Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: Goodnight, Sweet Prince...or Princess

Filed by: Patricia Nell Warren

It was an amazing night, with recession, war, torture and politics put on hold as people all over the world turned out for Michael Jackson. Even conservative CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer turned to mush before our eyes as he confirmed news of the artist's shocking death and remembered how "we all grew up with Jackson and his music."

Anybody who thought the King of Pop had been dethroned by criminal allegations and financial disaster had to think again. All over the world, young people who weren't even born when MJ unleashed those first dance moves had gathered in the streets to play his music and tell the news crews how they grew up with the late star-- how personally they took his life and death and art.

As one who grew up with Elvis Presley, and came out with Elton John, and grows old with Lady Gaga, I've got Jackson looming big in my own lifeline. Like many of us, I've wondered. Was he gay or transgendered? Some of us have tried to claim him. But Jackson was never one who could be nailed down with an orientation or gender label...or any label, for that matter.

As one of Jackson's business associates said in last night's interviews, "With Michael Jackson, you never knew for sure."

Yet onstage and in music videos, MJ gave us ongoing glimpses of his inner world. He was the shapeshifter -- now this, now that, in the blink of an eye. "Beat It" had him looking quasi-macho and trying to deal with tough guys. But "In the Closet" had him looking just like a young tomboy dyke as he romanced a lipstick lesbian. For that song, I found his choice of title interesting. And I always had the feeling that the teen girlfriend Jackson pursued through so many songs was really that elusive female side of himself that he finally decided to reveal through cosmetic surgeries. Yet establishing himself as a father of three children kept one moon-walking foot firmly in the camp of men.

Michael's music had several messages with a powerful appeal for older children and teens. One -- the battle to figure out who you really are. Two -- the battle with all those adult powers that try to take control of your life and crush you. Three, the battle against violence, to protect the weak and vulnerable among those you love. Those are powerful messages with young people all around the world, and I think they explain a lot about Jackson's enduring appeal with four generations of fans -- even those fans who are now older adults themselves. Burning teenage questions have their own habit of shapeshifting -- coming back in a new incarnation, when adults find they have to struggle to further re-define their old definitions.

Jackson's messages come stunningly clear in "Thriller," that most popular and influential music video of all time. It starts out by spoofing B horror movies, then suddenly veers into a hair-raising exploration of how to deal with terror by transforming yourself into the terror. The teen kid promises to protect the girlfriend from the fiendish undead who corner them. But is he a fiend himself? That moment when the zombies fall into a machine-perfect pop-and-lock chorus number with Jackson is a turning point in the modern history of music and dance. Is he? Isn't he? At the end, as the fiends crawl back into their graves and the teen hero walks her home, he gives us a fiendish grin over his shoulder, and the viewer is in on the secret -- for now, anyway.

In short, Jackson's career one of those cases where impact and image are amped by leaving the definition in the eye of the beholder.

As that career got mired ever deeper in issues around debt, health problems and allegations of sex offenses, that volcanic fire and anger and electricity of his earlier performances began to wane. Before our eyes, he changed into a tired old lady...yet he still seemed to have a hold on that gentle kid who sang "We Are the World." A low point in his image timeline was that moment during the 2005 trial in Santa Barbara, when he arrived late in rumpled jacket and pajama bottoms, looking uncombed and ill.

A few months ago, as Jackson announced his final "This Is It" concert series in London, it seemed hard to believe that he could re-light enough of that old fire, day after day, to get through a contract commitment for 50 appearances. But fans believed him -- and rushed to spend $85 million on a ticket sell-out. Days before his death, Michael was actually rehearsing at Staples Center in L.A.

For the moment, the media world is upside down. Yesterday Google and other major websites crashed with the Jackson search overload. Farrah Fawcett's death and the "Bruno" premiere got pushed into the crawl on the bottom of the TV screen, along with the Gov. Sanford scancal, the Iraq war, the Iran revolution, global warming, and President Obama's ongoing efforts at "change."

In a couple of days, "news" will be back to "normal." Meanwhile, investigation of Jackson's death, along with custody battles over his children and lawsuits over the aborted concert series, will surely drag out the drama for weeks, even months. No doubt Fred Phelps will picket Jackson's funeral and try to convince us that Michael is dancing with the demons in Hell.

Meanwhile, losses suffered by the concert promoters will surely be made up by new music sales. "Thriller" is back at #1 on the iTunes chart, and other Jackson albums have crashed the top 40 as well. The fans are speaking loud and clear.

Good night, sweet prince...or princess...whichever you are...were...are. Or maybe it's good morning, since your music will go on thrilling millions of us for new generations to come.

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The Equality Ride: LGBT visits to conservative college campuses

The riders hope to show the humanity and spirituality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, ... Some have started Gay-Straight Alliances on their campuses to keep the ...

LGBT Community Still Reeling From Setbacks and Obama Centrism -- A BuzzFlash News Analysis

LGBT Community Still Reeling From Setbacks and Obama Centrism

by Meg White

These days it seems each faction of the progressive movement claims to be more betrayed than the next. Defenders of civil liberties, those who call for torture accountability, single-payer advocates and many others were surprised and bitterly disappointed by the centrist approach of the Obama Administration.

Perhaps the most disappointed group, however, is the LGBT community. First it's important to recall that a day which was a victory for many progressives was a step back for them, with the passage of Prop 8 in California last November.

Then came Rick Warren's prominence at the inauguration celebration. And then, Obama's promise to continue the federal funding for faith-based groups, some of which actively discriminate against the LGBT community. His position on keeping Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), a policy that almost everyone disagrees with, was especially baffling. Now the administration's extreme support of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is an especially stinging blow that has resulted in protests and a withdrawal of funding and support for Obama from the LGBT community.

Andrew Sullivan describes the injurious nature of the Obama Administration's DOMA defense:

To file an actual brief re-stating some of the worst and most denigrating arguments against gay civil equality is just bizarre. They could have argued for a narrow ruling or kept the "reasonable" arguments to a minimum. What they did -- without any heads up to any of their gay supporters and allies -- is unconscionable. Citing incest precedents? Calling gay couples free-loaders? Arguing that our civil rights are not impinged because we can marry someone of the opposite sex? Who on earth decided that that was a great idea?

This week I watched the 1997 film Ma Vie En Rose (I know I'm a little behind in my film viewing, but c'est la vie). The ma vie en rosemovie title translates to "My Life in Pink" in English, and is about a seven-year-old Belgian boy who prefers dresses to pants and repeatedly says he wants to marry his male classmate once he is able to turn into the girl he knows he's meant to be.

The main character, named Ludovic, keeps getting tiny tastes of what his heart desires, only to have his pretty dresses, jewelry, lipstick and long-ish hairstyle ripped from his grasp. At one point his family is so exasperated with his cross-dressing that they take the advice of his grandmother to just indulge him for a moment in order to remove the novelty -- and hopefully Ludovic's desire to wear girls' clothing -- simultaneously. This backfires, however. The community members pretend to understand, all but dripping with acceptance, but then take the family's livelihood from them. Ludovic's father is laid off from his job and his new house is painted with homophobic graffiti.

While the surrounding community is regarded distastefully for their duplicity by the family, Ludovic is ultimately seen to be at fault for the family's eventual relocation to a less-desirable location and economic status. Every time it seems like a family member or friend finally understands Ludovic and might let him simply be himself, the poor child is pulled back from a fantasy-land of acceptance into the cruel world at hand.

Ludovic is told that his desires are unnatural so many times that he sinks into a deep despair. Seeing the pain caused by his once-sympathetic mother shaving off his dark, shiny hair is so painful that one wonders if it would have been better if Ludovic had never been allowed to grow it out at all.

Sony Pictures, the company that distributes the film in the U.S., misleadingly says the ending of Ma Vie En Rose is "profoundly optimistic." But the idea that optimism features in Ludovic's apparently dim near future is an improbable thought, and indicative of the low expectations our culture harbors for the happiness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Which brings me back to the way same-sex couples have been treated in this country over the last couple of years. In their fight for the right to marry, nearly every time they get their hands on something tangible it's minimized, if not completely ripped away from them. The promises floated by the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party have been ratcheted down in a callous lowering of political expectations. The best example of this is the manner in which partners of gay federal employees got a tiny hand-out.

Earlier this month, Obama extended some benefits, such as long-term care coverage and family leave, to same-sex partners of federal employees. Coming on the heels of the administration's support for DADT and DOMA however, the president's signature appeared to be more of a hollow appeasement of the LGBT community. In fact, DOMA itself curtailed the applicability of the extension, preventing the government from offering benefits such as health insurance to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, sent a letter to Obama in the wake of the administration's defense of DOMA:

Although I and other LGBT leaders have introduced ourselves to you as policy makers, we clearly have not been heard, and seen, as what we also are: human beings whose lives, loves, and families are equal to yours. I know this because this brief would not have seen the light of day if someone in your administration who truly recognized our humanity and equality had weighed in with you.

Solmonese goes on to poke huge holes in the pro-DOMA argument using well-reasoned legal points, ending on this poignant question:

As an American, a civil rights advocate, and a human being, I hold this administration to a higher standard than this brief. In the course of your campaign, I became convinced -- and I still want to believe -- that you do, too. I have seen your administration aspire and achieve. Protecting women from employment discrimination. Insuring millions of children. Enabling stem cell research to go forward. These are powerful achievements. And they serve as evidence to me that this brief should not be good enough for you. The question is, Mr. President -- do you believe that it's good enough for us?

Granted, the uproar over DOMA does seem to have had an effect on the administration, which has recently put into motion incremental changes such as new protections for transgendered federal workers and allowing gay couples to change their last names on their passports.

Also, some have argued that the outrage from the LGBT community may do better to concentrate on Congress -- which bears more responsibility for DOMA and is freer to reverse its course -- than on the judicial or executive branches. A spokesman for the Obama Administration recently supported a legislative fix, insisting that "the president remains strongly committed to signing a legislative repeal of DOMA into law."

Optimism may yet prevail, thanks perhaps to dark humor. Take, for example, Jed Lewison's attempt at a bright side on DOMA: "at least the legal brief didn't compare same-sex marriage to bestiality."

Maybe it is possible to be at once hopelessly cynical and at the same time be "profoundly optimistic."


Fight Ignorance: Read

State Class Action Lawsuit Filed in California Challenging New Constitutional Amendment Limiting Marriage to Heterosexuals

State Class Action Lawsuit Filed in California Challenging New Constitutional Amendment Limiting Marriage to Heterosexuals

SAN FRANCISCO, June 26 /PRNewswire/ -- A class action lawsuit Burns v. State of California Case No. CGC-08-481908 was filed on behalf of unmarried gays and lesbians in San Francisco Superior Court today, Friday June 26, 2009, one day before San Francisco's gay pride festival. This will be the first case in California's State Court challenging California's new Constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. The Plaintiffs are represented by attorney Waukeen McCoy who successfully argued In Re Marriage Cases in 2008, which briefly allowed homosexuals the right to marry in California.

Last year, the California Supreme Court decided that California's statutory law denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the privacy, due process, and equal protection provisions of the California State Constitution as it then read. Shortly after the decision, California's voters, by initiative, changed the text of the California Constitution by adding a new Section 7.5 to Article I. The new section reads "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

This lawsuit claims that section 7.5 of Article I violates the equal protection clause of the State Constitution. McCoy said, "we chose to bring this lawsuit in State Court rather than in Federal Court because sexual orientation is a protected class under California State Law and it is not recognized in Federal Law."


HRC Weekly Update from Joe Solmonese Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign President []

Dear Daniel,

On Sunday we'll mark forty years since our community said "enough" and began what became known as the Stonewall riots. The 40th Anniversary of Stonewall inspires us to look back and form a picture of how far we've come. Yet as I write this, this week has shown us that our history, and with it our destiny, has been accelerating.

In just the past few months, we've witnessed marriage victories in Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, seen the Department of Justice defend DOMA, and read the President’s Memorandum on federal employee benefits. Late today, we learned that the Administration has moved another step forward in repealing the discriminatory HIV travel ban. HRC worked hard to pave the way in Congress for this regulation, and has been pressing the President to act. The impending end of this shameful and harmful ban is one more example of history moving forward, this time in the direction of fairness.

History is clearly moving faster than I can snap a picture. The subject won't sit still.

Nonetheless, it's an important moment to reflect on this journey. Forty years ago, being caught in a police raid of a gay bar was all it took to destroy a person's life. The June 28, 1969 police raid at the Stonewall Inn was one indignity too many. Riots ensued, but just as importantly, our community found its voice.

It was a voice that for many years rang out unaccompanied. Through those early years, we built community. We came out. We formed social and political networks. Then with the 80s came what some were calling "gay cancer," and we now know as HIV / AIDS.

And so for over a decade, until the creation of free-standing AIDS service organizations, advocacy groups and government support, every organization and every person in our community did nothing else but fight to keep people alive. Everyone was dying and relatively few were paying any attention. Again, we were alone. Even President Reagan, who would lose his good friend Rock Hudson to AIDS, wouldn't say the word, let alone react in a responsible way to this national and -- ultimately -- global tragedy. But we stood together, we harnessed the power of our anger, our commitment to each other, and our will to survive, and we made ourselves heard.

In the 90s, we had a friendly ear in the White House for the first time, but we also experienced the power of our opponents when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act passed overwhelmingly, and were signed into law by the same president who had brought us new hope.

We faced 12 years of congressional leadership and eight years in the Oval Office when we were used as a political whipping post: whether through DOMA, the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), or blocking every measure designed to protect us -- including hate crimes protections supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people.

But by then we were less alone. We pushed state and local governments for non-discrimination laws and saw increasing numbers of us protected from being fired for who we are. We reached out to Corporate America, setting a new standard for equal treatment in family benefits and non-discrimination policies. Today, many state and local law enforcement officials support inclusive hate crimes legislation, and more than 60 major employers endorse a fully-inclusive ENDA. The broader civil rights movement stood up against the FMA, and supports us in our current work. In Congress, there is an LGBT Equality Caucus that includes both openly-gay members and straight allies.

We are no longer alone. Forty years after Stonewall, our lives are bound up in a larger community. It is not only new supporters and alliances, but a renewed understanding of our commitment to the great unfinished work of civil rights and social justice for all people.

As Dr. King famously wrote, "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." In this new era, our ties to one another are both valuable and inescapable. Within the LGBT community, this means that we do not rest until no one can be fired because of their gender identity. We do not rest until we have ended the discharges in the military. And we do not rest until every LGBT person can marry, and the federal government honors our marriages equally.

ur network of mutuality includes our neighbors, our co-workers, our families, and the American public at large. As people get to know us, they support us. We must show them who we are, but also hear their stories. Our country has fallen upon hard times, and we will all rise or fall together, but no one should feel a sense of double jeopardy simply because of who they are.

And finally, the 69 million voters who elected Barack Obama bound our destiny up in this presidency. To pass Hate Crimes and ENDA, repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and DOMA, and promote the health of our community, we have to engage this Administration, and educate it about who we are. That is why I wrote the President expressing our community's deep disappointment in the Administration's defense of DOMA, and calling for action to repeal the law.

While we continue to press the President and Congress forward, we must also acknowledge each development that makes our lives better. HRC pushed hard on behalf of LGBT federal civilian employees and that's why I stood next to Frank Kameny, who was fired from his government job in 1957 because he is gay, as the President signed a memorandum protecting all LGBT employees from discrimination and improving the lives of many families in the civil and foreign services.

Forty years ago at Stonewall, our community made its voice heard as never before. Today, we must not squander a single opportunity to engage those with whom our destinies are intertwined. Our voices must sound out in our own communities, in state legislatures, in the halls of Congress, and, yes, in the White House. We honor Stonewall by never forgetting the work ahead and never missing an opportunity to tell our stories.

Joe Solmonese
President, Human Rights Campaign

CNN Discusses The 'Federal Hate Crimes Bill' With Matthew Shepard's Family

The Shepards On The Hate Crimes Act

Today U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to move immediately on the hate crimes bill. The bill is reportedly going to be attached to a defense appropriations bill, a tactic which failed the last time it was attempted.

Thanks to JMG for this

Pass the Federal Hate Crimes Bill!

Dear Friend of NCLR,

The Federal Hate Crimes Bill, also known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act / Matthew Shepard Act is currently before the US Senate and we need you to act NOW to help pass this crucial piece of legislation.

The Federal Hate Crimes Bill would give the federal government the power to investigate and prosecute hate crimes—crimes committed against an individual based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Federal legislation is a crucial tool for protecting the LGBT community against hate-motivated crimes by giving the federal government jurisdiction over these crimes where the current law is inadequate. It also sends a clear message that hate-motivated crimes are taken seriously by our government.

The Federal Hate Crimes bill has been passed nine times in Congress but has failed to be enacted. The legislation was reintroduced this session and passed the House on April 29, 249-175. Now the bill is pending before the Senate.

We need a united Congress to stand up and pass this piece of legislation to send a clear and unequivocal message that hate violence is NOT an American value.

We need you contact your Senators NOW and urge them to support the Federal Hate Crimes Bill.

Find your Senator here or you can call the capitol switchboard and have them connect you with your Senators at 202.224.3121. Tell them to support the Federal Hate Crimes Bill!

Then, forward this email onto your friends and family and have them do the same. Congress needs to hear from us that passing hate crimes legislation is absolutely crucial.

Thank you for all that you do.

In solidarity,

kate signature
Kate Kendell, Esq.
Executive Director
National Center for Lesbian Rights