Deb Price

Yet Another Reason the GOP Failed


 As Republicans sift through the ashes of their latest defeat, the data shard that Democrats probably most hope their battered rivals ignore is this one:

Voters ages 18 to 29 -- who cast nearly one in five ballots -- favored Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain by 66 percent to 32 percent.

In contrast, voters ages 65 and older -- about 16 percent of the 2008 vote -- favored McCain 53 percent to 45 percent, exit polls show.

Clearly, this old GOP elephant needs more than Botox and a hip replacement.

For proof that cosmetic changes won't be enough to get the worn-out old elephant back up, look no further than the fact that women -- 53 percent of all voters -- favored Obama by 56 percent to 43 percent, and Latinos, a rapidly growing voting bloc, backed him by 67 percent to 31 percent.

The GOP ended up with those dismal results despite offering its first female vice presidential nominee after, in 2006, its first Hispanic national party chair.

While establishment Republicans are soul-searching, they'd be wise to realize that, simultaneously, young voters are watching TV, where they see openly gay Rep. Barney Frank trying to save U.S. capitalism and openly gay Suze Orman explaining how early investing in 401ks will make them rich.

TiVo-generation voters, while fast-forwarding through commercials, could suggest what an appealing, youthful elephant would look like. That cuddly -- yes, cuddly -- party animal would appeal to young people's desire to enrich their hearts as well as their wallets, offering a combo deal of fiscal policies that raise all boats and "values" policies that address the needs of all families as well as single Americans.

To become that attractive elephant, Republicans will have to embrace gay people -- even if, in the short term, that costs them some social conservative votes.

That's what the Conservative Party did in Great Britain, turning itself from a big-time loser in 1997 to an ultramodern brand that's fast becoming a political head-turner.

British columnist Jonathan Freedland recently wrote in the New York Times that Conservative leader David Cameron "set about decontaminating the Tory brand. Central to that mission were forays into two areas of political terrain previously deemed forbidden zones," gay rights and environmentalism.

Conservative thinker Fred Barnes, reflecting on the Conservative makeover in the Weekly Standard in August, noted that Cameron's favorite word is "modern," and his big tent includes women, gays and Muslims. "(H)e publicly congratulated a member of his shadow Cabinet, Alan Duncan, on his civil union with his male partner," Barnes wrote.

McCain took some significant first steps by jettisoning gay-baiting in favor of outreach to gay voters. He was rewarded with the largest proportion of gay votes for a Republican presidential nominee -- 27 percent -- despite competing against the most gay-friendly Democratic nominee in history.

McCain laid a new GOP floor for the party's 2012 presidential wannabes. And if Obama, as he has promised, raises the national floor, such as by signing into law a ban on job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, GOP leaders can embrace that breakthrough and toss off the anti-gay albatross still around their necks.

America is a country of innovators and works best with competition, including for votes. So, Americans of all political stripes should look forward to celebrating a Grand New Party.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

 

Gay Colorado Politician Heads Toward Election Milestone

In 2000, after being elected to the Colorado State Board of Education, Internet entrepreneur and philanthropist Jared Polis saw up-close the failure of public schools to meet the needs of new immigrant and homeless young people.

Tapping into the inventiveness that made him rich in the e-commerce world, Polis founded two charter schools for immigrant and homeless youth, and spearheaded the passage of a state constitutional amendment to prevent cuts to K-12 education.

But despite such successes in his 20s, Polis felt the high-stakes problems he most wanted to solve -- troubled public education, unaffordable health care and a threatened global environment -- couldn't be solved from his home in Boulder.

So, when local Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Udall decided to run for U.S. Senate, the openly gay Polis decided to run for Congress.

On Aug. 12, confirming a Denver Post headline -- "Being gay not hindering Polis' race" -- Polis won the primary. All three Democrats supported gay marriage.

"While I enjoyed worked on educational and environmental issues in the state, I really feel most of the issues we face are national in scope, and it's at the national level that we'll fail or succeed as a country," says Polis, 33.

Polis is expected to be elected in the solidly Democratic district in November. That would make him the first openly gay man to win a seat in Congress as a non-incumbent.

Rising star Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., broke the glass ceiling in 1998 because she was already out before winning her congressional seat. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is the only other out member of Congress right now and chairs the House Financial Services Committee.

Currently, there are 424 out lesbian, gay male, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) elected officials, according to the Victory Fund.

Other key races to watch:

Oregon: Bisexual Kate Brown, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, has a strong shot at winning secretary of state, the second-highest elected position in the state. She'd be the nation's first out LGBT secretary of state.

Texas: Lesbian Democrat Lupe Valdez is in a tough but winnable fight for re-election as sheriff of Dallas.

Michigan: Democrat Garnet Lewis, running for an open state House seat in the Midland-Saginaw area, is in a competitive race. "It feels like the stars are aligned," says the Central Michigan University administrator, who is focusing on education, the economy, energy and health care. Michigan is one of 20 states without an out gay state legislator.

But Polis' breakthrough would be especially sweet. After all, Colorado is home of the 1992 anti-gay Amendment 2 and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, the lead advocate of amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

"It shows how far we've come that an openly gay candidate can win in a suburban district in Colorado," says Polis, who clasped the hand of his partner, Marlon Reis, in a touching moment on primary victory night that was captured in a photograph in The Denver Post.

"This election cycle has definitely put a few chinks in the glass ceiling. ... In our congressional district, we showed that sexual orientation is not seen by voters as a bar to public service."

Polis' advance underscores how far voters have come in looking beyond sexual orientation for candidates with innovative ideas.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Courts Support Rights of Gay Students

A high-school senior in Florida turned to a teacher's aide for help last September after younger students taunted her for being gay, saying "dykes" are "nasty," "gross" and "sick."

In doing the right thing, "Jane Doe" set off a shocking but ultimately inspiring chain of events in Panama City.

The resulting federal court ruling and a similar one also won by the American Civil Liberties Union are timely reminders that gay and gay-friendly kids have the right to express themselves and form clubs.

In Jane's case, the principal of Ponce de Leon High School called her in, told her it wasn't "right" to be gay and asked whether her parents knew her sexual orientation. Jane said no. The principal informed them, leading her father to threaten to kick her out.

Jane's school friends stuck up for her by doing such things as writing "Gay Pride" on themselves and wearing gay-friendly T-shirts.

Principal David Davis continued to behave outrageously -- hauling in 30 students, grilling them about their orientation, prohibiting them from displaying gay-friendly messages, and even "lift(ing) the shirts of female students to verify that no such writings were present on their bodies," according to court documents.

The principal suspended 11 students for belonging to an "illegal organization," apparently a reference to supporting Jane.

Understandably perplexed, a heterosexual student, Heather Gillman, whose lesbian cousin had been suspended, reached out to the school board. It backed up the principal, affirming bans on such slogans as "Equal, Not Special Rights," "Gay? Fine by Me" and "I Support My Gay Friends."

But federal Judge Richard Smoak, a Republican appointee, stood up for gay and gay-friendly students. In Gillman vs. School Board for Holmes County, he declared, "The robust exchange of political ideas is essential in a vibrant, progressive society and is precisely the type of speech that is sacrosanct under the First Amendment."

Meanwhile, after students at an Okeechobee, Fla., high school were told they couldn't form a gay-straight alliance because "sex-based" groups were banned, another Republican appointee, federal Judge K. Michael Moore, ruled gay and gay-friendly students may form a club, just like members of the Chess Club, Future Farmers of America and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

In 1984, Congress passed the Equal Access Act to require schools to treat all clubs the same, and judges have repeatedly ruled in favor of gay-straight clubs. But Okeechobee officials tried a new trick, citing the law's language about protecting the "well-being of students" to argue a gay-straight alliance would undermine abstinence-only education.

In his first-of-its-kind decision on July 29, Moore ruled in Yasmin Gonzalez vs. School Board of Okeechobee County that not only can the club meet, but also that a school board "is obligated to take into account the well-being of its non-heterosexual students."

These landmark court decisions send a strong signal cautioning school officials. And they're appropriately encouraging to gay students and wonderful allies like Heather Gillman, who'll be a senior this fall. Having taught her school board a lesson, she told me she'd like to start a gay-straight club.

"I really believe everyone is equal -- no matter what," she says.

That's the Gillman Rule: School officials everywhere should memorize it.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Congress Reconsiders Ban on Gays in the Military

On Sept. 11, 2001, Navy Capt. Joan Darrah's weekly intelligence briefing turned out to be anything but routine: She and her colleagues watched CNN's coverage of terrorist-hijacked planes ramming into the World Trade Center.

The meeting ended, the closeted lesbian captain left the Pentagon, and American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building. Seven people died in the place where she'd been only minutes earlier.

"The reality," Darrah told Congress on July 24, "is that if I had been killed, my partner then of 11 years would have been the last to know because I had not dared to list her name" as an emergency contact.

" ... That made me realize that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was taking a much greater toll than I had ever admitted," she continued. "It caused me to refocus my priorities, and on 1 June, 2002, one year earlier than I had planned, I retired."

Darrah, who once served as deputy commander at the Naval Intelligence Command, testified at the first congressional hearing to consider lifting the 1993 ban on gays serving openly, so patriotic Americans like Darrah could serve without fear of being fired.

So far, 12,600 lesbians and gay men, including Arabic linguists, have been kicked out. Countless others didn't re-enlist or ever join.

The overdue House Armed Services subcommittee hearing spotlighted how Congress is changing. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn., shot down the idea that heterosexuals can't serve professionally alongside gays: "As a former Army officer, I can tell you that I think that is an insult ... "

Another veteran, Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., objected to arguments that open gays would undermine unit cohesion. "There are people in the military that think unit cohesion would be enhanced if our military reflected the opportunity and freedom that we believe is America."

The military's brass, unfortunately, declined to appear. Advocates of lifting Don't Ask included former Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, the first U.S. soldier wounded in Iraq. Having lost a leg, Alva declared, "I had fought and nearly died to secure rights for others that I myself was not free to enjoy. I had proudly served a country that was not proud of me."

Retired Major Gen. Vance Coleman, an African-American heterosexual who first served in segregated units, said Don't Ask "hurts our military readiness. It undermines our commitment to being a nation where we are all equal ... And it ties the hands of commanders who want to welcome and retain America's best and brightest ... "

But Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, argued gays in the military create a "sexualized atmosphere" that erodes unit cohesion and morale. In the presence of amputee Alva and the highly decorated Darrah, those absurd claims sounded ridiculous.

Most Americans want to move beyond Don't Ask. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 75 percent favor allowing "homosexuals who do publicly disclose their sexual orientation" to serve in the military.

That's up from 44 percent in May 1993 -- and includes 76 percent of independents, 64 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats.

The hearing was an important first step toward repealing an un-American law that hurts the military by perverting its values and pushing away talented Americans who want to serve our country.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Congress Learns About Transgender Bias

When David Schroer applied to be a specialist on terrorism at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, his stellar resume led to a job offer.

The highly decorated retired Army colonel had served 16 years in Special Forces, with 450 parachute jumps and combat experience in Panama and Haiti. Following 9-11, Schroer directed a classified 120-person Pentagon group involved in the war on terror.

But after telling his prospective boss over lunch that he was gender transitioning to Diane, Schroer recalls being told, "I was not a good fit for the library."

To transgender Americans, Diane Schroer's story is all too familiar. No federal law prohibits firing or not hiring someone who bravely decides to transition away from their birth gender.

But, in a historic first, Congress heard June 26th from Schroer and other transgender Americans about how honesty often leads to a lost career, homelessness and even suicide. "Hero to zero," Schroer aptly calls her experience.

It was a model civil rights hearing, much to the credit of Chairman Rob Andrews, D-N.J., who heads the employment subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Witnesses included gay Reps. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin; four transgender people, including an aeronautics engineer; and a spokesman for Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co., one of more than 150 Fortune 500 companies with a non-discrimination policy on gender identity.

In addition, a lawyer specializing in discrimination litigation offered suggestions about legislative language that helps deter lawsuits. And lawyer Glen Lavy of the anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund argued employers who cite religious beliefs should be allowed to discriminate against a transgender person.

The hearing was an important first step in educating Congress about why Uncle Sam should guarantee transgender workers the right to be evaluated solely on ability.

Sabrina Taraboletti, who has two college-age kids, told of losing her job working on the space shuttle after announcing she was transitioning: "When I face discrimination, they face it, too. What happens to me because I am transgender also happens to them, not only because they love me, but because I still provide for them."

Why shouldn't there be a federal law?

Lawsuits? The retired colonel is suing now. In fact, having national guidelines with clear rules would help employers -- opening them up to a talented pool of workers while providing a roadmap for avoiding lawsuits.

Religious beliefs? Chairman Andrews left lawyer Lavy flustered after pushing him to explain whether his argument for religious immunity means white supremacists should be allowed to refuse to hire African Americans and pacifists should be able to refuse to hire military reservists.

Restrooms? There's no need to invent the wheel on this one. As transgender lawyer Shannon Minter pointed out, trans-affirming states and companies have found a simple rule works: Only after transitioning full-time to a new gender identity does the worker use the corresponding restroom.

"What we have seen, time and time again, is that any discomfort that co-workers may feel very quickly dissipates," Minter said.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., eloquently summed up why America should protect transgender workers. Evoking Martin Luther King Jr., she declared: "Laws cannot change people's hearts. But they can restrain the heartless."

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Gays Could Split Over McCain

Think you know Sen. John McCain?

That's what the nation's largest gay-rights organization is asking voters.

A maverick? An independent? A moderate?

Not so, the Human Rights Campaign argues forcefully in a new video at its hrc.org Website that uses film clips capturing key moments in McCain's political career to back up its warning that a McCain presidency would mean "four more years of anti-gay policy in the White House."

As creepy music plays in the background, HRC ticks off such McCain-defining moments as his Senate votes against protecting gay workers from discrimination, against treating anti-gay attacks as hate crimes and against allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

HRC credits the Republican McCain for opposing efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gay couples from marrying, but also shows a 2006 TV ad in which he urged his home state of Arizona to pass a state constitutional amendment to ban any recognition of gay couples. (Voters rejected that amendment as too extreme -- it would have even stripped benefits from heterosexual retirees signed up as domestic partners.)

"He actually sounds pretty familiar," the video concludes, displaying "good buddies" photos of McCain with President Bush, who campaigned in 2000 as respectful of gay Americans but later did a turnabout to curry favor with social conservatives.

The HRC's gamble means that if McCain wins, the non-partisan group will likely find itself in the same spot it's been in the past eight years: unwelcome at the White House.

It's a similar gamble to one taken during the GOP presidential primaries by the gay Log Cabin Republicans, which aired a clever TV ad in Iowa that used Mitt Romney's own words to portray him as a flip-flopper on abortion, Ronald Reagan and other conservative touchstones. If Romney had made it to the White House, Log Cabin surely wouldn't have been welcome.

Now, the HRC's high-stakes strategy hints at a developing split within the gay community over McCain. Although the Log Cabin hasn't decided whether to endorse McCain, he's signaling he wants to be viewed as a Big Tent Republican comfortable with gay people. Take, for example, his warm-and-fuzzy appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' popular daytime show. The two gently sparred over marriage. Or, take his recent campaign ad spoof on Saturday Night Live, where he objected to wasteful pork-barrel spending for a device to jam "gaydar."

McCain seems intent on coming across as likable to election-deciding independents, who tend to be gay friendly, polls show. Notice how he's been nearly silent about the upcoming gay marriages in California.

Still to come are two McCain decisions that I bet will prove pivotal to winning (or losing) Log Cabin's endorsement -- influential among gay Republicans and a badge of moderation helpful with swing voters.

First, McCain's choice of a running mate. Picking Romney or Mike Huckabee would likely mean Log Cabin would withhold its endorsement, as it did in 2004 over Bush's full-throated advocacy of an anti-gay constitutional amendment. And, second, whether McCain actively pushes for passage of anti-gay state constitutional amendments in Florida and California.

So, would gay Americans be welcome not just in a McCain Republican Party but in a McCain White House? Only McCain can prove HRC's forecast wrong.

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The California Supreme Court Has Corrected a Monumental Injustice

When I took the eye exam for my driver's license as a teenager, I first tried without my glasses.

"Nice rows of blurry black lines, right?" I joked.

I slipped on my glasses. And presto, crisp, distinct letters appeared before my eyes. The letters, of course, had always been there -- I just couldn't recognize them.

When the California Supreme Court ruled May 15 that gay couples have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals, it essentially said that one job of courts is to adjust the vision of people who simply haven't been able to see the injustice right in front of them.

Chief Justice Ronald George, a Republican appointee who wrote the 121-page majority opinion, said the nation's evolution in views and policies toward racial minorities and women teaches "that even the most familiar and generally accepted of social practices and traditions often mask an unfairness and inequality that frequently is not recognized or appreciated by those not directly harmed by those practices or traditions."

The 4-3 ruling -- the same split as in 1948, when California's top court became the first to strike down a ban on marriage between people of different races -- means gay couples can marry in California in about 30 days.

California follows Massachusetts, where more than 10,000 gay couples have married since 2004. But unlike in Massachusetts, gay couples from any state will be able to marry in California.

The breakthrough in the trendsetting Golden State -- home to one of every eight Americans -- is gigantic.

As San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who triggered the court case in 2003 by allowing his city to issue licenses to gay couples, joyfully put it after the ruling, "As California goes, so goes the nation!"

The landmark decision by the nation's most influential state court was immediately embraced by two California heavyweights: Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat with the power to block any federal marriage amendment.

All is not sunny in California, though. Voters will likely have to decide on a state amendment aimed at once again restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

But Schwarzenegger and Pelosi will help protect this advance, which Chief Justice George noted flows from recognition that the right to marry the person of one's choice is a "basic civil right (guaranteed) to all Californians."

So, his court isn't creating a new right. It's just saying the state mustn't block gay couples from exercising the right to marry -- just as it mustn't block interracial couples: "An individual's sexual orientation -- like a person's race or gender -- does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights."

Marriage is "central ... to an individual's opportunity to live a happy, meaningful and satisfying life as a full member of society," George wrote. Withholding access to it "works a real and appreciable harm upon same-sex couples and their children."

The court's ruling is a wonderful advance for all Americans, just as has been true of gains for religious minorities, racial minorities, women and the disabled. Equality is the defining value we share as Americans.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Courts Rule in Favor of Deception

When Michigan voters headed to the polls in 2004 to decide the fate of a proposed amendment to the state constitution, they'd been told the following by its lead proponent:

"(This) has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman," said Marlene Elwell, campaign director of Citizens for the Protection of Marriage.

CPM's Website declared the group's purpose was "for defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Period."

And its brochure told voters: "This is not about rights or benefits or how people choose to live their life."

That sales pitch -- assuring voters that the ballot initiative was solely about limiting marriage to heterosexual couples -- reflected where voters stood: A poll by Lake Snell Perry found 70 percent of likely Michigan voters opposed banning domestic partnerships and civil unions, and two-thirds opposed banning public universities and cities from offering partner benefits.

However, Proposal 2 also included language about not recognizing a "similar union for any purpose." After getting it passed, CPM turned around and argued the "marriage" amendment bans public employers from offering partner health benefits.

Sneaky? Yep. Deceptive? Yep.

And yet the Michigan Supreme Court outrageously ruled the amendment does bar such health benefits.

Two justices dissented from that May 7 ruling, saying the five-justice majority read too much into the amendment. The dissenters, citing CPM's bait-and-switch tactics, issued a warning that should be heard nationwide: "(T)he majority condones and even encourages the use of misleading tactics in ballot campaigns. ... (I)n the future, organizations may be encouraged to use lies and deception to win over voters or the court. This should be a discomforting thought for us all."

Indeed.

Since the anti-gay industry started trying to whip up folks about the supposed dangers posed by gay folks like me -- I'm blessed to be in a 23-year relationship with a woman I married the first chance I got in Canada in 2003 -- seven states have added marriage-only bans to their constitutions and 19 others have passed "marriage-plus" wording.

More fights are ahead: Florida votes this fall on a "marriage-plus" amendment. California voters likely will be asked whether to ban gay marriage. And Oregon voters may be asked whether to get rid of the new domestic partnership law.

Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is working with public employers to creatively redesign benefit programs so gay couples and their kids don't lose health insurance.

But the threats posed by this ruling remain very real: Even before the top court handed down that decision, a Michigan judge cited Proposal 2 in telling a lesbian in a custody fight over three children she legally adopted in Illinois with her ex-partner that she has no enforceable parenting rights in the state.

The Michigan Supreme Court's ruling is a damaging blow to the economically shaky state, not just gay couples.

Already, Lambda Legal, which recently created a "Safety Scale" of states as guidance for convention planners as well as gay couples planning to travel or relocate, put Michigan, once a leader on gay rights, in the worst class.

For those of us who care about Michigan, the damage this court ruling does to the state's reputation is, to put it mildly, discomforting.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Courageous Gay Bishop Weathers Storm

Ironically, we can feel the most spiritually alive when we're being battered by life's fiercest storms.

For Gene Robinson, such storms have struck twice: first, when he could no longer deny his homosexuality and divorced his beloved wife; and second, now, as the Anglican Communion battles over the place of gay people, a struggle that intensified in 2003, when he was consecrated as the nation's first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

In the inspiring In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, the New Hampshire bishop tells what he's learned about himself as a gay Christian and the role he feels called to play in the world's third-largest Christian denomination.

"I am hopelessly in love with the church. It feeds and sustains me," he told me. "I am committed to helping change it from the inside, holding my head up high."

Robinson believes an engaged God -- not a God "who dusted his hands off and walked away into the sunset" -- is challenging the church to embrace those of us who're gay, just as it was challenged over earlier injustices.

He points to what Jesus told his disciples on the night before his death: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12-13).

Robinson believes, "We are literally seeing that (promise fulfilled) now.

"The changes we've seen in our understanding of the Scripture over the 19 centuries since it was written have happened through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. ... Things that seemed simply 'the way of the world' -- like slavery, polygamy and the lower status of women -- in retrospect seem like examples of humankind's flawed, limited and mistaken understanding of God's will. Our ability to better understand God's will has improved with time, prayer and reflection," he adds.

Robinson's book is being released as he prepares to step back into the spotlight: In June, he and his partner of 20 years, Mark Andrew, will be joined in a New Hampshire civil union, followed by a blessing at their church.

In July, despite not being invited to the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of bishops in England, Robinson will go in an unofficial capacity to give wary bishops "a chance to sit with a self-affirming gay person of faith," he says.

The two events, he says, are linked: He wants to ensure his partner has legal rights under the civil union law because "it's potentially dangerous" for Robinson to attend the conference. (He wore a bulletproof vest at his 2003 consecration.)

Because religion is often entwined with anti-gay attitudes, he believes "it's going to take religious people to undo that thinking and believing."

Gay-friendly allies aren't enough. Robinson urges gay people who've left their church, synagogue or mosque to return, come out and walk into the storm: "Instead of giving up on our religious communities, let's think about taking the risks and bearing the burdens of transforming them."

Bishop Robinson's courageous life demonstrates the spiritual rewards of refusing to run for cover if your conscience tells you that you mustn't flee the storm.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Schwarzenegger Backs Gay Rights

My nominee for Best Ex-Actor in a Very Supportive Role: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a few simple sentences, the muscular Republican governor of California did some heroically heavy lifting for all Americans who believe in equal marriage rights for those of us who're gay.

Asked at the gay Log Cabin Republicans' recent national convention whether he would join them in opposing a proposed California ballot initiative that would prohibit gay couples there from achieving marriage equality, Schwarzenegger began, "First of all, I think that (such a ban) would never happen in California because I think California people are much further along on that issue."

Then, as every heart in the room skipped a beat, he delivered some of the most important lines of his career: "And, No. 2, I will always be there to fight against that -- because it should never happen."

The audience leapt to its feet and gave the governor of the nation's most influential state a standing ovation.

Schwarzenegger's Golden State is approaching a historic crossroads: California's Supreme Court, which has a tradition of gay-friendly rulings, will rule on marriage by early June.

If the court sides with fairness, it could immediately open marriage to gay couples or encourage the legislature to do so. Lawmakers have twice passed such legislation, vetoed by Schwarzenegger, who wants the court to weigh in. (He has signed more than 20 gay-rights bills.)

If gigantic, trendsetting California leaps ahead, becoming the second state (after Massachusetts) to allow gay marriage, foes will try to roll back that advance. Even if the court hands down a disappointment, the anti-marriage initiative will likely go to voters this fall.

That's why it's tremendously important that the popular governor is saying you don't have to be a liberal or a Democrat or a young person to oppose taking California backward.

And Californians aren't the only ones who should listen. So should soon-to-be GOP presidential nominee John McCain, his pal.

If California's court rules in gay couples' favor, McCain will stand at his own crossroads: Will he react by choosing the tired old divisive path taken by recent Republican presidential nominees? Or, will he wisely try to make the Republican Party more appealing to moderates ready to move forward by modeling himself after the Ronald Reagan of 30 years ago?

McCain unsuccessfully lobbied for an anti-gay amendment to Arizona's Constitution. Yet he opposes amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage unless courts strike down the federal law saying no state has to recognize another's gay marriages and that gay married couples don't get federal spousal benefits and protections.

McCain needs to know that Schwarzenegger's decision to oppose an anti-gay state initiative puts him in good company with another Ex-Actor in a Very Supportive Role: In 1978, Ronald Reagan, then a former California governor with White House ambitions, torpedoed the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay or gay-friendly teachers.

Advised to duck it, Reagan is credited with sinking the hateful initiative, which lost by 1 million votes.

John McCain is auditioning for the part of a lifetime. Let's hope he takes his cues from Schwarzenegger and Reagan when they led by gay-friendly example.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

A Gay Friendly Message to Mega-Churches

When Michelle Freeman fell in love with a woman 12 years ago, she felt compelled to leave her predominantly African-American church.

"The last sermon I heard as a practicing Baptist was very anti-gay," recalls Freeman, 42. "I had internalized homophobia. But when I met Georgia, I wanted us to worship in a place where we could be ourselves."

Her partner, Georgia Chambers, had also grown up in a predominantly African-American church with anti-gay messages. The Texas couple transferred their spiritual gifts and needs to the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay-friendly denomination.

Strengthened by their relationship and spiritual growth at MCC, the couple recently decided to join an outreach mission that, between Mother's Day and Father's Day, will visit six influential mega-churches. "I am taking a stand for the God I love, who I know made us all equal," explains Chambers, 39.

The "American Family Outing" has four sponsors: Soulforce, which adapts the principles of nonviolence honed by Mohandas Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to challenge anti-gay messages in places of worship; the National Black Justice Coalition; MCC; and COLAGE, whose members have gay parents. (To participate, go to soulforce.org.)

The sponsors have asked the six mega-churches to welcome Outing's gay and gay-friendly families for meals, conversation and worship.

But even if the mega-churches don't extend the hand of fellowship, they will be visited. Respecting the six mega-churches' work on such issues as poverty and AIDS, the Outing visitors hope to sow seeds of love and understanding so that, one day, mega-churches will help to end physical and spiritual violence against gays.

The outreach comes at a pivotal moment in the evangelical movement: the passing of the old guard -- signaled by the deaths last year of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. D. James Kennedy -- and the rise of a new generation of mega-church leaders, who reach mega-millions through massive worship services, TV and radio shows, books and CDs.

The new generation tends to be less fiercely anti-gay. Their subtle softening of anti-gay rhetoric and shifting of priorities reflects polls showing that evangelicals in the pews care more about issues like health care and the Iraq war than about gay marriage.

Three mega-church preachers to be visited largely avoid gay issues: Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America, Lake Wood Church in Houston; Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of a Christian classic, "The Purpose-Driven Life"; and Bishop T.D. Jakes, the African-American senior pastor of The Potter's House in Texas, who was dubbed "America's best preacher" by Time magazine.

Two others serve up a more familiar anti-gay message: Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., the African-American pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland, and Bishop Eddie Long, the African-American pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia.

In between is Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.

Freeman, who plans to visit New Birth and Hope Christian with her partner, wants to worship and talk with families there.

"Our relationships are just as sacred to us as yours," she plans to say. "The only difference, at the end of the day, is instead of a man and a lady, we are two ladies."

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Congresswoman Fights for Gay and Trans Rights

Middle-schooler Tammy Baldwin faced a problem:

A lady had complained that students trampled her flowers on their way to school. So student council member Baldwin worked with other kids on an outreach team to fence the flowerbed.

Solving problems through public service is deep in the Wisconsinite's "never doubt" DNA.

This year, Baldwin marks her 10th year as the gentle lady from Madison, Wis.

In 1998, the progressive district elected her to the House of Representatives: She was both the first Wisconsin woman elected to Congress and the first person elected to Congress who ran openly gay rather than coming out in office.

With the only other openly gay member of Congress, Democrat Barney Frank, turning 68 and now thriving as a committee chairman, the 46-year-old Baldwin may be the gay community's best shot at having an openly gay senator in a decade or so.

But for now, the Democratic congresswoman finds herself for the first time in the party that controls the House.

Her overriding political passion hasn't changed -- passing universal health care. But being in the majority has opened new possibilities to improve the lot of gay Americans. In this, fortunately for those of us who're gay, Baldwin's girlhood idealism is in full bloom.

She's pushing to extend partner benefits to federal workers. With allies, she's slowly changing the State Department. By taking her partner of 11 years, Lauren Azar, to congressional events, she reminds colleagues that anti-gay policies hurt someone they care about.

But no example is more beautiful than her valiant attempt to keep transgender protections in legislation to protect gay workers from discrimination. After losing that round, Baldwin promised trans people: "You are not forgotten. And our job will not be finished until you, too, share fully in the American dream."

Baldwin acknowledges frustration, but views this session as a "rehearsal" before a gay-friendly Democrat wins the White House. Since Democrats took control after the 2006 elections, the House and Senate have passed hate crimes bills with gay and trans protections, the House passed gay job protections and a House hearing is expected on job bias against trans Americans.

"The issues have gotten their first real airing in well over a decade," Baldwin says. "That's a step forward. And there's a value in members in tough districts having taken these votes. When they survive re-election, they can come back with more courage."

Baldwin keeps a framed observation by anthropologist Margaret Mead in her offices: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has!"

"Never doubt" has become Baldwin's mantra. But she reminds those of us who're gay that daring to dream must be followed by courageous acts, whether putting a partner's photo on our desks or running for office.

"There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it's now OK to express ourselves publicly," she says. "We make that day by doing things publicly ... until it's simply the way things are."

The girl who sewed her own dress for her first day of school has blossomed into an inspiring woman. Never doubt how much more she will achieve.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

America Must Work to End Anti-Gay Abuses Worldwide

After Korab Zuka founded a gay-rights group in Kosovo in 2005, he received threatening phone calls and emails and had his car vandalized.

"We are going to make you hold your intestines," Zuka, 22, recalls being warned. "We will (rape) your mother ... and we are going to cut your head off.'"

The police were indifferent to his cries for protection.

"I was frightened. A gay guy had been beaten to death a few months earlier. The threats kept coming. There is only so much a person can resist," he says.

So Zuka applied to the United States for political asylum, which has just been granted.

Zuka sketched out his terrifying story in an interview with me and at a recent news conference called to highlight the latest State Department report on human rights violations around the globe, including outrageous and horrifying abuses of gay men, lesbians and transgender people.

While the report describes courageous gay activists and some court breakthroughs, it also tells of alarming anti-gay violence and harassment by police and run-of-the-mill bashers, as well as discrimination in employment, housing and health care. For example:

-- Honduras: "(P)olice beat and detained" a gay leader, then threw him in a cell with 57 gang members, who raped him. A "transvestite activist" was attacked by five men while "police reportedly prevented other persons from aiding" him.

-- Iraq: Islamist death squads are thought to be behind a rash of anti-gay killings, kidnappings and torture. The victims included a taxi driver, a tailor and a chef.

-- Indonesia: Two gay men were harassed by neighbors, then "arbitrarily arrested, beaten and sexually abused by police."

-- Croatia: A survey found nearly 15 percent of gay people said they'd been physically assaulted in the past three years. Several tourists also were gay bashed, including a hand-holding German gay couple and a British man who ended up with a concussion.

-- Cameroon: Gays "suffered from harassment and extortion" by police. Also a private high school kicked out 34 students accused of being gay or lesbian.

"The U.S. is a very respected country in Kosovo ... If the U.S. government ... were to say to the government, 'This is not OK, how gay and lesbian people are treated,' I am sure that it would have made a difference," Zuka says.

"I hope that Kosovo will change. And that will be with the help of the United States serving as a role model -- and not only for Kosovo, but for many countries," he added.

Zuka's heartfelt plea comes as a new gay group, the Foreign Policy Project, is pushing the State Department to work harder to reduce anti-gay abuses abroad.

The project is getting help from the nation's only openly gay ambassadors: James Hormel, ambassador to Luxembourg from 1999 to 2000, and Michael Guest, ambassador to Romania from 2001 to 2003.

"We need to challenge these abuses wherever they occur," Guest says. "Our embassies must become advocates for change."

Hormel adds, "If the State Department will highlight sexual orientation and gender identity as important components of a broad U.S. commitment to human rights, it will be taking an important step toward rebuilding our credibility abroad."

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: Just like their heterosexual friends and neighbors, gay people in every corner of the globe ought to enjoy those fundamental freedoms. And Uncle Sam should say so at every opportunity.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

State Department Finally Mends Exclusionary Policies

Ordinarily, the swearing-in ceremony of the newest U.S. ambassador to Romania wouldn't be a headline-grabber.

But the courageous insistence that day in September 2001 of Michael Guest, the first openly gay American to be confirmed by the Senate to be an ambassador, that his partner be acknowledged by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell underscored that the moment was anything but ordinary.

To his credit, Powell did respectfully acknowledge Guest's partner, who went on to live with Guest in the ambassador's residence in Bucharest.

But, sadly, the State Department didn't follow up with much-needed changes in actual policy, even though Guest lobbied for years. Command of the State Department changed hands -- those policies remained the same.

Because he was ignored when he tried to sound the alarm that, for example, the exclusion of gay partners from safety classes puts them at serious risk, Guest decided to end his 26-year career. Fittingly, at his retirement ceremony in late November, Guest again made headlines.

"It's irrational that my partner can't be trained in how to recognize a terrorist threat, or an intelligence trap," said Guest, 50, whose last job was dean of the department's Leadership and Management School. "It's unfair. ... Why serve in dangerous or unhealthful places if partners' evacuations and medevacs are at issue? ... This is not about gay rights. Rather, it's about the safety and effectiveness of our communities abroad."

Guest says that the prospect of being sent on another assignment abroad forced him to choose between standing up for his partner of 12 years and serving his country.

His farewell bombshell triggered demands for change from Capitol Hill.

Four House members, including gay Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, wrote Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to urge her make overdue changes.

As the lawmakers point out, partners of gay Foreign Service officers don't get to use embassy health services. They wouldn't, for example, get protection from avian flu. What's more, when a U.S. embassy gets evacuated, gay partners must pay to escape the crisis.

Gay partners aren't included in the intensive language training that other family members receive before overseas postings. And they don't get the preferential treatment given other family members who apply for consulate or embassy jobs.

The lawmakers also expressed concern that partners are barred from the security classes given spouses of heterosexual Foreign Service officers.

But on Feb. 25, just days after the lawmakers contacted Rice, Foreign Service Director General Harry K. Thomas Jr. announced he was "extending access to security training" to "members of household" -- an elastic State Department term that includes gay partners -- because "they can be at risk" and making them more savvy about dangers "can positively contribute to our collective safety."

A frustrated Guest says that step is too little, too late. "It's unconscionable that the administration has not done that until now," said Guest, currently working on a new project to get the United States to address anti-gay human rights abuses abroad. "My partner is my family. That is very basic. And that is why the changes need to be made."

The State Department is the civilian face that America shows the world. Making that face more gay-friendly will benefit our entire nation, not just the partnered gay Americans sacrificing so much to serve abroad.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

The ABCs of Tolerance

Kindergartner Jacob Parker brought home a "diversity" book bag that included a picture book called "Who's in a Family?"

The book shows a variety of families, including a mom-dad family, a family headed by a grandmother, an animal family and a family headed by lesbian moms. "Who's in a family? The people who love you the most!" the book ends.

In the same Massachusetts elementary school, second-grader Joey Wirthlin listened as his teacher read from another picture book, "King & King." A prince, told by his mother Queen to marry, passes over several princesses before falling in love with another prince. The princes kiss on the final page, and a red heart is superimposed on their lips.

The parents of Jacob and Joey sued in federal court, charging that because they believe homosexuality is immoral, the school violated their constitutionally protected freedom of religion by introducing their children to the gay-friendly material.

Fortunately, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit unanimously ruled in favor recently of the Lexington school's efforts to promote tolerance.

"Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas," the court ruled in Parker v. Hurley.

That case is just one of a series of high-profile clashes over gay issues in public schools.

What ties them together, notes American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ken Choe, is the effort by gay-rights foes "to erase discussions about anything gay" from public schools.

Recent battles:

Over the objections of some religious conservatives, a Maryland court ruled in favor of Montgomery County's addressing sexual orientation in middle and high schools.

The ACLU is suing Ponce de Leon High School in Florida for banning such things as gay-friendly rainbow stickers and claiming they "likely would be disruptive" and would suggest students were part of a "secret/illegal organization."

Under pressure from the ACLU, a high school in Portsmouth, Va., agreed not to again censor a student who wore a T-shirt with a lesbian pride symbol.

In a disturbing federal court case, the Okeechobee, Fla., school board is trying to shut down a gay-straight student club, using taxpayer-paid "experts" to argue such clubs are inherently harmful.

A pair of federal cases finds the ACLU on the other side, trying to protect the rights of kids to wear anti-gay T-shirts with hostile slogans or to voice disagreement with material in gay-friendly harassment-prevention programs.

The Parker ruling doesn't order public schools to teach gay-friendly messages, but instead backs up those choosing to do so.

And, while it technically applies only to the First Circuit -- Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico -- the ruling is likely to influence other federal circuits dealing with similar objections by small groups of parents riled up over educators' overdue attempts to encourage tolerance.

As American society grows more gay-friendly, so must public schools: All school kids need to learn the ABCs of tolerance.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Diversifying Politics

When Joe Angelo ran for city commissioner of tiny Wilton Manors in South Florida four years ago, he pledged to control development, build a new city hall and clean up neighborhoods to fight crime.

But when he won, the headline in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel spotlighted his history-making traits: "Florida's First Gay Black Public Official."

"It was scary to see that big headline," recalls Angelo, 42, who's ended up liking politics so much he's considering running for mayor. "But the day after the headline was the best day, because I realized I was liberated."

Although it might seem easy to "liberate" yourself from the political closet in Wilton Manors -- which was the second U.S. city to elect a gay-majority legislative body -- Angelo still had to jump past his gut-level fear that voters would reject him because he's gay. Layering race on top of sexual orientation only makes such a jump scarier.

"Gay black people are reticent to jump in because they think it is shallow water," Angelo says. "Once they see more people like themselves are in the political water and doing fine, then it'll be easier for them to jump in."

While the nation now has about 400 openly gay elected officials serving everywhere from school boards to Congress, the vast majority are white. But from April 24 to 27, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which helps elect gay candidates, will holds its first-ever political training program for gays of color. The Baltimore program coincides with the gay National Black Justice Coalition's annual conference.

If you are a gay person of color who's yearned to serve your community in politics but can't imagine how to get started, this training program is designed just for you.

And elected officials who are both black and gay will answer your questions before they launch into the nitty-gritty of how to raise money, develop a winning campaign message and blunt anti-gay attacks. (Fill out an application at: glli.org)

The Victory Fund is taking another important step: It has just announced the Bayard Rustin Award, an annual $1,000 prize to be administered by the National Conference of Black Political Scientists to recognize the best scholarly paper on black gays' participation in electoral politics.

There's much to be learned about experiences of out black political trailblazers. Dana Rone, for example, became the first black lesbian elected in New Jersey when she won the first of two terms on Newark's school board. Now, the 41-year-old advocate for the poor is serving a four-year term on the city council.

"It's essential to be honest and bring that to elective office," Rone says. "Then people feel they can trust you."

Kecia Cunningham, 42, is serving her third term on the Decatur, Ga., City Council. The African-American lesbian first won in 1999 and has since run unopposed.

"You need to be very comfortable with yourself," she says of jumping into politics and being honest about being gay. "We kept the focus on the fact that I was competent and committed to the work of the city. Potholes don't ask who you fall in love with."

America's problems are more likely to be fixed if her leadership is diverse. If you're black and gay, maybe jumping into public service is right for you.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

Will John McCain Turn His Back on Gay Americans?

"No, no, no," Mitt Romney supporters cried out at the Conservative Political Action Conference as he announced he was ending his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

A short distance away, a very different reaction could be heard at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the gay Log Cabin Republicans: "We did it!"

Romney had run a hard-right campaign. It was a losing strategy.

Despite Romney's barrage of attacks on Sen. John McCain, primary voters picked the Goldilocks of the GOP presidential field:

In essence, McCain had said: "This side of my party is too soft. That side of my party is too hard. My own spot is just right."

McCain, a fiscally conservative hawk, has voiced support for gay Americans, yet he has a mixed record on gay rights.

Log Cabin hasn't endorsed McCain but actively worked to defeat Romney, who had done a U-turn away from his days as a Senate candidate, when he had boasted he could do more for Massachusetts gays than liberal lion Edward Kennedy.

Log Cabin's high-risk, very public strategy of running TV and radio ads attacking Romney -- even though he had a credible shot at becoming president -- demonstrated the group's trademark chutzpah and integrity.

But now Log Cabin finds itself at another defining moment: Can it persuade soon-to-be-nominee McCain, who will need the support of both conservatives and moderates, to at least remain mildly gay-friendly, a spot where the group likely could endorse him?

Four years ago, Log Cabin refused to endorse President Bush because of his full-throated advocacy of an anti-gay constitutional amendment.

Now, Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon says: "It's good news that Sen. McCain is on track to win the nomination because he believes in a big tent Republican Party. His record is not perfect, but there are definitely positive signs."

Here are highlights:

Pluses: McCain met with Log Cabin in 1999 during his earlier presidential bid and expressed distaste for anti-gay discrimination. He's hired openly gay Senate and campaign staffers.

When U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, a fellow Arizona Republican, came out in 1996, McCain rushed to supportively declare that Kolbe "has the respect and appreciation of most Arizonans."

In response to a push by the gay Human Rights Campaign, McCain adopted a written policy saying he doesn't discriminate against gay employees.

And, in both 2004 and 2006, he voted against and spoke out against amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

During the recent Florida primary, his campaign placed anti-gay "robo" calls against Romney. The plus is that, according to a knowledgeable source, McCain never saw or approved the script, and senior staff stopped them.

Minuses: He opposes gay marriage, campaigned for an unsuccessful amendment to Arizona's constitution in 2006 that would have prevented recognition of coupled relationships other than male-female marriages and has said he'd support amending the U.S Constitution if federal courts order gay marriage.

He voted in 1993 for Don't Ask, Don't Tell and still opposes lifting that ban on gays serving openly in the military. In 1996 votes, he supported denying spousal benefits to married gay couples and opposed outlawing anti-gay job discrimination.

Log Cabin helped to defeat McCain's chief rival. We'll soon see whether the maverick McCain works to create a big tent party that values all its members.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

New Hampshire Gayly Steps Forward

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The Gay Truth Squad Polices Giuliani

Then: New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed a sweeping domestic partnership bill into law in 1998, explaining that he hoped it would "help to move society more in the direction of equal treatment for everyone."

Now: Republican presidential candidate Giuliani appeared on Oct. 17 on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" and said any rights for gay couples "should just be contractual," parroting the buzzword of those social conservatives who absurdly claim that gay couples can essentially get the rights of marriage by signing a contract at a lawyer's office.

Flabbergasted by this kind of "then and now" change in tone and substance by Giuliani on a host of gay issues -- hate crimes, civil unions and domestic partnership, a federal anti-gay marriage amendment -- a New York gay-rights group recently launched "The Giuliani Files," which documents Giuliani's history (go to: prideagenda.org).

"I had seen this man change his positions in the amount of time it takes to fly from (New York's) La Guardia Airport to Des Moines," says Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan Van Capelle.

"With today's technology, we don't have to call Rudy Giuliani a 'flip-flopper.' We can literally put up letters and videos from his eight years as mayor and let people draw that conclusion for themselves."

Back in 1992, Bill Clinton's campaign shook up presidential politics with his rapid-response "war room," which shot down potentially damaging charges.

This presidential cycle will be remembered for how groups and everyday Americans figured out how to revolutionize "truth-squading" by harnessing the power of the Internet, YouTube and 24-7 political blogging.

Advocacy groups like Van Capelle's no longer have to beg a local TV station to put up a video snippet exposing a politician's U-turn and hope other mainstream news outlets will pick up on it. Now they simply post a video online and alert the most influential -- and always starving for new news -- political blogs, and presto, an Internet chain reaction rapidly links interested folks to video, letters, news program clips, news articles and other documentation.

"This is a totally new era for us," says Van Capelle. "Four years ago, we could have taken the (Giuliani) videos, tried to get a TV station interested in doing a story, and maybe get 10 seconds of the clip shown and hope the story would get picked up elsewhere. Now it stays up on our home page and on YouTube. In 12 hours (after bloggers picked up on "The Giuliani Files"), we'd reached thousands and thousands of people."

And the existence of YouTube means it's also much easier now to keep track of what candidates are saying in the current campaign season. Anyone can still see, for example, responses to questions posed in the CNN-YouTube presidential debates by lesbian couple Mary and Jen, who want to marry, and Keith Kerr, a gay retired Army brigadier general who wants gays to be able to serve openly.

And Van Capelle predicts advocacy groups like his will start virtual "spin rooms" on their Websites that almost instantly expose inconsistencies between a candidate's record and what he or she says at a debate or on a news show.

Truth-squading in the YouTube Age means that a candidate's past is never more than a few clicks away. Score one for democracy.

A Gay Mayor Rises in Michigan

If you've ever felt like busting loose and painting your hometown gay-friendly lavender, you might want to grab some art lessons from Craig Covey, the first openly gay mayor elected in Michigan.

Covey's inspiring story -- and that of Ferndale, population 22,000 -- literally starts with a paintbrush.

That would be the one in his hand in 1989, when for $56,000 he bought a house that -- like the Detroit inner-ring suburb where it's located -- needed "a little TLC."

"I selected Ferndale because it had a little kernel of a gay community," recalls Covey, then age 32. "You put on a fresh coat of paint. You trim the bushes. You put in gardens."

Covey talked up the town's potential to gay friends, who started moving there with their own buckets of paint and hedge clippers.

And six years after arriving, Covey decided to take the next big step toward really belonging to a community -- being part of local politics -- and ran for city council. Out of five candidates for two slots, he came in dead last.

A friend took him aside and said: "If you wish to be a councilman, here's what you've got to do: The people want to see you and talk to you. You've got to go to church events and join the Elks and get on boards and commissions."

And that's just what Covey did to demonstrate his commitment to making Ferndale a better place for everyone: He joined the Elks, the town's recreation commission and a youth assistance board. He and other members of a gay residents group donated a globe to the library.

"This stuff probably sounds hokey to someone in a big city. We weren't protesting outside city hall. We were joining the Beautification Commission, which picks the prettiest house on the block.

"We planted flowers at the Ferndale Historical Society. We started a pub crawl, and within a few years had 400 people joining us. We integrated with the straight community," he explains, adding that, as the town gentrified, the surge in the property values delighted homeowners.

When Covey ran again for city council in 1999, he won. Four years later, he was re-elected. And on Nov. 6, he was among at least 32 victorious gay candidates nationwide.

The United States now has 20 gay mayors, including in Providence, R.I.; Maywood, N.J.; Key Biscayne, Fla.; Palm Springs, Calif.; and my home town of Takoma Park, Md., according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which helps elect gay candidates.

Covey's years in Ferndale are a gay how-to manual on transforming a town into a place where you really feel at home. He laughs with pride that as mayor he makes a whopping $8,000 a year and has a huge say in such things as sidewalk crack repairs and garbage pickup.

Last year his town, sometimes called "Fabulous Ferndale" and now about 15 percent gay, passed a gay rights ordinance 65 percent to 35 percent on the third try.

The lessons of Ferndale can be applied anywhere, Covey says: "Instead of separating (into a gay ghetto) or demanding our rights, we are achieving what we wanted, neighbor by neighbor."

Ferndale and its new mayor -- what a fabulous example. Where's my paintbrush?

Reconciling Catholic Faith with LGBT Children

On Thanksgiving weekend of 1983, Casey Lopata and his wife, Mary Ellen, began a spiritual journey that ultimately strengthened their family and their lifelong commitment to Catholicism.

They discovered they had to navigate an emotional minefield: Their eldest son, Jim, a college sophomore home for the holiday, told Mary Ellen: "Mom, I'm lonely. I'm lonely for another man."

The next 10 minutes were an agonizing blur of fear and grief for Mary Ellen, who cried as she told Jim she loved him and assured him being gay didn't change that.

"Then why are you crying?" he asked.

"I don't know," Mary Ellen confessed.

The next morning, Jim told his father, a self-described "thinker" who uncharacteristically ran out of questions after "Are you sure?" and "Can you change?"

"For me, as a thinker," Casey recalls, "the key question was, 'Can Jim be gay and be Catholic?'"

It took the Rochester, N.Y., couple nine years to become comfortable being open about having a gay son. They never abandoned their son or their church.

Eventually, Mary Ellen wrote a book, Fortunate Families, to share the stories of Catholics coming to terms with their gay children. She and Casey founded a group, also named Fortunate Families, to help such parents feel less alone and to transform their church.

"We believe we are the church. And if we didn't work to have our children recognized as whole and holy members of the church, then we are complicit with the injustice," Mary Ellen says of the Catholic Church's official anti-gay position. "So if we stay, we must speak."

A groundbreaking report by Fortunate Families, based on its survey of 229 Catholic parents with gay children, concludes: "Parents love their (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) children, and they love their church. But they do not see their love, or God's unconditional love, reflected in how the institutional church relates to their LGBT sons and daughters." (Go to: fortunatefamilies.com.)

Catholic parents now learning their child is gay report higher initial levels of comfort than parents who learned five or more years ago. And Catholic parents who know another parent with a gay son or daughter are "significantly more comfortable" with their child's orientation than are isolated parents.

The parents are far more likely to call gay-friendly P-FLAG, New Ways Ministry and Fortunate Families "very helpful" than to say that about their parishes.

One mom with a gay son lamented: "I do not feel the Catholic Church offers any support with our children. I remain a Catholic only because of the Mass and the Eucharist."

The survey found that "through their journeys to understanding, parents' initial fears and tears have been transformed into ire and fire." That change is reflected in one mother's vow that she and her husband "will spend our last breath carrying the message that God loves each of his precious children -- and we do, too."

Casey Lopata encourages Catholic parents of gay children to "never to stop telling your story. That is the greatest witness you can make."

Having a gay son is a gift, he believes, one that made him a more loving dad and vibrant Catholic.

As countless Catholic parents embrace their children's homosexuality, they are learning to see their families as fortunate indeed.

Fighting for LGBT Rights in the Midwest

Looking back, Jeffrey Montgomery says he used to be a "mind your own business" kind of gay guy.

But that was before his boyfriend, Michael, was fatally shot outside a gay bar in Detroit.

The murder was horrifying. But what fundamentally changed Montgomery's way of thinking was the attitude of the cops.

The police just didn't care. They had no intention of investigating what, to them, was just another gay homicide, he says.

Shocked and appalled, Montgomery began transforming himself into a "mind our own business" kind of gay guy.

That transformation led him in 1991 to help found the Detroit-based Triangle Foundation, named after the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps.

"Using the pink triangle as our logo was a way to liberate it from its Holocaust past," Montgomery recalls. "We were finally going to be doing something to help people who had suffered from the same kinds of violence. And, unlike what had happened in Michael's case, we were going to hold the police accountable to do their job."

Sixteen years later, the Triangle Foundation (tri.org) has a $1 million budget, 10 staffers and a new branch in conservative Grand Rapids, Mich.

Now, sadly, the executive director who became the face and voice for so many gay and transgender people too fearful -- or just too preoccupied -- to stand up for themselves has decided it's time to pass the baton. He'll be missed.

In its early days, Triangle focused on helping people beaten up outside gay bars. Montgomery often went to police stations with victims "to make sure they were being treated respectfully" -- and to make sure crimes were reported and attackers prosecuted.

Then calls came in from folks who'd been fired or kicked out of apartments after bosses or landlords found out they were gay.

"I knew what it was like to look for help and not find it," Montgomery says. "And being fired is the same principle as being beaten. So I said, 'Yes, let's see what we can do for you.'"

One of Triangle's biggest successes came in 2002.

In a suit handled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Triangle and six courageous men sued the city of Detroit and won a $170,000 settlement that put an end to what used to be called in anti-gay police circles as "bag-a-fag" stings: Undercover male cops had been arresting men in Detroit's Rouge Park for merely returning winks or waves. Sting victims had to pay $950 apiece to get their cars back.

The settlement included gay-sensitivity training for police and changes in ordinances to prevent similar entrapment in the future.

The wreckage left behind by such outrageous stings has been fresh in Montgomery's mind since Sen. Larry Craig's high-profile arrest in a Minnesota restroom. An undercover cop deemed Craig's foot-tapping and hand gestures to be illegal come-ons for public sex.

The Idaho Republican has a long anti-gay record. But, not surprisingly, Montgomery says his first thought upon hearing the news was, "We should help him with his case."

Thanks largely to that kind of big-heartedness, Montgomery has not just helped Michigan's gay and transgender community but also helped the state begin transforming itself into a more caring place.

Congress Needs to Stop School Bullies

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Federal Ruling Protects Kids of Gay Parents

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Pentagon Opposition to Lifting Gay Ban May Be Melting

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Giving Up the Debt Lifestyle

Growing up a tomboy, I hated the pointy-toed sneakers my mom forced me to wear. I ached for Keds high-tops.

Years later, when as a college junior I giddily found myself holding my very first credit card, I knew exactly what my first purchase would be -- and rightly reckoned this was a momentous adult milestone.

But as I signed the credit slip and laced up those high-tops, I had no idea that I'd actually just bought a painful -- and costly -- learning opportunity: I'd entered the debt lifestyle.

At first, it seemed harmless to pay an item's purchase price, plus a bit of interest. But as the years clicked by and I settled down with my spouse, Joyce, I came to feel like a frustrated gerbil -- always running but getting nowhere financially. What had us spinning was the amount of our income being diverted to interest payments -- on credit cards, cars, our mortgage and home equity loans (taken out to pay off credit cards that we ran right back up).

But, now nearly three decades -- and a lot of peanut butter sandwiches -- after my Keds purchase, Joyce and I owe not one cent. And we don't pay interest. Money, rather than being a crowbar, has become a sweet glue that helps bond us to each other and our shared dreams.

Money tears many couples apart. MONEY magazine surveyed 500 married couples last year and found money caused more fights than sex or in-laws. Most -- 84 percent -- said money creates tension in their marriage, and they said the main reason was because they don't agree on financial priorities.

Having been taught by our goof-ups that we were money dummies, Joyce and I sat down eight years ago and designed a roadmap out of debt. We started by creating a very specific picture of our ideal future with the help of Michael Gelb's timeless book, "How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci."

Once we came up with a shared, detailed dream of retiring in Hawaii, we found it easier to make the smart choices required to get us off the awful gerbil wheel.

We set a date -- February 2008 -- to be debt-free and made all money decisions based on that shared goal. Quick examples: Joyce loves to travel, so we took up tent camping -- and found ourselves happily cooking lobsters over an open fire and walking the beach alongside wild Assateague ponies. We swapped golf for tennis, a far cheaper sport.

Most importantly, we prioritized debts, putting every extra nickel toward erasing first one car loan, then the other. Once they were gone, we immediately doubled up on house payments. Each time one loan was wiped out, the pace of our progress picked up. Why? Less was being lost to interest.

Along the way, we received three small inheritances, which we used to pay off the last of our SUV, my piano and, just this summer, the final six months of mortgage payments. Pinch me: We actually own our home.

Financially free at last, we don't need a newer car or a house in a ritzier neighborhood. We've matured faster than our savings bonds.

Shared dreams help build strong couples. And shared financial game plans help make dreams come true. So sit down, and start dreaming -- together.

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