“Don’t wait,” 22-year-old Derrick Gordon said emphatically when asked if he has advice for other college athletes thinking about coming out. The University of Massachusetts Amherst sophomore made headlines last week, becoming the first NCAA Division I basketball player to come out as gay.
“Take advantage of everything that you have in front of you,” he continued, offering advice to other young people, speaking with me on SiriusXM Progress. “Don’t wait because you’re scared. Don’t wait until you’re 35 or 40-years-old and done playing the sport that you love. Because it’s stressful to live that way. I cried most of the nights when I was in the closet just because it starts to take a toll on you just because you’re worried about how people are going to think about you and what they’re going to say about you. Take advantage of it now…It’s going to make your life so much easier.”
That doesn’t mean Gordon didn't strategize and plan. He was ready to come out earlier in the year but held off until after the season was over, so that he wouldn’t bring a distraction to the team. He’d carefully watched how coming out affected Jason Colllins, who became the first major league player to come out as gay last year and who was recently signed to the Brooklyn Nets.
“He had a big impact,” Gordon explained. “I was talking to him as well throughout the whole process. It was exciting when I heard he was going back into the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets. I was still unsure. They said he had like a five or ten day contract. And that didn’t really solidify my guarantee in coming out. So I waited and waited, and then eventually, he got a [longer term] contract, and I was like, “Boom!” When that happened, I was like, 'I’m coming out soon. I just don’t know when.' So after the NCAA tournament and everything, I thought it would be the best time to do it in off season.”
Gordon acknowledges, too, that if Collins' career had been harmed from coming out, he's not sure he would have come out himelf, underscoring how one public figure's coming out influences so many others.
"At the end of the day I do want to play in NBA," he said. "So if it didn’t work out for Jason, I’d probably still be in the closet. He played a big impact. And [NFL prospect] Michael Sam. Even though Michael Sam is in a different sport, seeing an athlete come out and be open about themselves, it gave me a lot of confidence, to be able to be myself, too, and not worry about what other people say."
Gordon said he's been blown away by the support of his parents, as well as that of his teammates and classmates at UMass, where the infamous Westboro Baptist Church attempted to protest his coming out on Wednesday.
"The Westboro Baptist Church came and tried to protest against me," he said. "And there were 3000 students outside the campus supporting me, and only five people from Westboro. And that just goes to show the people who support me and care for as a person. That's how life should be."
Right now in his life, it seems Derrick Gordon could not be more ecstatic.
"I want to be myself and be happy, but honestly my life has changed in the past two weeks tremendously in a good way," he explained. "And it's going to get even better as time goes on. I’m glad I did it now rather than later on in life and hopefully my life will make it better for other kids."
Andrew Sullivan has come to the defense of the Mozilla CEO, Brendan Eich, writing that Eich is being treated as a "heretic," a victim of "left-liberal intolerance" and the "ugly intolerance of parts of the gay movement," forced to resign in the wake of stinging criticism of his financial contribution to the passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008.
According to Sullivan, the gay mafia has struck again, destroying a man and bringing him down because he would not conform to its thinking. You would be justified in being massively confused by that, because this is the same Andrew Sullivan who was first out of the gate with the pitchfork, driving Alec Baldwin off MSNBC -- as Baldwin bombastically charged that he was the victim of Sullivan and his "fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy."
It may sound contradictory, but actually, it's all pretty consistent for Sullivan if you think of it this way: He often attacks liberals first, and homophobes second. Alec Baldwin is a liberal (whom Sullivan, rightly, believed was getting a pass from some sectors of the liberal establishment), and so are those among Mozilla's employees and users of its Firefox browser who criticized the Mozilla CEO, driving him to step down.
Now, I wholeheartedly agree with Sullivan on his criticisms of Baldwin. I, too, slammed Baldwin -- and incurred the wrath of many of his fans who called in to my radio program -- because homophobic speech and actions must be vigorously challenged whether they come from a progressive or a conservative. But if you're going to get worked up over a guy hurling the word "cocksucker" in the heat of the moment -- while he also gave money and support to the causes of LGBT rights and marriage equality -- you should be completely outraged by a man unapologetically giving money to a hate campaign that helped pass Prop 8 by demonizing gay men and lesbians in television ads charging that gays are dangerous to children. The damage done by those ads is incalculable, turning neighbors in California against one another, empowering anti-gay bullies in schools as well as the bashers on the streets.
But Sullivan is even more wrong because it wasn't the Prop 8 contribution, and Eich's refusal to renounce it, that eventually did Eich in. He was being defended by company executives last week and throughout the early part of this week, even as the dating site OKCupid had urged users to boycott Firefox. Eich even gave an interview on Tuesday suggesting he was staying put. Eich only announced he was stepping down after it was revealed late Wednesday that he'd given money to Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign in 1992, and later to Ron Paul's campaign. Suddenly, in addition to defending a CEO who gave money to homophobic efforts, Mozilla would have to defend a CEO who supported Buchanan, a far-right extremist and isolationist who's been accused of racist and anti-Semitic attacks, and who also was, rightly, driven off MSNBC -- though that took years longer to accomplish than the few weeks it took to purge Alec Baldwin.
It all just became too much for Mozilla to bear, and who knows what else may have been dug up on Eich? None of this is about government censorship. It's about a company based in Northern California that has many progressive employees, as well as a lot of progressives and young people among the user base of its Firefox browser, realizing its CEO's worldview is completely out of touch with the company's -- and America's -- values and vision for the future.
When I asked Scott Lively, the American evangelical pastor who travels the world and who takes credit for getting Russia's “gay propaganda" law passed, to name five prominent non-religious Americans who, like him and other anti-gay evangelical leaders, use science to argue that homosexuality is harmful, he refused to answer.
“I’m not going to give you the names, because as soon as I give the name of any person you can target, you’re going to destroy their lives,” Lively, who has called homosexuality a “behavioral disorder,” claimed. “I’m not going to expose them to gay-bullying.”
Lively, who also inspired Uganda lawmakers to pass the notorious anti-homosexuality law, is now running for governor in Massachusetts, the state that was first in the nation with marriage equality, so that he can “advance a biblical world view in an arena that hasn’t heard that in a while.” Lively wants to see an end to gay marriage and desires to bring anti-sodomy laws back to the United States, and, expanding on his recent suggestion of a coming anti-gay “revolution” and “Christian revival,” said he believes the revolution will happen if the “conservative states…rebel against the federal supremacy clause.”
Lively, who spoke with me in an interview on SiriusXM Progress, said in one breath, “I support the right to privacy and think people should keep their sexual lifestyles and behaviors to themselves if they’re outside of the mainstream,” only to say minutes later that he supports sodomy laws because “it’s important to have laws regulating harmful sexual conduct, but I don’t believe it’s necessary to enforce them — unless there in a problem with them.”
Recently the subject of an exhaustive report by the Human Rights Campaign in which he was billed as "one of the most notorious exporters of hate," Lively, a long-time crusader against LGBT rights, addressed the Ugandan parliament several years ago regarding what he saw as the dangers of homosexuality and inspired the anti-homosexuality bill. But he said he thinks Uganda went too far in penalizing homosexuality with life in prison. Lively said he’s “very disappointed” that Uganda “fell back into punitive sanctions,” explaining that he “was urging them to focus on therapy and prevention.”
But what if people don’t want to go into an “ex-gay” therapy program?
“Well then they would take whatever the other alternative is, which was probably going to jail,” he said.
Asked about his comments on a radio program in which he suggested President Obama is the “anti-Christ,” Lively laughed and denied saying anything of the kind.
“I did not say that Obama is the anti-Christ,” he flatly replied. But then when the tape was played for him, in which Lively talks of the anti-Christ being the leader of the “largest superpower in the world,” he revised his answer.
“No, no — that’s Obama,” he admitted, adding, "but the context of that show was laying out a hypothetical situation.”
Lively, whose statements are regularly tracked by Right Wing Watch, recently said the country is sitting on a “powderkeg” and that “explosive” change is coming. He told me the Tea Party movement is an example of what’s to come.
"I think the Tea Party movement sort of is representative of the unhappiness in the population with this extreme leftist agenda that has been advancing at the expense of Christian culture for a long time,” he explained. "I’m just sort of looking out at the landscape and seeing the amount of anger that there is with the Obama administration and the totalitarian police state that is emerging and it’s just rolling over Christian values — not just Christian values but also conservative values."
And who does Scott Lively support for the 2016 presidential race?
“I’m not going to tell you,” he said at first. "I'm not going to do that. You’re just going to turn that into another basis to attack.”
"Before I even brought this case, a lot of the national groups suggested that we not bring this in Michigan," attorney Dana Nessel told me in March 2013 regarding the case that she would go on to win, resulting in last week's striking down of Michigan's ban on gay marriage. Over 300 gay and lesbian couples were married before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the decision pending appeal.
"We were told, 'Oh, you'll never win,'" Nessel said. There were also strong concerns expressed about the Sixth Circuit, which will now hear the case. Nessel described it as a "little bit more conservative than some of the other circuits,'" with nine Republican-appointed justices at the time, and seven Democratic-appointed judges. But as she also pointed out, it has often been conservative, Republican-appointed judges who've ruled in favor of gay marriage -- from Judge Vaughn Walker ruling California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional to, more recently, Judge Robert Shelby striking down Utah's ban -- and Nessel felt it was worth taking the risk.
"Sometimes you just go ahead and try to do what's right and hope it works out for the best," she told me. And she predicted at that time, in March 2013, that she would win at the district court level: "I've gotten so many signals from this judge. It is clear he wants to strike down the ban."
Indeed, Judge Bernard Friedman, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, didn't just strike down the ban; it was in fact his idea to challenge it, which is what gave Nessel those signals, of course. Nessel's firm, Kessel and Nessel, took a pro-bono case on behalf of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, challenging a law that prevented them, as lesbian parents, from co-adopting three children they raised. Judge Friedman said that challenging that law wasn't the right way to go and said it was Michigan's marriage ban that they should be challenging. He then gave Nessel 10 days to put a case together.
She was flabbergasted. On the one hand, it was enormously exciting. On the other hand, she had 10 days to mount a marriage case, with few resources. When she appeared in court to make the case, however, Friedman announced that he was putting the case on hold, pending the outcome of the Supreme Court's decision on Prop 8, which would come a few months later. Some national gay groups had filed a brief asking Friedman to do that, and, in the end, it was probably prudent. After the high court decided that the Prop 8 proponents didn't have standing and thus allowed the lower court's ruling to stand -- bringing gay marriage back to California but offering no decision on other bans across the country -- Friedman ordered a trial in Michigan, which took place in the past two weeks, followed by his swift decision last week.
Still, Nessel was frustrated by the national groups' urging her not to take the case in the first place. Interestingly, some of the biggest gay marriage wins of recent years have been cases that national LGBT groups warned against. It was reported last week that the respective high-powered firms of Ted Olson and David Boies took in $6.4 million for the Prop 8 case. The money raised eyebrows among some lawyers with whom I spoke, who said major firms almost always take civil rights cases pro-bono.
But a spokesman for the Los Angeles-based American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which brought the case to Olson and Boies and raised the money, including among many Hollywood donors (one of the founders of AFER included actor and director Rob Reiner), told the Washington Blade, "Our donors feel very strongly about return on investment." And other observers said the cost was a bargain compared with the tens of millions of dollars it would have cost to bring Prop 8 back to the ballot in California.
AFER initially was criticized by gay groups who thought it was much too risky to take Prop 8 to the federal courts and tried to intervene. But eventually they all came on board, especially after seeing the big win at the district court level.
Of course, Olson and Boies didn't get a ruling at the Supreme Court. The case that did win at the Supreme Court was the Windsor case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, brought by attorney Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison (who worked pro-bono), and the ACLU, on behalf of Edie Windsor, who also didn't initially have the support of gay rights groups, which had turned her away. If getting Prop 8 killed in California was a bargain for the price, then getting DOMA struck down -- pro-bono -- was highway robbery. It is that case that has had far-reaching effects, with the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling used in every subsequent federal decision that has fully or partially stuck down marriage equality bans in states, including in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Kentucky, and now Michigan.
It's interesting how some cases that national LGBT groups warned against not only were net positives but spurred still other cases that the groups warned about but which also advanced progress. And, in the end, the cautious national groups, which we shouldn't forget often laid much of the groundwork, came aboard. In Michigan, Nessel would eventually get help from national leaders, including attorney Mary Bonauto, who, with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), had won the marriage case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and also won a challenge to DOMA in Massachusetts (a case that the Supreme Court didn't take, opting for the Windsor case instead).
For Nessel, there's something else that was important in bringing the Michigan case.
"The other way I feel about this is that a lot of the national groups are based in New York or California or Boston," she said in that interview with me early last year. "But in Michigan we are suffering so badly here. To have groups from organizations that are in the coastal states say, 'Hey, you guys have to wait, and one day you guys will have the same rights,' it's really disheartening to hear that, because our people are really suffering. Yeah, maybe we live in a flyover region, but our gays and lesbians are not any less important than the families that live in those regions."
The Catholic League's Bill Donohue, pit bull of the Catholic Church in America and a man who now seems completely out of touch with his own pope, is furious that Guinness beer opted for diversity rather than bigotry when the company decided to pull out as a sponsor of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City this year. Donohue has now called for a Catholic boycott of Guinness beer (we'll get to that in a minute), and yesterday he also applied to the NYC Pride march committee to march this June in the parade under a banner that reads, "Straight Is Great," and the committee has agreed to let him march.
I say: Bring it on! Let's let Bill Donohue march in the parade and show that we are better than those troglodytes who run the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York, increasingly out of touch with the world. Of course, the Pride parade is about LGBT pride, so perhaps Donohue has to tweak that banner a bit to say, "Straights Who Support Gays Are Great," or "Catholics Who Support Gays Are Great." After all, the LGBT people who want to march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade don't want to march under a banner that says, "Gay Is Great." They want to celebrate Irish pride and being gay and would more likely have a banner that says, "Irish, Gay and Proud."
But hey, why even quibble? Let's go for more speech, not less. Let Donohue march under his "Straight Is Great" banner if he truly wants. I mean, straights are great, even if gays are great too, right? Or as Pride Director David Studinski put it, "Straight is great -- as long as there's no hate." And let me march under a banner right in front of Donohue's contingent, saying, "Bill Donohue Is the Biggest Blowhard on the Face of Planet Earth." I'm even happy to amend that banner to say, "Gays Who Believe That Bill Donohue Is the Biggest Blowhard on the Planet Earth." I'm sure I'll have a sizable contingent. And OK, if that's not cool, then those of us who are Catholic and gay should simply march alongside Donohue, as part of the "league," with signs that say, "Gay, Catholic and Proud."
But by all means, let Donohue march!
And about his Catholic boycott of Guinness beer: It's a free country, and by all means, he has a right to launch a boycott to send a message. Let him try. The majority of Catholics worldwide and in the U.S. support full LGBT rights, including marriage equality. And that includes Irish Americans. The majority disagree with the parade's exclusion of LGBT people and the bigotry that the parade's leadership has promoted for years. Are Catholics really going to give up their favorite beer for the windbag Bill Donohue while Pope Francis says, "Who am I to judge?"
Donohue, who has never before seemed to be anything beyond a one-man show, is suddenly talking about an entire "staff" at his "league" that is compiling lists:
This is the start of an on-going protest that will send an unmistakable message to Guinness: declaring war on Catholics is risky business. The rollout of this campaign is visible here at our headquarters: the staff is busy assembling a list of Catholic organizations, Irish groups, pub owners, and all those persons and associations that have worked with us in the past, to boycott Guinness. There will be public statements, paid advertisements, and more. Of course, we will continue to blanket the media. While we will not refrain from addressing other issues, the Guinness boycott is our top priority. We have the time, the money, and the determination to conduct a full-court press. Stay tuned.
You heard that right. People are starving in the streets and Pope Francis is talking about how to feed them and clothe them, but for Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, "the Guinness boycott is our top priority." I wonder if Rupert Murdoch is pouring some cash into this effort. He was, after all, outraged over Guinness pulling out of the parade, tweeting a few days ago that the Irish should boycott the beer.
The very first thing we all need to do today is thank the LGBT Pride committee in New York City for letting Bill Donohue march in the parade. And the second thing we all need to do, later on in the day, is buy ourselves or someone else a cold Guinness.
Ugandan activist Frank Mugisha was traveling outside his country when the notorious anti-homosexuality bill was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni late last month. And now he’s not sure if he will be arrested and imprisoned upon his return, or thrown out of his home -- or both.
"I’ve heard more than 50 cases of violence and discrimination,” Mugisha, who serves as Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress on Tuesday. “People who have been evicted from their homes. People who have been disowned. People who tried to commit suicide. People who have lost their jobs. People who have lost friends. People who are fearing to go back to their homes and are now staying with friends. LGBT offices have been closed down. And local councils have visited the homes of people and asked them why they are recruiting...[and] promoting homosexuality. And I don’t even know if I have a home any more, because I’ve not returned home and I don’t know the reaction my neighbors or my landlord are going to give me when I go back.”
The law broadens already existing prohibitions on homosexual relations with a penalty of 14 years for "first offenders" and a maximum sentence of life in prison for "aggravated homosexuality," which includes instances of repeated gay sex between consenting adults. The law also penalizes those who provide services to, or even know of, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people, including individuals, companies, media, or non-governmental organizations. Within days of the law's passage, a Ugandan tabloid named the nation's "200 top" gays, leading to so-called "witch hunts" and discrimination.
Mugisha was out of the country trying to get support from LGBT groups overseas when Museveni signed the bill, and he is currently in London. Regarding the very real possibility of his own arrest and imprisonment upon his return, he said, “I really don’t know what would happen because the law is very clear that any person promoting homosexuality, any person talking about homosexuality — my own Facebook, my own Twitter accounts, are now regarded illegal, so physically and personally and spiritually I am illegal in Uganda. So I don’t know if, when I get into the country, I’m going to get arrested. So in every aspect I’m very paranoid, I’ve very worried, I’m very scared.”
Nevertheless, Mugisha is intent on returning home and fighting the law.
“I definitely have to go back because this law is about people’s lives,” Mugisha said. “Many of my friends — I’ve got over 5,000 Facebook friends — half of them are emailing me and telling me they are worried. They are scared of what could happen. There are many people who are afraid. And I think we have to challenge this law in whatever form or way we have to do it and remove it from our law books. So that is part of the reason why I have to go back. I have to work with my friends. I have to work with everyone who is giving us support, so that we can challenge this law.”
Oh, those heady days of 2012 for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)! That was the year that Maggie Gallagher, the former president of NOM, walked the corridors of CPAC like religious-right royalty, a warrior princess marching into battle against the encroaching homosexual invaders. She moderated a panel in the main ballroom, a major event that included 89-year-old Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, the Christian right's very own Queen Mum, and was focused on how to "protect marriage" from the homosexual assault.
And last year Brian Brown, NOM's current president, sat on a panel focused on defending "traditional marriage" that was moderated by Cleta Mitchell, the archenemy of GOProud and all things gay, and an influential board member of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which hosts CPAC.
I spoke with Brown that day in National Harbor, Md., at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, where CPAC was held this year and last, and he was positively giddy. We chatted while seated on a bench next to a faux 19th-century-style general store in a Disneyland-like "old town" center enclosed in a giant, 19-story glass atrium of the hotel. It's an artificial, hermetically sealed environment, with banana plants and hydrangeas that bloom every day, out of season. It was an appropriate locale for a conversation with a man who wants to keep the world perfectly preserved in the past, seemingly oblivious -- or doing a good job of faking it -- to what's happening outside the bubble.
"We are going to win at the Supreme Court!" Brown exclaimed with a beaming smile on that day in March 2013, declaring that taking California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act to the Supreme Court will have been "the biggest strategic mistake" of the gay-rights movement.
Well, we all know how that turned out. And this year at CPAC there was no panel focused on the evils of gay marriage, nor were Maggie Gallagher or Brian Brown anywhere to be found. NOM, which has reportedly been having major financial issues, operating with a $2-million deficit, did have a small table in the basement of the hotel with the other exhibitors, though nothing as grand as the massive, expensive booths and tents of the gun-rights groups or the anti-tax activists. At the NOM table two chirpy 20-somethings handed out fliers as very few people stopped by. When I was there, one of them was being challenged on marriage equality by a 20-something CPAC attendee.
When I asked for a NOM spokesperson, they called upstairs, and NOM's Chris Plante, who'd once said that gays "turn children into little teacup dogs" as an "accessory," came down. He was quite disturbed about the lack of any panel on "traditional marriage" at CPAC.
"There is an obvious absence," he complained. "And that is a mistake. It's not representing true conservatives across this country. ... CPAC ... is not representing what we would call the Republican Party of this country." He added, "I've already spoken with several [conservative Christian leaders] who are concerned with that absence. There are certainly things that are going on within the organizations that back CPAC up. ... For CPAC to step away from [marriage] is quite surprising."
NOM's Chris Plante, standing in front of his organization's table in the basement exhibition hall, talks to me about the lack of a marriage panel at CPAC 2014
The signs of things to come for NOM were actually quite visible in those heady days of 2012, as I reported at the time. Maggie Gallagher's panel with Schlafly included mostly people over 60, and the audience was mostly over 50, while the vast majority of CPAC's young, new members didn't attend. And last year a breakout pro-gay-marriage panel hosted by the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute and featuring GOProud co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia was standing-room-only, while the panel featuring NOM's Brown was practically empty.
Don't get me wrong: There were plenty of of ugly attacks on gay equality coming from the stage this year during the three days of CPAC. Rick Santorum talked of "reclaiming marriage," while Dr. Ben Carson blathered on about not giving gays "extra rights" -- like "marriage." Ralph Reed blasted "left-wing bullies" for allegedly forcing Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto an anti-gay bill and said that Attorney General Eric Holder had engaged in a "brazen act of lawlessness" for counseling state attorneys general not to defend marriage-equality bans (though Reed did concede to me in an interview that a federal marriage amendment is a dead issue).
Still, while there was no panel focused on defending "traditional marriage" from the gays, there was a panel in the main ballroom -- quite well-attended -- titled "Can Social Conservatives and Libertarians Ever Get Along?" Much of the panel was a discussion of gay marriage, as well as marijuana legalization. There's been a lot of focus on right-wing radio host Michael Medved's idiotic outburst on the panel, in which he claimed that it is "a liberal lie" that many states have banned gay marriage. But what was perhaps more startling was the actual presence of two panelists who support marriage equality out of five people on the panel. I think that had to be a first for a main-ballroom event at CPAC.
Matt Welch of Reason magazine presented what some might call the pure libertarian position, in favor of gay marriage but also in favor of allowing a wedding photographer to turn away a gay couple. But Alexander McCobin, president of the libertarian Students for Liberty, sounded like a gay-rights activist, talking about "sexual orientation" and the equal-protection clause of the Constitution and how we just couldn't tolerate discrimination in any form.
What a big change. While NOM was banished to a card table in the basement, an exuberant young man on the main stage of CPAC was promoting the idea that gays are protected under the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
A representative of Tradition, Family and Property, the anti-gay Catholic group, in the exhibition hall
Tradition, Family and Property's anti-GOProud flier (photo courtesy of RightWingWatch)
However, it seemed to me that the majority of 20-somethings at CPAC just don't care about the issue and, quite frankly, don't want to be bothered by it. In polling, many of these young people might in fact say they support gay marriage, but it's not something they're passionate about, nor is it going to stop them from supporting an anti-equality, anti-gay candidate whose fiscal policies or foreign policy they support.
Furthermore, when Mike Huckabee took the stage and railed about "religious liberty" being under attack and warned of God delivering the "fiery judgement" of "Sodom and Gomorrah" on America, there was a standing ovation and raucous applause, including from the great many young people in the packed room.
As Christian-right leaders try to morph the anti-gay-marriage push into a "religious liberties" and "religious freedom" issue -- and despite what happened in Arizona, don't think they're not continuing to try to hone that message -- many of these young people will gravitate toward that message, or perhaps support it out of loyalty or see it as more reasonable. The tension over LGBT rights among conservatives and the exploitation of homophobia, amid the factionalism over a variety of other issues, will be present in the conservative movement and the Republican Party for quite some time.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post erroneously referred to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center as the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center. It has been updated accordingly.
In a bizarre comparison, Foster Friess, the multi-millionaire mega funder of Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential run, said gay marriage is among “a number of social and cultural issues” that the country is “migrating” toward, including “out-of-wedlock” births, which he appeared to suggest had led to more murders in Chicago and “has cost our society dearly in terms of imprisonment.”
In an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday in National Harbor, Md., Friess, who said he’d back Santorum for a presidential run again in 2016, talked about what he views as a different set of values the Republican Party has from those America is embracing, and said the party would have to make a decision about which way to go. Friess has been criticized in the past for his support of anti-Muslim groups. And in 2012, during Santorum’s campaign, he created an uproar with remarks about contraception (for which he later apologized), in which he said that in his day, women “used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”
Responding to a question about gay marriage becoming more accepted, even as Santorum continues to speak out against it, including in his CPAC speech where he discussed "reclaiming marriage," Friess said “gay marriage is definitely gaining ground and Santorum is not on the winning side of that point of view, but does that mean he’s a bigot for believing in the Catholic faith he was raised on?”
Friess said “tolerance has been morphed” and that religious values are under attack.
“In America, we have this bell curve of certain values,” he explained of his belief. “And then we have another bell curve of different values, which is the Republican Party. And they’re out of sync right now."
Friess used as an example a guest he said he heard on Sean Hannity’s radio program.
“Hannity had a a guy on that said, ‘I fathered 20 kids by 14 mothers,’” Friess said. “That is s cultural issue which has demeaned our society and has caused our society dearly in terms of imprisonment. Who’s going to be the fathers to those children? Who’s going to pay child support?…So, that very degradation of our society — do we want to migrate Republican principles, and say, ‘Okay, we don’t care how many —.“
When interrupted and asked what that has to do with gay marriage, Friess responded:
“Gay marriage is one of a number of social, cultural issues … It’s migrating on a national level, that gay marriage will be more accepted. My point is, what it has to do with [the man who fathered 14 children] is, there’s a whole bunch of cultural issues. Out-of-wedlock births. 413 murders in Chicago. In certain states, if a woman makes $12,000 a year, and lives with her quarter-of-a million dollar boyfriend and they don’t get married, as long as they don’t get married, she gets maybe 20 or 30 thousand dollars in pre-tax benefits in terms of food stamps, health care and housing allowance. So those are all cultural issues which the American public has migrated to.”
Regarding Santorum and a possible run in 2016, Friess said he “absolutely” would back him.
“Santorum is the greatest person on the face of the planet as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “The man has a heart, he loves our country. He tells you what he thinks. What people love about Santorum is, he is who is. He loves God. He loves his country. And he loves gays.”
Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, now head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, conceded in an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday that a federal marriage amendment that would ban gay marriage in the U.S. Constitution is a dead issue for GOP presidential candidates. Mitt Romney vowed to push for an amendment banning gay marriage in 2012, and George W. Bush announced his support for an amendment in 2004 and made it a big part of his re-election campaign.
Reed, who in his speech at CPAC attacked "left-wing bullies" whom he said forced Gov. Jan Brewer to veto an anti-gay bill in Arizona and railed against the Obama administration for fomenting a "war on religion," said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress that he doesn't "know of anyone [among possible GOP contenders] who plans to run for president in 2016" who supports gay marriage.
However, agreeing that no potential GOP 2016 candidate has yet to come out in favor of a federal marriage amendment, Reed conceded that it would be "trying to put the genie back in the bottle."
"Even if you passed a federal marriage amendment," he said, "I would assume it would grandfather in anyone who's been married, so I don't know. It was always a very difficult option. I don't think we ever got 50 votes in the U.S. Senate for that amendment. So, we always knew that the amendment was going to be very difficult to pass."
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that a record majority of Americans supports marriage equality, with 59 percent in favor and 38 percent opposed, and that half of Americans believe marriage for gays and lesbians is a constitutional right.
Ten years ago it was the complete inverse, with 59 percent opposed. It shows how rapidly opinions have changed on the issue among Americans. Even majorities of people in the 33 states with bans on gay marriage support marriage equality. And in the wake of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's veto last week of an anti-gay "religious liberties" bill, nearly 70 percent of Americans in the poll say businesses should not be allowed, based on religious beliefs, to turn away gay people.
But among Republicans, not much has changed. Only 40 percent of GOPers support marriage equality, while a majority is opposed. Six in 10 evangelical Protestants, who make up a large part of the base of the GOP, are opposed to marriage equality. Bills to allow businesses to discriminate in the states based on "religious liberties" have been driven by GOP politicians trying to give some red meat to the religious right in an election year. While Arizona's governor vetoed that state's bill, and other states pulled back, in Arizona and Mississippi and elsewhere anti-gay forces are determined to fine-tune and narrow these bills and get them passed.
And yet in this one area, many LGBT groups, like the Human Rights Campaign, in their zeal to get any form of federal protections passed, have isolated themselves from the American public as well, according the new poll, pandering to the GOP and conservative Democrats in the way that the GOP panders to the religious right.
As I wrote several months ago, the religious exemption in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which finally passed in the Senate late last year, is a throwback to the 1990s, when ENDA was first introduced; the bill wasn't updated to the times we live in. While ENDA would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, it exempts businesses owned by religious groups, like a hospital owned by the Catholic Church, allowing such businesses, which serve the general public, to fire or not hire LGBT people.
However, many of the same LGBT groups that promoted ENDA with a religious exemption somewhat belatedly demanded a veto by Gov. Brewer of the "religious freedom" law in Arizona, and that looked hypocritical. Why allow employers not to hire people based on their religious beliefs but tell businesses it's wrong to turn people away based on their religious beliefs?
Not only does a vast majority of Americans support a law banning discrimination against LGBT people in employment, but the new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that a vast majority would also support a law banning discrimination in public accommodations -- without a religious exemption. That's pretty amazing. LGBT people have no federal protections -- no protections in employment, housing, credit, education or public accommodations -- and all we're pushing for is a narrow employment bill with religious exemptions, while the vast majority of Americans support full civil rights?
Sure, LGBT groups are operating within a political environment in which a small band of extremists have a lock on the GOP. But better to get nothing passed right now and continue to embarrass the GOP and watch it implode than to compromise our rights and pander to those extremists. Worse yet, passing ENDA with religious exemptions sets a dangerous precedent, as groups like the ACLU and Lambda Legal have pointed out, by allowing the very discrimination that we so powerfully beat back in Arizona with the help of big business and people across America.
It's time to push for full equality at the federal level, with no religious exemptions, in employment, in housing, in credit and in public accommodations. It's what the American people support. And it's what we should demand no matter how long it takes.
For days the media built up the hoped-for veto of a "religious freedom" bill by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. She seemed to enjoy dragging it out, and she basked in her moment in the sun live on primetime national television yesterday. But Jan Brewer taking her sweet time also helped the cause of LGBT rights in a dramatic way. It allowed activists to keep building support against discrimination and to simply have the national spotlight too. It encouraged more major corporations to weigh in against the bill, from Apple to Delta Air Lines, and it had the TV talk shows equating businesses banning service to gays to deciding not to serve any other racial or religious minority. That was a big win in the national debate, to be sure.
But let's not forget that in Arizona, it's still legal to refuse to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in your bakery or your photo studio for religious or any other reasons, due in no small part to Jan Brewer's hostility to LGBT rights throughout her tenure. It's legal for a landlord in Arizona to turn away LGBT people. Except in a few Arizona cities with employment protections, it's also legal for an employer to fire someone simply for being queer.
That's because Arizona has no statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing or public accommodations. And at the federal level, LGBT advocates can't even get a narrow bill with odious religious exemptions -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) -- passed in the GOP-controlled Congress, let alone federal protections for LGBT people in housing and public accommodations. Brewer was absolutely right when she said the "religious freedom" law was unnecessary, because religious bigots already legally discriminate against LGBT people in her state.
Nevertheless, this week the radical right and its GOP backers were beat at a game they're used to always winning, and it's divided them and sent some into fits of rage. The GOP-controlled Arizona legislature passed the bill to give some red meat to Christian evangelicals in the base during an election year. But this was a bad bill from the start, because it could be broadly interpreted to adversely affect Jews, Muslims or anyone else whom a business owner might deem offensive to his or her religious faith. That was a major misstep, and it will cost religious conservatives dearly even as they try to narrow these bills in other states. Already they've begun reassessing and even pulling the plug on similar bills in other states. It will be very difficult to change the media narrative at this point.
The backlash against this bill should also be a lesson for national LGBT groups that supported ENDA with dangerous religious exemptions: It looks hypocritical and wrongheaded to support a federal employment nondiscrimination bill that gives exemptions in hiring to some businesses, like hospitals run by religious entities, only to condemn a state bill that, in the name of "religious freedom," seeks to exempt businesses from having to serve gays. Could that be one reason that some major LGBT groups were oddly silent when the Arizona bill was passed last week?
This story blew up because of bloggers and others on social media, and it received huge momentum when major corporations -- over 80 -- rallied against the bill. The NFL was even thinking about pulling the Super Bowl from Arizona this year. Using business as a tool, especially against Republicans, often works.
So yes, it's a turning point in the national debate, and that's a big win. But when the NFL threatens to pull the Super Bowl from Arizona simply because the state still hasn't passed a nondiscrimination law protecting LGBT people, then I'll see it as a truly huge victory.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is apoplectic that Arizona's "religious liberties" bill looks like it's going down in flames, attacking "the Left's propaganda machine," which he says is "in full force, cranking out one distortion after the next in what should be a non-controversial debate over religious liberty."
With over 80 major companies condemning the bill, which would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people, and three of the GOP legislators who backed it now backtracking, it seems that Gov. Jan Brewer will veto it if she has any sense. One legislator who backed the bill, Rep. John Kavanagh, was about to come on my radio program yesterday but then canceled; his office said that he believed Brewer will veto the bill, and that the representative will take it up again in the next legislative session.
These "religious liberties" laws or similar ones have been pushed in several states across the country as the religious right looks for new ways to demonize LGBT people, and as the GOP accommodates them. Indiana and Georgia are next up, backed by the same band of anti-gay groups that have pushed them in Arizona and other states.
And make no mistake: The same crowd has been instrumental in getting horrendous, draconian laws recently passed in Nigeria and now Uganda and promoting hate across Africa. After years of backing off because of international pressure, President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda signed the anti-homosexuality bill this week, seemingly emboldened by Nigeria's president very quietly signing a bill criminalizing gay unions and even meeting places for gays and initiating a witch hunt against gay people, who've been arrested and brutalized.
Now the witch hunts have begun in Uganda as well. Human rights activists lay some of the blame for Uganda's actions with the Obama administration and the State Department. Uganda's president flipped and signed his country's anti-gay law, pressured by right-wing forces in his country who saw that there was no great response from the West, no ramifications from the U.S., to Nigeria. Now anti-gay rhetoric is being ratcheted up in Kenya and Gambia, where President Yayha Jemmeh said gays are "vermin" who should be treated like malaria-spreading mosquitoes.
But let's be clear that the U.S. might not have to be responding at all if not for American evangelical Christians in this country who traveled to Africa and other countries and spread the hate and took advantage of discontent. It's widely known that Scott Lively, the American evangelist who published a book erroneously claiming that homosexuality gave rise to the the Nazis, sowed the seeds of hate in Uganda beginning years back. And, as blogger Joe Jervis revealed in 2010, the Family Researching Council, now enraged by the backlash against Arizona's anti-gay law, lobbied Congress not to pass a resolution condemning the Uganda bill.
Matt Barber and Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel/Liberty University recently praised laws like those in Nigeria and Uganda that criminalize LGBT people. A new coalition of these groups has now formed to push homophobia across the globe. So while we're hopefully beating back this law in Arizona, with anti-gay forces claiming it's about religious freedom and not about discrimination, keep in mind that their goal -- as they travel to places like Russia, as Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage did last year, supporting that country's "gay propaganda" law -- is to see homosexuality criminalized and punished around the world. And as Bryan Fisher of the American Family Association told me in an interview, that is exactly what they'd like to bring back to America as well.
CeCe McDonald left prison last month after serving 19 months of a 41-month sentence, having been convicted of second degree manslaughter — in a plea deal she took to avoid possible murder convictions and perhaps 80 years in prison — after she used deadly force to protect herself during a brutal transphobic and racist assault in Minneapolis.
Her story, as a then-23-year-old African-American transgender woman defending herself amid a hate attack perpetrated by an older white man, is yet another example of the glaring injustice of our criminal justice system. It’s instructive as the nation once again debates "stand your ground" laws in the wake of the mistrial last week of Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old white man, for the shooting death of a 17-year-old black youth, Jordan Davis, in Jacksonville, Florida. But more than that, McDonald’s story underscores the brutality and discrimination that transgender people face every day, not just from attackers on the streets but from the police and the justice system itself.
CeCe McDonald’s story is being made into a film to be released later this year, “Free CeCe!,” spearheaded by “Orange Is the New Black” star and trans activist Laverne Cox, who is co-producing the film with Jacqueline Garas. In an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress, McDonald discussed the event that would change the course of her entire life.
On a June night in 2011, she and some friends and relatives were walking near a bar in Minneapolis when some bar patrons began harassing them, hurling racist, homophobic and transphobic slurs. McDonald was soon assaulted by a woman who slashed her face and dragged her to the ground. As McDonald staggered away, the woman’s boyfriend ran after her. She defended herself with fabric scissors she had in her bag, after repeatedly warning the man, 47-year-old Dean Schmitz, to retreat. When the police arrived McDonald was arrested and charged in the stabbing murder of Schmitz.The judge in the case wouldn’t allow expert testimony explaining how transgender women are disproportionately victims of hate crimes.
Read the partial transcript of the interview and listen to CeCe McDonald tell her story. And visit the flimmakers' website to find out more about "Free CeCe!"
“In a distance I can see my cousin and my friends arguing with the people at the bar. As I get closer I’m just hearing all type of negative epithets regarding race and gender and sexuality.”
“The verbal assault became physical after my attacker made a comment about her being able to take all of us ‘bitches’ on. These were four grown adults, late 30s, early 40s. They were considered bar patrons, so they frequently came to this one bar. They gave the idea of a motorcycle gang. Bandanas and all leather, and doing things [drugs] that were against the law at the time that also were not brought up in court. These were grown people.”
“What happened was after she made that comment I realized there was no longer a reason for me to be there. As I was turning — she had a glass tumbler — as I was turning she threw her drink in my face. All her liquor went into my eyes. And then I felt the glass shards break into my face. And it was really an excruciating pain and instantly I was covered with blood, and I was really scared and I couldn’t see because there was liquor in my eyes. After she hit me with the glass, she decided to pull me into the street by my hair and show how strong she was. It was really difficult for me to deal with that. I couldn’t see and they were attacking me. The bar was closing and people were coming out. I got really nervous because it was only me and four other people. And me and four other people couldn't take on a whole bar. And so it was really difficult.”
“I felt like the hatred protruding from these people weren’t like any normal dislike towards a person. The incident in it itself was so complex. We dealt with race. We dealt with sexual orientation. We dealt with transphobia and transmisogyny. We dealt with homophobia. And in that it’s like you don’t know what part of you that you’re defending. I didn’t know if I was fighting for myself because I was black. I didn’t know if I was fighting for myself because I was trans. But it all coincided. Because they didn’t decide which one to choose. They just let it all.”
After the fight was over, I was bleeding and am literally staggering to a safe place to call the police. As I’m walking, they’re yelling at me and [Dean Shmitiz] is walking toward me and his walk turns into a sprint. Seeing I’m bloody, clothes ripped, everything. I turned around, walking backwards and I said ‘Leave it go.’ He just kept pursuing me. And nobody would know how I felt when I looked in his eyes and I saw nothing but pure hatred, like he wanted to kill me. My first reaction was to defend myself, and so I reached in my purse and grabbed the first thing I could find, which were some fabric scissors that I had from school. He saw that I had them. I told him, 'I’m not trying to fight but I will defend myself.' He kept pursing me. There was no apprehension in him. The drugs he was on at the time probably gave him the gumption. He came to pursue me, knowing I had a weapon in my hand. And so when it got to the point of him attacking me again, I only did what was natural for me, a reflex. I’m sorry it happened but I was only doing what was best for me in my life.”
“When I stood in that parking lot. I was sure that the police were coming to help me. And when they arrived, they were ready to attack me. They were so quick to get out of the car and make me the aggressor. I’m like, ‘I didn’t start this.’ And they were like, ‘Somebody got stabbed’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I got stabbed in the face.’ They didn’t care. They put me in handcuffs, still bleeding. It took 20 minutes for me to get to the hospital.”
“I was charged with two second degree murder charges. I could have been found guilty on both charges and that could have given me zero to 80 years. Knowing the history of the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex, I knew it was not be a good ending, and knowing the history of the self-defense laws and it’s very biased when it’s white vs. black and black vs. white. And so, I kind of knew I’d rather take the plea and do a little time.”
“[Dean Schmitz’s] past criminal and assault history against his wife or girlfriend or whatever [were omitted from the trial] .They omitted the toxicology report. But the sad part was that they wanted to add everything from my past history [in] life that was wrong. I wrote one bad check and they felt that by me doing that I was dishonest and disloyal and that my statement in court wouldn’t have mattered because of that. And it was really sad because it seemed like everything that would have benefited or helped my case in some little way, they took away from me. So I was left with nothing and he had everything.”
“The second time, I was very afraid,” said former Italian member of parliament Vladimir Luxuria, about her detention in Sochi, Russia after she defied Vladimir Putin’s “gay propaganda” law twice at the Winter Olympic Games earlier this week, wearing a rainbow flag with a pro-gay slogan and even posing for photos with children. Luxuria made history as Italy’s first transgender member of Parliament, serving from 2006 to 2008. Now an activist and TV host in Italy, she was in Sochi with her television colleagues to report on the anti-gay law during the Winter Olympics.
“Let’s say it was Vladimir against Vladimir,” she quipped in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress. The conditions she described, however, as well as the experiences she had, were far from humorous.
“It’s so painful hearing [from] a young gay Russian," she said. “I was in a gay club in Sochi, [called] Mayak —very quiet place. No evidence from outside. No rainbow. No writing. Just the door. And this very young guy told me, ‘I was beaten up by a gang near Moscow. And what is more painful is that I cannot go on television and talk about the aggression [because]…. it would be considered ‘propaganda.’”
Luxuria said that from the moment she arrived in Sochi she was under surveillance because she was “very, very visible” and “very fierce, outstanding.” She has described herself in the past as neither male nor female, though she prefers to be addressed by the feminine pronoun. She often dresses very flamboyantly, often in rainbow-decorated dresses and hats, and self-identifies to people as transgender.
“I was walking around Sochi talking with people to see what they think about Putin’s law,” she said. “And so of course the policemen noted me. And from that moment on they spotted me. They spotted where I was sleeping, the hotel where I was sleeping.”
On Sunday night she decided to visit the gay nightclub alone. But before she got there, she was stopped by police and taken to the station simply because she wore a rainbow banner.
“The first night I came out at 7:30 at night,” Luxuria said. “It was raining. I was going to the Mayak club. I had a rainbow flag on my shoulder [inscribed with], in Russian writing, ’It is okay to be gay.’ And two people stopped me, asking me to give them my rainbow. They were not dressed as policemen.”
Luxuria thought they they might be thieves, so she resisted. She said the men then became angry.
They took it away violently from me,” she said, “showing me cards saying they were policemen, and they put me in a car, put me in a police station. I sat there for more than two hours. Nobody was speaking English. No explanation. They asked to see my passport. Then after a long time, at last, one person talking in English came up to me and said, ‘Ok you’re very welcome here at Sochi International Olympic Games, but please don’t show writings in Russian talking about these things. This time we will let you out. Next time we will be more severe.’”
On Monday, Luxuria planned to watch a women’s hockey game in the stadium at the Olympic Park, for which she purchased a ticket. She wore a rainbow-patterned gown and a big rainbow-patterned headdress.
“I was the fairy rainbow queen, walking inside the Olympic Park,” she said. "Vladimir Putin would be shocked because little children asked their mothers to take a picture with me, because I was the rainbow fairy queen...I was not wearing a flag because they told me I couldn’t and I couldn’t wear anything with Russian writing. But I still had the voice. I have a beautiful voice, very powerful. So I began to shout, in front of the journalists, in front of the people, ‘It is okay to be gay!’”
Luxuria was about to enter the stadium with her ticket, when she was suddenly surrounded by a group of men.
“I wanted to see women's hockey on ice, and had tickets and tried to go in,” she said. “I paid 50 dollars for a ticket. All of a sudden, 10 people, not dressed as policemen, but with sporting wear suits, they just throw me away, and I fell down because I have heels. They didn’t care. They try to pull me up. My shoulder is still aching me.”
Luxuria was put into a car with official Olympic logos, with four men, and driven around Sochi for ten minutes, until she was dumped outside of town. Her two television colleagues, taken in a second car, were dropped off with her.
“At a certain moment I was really afraid, asking, ‘What you going to do with me?'" she recounted, noting that the men were making and receiving phone calls. “I was afraid, [thinking], 'Maybe they’re going to beat us. Maybe they’re going to arrest me.' They let us out, in the middle of nowhere, in the countryside, in the dark. It was a Fellini atmosphere. Me dressed as a fairy queen in the Russian country. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried. I was very nervous. Now I know that the Italian consulate was in touch with the Russian chief of police. And the order was to arrest me and keep me in prison but thanks to the intervention of the Italian consulate, I was released.”
The group called the Italian consulate, which helped to locate them and sent drivers to pick them up and bring them back to their hotel, which was swarming with police. After doing an interview at the hotel, Luxuria was told by police not to do any more interviews and that she had to leave Russia and would be escorted to the airport the next morning by officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Luxuria, who did eventually make it to the gay nightclub that first night she’d been detained, said she’ll never forget the people she met.
“It’s so moving to remember their eyes, their hopes, their sorrow,” she said. “People saying, ‘Why a person should consider himself or herself lucky or less lucky because they were born in one place and not another?’ Let’s not to forget our gay brothers and lesbian sisters and transgender people [in Russia]. They are like us. They were just born in other countries. But they are just like us.”