Why LGBT people fear Trump could erase our history

We must protect the Stonewall Inn:

The LGBT community has been quietly under attack by the White House since Trump took office

The Stonewall Inn’s status as a national landmark may be at risk following Donald Trump’s plans to review all sites similarly designated by his presidential predecessor

The Salt Lake Tribune has reported that Trump will sign an executive order Wednesday calling on federal authorities to revisit all such designations made in the previous two decades in order to “discern whether their size and scope” are within the original “intent” of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Established under Teddy Roosevelt, the law lets the president use the powers of his office to preserve any “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects” deemed of “historic or scientific interest.”

One of the 29 landmarks subject to review by the Trump Administration is the Stonewall Inn, which President Barack Obama designated as a national monument last year. Revoking the landmark status of Stonewall, the site of the 1969 riots that marked a groundbreaking moment for the nascent gay liberation movement, would amount to the ultimate erasure of a community that has been quietly under attack by the White House since Trump’s inauguration. The president has spent his first 100 days relentlessly rolling back the rights of LGBT people, even as he has insisted that he’s a champion for queer and transgender equality.

Stonewall is more than just a bar. It’s a symbol for the crucial progress that the LGBT community has made over the past five decades, as well as a reminder that we still must struggle to be seen as human in a country where queer and trans folks continue to be killed for living our truths. To take Stonewall’s landmark status away would be more than an erasure of LGBT people. It would be assault upon the very foundations of our movement.

The recognition of Stonewall’s historical import came at a devastating time for the LGBT community. Obama announced that the iconic establishment, located in New York’s Greenwich Village, would be added to the monuments list following the June 12 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which a lone gunman killed 49 people. In a speech following the gay bar massacre, Obama remarked that Pulse had been a “safe haven” for the LGBT community. He said that the club was “a place to sing and dance, and most importantly, to be who you truly are.”

That is the purpose that bars have always served for LGBT people, as places to organize and build community but also to have the fullness of our identities recognized. The Stonewall riots, violence that erupted during a six-day standoff with police in June 1969, marked a watershed moment in the willingness of LGBT folks to fight for our visibility and our right to exist. The riots were a response to frequent police raids of gay bars across the country — disruptions that had provoked a similar demonstration at Los Angeles’ Black Cat Tavern two years earlier. That pervasive police brutality was a staple of gay life in the 1960s — with queer people being beaten and thrown into jail for doing nothing more than being themselves. And they had had enough.

Although LGBT folks had been organizing for decades, Stonewall forced a community that spent most of its history underground out into the open. The demonstration was commemorated the following year with the nation’s first Pride parades, but Stonewall would continue to serve as a symbolic site to which LGBT people returned for decades to come — in celebration, struggle and even mourning. It was the site where marriage equality activists cheered the legalization of same-sex unions in 2015, where we remembered the Pulse victims a year later, and where a community gathered in shock and sadness following the 2016 election. Last November crowds gathered outside Stonewall as the LGBT community struggled to figure out what was next.

Speculation that Trump will take action against Stonewall might seem to you like knee-jerk liberal outrage, and perhaps it is. We have no way of knowing what’s on the president’s agenda. But Trump has given the LGBT community every reason to be concerned that he will continue to do everything in his power to be applauded for being an ally while quietly working against our welfare.

During the 2016 election, Trump claimed he would be a “friend” to the LGBT community, but his administration has represented the greatest setback to queer and trans rights in decades. Shortly after taking office, the president announced that he would be revoking guidance issued by the Obama White House in 2016 on best practices for K-12 administrators in regard to respecting the identities of trans students. Although he has claimed he will not repeal a 2014 executive order that granted nondiscrimination protection to federal contractors, Trump has nixed oversight of those regulations, making the Obama order difficult to enforce.

Trump has done almost nothing to show the LGBT community he would be the defender of our rights that he claimed he would be. Under his watch, the government revoked questions about elderly LGBT people on two federal surveys, making it harder to gauge the needs of a marginalized and vulnerable population. Studies show that older LGBT adults are twice as likely as their peers to be single and live alone, as well as three to four times less likely than heterosexuals to have children to take care of them and offer support. This population needs our advocacy, not more isolation and invisibility.

That’s precisely what many fear is happening under the current presidency — that Trump is not only chipping away at LGBT rights but also erasing queer and trans people from public life.

It’s impossible not to feel that way when every single day Trump gives the LGBT community, which has weathered decades of struggle, a reason to be fear that his White House is no different from the police officers who kicked down the doors of Stonewall in the 1960s. Nearly every member of his Cabinet is a committed opponent of LGBT rights. This includes the secretary of state, who tried to block an LGBT student group from meeting on a public campus, as well as the secretary of education, whose family has donated millions to anti-gay causes. Most recently, Trump nominated as secretary of the Army,Mark Green, a Tennessee state senator who claimed that transgender people are “evil” and need to be “crushed.”

The president’s stripping Stonewall of its landmark status might appear to some to be an outrageous and absurd suggestion, but it would be no different than what happens on any other day in Trump’s White House. He might have waved a rainbow flag one time at a rally, but that doesn’t mean that the president cares one iota about what our community needs, wants or deserves.

If there’s one thing that could stop Trump from repealing Stonewall’s place among U.S. national monuments, it’s not his deep and abiding love for “the gays,” his preferred moniker for the community. It’s the limits of presidential power.

Robert D. Rosenbaum, the chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of the National Parks Conservation Association, wrote in The Washington Post that the president has the power only to make a particular site a recognized landmark, not to revoke the designation of previously recognized locations. Although members of Congress who want Trump to revisit designations like those for Utah’s Bears Ears Monument and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (both Obama picks) assert that he has “implied power” to take them off the registry, Rosenbaum has claimed the president does not. That power, Rosenbaum said, is allotted “exclusively to Congress.”

Stonewall, as it has for decades, will likely withstand this latest challenge to the LGBT community. But its future should be protected from people like Trump, who are the very reason that we must keep fighting for our liberty and our very right to exist. Our history is too important to erase.




Democrats debate identity politics


By Niles Niemuth
15 December 2016

In the aftermath of the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, a heated debate has been raging in Democratic Party circles over the efficacy of identity politics and its role in the party’s electoral debacle.

Some figures within the party and its periphery have raised concerns that the overriding focus on racial and gender politics has prevented the Democrats from making an effective appeal to broader segments of society beyond those in better-off and more privileged layers of the middle class.

In a November 18 New York Times op-ed column titled “The End of Identity Liberalism,” Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla, seeking to draw the lessons of Clinton’s loss to Trump, writes: “In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”

While Clinton was “at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they related to our understanding of democracy,” he asserts, “when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, LGBT and women voters at every stop.”

This focus on identity was a “strategic mistake,” Lilla writes. He calls instead for a “post-identity” liberalism that places a greater emphasis on civic duty and a new nationalism, drawing inspiration, in part, from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Lilla’s column corresponds to remarks made by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders following the election. Sanders campaigned for Clinton after failing in his bid to win the Democratic nomination, but now he is implicitly criticizing her focus on racial and gender politics. “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me!’” he said in a recent speech. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

The actual content of Sanders’ proposals is reactionary. In the name of “taking on the corporations” he advocates an aggressive economic nationalism that echoes the “America-first” trade war program of Trump. Nor does Lilla propose any serious program to challenge the interests of the corporate elite. In his commentary he makes a vague reference to the Democrats’ long-abandoned policies of social reform, but he does so to advocate not a struggle against the corporate elite, but rather a new, “left” form of American nationalism. His “post-identity liberalism” would “speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.”

What is most striking, however, is the hysterical response such muted criticisms have evoked. The most vociferous attack on Lilla’s article has come from Columbia University law professor Katherine M. Franke, who equates Lilla with the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, in a blog post published by the Los Angeles Review of Books on November 21.

“In the new political climate we now inhabit, Duke and Lilla were contributing to the same ideological project, the former cloaked in a KKK hood, the latter in an academic gown,” Franke writes. “Both men are underwriting the whitening of American nationalism, and the re-centering of white lives as lives that matter most in the US. Duke is happy to own the white supremacy of his statements, while Lilla’s op-ed does the more nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable. Again.”

For Franke, any move away from a politics based on racial and gender identity is equivalent to the promotion of racism and misogyny. “Let me be blunt: this kind of liberalism is a liberalism of white supremacy,” she declares. “It is a liberalism that regards the efforts of people of color and women to call out forms of power that sustain white supremacy and patriarchy as a distraction. It is a liberalism that figures the lives and interests of white men as the neutral, unmarked terrain around which a politics of ‘common interest’ can and should be built.”

These remarks are echoed by Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, who denounces criticism of identity politics as the “primal scream of the straight white male.” She argues that those who want to “emphasise what we have in common instead of focusing on the differences” have a “delightfully kumbaya view of the world.”

Journalist Tasneem Raja, in a commentary published on National Public Radio’s Code Switch blog, which is dedicated to racial and identity politics, rejects Lilla’s criticisms as support for white supremacy. She accuses Lilla of being “keen on pulling the plug on conversations about multiculturalism and diversity” and thereby unconsciously playing “right into the hands of the newly emboldened neo-Nazis who helped put Trump in office…”

The unhinged response to Lilla’s column reflects entrenched social interests. Franke speaks on behalf of a layer of American academics for whom the politics of identity is a central mechanism for accessing positions of affluence and privilege.

Identity politics has become an entrenched industry. Many of its professional proponents have high-paying academic positions in black and gender studies. Such institutions are funded to the tune of billions of dollars and politically tied to the Democratic Party and corporate America.

According to her university biography, Franke’s research is focused on feminist, queer and critical race theory. She is the director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, a member of the Executive Committee for the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality, and a member of the Steering Committee for the Center for the Study of Social Difference.

The relationship of the Democratic Party–and bourgeois politics as a whole–to identity politics is not accidental or secondary. The fixation on the politics of race and gender is inextricably bound up with the protracted shift of the Democratic Party to the right, in line with the drive by the ruling class to claw back all of the gains that workers won through bitter struggle, particularly in the 1930s and the decades following the Second World War.

For the past half century, as it abandoned any commitment to social reform, the Democratic Party adopted identity politics and programs such as Affirmative Action as its modus operandi, building up around it a privileged layer of the upper-middle class on this basis. This period has at the same time seen a historic growth in social inequality, including, and especially, within minority groups and among women.

Between 2005 and 2013, black households earning more than $75,000 were the fastest growing income group in the country, while the top one percent possessed more than 200 percent the wealth of the average black family. Despite the enrichment of this small but substantial and influential layer, the vast majority of African Americans remain deeply impoverished. Half of black households, nearly 7 million people, have little to no household worth.

At the same time, large parts of the country populated by supposedly privileged white workers, particularly in the so called Rust Belt states where Trump defeated Clinton, have been devastated economically by deindustrialization.

Identity politics found its consummate expression in the Clinton campaign, which was based on an alliance of Wall Street, the military-intelligence apparatus and the right-wing purveyors of racial and gender politics.

The proponents of identity politics such as Franke are opposed to economic and social equality. They regard any orientation to working people on a class basis as a threat to their own racial- or gender-based privileges. They are deeply hostile to the working class—black and Latino as well as white.

The anger that these forces direct toward Lilla will be turned with even greater intensity against a politically independent movement of the working class


Inside Milo’s “gays for Trump”

Far-right leaders Milo Yiannopoulos, Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders gave pro-Trump, pro-LGBT, anti-Muslim speeches


Inside Milo's "gays for Trump," virulently anti-Islam party at the RNC
Milo Yiannopoulos at the “Wake Up!” pro-Trump, anti-Muslim LGBT party at the RNC (Credit: Salon/Ben Norton)

The most far-right party at the 2016 Republican National Convention may have also been the most pro-LGBT.

Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos held a “gays for Trump” party late Tuesday night in Cleveland.

He was joined by far-right anti-Muslim leaders Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders. All three gave adoringly pro-Trump speeches full of anti-Muslim vitriol.

The rhetoric was strikingly reminiscent of the extreme anti-Semitism of the early 20th century, yet directed at Muslims instead of Jews. All of the speakers explicitly condemned Islam itself, not just Islamic extremism.

LGBT for Trump founder Cris Barron stressed the importance of defending “Western civilization” from the existential threat posed by Muslims.

Wilders spoke of a “war” against Islam. He proclaimed “Islam is the problem” and condemned refugees for turning Europe into “Eurabia.”

Geller joined the speakers in applauding Trump’s “ban on Muslims from jihad nations,” which she called a “logical, rational and reasonable” policy.

Milo called Trump “the most pro-gay candidate in American electoral history” and proclaimed, “The left’s stranglehold on homosexuals is over.”

Not one speaker mentioned U.S. and European foreign policy and wars, instead conflating the Islamic extremism fueled by Western-backed military conflicts and the political Islamism spread by Western allies with the millennium-old religion practiced by 1.6 billion Muslims.

The speakers all also excoriated the left, which they accused of supporting Islamism and of valuing Muslims over LGBT people.

Chris Barron (Credit: Salon/Ben Norton)

Chris Barron (Credit: Salon/Ben Norton)

The art used to publicize the event is a cartoon depicting Donald Trump as a superhero, joined by sidekicks Milo and Geller.

The party, which was officially named “Wake Up! (the most fab party at the RNC),” was a big event for the so-called “alt-right,” a far-right movement that supports liberal social policies and portrays itself in certain ways as libertarian, but harbors some extreme right-wing, fascistic views.

A large yellow Gadsden flag reading “Don’t tread on me,” a common libertarian symbol, was in fact hung on the wall behind the DJ, but the speakers are people who have no problem with big government when it comes to Muslims and migration.

Unlike the so-called New Atheists, who claim they oppose all religions equally — although they reserve particular hatred for Islam and Muslims — the alt-right does not feign impartiality.

Milo mentioned his Catholicism, and Geller openly argued that Christianity and Judaism are better religions than Islam, insisting Islamic law subjugates non-Muslims while Canon and Jewish law do not repress those of other faiths.

Chris Barron, the founder of the pro-LGBT conservative NGO GOProud and the leader of the “LGBT for Trump” campaign, introduced the speakers.

Barron set the tone of the event right from the get-go, warning a “radical Islamic ideology” threatened LGBT Americans. He called it a “life or death situation.”

Barron and the other speakers blamed the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando in June on Islam, although the U.S.-born shooter was likely himself gay and had previously attended the club. Additionally, a former gay lover of his called it a “revenge” attack.

Trump not only supports LGBT people, Barron claimed, but also employs them, “making gay people part of the Trump empire.”

None of the speakers mentioned Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, although the Trump poster on the podium clearly displayed his name.

Protesters outside the event uniting under the name Queers Against Racism emphasized that Pence has a long history of openly opposing LGBT rights, including voting for legislation that allows business to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

While they stood behind the Trump-Pence poster, all the speakers also stood in front of photography depicting young slim white men wearing “Make America great again” hats. These works are part of a series by art photographer Lucian Wintrich titled “Twinks4Trump.” Wintrich told Salon he will soon be having a Trump-themed gallery exhibit in New York City’s East Village.

Barron noted that the event was funded by far-right website Breitbart; Andrew Marcus, director of the film “Hating Breitbart”; and Mike Flynn, the founding editor of Breitbart’s Big Government blog, who passed away in June. Barron also thanked Fox News for its support.

Geert Wilders (Credit: Salon/Ben Norton)

Geert Wilders (Credit: Salon/Ben Norton)

Geert Wilders, a far-right politician from the Netherlands who has frequently beendescribed as a fascist, was the first to speak at the party.

Barron introduced Wilders as the “hope for Western civilization,” rhetoric the Dutch leader himself frequently uses.

Wilders opened his speech warning Europe has been turned into “Eurabia,” due to Arab and Muslim migration.

“Europe is imploding,” he claimed, adding it has been flooded with “jihadis.”

“It will only get worse,” Wilders insisted, because Europe’s “stupid governments” keep letting in refugees from Muslim-majority countries.

He called open borders “the worst policy ever.” He also condemned “cultural relativism, the biggest disease in Europe today.”

Wilders claimed refugees and migrants are not integrating and assimilating into white European culture, leading to a “suicide policy.”

The far-right Dutch leader stressed that the enemy is not just Islamic extremism, but Islam itself.

“Get rid of your political correctness,” Wilders declared, as the audience went wild. “Islam and Sharia law are exactly the same,” he said, warning Americans not to “allow Islam to be planted in your soil.”

He accused Muslim migrants of being behind an “explosion of crime, rape… of harassment of our daughters, of the gay community.”

“We are at war,” Wilders proclaimed and reiterated, claiming Sharia law is being implemented in Europe and the U.S.

“Islam is the problem,” he stated clearly, condemning “bullshit about ‘radical Islam.’” The audience applauded loudly, and a young man with a Trump hat on shouted, “Send them back!”

“I don’t want any more mosques in the Netherlands,” Wilders said. He proposed closing borders to Muslim refugees and migrants and deporting those in the country. Then the government should “de-Islamize” society, he said, not expanding on what exactly he meant.

Wilders called for electing new far-right leaders. “We are no longer represented,” he lamented, and boasted that his far-right Freedom Party is on the verge of taking state power, having topped the polls for a year.

“We have no alternative,” Wilders concluded. “We will win this war.”

Pamela Geller (Credit: Salon/Ben Norton)

Pamela Geller (Credit: Salon/Ben Norton)

Pamela Geller, a leading figure in the anti-Muslim hate movement in the U.S., was next to speak.

“Pamela has been fighting against the jihad for several years,” LGBT for Trump founder Chris Barron said as he introduced her.

In May 2015, Geller and Wilders were attacked by Islamic extremists at a “Draw Mohammad” event in Garland, Texas. Geller said the “Wake Up!” RNC party was her first public speaking engagement since the attack in Garland.

Geller opened her speech with a joke: “A jihadi walks into a gay bar,” she began, to laughs from the audience. What does he order? “Shots for everyone,” she said.

The room erupted in laughter. Geller replied, “It’s not funny, because it’s true.”

She said she supports Trump, LGBT rights and “freedom,” proudly calling the Republican Party “the party against jihad.”

Geller — who backs a presidential candidate who wants to deport 11 million people and ban refugees from particular racial and ethnic groups — went on to accuse the left of becoming “increasingly authoritarian.”

“You’ve got to love Trump, ’cause he gives them all the middle finger,” she said simultaneously. “His ban on Muslims from jihad nations is logical, rational and reasonable.”

Geller criticized more mainstream right-wing pundits like Bill Kristol. People in the audience shouted “cuckservative” (a popular insult in the alt-right) and “traitors!”

At one point, she stopped her speech to join the audience in a “Trump! Trump!” chant.

Like Wilders, Geller claimed “Muslim gangs” are raping young girls and threatening LGBT people in the U.S.

The GOP supports “equality for all,” she claimed, ensuring “no special treatment for special classes.”

“Islamophobia,” Geller maintained, “doesn’t exist; it’s a myth.”

The left, she added, is embracing Islamism. “It’s not PC; it’s Sharia,” Geller said.

In his speech, Milo Yiannopoulos reaffirmed many of the same points, with his characteristic narcissistic flair.

Barron introduced the Breitbart columnist as “the world’s most dangerous faggot.”

“It’s a war,” Milo began his speech, “a culture war.” He insisted that politicians should stop talking about economics and politics and instead talk about culture.

Milo argued that the left no longer defends LGBT rights, that it is only the right that does so.

“Radical Islam, or let’s say it, Islam” threatens gay people, he said, while the left is “welcoming a religion that wants us dead.”

Muslims are fundamentally incapable of integrating into capitalist democracy, Milo claimed, which he called “the only system that works.”

Milo, who is British, pointed to Europe as a “warning” to Americans. He said he will soon be traveling to Sweden to lead “a gay pride march through the Muslim ghetto in Stockholm.” A man in the audience shouted, “Bring bacon!”

Unlike the other speakers, who focused almost exclusively on Muslims and the left, Milo also made his hatred of journalists very clear.

“Most journalists are idiots,” he stated casually. He later swore that he is “dedicated to the destruction of liberal media.”

“I have the entire American media at my disposal,” he taunted at one point, listing the leading news outlets who had reporters at the party. “Fuck the lot of you; fuck you,” he said to the room full of journalists.

Milo accused the left of “shutting down free speech” with political correctness. To the room full almost exclusively of white people, he joked about his sexual preference for Black men, claiming they have big penises and do not know who their fathers are.

Trump is “the most pro-gay candidate in American electoral history,” he asserted.

“The left’s stranglehold on homosexuals is over,” Milo concluded, summarizing the underlying thesis of the event.

Outside of the event, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, protesters could be heard chanting “8-6-4-2, if you love Trump we don’t love you!”

A few dozen people gathered for a few hours, carrying a large banner reading “Queers Against Racism.” They soon began chanting, “No more queer Muslim hate!”

Salon spoke with a protester who declined to be identified. “We heard there was a gay pro-Trump event and we were like, hell no!” she explained.

She said the demonstration was not organized by a group, but rather by a collection of individuals. The protesters were from all around the country, not just Ohio, and had convened to protest the RNC.

The protesters did not like speaking with the press, so they passed out a “Queers Against Islamophobia, Racism and Fascism” handbill reading:

“There’s nothing fabulous about racism. You can’t hide racism and Islamophobia behind gayness.

Our grief is not a catalyst for xenophobia. We will not be opportunistically used to promote Trump’s rhetoric of hate.

What happened in Orlando is a result of a homegrown culture of homophobia promoted by Trump, Pence and conservatives for decades.

Racism and xenophobia further erodes the safety of LGBTQ people, many of whom are Muslims, refugees, immigrants and people of color.

We will fight for the liberation of all people!

Only self-hating gays love Trump.”

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at@BenjaminNorton.

How one sexy gay novel derailed Gore Vidal’s literary career

A new movie paints a loving portrait of the ruling-class rebel — but the great critic’s real legacy is complicated

How one sexy gay novel derailed Gore Vidal's literary career

Every intellectual who tries to crack wise on television is emulating Gore Vidal, whether or not he or she knows it. Nicholas Wrathall’s documentary “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” is an unabashed love letter to its subject that captures how and why Vidal became one of the dominant public intellectuals of the 20th century, an heir to the tradition of Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken, and a fearless post-partisan scourge of American hypocrisy and corruption well into the Bush-Obama era. Perhaps without meaning to, the film also captures many of Vidal’s contradictions. Less than two years after his death, Vidal simultaneously looks like a creature from a bygone era, shaped by privilege, oppression and the refined self-hatred of pre-Stonewall gay identity, and like a bracing, cautionary example to all the certainty and sanctimony and stupidity of our time. Saying that we need a new Gore Vidal is both true and nonsensical; the precise combination of ingredients that made him who he was could only have come together when and where it did, and is not possible now.

At the height of his fame as a novelist, critic and bon vivant in the late 1960s, Vidal became the puckish left-wing sparring partner of William F. Buckley Jr., in a series of ABC News throwdowns that set the gold standard for all such future encounters. In one of the most famous moments in TV history – now a YouTube classic – the two nearly came to blows during a debate over the protests outside the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. After Vidal described Buckley as a “pro- or crypto-Nazi” (or possibly a “proto-crypto-Nazi”), the latter called Vidal a “queer” and threatened to “sock [him] in the goddamn face.” That was pretty hot language for network TV in those days – or any time, really – and there was the added comic attraction that both men were obvious Northeastern blue bloods with prep-school manners and patrician accents. It was as if the race for student body president at Phillips Exeter had boiled over into fisticuffs, and on the evening news. (Actually, only Vidal went to Exeter; Buckley attended the Millbrook School, a more modest and more progressive institution, believe it or not.)

Vidal won the exchange, in much the same way as his old friend Jack Kennedy had won the televised debate with Richard Nixon eight years earlier. Perhaps he had absorbed Marshall McLuhan’s nascent media theories and perhaps it was instinct, but Vidal retained a cool, amused demeanor while Buckley blew a gasket and descended to hate speech, for which he would later half-apologize. (He had been driven to the insult by his distaste for Vidal as “an evangelist for bisexuality,” Buckley wrote.) But there’s one more thing to notice about this legendary incident, which is that Vidal fought dirty even before Buckley did. God knows I don’t want to take William Buckley’s side against pretty much anyone ever, but Vidal surely understood that it was unfair to accuse his opponent of being a Nazi, even in jest. (An autocrat, an elitist or a monarchist, sure.) In fact, Vidal picked a vulnerable spot and stuck in the knife; he knew that Buckley had struggled to purge the reborn conservative movement of overt racism and anti-Semitism (as well as John Birchers and Ayn Rand libertarians) and would likely rise to the bait.

You can draw a variety of lessons from that episode and its ripple effect across many decades of pop culture. Most subsequent left-liberal or even radical critics (Vidal would have rejected any such label, by the way) strive to appear reasonable in pop-culture contexts, rather than just sticking the boot in for maximum effect. Vidal never cared about seeming reasonable, and relished entertaining positions or ideas that horrified mainstream commentators of all stripes. (He explored conspiracy theories about both the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks, for example, although he stopped short of endorsing them.) In that sense, his would-be heirs can be found all over the ideological map, from Steven Colbert to Bill Maher to Glenn Beck, who is like the numb-nuts right-wing lower-middle-class hetero version, with the 1940s liberal-education reading list replaced with 1990s political-religious gobbledygook. (I’m not entirely kidding about that; both Vidal and Beck were autodidacts and self-invented characters who never went to college.)

But the Buckley contretemps also suggests some of the ways Vidal was a dark and occluded personality, one of the most brilliant minds and sharpest cultural critics in our history and perhaps his own worst enemy. Wrathall’s most obvious audience for this film is children of the 1960s and ‘70s who can dimly recall the events in question, and will respond to this nostalgic voyage into the cultural realm of our parents’ generation, at once antiquated and avant-garde: There is the drunken Norman Mailer, being berated by Vidal and Dick Cavett on late-night TV. There are Federico Fellini, Mike Wallace and a Gabor sister, at a party at the Italian seaside villa where Vidal lived for several decades with Howard Austen, his longtime partner. But the film will have done its work best if it reaches at least some younger people of the Snowden-Occupy generation, who may need to know that ferocious resistance to American empire – and for that matter a refusal to conform to norms of gender and sexuality – were not invented yesterday.

Wrathall’s film has extensive interviews with Vidal during the last several years of his life, and includes an immense amount of vintage file footage from all phases of Vidal’s career. This goes all the way back to a 1936 newsreel of 10-year-old Eugene Vidal Jr. flying an airplane built by his father, an engineer and inventor who was then an aviation official in the Roosevelt administration (and apparently the lover of Amelia Earhart, a gender rebel on her own terms). Young Vidal ditched the “Eugene” for “Gore” a few years later, in tribute to his beloved grandfather Thomas Gore, who was probably the first blind person to serve in the U.S. Senate. (Vidal and Al Gore were distant cousins.) It strikes me that this upper-crust rebel decided, consciously or not, to deal with his sexuality as his grandfather had dealt with disability – an obvious deficit in the eyes of the world, but never as a factor that defined his identity, still less an excuse for lack of accomplishment. Vidal never described himself as gay, never spoke out about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and to the end of his life avoided any public association with the gay community or the LGBT political struggle. He reluctantly called himself bisexual on occasion, but only within the context of insisting that everyone else was too.

Both he and Buckley understood the epithet “queer” to be a scurrilous insult, of course, but if Vidal was partly a throwback to the old-fashioned shame of the closet, he was also a rebel trying out an early version of what might be called “queer” sexuality by today’s radicals. According to Vidal, his relationship with Austen was not sexual, and they both slept with whomever they wanted to. Vidal had female lovers at least occasionally (reportedly including Anaïs Nin and Joanne Woodward!), and may have had an illegitimate child in Florida. Since Wrathall relies entirely on the testimony of Vidal and his closest friends, we don’t get all the juiciest gossip; according to biographer Tim Teeman, Vidal had sex with any number of Hollywood and literary figures, including Jack Kerouac, Fred Astaire, Dennis Hopper and Brad Davis, who later contracted HIV and died of a drug overdose. We also don’t hear anything about Vidal’s uglier attitudes about homosexuality. Vidal’s literary executor and close friend Jay Parini appears in the film, but does not repeat the things he told Teeman, including that Vidal frequently derided gay men as “fags” in private, and that Parini came to think of him as “self-hating.” It’s slightly reminiscent of Roy Cohn’s character in “Angels in America,” assuring his doctor that he was a heterosexual who had sex with guys.

This bitterness was probably connected to the fact that Vidal’s personal interest in sex with men (however he defined it) derailed his literary career and sent him into exile, first to Hollywood to write movies and TV shows and then to Europe. His debut novel, a taut tale of nautical adventure called “Williwaw,” published when he was 21, was a smash hit. Then came the explicit homoeroticism of “The City and the Pillar,” published in 1948 and received by the New York establishment as an outrage. Difficult as this is to imagine, Times critic Orville Prescott issued a fatwa against reviewing Vidal’s books that endured for 20 years. Although Vidal returned to fiction many times, writing the gender-bending farcical bestseller “Myra Breckinridge” and a series of laborious, agenda-driven historical novels, he was effectively barred from membership in the all-male Great Postwar Novelists club that included Mailer, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut and so on.

Being pink-listed evidently did nothing to improve Vidal’s cantankerous personality or relieve his internalized homophobia. In his late interviews with Wrathall, Vidal still cherishes his ancient feuds with Buckley, Mailer, Truman Capote and numerous others. He never made up the split with his onetime acolyte Christopher Hitchens after the latter’s apostasy on the invasion of Iraq. In an interview conducted shortly before his own death, Hitchens comes to the edge of tears, which is something Vidal would never have let an outsider witness. But it’s also possible that Vidal’s exclusion from the inbred world of literature set him free to say outrageous things on television, to run unwinnable political campaigns, and to launch Wildean bons mots and brilliant broadsides against the greed, corruption and mendacity of America from his hillside above the Amalfi coast. Vidal’s sarcastic, unforgiving and relentlessly eloquent essays, especially as collected in the volumes “United States” and “The Last Empire,” hold up better than his novels. (In the film, Vidal’s commentary on election night in 2008, that high-water mark of recent political idealism, is worth the price of admission all by itself.)

There are other cultural critics who can write serious, long-form essays that fly in the face of orthodoxy and challenge the entrenched stupidity of conventional wisdom, but Vidal’s were better, deeper, funnier, more challenging and surprising than almost anyone’s. I recently reread his Vanity Fair article about Timothy McVeigh from September 2001 (the date alone will tell you why it was quickly forgotten), and even with its forays into conspiracy theory, it’s the most cogent summary of what we really know about that entire sordid episode (not nearly enough) and the multifarious lies we told ourselves about it. Liberals who are still aboard the Bill and Hillary Clinton love train – you guys seriously need to read that.

There are also plenty of people who are quick on the draw, who can puncture an adversary with a snappy comeback or a moment of drawling folksy parody. But they’re hardly ever the same people, and Vidal was funnier and sharper than almost all of them too. He wasonce on TV with the English novelist Richard Adams, who told him his work was “meretricious.” “Pardon?” asked Vidal. “Meretricious,” Adams repeated. Vidal laughed heartily. “Well, meretricious to you,” he said, “and a Happy New Year.”

“Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” opens this week in New York and June 6 in Los Angeles, with other cities and home video to follow.


U.S. Bolsters Regimes in Uganda and Nigeria That Persecute Gays and Abuse Human Rights

The Obama administration’s outraged rhetoric over anti-gay
legislation masks U.S. military support in those nations.

U.S. and Ugandan military officials salute during a 2009 training exercise.
Photo Credit: US Army Africa/Wikimedia Commons

There was an explosion of international outrage in late February when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a harsh anti-gay law. The legislation mandates life sentences for people who have gay sex or are in same-sex marriages and criminalizes “promoting” homosexuality, though the harshest provision—the death penalty for gays—was ultimately stripped out.

The United States immediately condemned the bill, with Secretary of State John Kerry calling it “atrocious” and likening the bill to Nazi or apartheid-era laws.

But the Obama administration’s rhetoric masks its strong support for the Ugandan government, support that will likely continue in the months ahead. Like Nigeria, which has also passed anti-gay laws, Uganda,run by an authoritarian president in power for 26 years, is a key U.S. partner in the global war on terror. The East African country also plays host to Western oil and mining companies, like Canada-based Barrick, that profit from the country’s natural resources.

The U.S. may not like Uganda’s virulent anti-gay climate, but the Obama administration seems all too willing to turn a blind eye in pursuit of its own interests. Uganda and Nigeria’s other important source of Western support is from a non-governmental source: the American Christian right, which has advocated and applauded the passage of anti-gay laws in Africa. But the outrage over the Christian right’s role in the deteriorating situation for gays in Africa has blurred the focus on the destructive “war on terror” in the region as well as the Western economic interests operating in Uganda and Nigeria.

TheU.S. government took a number of steps in direct response to Uganda’s anti-gay law. Over $6 million will be redirected away from the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, which receives funding to fight HIV but supports the anti-gay law. An American-funded study on HIV/AIDS has been put on hold because of fear that participants will be put in danger. Another $3 million will be redirected away from tourism programs in Uganda. And the Pentagon said a few events set to be held in Uganda will no longer take place in the country.

Still, the response to Uganda’s anti-gay bill is a drop in the bucket. In total, $500 million in aid goes to the country, andextra-funding to the tune of $19 million goes toward Uganda’s fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia. In response to Uganda’s anti-gay law, Human Rights Watchcalled on the U.S. to “review funding assistance to Uganda to ensure that US funding is not used to further prosecution of anyone under the law. In particular funding for the police should be subject to close scrutiny as they would be legally mandated to enforce this law.” But as an Africa Command U.S. military spokesmantold Stars and Stripes, “currently, there are no plans to cancel ongoing or planned engagement with Uganda.”

Even those relatively small steps amount to a more robust American response than the Obama administration’s reaction to Nigeria’s anti-gay law, which punishes gay groups and mandates prison term for those in same-sex relationship. The U.S. has done nothing in response to the law in a country that receives training and equipment to help battle Boko Haram, an Islamic fundamentalist group. Over $600 million in U.S. aid goes to Nigeria. That number includes $1.9 million in aid to an armed force criticized for rampant human rights abuses,including the burning of homes and summary execution of people with no links to Boko Haram, a group that has risen to power in the north and found fertile ground because of poverty, corruption and police abuse. Nigeria is a major source of oil to the U.S., and taxpayer funds to the country help to prop up a government that welcomes U.S. corporations to profit from that oil. And since the anti-gay law passed, violence against gays in Nigeria has intensified.

The aid to Uganda and Nigeria is a key part of the U.S. military expansion in Africa, much of it part of the war on terror. While there’s not a heavy troop presence on the ground in Africa, secret U.S. operations have expanded exponentially in recent years. AsTomDispatch’s Nick Turse reported in March, the U.S. military has been active in 49 of 54 countries in Africa.

In Nigeria’s case, the focus is Mali and Boko Haram. The violent group has captured global attention in recent days over its kidnapping of Nigerian girls. The U.S. has rushed in to pledge support and sent in military advisers to help find the girls.

When radical Islamists, some of them affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, captured swathes of northern Mali in January 2013, amilitary campaign led by France was launched to clear the Islamists out. The strength of the Islamists and their initial Tuareg allies was fueled by the NATO intervention in Libya, which overthrew the Gaddafi regime and led to arms and fighters streaming into Mali.

Nigeria deployed 1,200 troops toward a larger West African military force that assisted France’s military intervention in Mali. Part of the justification for Nigeria’s involvement is the claim that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram work in coordination.

While the military intervention successfully beat back the Islamists in Mali,violence in reaction to the invasion hit Western interests in Algeria, Libya and Niger.

In Uganda, U.S. security ties have helped the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and al-Shabaab in Somalia, a radical Somali miltant group bent on establishing sharia law. The LRA is led by the infamous Joseph Kony, a brutal Christian fundamentalist bent on overthrowing the Ugandan government who has reportedly killed thousands of people. U.S. Special Operations forces have been deployed to help find Kony and members of his group since October 2011. In March of this year, the Obama administration announced it would be ramping up its support by sending more commandos, and for the first time, military aircraft.

The timing of the boost in aid was questioned by human rights advocates, who said it would bolster the rule of a man who has destabilized neighboring countries and signed a harsh anti-gay law. “Who wouldn’t want to get rid of this brutal rebel group?” asked Sarah Margon, the acting director of Human Rights Watch,in an interview with the New York Times. “But they’re not a direct threat to Museveni right now, and what he gains by this is continued American support to his military, and legitimacy, just when he signed this law.”

The partnership to target al-Shabaab intensified in 2007 after the United Nations voted to deploy troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia. The U.S. has assisted the African Union effort by sending military advisers and millions of dollars in funding.

Uganda has contributed about 6,000 troops to the mission, which eventually flushed militants out of Mogadishu, the capital, but has not destroyed the group. That reality came home to Uganda in a big way in July 2010, when al-Shabaab took responsibility for a bombing in Kampala, Uganda that killed over 70 people. In the aftermath of that bombing, anOpen Society Foundation report documented how Ugandan security forces “engaged in physical abuse, unlawful detention, and denied” bombing suspects due process rights. Kenya, another U.S. ally, rendered suspects to Uganda, and some of those detained in connection with the Kampala attack say that Federal Bureau of Investigation officials participated in abusive interrogations, and in some cases, allegedly threatened people with death and beat them.

The FBI’s participation in those interrogation points to the close cooperation the U.S. has forged with countries in Africa. Through money, training and troops, the U.S. has bolstered the governments of Nigeria and Uganda as part of the boundless war on terror. That fact casts a harsh light on American condemnations of anti-gay laws passed by the very same governments the U.S. is helping to prop up.

“Tales of the City” author Armistead Maupin: “The Google Bus is the emperor’s carriage”



Maupin on how San Francisco has changed, and ending the series that made the world fall in love with it




Few writers have seen their work as wholeheartedly loved as Armistead Maupin. His “Tales of the City” series, the saga of an assortment of unconventional characters searching for love and self-understanding in San Francisco from the late 1970s on, began as a hugely popular local newspaper serial. When the first of nine novels derived from the serial, “Tales of the City,” appeared in print, the rest of the world fell for Maupin’s vision of the city as the joyous capital of self-expression, too. People (gay and straight) have moved to San Francisco under the influence of the “Tales,” and one fan reputedly even asked to be buried with the books.

Maupin has published a couple of novels touted as the final installment of the “Tales,” but this time, with “The Days of Anna Madrigal,” he really means it. Anna, the wise, pot-smoking one-time landlady of the legendary boarding house at 28 Barbary Lane (an address almost as fabled as 221B Baker Street), is 92. She has a legal prescription now, and a live-in caregiver, a trans man named Jake, but 28 Barbary Lane has fallen into the hands of dot-commers who have “made it look like a five-star B and B,” and Anna herself is contemplating the art of “leaving like a lady.” Her former tenants — what Anna calls her “logical family” — still cluster around her. There are plenty of young folks, too, like a bisexual blogger who’s written a novel composed of text messages, but even as the characters make a hedonistic pilgrimage to the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert, the story retains a mellow, retrospective glow.

Which is not to say it’s nostalgic — nostalgia being a sentiment Maupin has avoided ever since he first arrived in San Francisco in 1971 and read Herb Caen’s misty-eyed newspaper columns about the city in the 1930s. As if to prove that he doesn’t look back, Maupin and his husband, Christopher Turner, recently moved to Santa Fe, seeking closer contact with nature and a quieter life. I met with him during the international book tour for “The Days of Anna Madrigal” to ask him about moving forward and the recent major changes in the city that has been his muse.

By now, you’re probably tired of people telling you how much your work has meant to them.

How could I possibly get tired of that? I just try to appreciate it and take it in while it’s going on, at various book signings. To feel it all. That’s the best of it. Beyond that, there’s the beauty of people sharing some part of their own lives. I was in Albuquerque the other day and a Navajo kid told me that his family had accepted him not on the basis of Michael Tolliver [the series’ central gay character], but on the basis of [transgender landlady] Anna Madrigal. Native Americans revere the “two-spirit” person. And because Anna accepted Michael, they accepted him. Chris and I went to a dance not far from where we live last winter, and the whole thing was led by the two-spirit person.

Anna is seriously old in this novel. As long as the sweep of “Tales” has been, and with the original characters now mostly in late middle age, the energy of it has been so youthful. The stories have always found something new and hopeful to explore. Eventually time does run out, though, but Anna approaches it very gracefully. What’s it like to write about someone at that point in her life, with so much more behind her than ahead of her?

Well, I had to imagine it because I still have plenty of panic about dying. She’s always been my higher self. I tried to crawl inside that and imagine how she’d handle it, how placid she would be. I had a grandmother who had been a suffragist in England all those years ago, in 1913. She was in her 90s when I saw her for the last time. She had on her nice suit and hat with her nice cane, sitting in a chair as if she were waiting for a bus to come take her away. She was ready.

A lot of the fey, spiritual side of Anna came from my grandmother. I always adored her. I grew up in a Southern household rife with prejudice, and she was the free, forgiving spirit.

“Tales of the City” was so prescient in many ways. Anna’s history came as huge surprise to many readers. It just didn’t occur to people that she might be transgender.

Nope. I told the editors of the Chronicle about it and they said, “You can’t reveal that for a year.”

So you knew it from the beginning?

I did. They said if I revealed it, that would scare away the readers. And of course, in a way, that’s been the journey. Now I have Anna talking to Jake, who asks her if someone is “T,” and she gets annoyed by all these new terms for their “once-exotic species.”

She liked her mystery.

She liked her mystery.

Do transgender people tell you that she was an important character for them?

They do. Obviously I can’t speak for every transgender reader and there may be people who have issues, but I do hear that a lot. I’ve also been hearing from trans men for the past eight years. I had a trans man come up to me at Burning Man to tell me about an important moment in his life. He said, “I was in a tent full of naked men and I was not ashamed of my body.” That was moving.

Writing about Anna’s youth is the first time you’ve included a lengthy flashback and a historical setting, isn’t it?

First time ever. It was exhilarating, especially, to write about a time I didn’t live in. It was like a complete escape, like crawling into Narnia, if Narnia was a whorehouse in Nevada in 1936! The Internet was tremendously useful. I could Google “1936 whorehouse menu” and up it would pop.

You’ve been working on this long narrative for years, and sometimes events just come along and hijack it. AIDS is only the most obvious example of that.

Absolutely. People didn’t want me to deal with it, but I had to. And sometimes in the telling of the story, the details take control. I wanted Proustian sensory triggers to send Anna back to her past. One was the smell of an old book. Another was rose water, which would be a cheap perfume in a brothel. And the other was Lysol, which you would obviously have to keep around in such a place.

So you didn’t already know about it being used as a contraceptive douche?

[Shakes head in amazement] No! I Googled Lysol just to make sure it was around in 1936. I found out not only that was it around, but it was being used as a spermicide!

You learn about that in women’s studies classes.

You do?

It’s one of the horror stories from the days before contraception was widely available.

Well, it is a horror story! And then they started advertising it as a “freshener.” With a picture of a husband scowling and it says, “For the problem even your husband won’t tell you about”! Doesn’t it seem like the problem would be smelling like the kitchen floor?

I think the real problem would be that husband.

The husband — yeah, pretty much! So Lysol went from being a little detail to a pivotal plot point.

This really feels like a desert novel.

It is a desert novel. People have tended to connect that with my moving to Santa Fe but I had it in mind before we did that. Because of both Burning Man and Winnemucca. I wanted to go to Anna’s past, and then Chris dragged me kicking and screaming to Burning Man.

And you liked it?

I did. We’ve been twice now. Usually when he gets me off my ass, it turns out right. We have adventures.

How did Chris talk you into Burning Man?

I’m not sure I remember. Everything he said was putting me off. I’d have to wear earplugs. Then there was the dust and the white-outs. He said, “Let’s do the naked bicycle pub crawl!” and I said, “My big white ass on a bicycle seat — drunk?” And I actually didn’t end up doing that, but I waited in the bar for it to come around. Our camp was the cosmo camp. We made cocktails out in the desert.

So I had to be persuaded. And we did have to wait in that long line of cars. But you get there and you do sort of cave into it in a nice way. You think, there’s no escaping this, so you might as well relax, and oh yeah this sarong does feel kind of good. He also seduced me with his seamster abilities, if that’s the male word for it. He touched me by going out and buying a sewing machine and taking a lesson from a lady in the Marina and then he was sewing outfits for both of us. That was pretty irresistible.

Burning Man is just such strange, hallucinatory experience. At some of my Bay Area book signings, fellow burners have shown up and at first we didn’t recognize them. It’s such a … they refer to this as the default world. Everything else is the default world.

You know the burning question that everyone wants to know when they learn you’ve moved to Santa Fe?

[Apprehensively] What’s that?

Have you met George R.R. Martin yet?

I’ve not only met him, he’s a friend! I’m going to do an appearance at the Cocteau Theater, which is the theater he owns downtown. He’ll be interviewing me. A friend from V-Day [an international organization to end violence against women] mentioned to me that they needed a theater to premiere a movie, and all I had to do was ask him. He said it was an issue that matters a lot to him. Great guy.

Have you found a literary scene in Santa Fe?

Well, I didn’t have one in San Francisco. I knew a few writers there, but not a scene per se. For us, living in Santa Fe is more about having a house in the country with uninterrupted views and privacy.

I’m sure I was far from the only person who was crushed to learn that you’d left San Francisco.

[Laughs] I’m required to live there for life!

Perhaps you’ll write a “Tales of the Desert”?

We’ll see. The first few months of living there, I was thinking in gothic terms. There’s something about it — the black skies, white stars and coyotes. One thing Chris talked me into was performing at the Crown and Anchor, a nightclub that’s largely full of drag queens and singers in Provincetown. I had 300 bears in a room listening to me telling stories. That got me thinking I should put together a one-man show. I’ve admired a number of people who have done this, from Quentin Crisp to Elaine Stritch and Spalding Gray. I like the life that would come with it, the ability to connect with people after 40 years of sitting in front of a word processor. I’ve also thought about writing a memoir that would dovetail with the one-man show.

What is it like not to live in San Francisco anymore?

We do miss it. We miss our longtime friends, and the chance for street life. So we’re making a serious effort to find what I call a “pied-à-merde” there. It’s going to have to be pretty humble.

Real estate has gotten so expensive there.

A realtor was on my Facebook page telling me he’d love to help us find a little place in the city. I told him what we could pay, and that it needed to be dog-friendly and have a parking place. He wrote back one line: “You may have to put out for that.”

It’s brutal, but we’re working towards it. We’ve learned how to swap apartments with friends. I couldn’t sever myself from that city if I tried. It’s inside of me. And I love being identified with such a beautiful place.

What was the attraction of Santa Fe?

Santa Fe is full of interesting people and it has its own singular beauty and peculiarity. I like the peace and quiet of it. I hate traffic, let’s start with that.

I’d like to have both, if we could afford it. My Social Security pays the mortgage in Santa Fe, such is the cheapness of real estate there. That’s another thing. It’s a very affordable place.

One touch I especially like in this novel is the passage where Michael reflects on how the economic changes of the past 40 years have affected his friendships, slowly sifting them into two different categories.

Yes, he says they’ve become separated from their wealthier friends “by embarrassment.”

It’s one of those phenomena where you’re aware of experiencing it, but you haven’t put it into words yet, and then someone spells it out for you. That’s something “Tales” has always been good at. I haven’t lived in San Francisco for a while, but from everything I’ve heard, it’s gotten pretty extreme there.

It’s in many ways a different place. There are high-rise condos marching up Market Street towards the Castro.

And then there are the Google Bus wars, which from outside make it sound like the city is tearing itself apart.

The Google Bus is the emperor’s carriage.

With the disgruntled rabble throwing muck at it!

It’s become symbolic of that. If you look at it logically, it’s a courteous thing for Google to do, to not have all those people driving in and parking in the city, but it represents the intrusion of enormous wealth. On one level I can’t blame a 35-year-old millionaire for wanting to have a cute little place in San Francisco. It’s just that there’s no room for the rest of us.

When I moved there 40 years ago, I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that any neighborhood would be off-limits to me as a fledgling reporter for the AP. Maybe if you wanted Pacific Heights you had to settle for a cute garage in a garden, but every other part of the city was completely possible. My little pentshack on Russian Hill was $175 a month, with a sweeping view of the bay and all the charm you could possibly want. But times change, cities change and people change.

The characters in “Tales of the City” were able to be, essentially, bohemians.

Yeah, they are. I never really put that label on them, but they are.

Mona and Anna most of all, though of course Mary Ann goes in and out of it.

She does. Michael is without a job for some years, but he can go win the jockey shorts dance contest and still pay the rent!

He couldn’t pay the rent with that now! How can it go on being such a wonderfully eccentric city if people like that can’t afford to live in it?

Well, it can’t. That’s the answer.

That’s sad.

Yes, it’s very sad. It can’t be that city anymore. Of course, it’s more beautiful than it’s ever been. They’ve torn down the freeway so they have the waterfront again, but it’s not that city anymore.


Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” and has a Web site, magiciansbook.com.


The Advocate’s Person of the Year: Pope Francis

While 2013 will be remembered for the work of hundreds in advancing marriage equality, it will also be remembered for the example of one man.

BY Lucas Grindley

December 16 2013 2:23 PM ET


When deciding who was the single most influential person of 2013 on the lives of LGBT people, there are obvious choices. At least, they seem so at first.

While Edie Windsor, for example, is among the list of finalists, she is not Person of the Year. Windsor is a hero to LGBT Americans for taking the final punch in the fight against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, and section 3 is no more. When she stepped out from the Supreme Court hearing, applause erupted. At the Out 100 awards, where she was given an award for Lifetime Achievement, chants of “Edie! Edie!” greeted her on stage. On the magazine’s November cover, she beamed while holding a white dove — a symbol.

But even Windsor herself is a powerful symbol for the many others behind the scenes. Also at the Supreme Court that day, for example, were the four plaintiffs in the related Proposition 8 case from California, and they should be lauded. Or, any of their lawyers. There’s the straight team of David Boies and Ted Olson, who frequently became the public champions for marriage equality’s advance through the justice system via television interviews and in news reports. Then there’s attorney Roberta Kaplan, one of us, who eloquently refuted Chief Justice John Roberts when he suggested times have changed and LGBT people are no longer an oppressed minority.

It doesn’t stop there. A handful of other cases could have gone to the Supreme Court this year and weren’t chosen. There are plaintiffs and lawyers in all of those. They come from states ranging from Michigan to Massachusetts. Oftentimes backing the cases are the resources of LGBT rights organizations such as Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders or Lambda Legal, or more mainstream allies such as the American Civil Liberties Union. Hundreds of people work at those organizations and have been fighting the Defense of Marriage Act in court — for years. Take, for example, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, which was first filed in 2009 and originally represented 19 people.

Edie Windsor is a hero, one well worth recording in history books that retell the story of DOMA’s demise. But she is not the Person of the Year. She couldn’t possibly be, not for The Advocate, where we celebrate the work of so many who contributed to that landmark Supreme Court victory.

When Windsor came in third for Time magazine’s annual list of people of the year, she accepted graciously, as always. “I am honored that Time chose me,” she wrote in a statement, “but I am just one person who was part of the extraordinary and on-going fight for marriage equality for all our families. There are thousands of people who helped us come this far and we still have a lot more work to do.”

(RELATED: See the Nine Other Finalists for Person of the Year)

The most influential person of 2013 doesn’t come from our ongoing legal conflict but instead from our spiritual one — successes from which are harder to define. There has not been any vote cast or ruling issued, and still a significant and unprecedented shift took place this year in how LGBT people are considered by one of the world’s largest faith communities.

Pope Francis is leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics all over the world. There are three times as many Catholics in the world than there are citizens in the United States. Like it or not, what he says makes a difference. Sure, we all know Catholics who fudge on the religion’s rules about morality. There’s a lot of disagreement, about the role of women, about contraception, and more. But none of that should lead us to underestimate any pope’s capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people, and not only in the U.S. but globally.

The remaining holdouts for LGBT acceptance in religion, the ones who block progress in the work left to do, will more likely be persuaded by a figure they know. In the same way that President Obama transformed politics with his evolution on LGBT civil rights, a change from the pope could have a lasting effect on religion.

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Pope Francis’s stark change in rhetoric from his two predecessors — both who were at one time or another among The Advocate‘s annual Phobie Awards — makes what he’s done in 2013 all the more daring. First there’s Pope John Paul II, who gay rights activists protested during a highly publicized visit to the United States in 1987 because of what had become known as the “Rat Letter” — an unprecedented damning of homosexuality as “intrinsically evil.” It was written by one of his cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI. Since 1978, one of those two men had commanded the influence of the Vatican — until this year.

When Time magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the Year last week, it rightly pointed out the Catholic Church’s inability to move quickly, calling it “a place that measures change in terms of centuries.” Pope Francis is still not pro-gay by today’s standard. He started his term by issuing a joint encyclical in July with Benedict, in which they reiterate that marriage should be a “stable union of man and woman.” It continues, “This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgement and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation.”

As Argentina’s archbishop, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio opposed marriage equality’s eventual passage there, saying in 2010 that it’s a  “destructive attack on God’s plan.” When Bergoglio became pope, GLAAD was quick to point out that he’d once called adoption by same-sex couples a form of discrimination against children.

But it’s actually during Pope Francis’s time as cardinal that his difference from Benedict and hard-liners in the church became apparent. As same-sex marriage looked on track to be legalized in Argentina, Bergoglio argued privately that the church should come out for civil unions as the “lesser of two evils.” That’s all according to Pope Francis’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin. Argentine gay activist Marcelo Márquez backed up the story, telling The New York Times in March that Bergoglio “listened to my views with a great deal of respect. He told me that homosexuals need to have recognized rights and that he supported civil unions, but not same-sex marriage.”

As pope, he has not yet said the Catholic Church supports civil unions. But what Francis does say about LGBT people has already caused reflection and consternation within his church. The moment that grabbed headlines was during a flight from Brazil to Rome. When asked about gay priests, Pope Francis told reporters, according to a translation from Italian, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”

The brevity of that statement and the outsized attention it got immediately are evidence of the pope’s sway. His posing a simple question with very Christian roots, when uttered in this context by this man, “Who am I to judge?” became a signal to Catholics and the world that the new pope is not like the old pope.

Francis’s view on how the Catholic Church should approach LGBT people was best explained in his own words during an in-depth interview with America magazine in September. He recalled, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

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He said that when he was a cardinal, “I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During [a recent] return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”

He continued, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

True to his word, Pope Francis hasn’t used his biggest moments in the world spotlight to condemn LGBT people, as Benedict had done. At this time last year, Pope Benedict had just issued his message for the World Day of Peace — celebrated by the Catholic Church on New Year’s Day. In it, he warned that efforts to allow gays and lesbians to wed “actually harm and help to destabilize marriage; obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society.” Benedict described marriage equality as “an offence against the truth of the human person.” By contrast, Pope Francis issued his first message for the World Day of Peace last week.

Brotherhood, he said, “is the foundation and pathway of peace.” He retold the story of Cain and Abel as an example of humanity’s failure to recognize its brothers and instead find enemies. “In Christ, the other is welcomed and loved as a son or daughter of God, as a brother or sister, not as a stranger, much less as a rival or even an enemy. In God’s family, where all are sons and daughters of the same Father.” He went on, “All men and women enjoy an equal and inviolable dignity. All are loved by God.”

Pope Francis spends his time talking about the harm of greed and the lack of focus on fairness and fighting poverty. For that, conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh have attacked him as Marxist. But Francis bases his case for equality on each person’s right to self-fulfillment. “Human beings need and are capable of something greater than maximizing their individual interest,” the pope said on the World Day of Peace.

One could imagine how acceptance of LGBT people might fit into the pope’s case for loving every human being and valuing the contribution made by each to society. With less than a year as pope, Francis still must show whether his aspiration ends at not being our enemy. Will he be an agent for fighting our discrimination worldwide?

Time magazine points out the unusual group of eight bishops that Pope Francis has convened to advise him regularly. Among them is Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India, who this month publicly condemned his country’s criminalization of homosexuality. India’s Supreme Court had just issued a shocking ruling that reinstated punishment of up to 10 years in prison for gay sex. “The Catholic Church has never been opposed to the decriminalization of homosexuality, because we have never considered gay people criminals,” he said, according to Asia News. “The Catholic Church is opposed to the legalization of gay marriage, but teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse.” Earlier this year, he’d told an LGBT group in India, according to Time, that “to say that those with other sexual orientations are sinners is wrong” and that “we must be sensitive in our homilies and how we speak in public and I will so advise our priests.”

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that an Italian Catholic LGBT group, Kairos of Florence, wrote a letter to the pope in June, asking for “openness and dialogue” and noting that lacking it “always feeds homophobia.” LGBT Catholics had written to previous popes, but Francis is the first to write a reply. Both sides have largely kept the content of their conversation private, except to note with a level of amazement that the pope gave the LGBT group his blessing.

One thing we know from 2013 is that no matter the dedication of our activists, in the end we are often faced with a straight person who decides our fate. Will the nine straight people seated on the Supreme Court — six of whom who are Roman Catholic — ever cast a far-reaching ruling that makes marriage equality legal in all 50 states? Will the House of Representatives — of which nearly a third of members are Catholic, more than any other religion — pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act? Will any of them consider the pope’s advice against casting judgment?

None of this is going to affect whether LGBT Americans who have left the Catholic Church are inclined to return. The pope’s impact isn’t on whether we’re deciding to sit in the pews, it’s on the people who are already in the pews. More so, it’s on the devoted who are there every Sunday plus the middle of the week and who volunteer for charity work and who are sometimes our most ardent opposition.

Still, LGBT Catholics who remain in the church now have more reason to hope that change is coming. Listen to the reaction to the pope’s “Who am I to judge?” comment.

“Pope Francis today uttered some of the most encouraging words a pontiff has ever spoken about gay and lesbian people,” read a statement from the LGBT Catholic organization Equally Blessed. “In doing so, he has set a great example for Catholics everywhere.” It went on with even greater anticipation, “Catholic leaders who continue to belittle gays and lesbians can no longer claim that their inflammatory remarks represent the sentiments of the pope. Bishops who oppose the expansion of basic civil rights — such as an end to discrimination in the work place — can no longer claim that the pope approves of their discriminatory agenda. Pope Francis did not articulate a change in the church’s teaching today, but he spoke compassionately, and in doing so, he has encouraged an already lively conversation that may one day make it possible for the church to fully embrace gay and lesbian Catholics.”