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Advocate ‘confident’ Boy Scouts will end ban on gay youth

boy scouts, gay news, Washington Blade

The Boy Scouts to set to vote on a resolution today to end its ban on gay youth (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

An LGBT group working to end the gay ban for the Boy Scouts of America is striking an optimistic tone on the day leaders are set to vote on a resolution to partially lift it.

Rich Ferraro, vice president of communications for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said he expects the 1,400 members of the Boy Scouts National Council to approve a measure allowing gay youths to participate.

“I’m confident, especially now that the BSA leadership is behind the resolution,” Ferraro said. “I think it’s because of the stories that BSA voting members and Americans have heard over the past years from moms from Ohio and teenagers from California who shouldn’t be discriminated against.”

The vote is taking place in Grapevine, Texas, during the organization’s 2013 National Annual Meeting. An announcement on the vote is expected around 6 pm. The Washington Blade will provide updates as warranted.

Currently, openly gay people are unable to participate in the Boy Scouts in any capacity. The proposal would alter the policy so gay youths can take part in the organization. Even if the resolution is approved, gay adults would still be unable to serve as scoutmasters.

Ferraro based his optimism on work activists have done to draw attention to the gay ban as well as statements from Boy Scouts’ leadership in opposition to current policy.

Wayne Perry, president of the Boy Scouts of America, called on the organization to approve the resolution in an op-ed in USA Today published on Thursday.

“The BSA’s executive committee unanimously presented this resolution because it stays true to Scouting’s mission and remains focused on kids,” Perry writes. “No matter what your opinion is on this issue, America needs Scouting, and our policies must be based on what is in the best interest of our nation’s children.”

According to GLAAD, thousands of people on both sides of the issue are at the hotel to make their views heard — many of them clad in their Boy Scouts’ uniform.

“I think it shows just what I’ve seen over the past year running this campaign how dedicated people are to the institution of scouting,” Ferraro said. “The message that we’re trying to send is that including gay adults and gay teenagers will only strengthen the institution of scouting.”

Members of Congress have also weighed in. Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), along with 20 other House members, delivered to the Boy Scouts earlier this week a letter asking the group to change its policy.

“Today, BSA has a policy that excludes gay Scouts and Scout leaders from participating,” the letter states. “This is counter to BSA’s mission to teach our youth to combat discrimination. … We strongly urge the BSA to pass the proposed resolution to end discrimination against gay youth. Furthermore, we believe that BSA should implement a full non-discrimination policy.”

Zach Wahls, a 21-year-old activist and Eagle Scout, said the time is right for the Boy Scouts to change during an event in Grapevine called the Equal Scouting Summit.

“It is clear that if Scouting is not willing to move forward on this issue, it will be left behind by an America that supports our LGBT friends, neighbors, family members and even our fellow Scouts who made it through the program,” Wahls said. “America needs the values that Scouting has to offer now more than ever, and we cannot afford to lose this great cultural icon.”

In February, President Obama voiced support during an interview that aired before the Super Bowl for lifting the gay ban in the Boy Scouts.

But anti-gay groups are also at work to urge the Boy Scouts to keep the ban on gay youth in place. On Thursday, the Family Research Council ran a half-page advertisement in the Dallas Morning News. The ad identifies five reasons to support the current policy, including saying the change “forces all scouting units to accept openly gay youth.”

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a freshman U.S. House member, took to the House floor this week to criticize what he called the “intolerant left” for efforts such as repealing the gay ban in the Boy Scouts.

“The left’s agenda is not about tolerance, and it’s not about diversity of thought,” Bridenstine said. “It’s about presenting a worldview of relativism, where there is no right and wrong, then using the full force of the government to silence opposition and reshape organizations like the Boy Scouts into instruments for social change.”

Bridenstine concluded,”To my friends on the left, this is not tolerance. But here’s the good news about true tolerance: the most tolerant one of all has the ability to redeem us all.”

But Ferraro dismissed efforts from anti-gay groups, saying they won’t have significant impact and are only an effort to spread hate against LGBT people.

“People like Tony Perkins and the FRC are continuing to paint themselves not as scouting supporters, but as anti-gay activists, and that’s going to make the difference,” Ferraro said. “Their messages are clouded by anti-gay hate, especially when you consider faith leaders and so many officials in the BSA pushing for change.”

23
May
2013

Boy Scouts board meets to consider lifting gay ban

Zach Wahls, gay news, Washington Blade, Boy Scouts of America

Zach Wahls, who is straight, but has two lesbian mothers, delivers petitions to lift a ban on gay scouts to the national Boy Scouts of America conference in Orlando last year. (Photo courtesy of Change.org)

The Boy Scouts of America’s national board began a three-day meeting in Irving, Tex., on Monday in which it was expected to vote Wednesday on a proposal to end its national policy of banning gay scouts and scout leaders.

As the board met behind closed doors in a hotel near the BSA’s national headquarters just outside Dallas, a contingent of current and former gay scouts, scout leaders, and their straight supporters delivered stacks of petitions with 1.4 million signatures calling for the Boy Scouts to end the gay ban.

“Today’s delivery marks one final push by the more than 1.4 million signers who’ve taken action on Change.org demanding an end to the Boy Scout’s national ban on gay youth and parents,” said Mark Anthony Dingbaum, senior campaign manager for Change.org.

The national LGBT groups Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Human Rights Campaign joined the gay-supportive scouts and scout leaders, including Scouts for Equality, in drawing national attention to the BSA’s board meeting.

Groups opposed to lifting the Boy Scouts’ ban on gays, including the Family Research Council, announced they had organized their own efforts to lobby the board against changing its policy. Among those calling on the BSA to leave the gay ban in place is Texas Governor Rick Perry.

But the gay supportive side appeared to be capturing more media attention on the opening day of the board’s meeting.

In a full-page ad in Monday’s edition of the Dallas Morning News, HRC urged the Boy Scouts to go beyond their proposal to allow local Boy Scout councils to decide whether to admit gay scouts or scout leaders.

The BSA announced last week that its proposal would end the organization’s national ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. The announcement said the change, if adopted by the board, would leave it to the local Councils and chartered organizations that sponsor Boy Scout troops across the country to decide whether to admit gay scouts and scout leaders.

“While the proposed change is a step in the right direction, we can’t pretend that passing the buck to the local level will eliminate anti-gay discrimination because it won’t,” said HRC’s vice president for communications Fred Sainz.

“Generations of gay Americans have been told they’re not good enough to join the Scouts, simply because of who they are,” Sainz said. “BSA has an opportunity to change that this week by adopting a non-discrimination policy.”

HRC also announced that its foundation has adopted a more stringent criterion for its widely watched Corporate Equality Index, which rates corporations on their policies on LGBT related issues, including personnel policies.

“To receive a perfect score in the future, companies would have to prohibit philanthropic giving to non-religious organizations that have a written policy of anti-gay discrimination, or permit its chapters, affiliates, or troops to do so,” HRC announced in a Feb. 4 press release.

The newly announced criterion would lead to a lower the rating for companies that donate money to the Boy Scouts if the BSA or local Boy Scout councils don’t eliminate their ban on gays.

D.C. area Boy Scouts Council calls for ‘courteous’ discussion

Daniel Mullin, director of the D.C. district for the BSA’s National Capital Area Council, told the Blade on Monday that Boy Scouts and scout leaders in the D.C. region were watching with interest over how the national board will decide on the issue of the gay ban.

He pointed to a statement in the National Capital Area Council’s February newsletter, which invites the scouting community to share their opinions and concerns on the issue with the Council’s leadership.

“This is a topic that many leaders, parents and community members have strongly held opinions about,” the Council’s newsletter statement says. “It is a complex issue and can engender significant debate. As you discuss the issue with your friends and fellow Scouts, please remember that a Scout is courteous and kind.”

05
Feb
2013

GLAAD honoring all the wrong people

Are the good people at GLAAD suffering from amnesia?

First, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation honored lifelong closet case Anderson Cooper with its Vito Russo Award last month. Then came word that former President Bill Clinton will be honored with the Advocate for Change Award.

Russo was a pioneering LGBT activist and author who wrote “The Celluloid Closet.” Cooper became infamous in the gay community after Out magazine published a 2008 cover story featuring his image along with Jodie Foster’s above the headline “The Glass Closet, Why the Stars Won’t Come Out and Play.”

Cooper finally came out publicly last year in a blog post and is immediately honored by GLAAD for doing what exactly? Is GLAAD so desperate to sell tickets to its awards shows that it must genuflect at the feet of anyone with a modicum of fame? This star-fuckery does a disservice to the movement and overlooks the hard work and visibility of more deserving honorees.

As transparent as the Cooper award was for its pandering, the Clinton award is even more disappointing. Clinton gave us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He signed the Defense of Marriage Act and later bragged about it in 1996 campaign ads. Former HRC President Elizabeth Birch recently revealed that during that time, Clinton White House officials threatened to re-air the offensive ads if she took credit for their being yanked amid a firestorm of protest. More recently, Clinton reportedly advised John Kerry to support state constitutional amendments barring marriage equality during the 2004 presidential campaign. He only recently changed his position; his wife only endorsed marriage last month.

With such a stellar record of support, it’s time for a GLAAD award! I’m sure the wealthy Los Angeles gays will shell out plenty of cash for tickets to the award show later this month. (Individual tickets start at $500; a platinum table will set you back $25,000.) For some inexplicable reason, the gays are drawn to the Clintons like moths to the flame.

While GLAAD is busy dispensing awards to the unworthy, others who are actually making a difference go unrecognized.

Take Ken Mehlman, for example, who ran the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and cynically unleashed a barrage of state constitutional amendments attacking our relationships. He has since repudiated his dirty deeds and worked behind the scenes to do his penance. He has raised money for the New York and Maryland marriage efforts, among other contributions. Where is the award for Mehlman? He has certainly done more to advance gay rights than Cooper.

And what about Sen. Rob Portman, who bravely endorsed marriage equality last month, becoming the first Republican senator to do so? He was pilloried by progressive bloggers because he attributed his evolution on the issue to having a gay son. The Wonkette blog went so far as to suggest we buy him a cake to celebrate with “Fuck that guy” written in icing.

But just days later when Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, announced her newfound marriage support and attributed it in part to having gay staff and friends, the progressive bloggers erupted in predictable praise.

This misguided strategy of turning LGBT rights into a partisan issue and the LGBT movement into a wing of the Democratic Party is as much a mistake today as it was 20 years ago.

Of course, we should welcome converts like Cooper and Clinton to the cause, but we mustn’t rewrite history in the process. And if our national advocacy groups are going to honor public figures like Cooper and Clinton who have such complicated records on LGBT issues, then shouldn’t they reach across the aisle and honor some Republicans, too?

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

10
Apr
2013

Trans slur on ‘Mike and Molly’

GLAAD logo

(Photo courtesy of GLAAD)

LOS ANGELES – The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation on Tuesday criticized a segment of the CBS sitcom “Mike and Molly” that contained what it described as trans-phobic language.

The show’s main character, Mike, described “the shemale incident of ‘08” in an exchange with his best friend, Carl.

GLAAD said on Wednesday it spoke with a CBS executive “who is discussing the issues directly with the show.” The network has also agreed to meet with the media watchdog’s staffers to “discuss the offensive scene” and other incidents on CBS programs over the last year “that increasingly add up to a disturbing trend.”

14
Feb
2013

Activists condemn media coverage of Ohio murder

Cemia Ce Ce Acoff, transgender, Cleveland, murder, gay news, Washington Blade

Cemia ‘Ce Ce’ Acoff, a 20-year-old transgender woman and Cleveland resident, was found stabbed to death on April 17 in Olmsted Township, Ohio. Police say her body had been tethered to a block of concrete and dumped into the pond. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

LGBT activists were scheduled to hold a protest rally and memorial tribute outside the Cleveland City Hall Wednesday afternoon in response to the murder of a 20-year-old transgender woman whose body was identified April 29 by police in the Cleveland suburb of Olmsted Township.

Olmsted Township police said the initially unidentified body of Cemia “Ce Ce” Acoff was found April 17 tethered to a concrete block and dumped in a pond. The body was found about three weeks after Cleveland police announced Acoff had been reported missing by family members.

According to Olmsted police, Acoff had been stabbed multiple times and her body was found naked from the waist down. Police responded to a call from a nearby resident, who saw the body in what police described as a retention pond.

“The Olmsted Township Police Department has been working around the clock on this investigation, and will continue to diligently pursue all leads,” Police Chief John Minek said in a statement. “I have dedicated two senior members of the department (Lt. Vanyo and Det. Sonneborn) to this investigation. Since this is an active investigation, we cannot comment any further on any details pertaining to this investigation.”

Mineck told reporters the case remains open and that several detectives were investigating the murder. He declined to say whether any suspects have been identified.

The local news media, including TV stations and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, initially identified Acoff only by her legal name, Carl Acoff, which was released by police. Media reports repeatedly referred to her as “he,” even though authorities reported the body was found dressed in female clothes.

The national LGBT advocacy group Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the state LGBT rights group Equality Ohio, the group Trans Ohio, and the Cleveland LGBT Community Center criticized what they called a display of blatant insensitivity by the mainstream media in its coverage of Acoff’s murder.

Among other things, the groups complained that media stories referred to Acoff’s body as being “oddly dressed” and reported extensively on court records showing she had a history of several misdemeanor arrests in Cleveland that were unrelated to the murder.

“Acoff’s criminal record is almost certainly irrelevant to the story, especially when provided without any context concerning the trans community and law enforcement,” GLAAD’s director of news and field media Aaron McQuade said in a statement.

The Plain Dealer reported that in January 2012 Acoff pleaded no contest and was found guilty by a judge of “possession of dangerous drugs involving hormones.” She was sentenced to 100 days in jail and fined $1,000, the Plain Dealer reported.

Transgender activists have said transgender people in the process of transitioning from male to female who don’t have the resources to obtain a doctor’s prescription for the hormones needed for the transition sometimes resort to the black market to get the drugs.

In a separate case, Acoff was charged with assault for squirting Mace in a man’s face while riding on a bus, the Plain Dealer reported. Activists said the newspaper should have explained that transgender people are often the target of violent attacks by assailants hostile to gender identity and that Acoff could have used the Mace in self-defense.

Other media outlets reported that Acoff appeared to identify as both female and male at different times, including when interacting with Cleveland police.

“The truth is, when someone like Cemia appears to identity as female sometimes and male other times, it’s because it’s still socially unacceptable (and often dangerous) to be transgender,” McQuade said in the GLAAD statement.

“The fact that some people in Acoff’s life didn’t know she sometimes identified as female, and the fact that her legal identification might not have reflected her gender identity, doesn’t change the fact that she was a transgender woman,” McQuade said in the statement.

GLAAD and the other groups said they have urged news media outlets to follow the Associated Press guidelines in covering the transgender community, which call for referring to transgender people by the gender with which they identify and by the name that reflects that gender.

“Also very disturbing is the fact that no report would lead readers to believe police are working diligently to find the murderer,” said David Badash in the New Civil Rights Movement blog.

“Not one report stated police are asking for assistance or seeking help in finding her killer,” he said. “The murder was a heinous crime, the mis-gender identification by news media organizations who have not taken the time to learn how to report on issues related to transgender people is offensive.”

01
May
2013

Activists criticize new AP policy on couples

AP, Associated Press, gay news, Washington Blade

The Associated Press Building in New York City (Photo by Alterego via wikimedia commons)

WASHINGTON – Advocates continue to criticize the Associated Press for a memo it released on Tuesday that said journalists should use the words “husband” and “wife” to describe same-sex couples only if they have used them or in quotes attributed to them.

The memo said the news agency “generally” uses “couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia court decision in a blog post about the AP memo. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and gay blogger John Aravosis also criticized the news agency.

“It isn’t the Associated Press’ job to overrule the courts and legislatures in nine American states, and numerous foreign countries,” Aravosis wrote on his blog. “Last time I checked, it’s states that determine who is legally married in America, not the Associated Press.”

14
Feb
2013

Arrest made in Ohio trans murder case

Cemia Ce Ce Acoff, transgender, Cleveland, murder, gay news, Washington Blade

The decomposed body of Cemia ‘Ce Ce’ Dove was found in a pond last month. (Photo courtesy Facebook)(Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Police in the Cleveland suburb of Olmsted Township, Ohio, have arrested a 36-year-old man for the murder of transgender woman Cemia “Ce Ce” Dove, 20, whose body was found April 17 in a pond tied to a concrete block and steel pipe.

With the assistance of members of the FBI’s Fugitive Task Force, Olmsted Township police on May 3 apprehended Andre L. Bridges at his residence in Parma, Ohio, another nearby suburb of Cleveland, according to Police Lt. Matthew Vanyo.

Vanyo said Bridges was being held in the Cuyahoga County Jail in Cleveland.

The arrest in the Dove murder came less than a week before Cleveland police apprehended 52-year-old Ariel Castro for kidnapping and holding captive for more than 10 years three young women in his Cleveland house. The sensational news surrounding that case, which captured international headlines, overshadowed the Dove case.

Dove, whose legal name released by police is Carl Acoff Jr., had been stabbed multiple times before being dumped in a pond in a remote section of Olmsted Township, police said. Police said the body was found nude from the waist down.

A resident of Cleveland, Dove had been reported missing on March 27. Police at first were unable to identify the body found in the pond due to decomposition but later made the identification by matching DNA samples taken from Dove’s family members in Cleveland.

Vanyo declined to disclose how investigators linked Bridges to the murder, saying the case remains open.

“There is still an active, ongoing investigation at this time,” he told the Blade on Thursday.

Vanyo also declined to say whether investigators believe there are other suspects in the case.

“We want to make sure that the most thorough, complete, accurate investigation is being done,” he said.

The New York-based National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which monitors anti-LGBT violence nationwide, noted that Dove was the third transgender woman of color to be murdered in April.

Kelly Young, a 29-year-old black transgender woman, was found shot to death inside a home in Baltimore on April 3. On April 4, 30-year-old Ashley Sinclair, another black transgender woman, was found shot to death in a wooded area in Orange County, Fla.

“Each year, NCAVP tracks the homicides of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people in the U.S. in which an anti-LGBTQ motive is known,” Chai Jindasurat, an NCAVP official, said in a statement. “However, for many LGBTQ homicide victims, especially transgender women and people of color who are disproportionally affected by anti-LGBTQ violence, a motive is never determined.”

Police investigating the Cemia Dove murder in Ohio have not disclosed whether they have identified a motive in the case.

Andre Bridges, crime, gay news, Washington Blade

Andre Bridges, 36, was arrested May 3 at a residence in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, Ohio, for the murder of transgender woman Cemia Acoff Dove, whose body was found April 17. (Photo courtesy of the Olmsted Township Police Department)

LGBT activists in Cleveland and the national group Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) denounced what they called a display of blatant insensitivity by the mainstream media in its coverage of the Dove murder.

Local news media outlets, including TV stations and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, initially identified Dove only by her legal name, Carl Acoff, which was released by police. Some media reports repeatedly referred to her as “he,” even though authorities reported the body was found partially dressed in female clothes.

Activists urged media outlets to follow the Associated Press guidelines for covering the transgender community, which call for referring to transgender people by the gender with which they identify and by the name that reflects that gender.

10
May
2013

Queer conference explores language

kiss, Washington Blade, gay news

Organizers of the Lavender Language Conference say even the sounds gay porn actors make in the throes of passion have meaning and can teach us something about our gay lives. (Photo via Wikimedia)

Lavender Languages & Linguistics Conference
Friday through Sunday
American University
Washington
Prices vary — presentations may be attended individually and cost $25 per session for employed persons; discounts available for anyone who wants to attend but can’t afford to pay
Registration is possible on site or online
American.edu/lavenderlanguages

Watching gay porn at William Leap’s house near American University in Washington can be tedious.

“There’s a lot of hilarity with that,” Leap says. “My partner always wants to race through it. He says, ‘Oh, come on, this is stupid,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I need to listen to this. I want to hear the dialogue and really think about what phrases they’re saying.”

And yes, in a way, Leap does have a dialogue fetish but it’s not sexual. He’s a linguistics specialist and professor at American University in its College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Anthropology. His 20th annual Lavender Languages & Linguistics Conference, which he says is the longest-running queer academic conference in North America, convenes today. He and a stable of other academics will welcome about 150 attendees from around the world to a weekend jammed with about 80 presentations on queer language. Language used in gay porn is just one of the many topics that will be covered.

“We have a guy coming, and this is such a hoot,” Leap says with palpable glee, “who’s doing a presentation comparing the sounds guys make in coital ecstasy with the sounds animals make in the zoo and in the wild. He’s actually doing a phonetic technical analysis and comparison to see how, for instance, [gay porn star] Damien Crosse grunts, so I don’t know, we’ll see what he comes up with.”

But even with nods to porn and gay pop culture, isn’t the conference a bit on the geeky and dry side? Leap says no and that the use of language — from the way words are spoken to the origins of phrases and expressions — has a profound effect on LGBT lives. Yes, it’s his pet passion, but he says there’s something any queer person could find useful in the event.

“I think the real value in it is that it reminds us that gay is not a single phenomenon and no one owns it,” Leap says. “No one has a right to stand up and speak for all queer people and part of what we have to do as academics is make it clear that there’s this vast diversity of things associated with the use of language. Gays and lesbians have a rich history that has largely been ignored. These cultural experiences are not being talked about in textbooks.”

Leap started the event in 1993 with a half-day event and about 85 in attendance. Now it’s three days and he expects about 150 to register in addition to “walk ins” who come for “a session or two.” It’s a non-profit event and Leap says those who are interested but can’t pay will not be turned away or denied lunch/refreshments. He also says there’s a refreshing non-snob factor with the professors whom he encourages to mingle with attendees from all walks of life.

“There’s no attitude here, no prima donnas,” he says. “We really want an environment where everybody is free to talk to everybody.”

David Peterson, a gay associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has been attending and presenting almost every year since 1995. He says the topics that have been explored over the years at the Conference have endless “real world” implications for LGBT people.

“If we want to counter the kinds of things the Family Research Council, for example, is doing, we have to have some understanding of what they’re doing or it won’t be effective,” he says. “We can’t just protest it and say, ‘They’re just fundamentalist Bible thumpers,’ because they’re really not. It’s quite interesting, and not what many people would expect, that they don’t use a lot of scripture quoting on their website and in their arguments. … There’s been a shift. One of the things they do is pretend to be social scientists saying very homophobic things in what appears to be the objective language of science.”

Leap is happy to go anywhere during a phone chat this week. During an hour-plus conversation, he touched on dozens of topics. Among them:

• On understanding how gay language has changed in 20 years: “One of the most important things we’ve learned is that 20 years ago, many folks thought there was a gay language, a gay way of talking where you could identify a particular accent or a single way of doing things and while there’s probably some truth to that, what we’re realizing now is it’s terribly complex. There is no single way of talking, there is no such thing as a gay accent and it really varies across different groups, segments, classes and cultures. … You try to translate a phrase like “coming out of the closet” into French, for example, and their reaction would be, ‘Why would I be in a wardrobe?’ … If they’re actually talking about telling family and friends they’re gay, they would say it in an altogether different way and that’s just one example. Referring to the ‘gayborhood,’ is another that just has no French equivalent. And that’s just using French as an example. You can imagine how this varies around the world.”

 • Is faggot the new “n word”? “Well, yes and no,” Leap says. “A lot of guys use it as a term of self reference but get very angry if somebody else says it about them, so for many it is. It’s kind of like the high school expression, ‘That’s so gay,’ which is widely used as a bullying term. I don’t think this needs a whole lot of theorizing. It’s like queer was 20 years ago. We kind of took it back, made a joke of it and said, ‘You don’t own this term.’ We can do that with fag if we want.”

• Norman Lear could have Archie Bunker say fag on a sitcom 30 years ago but now celebrities who use the word get criticized and not just by GLAAD. What does that say about how language usage has changed? “It’s good because it keeps our issues on the front burner,” Leap says. “Yes, things have come a long way, but I still worry until we have some serious workplace protections in place. All these things we can do to keep that visibility going are good.”

• You say there’s no such thing as gay language, but you hear people say things like, “He was hot until he opened his mouth and a pink umbrella fell out.” People seem to know, at least among gay men in the U.S., pretty universally what that means. Thoughts? “It could be tone, it could be pitch. It’s really interesting because what it really shows us is that there’s no single thing as gay language, it’s really everyone’s perception of it. What they believe gay language to be.”

• Some celebs, when they come out, are very unequivocal. Others, such as Jodie Foster at the Golden Globes last month, don’t use the word lesbian, yet everyone watching knew what she meant. Does that cut it? “Of course it matters. Anyone who’s in a position of relative safety and privilege, should. I’m not going to say she should have, but I would have thought it would have been great and would have meant more to the 9-year-old girl watching. And yet what she did was absolutely wonderful and I’m dying to see a transcript of it, because you’re right, while everybody knew what she meant and it was her most direct statement yet, it was also terribly opaque on some levels. It’s a great example of using language in an indirect way though yeah, it would have been great if she’d just used the L word and been done with it.”

• LGBT has some universality to it, but people, in a quest to be inclusive, have added letters for those questioning, allies and so on. Is that OK? “This is when you see why the word queer has some appeal because it can encompass a whole range of counter-normative identities, aspirations and desires. And yes, this LGBTQ-adding on of letters gets to be this ridiculous alphabet soup where you can’t possibly include everybody in the phone book. A lot of it, for men who are same-sex identified, is, ‘Do you suck cock?’ But even then you have people, like Larry Craig, who are straight identified but like to suck cock. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want him on my team. One of the interesting things this leads to is how people make sense of themselves. You really start to see how many nuances there are to queer language.”

14
Feb
2013

Boy Scouts should embrace full gay inclusion

By MERRICK GARB

Lifting the national ban on gay Boy Scouts is a no-brainer. After all, there are many Cub Scout Packs and Boy Scout Troops that are sponsored by secular or progressive religious institutions. The Girl Scouts ended all discrimination in 1991, and intolerant groups that were offended left to start their own organization. To me, as an Eagle Scout, a far more interesting question is whether individual troops or Boy Scout Councils should still be allowed to discriminate against scouts or parents who acknowledge being gay or atheist.

The Boy Scouts is a large and complicated organization. There are currently 2.6 million youth, another 1 million adult volunteers, and nearly 109,000 units across the country. There is a proud history for the organization, 181 astronauts and four U.S. presidents were at one point scouts. There are three main divisions within the organization: Cub Scouts for youth ages seven to 11; Boy Scouts for teens until age 18, and a parallel co-ed Venturing program for men and women age 14-21. The Boy Scouts occupies a unique place in American culture, as every U.S. president since the organization’s founding in 1910 has also served as honorary president of the BSA.

There is no reason to believe that allowing gay Boy Scouts to rise through the ranks or allowing parents in same-sex relationships to serve as volunteer leaders will somehow endanger the safety of other youth. But beyond this irrational fear of predators, there is resistance to changing the policy for fear that religious groups that sponsor troops will retaliate. Seventy percent of troops are sponsored by a house of worship such as the Catholic and Mormon churches. However, thoughts on this issue run both ways. I have talked to a school principal of a Jewish day school who won’t allow troops to use their meeting space because they don’t want to associate with an organization that discriminates.

So what happens if individual troops or regional councils choose not to lift the ban, even if given that opportunity by the National Council? A Boy Scout who at the age of 12 is not yet sure they are gay could face a more difficult coming out process later. A Council in Alabama may decide that changing the policy is not for them, sending a message to the broader community that gays and parents in same-sex relationships are not accepted. And if a gay scout in rural North Dakota only has one troop nearby that is not tolerant of gays, where will he go?

My fear is that the organization that taught me leadership skills, that gave me the confidence to lead a large-scale Eagle Scout project on my own, and tested me through 44 merit badges won’t evolve. If the national organization lifts the ban but still allows discrimination in some parts of the organization, will corporations and the United Way that have withdrawn millions in charitable funding start giving again? Will the City of Philadelphia, which has been involved in a 10-year legal battle with the local council, now allow a city-owned building to be used as the Scout headquarters for just $1 in rent? Will government entities be allowed to sponsor troops again or will the ACLU file another round of lawsuits? More than continued financial or legal headaches, what kind of society will we have when a teenager says to their friend, “Why would you want to join that troop? Isn’t that the one that accepts gay people?”

The Boy Scouts is a great organization to teach leadership. I have no doubt that the national ban will be lifted, the pressure brought by organizations such as Scouts for Equality or Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is now too great. But for an organization that did not racially integrate all troops until 10 years after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, is just some progress really enough?

Merrick Garb, who earned the top rank of Eagle Scout, is a graduate student at the D.C. campus of Johns Hopkins University.

20
Feb
2013

Surviving Oscar

How to Survive a Plague, AIDS, HIV, gay news, ACT UP, Washington Blade

A scene from David France’s harrowing documentary ‘How to Survive a Plague.’ The film has its Oscar rendezvous Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood where its up for Best Documentary. (Photo courtesy Sundance Selects)

It sounds so straightforward — the New York Public Library had a collection of videotapes AIDS activists made decades ago with vintage camcorders back when they were heavy behemoths you had to rest on your shoulder with full-size VHS or Beta tapes inside. Filmmaker/journalist David France combed painstakingly through the clips to compose his powerful 2012 documentary “How to Survive a Plague.”

But how this was achieved — what format was the footage stored in? What condition was it in? Could anyone go in and check these out with a library card? How did France pull this off?

In some ways, it’s the least interesting part of the film’s story, which is told via a sobering chronology of video footage shot by angry protesters — the kind the Religious Right calls “militant homosexual activists.”

The film has been almost universally praised. The New York Times called it “inspiring” and crackling with “currents of rage, fear, fiery determination and finally triumph.” It has a 100 percent freshness rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes (a film quality-ranking site), several awards including “best documentary” from the Boston Society of Film Critics. This weekend it’s up for both an Independent Spirit Award and an Oscar. Gold Derby, a site that predicts entertainment industry awards, gives it a 4/1 chance at winning the Oscar (behind “Searching for Sugar Man” which it gives 13/8 odds). “5 Broken Cameras,” “The Gatekeepers” and “The Invisible War” (made by the “Outrage” team of Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering) are also nominated.

For “Plauge,” France took footage — some of which was housed at the New York Public Library — shot by 31 videographers and paces it chronologically to the story of the formation of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a group that formed in March 1987 in a spirit of extreme frustration during a speech activist (and “Normal Heart” playwright) Larry Kramer gave at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York.

France, during a lengthy phone interview last weekend before he was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on Tuesday, gladly shares the logistics behind “Plague’s” formation.

A veteran investigative journalist, author and GLAAD Media Award winner (for a GQ piece on gays in Iraq) who’s had his work published in everything from the New Yorker to Ladies’ Home Journal, France says he was a graduate student during the time AIDS hit in the early 1980s and having written about it extensively over the years, he knew activists had brought cameras to their protests. And yes, the process of crafting “Plague” was a lot more involved than simply checking tapes out of the library.

“The tapes from the library are actually just a small portion of the footage you see in the film,” France, who’s gay, says. “That’s really the first door I went through, this archive of AIDS activism video that’s housed in the Manuscript Division of the New York Library, where you go if you want to read Lincoln’s letters. It’s an exclusive corner of the library that’s not accessible to the general public and everybody’s going around wearing white gloves and handling antiquities. In one corner, they have a television and a VCR and you watch the AIDS footage recorded in those early days. It’s just raw footage, not really ever intended for public view. Some of it you’ll be watching and all of a sudden it will go to a gay porn video, which just happened to be on the same tape they recorded on.”

France says the library kept all the tapes — recorded in every home video format on the market in those years as one might imagine — but had transferred them all to the Betacam SP format, a higher resolution tape on larger cassettes that for years was the broadcast standard and is still in use today. France convinced the library to let him take select footage to a nearby production lab and have it digitized. He ended up with about 100 hours and says the process became difficult as the project moved along.

“They’re really not accustomed to working on a film production schedule, so trying to get them to hurry got more and more difficult as we went along,” he says.

And that was just the starting point — in the library footage, France saw other people holding video cameras. He started tracking them down one by one and eventually found a group of people, many long-time AIDS survivors themselves, who had videotape footage they had never revisited. Again, formats remained a challenge.

“We had all this stuff in so many different formats from private collections,” he says. “We were constantly scouring Craigslist and eBay for decks that would play these old tapes. We ended up with about 800 hours and that really became the building blocks of the film.”

And yes, France says it did take some persuasion to get these individuals to hand over their footage.

France says, “A lot of these people had moved on but I think now have started to see the real value in this footage. I think they gradually started to realize, that yes, enough time has passed and now is the time to really use it and this is the project.”

France said his project is timely and important because many of the other landmark AIDS pieces, from Kramer’s play to Randy Shilts’ “And the Band Played On” were written before the era of anti-retroviral therapy when HIV morphed into a more manageable condition.

He says the film is important for anyone interested in the AIDS fight to see.

“There were even people in ACT UP who didn’t know the outcomes of many of these things,” he says. “If you think you know the story of AIDS, this film will surprise you and that goes for just about everybody.”

WASHINGTON BLADE: Will this be your first time at the Academy Awards?

DAVID FRANCE: Yes. I’ve never gotten any closer before than my television screen.

BLADE: Have you watched very often over the years?

FRANCE: Oh yeah. My boyfriend and I always have an Oscar party. With ballots and everything. I’ve never won.

BLADE: What’s your favorite Oscar memory?

FRANCE: Tom Hanks’ acceptance speech when he won for “Philadelphia.” That’s really seared in my memory.

BLADE: What did you think of Michael Moore’s controversial speech when he won the category you’re up for? Ballsy or inappropriate for the occasion?

FRANCE: I think if you’ve got an audience of a billion people and you’ve got something to say, you need to say it. That’s not to say I’m intending any surprises should I have that opportunity.

BLADE: Have you seen the competition?

FRANCE: Of course. They’re all brilliant films.

BLADE: If you win, where will you put Oscar?

FRANCE? I’m not sure. I keep the other awards we’ve won in the production office so everyone on the crew can enjoy them and hopefully see their own contribution but if we get this little gold thing, I’m not sure. I have no idea.

BLADE: Do you feel AIDS, as horrible as it was and is, put gay issues on the national radar and that ended up being a silver lining to the cloud or is that an absurd oversimplification?

FRANCE? No, it’s absolutely true. Before that, gay people were entirely disenfranchised and we were not seen as being contributing members to the culture at all. We had no role whatsoever in civic life … From those ashes (of AIDS), now we have a president who acknowledges us as human beings and Stonewall is mentioned in the same breath as Seneca Falls.

BLADE: How did you feel when Dustin Lance Black won for “Milk”?

FRANCE: I felt it was incredible. He gave a great speech and I thought it was a very, very good movie.

BLADE: Did you plan all along to submit it for a nomination? What’s the process like?

FRANCE: There are all kinds of rules about it playing in New York and L.A. and being reviewed by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and that’s just the first threshold. I was lucky I had a distributor who saw the potential for the film early on and made sure we did everything we needed to do for both the Oscars and the Independent Spirit Awards. … Anytime you make a film, sure, you fantasize about getting an Oscar nomination and it’s really just because you want more people to see it. An Oscar bump is a tremendous thing.

21
Feb
2013