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Francis invited to visit homeless LGBT youth advocacy group

Carl Siciliano, Ali Forney Center, LGBT youth, gay news, homelessness, Washington Blade

Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center. (Photo courtesy of the Ali Forney Center)

NEW YORK – The executive director of an organization that advocates on behalf of homeless LGBT youth invited Pope Francis to visit his group in an open letter the New York Times published on Sunday.

“I greatly respect you as a leader who has shown deep concern for the plight of the poor,” writes Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano. “I invite you to the Ali Forney Center, to meet our abandoned youths and see for yourself how their lives have been devastated and made destitute by religious rejection. I believe that there is no more compelling witness to the harmfulness of the condemnation of homosexuality than the consequent suffering plainly visible in the eyes of our homeless LGBT youths.”

Siciliano, a Catholic who is a former monk, urges Francis to take “urgent action” to protect homeless LGBT youth from the “devastating consequences of religious rejection” he told the Washington Blade on Friday is the most common reason those whom his organization serves are forced from their homes.

“At the heart of the problem is that the church still teaches that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that being gay is disordered,” says Siciliano in his letter to Francis. “I hope that if you understand how this teaching tears families apart and brings suffering to innocent youths, you will end this teaching and prevent your bishops from fighting against the acceptance of LGBT people as equal members of society.”

Siciliano in his letter notes at least 200,000 LGBT youth in the U.S. experienced homelessness in 2013. Statistics further indicate 40 percent of the country’s homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential Christian organization in the world,” writes Siciliano. “By teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that the homosexual orientation is disordered, it influences countless parents and families in societies across the globe to reject their children. In the name of these children, and in light of the love and compassion at the heart of the message of Jesus, I ask that you end this teaching.”

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Home Furnishings paid for the New York Times ad that coincides with Palm Sunday.

Gold told the Blade on Friday he and Faith in America Executive Director Brent Childers had discussed the idea of an open letter to Francis several months ago as a way to further highlight the role they feel organized religion continues to play in the promotion of anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination. Gold said he realized Siciliano “understood the same thing” after reading something that he had written.

“I’m hopeful that putting this out publicly will put this central question on the table, and that all advocacy groups and news media will learn more about it and frankly see how harmful this ‘sin’ teaching is,” Gold told the Blade. “While others tell me this is a heavy lift or you can’t get the Catholic Church to change, I say ‘let’s try.’”

LGBT Catholics have welcomed Francis’ more moderate tone on marriage, homosexuality and other gay-specific issues since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last March. The Vatican’s position on the aforementioned topics has not changed in spite of the Argentine-born pontiff’s more conciliatory tone.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in February sharply criticized the church over its opposition to homosexuality and other declarations that “contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against” LGBT adolescents and children who are raised by same-sex parents. Francis in October is scheduled to host a meeting of Catholic bishops that will focus on strengthening the family.

Siciliano in 2012 criticized New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan over his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples in the Empire State in an open letter the Huffington Post published. He also invited him to visit the Ali Forney Center.

Dolan declined the invitation in what Siciliano categorized to the Blade as a “nasty letter.”

“This is a very ground-breaking pope,” said Siciliano when asked whether he thinks Francis would accept his invitation to visit the Ali Forney Center during any potential visit to the U.S. “I wouldn’t put anything beyond him.”

13
Apr
2014

Long live prophetic voice of James Baldwin

James Baldwin, gay news, Washington Blade

James Baldwin (Photo by Allan Warren; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Back in the day, being on the cover of Time magazine was huge. Then, everyone from salesclerks to Wall Street traders read the newsweekly, and if your face, well known or not, peered out from it on newsstands or in mailboxes, everyone would know your name.

This was especially true when James Baldwin, the iconic novelist, essayist, playwright and poet, who wrote stirringly and eloquently on the civil rights movement, race and sexuality, made the cover of Time on May 13, 1963. Time made Baldwin a celebrity after the publication earlier that year of “The Fire Next Time,” his searing essays on race and civil rights. One of my most vivid youthful memories is that of my Dad pointing to Baldwin’s visage on Time and saying, “That man is our conscience! You’d have to be made of stone not to listen to him.”

I’m remembering this because Baldwin, who died in the South of France at age 63 in 1987, was born in Harlem 90 years ago this year. Yet, the legacy of Baldwin, black and openly gay years before Stonewall, and one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, is fading in many classrooms, the New York Times reported recently. Fortunately, steps are being taken to commemorate and preserve Baldwin’s legacy.

From April 23-27, the New York Live Arts festival “James Baldwin, This Time” began a year-long celebration of Baldwin in venues from Harlem Stage to the Columbia University School of the Arts. In 2013, “Giovanni’s Room” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” two novels by Baldwin were reissued by Vintage. “Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems” by James Baldwin is just out from Beacon Press.

“James Baldwin served as the conscience of America during the civil rights movement,” Matthew Rothschild, senior editor of The Progressive, which published Baldwin’s famous “Letter to My Nephew in 1962,” emailed the Blade. “He wrote with tremendous power.”

Today, when same-sex couples can marry in 17 states and in D.C., out writers from poets to playwrights are a dime a dozen, and the United States has a black president, it’s hard to imagine how prescient and bold Baldwin was.

“When you were starting out as a writer, you were a black, impoverished, homosexual,” an interviewer said to Baldwin. “You must have said to yourself: ‘gee, how disadvantaged could I get?’”

“Oh, no, I thought I hit the jackpot!” Baldwin replied. “It was so outrageous you could not go any further. You had to figure out a way to use it.”

Baldwin “used it” spectacularly: to speak truth to power, spur on writers, to electrify his time and generations to come with his tender, precise, pointed, words, presence and spirit.  “Black, gay, beautiful, bejeweled, eyes like orbs, searching, dancing, calling a spade a spade … Baldwin was dangerous to anybody who had anything to hide,” Nikki Finney writes in the introduction to “Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems.”

He was “a man who had no … no concept of his place,” Finney continues, “who nurtured conversation with Black Panthers and the white literati on the same afternoon.”

Poets can be prophets, E. Ethelbert Miller, poet and director of Howard University’s African-American Resource Center, said in a telephone interview with the Blade. “Baldwin was a prophetic voice. He was in the middle between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X – between the church and the blues,” Miller said. “He’s wrestling with how to talk about love and sex.”

The blues gives you a feeling of strength as well as of suffering, Miller said.

“The blues gives you a sense of resilience that enables you to confront what they throw at you,” Miller said. “Baldwin wouldn’t have anyone restricting who he wants to love.”

Why does Baldwin’s legacy matter? Because we still perpetuate and encounter homophobia and racism; and great writing still nourishes our hearts and minds. Happy Birthday, Mr. Baldwin! Long live your prophetic voice!

Kathi Wolfe, a poet and writer, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

30
Apr
2014

A giant step for equality

In looking toward the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions, Adam Liptak wrote in the New York Times, “Gay men and lesbians have yet to achieve formal legal equality. They are not protected against job discrimination in much of the nation, may not marry their same-sex partners in most of it and do not have their marriages recognized by the federal government in any of it.”

Walter Dellinger, former acting Solicitor General in the Clinton administration wrote in Slate, “it is hard to overstate the importance of the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision in United States v. Windsor. At issue is the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defines ‘spouse,’ and ‘marriage,’ for all federal purposes, to exclude same-sex couples. According to the solicitor general, there are 1,138 federal laws and programs affected by this definition. As a result of DOMA, same-sex couples legally married under their own state’s laws are nonetheless denied benefits otherwise afforded to married couples under federal employment laws, Social Security laws, tax laws, immigration laws and myriad other programs. It is a simple as this: As long as DOMA is in effect, no gay couple anywhere in this country is truly married. If a gay couple is deemed not to be married for more than 1,000 purposes governed by federal law, it’s hard to say that anything approaching marriage equality exists anywhere in the country, no matter how many states allow same-sex couples to marry.”

With its decision on DOMA, the Supreme Court made clear that some members of the LGBT community are for the first time truly married. By ruling 5-4 that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment, the court said that the federal government can’t discriminate against and deny federal benefits to couples that are legally married in a state.

The decision means that the 1,138 benefits, including those that Dellinger mentioned, will now have to be looked at by the Obama administration and they will have to determine how they are applicable for gay and lesbian married couples.

The Obama administration has known for a long time that this case could be decided in favor of overturning Section 3 of DOMA. It is hoped that the administration has been looking at these rights agency by agency and is prepared to make decisions on how the government will deal with them. The president must be prepared to sign any executive orders that are needed to move forward on granting those rights. We have seen that the president has not been willing to sign the executive order barring job bias in federal contracting but it has to be the expectation of the LGBT community that we will not be forced to wait too long for the decisions on all these issues.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said, “The Constitution’s guarantee of equality must at the very least mean that a bare congressional de­sire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot justify disparate treatment of that group.”

In the Proposition 8 case, the court denied standing and said the decision of the Ninth Circuit is vacated and remanded. Following the scenario in an amicus brief submitted by Dellinger, which was referenced by the justices during oral arguments, they limited that ruling to allowing gay marriage in California. They did not make a statement that gay marriage must be considered legal in all states. The result is that for the time being the LGBT community and our allies will have to continue fighting for our equal rights state by state. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.” So within 30 days, same-sex couples will again be able to marry in California.

Today we have taken a huge step forward for equality and we continue the fight for our full civil and human rights knowing that we will win because we are on the right side of history.

27
Jun
2013

NY Times columnist to talk marriage

mass wedding, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Supreme Court, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, Prop 8, DOMA, gay news, LGBT, Washington Blade, marriage equality

Frank Bruni will speak about the recent shift in public opinion on same-sex marriage in America. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Frank Bruni, New York Times’ first openly gay op-ed columnist, will speak about the recent shift in public sentiment on gay marriage in America.  The event takes place on Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. at Goucher College Kraushaar Auditorium, 1021 Dulaney Valley Rd. in Towson.

Bruni, Goucher’s fall 2013 Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Visiting Professor, has been an op-ed columnist for The New York Times since June 2011. He joined the paper in 1995, first working for the metropolitan desk. He and three colleagues won the George Polk Award that year for coverage of the child-abuse death of Elisa Izquierdo.

He later moved to the Washington bureau, covering Congress and George W. Bush’s presidential campaign and first year in office. He left Washington to serve as the Rome bureau chief from 2002 to 2004 and then became the Times’ chief restaurant critic from 2004 to 2009.

Bruni has consistently contributed to the Times’ Sunday magazine, and during two periods—most recently from 2009 to 2011—he was one of its staff writers. From 2010 to 2011, he additionally wrote a column on bars and drinking, called “The Tipsy Diaries.”

He has also written two New York Times best sellers: a memoir, “Born Round” (2009), and “Ambling Into History” (2003), a chronicle of George W. Bush’s campaign for the presidency, and he was the co-author of “A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church” (1993).

The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Visiting Professorship was created to bring distinguished scholars, teachers, and practitioners to Goucher’s campus to advance local and national dialogues on pressing issues of our time. Tickets are $10 general admission. Visit here for tickets or call 410-337-6333.

25
Sep
2013

College cancels gay marriage lecture

John Corvino, gay news, Washington Blade

Dr. John Corvino of Wayne State University in Detroit was to have spoken at the event. (Photo courtesy of johncorvino.com)

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—A Catholic college in Rhode Island has cancelled a lecture that a prominent same-sex marriage supporter had been scheduled to give on Thursday.

Hugh Lena, provost and senior vice president of Providence College, cited a 2004 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in an e-mail the New York Times reported he sent on Sept. 21 that announced the cancellation of the event at which Dr. John Corvino of Wayne State University in Detroit was to have spoken.

“The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement that Lena referenced reads. “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Rhode Island is among the 13 states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

Lena announced his decision to cancel Corvino’s lecture two days after Jesuit journals across the world published an interview with Pope Francis in which he said the Catholic Church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage and other social issues.

“Pope Francis, the Catholic Church’s new leader, has been justly celebrated for his welcoming tone towards gays and lesbians,” Corvino wrote on his website. “Notwithstanding my abrupt dis-invitation, I remain hope that Providence College may soon reflect that tone.”

25
Sep
2013

Putin’s unlikely American allies

Vladimir Putin, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo public domain)

Vladimir Putin has found some unlikely U.S. allies in his efforts at smearing lipstick on the pig that is his oppressive government.

MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, who’s gay, released a self-important announcement last week that he plans to co-host the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, crowing that “courage is contagious.”

“I am not going to boycott,” Thomas writes. “Boycotting and vilifying from the outside is too easy. Rather, I choose to offer my support of the LGBT community in Russia by going to Moscow and hosting this event as a journalist, an anchor and a man who happens to be gay. Let people see I am no different than anyone else.”

Let’s unpack this fantastical statement. First, those who have assailed Putin’s anti-gay laws aren’t “vilifying” Putin or Russia. They are rightly condemning harsh laws that have led to violent attacks on Russian gays. That chorus has included figures from President Obama to Bravo’s Andy Cohen (who turned down the Miss Universe hosting job) to newly out actor Wentworth Miller. They have condemned Russia’s push to criminalize pro-gay “propaganda” and efforts to ban couples from countries where same-sex marriage is legal from adopting children.

Second, touting your journalistic credentials while accepting a cheesy gig from none other than Donald Trump, who owns the pageant, is downright laughable. Trump has been outspoken in his staunch opposition to marriage equality. Rather than take questions from actual journalists, Roberts interviewed Trump on his own show to discuss the controversy last week. The two talked a big game of taking on Putin’s anti-gay laws.

“The gay groups in Moscow are loving the fact that we are going over there,” Trump said. “ … So I think that you’re going to do something about it, and I think that I’m going to do something about it.”

They didn’t elaborate on what exactly they plan to do about it, nor did they name any Russian gay groups that are allegedly celebrating this tawdry pandering.

Finally, Roberts thinks that allowing viewers to see that he’s “no different from anyone else” will somehow improve life for Russian gays. The reality is that viewers won’t see anything that Russian censors don’t want to be shown. Viewers will see the photogenic Roberts dutifully reading his teleprompter, towing the line for his homophobic boss Trump.

Roberts’ ego knows no bounds as he compares his “courage” to that of Harvey Milk, writing, “I go to prove there’s hope.” Roberts’ actions — accepting a big fat paycheck from a homophobic Tea Party birther like Trump to host a beauty pageant — bare no resemblance to activism or journalism. Roberts is shilling for Trump’s corporate interests and, in the process, giving cover to an oppressive government. He should reconsider and drop out of this train wreck if he hopes to preserve whatever is left of his credibility.

And Roberts isn’t alone in giving cover and comfort to Putin. The Washington Post and New York Times continue to publish supplements, thinly disguised as “advertorials,” paid for by the Russian government. The special sections are inserted into the print editions of the newspapers and amount to nothing more than pro-Putin propaganda.

Publishers make decisions all the time about what kinds of advertising to accept and reject, including ads for alcohol, cigarettes and sexually oriented businesses, among others. The Post and Times cover Putin’s anti-gay efforts on their editorial pages but then, as readers turn the page, they are subjected to unchecked pro-Putin propaganda. Surely Jeff Bezos, the Post’s new owner and $21 billion man, doesn’t need Putin’s money. He’s talked of reinventing newspapers for the digital age. Let’s hope the industry’s future doesn’t lie in trading credibility for a quick buck from dictators, despots and killers like Putin.

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

21
Oct
2013

Why coming out still matters

Mike Michaud, Democratic Party, Maine, gay news, Washington Blade, coming out

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) (Photo public domain)

Growing up, I never dreamed that openly LGBT people could be politicians, athletes or celebs, let alone thrive as teachers, cops, doctors or clergy. It was shocking news when the late Rock Hudson was outed by AIDS; tennis icon Billie Jean King revealed she is a lesbian; and former Rep. Barney Frank came out. Yet, as I write this, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who’s running for governor, has just come out as gay, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

“My #gaydar missed it, but happy to welcome @RepMikeMIchaud to team lgbt,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who is gay, tweeted. Many in the media agree with Michaud, who wrote in an op-ed column in the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, “Why should [being gay] matter?”

Media mavens had the same reaction recently when Gawker, the news and gossip site, seemingly confirmed what many have long suspected: Fox News anchor Shepard Smith is likely gay. Smith was in a New York bar with “a muscular 6-foot-2-30-something white male.”

“At a time when gay people can marry and fly helicopters in the Marines, is it time to consign outing to history, alongside other 90′s crazes like Zima and square-toed shoes?” Alex Williams wrote in the New York Times about Gawker’s Smith reveal.

At the risk of sounding so 1999, I beg to differ. We can marry now in 14 states plus Washington, D.C.; a celeb comes out every nano-sec; and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed. Coming out often no longer involves the drama, tears, fears and angst of yesteryear.  When I was young, I felt like I was in an “After School” special when I told my family I was queer. Last summer, when I saw relatives for the first time in years, we chatted about same-sex weddings we’d attended. Jim Parsons of the “Big Bang Theory” came out seamlessly by briefly mentioning his partner in a New York Times interview.

“That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer,” Michaud wrote in the op-ed saying that he’s gay, “One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”

Michaud’s being gay has nothing to do with how effective a governor he would make.  Yet, fair or not, his being gay and coming out do matter. Michaud isn’t a right-wing, anti-gay hypocrite. Yet, he didn’t come out voluntarily. He disclosed his sexual orientation after his opponents insinuated that he’s queer. “I wasn’t surprised to learn about the whisper campaigns … some of the people opposed to my candidacy have been using to raise questions about my personal life,” Michaud wrote in his op-ed. “They want people to question whether I am gay.  Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer. Yes I am.”

Some may not care who Shepard Smith dates or which celebrities and politicians are closeted. Yet many of us still struggle with homophobia. In this country, you can be fired in the workplace for being gay in 29 states, and 33 states have no protection for employment discrimination based on gender identity. While ENDA is likely to pass the U.S. Senate, it’s unlikely to be passed by the House of Representatives.

My friend Penny recently talked to her pal. “Her 19-year-old nephew just came out,” she said, “ His father said to him, ‘being gay is a sin! How can you still go to church?’”

This young man’s story is far from unique. In a world where despite much progress, homophobia remains a part of our daily life, coming out still matters.

06
Nov
2013

A reminder to boycott the red buckets

Salvation Army, red bucket, charity, anti-gay, homophobia, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Cory Doctorow; courtesy Creative Commons)

By KONRAD JUENGLING

The Salvation Army is one of the most recognized charities in the United States. Each holiday we see the bell ringers outside of businesses collecting change in pots while the bell ringer shivers in the cold. It’s a regular part of the shopping experience while we rush about to get the presents that we need.

When I was a child, I always asked my mom for change so that I could give it to the bell ringers and feel like I did something that made a difference. The difference people are making when they donate to the Salvation Army, though, is a difference for a very select population of people: heterosexual Christians. What a lot of people, myself included until recently, do not realize is that the SA is actively and institutionally homophobic and works against people in the LGBTQ community.

This inequality is built into the very structure of the SA. For this self styled “evangelical part of the universal Christian Church,” the homophobia is literally written into its handbook. For its position statement on LGBTQ individuals, ”The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life.” Telling people that they are not entitled to love another person because of their sexuality is degrading and inappropriate. You could argue that they are only staying true to their beliefs, but what if one of their beliefs was not to help African Americans? Or the disabled? Is it appropriate for a tax-exempt organization to discriminate against a certain population of minorities?

Mark Oppenheimer wrote a 2011 story for the New York Times solely about the SA turning away people because they are gay. While the SA has denied this, with their culture of discrimination and continued media reports, it’s a slim-to-none chance that people aren’t experiencing that discrimination when they look for help. We’ve also seen the SA threatening to leave New York City altogether in 2004 if they were “forced” to abide by the law of requiring health benefits for employees’ same-sex partners. In 2012, we heard SA media relations official Major Andrew Craibe imply on national radio that gays should be put to death. These aren’t isolated incidents; they’re just a small sampling of the SA’s continued dedication to only minister to heterosexuals.

Donating to an organization that actively works against LGBTQ rights supports the belief that heterosexual people are worth more than LGBTQ people. For those that believe that people are all equal, tossing your coins into the red bucket is in direct contrast to that. For those that donate to the Salvation Army, you’re saying that it’s OK to discriminate and to turn needy people away because they are different than the majority. These aren’t the values that Christianity, America or common sense ascribe to. Instead of donating to SA, donate to the American Red Cross if you’re looking for a large organization. If you want something a little smaller, there are any number of local shelters that would be grateful for your support.

When shopping, remember how you choose to spend (and donate) your money shows support for that organization; just make sure you’re supporting the right cause. Skip the red buckets and support an inclusive, non-discriminatory organization that truly wants to help everyone that comes through its doors.

Konrad Juengling is attending Portland State University with the goal of working with juvenile sex offenders.

17
Dec
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

Takano calls on Obama to speak out on Prop 8

Mark Takano, United States House, California, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) is calling on President Obama to participate in the Prop 8 case (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A freshman openly gay member of Congress from California is calling on President Obama to participate in litigation challenging Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court as the administration has done in the DOMA case.

In a letter dated Feb. 26, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) asks President Obama to instruct his Justice Department to argue Prop 8 is unconstitutional on the basis it should be subjected to heightened scrutiny — or a greater assumption it’s unconstitutional — just as it did in a brief filed last week in the case against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I strongly and respectfully ask that the United States provide an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Perry to explain how heightened scrutiny, the standard that the United States urges be applied to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, applies to Proposition 8,” Takano writes. “A brief by the United States will assist the Supreme Court to see that Proposition 8 fails heightened scrutiny and does not further any proper governmental objectives.”

Takano explains in his letter that Prop 8, a ballot initiative that was approved by California voters in 2008, affects couples in his state and district who are unable to marry because of the amendment.

“My district includes thousands of loving gay and lesbian couples, who are not able to marry due to Proposition 8,” Takano writes. “They are our families, our friends and neighbors. They are doctors, veterans, teachers, gardeners, firefighters and police officers. They are Americans. Every day that they cannot enjoy the same rights and obligations enjoyed by other Americans, they and their families suffer.”

The White House has repeatedly declined comment on whether it’ll participate in the Prop 8 lawsuit before the Supreme Court, although President Obama has said Solicitor Donald Verrilli is “looking” at filing a brief. In response to the Takano letter, a White House spokesperson deferred comment to the Justice Department, which didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment.

Other LGBT advocates have been calling on President Obama to participate in the Prop 8 case, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, by filing a friend-of-the-court brief. The deadline for them to file a friend-of-the-court brief is Thursday.

Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, announced on Monday that his organization shares the desire for Obama to participate in the Prop 8 case.

“President Obama has already weighed in on DOMA, but as he himself said in his inaugural address: ‘Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,’” Graddick said. “With less than four days left to act, it is time for the administration to make its views known directly to the U.S. Supreme Court by filing a friend of the court brief in the Proposition 8 case as well.”

Takano’s letter comes on the same day as The New York Times reported that more than 75 prominent Republicans have signed their own friend-of-court brief asking the Supreme Court to strike down Proposition 8.

Among the signers of that brief is Ken Mehlman, the gay former chair of the Republican National Committee, who is credited with organizing the brief. Another signature is from Hewlett-Packard CEO and former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who campaigned in support of Prop 8.

Two Republican members of Congress who have sponsored legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act — Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) — are also among the signers. They are the only two Republicans currently holding federal office who signed the brief.

Other signers are former Utah governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who publicly came out in favor of marriage equality last week, as well as GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, who helped with John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and came out in support of marriage equality in a 2009 interview with the Washington Blade.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the brief as reported by the New York Times reflects the growing support for marriage equality — even within the Republican Party.

“A who’s who of the Republican Party has come before the Supreme Court to affirm that support for the freedom to marry is a mainstream position that reflects American values of freedom, family, and fairness, as well as conservative values of limited government and personal responsibility,” Wolfson said. “As opposition to the freedom to marry becomes increasingly isolated and the exclusion from marriage increasingly indefensible, Americans all across the political spectrum are saying it’s time to end marriage discrimination, do right by families, and get our country on the right side of history.”

26
Feb
2013