumer voted against. Illinois Senator Obama was one of several Democrats voting for.

Why? To look tough for election 2008, and appeal to all those right-wing voters? If we swallow that, what will his excuse be next? Reelection? Are Democrats never accountable? The standard we set for them is so low it takes a Jules Verne craft diving into the center of the earth to reach it.

Reforming them from the inside has proven nearly impossible as queer "gains" attest. And outside, the Democrats, as the Republicans, are literally keeping demonstrators as far away as they can. Neither seen nor heard. So instead of focusing on what they might want to demand from Democrats, protesters at the convention will be fighting for their basic right to protest.

This week, meanwhile, Bill Richardson, once in the running for the Obama's V.P. spot, highlighted the uncertain Democratic grasp of foreign policy by immediately blaming Bush for the Russian invasion of Georgia. Putin apparently never declared the collapse of the Soviet Union, "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century" or expressed the desire to restore Russia to its once-dominant role in the region and the world.

If Richardson's any indication for Democrats 2009, they'll be taking the easy road whenever possible, blaming the Republicans, and hoping for the best.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gutenberg, the Internet, and Queer Rights

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I picture it sometimes. Martin Luther going up to the door of that cathedral in Wittenberg in 1517 and nailing up his 95 theses. Within a couple of weeks, the little theological bombs had spread throughout Germany. Within a couple of months, the beginning of the Protestant Reformation had hit the rest of Europe.

For an activist like me, it's an archetypical moment, Luther struggling to get his conscience down on paper, having the courage to post it in public, then having the luck that Gutenberg's relatively new printing press had been popularized. For once thought, expression, and technology came together in perfect sync.

I thought queers would have the same eureka experience with the Internet. Suddenly activists worldwide would have a giant door to nail their thoughts to. We'd have access to a variety of histories, ideas, activist techniques. Everybody would have a voice. We'd be visible from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Our progress would be exponential.

And it has been a useful tool, if not exactly magic. Information is offered up on a scale Gutenberg never dreamed of. Alternative magazines and publishing houses are started every day. And in practical terms for activists, listserve emails have replaced those phone trees no one wanted to do, along with costly newsletters, while the drudgery of meetings have been replaced by websites updated by the hour.

Readers are different, too. While some queers have been changed by all that information and have moved beyond self-acceptance to coming out and sometimes even activism, others just sit in a more comfortable closet. They no longer have to dare that trip to a gay bookstore or center or bar. And the sheer quantity of gay sites and the possibilities for armchair activism creates the illusion of visibility in the outside world. We've made all the progress we need. Street activists not required.

Likewise, the blog facilitates censorship, even as it fights it. For instance, it still is a tool for free speech and democracy when Generation Y blogger Yoani Sánchez is able to get a post up from her home in Havana, sneaking online to make a post or passing an entry to friends, but I'm worried about their negative effects on the rest of us.

I'm not speaking about the quality of the writing we produce. Though I could. No, the problem is that the easy publishing, and "unpublishing," of blogs has changed the value of the process. We have the idea that language is essentially disposable, or we are. Nothing is permanent. Nothing true. Change your mind, regret that "coming out" post (or your support for Obama), just erase, erase, erase.

Last year Xeni Jardin, an editor/blogger at the popular site decided to erase every reference there to former pal San Francisco Chronicle columnist and sex blogger Violet Blue. A firestorm erupted when it was discovered in June. According to a July 7 article in the New York Times, Xeni Jardin wouldn't discuss why she did it, except to allude to, "private matters and public behavior." It was a blog, she said. She didn't sign up to be a newspaper of public record.

Jardin was less cavalier about blocked information in June when the news broke that the Boing Boing site was censored in its entirety by a filter at the Denver International Airport.

In an interview with the Denver Post, she blasted filters in general, and harangued the Denver airport for using the same kind as Sudan and Kuwait where the dictators' censorship is ferocious. She also added plenty about "what the Internet is all about" including the free flow of culture, commerce and ideas.

Jardin apparently wants privileges without responsibilities, free speech without obligations to her readers. She wrote the posts she can change them, or erase them altogether goshdarnit. Or what good is it being the editor?

In the interest of full disclosure I admit I've been tempted to remove my own stuff from the online magazine I co-edited for six years. When I went to Cuba a couple of years ago, I was afraid some of my articles about the place could get me in hot water. They weren't kind. After the trip, I still wanted to erase them, this time because they seemed embarrassingly naive.

So why did I leave them? Mostly because so many other people are already trying to filter, block, destroy and erase us writers. Deleting even articles I don't like would mean doing their work for them, rewriting my own history, and compromising myself and my site. What is "unpublishing" but an electronic attempt to say, "I never said that"? What is it but a lie?

Queers, especially, should remember that erasing is a tool of our enemies. If we're going to indulge in it like Xeni Jardin, we can't complain when the thugs use it against us. And they do.